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If anyone has a legitimate reason to cheer what appears to be the end of Cameron Smith’s career, it is Alex McKinnon. But he won’t.
In a true indication of what a good person McKinnon is, he has made peace in his own mind about what happened in the moments after his life was changed forever in a tackle at Melbourne’s AAMI Park in 2014. With McKinnon motionless on the ground in clear distress, Smith argued with the referee. McKinnon suffered fractures to his C4 and C5 vertebrae and is now a quadriplegic.
Moving on: Alex McKinnon and Cam Smith.Credit:NRL Photos, Getty
Smith’s actions were a bad look and a horrendous reading of the situation. They look even worse in hindsight. Smith has never properly explained what happened that night, nor apologised publicly for his reaction. I put it to the Storm at the time and offered Smith a chance to talk. I’m still waiting for his response.
For everything great that Smith has done as a player – and he is the greatest hooker to play the game – to some extent that night taints his career. His actions deeply upset McKinnon’s family and the player himself was fuming. With Smith possibly winding up his unparalleled career in Sunday's grand final against Penrith, McKinnon can now talk with a clear and calm mind.
‘‘I have no emotion when it comes to Cameron Smith these days,’’ McKinnon said this week. ‘‘I have forgiven everything that happened straight after the tackle, his response – I have forgiven him. It’s hard to hold on to hate. It really is. It’s wasted energy. It’s blinding.
‘‘At its worst, it can consume you and I’ll admit it did for a while there. There is no positive to being like that and, for that reason, I have moved past it and I hold no hard feelings at all.
Alex McKinnon on the ground after the tragic tackle in 2014 in Melbourne.Credit:Getty
‘‘The hard thing was for my family, my dad, to let it go. But I told them it didn’t do any of us any good at all to keep the hate. I talked with them about how it does not help anyone. And the family has been able to put it all to one side. My dad can now observe something that Smith has done and not see it in a negative light. Quite the opposite. And that has been some time in the making.
‘‘I work with [Knights coach] Adam O’Brien now and he has nothing but praise for Smith and [Storm coach] Craig Bellamy, and his love for Craig has certainly influenced my approach to the situation.’’
Smith has also been criticised for not reaching out to McKinnon after the accident.
‘‘I’ve got to accept that there was an attempt soon after it happened and my family wanted to protect me from that,’’ McKinnon said.
I am now looking for players like him. It’s my job to find the next Smith.
The next move came from McKinnon. ‘‘I got his number from Matthew Johns and contacted him,’’ McKinnon said. ‘‘It’s just how it happened. My view of Smith has all changed now in my role as a scout with Newcastle. I see him in a totally different way. I watch what he does on the field, his interaction with players. I watch Smith the player without emotion. And I am now looking for players like him. It’s my job to find the next Smith.’’
So will McKinnon be cheering for the Storm tonight?
‘‘I used to hope they would lose,’’ he admitted. ‘‘In the past, I got something out of that for sure. Now I can just watch. To be honest, I’ll be watching it thinking what will it take for Newcastle to be there one day, and I’ll be upset that we are not there now.
"I don’t have any particular leaning. If it was Souths, I’d want them to win for Wayne [Bennett]. But I no longer want the Storm to lose because they are the Storm.’’
Gus goes extra mile
At one point in his stellar young career, even the keenest Penrith observers feared they had lost one of the club’s best talents, Jarome Luai. And for a while, they did.
‘‘Where’s Broadbridge?’’ asked then Panthers general manager of football Phil Gould as he cast his eye over the team sheet while watching a junior side a couple of years ago. Broadbridge was there, he’d just changed his name to what it is today, Luai.
‘‘We were living at his grandmother’s house and, while we were there, she wanted him to go under his name,’’ Jarome’s dad, Martin Luai, said. ‘‘So he did. He decided to change back a few years ago and I am so proud when I see him out there.’’
The Panthers had another reason to fear they had lost him. Martin did two years in jail for drug trafficking. It was a bad decision made while his family was under huge financial pressure. That was a serious concern for the Panthers for a number of reasons, not least of which Martin faced being deported to New Zealand and the family being torn apart. References from Cameron Ciraldo – who coached Jarome throughout his junior career – and Gould helped Martin remain in Australia.
‘‘Martin Luai has acted illegally, irresponsibly and, dare I say it, stupidly,’’ Gould wrote. ‘‘Acting out of a sense of desperation to provide for his family is no excuse. Jarome is a hard-working dedicated young man … the qualities of Jarome speaks volumes for the loving and disciplined upbringing his parents have provided.
‘‘Your honour, Martin Luai and his family are already paying dearly for his actions. I genuinely fear for the welfare of the children and their futures if Martin is to be deported on top of his current penalty of incarceration.’’
Mum's the word
Nathan Cleary has used grand final week to defend his father, Ivan, and the controversial way he joined the Panthers. He also declared that his mum, Rebecca, is the true hero of the Cleary family.
‘‘Mum is the rock,’’ he said. ‘‘She has helped both of us so much. She is probably the main reason we have been able to turn it around this year. She is the support system. She is always willing to have a chat. I’m so grateful to have her.’’
Roosters close in on Suaalii
We told you last week about Joseph Suaalii dropping the Rabbitohs and following the Roosters on Instagram. It’s hard to ignore because he is getting close to knocking back rugby and signing a deal with the tricolours.
A deal is being prepared and those who know the young man say he has been in discussions with the Bondi club. The Roosters are clearly working on a succession plan for James Tedesco, who is already regarded as the best player in the NRL.
Tedesco is off contract at the end of next year. He will be offered a deal that will extend his stay until at least the end of 2023. Suaalii is on a small deal with Souths next year, but every indication is that he doesn’t want to be there. The attraction of playing under Roosters coach Trent Robinson is significant to a young player.
Dally M muddle
The Dally M farce has led to unfair online attacks on News Corp journalist Phil Rothfield. He has been slammed for a mistake by another journalist, who published an article criticising the award, and for News Corp publishing the winners – including the winner of the Dally M Medal, Jack Wighton – before the ceremony began.
As big an error as it was – and as much embarrassment as it has caused the company and the game – there was no malice or intent as far as this column is aware. But the issue here is what happened on Fox Sports’ NRL 360. Rothfield was on the show on Monday night. He already knew the points tally, knew the winner and knew there was an unfolding drama with the story having been published accidentally. His phone was running hot on air.
When asked about the result, he said he was hoping Nathan Cleary would win. He should not have been asked the question because he already knew the winner and, therefore, could not give a genuine answer.
The only answer Rothfield could have, and perhaps should have, given was a declaration there and then that he knew who had won and had already filed a story on it. The credibility of the show would not have been brought into question.
Equally concerning for a program that trades on its strong opinions and bags plenty of people for their errors, there was no mention of the stuff-up. The hosts of the show had the opportunity to come clean the next night and didn’t.
A group of officials on either side of the NSW-Queensland border are set to hand ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys his first significant defeat of 2020.
V’landys and NRL boss Andrew Abdo have backed and approved Karl Stefanovic’s behind-the-scenes Origin documentary, which was being shot for streaming service Stan. But now the blazer brigade, with support from Maroons coach Wayne Bennett, are set to block the move. V’landys won’t go down without a fight.
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