Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Day of shame for NZ rugby league

Even the playing brotherhood might know that a code of honour has been shattered. Image / Rod Emmerson
Even the playing brotherhood might know that a code of honour has been shattered. Image / Rod Emmerson

Steve Kearney reckoned Tohu Harris is a terrific young man, but Harris would rightly struggle returning what was a patronising compliment anyway.

The axing of Harris from the Kiwis World Cup league squad a day after his selection, for sport's No 1 narcissist Sonny Bill Williams, is, in my opinion, disgusting. It gets even worse. The New Zealand Rugby League piled insult on injury, offering Harris a free trip as a second-rate squad tourist. How stupid are these people?

Hey, maybe Harris could carry SBW's bags and polish his boots. What an honour. Satisfyingly, Harris and his Melbourne club effectively told the NZRL to take a hike. I believe Harris could go a step further, and tell the condescending Kiwis to shove their "terrific young man" tripe and then their precious jersey until the current hierarchy is gone.

Sport loves to claim it stands for fine ideals when we all should know that it is often a ruthless, cynical business. And here's the proof.

As for team-building ideals - all for one and one for all except for you know who. Williams appears to treat others in the same disrespectful manner his camp and/or supporters disingenuously inferred was employed by NRL clubs, to justify his sneaky mid-season walkout on the Bulldogs five years ago. Camp SBW hold the power, and wield it disdainfully while weak men fall at their feet.

This is a day of shame for Kiwis league. In my view, the most reprehensible New Zealand sporting decision was the Olympic committee's selection of child killer Soulan Pownceby, a manipulative scumbag of the highest order, but this SBW/Harris situation is a terrific candidate for the distant silver.

Harris, a big, young forward who makes an impact, would have been dreaming of putting his battered body on the line for the cause. A day later - dream smashed by those who had offered it to him in the first place, seemingly 'cos Sonny realised he had a couple of weeks to spare. All class lads. The idea that everything SBW touches turns to gold is a fallacy anyway. He left the Bulldogs in disarray and appeared so badly prepared thanks to the boxing hobby that when the All Blacks were running out of gas in the World Cup final, the coaches left him on the bench until very late. He can be a wow of a footballer, with rare skills and influence. But he's not infallible - in my view SBW was the worst player in the first half of the grand final and there have been indications in league and rugby he lacks the finest ticker. The wonderful Jeremy Smith, who is made for test trench warfare, is a bigger loss.

But that's not the point. When a player is given every chance to indicate availability with no extenuating circumstances, don't name another bloke without provisos and then blade him. I believe that is unforgivable, on a moral level, and also in building integrity and camaraderie within a squad.

Even the playing brotherhood might know that a code of honour has been shattered. The Kiwis won the 2008 title on spirit and without SBW, who walked out on them in the World Cup year. The next time Kearney looks his players in the eye, and tells them they need to stick together through thick and thin ... well, they could ask for a sick bucket.

Further still, Kearney and his henchmen look weak and in the grip of Camp SBW. As the Manchester United genius Sir Alex Ferguson stated in his Harvard interviews, the key was always to be the strongest man in the club, whereas Kearney looks to me like a patsy.

Williams had plenty of opportunity to sort this out before Sunday's grand final but treated the Kiwis with contempt informing Kearney after the match that he wasn't available. And still the Kiwis came back for more.

SBW put Kearney in a tough position and the coach would have felt the weight of the sport's expectations, but they've lost this longtime and now disheartened league fan. For what it's worth, who cares if the Kiwis retain the World Cup, because they don't stand for anything worthwhile anymore. The spell has been broken. And to Tohu Harris, hold the chin up son and don't let a bunch of pathetic old men derail your career.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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