|Issue No 85||23 February 2001|
The Locker Room
Jim Maher's Sports Thoughts
Kiwi rugby league administrators were never going to win any awards for smartness but, bloody hell, Gary "Whiz" Freeman as national coach, mmm, that's really clever.
Now we're not having a shot at the feisty former Northcote, Kent Invicta, Balmain, Easts, Penrith and Parramatta halfback. He's paid his dues, on and off the park, not least by giving his guts in a record 46 Tests for the New Zealanders. Freeman has warmed-up for this position with stints helping out former team-mate Wayne Pearce at club and State of Origin level and is currently guiding the fortunes of a Sydney under-16 outfit.
It's not the man as much as the method.
The Kiwi coach was chosen by a panel comprising businessman, Bob Haddon; the man with no shame, Graham Lowe, and one Jarrod McCracken.
It's now reported from across the ditch that McCracken and Lowe will help the new coach with the former likely to be installed as a selector.
Don't think about the disasters Lowe perpetrated on the Kiwi game as head of the privatised Warriors nor conjure with the prospect of McCracken whispering words of encouragemnt to star forward Stephen Kearney. He's the bloke, remember, who finished McCracken's career with that tackle, the one McCracken has publicly refused to forgive and is still considering legal against.
Other things worth putting out of your mind are the well-documented personality clashes between Matthew Ridge, Freeman and McCracken.
Ridge, of course, is now a big-shot in the Warriors from which the Kiwi test side will continue to draw heavily.
But this isn't about egos or personalities, it's about the survival of a struggling game in a place sucessfully reinventing itself as a backwater.
The Warriors sold out from day one as avenue for the development of Kiwi coaches and administrators. They started with John Monie and Ian Robson and have graduated to unproven Daniel Anderson and another Aussie ceo with no footy background, whose name escapes us for the moment.
Now the Kiwis have gone the same way.
Graeme Norton, who coached New Zealand in Super League's tri-series; John Ackland, who had success with Warriors under-19 and reserve grade outfits; and former Kiwi prop Gerard Stokes all had impressive credentials but would have been almost complete unknowns to Lowe who crossed the Tasman in the early 80s and McCracken who settled in Sydney as a teenager around '88.
To put it mildly, Haddon's football credentials are limited.
That they came up with Freeman who left Northcote in 1987 is not neccessarily bad for Kiwi Test results, just a sharp kick in the teeth for blokes who, unlike Mr G.Lowe, have tried to keep the game alive without the incentive of enormous financial rewards.
Fair dinkum, they might as well close the show down over there and become another joke in the stand-up routine of international league - picking players and officials from the NRL on the basis that their grandparents once stopped over in Auckland for a night.
..... ...... ......
ANY Sydneysider considering him or herself a racing fan will be at Warwick Farm next Saturday for the mouth-watering Apollo Stakes showdown between Sunline and Tie The Knot.
Okay, the facts suggest that Sunline is the superior animal, maybe even, according to Bart Cummings - a bloke said to know a bit about such matters - the best we have seen in the last 50 years.
She's a champion and Tie The Knot is a peg below that rarified status but there are no certainties in this game and both have huge armies of supporters.
Tie The Knot might battle in Melbourne, and when he faces the Kiwi mare, but he is Sydney's favourite and deservedly so. Two Sydney Cups among his nine Group One successes entitle him to that.
And, last week at Randwick, he won first up over 1200 metres in scintillating fashion for talented Victorian horseman Paddy Payne. At seven, that result marked both debut first-up and 1200 metre successes for the Nassipour stayer, suggesting something special might lie ahead in this preparation.
The five-year-old Takanini freak, meanwhile, was demolishing a quality field at Te Rapa for her ninth Group One laurel. It's part of a record that makes Cumming's words worth thinking about - 23 wins and five seconds from 31 starts, including Group One victories in Sydney, Melbourne, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
Warwick Farm is incredibly lucky to have attracted Sunline, on her way to Dubai, after last year's prevaracations forced her connections to skip Sydney altogether.
But its grand for Sydneysiders who took the Desert Sun-Songline bay to their hearts from the time she put together three back-to-back Group victories on her first trans-Tasman foray as a three-year-old.
Sunline is a freak because she is close to bullet proof, getting out in front and avoiding the traffic that has so often undone the Knot. She wins on dry or wet, setting her own furious pace and breaking the hearts, almost literally, of those behind.
It is useful to recall the fates of quality horses who competed with her last spring when she looked bigger and stronger than ever.
Fairway took a nose decision off her on a shifting track at Melbourne and was, to put it mildly, completely rooted for the rest of the season. Grand campaigner Diatribe battled away for second in the Cox Plate and barely fired a shot in the Melbourne Cup for which he was favourite.
Last year's Cox Plate performance, in a race rated the true test of Australasian horseflesh, was nothing short of phenomenal. She won by about seven lengths, and besides cruelling Diatribe's Cup hopes forced the talented Sky Heights to abort his spring campaign.
It is a style reminiscent of Might and Power who was able to physically hurt opponents who had the temerity to challenge his superiority.
Sydneysiders might not see Sunline again. It's Dubai next month, then a Melbourne campaign aimed at a third Cox Plate and, from there, who knows? Both the UK and US have been mentioned in dispatches.
She, alone, will be worth the price of admission.
Tie The Knot has run second to Sunline on two occassions and been blow away in a Cox Plate showdown but the mare just might be vulnerable next Saturday. She has only one start under her belt; is getting bigger and older, meaning while she might be even more brutal at peak she could take longer getting there; plus, no question, her connections have bigger fish to fry than the Apollo Stakes at Warwick Farm.
Knot fans will be hoping so but don't bet on it.
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