‘The 2020 premiers will be …’
I can’t remember a time when I checked team lists as much as I have this week. I’m that excited by the 2020 NRL season.
I love my cricket, but the summer of Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand was pretty underwhelming. The opposition really didn’t offer much. Luckily, our women’s team saved the summer.
The girls were absolutely fantastic, they were a revelation. Two or three years ago, you couldn’t have imagined they would almost fill the MCG. It was so good to watch.
I’ve really gotten into the women’s rugby league recently too. It’s such a pure form of the game – a bit like the way we played it in the ’80s, the way they tackle around the legs and offload. It’s really refreshing to watch.
But like I say, I can’t wait for the men’s NRL season to start, beginning with the Bulldogs and the Eels on Thursday night when I’m calling the match for Triple M. I think the Eels are destined for big things this year.
My surprise premiership tip
One of the great things about the NRL is everyone gives their top eight at the start of the season and nobody ever gets it right. That’s the beauty of rugby league.
I’ve been counting down the ladder every day on my Triple M Show ‘The Rush Hour With MG’ – which is on weekdays between 6 and 7 pm – and I think the Roosters will be minor premiers with Parramatta finishing second.
Having said that, there’s a lot that could happen in the finals to stop the Roosters going back-to-back-to-back and I think Canberra is going to win the comp. The Raiders have the taste of grand final defeat on their lips, and sometimes you’ve got to lose one to win one, just like the Panthers did in 1990 and ’91 – ironically against Canberra.
I’ve always liked Ricky Stuart as a coach and a player ever since he was so successful in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I know how much of a competitor he is, and I love the way the Raiders have put together their team over the last few years, especially the influx of Englishmen he’s brought to the club.
John Bateman will miss the first month or so with his shoulder injury but once he’s back, they should be firing on all cylinders. Even without him, they look pretty good across the park to me, from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad at fullback through to Jack Wighton at six. Josh Papalii is in career-best form and I reckon Josh Hodgson is the second-best hooker in the comp.
As for the Panthers, I’ve got them finishing seventh. They’re definitely in the top three clubs in terms of off-season recruitment. They needed a dummy half to take pressure off Nathan Cleary and they’ve got that now with Api Koroisau.
I remember when Peter Kelly came to the Panthers from the Bulldogs in the late ’80s and taught us to be tough; I think Zane Tetevano will do that after being in the Roosters system for two years. I also think former Shark Kurt Capewell is one of the best backrowers in the comp.
With James Maloney gone, I think this will be a huge year for Nathan Cleary. Cleary gave Maloney a lot of respect, maybe too much respect sometimes, and took a back seat. He should have been more forceful and demanding because I think he’s a very underrated ball player.
This year, he’ll be running the Panthers and I think he and Luke Keary will be the New South Wales halves in Origin unless Mitch Moses continues on his upwards trajectory.
How About ‘Bloody Oath’?
When I was starting my post-footy career in media, I never said no to anything. I’ve worked for every AM radio station in Sydney and then I started working on the Deadset Legends and I’ve loved every minute of it.
There weren’t many times when I wasn’t happy talking on the radio as a job. It’s a lot better than the alternative. But a couple of years ago, I was working on the morning show and I was about to turn 50 and I just didn’t see myself going too much further with breakfast radio because it was hurting me mentally and physically – not in a bad way, but I just had no time for my kids and some of the important things in life.
I had a talk to management and they said, “How about an evening shift?” and I said, “How about bloody oath!” That’s exactly what I said, and I’m now in the third year of a five-year deal with young blokes around me who inspire me.
There’s young Liam Flanagan who’s a great anchor, and two blokes behind the scenes, Charlie White and Tony ‘Soprano’, as we call our digital guru. It’s a good little foursome that run the show and the hours are a lot easier than the breakfast shift. It also means I’ve been able to spend more time at my gym.
Fit body, fit mind
I had wanted to open a gym for a long time but breakfast radio prevented me from doing it. So when the opportunity arose towards end of last year, I said to my young bloke who’s now 25, ‘I need you to basically run it for me’.
He was working as a roofer and before that as a teacher. But he’d done his SEB 3 fitness training course and was about to start SEB 4, so the timing was perfect. We started looking for factories or places and found one about 1.5km from home. It’s now the MG Activ.
I’ve learned a lot about fitness since retiring from rugby league at the end of the 2000 season. When I played footy, I didn’t do the extras I should’ve done. My motto to young kids these days is, ‘Train when no one’s watching’. If you’re diligent and train outside of normal hours and go and do an hour on your own, there’s a fair chance you’re heading in the right direction in terms of your professionalism.
I never did any of that. I was just lucky I was a big, strong, menacing player for my time. Then I retired and started training with a few rugby league touchies and refs. We started training at my house. Then all of a sudden five or six mates would come over and train in a spare room in my house. Then I built a gym in an old carport at the side of my house which catered for about 12 people at a time. And you’d do the workouts, but then what you’d see is these blokes talking honestly about their lives.
At MG Activ we have no mirrors, no expectations and it’s all classes. There are no free-weights. You can book a strength class or a sweat class or an Activ fit class, and then on Thursday we have a chill time where we have a 5am sweat session followed by a chill time, where we go for a walk in the park and have a coffee.
Men are shocking at talking to each other. I’ve never had depression or anxiety, but I’ve got a lot of close mates who have and it’s debilitating.
We have one of the highest suicide rates in the world and I honestly didn’t start a gym to be a suicide prevention coordinator. But I did start it to make people feel how I feel every day after a workout with the release of endorphins. There’s no better feeling for your mind or your body.
More about: Canberra Raiders | Mental health | Nathan Cleary | NRL Women's Premiership | NSW Blues | Parramatta Eels | Penrith Panthers | Ricky Stuart | Southern Stars | Sydney Roosters | Women's Cricket | Women's Sport