Thursday, 24 April 2014

Edward Larkin - A Leader Of Men (2014)

Edward Rennix Larkin was a man who is most remembered and revered for his leadership qualities in everything he involved himself. He was a constable in the police force, a journalist, a sergeant in the army, a captain of his Rugby Union club Endeavour, a parliamentarian and the first fulltime secretary of the NSWRL.

Born in Lambton in 1880, his family soon after relocated to Camperdown in Sydney where Larkin attended school at St Benedict’s Broadway, where he showed a glimpse of his future self by being named school captain in 1894. The following year he moved to St Joseph’s at Hunters Hill where he played in the schools Rugby Union team in 1896.

All throughout his schooling days, Larkin was a very adept athlete, showing great proficiency in swimming, Rugby Union, cricket and cycling. He was also equally gifted academically; his place on the Literary and Debating Club for St Joseph’s laid the early platform for his future career as a parliamentarian. Promptly after finishing his schooling he joined the Endeavour Rugby Union club.

In 1903 Larkin married and started a family before joining the Metropolitan Police Force where he was promoted to Constable in 1905. 1903 also saw him appointed captain of the Newtown Rugby Union first grade team. His form throughout the year was stellar and saw him earn representative honours for NSW against Queensland and later against the touring New Zealand side. It was while he was on a train from Sydney to Brisbane, where he was seated with team mates John Maund, Alec Burdon, Denis Lutge and Peter Moir, that it was observed that there were as many NSWRU officials on board as there were players, and according to Maund, they were eating oysters and drinking whisky while the players went without. This was the start of discontent by players against the Rugby Union hierarchy that would continue to simmer for the next few years.

Larkin’s form for NSW was good enough to see him earn a test jumper for the Wallabies, starting as hooker against New Zealand. Larkin’s team mates that day were future Rugby League pioneers and test players Denis Lutge, Bill Hardcastle and Alec Burdon. The Wallabies were soundly beaten 22-3 and wholesale changes meant that Larkin’s test career was over.

By 1906, Larkin was part of a growing number of players who had grown tiresome with the Rugby Union administration for not providing any compensation for lost time due to injuries.

In 1907 the players had had enough and sided with James Giltinan’s proposed rival code, Rugby League. The new code started in 1908, with the season ending in a tour to England.

The tour returned home as a financial disaster. Some players remained in England as there wasn’t enough money to bring them all back. The English Northern Union paid for most of the players return fares.

Edward Larkin’s growing sense of social justice saw him join the Willoughby branch of the Labor Party in 1909.

The NSWRL 1909 season started with a volatile meeting in which NSWRL President Henry Hoyle stood down; Treasurer James Giltinan and Secretary Victor Trumper were sacked amidst allegations lead by Alexander Knox, that the trio had misappropriated funds. Liberal politician Ernest Broughton was appointed President and Larkin the first full-time secretary. Their goal was to try and keep the game alive.

Larkin accepted the position and resigned from the Police force. To show their gratitude, the North Sydney Police gave him a gold chain and the Superintendent’s office gave him an inscribed gold sovereign purse, for his services.

One of the first noticeable changes Larkin introduced was improved advertising of games. Shortly after he began his new role rumours surfaced that Larkin was in talks with South Africa about sending a Rugby League team to Australia.

S George Ball, Bill Flegg, John Quinlan, Horrie Miller and Larkin devised a plan to both promote Rugby League and improve the games financial situation by playing the Rugby Union Wallabies against the Rugby League Kangaroo’s in three matches. The plan would involve the Wallabies being paid so that they were defined as professionals and thus ineligible to play Rugby Union, leaving Rugby League as their only football option available.

Upon hearing of this scheme, NSWRL president Broughton and Alexander Knox were greatly opposed, so much so that Broughton resigned from his post when his demands to cease the scheme were ignored.

Labor politician Edward O’Sullivan took over from Broughton and was more than happy to let the Wallabies coup go ahead. The quintet soon found that the Wallabies pay demands were much higher than they expected and decided to ask entrepreneur and South Sydney Hospital director, James Joynton-Smith, for his assistance to which he agreed.

With negotiations completed the games went ahead, but after the third game there was still a financial shortfall from the purchase of the Wallabies, so a fourth match was planned to be played on the same day as the 1909 final. Knox was publicly scathing of the new administration, but after numerous attacks were foiled, he eventually resigned from the NSWRL board.

Days before the 1909 final, Balmain officials approached Larkin to complain about the schedule to which Larkin suggested that if they don’t play it would be a sign of disloyalty. Balmain refused to take the field on game day, forming a picket line outside the ground. South Sydney was declared premiers. The fourth game between the Wallabies and the Kangaroos went ahead and the season ended with the NSWRL being debt free and with a very small sum of money in the bank.

Due to ill-health O’Sullivan was forced to resign at the end of the season and his place was taken by Joynton-Smith.

The following year, Larkin worked tirelessly to expand Rugby League, especially at grass roots level. He successfully convinced Catholic Schools and the Marist Brothers to adopt Rugby League over Rugby Union in their schools. In his annual report concluding the 1910 season he even revealed that he had begun plans to take the game to the United States.

Larkin became a Justice of the Peace in 1911 and in 1913 he decided he would run for a seat in parliament. He became the first Labor member to win a seat on Sydney’s North Shore when he became the member for Willoughby after a tight election that saw him win 51.61% of the vote in a second ballot.

During his time in parliament, Larkin advocated for a bridge to be built across the harbour. He also forged an agreement with the SCG trust to have Rugby League games played at the SCG. Upon winning, Larkin decided to resign his post as Treasurer, amidst many calls from within the NSWRL for him to stay on in a part-time capacity. He was also a director at the Royal North Shore Hospital, President of the NSW League of Wheelmen and President of the Australian Federal Cycling Council and he was struggling to find the time to fulfill his duties at a level acceptable by his standards.

In 1914, Larkin agreed to serve as interim treasurer of the NSWRL, but his time was cut short by the outbreak of World War I.

The Labor Prime Minister (and former Glebe Rugby League club patron) Billy Hughes, had been working tirelessly to have conscription introduced, however it was vigourously opposed by the majority of parliament and the public.

On August 17, 1914, Edward Larkin enlisted to join the Armed Services. Many of his colleagues urged him not to go, as his leadership abilities would be required on home soil. Larkin enlisted because he felt it was his duty as an athlete and as a leader of athletes to volunteer to serve for the country so as to inspire other athletes to do the same. Some also saw his decision to join as a way of helping to promote more men to join the war effort as soldiers.

Shortly after enlisting, Larkin was promoted to Sergeant. On October 18 he departed for Egypt, where he was prominent in organising Rugby League games amongst the soldiers. In early 1915 while still in Egypt he fell ill and was granted permission to return home. Larkin refused and just weeks later joined the 1st Battalion, which contained his brother Martin, and disembarked for Turkey.

On the first day of battle at Gallipoli, Larkin’s battalion was one of the very first to set foot on shore. His battalion made it to the top of a ridge before they were gunned down by heavy machine gun fire. When approached by the stretcher bearers, Larkin reportedly waved them away and said “There’s plenty worse than me out there.” They later found him dead. His body was so badly mutilated that many soldiers believed he had been tortured, which infuriated the Australians, before they learnt of his true demise. His brother died beside him.

Upon hearing of Larkin’s death, many memorial services were held. His old school, St Joseph’s, held a service followed by a meeting of its officials who decided that a scholarship would be created to put Larkin’s eldest son through school. The scholarship hoped to raise £1,000, with any extra funds to be used to put the children of other former students, who fell at war, through school.

His parliamentarian colleagues also set up a trust fund for his widow and children, which raised enough to pay £180 off his overdraft and £50 to his wife.

The NSWRL also donated a total of £171 to his wife, which were the profits from the City Cup Final of 1915.

A commemorative tablet honouring the fallen MP’s Sergeant Edward Larkin and Lieutenant-Colonel George Braund, was unveiled in November 1915.

There is no known grave for Edward Larkin.

All that remains is a small inscription upon a memorial at Lone Pine, Gallipoli, just metres away from where he died.

The Halftime Spray #5 (2014)

2014 is Cronulla's worst start to a season since 1969. Given their performance of the previous two seasons, you can't help but wonder why.
In the past few years they had become a team known for their ruthless aggression in defence above anything else. In 2014 they have lost their teeth and are leaking points far too easily.
Most notably is the immense change in defensive prowess on their right edge, most notably defenders Todd Carney and Blake Ayshford.
At the same time last year, Carney had played the same number of games, all in the same position. The glaring difference is that in 2013 he had missed 8 tackles. In 2014 he has missed 28 tackles.
Carney's poor defence has seen play being directed at him more which has also seen right centre Blake Ayshford make 132 tackles, which is 47 more than Cronulla's right centres made at the same point in time last year.
Ayshford has missed 23 tackles, which is 12 more than Cronulla's right centres after 7 games last year.
Because Ayshford is trying to cover for Carney, he is being isolated in defence and players are running through him, if they haven't already run through Carney. Between these two they have made 57 of Cronulla's 174 missed tackles in 2014 (32.76%).
This is the Sharks' epic weakness. Prior to Carney returning to first grade in Round 3 this year, Ayshford had made 33 tackles and missed just 3. This alone shows that Ayshford's defence has suffered only since Carney returned to the side.
With so much traffic being run at Carney, he's lacking in energy when he gets to attack and this is evident by the fact that the Sharks have scored just 87 points so far this year (the next worst attacking side is Penrith who have scored 109 points).
If the Sharks are to right their ship and start performing to a much higher standard that everyone knows they are capable of, then it's quite clear that Carney needs to be moved in the defensive line, and I believe the best place is closer towards the middle around much stronger defenders. It will provide a number of benefits:
  • The right edge weakness in defence will be corrected
  • Ayshford's defence will improve
  • Attackers will have to run at strong defenders if they want to target Carney
  • Carney will be more confident and less tired, helping him and the team when attacking
  • Cronulla's defensive line will move more smoothly and effectively.
Carney's other issue is his decisions in defence. The same play can be run at him a few times every game and he will react differently every time, sometimes he'll rush up at the player in front of him, sometimes he'll run at the gap between the player passing the ball and the player he should be marking, sometimes he'll hold off and slide and sometimes he'll be in the defensive line but defending like a cover defender when he shouldn't be.
All of these issues cause his outside defender, Ayshford, to stay back which in turn leave's him flat footed and a target to run at. Because he isn't moving, he is easy to run through.
How Carney went from being capable in defence 12 months ago, to a confused weak defender is anybody's guess, but until he sort's out this issue, Cronulla will continue to languish at the end of the table.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Halftime Spray #4 (2014)

All the talk this week has been around attendances and the lack thereof. So far this year, 747,246 people have attended the games from the first 6 rounds. In 2013, all records were broken by some 40 odd thousand over the same period. Crowds were getting bigger and more of the same was expected this year.

Instead what has transpired is quite the opposite. A whopping 135,568 less people have attended games this year compared to the same time last year. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2006 to find a year whose crowds over the first 6 rounds were less than those in 2014. But in 2006, there were only 7 games per week, not 8 like today.

The last time crowds were this low for a season comprising of 8 games per round over the opening 6 rounds was back in 1999, a short time after the Superleague war brought the game to its knees.

The figures also show that it’s not just one or two bad weeks that has dragged the number down, it’s been an issue since Round 1.

Round 1, 2014 – 126,590 - The worst opening round attendance since 2003 (123,405 in 7 games)
Round 2, 2014 – 137,805 – The lowest Round 2 attendance of the past 3 years
Round 4, 2014 – 118,112 – The lowest Round 4 attendance since 2006 (103,791 in 7 games)
Round 6, 2014 – 107,821 – The lowest Round 6 attendance since 2007 (98,127 in 6 games)

Total attendance 2014 – 747,246 – The lowest attendance in 16+ team competitions since 1999 (737,806) and the lowest since 2006 (732,277 in 42 games – 6 less than in 2014)

First 6 Rounds total attendance:
2014: 747,246 (48 games)
2013: 882,814 (48 games)
2012: 836,111 (48 games)
2011: 838,732 (48 games)
2010: 846,273 (48 games)
2009: 841,476 (48 games)
2008: 857,869 (48 games)
2007: 838,649 (46 games)
2006: 732,277 (42 games)

With club memberships breaking the record set last year at the same time, one can only wonder why crowd figures are going in the opposite direction.

The game is faster, more open and exciting this year compared to past seasons. The results are more inconsistent. The game cannot be considered as boring by any means at all in 2014. The weather cannot be used as an excuse. It’s a winter sport. Rain happens.

Perhaps members aren’t going to games? Or maybe non-members aren’t going because of the cost of tickets? Is it scheduling?

Whatever the reason, the NRL needs to work out if they need to start making some changes to rectify this issue, sooner rather than later.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Halftime Spray #3 (2014)

With the devastation of Alex McKinnon's injury from a spear tackle still very raw in the minds of every Rugby League fan, official, player, administrator and family members, one could understand that a crack-down on spear tackles and an influx of lengthy suspensions would follow to try and wipe the tackle out of the game for good.
And not one person would be angered or upset by that. In fact, it would have been met largely with open arms and support.
This past week we saw a number of dangerous tackles, most notably one by Dragons talented forward Jack de Belin against South Sydney's Sam Burgess, which saw Burgess fall head first into the ground with his feet pointing straight up. Burgess was able to roll himself so as to avoid a serious injury. Jack de Belin was put on report.
He wasn't sent off. Not even sin binned.
But the travesty doesn't end there. He was eventually given a Grade 1 Dangerous Throw charge, the lightest possible charge you could receive. This resulted in him copping a suspension for one week.
Wests Tiger's five-eighth Braith Anasta was suspended for the same amount of time for a lazy and careless shoulder charge. 
But in no way was Anasta's illegal tackle as dangerous as de Belin's was, yet according to the NRL's Match Review Committee, they were about the same.
Is it only possible that justifiably long suspensions for illegal tackles can be handed down only when the tackled player is seriously injured? What sort of a backward Mickey Mouse operation is this?
It's high time that lifting in tackles started getting very hefty penalties. So here's my idea. Scrap these 5 separate gradings, it allows for too much leniency. Three should be ample.
Grade 1: If a player puts his hand between a players legs and lifts - 1 to 2 weeks suspension.
Grade 2: If a player is lifted to the horizontal, not beyond it -3 to 6 week's suspension.
Grade 3: If a player is lifted and tipped beyond the horizontal - at least 7 weeks suspension.

It may seem excessive, but really, what would we rather see, spear tackles eradicated from the game, or more players who have to go through the ordeal that has tragically befallen poor Alex McKinnon.
The NRL is seriously lacking in consistency. On Tuesday the Bulldogs were handed an infraction for not following their new concussion guidelines, when they allowed Josh Jackson to play in Round 2.
While the decision against the Bulldogs and Anasta show that they can get these decisions right, the decisions against de Belin and other players who committed illegal tackles, especially over the last weekend (spear tackles, crusher tackles), which can cause very severe injuries have been given excessively soft penalties.
If the NRL continues with this stance, they are simply telling clubs that these illegal plays are tolerated. Is that what they want?

The Halftime Spray #2 (2014)

This year the NRL introduced new concussion rules to deal with the management of players who suffer head knocks, entirely for the benefit of the players. This is a great scheme and is long overdue.
However, it also needs some extra work.
Some clubs are sticking by decisions to omit players from a game if they suffered concussion the week before, while others are opting against this. Many over the course of the year will end up being inconsistent with this rule depending on who it is that cops the head knock.
The NRL should step in and say that, in the benefit of player safety, any player who has been deemed to have suffered concussion (whether it be mild or severe) is not permitted to play for the next 10 days. This rule would also ensure that diving is not condoned or promoted, as any player who tries to dive to get a player sin binned will not be allowed to play the following week.
Further to this, each club should be allowed to replace a concussed player with a fresh reserve from outside their starting 17 players, with no loss of interchange. I'd also only allow NSW Cup players to fill these roles.
If the players concussion is the result of an illegal play, the offender (if he hasn't been sent off) should be sin-binned for 10 minutes, put on report, his team penalised and the sin binning should count as one interchange when he runs off the field (despite not being replaced). This would prove to be quite a strong deterrent from high tackles. There is no purpose for players to tackle around a players head and if the NRL is serious about reducing the risk of head injuries, then they need to have a hard line stance across the board.
Mistakes and accidents do happen; they are unavoidable in a body contact sport.
Some have suggested that a sin binned player should be replaced, but I think this fails to be a punishment. Players need to know and learn that their actions impact their team very heavily so as to help promote safe and fair play and to reduce the number of illegal incidents that happen in the game, specifically those impacting a players head.
The NRL took a strong stance last year when they introduced the one punch rule. And as a whole, it has been a great success. My idea should be seen as an extension of that.
The time to act is now.