IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING

Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - – James Smith

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 MaŽ 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 maŽer 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.

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