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The Sydney Morning Herald

Origin II presents the praised, the persecuted, the steward and the sledgehammer

Date: 25/06/2003
Words: 825
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 38
Aristotle could not have been thinking about rugby league when he wrote: ``No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness."

Of the four key men in tonight's second State of Origin match, one has been described as an ``excellent soul" and the other three possess a touch of madness.

Queensland coach Wayne Bennett, a father of the year, author of philosophical tomes and a man lauded on the ABC's Australian Story, is generally regarded as free of sin, a reputation which infuriates southern coaches who view him as a manipulative puppeteer.

NSW coach Phil Gould, Blues captain Andrew Johns and Queensland captain Gorden Tallis all have a mix of madness.

Gould is an insomniac with a persecution complex; Johns has more ups and downs than the Inca Trail and Tallis suffers white line fever.

Anyone covering this year's series needs to have at least two degrees in psychiatry and a couch and to bill their employers by the hour.

Both coaches are less concerned with getting onto the field as with getting into one another's heads.

On Friday, Gould, an obsessive sender of text messages, was complaining to National Rugby League chief executive David Gallop about something Bennett had done.

On Sunday, Bennett was complaining to his assistants about the way in which Gould uses his newspaper column to motivate the Blues.

Up until yesterday, Gould was not talking, which is a little like Pavarotti not singing.

He reluctantly attended yesterday's press conference and did not buy into Bennett's planned sermon on the mount demanding Origin players receive a pay rise.

Bennett, who makes a Trappist monk sound like a carnival barker, even smiled, discarding his game face. He is happier than he was in Brisbane because he loves being the underdog.

It suits the Queensland psyche for NSW to be top dogs because it allows their acolytes to portray the Blues as arrogant and up themselves.

Gould's deepest fear (and justification for his News Ltd persecution complex) is to wake up today and read a ``Blues certainties" headline.

On the other hand, he sometimes goes to sleep at 5am, so presumably will already have seen the papers.

It's false to proclaim he lusts after publicity. When Gould informed ARL chairman Colin Love he would not be attending the announcement of the NSW team for tonight's match, Love phoned chief executive Geoff Carr, who told Gould to make Mark Bouris , part-owner of Blues sponsor Wizard, aware of his planned absence.

``He's the one with the rap on you," Carr said.

Gould did turn up for the announcement.

Many believe that a three-nil defeat of Queensland and the nod of Bouris, a strong Roosters supporter, will be needed for Gould to coach NSW next year.

Joey Johns is leaving his talking to training. When the Blues lined up for a drill where they pick up a rolling ball and then pass to a support, Johns opted to apply additional pressure on himself, declaring, ``one eye shut, one hand".

He masked one eye with an idle hand and expertly scooped up the ball with the other, shouting triumphantly: ``Oh yeah."

He is always composed in his work. If he was an airline steward, he'd be the one casually flipping through his magazine when the plane hit heavy turbulence.

Ever the conflicted soul, he's often sullen away from his work, whereas Tallis, as Bennett says, ``wears his heart on his sleeve".

Whoever expected subterfuge from a sledgehammer?

Tallis usually reserves something explosive for Sydney, being sent off in 2001 and abusing the crowd last year when he spied a provocative sign.

As he stormed the in-goal, his eyes looked like the place where madness was born.

But he showed his off-field soft side at the Maroons training camp at Runaway Bay on Saturday, chatting for a hour with members of the Australian Paralympic team and exchanging signed shirts.

Tallis best illustrates the belligerent tango that is State of Origin, men heaving and shoving, both trying to enter the same revolving door at the one time.

It's a dance Mr X meet Mr Y. One man wants to go somewhere and the other wants to lead.

With big forwards like Tallis, there is always a game within the game and who won or lost the individual game last time often depends on whom you ask.

Tallis believes he had his best game in two years in Brisbane, while others argue NSW had better back-rowers.

NSW reserve Luke Bailey raised eyebrows when he won the man-of-the-match award and the world's best prop, Queensland's Shane Webcke, missed a few tackles.

The only permanent score is kept in the two men's heads, separate subjective assessments mixing with the sledges and grudges from the last game.

In Origin football, the last time is always fodder for the next time.

Origin reaches the Gulf - Page 3

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