Monday, 26 November 2018

Jim Abercrombie (2018)

Born: 31/12/1880 at Curramulka, South Australia
Died: 29/10/1948 at Puramahoi, Nelson, New Zealand

The story of Jim Abercrombie is one that typifies the struggle that pioneering players had with the Rugby Union and their motivation to join the newly formed Rugby League.

Abercrombie himself had a difficult personal life too, even as a child. He was born James Maskell in Curramulka, South Australia on New Years Eve 1880, the first child of dairy farmer Thomas and his wife Lucy’s 3 children. When he was 11 years old, his father died. The following year she married William Abercrombie and all 3 children adopted his surname.

Sadly though, William passed away just 2 years later. Lucy relocated with her children to Sydney and in 1897, married again to Joseph Appleton, giving Jim his third father before he turned 17 years old.

In 1898 Jim began playing lower grade Rugby Union, lining up for Bayview for 2 seasons before switching to Grosvenor in 1900. While there he was selected in a Moss Vale representative side.

In 1901 he made his first grade debut for heavyweight side Glebe, earning a place in the Sydney juniors side that took on Newcastle. In 1902 he played for Metropolitan v Newcastle. After the 1903 season, he left the Glebe club to play for North Sydney.

He continued to improve at Norths, despite several of his team mates not bothering to attend training.

In 1906, he married Grace Johnson and the following year he became a father, to twin boys William and James.

Jim was made vice-captain of North Sydney in 1907, captaining the side on a number of occasions, but one game changed everything in an instant.

On July 6 he was sent off in the game between North Sydney and St.George. 3 days later, his magnificent form saw him earn his highest representative honour at the time when he was selected to play for NSW on their tour of Western Australia.

His joy lasted just 1 day. On July 10 the Metropolitan Rugby Union suspended Abercrombie until September 1908 – a 14 month suspension – “for indiscriminate kicking.” Two weeks later the MRU decided to review the decision at a later date.

A shattered Abercrombie then decided to attend the inaugural meeting to form Rugby League in Australia, which took place at the Bateman’s Hotel on August 12, 1907. Joining him were a large number of players, most notably Dally Messenger, Tommy O’Donnell, Harry Hamill, Herb Brackenreg, Martin Laidlaw, Tom Costello, Albert Rosenfeld, Bob Graves, Arthur Hennessy, Alec Burdon, Frank Cheadle, Percy McNamara, Peter Moir, Dinny Lutge and Fred Henlen.

Four days after this meeting, the MRU agreed to remove the suspension on Abercrombie, exonerating him completely, however by then he was unable to join the NSW side.

The following week, Abercrombie lined up for the professional NSW rebel side in their third match against New Zealand ‘All-Gold’s’. The following month the MRU banned him and all his team mates from Rugby Union for life.

On February 7, 1908, Abercrombie attended the inaugural meeting for the North Sydney Rugby League club, also being elected to a position on the committee. Surprisingly, he was then in attendance at the Western Suburbs Rugby League inaugural meeting at the Ashfield Town Hall and again, was elected on the clubs board. He found himself work as a Blacksmith in Concord and thus lined up for the Western Suburbs side for the 1908 season.

He played in every game for Wests in their debut season, as well as being picked for NSW against the visiting Maori side and then for Metropolis against both Queensland and the Maori side again.

Abercrombie was named in the Australian side to play against the Maori team on August 1, but the match was cancelled. With the Kangaroo touring squad having been named just a few days prior, with Abercrombie not being picked, it appeared that he had missed his chance for national selection.

But on August 4, he was named along with Albert Rosenfeld, Tedda Courtney and Alf Dobbs. 4 days later he played for Wests in their last game of the season and a week later, boarded the RMS Macedonia and set sail on the six week journey to England.

Abercrombie went on to play in 31 of the 45 games on the ill-fated tour, including the first and second tests against Great Britain.

Upon returning to Australia in 1909, Abercrombie did not play any first grade football for the year. He played just 2 games in 1910 for Wests.

In 1911 his son John was born and in 1913, he made one last first grade appearance for Wests due to several players not being available. At the end of the year, the City Cup final between Norths and Glebe had half the gate takings donated to 4 pioneer players who had decided to retire – Abercrombie, Bob Mable, Ed Fry and Harry Hamill. Each player received the tidy sum of 80 pounds.

The following year he was awarded life membership of the New South Wales Rugby League.

In 1921, at the age of 40 he became a father again, to son Cornelius and in 1929 had a daughter who tragically died from meningitis at the age of three.

After his daughter’s death, he reverted back to using his birth surname of Maskell and then emigrated to New Zealand to become a farmer in Puramahoi, north of Nelson on the South Island.

His mother died in 1937 and in 1940 his son John enlisted for service in World War II with the 2/19 Australian Infantry. He was taken prisoner while serving in Thailand and died on June 18, 1943.

On October 29, 1948 James Maskell passed away.

In 2008 he was one of six men inducted into the Western Suburbs Rugby League club’s Hall of Fame, alongside club legends Keith Holman, Peter Dimond, Arthur Summons, Noel Kelly and Tommy Raudonikis.

Rugby League Playing Career

Wests (1908, 1910, 1913) – Played 12, 5 goals, 10 points

NSW (1907-08) – Played 2, 0 points
Metropolis (1908) – Played 2, 0 points
Australia (1908-09 Kangaroo tour games) – Played 29, 2 tries, 6 goals, 18 points

Australia (1908-09) – Played 2, 0 points

1907-13 – Played 47, 2 tries, 11 goals, 28 points

Friday, 23 November 2018

Perception v Reality (2018)

Just this month, two guys on Twitter created Footy Smiles, a social media account on Twitter and Facebook that is aimed at telling the good stories that happen in Rugby League. In that short period of time, they’ve already attained over 300 followers on Facebook and almost 1250 on Twitter (Please click on the links to give them a follow).

The reality is, people want these good news stories.

Sadly, the perception coming from the mainstream media outlet The Daily Telegraph is starkly different.

This week, Footy Smiles has revealed the South Sydney players uniting for a walk to support White Ribbon Day, Sia Soliola losing his plentiful locks to raise almost $45,000 charity Kulture Break, Jesse Ramien taking on a challenge to raise awareness about an aggressive brain tumor, The Dragons team spending 2 days to help Year 11 students plan for life after school, a number of Parramatta Eels players who attended a fans 18th birthday….the list goes on….and these were in a 24 hour period.

Yet over at the Daily Telegraph, their Rugby League news section contains several articles on two stories: Jarryd Hayne’s alleged sexual misconduct and Valentine Holmes’ decision to pursue success in another code of football. There is also an article about ARLC Chairman Peter Beattie and his salary (what is it with the Tele wanting to know how much everyone is paid?) and Wayne Bennett hiding from the media. Not one mention of any of the great things highlighted by Footy Smiles.

Earlier this year, the Tele responded to fans who were sick of all their negative stories. The Tele ran a series of attempted positive stories one day, but the aggressively petulant Paul Crawley still couldn’t resist the urge to whine about fans to open/ruin his feature piece.

The problem here is that the mainstream media is conditioned to reporting the few miserable stories, analysing and over-analysing each transgression in lurid detail. This in turn has conditioned fans to want them. Then the journo's pumping out those stories justify them by saying "it's what people want to read."

It's a miserable cycle.

Fear and misery is a concept that is hard to keep thriving, because once people get conditioned to it, you need to up the ante.

And as player behaviour continues to improve, the number of bad stories rapidly reduces, forcing these parasites to hungrily fawn over any slightly negative incident.

As we saw in 2018, if there isn’t anything negative, they’ll create it. We all remember the tirade of abuse and attacks hurled at the NRL and match officials over penalty crack downs by the likes of Phil Rothfield, Phil Gould and Paul Crawley, as well as on air commentators like Corey Parker and Braith Anasta.

People need to demand more from these well paid journalists. Their stories are often agenda driven campaigns which dictate public opinion and subsequently force the NRL into action.

But thanks to the long overdue Footy Smiles, we now get to see that the game isn’t a cesspit of misery. It’s a game filled with players, clubs and officials doing great things in the community.

Every single day.

That is the reality.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

A better Immortals system? (2018)

Tonight the next Immortals will be announced in what has been a very stringently organised system.

The Immortals was originally created by the recently deceased magazine Rugby League Week back in 1981, aimed at naming the most elite players of Post war Australian Rugby League, in conjunction with a sponsor to help shift bottles of port.

The four men named Immortals then were Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton, John Raper and Reg Gasnier.

In 1999, 2 more players were added to the original four; Wally Lewis and Graeme Langlands.

Arthur Beetson was then added in 2003 and Andrew Johns was somewhat controversially added in 2012.

When the magazine folded, the NRL bought the Immortals concept from them and have since attached it to their revamped Hall of Fame and completely rewriting the Immortals concept, so that it includes all players since 1908.

This idea was being bandied about within the NRL for some time, well before the closure of the Rugby League Week magazine. However the opportunity is ripe now to push ahead, especially with the opportunity to maintain and persist with the Immortals theme.

While the system put in place is thorough, exhaustive, intelligent and respectable, it is best suited to deciding future post war Immortals.

2018 should’ve been used as an opportunity to appoint all pre-war Immortals, solely. There is plenty of footage, reports and eyewitness accounts still available for post war players, but those from the first 4 decades are largely being represented by historians, statistics and rarely reported public opinions.

These pre-war players should be the first to be Immortalised under the new system and then use the current system in place to determine Immortals from each decade, starting with the 50’s in 2019, the 60’s in 2020, the 70’s in 2021, the 80’s in 2022.

In 2024 anoint the Immortals from the 1990’s. In 2027 the Immortals from the 2000-2009 period should be added and in 2030 add in players from 2010-2019.

From this point onwards, Immortals could be announced at the end of every decade, with a decade gap, for example the Immortals from 2020-2029 would be announced in 2040.

The system being used currently is brilliant and should be persevered with, but with the above mentioned amendment.

Further to this, the Immortals should extend beyond players. Administrators, coaches, referees and officials should all be considered.

The League Digest podcast, which should be a part of everyone’s podcast listening routine, have their own system for Hall of Fame players, which automatically installs the 22 men who played for NSW against the All Golds at the start of their 1907-08 tour. This is an idea that I believe not only has merit, but should be fully adopted by the NRL. These are the 22 men who risked their sporting careers to help ensure Rugby League’s birth in Australia. 

These men need not be Hall of Famers or Immortals, but a separate entity unto their own, possibly named “The First” or something similar (I’m not in marketing, clearly):

Jim Abercrombie
Herb Brackenreg
David Brown
Billy Cann
Frank Cheadle
Tedda Courtney
Lou D’Alpuget
Jim Devereux
Alf Dobbs
Ed Fry
Harry Glanville
Bob Graves
Arthur Halloway
Harry Hamill
Charlie Hedley
Arthur Hennessy
Bob Mable
Dally Messenger
Peter Moir
Sid Pearce
Albert Rosenfeld
Johnno Stuntz

This entire system, I feel, produces the best system moving forward, while fully recognising players against their peers from the same era, which would be more accurate and much fairer.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Rugby League - Drama is thy middle name (2018)

2018 has been a rather topsy-turvey season emotionally for many fans and commentators. The hatred over refereeing has seen some people claim they aren’t watching the games anymore. They say this every week, all but suggesting that they are still watching.

It reminds of another great Frontline quote about outraged people.

“They’re watching…they’ll be the first people to tune in next week looking to be outraged.”

And what exactly is getting everyone so vehemently upset with the NRL? Referee mistakes and indirectly the boss of the NRL, Todd Greenberg.

No one is perfect. No one.


So it amazes that there are so many perfect humans, who have never been an NRL referee, or run a major sporting organisation, who seem to be so proficient in how both roles should be carried out.

It’s time for a bit of perspective. Has this been the most controversial year in regards to officiating and/or administration.

In 1908, the game’s founding fathers, politician Henry Hoyle (President), businessman James Giltinan (Secretary) and Test Cricket legend Victor Trumper (Treasurer), were so busy in the game’s birth that they were unable to produce a basic balance sheet in the General Meeting at the start of 1909. At that meeting in 1909, they were all removed from office with politician Ernest Broughton elected to take over as President.

Broughton lasted 22 days before stepping down due to work commitments and health concerns. He was replaced by another politician, Edward O’Sullivan, who last slightly longer before resigning upon learning about the League’s secret plan to sign the Wallabies. He was then replaced by Sir James Joynton-Smith, the man who funded the purchase of the Wallabies. The year ended with Balmain forfeiting the final for a number of reasons, the main one being that they didn’t think the Premiership final should be the undercard for an exhibition game between the Kangaroos and the Wallabies.

In 1917, one player appeared in one game for Glebe. He was Dan Davies from Newcastle and he was living in the region set aside for the Annandale club, under the residential rule that existed at the time. What transpired was Glebe losing 2 competition points and Davies banned for life. Glebe players protested their treatment later in the year over a number of matters by fielding a reserve grade team against defending premiers Balmain in what should have been a huge game. Balmain won 41-2. Glebe’s first grade players who refused to play were all handed lengthy suspensions.

Meanwhile, Dan Davies returned to Newcastle and began playing in the local competition. Once the NSWRL found out, they banned nearly every player, club and administrator in the Newcastle competition for life. They then set up a rebel league and continued playing the game outside of the control of the NSWRL. All the bans and suspensions were eventually repealed and Newcastle returned to a unified competition in 1920

This article could go on a lot longer, but the fact is, Rugby League will always find a way to have drama. Some of it is excessive by the game itself, other is blown out of proportion by the media, but all of them have only served to see the game grow stronger and bigger and better.

The petulant whines of a few sooks about referee blunders and how they are going to walk away from the game for good are coming from people with very short memories.

I urge those people to stop and ask yourselves this:

Is my constant whinging about the refereeing standards, the bunker and the assumed lack of leadership at the NRL really that bad. Would I prefer another Super League war instead?

This is solely a piece to offer some perspective. There’s no need to run with fearmongering rubbish, running stupid boycotts or blindly agreeing with everything some crisis merchant in the mainstream media constantly dribbles out.

If you want to genuinely help the game out, then be productive and offer solutions to issues.

If you hate the game, then please, stop watching it and go away.