IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
IF MARK GEYER could change one thing about modern rugby league, it would be that the greatest game of all expanded its horizons, both within Australia and internationally. He’s a good man to listen to on this; the former firebrand second-rower boasts first-hand experience of the opportunities presented to players and the sports themselves when leagues dare to venture into uncharted territories.
“MG”, a 195cm-tall firebrand second-rower renowned mostly for his services for the Penrith Panthers (135 games between 1986-92 and 1998-2000), also spent a season with the Balmain Tigers (1993) and three campaigns (1995-97) with expansion team the Western Reds, based out of the AFL hotbed of Perth.
These days the 49-year-old plies his trade with Southern Cross Austereo’s The Grill Team on Triple M in Sydney, where he gets to share plenty of laughs about life, as well as his various opinions on league. On the eve of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, here are some of the big man’s thoughts on the game’s broader horizons.
“I arrived in Perth a er playing for Umina, a team on the New South Wales central coast in 1994. I’d fallen off the rails a bit and had le Balmain. We were eight months pregnant, I’d gone through a rough 24 months and just needed to get away.
“When the opportunity came up in mid-1993, I signed with the Western Reds. I was one of their first recruits, along with Brad Mackay from the St George Dragons. While I was at Umina, I didn’t really think I’d end up honouring that Western Reds contract. However, as soon as I stepped off the plane a er flying there to start training, I realised it was the best move I’d ever made, both for myself and my soon-to-be family. We ended up having two kids while I was over there. I had three great years there; my brother Ma even came over and played with me. It was just good to see a fresh breed of supporters, untainted by what had gone on previously in the NSWRL. These people were all just fanatics.
“Two games into the 1995 competition, we were ushered to a secret meeting at a hotel – Super League had been formed and we got told to play in it. That’s probably my biggest regret: not that we signed with Super League, but the Perth team would still be there today if the game had kept the license alive. All us players lived 300m from the beach, five minutes from training.
“Perth was such a sparse, open place. It reminded me a lot of Penrith; that satellite-city mentality. I loved every minute of it. I wish I was still there. I wish my kids had the opportunity to grow up in a place like Perth. It’s a beautiful city.
“I think it’s a maer of when, not if the game ever puts a team back there. They have to pick the moment. If I was someone in the NRL, I’d be straight over to see this Twiggy Forrest, and say, ‘Mate, we’re keen. You want to throw all this money behind the Western Force? They’re gone. Have a look at the Western Pirates, or the Western Reds, you know?’”
“Internationally, rugby league is at that point where I’m thinking we need to really give the emerging countries a helping hand; ie the Pacific nations. There’s so much talent in PNG, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa ... Watching the PNG side win the Queensland Cup Grand Final was amazing. There’s a campaign for the NSW Cup to allow a team from Fiji to play. I’d love to see that. There’s always room for international rugby league. The international game isn’t number-one on our modern players’ pecking order, which is a shame. Maybe if we were more of a national game, then we might be more of an international sport, who knows? But at the moment we’re basically an eastern seaboard game. Consequently, that transpires into not being an all-round international sport.
“Besides just having a World Cup every four years, we have to see more of Italy playing Russia, Tonga playing Samoa, maybe around Origin time. I’d love to see a situation where, in the middle of a 20-week-season, we have three or four weeks dedicated to the international game. State of Origin takes place, emerging nations take place, international nations, all during Origin. It would help television rights, as well as the clubs who keep complaining that their players are burning out.”
“Perth reminded me a lot of Penrith; that satellite-city mentality. I loved every minute of it.”
The Pacific nations need to be playing more Tests, says MG.