Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh McGahan: Fans want skill and finesse, not brawling on the field

Blues and Maroons players fight during State of Origin game two. Photo / Getty Images
Blues and Maroons players fight during State of Origin game two. Photo / Getty Images

I thought I was a dinosaur when it came to traditions and extolling the virtues of yesteryear and "how we use to do it", but some of the venom coming from past and present players in relation to the latest Origin controversy is over the top.

The reaction over the sin-binning of four players took away the gloss of a complete performance by Queensland over their arch-enemy. We need to stop, take a chill pill and relax. In this column last week, I mentioned about those who opposed the "ban the biff" edict from the NRL and the enforcement of putting perpetrators to the sin bin. As I stated earlier, this proclamation was never going to curtail fighting, it is to punish those who throw punches. On Wednesday evening I agree that the referees overreacted and were wrong to send both Brent Tate and Greg Bird to the bin; Trent Merrin and Justin Hodges justifiably were sent ... no problem with that.

My criticism is of those former players, Andrew Johns, Paul Vautin and Wally Lewis, in particular, who claim that fighting is what people want to see in Origin football. I cannot believe this is the motivation for anyone to watch a sporting fixture except for combat sports like boxing, martial arts and wrestling.

No one I know or have ever spoken to watches Origin football just for the fights; they watch it for the nature of the contest and if a fight breaks out, well that's a bonus. It cannot be allowed to be said that fighting makes this more of a spectacle. State of Origin was remembered for the fights which dogged its early days and as I mentioned last week, it was at a time when it was a little more accepted than in today's society.

Today's audience has increased to include more women who, for better or for worse, have a large say in what sport their children play and how much money is spent, by that family, into the sport.

As these former players are now in the media and making a living commentating and effectively promoting the sport, they cannot continue to promote fighting for "the sake of old times". If players today are arrested one night for fighting in the streets, they will be dealt with by the courts. Can the same former players agree with penalties the courts hand out for bringing the game into disrepute, yet openly campaign they be allowed to do it on the football field in front of an audience of millions without consequence?

It's hypocrisy by these great players and an issue their employer needs to address with them or possibly an avenue the NRL can question of their broadcast partners.

I remember those same players for their feats on the field not for their impersonation of middle-weight boxers. Their skill set, finesse and utmost determination to win games; that's my memory of Origin and the great encounters between the two states.

- Herald on Sunday

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Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh Joseph McGahan MBE was a renowned rugby league player and coach who represented New Zealand in no less than 53 test matches, captaining 17 of them. Beginning his career in Auckland he later moved to Sydney where he played over 100 matches for the Roosters, finishing his career in 1991 as captain-coach of the eastern Sydney outfit. Accolades were never far away from the impressive Kiwi lock and in 1987 McGahan jointly won the prestigious Golden Boot Award, the first row forward at the time to win the award. Hugh McGahan’s international career was similarly impressive coming to the fore in 1982 after scoring a remarkable six tries for the Kiwis against Papua New Guinea in Auckland. Hugh Mcgahan ended his career with distinguished honours as he was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to rugby and later inducted into the NZRL Legends of League. He continues to write sports columns for the New Zealand Herald.

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