Shame about Ray: Daley met fans at a function at North Sydney Leagues Club on Friday. Photo: Dean Sewell
Laurie Daley and Matt Parish sat in a small, glassed office at League Central on Thursday, with three laptops on the table in front of them.
The office, on the second level that houses the NSWRL, is ornamented with the sky blue and maroon jumpers of NSW and Queensland players.
Ray Hadley, pictured last year. Photo: Ben Rushton
When I met Daley and Parish on this day, they didn’t want to talk about Origin straight up. Not yet.
Instead of plotting Queensland’s demise in the fast-approaching State of Origin series, the Blues coach and his assistant talked for 15 minutes about an entirely different subject.
They talked about Ray Hadley.
Daley reckons the biggest voice in the game has been ‘‘unsettling our entire campaign” as Hadley supposedly seeks revenge for his marriage break-up.
You sense that will only happen if Daley lets it. You sense NSW will lose the series if he does.
The seediest story in rugby league is out of the bag, finally.
That story has been pinging around Sydney, footy and easily titillated reporters for weeks: that Parish and Hadley’s estranged wife, Suzanne, are in a relationship.
In the past week or so, the sordid tale took on a different form, with the word coming out of the NSWRL that Hadley wanted Parish sacked from Daley’s coaching staff.
This is something Hadley has strongly denied, but the claim is serious: that Hadley had given Daley both barrels for sticking by Parish – something Daley confirmed when we met on Thursday – while also putting pressure on NSWRL chief executive Dave Trodden and chairman George Peponis to have him removed from the Blues coaching staff.
As part of that claim, NSWRL insiders have said that Hadley threatened to stop broadcasting NSW Cup scores on 2GB, as well as a blackout of the grand final later this year.
On the surface, this would appear to be outrageous. That the main voice from the radio rights holder and the man next in line to succeed Ray Warren at Channel Nine has used his position of power to settle a score because of a personal dispute.
Having been told of the situation, other NSWRL board members resolved via a telephone hook-up at the start of the week to tell Hadley they would not be removing Parish.
As one director told me, they were not prepared to let Hadley bully them. “We decide who coaches NSW, not Ray Hadley,” the board member huffed.
By Tuesday this week, the dogs were barking, almost drowning out the melodrama surrounding Mitchell Pearce and the unavailability of Greg Bird and Andrew Fifita.
When Fairfax Media approached the NSWRL about the story that day, the response from management and Daley was that they didn’t want a word about it published.
When I met Daley on Thursday to discuss football, Parish happened to be in the room. Daley maintained he didn’t want anything about the fallout with Hadley published.
If anything sums up the near-palpable fear some in the game have of Ray Hadley, that is it.
If anything sums up the incestuous nature of football and media in this city, it’s this story.
Parish was thrust forward for the Blues job by his former Balmain coach, Alan Jones. Jones works alongside Hadley at 2GB. Hadley’s close friend is fellow Continuous Call Team member Bob Fulton. Fulton is Daley’s Origin adviser. Daley believes Hadley is pressuring him into sacking Parish. Parish is in a relationship with Hadley’s former wife, Suzanne.
Rugby league is often described as a soap opera, to the point that it’s become a cliche. Not even Bold and the Beautiful scriptwriters, could have made this stuff up.
NRL chief executive Dave Smith was alerted to the Hadley-Parish-Daley-NSWRL entanglement earlier this week. The league says it has reason to look into the allegations surrounding Hadley’s behaviour.
“We won’t comment on personal matters,” an NRL spokesperson said. “We support, however, the NSWRL’s statement that they have the utmost respect for Laurie Daley as a coach and person.
“The matter has already been dealt with by the NSWRL chief executive, the NSWRL board and its coach, who have made their positions clear, and it is important the NSW Blues’ preparations for Origin are not disrupted further.
“We don’t have editorial control under our broadcast agreement with our partners.”
I approached Hadley for comment on Friday, but he did not want to add anything further to his statement at the top of his morning show on 2GB, when he talked openly about the personal toll this episode had taken.
However, he has told those close to him that he is stunned that Daley believes he had been personally attacked in their phone conversation.
Hadley maintains that Daley phoned him to offer his support concerning his marriage break-up. The call, Hadley says, was non-confrontational.
Either someone is lying or there has been one hell of a miscommunication that has dragged a sad and unfortunate marriage break-up into the public sphere for no reason.
It was Daley who decided to put this story on the front page of News Limited publications on Friday. Later that day you could barely get a word out of the NSWRL on the matter.
Clearly, Blues supporters should be concerned about the admissions from the coach.
If a personal issue concerning Hadley, Daley’s assistant coach and Hadley’s estranged wife can derail the Blues’ Origin campaign before a ball is kicked in anger, or the side is even selected, what damage will the likes of Smith, Slater and Inglis inflict?
Should NSW suffer a ninth series defeat, fed-up fans will pinpoint when Daley and his coaching staff focused on the wrong opponent – Ray Hadley, not Queensland.