Ignored: Former Wests Tigers back-rower Simon Dwyer. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Sunday is all about the celebration of Alex McKinnon, and his amazing fight and attitude, but think for a moment of another young footballer whose career was taken away.
‘‘I don’t want to take anything away from Alex ... I really feel for him,’’ Simon Dwyer said.
You may not instantly remember the name. So many have forgotten about him, most notably the players’ association. He is one of the reasons why changes need to be made so professional athletes are covered by workers compensation laws.
Dwyer was the young Wests Tigers back-rower who flattened Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in one of the great tackles of the past decade.
He played City-Country and then his career came to a shuddering halt when he went in for a tackle on Bulldogs prop Michael Hodgson.
‘‘I just remember voices in my head saying, ‘I can’t move my f---ing legs’, and I couldn’t move them at all at first ... but then I got helped up and started to get movement, but I never got it in my arm,’’ he said.
As we sat in a cafe, Dwyer looked a long way from the powerful forward with the world at his feet. His right arm sat there in a sling – it hasn’t moved after that tackle.
‘‘It can be tough sometimes ... you know, just day-to-day things,’’ he said. ‘‘I had lunch with some of the boys yesterday and I ordered a steak ... I had to get Todd Payten to cut it up for me ... that’s not really what a 25-year-old bloke wants to deal with ... but I don’t want to whinge ... it was just a freak thing. I tore the nerves off my spinal cord.
‘‘They said it was the type of injury you might find with one of those high-speed skiers in the Olympics.’’
As we talked, the man on his right championing his cause was Brad Fittler. The former Roosters great has taken Dwyer on almost like a younger brother. Fittler was listening to Dwyer talk about his arm and he stopped the conversation in its tracks. ‘‘Mate, have you ever thought about chopping it off?’’ Fittler said.
Dwyer didn’t blink: ‘‘No, I’m not going to chop my arm off, mainly because I live in the hope that one day down the track they may come up with some kind of science that can help me out. I live in hope when it comes to that.’’
He also has seen a reason not to. ‘‘My dad Paul had gangrene in his leg and he faced that kind of decision and decided to fight on and now he is making real progress ... so you never know. I just need to stay positive to the best of my ability.’’
He is doing that. ‘‘I’m not speaking so people feel sorry for me. I’m over feeling sorry for myself. I’m not speaking out because of the attention that Alex is getting. I think that it’s great and Alex is in a far more challenging situation than I am in.
‘‘What I want is for all players who have had injuries that affect them for the rest of their lives to be looked after. When the Alex thing happened ... I thought that I’d like to speak to him.’’
As well as the game has responded to the McKinnon situation, it dropped the ball when it came to Dwyer. His plight was brought to the attention of the players’ association through the media, and the driving force was Fittler.
‘‘It was pretty awful that he was ignored for three years,’’ Fittler said.
‘‘It was pretty bad that the last collective bargaining agreement was negotiated without anyone taking into account the insurance for players. It doesn’t make sense that the bloke selling the hot dogs outside of the ground has better insurance than the players who are playing the game. It’s mind-boggling.
‘‘What is even harder to cop is that Simon continues to be ignored by the players’ association ... they know about his situation and they hardly make an effort to help him out. He’s been given lip service at best.
‘‘I find it hard to believe the level of neglect. It simply is not good enough. If it wasn’t for blokes like Alex McKinnon and Simon Dwyer ... I’d lose faith, but to see their attitude in adversity is what makes this game.’’
Fittler – who has been working hard on a fundraising night for Dwyer at Wests Leagues Club on August 1 – doesn’t want credit. Instead, he said that should go to leading player agent Wayne Beavis.
‘‘When I look at what is good about the game, it’s the actions of Wayne,’’ he said. ‘‘He is not Simon’s manager, but he has been working hard for no financial gain to make sure that the night happens and that we raise money for Simon.’’
The aim is to raise $100,000. When you consider that the injury has cost him a career which could have netted him some $4 million, it is a huge financial hit for a kid who grew up in modest surrounds in Macquarie Fields. Dwyer may need the money.
He has been earning a modest salary, believed to be $60,000, working at the Tigers. It was a job that was negotiated when his new three-year deal was made redundant because of his injury. Instead of being left with 25 per cent of his contract, which was the standard settlement, the Tigers gave him a gig for the length of the contract.
‘‘That deal is up in a few months and I don’t know what I’m going to do just yet,’’ Dwyer said. ‘‘The club said it may depend on who is coaching the team. I suppose I have to start to look around. I’m not sure who would employ me, so I may need to try and start my own business. It’s a bit uncertain.’’
McLean lies low
One area has been off limits in interviews with Alex McKinnon and those associated with him – Jordan McLean. The media around McKinnon has been brilliant – but controlled – and there is a reason for it.
Melbourne are staying in close touch with McLean this weekend through their three-member counselling team. He also has his teammates to lean on as he copes with the groundswell of support for McKinnon.
It has been relayed to this column that McLean is a huge supporter of the fundraising activities. The NRL has pulled so many right reins in this but this column is hoping enough is being done for McLean.
There is still an undercurrent of anger about this tackle, mainly from those close to McKinnon and his teammates. And there is disdain for the tackling technique the Storm have employed for years.
The NRL made a big error by putting Cameron Smith up to promote the week on the day before Origin.
His media conference was awkward as he was asked whether he had been in touch with Alex, given he is Australian captain. He had to say no.
Smith was criticised by this column for being over the top in arguing with the referee when McKinnon was lying injured on the ground.
He didn’t respond then and didn’t want to deal with the matter when reporters were asking about the incident on the field, saying he’d dealt with it.
Dave Warner says fatherhood will give him an even greater reason to succeed for the rest of his career and he is more determined then ever to be a role model once his fiancee, Candice Falzon, gives birth in September.
‘‘What I really want for my child is to know that there is more to life than sport,’’ he said. ‘‘I put all my eggs in the sports basket and it worked out for me, but I wish that I had gone down the education route more. And that’s what I want for our kid.
‘‘I’ve managed to get by. I want to help kids get to places that they want to get to. I hope I can do that by pushing the importance of being rounded and educated.
‘‘I think it’s important to get outside of the bubble of sport. I’m not the sharpest tool ... I grew up housing commission ... everyone talks about it being rough.
‘‘I sort of escaped in sport. That’s what I found interesting, but I would not encourage that. I want to see my kids hit the books and I want them to excel in that way. I’ve got around not being well educated, but I am learning on the run.’’
As far as being a dad, ‘‘My commitment will become a lot more ... I’ll be even more determined and it will give me even greater reason to succeed.’’
Being a dad won’t make him change his approach to cricket. ‘‘I’ve got this far playing the way I do and I won’t change that,’’ he said. ‘‘You can’t be someone else out on the field and I won’t be.’’
The couple have done a magazine deal to tell the story about their baby. Plans have begun for a wedding. ‘‘We’ve set a date ... and it’s after the World Cup final,’’ Warner said. ‘‘I’d be shot if I did it before that time.’’
David Williams’s welfare has been of concern to his teammates since he was banned for betting on Manly games.
‘‘If you know Wolfie, his highs are high and the downside of that is that his lows are really low,’’ Anthony Watmough said.
‘‘As a group we were concerned because he was the face of it all ... which is not really fair.
‘‘Why is he splashed all over the place and forced to wear it all when the officials who were betting were not named? I find that difficult to comprehend and to me, it’s what is good for the players should be good for the officials of the game. The good thing is Wolfie is back at training and he seems a lot better.’’
Wests Tigers players are fed up being painted as the instigators in the demise of coaches at the club. There is a growing feeling they are being used as scapegoats for management decisions.
There is no doubt some players had misgivings about the appointment of Mick Potter, however the feeling among the group is they are being used to divert attention from management.
As for Potter being responsible for retaining several star players, this column has been told Potter is minimally involved in negotiating to keep stars at the club.