Malcolm Boyle: Officials play a thankless role

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Former Kiwi coach Graham Lowe. Photo / NZPA
Former Kiwi coach Graham Lowe. Photo / NZPA

The disastrous events surrounding New Zealand Cricket administration this week remind me that managing an international sports team has to be one of the toughest and most thankless assignments a person can undertake.

On the surface, it appears to offer many rewards - including the intoxicating opportunity to get up front and friendly with famous players. There's also the opportunity for international travel, the prospect of wearing the silver fern and singing the national anthem on foreign sports fields. And sharing the adulation, should they return home as champions.

That's the upside which, in New Zealand's case anyway, happens far too rarely for our sports-mad populace. Understandably, there has to be a flipside for the blazer-wearers. In 2007, I had the opportunity to manage the All Golds rugby league team on a historic journey to the United Kingdom to play a Great Britain XIII. The centenary match was to celebrate 100 years of rugby league test football between the two sides.

In his briefing before the tour began, former Kiwi coach Graham Lowe spelled out my role in typical style: "Don't be too nervous; all you really have to do is pick the red wine each night."

How those words came back to haunt me. Two hours after playing the Great Britain team, I was still in the dressing room standing in ankle-deep mud, water and bandages, while the All Golds team were on the bus and launching into song. I knew then how Robinson Crusoe must have felt as some 40 discarded bandages and wet towels blocked the drains and all had to be extricated before I could head back to our hotel.

Although he was aligned with the All Golds and not part of the official Kiwi touring squad, I will never forget the respect with which co-opted coach Wayne Bennett earned as a manager and tour leader, disciplinarian and all-round mentor.

The related, infamous Kiwi tour of the same year (as distinct from the All Golds tour) was characterised by the ill-discipline of a number of players.

There had been a post-test incident involving the Kiwis players at their hotel in Wellington before they left for the UK. This was reported by the media, alleging women and cameras were involved.

Significantly, because of the 100-year milestone, the Queen had consented to host the team at Buckingham Palace for afternoon tea but these plans were jeopardised when news of the Wellington incident became known.

Kiwis captain Ruben Wiki and subsequently Wayne Bennett moved quickly and with clarity and diplomatic skill not necessarily associated with the 13-man game.

Wiki and Bennett took up the challenge from the then New Zealand High Commissioner, Jonathan Hunt to identify which players were part of the Wellington incident and to exclude them from the palace visit.

Such was the mana of Wiki with the players, and Bennett with the wider squad, that the players involved voluntarily stepped forward and were not party to the palace visit.

Bennett's skills and decisiveness were brilliant and, from close up, Bennett was the quintessential leader for rugby league - in my view, the greatest figure in the game today.

Amazingly, and with little thanks or reward, he subsequently volunteered his valuable time to help the NZRL and he was a towering coach, administrator and mentor in the Kiwis' World Cup victory in 2008.

- Herald on Sunday

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