BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Many good experts with their ears to the ground in the American sports world and other places have been waiting for this day – when National Rugby League athletes break the shackles of the clichés and one-liners.
It was only a matter of time before player-driven podcasts became part of the endless news-cycle in rugby league.
We’ve all been begging for independent media.
Now we have it.
In its rawest form.
One of the game’s best footballers, warts and all, spewing words without a filter. No club media manager, nobody over the shoulder, just him and his mate’s microphone.
This is Brandon Smith.
The ‘Block of Cheese’.
For years we’ve all been applauding his character and the fact he doesn’t take himself too seriously. In a world of robots, Smith has been a breath of fresh air… mostly.
We turned a blind eye to his and his teammates antics or whatever gets posted to Instagram. Everybody (mostly) shrugged when footage of what looked like white powder erred very closely to some of the game’s biggest names’ noses not long ago.
This isn’t about white lines, but it is about a precarious other line – the fine one.
Brandon Smith – the character we know today – is a bastard child of what he thinks he can be and what we let him create.
We want our players to be themselves but a version of it and we don’t really want to know what they are really like.
Keep some of it for yourselves, fellas.
Rugby league has been in dire need of characters and so we’ve said for over a decade.
A few years back it seemed we were all out of them.
Now we have plenty.
And so it goes, experts, players and fans want to have their cake and eat it too.
According to The Daily Telegraph’s Dean Ritchie, the Storm premiership-winner “dropped 61 f-bombs times and used the c-word three times” in the almost one-hour podcast with his mates the other day.
The outrage from a few has been over the top.
But common sense also says Brandon Smith needs a clip over the head and maybe a double upper cut for good measure.
Could you see Tom Brady dropping ‘c***’ on any podcast?
It’s not Smith’s fault.
We’ve given him too much rope and now he’s doing what he wants.
Fact is, you can be a character in the game of rugby league and not speak the way this old mate did.
The RLPA completely missed the point.
“Are they going to go and fine Michael Maguire?” RLPA Boss Clint Newton said.
“What is the scope here? We have some great characters in our game. People are not always going to get it right. There are no doubt some lessons to be learned out of that.
“Brandon has already come out and said he has learnt a couple of things from how he went about it.”
Newton was referring to a documentary about Wests Tigers and their coach Maguire swearing during live games and in the dressing rooms with his players.
Hardly a fair comparison.
The fact is, Brandon Smith knew what he was doing when he jumped on that podcast and he knew what he was saying every time he dropped a naughty word. He spruiked the Sydney Roosters, a club he is headed to in 2023 while also embarrassing his current club – the Melbourne Storm.
Rugby league media is in a precarious position and as always, way behind most of their competitors.
NRL.com has been cut off at the feet by Peter V’landys despite all the money spent by the governing body and its administrators before him to give the fans a truly independent source of news.
We need content from all angles.
But at the same time, players like Brandon Smith surely understand that they are on contracts and ridiculous amounts of money many of us will never see in our lives.
He is always representing his football club whether like he likes it or not.
It’s a balancing act and ‘The Cheese’ got it wrong.
We’ve all got it wrong.