Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Voice of league tackles his last set of six

Radio Sport league commentator Allen McLaughlin has been the voice of the game in New Zealand. Picture / Photosport
Radio Sport league commentator Allen McLaughlin has been the voice of the game in New Zealand. Picture / Photosport

Tomorrow is an end of an era for the Warriors - and New Zealand league fans. Commentator Allen McLaughlin, the voice of the sport for more than three decades who has covered every NRL season since 1995, is hanging up his microphone. He sits down with Michael Burgess to look back on a remarkable career.

Since that first game in 1995, how many Warriors games have you called?

I've called 305 games in total both here and in Australia. I've missed one game at Mt Smart through illness so tomorrow's match will be the 254th home game. Former Kiwis second-rower Owen Wright has been my comments man for 251 of those. Altogether since 1995, I've watched either live or on tape about 4500 matches.

Describe your typical match day?

I'm always at the ground early and if there are three games on I'll see all of them. Preparation is done during the week and then some adjustments on the day.

At the end of it I'm mentally drained. I've never been to an after-match function or anything - usually just straight home.

Where did your love of league come from?

My Dad, Colin. Every Sunday we would go to Carlaw Park and sit in the concrete grandstand to watch the curtain-raiser and the main game. After that we would head into town for steak, eggs and chips and movies at the Civic. That night we would read about the games in the 8 O'Clock newspaper.

How did you get your start in radio?

In 1975, I went for a job with 1YD in Auckland as a music DJ. The audition manager Bob Wright said my voice didn't suit what they were looking for, but mentioned a sports vacancy at 1ZH in Hamilton. I did a two-minute review of a recent New Zealand cricket tour, and got the job.

And you have broadcast a wide variety of sports, aside from league and cricket?

I have covered a variety of national tournaments - hockey, netball, badminton, basketball, softball, and the Interdominion trotting and pacing carnival in Auckland. My first overseas assignment was with the New Zealand men's basketball team in Singapore in 1982. I've called the Maadi Cup final at Lake Karapiro, and also had the honour of calling John Walker's 100th sub-four minute mile at Mt Smart. Perhaps my most bizarre assignment was the 1976 New Zealand wrist wrestling qualifier in Hamilton. One of the competitors broke his arm, and I was calling it on live radio.

What about your love of radio?

I've always loved live sport and looked up to commentators like Keith Quinn, the late Alan Richards and Grant Nisbett. I'll always remember being up a ladder, fixing bolts into a roof during the 1974 Commonwealth Games. I was listening to Keith's commentary of Dick Tayler 10,000m race and it was enthralling. I told the boss I had to go and shot home to watch the rest on TV.

How did you begin your league calling career?

In the early 1980s at Carlaw Park I worked alongside Des White, who was a Kiwis legend and a great commentator. When he retired in 1985, station management asked four of us to audition for the upcoming Kiwis tour of England and France. I recorded a commentary of Otahuhu playing Ponsonby at Sturges Park, while sitting on the bonnet of my Vauxhall Viva, and got the gig.

An eventful tour?

My first full commentary was at Central Park in Wigan. It was so dark they turned on the floodlights at 3pm. Kevin Tamati was my comments man. In those days media travelled on the team bus and stayed in the same hotel so there was a lot of insights to be had.

What are your favourite league memories?

The Kiwis tours were always great experiences, especially in the UK. I loved Auckland club league in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was as good as anything in the NRL today.

Any career disappointments?

Not calling the 1988 League World Cup final at Eden Park. Management at the time decided to use Greg Hartley and Peter Peters from Australia.

And your favourite venue?

Mt Smart has become home, Suncorp Stadium is a spectacular venue and there are some great grounds in England. But Carlaw Park was the best. You could hear the bones crunching as players ran into each other, smell the Liniment from the changing rooms and were close enough to see the dandruff on the player's necks as they ran out.

Who are the best commentators you have come across?

I think racing commentators are unmatched. To call up to 18 horses in a field, all with different colours, on a 10-race programme - their skills don't really get enough credit.

Who are the players that stick in your memory?

Stacey Jones is the greatest Warrior - he had everything, while Ali Lauiti'iti was a once in a generation footballer. I admire Simon Mannering greatly, as a person and player as well as a host of former Kiwis - Mark Graham, Ruben Wiki, Sean Hoppe, Richie Barnett (too many to name). Awen Guttenbeil deserves a mention; he copped a tremendous amount of injuries but always put his body on the line.

What's the hardest part of being a commentator?

Identification of players and pronunciation of names were often the two biggest bugbears. I once called a game from a table on the deadball line in Townsville which was a bit of a challenge.

What are your guiding principles?

The late Alan Richards was my mentor and he always said 'imagine you are broadcasting to a blind man and your mother. The blind man can't see the game and your mum doesn't know anything about it'. In other words, be descriptive and keep it simple. I always try to build up the tension and you need to constantly remind people of the score.

- NZ Herald

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