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Inside Sport - - INSIDER - – Jeff Cen­ten­era

This month: in our au­thor spot­light, rock­ing out to rugby league.

One of the in­dis­pens­able voices of rugby league, Steve Mascord delved into his pas­sion for the sport with an­other of his life­long loves, rock mu­sic – and the lengths he has gone for both of them – in his book Touch­stones. (Interview edited for length and clar­ity.)

Surely you’ve been asked: is there a link be­tween your league and rock fan­dom?

If you are a rock mu­si­cian or rugby league player, you can’t com­pletely ex­ist in a bub­ble. The vast part of the au­di­ence for both is work­ing-class: if you’re a Hol­ly­wood ac­tor, you can join Scien­tol­ogy and get car­ried around in a limo. If you saw Chuck Berry’s fu­neral last year, it was lo­cal peo­ple at his church. Gene Sim­mons just hap­pened to walk up and ad­dressed the con­gre­ga­tion. Same thing with Lemmy’s fu­neral.

I guess that speaks to how I’m across both things – to a work­ing­class kid from Wol­lon­gong, they were both naive ex­pres­sions of glam­our; some­thing you wanted to be part of. But rugby league or heavy metal never at­tained the pedestal I saw them on when I was 12.

How has your pas­sion for both changed?

I tried to like grunge, nu metal. But in­stead, I re­bounded back to War­rant and Poi­son ... With rugby league, I’m a lit­tle sim­i­lar. I’m not dis­il­lu­sioned with the NRL, but I find it quite vanilla. The last year, the thing that’s re­ally ex­cited me is the Toronto Wolf­pack, and I’m ex­cited about the World Cup com­ing up.

Part of the rea­son I’ve stayed is I never re­ally set­tled down. Those things were kind of my an­chors; like I said in the book, if I laid down on the ground and looked straight ahead, I can see 1987 very clearly. My life hadn’t re­ally changed that much, so there was noth­ing ob­scur­ing my view of Ap­petite For De­struc­tion be­ing re­leased.

Are the late 1980s your favourite pe­riod of rugby league?

I don’t re­ally buy into that Win­field Cup nos­tal­gia, but I’m grate­ful that it’s there. The peo­ple who are into it are my kind of peo­ple. It goes against the grain for me be­cause I don’t like any­thing main­stream – if I like rugby league, I have to like the most ob­scure part of it. So for me, I look back fondly on go­ing to early in­ter­na­tion­als, like see­ing Italy play for the first time ... I’m not nos­tal­gic be­cause I don’t think the game has re­alised its po­ten­tial yet. So I’m nos­tal­gic for an imag­ined fu­ture, if that makes sense ...

I do have great mem­o­ries for the Steel­ers. I guess my nos­tal­gia is for those Sun­days watch­ing Illawarra get beaten again. I re­mem­ber John Do­rahy came back from playing in Eng­land, and I was there at train­ing watch­ing his milky, white legs kick goals. And I kicked the ball back to him.

You’re the re­porter that got to ev­ery­thing. What’s your favourite crazy travel story?

There was the time I went to a Chal­lenge Cup fi­nal in Ed­in­burgh, and I think I stayed in the north­ern hemi­sphere for one night. I left on a Fri­day morn­ing, and when I ar­rived in Lon­don, the flight up to Ed­in­burgh had been de­layed – and my ticket didn’t in­volve be­ing put on the next flight. I was like, I’m only here for one day, so there was a pos­si­bil­ity I was watch­ing the fi­nal at Heathrow. And that al­most hap­pened.

You’re also known as an Ori­gin scep­tic, and you have a neat com­par­i­son – it’s like when that un­known band you love has a pop hit that’s sud­denly ev­ery­where.

Peo­ple fol­low State of Ori­gin who don’t fol­low rugby league, they join these sup­port­ers groups. And as an in­ter­na­tion­al­ist, I kind of re­sent the way Ori­gin has usurped in­ter­na­tional league in the Aus­tralian mar­ket. I imag­ine it’s like what it would have been to be a rugby union per­son at the turn of the last cen­tury, and this rugby league com­pe­ti­tion kicked off with Dally Mes­sen­ger ...

It’s also things like the half-time is too long, be­cause Chan­nel Nine says it should. What is sa­cred when the ba­sic struc­ture of our sport can be bent out of shape by a tele­cast?

I do ac­cept of­ten it’s a great spec­ta­cle, the ac­tion and the aes­thetic qual­ity of it.

Stan­dard last ques­tion: your favourite sports books?

Rugby league books: the daddy of them all is

At The Ge­orge by Ge­of­frey Moor­house. The writ­ing is at an­other level, but can be a bit im­pen­e­tra­ble at times, but re­ward­ing. The best player bi­og­ra­phy is Matthew Ridge, which no one ever talks about. But it is warts and all, espe­cially what he got up to as a kid.

And there’s a book by Dave Had­field, who is the best rugby league writer I’ve en­coun­tered:

Route 63, about trav­el­ling all over Eng­land on a free bus pass. Dave’s got Parkin­sons – that’s how he got the bus pass – and he turns his dis­abil­ity into a re­ally en­ter­tain­ing book.

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