First published in League Express, Monday 19th Aug 2013
The most innovative of all radio commentators in the history of our great game must surely have been the Aussie duo of Rampaging Roy Slaven and HG Nelson.
Those weren’t their real names. But few people in Australia would know the names on their taxation returns – Roy (John Doyle) and HG (Greig Pickhaver).
Twenty odd years ago they achieved a cult following by broadcasting State of Origin games and Grand Finals in which they invented names for the players involved. One fellow was referred to as ‘Whitney Houston, the Black Pearl’. Very politically incorrect! Another went by a name associated with a sexual act in which the Test star had allegedly been involved. And, no, I won’t be repeating it here.
The most famous of all was the moniker they gave to Test prop Glenn Lazarus – ‘The Brick With Eyes’. He cashed in on it, getting paid big money for his face on a brick to be plastered all over advertising billboards.
Roy and HG also had their own television show during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Their cult following was such that they had American, Canadian and British gold medallists queuing up every night for the chance to appear and have the Mickey taken out of them.
It was only when Roy And HG decided to hold up leading figures on the International Olympic Committee to ridicule that their fun was brought to an end.
On the Origin broadcasts Roy and HG also unveiled a few new words to describe certain types of tackles.
The best known was the ‘squirrel grip’.
I won’t go into details but it is now part of the Rugby League lexicon in Australia.
And when the NRL Judiciary last week suspended England Test forward Sam Burgess for two matches every newspaper described his offence as a squirrel grip.
There was no need to say any more.
Well-known Sydney Daily Telegraph communist Phil Rothfield used it when writing an inflammatory article about Burgess and other famous British players who have appeared in the ARL and NRL Premierships.
I would suggest Rothfield will be a brave man indeed if he dares to visit Britain for this year’s World Cup.
Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if the article in question is used as a motivational tool for the England squad.
“Why were we all that surprised when South Sydney forward Sam Burgess put a squirrel grip on Melbourne Storm centre Will Chambers last Friday night?” wrote Rothfield.
“After all, he is an English Rugby League player. Remember last year’s grand final when Bulldogs forward James Graham took a chunk out of Billy Slater’s ear? He was a Pom, too.
“And before them, Adrian Morley. Remember him? He played six seasons for the Roosters between 2001 and 2006 for 11 foul-play offences and 26 weeks of suspensions.
“Headbutting, grabbing testicles, biting, kneeing, kicking and king hits – you name it, the Poms have been doing it for more than 50 years.”
Mal Reilly got a mention, too. And Cliff Watson – even though he has been a resident of Australia for the past three decades and as such would surely rank as almost a true-blue Aussie.
It’s all a bit unfair as Rothfield ignored the one Englishman who probably deserved a touch-up, to coin a phrase. St Helens’ Duggie Greenall!
I devoted a chapter to Greenall in my latest book Hardmen. Or at least to his huge right forearm that would have done cartoon character Popeye proud. Greenall went into every game with it heavily strapped with layer upon layer of solid padding. Or was it just padding?
Opposition players reckoned it came in handy when Greenall hit them with a stiff-arm tackle – part of the defensive talents of most players in the ‘Bad Old Days’.
The fans at Knowsley Road dubbed the forearm ‘Mammy’.
“Give ‘em Mammy, Duggie,” they would roar from the terraces. And Greenall would duly oblige!
Wal Sneddon, now in his 80s, refereed two Lions tour matches in 1954 in which Greenall played.
Sneddon told me about the second – Great Britain versus Newcastle Coalfields.
“Newcastle five-eighth Bobby Banks darted down the blind side and gave a beautiful pass to his winger before copping a Greenall stiff-arm. It was the worst I ever saw during my career as a referee,” Sneddon explained.
“Dave Parkinson, the Newcastle captain, asked me to examine the padding on Greenall’s right arm. He reckoned it hid a plaster-cast.
“I asked Greenall to show me the arm. He told me if I made such a demand he would walk off. When I repeated my request he did so.”
Ten minutes later Greenall strode back onto the field and rolled up his sleeve.
“What could I say?” Sneddon said.
“There was no padding at all, let alone a plaster cast.”
My copy of the September issue of Rugby League World arrived on the latest mail clipper from Old Blighty. And I was delighted to read the wonderful Jamie James-Buchanan interview with quadriplegic Matt King. What a wonderful ambassador for our great game is Matt King?
I finished my book Hardmen with a chapter on Matt. After all, the book was not only about rough players, but some of the game’s most courageous, too.
Matt later sent me an email that showed what a modest man he is.
“I’m hugely humbled and honoured to be considered in the same breath as some of the greats you write about,” Matt said. “And I would never consider that my experiences in the eight years since my accident would warrant such a description. But thank you anyway!”
No, Matt. Thank you!