SEVEN DAYS: April 24-30

HAIRY WEEK: Benji Marshall playing Super Rugby for the Blues.

Thursday, April 24

BENJI Marshall arrives back at Sydney airport, having blown full-time on his brief dalliance with the game they allegedly play in heaven.

Personally, I smell a rat.

I simply can’t accept that Benji was not good enough to make the grade in the 15-man code.

Let’s face it, you hardly need to be an elite athlete to play rugby, as Matt Dunning proved during his 45 Tests for the Wallabies.

Take my Seven Days substitute of the past two weeks, James Gardiner, as a case in point. Jiggy bears an uncanny resemblance to Winnie the Pooh yet played his fair share of first grade in the Newcastle and Hunter competition, including featuring in a premiership-winning squad with his beloved Wanderers. I remember once asking one of his teammates what were Jig’s attributes, and he replied: ‘‘He’s a good scrummager.’’

Enough said.

Benji, presumably, is not much of a scrummager. But he certainly ticks every other box that should have made him a rah-rah superstar – he can kick penalty goals, field goals, boot it over the sideline on the full and looks good in a tweed jacket with chinos.

Yet here he is, back in Sydney, apparently ready to start filling out forms at Centrelink.

Somehow I can’t buy this speculation that he wants to join Cronulla. The Sharks are stoney motherless and ASADA haven’t even started rubbing blokes out yet. My suspicions are further raised when Sydney Swans loose cannon Buddy Franklin crashes his Jeep into four parked cars.

Strikes me as a blatant publicity stunt to sabotage the imminent announcement that Benji has signed for the GWS Giants.

Friday, April 25

ST George Illawarra are reduced to the role of cannon fodder in their annual Anzac Day battle with the Chooks, who come out all guns blazing in a 34-14 blitzkrieg.

In Brisbane, South Sydney’s Greg Inglis leaves seven Brisbane defenders in his wake in a devastating surge to the try line that starts deep in his own end of the field.

Commentators and fans are soon debating other memorable individual tries of modern times. A few stick in my mind – Brett Mullins racing the full length of the field against the Knights in 1994, a remarkable 65-metre effort from Danny Wicks against the Roosters in 2008, and an iconic Eric Grothe special in a 1983 semi-final.

I was sitting on the SCG hill, cheering for the Bulldogs, when the man they call ‘‘Guru’’ ploughed through six defenders to score.

It is listed on Youtube as ‘‘the greatest try ever scored’’ and for 31 years I have held a similar opinion. Now GI gives me cause to reconsider.


Saturday, April 26

I’M listening to Triple M’s commentary in the car and Joey Johns, Girds and company reveal that the word ‘‘Manu’’ is Tongan for ‘‘animal’’ or ‘‘beast’’.

Hence, Manu ‘‘the Beast’’ Vatuvei.

It also seems appropriate in their discussions about another fearsome figure, Penrith’s Sika Manu, and the new Parramatta forward, Manu Ma’u, who has an equally wild look in his eye.

On the subject of large, dangerous creatures, they call Tony Williams the ‘‘T-Rex’’ but too often he seems more like a brontosaurus, lumbering around and apparently intent on avoiding confrontation.

Williams is one of the most maligned players in the NRL, but one split second of Canterbury’s 16-12 win against the Knights at ANZ Stadium is a reminder of how much damage a T-Rex can wreak when in the mood.

With scores locked 4-all, Williams receives the ball, looks up, and for once does not pass it, instead making a beeline for the smallest defender in front of him, Jarrod Mullen.

It is hardly a fair fight. T-Rex, with a 30-kilo weight advantage, powers straight through Mullo’s attempted tackle.

He then kindly donates a ‘‘meat pie’’ to the only beast in the NRL jungle bigger than a dinosaur, Sam ‘‘Dogzilla’’ Kasiano.

Sunday, April 27

I READ with interest in the news pages of a Sunday paper about a bloke who has paid $8000 to have a ‘‘facial hair transplant’’ because he believes his beard is ‘‘too patchy’’.

This gets me to thinking about the return of whiskers as a rugby league fashion statement.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the game was blessed with some outstanding beards.

Crusher Cleal, Graeme O’Grady, Ray Price, George Peponis, Geoff Robinson and Kerry Hemsley, for starters.

Sadly, during the ’90s and early 2000s it seemed the razor gang ruled supreme. A bloke like Kirk Reynoldson was considered a crazy character simply because he adopted the bushranger look.

Then a few years back Manly’s David Williams became a household name simply by transforming into the ‘‘Wolfman’’.

Nowadays it seems there are more players in the NRL sporting facial fuzz than ever. If you don’t have a beard and a sleeve tattoo, you need to play a different game.

Monday, April 28

ARL chairman John Grant wears a beard but that is apparently his lone connection to the game he once played.

That is the only logical conclusion to be drawn after a news bulletin highlights Grant’s performance in announcing the Aussie team for the trans-Tasman Test.

He declares Paul Gallen plays for the ‘‘Cronulla-Sutherland Hawks’’ and Daly Cherry Evans for the ‘‘Manly-Warringah Seagulls’’.

One of your best, John.

The foot-in-mouth faux pas draws unflattering comparisons with last year’s blooper from NRL chief executive Dave Smith, who didn’t know a Benji Barba from a Ben Marshall at the season launch.

But at least Smithy is just a Welsh banker (that’s not rhyming slang, by the way) who had never been to a footy game in his life before he replaced David Gallop, not a former Test player.

Tuesday, April 29

CHAIRMAN Grant sheepishly admits he has ‘‘no idea’’ how the Hawks and Seagulls popped into his head to make a goose of him.

“It’s ridiculous,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s no explanation other than to acknowledge a total error.

“I feel very uncomfortable about it in terms of Manly and Cronulla. It’s just an error that I’m sorry I made. It’s not where I want to be as a person.”

Meanwhile, on the subject of ‘‘total errors’’, the Knights stand down young prop Zane Tetevano indefinitely after police charge him with allegedly punching a taxi’s windscreen.

Knights officials announce in a statement that ‘‘the club will review Tetevano’s position internally’’.

Sounds painful.

Wednesday, April 30

SEVEN Days has received a truckload of abusive, hand-written letters over the years from a reader I call the ‘‘Maitland Maniac’’, but today’s takes the cake.

Apparently livid that yours truly (unsuccessfully) tipped the Knights to beat the Bulldogs last weekend, the Maniac mails me a redbelly with the instructions: ‘‘Here’s $20 those f—ing [expletives] the Newcastle Knights DON’T make the finals this year.’’

He proceeds to refer to your columnist with a barrage of adjectives that do not bear repeating in the pages of a family newspaper.

There are a few fundamental problems with The Maniac’s $20 wager.

First, I’m not expecting the Knights to make the finals this year. And even if I was, I’d have to say the Maniac’s odds are a tad stingy.

The bookies are offering $3.25 for Newcastle to make the top eight, and $1.30 for them to miss out. The Maniac seems to reckon an even-money bet is fair and square.

So without wanting to disappoint my old mate, I’ll be giving Maniac TAB a wide berth.

I’d put the $20 in an envelope and return it but, as usual, the letter is unsigned and includes no address.

I guess that means I’ll have to donate it to a worthy cause – such as Dan Murphy’s, for instance – and just hope that ICAC don’t find out.

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