Coach killers: It's almost finals time, but you wouldn't know it
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Coach killers: It's almost finals time, but you wouldn't know it

Is it me, or is it a weird week in rugby league when the thing that has generated far and away the most comment four weeks out from the finals is not what happened in last week’s games, who’s in form and who’s going to make the finals – so much as who is going to coach where in 2019.

Personally, I simply can’t follow it all but it seems to be a lot to do with Wayne Bennett, Ivan Cleary, Trent Barrett, not to mention Anthony Seibold and Mary McGregor and a couple of others, all playing musical chairs.

Game behind the game: NRL coaches have dominated the headlines this week.

Game behind the game: NRL coaches have dominated the headlines this week.Credit:AAP

The poor bastard left over at the end to join Anthony Griffin on the sidelines of the sidelines is not yet determined – but there’ll have to be one, and maybe two if Des Hasler and Michael Maguire come back into the mix.

Lest we forget

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The fighting of World War I?

For Diggers, there was none more brutal in Australian history. And I don’t mean Gallipoli. I mean France. I mean the Western Front, starting with the battle of Fromelles and Pozieres and going all the way through to Armistice: Mud. Blood. Swarming Germans, with machine guns that could spit 600 bullets a minute.

Cecil Healy.

Cecil Healy.Credit:Fairfax Archive

The battle of Mont St Quentin was on 29 August 1918, and it saw the Australians attacking across open fields against entrenched German positions. One of the men leading the charge was Australia’s Olympic gold medallist Cecil Healy, who was one of the victorious 4x200 metre relay swimmers at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

However, Healy was far more celebrated for what happened in the 100-metre individual sprint. When the favourite for the event, the Hawaiian, Duke Kahanamoku, was disqualified for missing the 100-metre semis because he had got the start time wrong through no fault of his own, our man Healy became the new favourite. Nevertheless, the Australian refused to race unless Kahanamoku was given another chance. The end result: the Hawaiian got gold, Healy silver.

Kahanamoku found him after the race, lifted his arm and said "this is the real Olympic champion". It was the beginning of a strong friendship. Two years later, Duke Kahanamoku came to Sydney gave a lesson in surfing at Freshwater Beach, and the world changed!

Cecil Healy joined the AIF shortly after the war started, and could easily have taken all the glory without any of the risk. But he didn’t want that. He wanted not only to do his duty, but to lead men in battle.

Picked as officer material, much of his training was done in Britain. Before heading to France, he was under no illusions as to what awaited, and wrote to a mate: "I am prepared for the worst, and am quite resigned to my fate. I cherish the hope that I will be able to sell my life dearly, and earn the respect of the men whom I command."

And command them he did, as a Second Lieutenant with the mighty 19th Battalion. On the early morning of 29 August 1918, Cecil was moving C Platoon across open ground in the Battle of Mont St Quentin when a German machine-gun opened up on them, hitting him in the neck with a single bullet. It took him an hour to die. A colleague would later say that "his fearlessness supplied the enemy with too good a target to miss." Healy was 36. He remains the only Australian Olympic gold medallist to die at war.

Cecil’s remarkable life and death is being commemorated in Australia by a major biography, Cecil Healy, Australia’s Forgotten Hero, co-authored by 1960 Olympic gold medallist John Devitt, together with the accomplished author, Larry Writer. Devitt will be there in France in a fortnight when Cecil’s memory will be honoured at the British military cemetery at Assevilliers, where he is buried.

Bravo, Cecil Healy. A hundred years later, we remember you, Sir.

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Free standing?

Following the lead of President Donald Trump the NFL released an edict this week dictating that from now on those players who will not stand for the American National Anthem must stay in the locker room. They may not take a knee in protest at the treatment of African-Americans, as the cameras roll. In statement released on Friday, the NFL said all players and team staff on the field were expected to stand for the anthem, dictating that those who won’t stand must remain in the locker rooms.

I don’t get it. I love that national anthem, particularly the climactic final lines, which I know you will now sing with me: “. . . In the land of the freeeeeee . . . and the home of the braaaave.”

In this case I can see who the brave are. They are those who have taken a knee, despite the example before them of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose NFL career was destroyed by taking such a stand.

But where are the free? Can the Americans really celebrate "freedom" in their national anthem, but punish the bejeesus out of those who choose to exercise their own freedom by making such a simple gesture as taking a knee over an entirely legitimate issue? It doesn’t fit.

Word from the wise

Which brings us to the under 12C Sydney junior rugby union fixture at Glenmore Park between the Norths Pirates JRC and the Norwest Bulls JRC last weekend. The Pirates travelled up to the Bulls’ home ground, up Quakers Hill way, and with no ref allocated, it was agreed that a nominated dad from each team would ref one half each – both of whom did a sterling job.

As the game goes on, it is clear that the Norwest lads and ladies – including two fantastically hard-running and skillful female forwards – are just too big, too strong and too well-drilled to be stopped, as valiantly as the Pirates try. The final score: Norwest Bulls many, Norths Pirates 12. Despite the result of the game, no quarter was given by either side and it had been played with wonderful spirit right to the bell – at which point both sides offer three cheers to the other, with handshakes, and "thanks for the game".

However, when the Pirates are just about to retreat to lick their wounds, the Norwest Coach – who looks like an escapee from the All Blacks front row, and speaks just so – calls all the players together for a few words. As Pirates and Bulls all mix together in a circle around him, their arms over each other’s shoulder he explains in a soft Kiwi lilt that this is their tradition, to all band together, regardless of the result. He thanks the Pirates’ players for the game, and for the spirit in which they played. He commends both teams for playing with respect and giving their all, despite their exhaustion, and for being good sports despite not getting the result they wanted.

"That," he says, "is what rugby is all about! We wish all of you well for the rest of the season and we hope we meet you all again for another game next season. Good luck to you all, and safe trip home."

It was enough to give one touch judge dad – TFF’s reporter on the spot – a little weepy eye.

So say it after me: Gotta love this city!

Spoon-fed sledge

Meantime, it has to be said that the one-time powerhouse of GPS rugby, The Shore School, has known tough times lately.

Last Saturday they played their fierce rivals Riverview at Northbridge and their first XV were getting dusted for their trouble. How badly?

So badly that half-way through the second-half, during a brief injury break, a young Riverview lad runs onto the field.

There is a pause in the Michael Hawker Grandstand, filled with the old and the bold of the school, as it is Shore Old Boys Day. What is the lad doing?

Oh. Oh dear. The cheeky bugger has planted a wooden spoon right in the middle of the oval!

What they said

Manly coach Trent Barrett, asked to comment on reports he had resigned his tenure: "For legal reasons I can’t - I certainly would like to - [but] out of respect for the club I don’t want to say too much today." Which made for a fairly ordinary press conference, all things considered.

No comment: Manly coach Trent Barrett speaking to media on Thursday.

No comment: Manly coach Trent Barrett speaking to media on Thursday.Credit:AAP

Chris Judd discussing his use of natural deodorant at a children’s cancer fundraiser when asked what deodorant he uses. "I’m using a natural deodorant. The by-product of that is that it doesn’t actually work, but I’m not going to die of cancer." Oh. Gawd. Hard not to feel for him. No doubt, it just popped out.

Adam Scott inspired by Jarrod Lyle as he had his best finish in a major in five years: "I think that a part of everyone’s playing for Jarrod out here this week."

Brooks Koepka, on holding off a hard-charging legend of the game, to win the PGA Championship: "Everyone was rooting for Tiger."

The Honey Badger, Nick Cummins, about being the star of The Bachelor: “I'm nervous as a goose in a doona factory.”

Fairfax’s Michael Lallo on Cummins: "It’s no accident that Cummins has drawn a large audience. After all, this is a man who bestowed the "Honey Badger" nickname upon himself after watching a documentary in which one of these creatures 'clawed the canastas' off a lion. His fluency in 'Strine puts Alf Stewart to shame. And his moustache and hairdo resemble a novelty disguise; the kind people wear while spying on their targets through eye-holes in a newspaper."

Cate Campbell after the Pan Pacs: "All the cliches have been put to bed, the nightmares have gone. I’m having sweet dreams from now on.”

Shane Warne not so sure Tim Paine should be in the team, let alone captain: "But we, as Australians, should always pick our best team and then pick your captain and vice-captain from that. I don't think we should just make a captain and then fit a side around him . . . If Tim Paine is in the best side and he is the best guy to be captain, then make him captain.”

Carlton CEO Cain Liddle on the Carlton strip. "As a global brand, we are restricted with lead-in times for production, which means that next year's clash strip was ordered from Nike more than 12 months ago." Global brand?

AFL's general manager of inclusion and social policy Tanya Hosch on diversity in the AFL: "Well, this is a challenge, not just for clubs but for the whole industry ... certainly there are not many blackfellas at AFL House, I can vouch for that."

Tiger Woods on his 2nd in the PGA: "I’m in uncharted territory because no one’s ever had a fused spine, hitting it like I’m hitting it. So I had to kind of figure this out on my own."

Brush with royalty: Tiger Woods at the PGA on Thursday.

Brush with royalty: Tiger Woods at the PGA on Thursday.Credit:AP

Ivan Cleary won’t be talking about the Panthers: "I’m sure you can find the misinformation. I’m not going to talk about it, I’m sorry mate. I get it that you have all run a big story on it, but I said my position yesterday and I’m not going to talk about it. If you want to talk about the game, I’m happy to talk about that."

The New York Times reports: "Retired NFL players struggling with debilitating injuries years after they leave the field have a not-so-facetious way of describing the league’s approach to doling out their health benefits: 'Delay, deny and hope you die'."

Swans great Paul Kelly on the prospects of Alex Johnson coming back again, after his sixth serious knee injury: "Sometimes you need to be told, 'mate, it’s over'."

Wayne Bennett practically dares the Broncos to sack him: "My option is to be here, simple as that. This is the club I want to be at."

Team of the week

Cooper Cronk. After some criticism early in the year that he was past his best, his new team, the Roosters, are starting to look like they might actually get there and win the premiership. They are now on top of the table.

Wallabies. Take on the All Blacks tonight at the Olympic Stadium.

Steve Smith. New No.1 ranked Test batsman in the world. I have no clue. Is it, perhaps, that he keeps the average that he had when he was suspended, and the others have dropped back behind him?

Alex Johnson. No sooner had he returned from injury than he injured his other knee. Despite a great win for the Swans against Melbourne, you could almost hear the faint hum of a dirge for that very knee among the crowd.

Out of luck: Scans have confirmed the worst with Alex Johnson, who has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Out of luck: Scans have confirmed the worst with Alex Johnson, who has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.Credit:AAP

Swans and Giants. Sydney derby this afternoon and possibly the most vital four points these two have ever played for in recent years.

Tiger Woods. His best final-round score in a major and still didn’t win.

Brooks Koepka. Won second major of the year, to be third overall and still, strangely, as anonymous as a wrong number?

Adil Rashid. The Englishman became the 14th Test cricketer to have zero statistical impact on a Test. No runs. No wickets. No balls faced. No balls bowled. No catches taken. Did some fine standing in the covers.

Carmen Lia. State champion in the NSW Taekwondo Championships is now off to the nationals. Part of the Iron Tiger TKD that is having great success under Master Di Carn, with 13 gold medals to their name.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

Peter FitzSimons is a Herald journalist, columnist and author, based in Sydney. He is also a former Wallabies player.