THE WRAP: NRL round 17

09/07/2013

THE WRAP: NRL round 17

My cab is whizzing up St Kilda Road on the way to the airport at a quarter past midnight on Saturday morning and John Lennon starts crooning on the radio “no-one ever told me there’d be days like these”.

He’s right.

No-one told me there were red eye flights from Melbourne to Darwin. No-one ever told me that the traditional media industry would reach a point of desperation so acute that in the interests of saving them all money, I would have to do 11 people’s jobs at three rugby league games in three time zones over three days.

No-one ever told me, in 27 years as a rugby league reporter, that I would one day find pleasure and satisfaction in what was essentially failure.

Here’s who I was during round 17 of the NRL, the Leyland Brothers Round that travelled all over the countryside. At Melbourne versus Brisbane at AAMIPark on Friday, I was the Age’s rugby league writer, Triple M’s pre- and post-match interviewer, the ABC’s sideline eye and Rugby League Week’s roving journalist.

The next evening, at Gold Coast v Penrith at Darwin’s TIO Stadium, I was ABC’s Around The Grounds man, the Sun-Herald’s journalist and RLW’s man on the scene.

And on Sunday night at the gloriously appointed nib Stadium in Perth for South Sydney-Warriors, I was Triple M’s reporter, the ABC’s sideline eye, the Sydney Morning Herald’s journalist and RLW man on the spot as well.

Oh, and I worked for Triple M at Brookvale Oval for Monday Night Football (Manly-Parramatta) when I got back as well.

Just getting to all three far-flung venues was a logistical challenge. It involved two ‘red eye’ – or overnight – flights in three days, Melbourne to Darwin and Perth to Sydney.

In order to get some sleep on Friday in preparation for the ordeal, and to get more on Saturday morning upon arrival in the Top End, it was necessary to pay to be in three places at once overnight Friday – my St Kilda hotel, my Darwin Hotel and the plane.

That meant a bill of $548 for just 24 hours at the Rydges Darwin Airport Resort (walking distance to ground and airport – a rare combination) and they didn’t even have room service when I finished work after the Panthers flogged the Titans 40-18.

In Perth, it was airport-nib Stadium and back to airport because I needed to be on the ground in Sydney the next day to file 10 items for Rugby League Week before heading to Brookie.

The reason for all this:  The slow death of newspapers and the shrinking budgets of radio stations. There has never been a time when RLW would have staffed games outside NSW, the ACT and south-east Queensland but I think I asked every single question at Souths’ media conference after their 30-13 win over the Warriors because not one journalist from outside Perth aside from me was present at the match.

I pay for myself to travel. Not a single journalist or radio broadcaster was sent to Darwin or Perth by his or her organisation. Not one – just the Sportsears techs, photographer Col Whelan, club online staff and Fox Sports crew and commentators.

Here’s how it went down, trying to do the jobs of all the people who stayed home.

On Friday, Cooper Cronk kicked for touch. The ball hit the fence and rebounded into the back of my head – while I was on air. I must have kept talking. Wendell Sailor – sitting next to me – flinched at the impact and then told listeners how I’d carried on as if nothing happened. I guess it comes from having things thrown at you at Canberra’s outdoor press box when you are trying to file.

I could not file for the paper on the fulltime siren, as required, because I could not get a 3G signal for my laptop on the sideline. I spent the whole second half trying to get a signal, so I hardly spoke on the ABC. I finally got my copy through some 10 minutes after fulltime and am not sure if I missed thousands of papers as a result.

You’re starting to see a pattern already. I tried to do the jobs of 11 people but actually did the jobs of 11 incompetent fools.

For Triple M, the tech snapped one half of his headphones off so Anthony Griffin could hear questions from the boys upstairs post-match, as he had only one set of cans. Innovation.

I got Sisa Waqa for RLW. The quotes story for The Age and SMH only appears online (that’s why there are no quotes in your Saturday paper from Friday night games anymore) because of budget cuts and fewer editions being printed.

Around the grounds is my most challenging duty because I am numerically challenged. If they come to me while a try is being scored, I struggle because I actually have trouble with basic maths. “Sixteen points plus one try scored just then equals er…..”  And given that there was a rugby union Test on, Tim Gavel and Julian Abbott came to me a lot in Darwin because of all the bloody stoppages.

But around the grounds was probably the only job of the 11 all weekend I did properly – even if I could not record the ‘fulltime wrap’ as I was supposed to because, once again, I could not get a 3G signal to file for the paper on time.

At the end of the press conference, Titans coach John Cartwright mentioned Greg Bird had rolled his ankle. I asked him more about this during the post-match ABC interview, and then waited outside the Gold Coast sheds for the man himself, for the paper.

When Bird hobbled out in a moonboot and on crutches, I considered snapping a picture on my iphone but figured it could have offended him as this is not yet normal practice for footy journalists (it will be, don’t worry). But when I caught him POSING for photos with fans upstairs, I had no compunction in taking one.

It was up on stevemascord.com with an internet-only story quoting him extensively before the Herald could even post it. The way I see it, they are barely paying me enough to cover my hotel tonight so… That was the theme of the weekend, really. It was the They Have To Cop What They Get Tour.

Next day it was an early start to Perth, via Alice Springs, with veteran photographer Col Whelan (who I snapped in the Qantas Club on his birthday chatting on a mobile phone behind a sign that read “Please Switch Off Your Mobile Phone” ) and the boys from Fox Sports.

Mark Gasnier couldn’t get his earphones to fit his iPad mini and spent much of the long flight playing games on his phone. I listened to podcasts and suggested he should too.

“Have you heard Fire Up?” I said – wanting to suck the words right back in….

Perth was going to be the most challenging afternoon because I had two duties which were completely non-compatible. I had to interview players at fulltime for both the ABC and Triple M;  I had to literally do two different things at the exact same time.

My attempt at innovation – holding both mics at once and hoping Triple M would dip in and out at the right time – failed because I was dialled into their station on the wrong number. It also resulted in me screaming “ARE YOU THERE, TRIPLE M?” live on the ABC.

But I got match hero Bryson Goodwin and Warrior Todd Lowrie for the ABC and then managed Greg Inglis for Triple M, with questions from the studio.

When Inglis was asked by the boys about the Burgess brothers getting their gear off down at the beach and replied “They went down to Cottesloe on their half day off”, there was an incongruous laugh from the studio.

It’s only when I listened to it back that I realised why. It sounded like he said “they went out with the Qantas lady on their half day off”. But it was Cottesloe –  I was watching his lips.

This was the biggest disaster of the weekend for the newspaper – once more, no signal because of the big crowd full of smart phones and I missed the edition entirely. The Herald ran AAP.

After the press conference, I was faced with a giant ball of power chords, headphones and microphone cables in a room off the tunnel at nib stadium. The ABC gear was tangled with the Triple M gear which was tangled with my laptop cord and Sportsears, the result of a day spent running around serving multiple masters. Antennas here, windsocks there, plugs and transformers at weird angles.

A metaphor for the weekend – and maybe for my life.

I did the jobs of 11 people; eight of them would have been reprimanded first thing Monday and two may even have been sacked.

What did I learn at the weekend? That after almost three decades obsessing about every aspect of what I do, it is actually of so little consequence that if you do it badly but save people money, they are still grateful. It’s just “content” – so you might as well have fun.

I had never just completely failed to file from a game before, not in 27 years.  Tonight it happened and I didn’t actually feel too guilty.

But there was another first to come. After ambling around getting Konrad Hurrell and Goodwin for RLW and Michael Maguire plus Matthew Elliott for the ABC, I took my time filing a “replace”, or quotes-based match report, for the paper, having been it would only go online because of the factors explained above.

Then I got an email. “We are coming up on deadline, we need your copy now”. Turns out they had held the paper open for a match report but no-one had told me.

At one point I had my laptop out in the passenger’s seat of another cab, taking me to PerthAirport, but eventually I achieved another first. I had a story in the paper completely by accident.

Most peculiar, moma.