Here we all were, the jackals of the press, swarming around Todd Carney in the concrete bowels of the old Sydney Football Stadium.
Carney had just played his first match for the Roosters, and his first in the NRL for a year, after being sacked by Canberra for a string of off-field incidents relating to alcohol.
Cameron Munster on the training paddock.Credit:Melbourne Storm
After a year off the grog while playing for the Atherton Roosters in Queensland, he was snapped up by the Bondi club, repaying their faith with a man-of-the-match performance against South Sydney in round one.
There is no easier story to write in sport than the redemption story, but as the media pack circled Carney that Sunday evening, coach Brian Smith looked on with concern. I asked him why.
“Because the hard work comes when he’s not playing,” Smith said. “And that comes at the end of the season.”
Carney went on to have the best season of his career, guiding the Roosters to the grand final against the Dragons while also collecting the Dally M player of the year award.
Then the off-season came, Carney fell into old habits, the grog got the better of him again, and the Roosters released him from the final year of his contract at the end of 2011.
Smith was right: the hard work came when Carney didn’t have the discipline and structure of week-to-week football.
Todd Carney is the cautionary tale for Cameron Munster, who earlier this week laid bare his issues with alcohol and gambling.
Todd Carney’s redemption story should serve as a cautionary tale for Cameron Munster.Credit:Paul Harris
In the space of just a few months, the Storm five-eighth has already completed four of the five steps to rugby league redemption.
The first step is the act that gets you in trouble. In this case, being filmed alongside teammates Brandon Smith and Chris Lewis in the vicinity of a “mystery white powder”.
The second step is finding yourself in rehab. Not that long ago, an expensive facility in Thailand was the rehab du jour for troubled footballers. Munster found one in Brisbane.
The third step is returning to training, looking thin and clear-skinned with the whites of your eyes sparkling like diamonds.
Wow! How good does he look?! That rehab really worked, didn’t it? Big year ahead for him! What odds can I get for the Dally M-Clive Churchill double?
The fourth step is the mea culpa interview. Munster ticked that box on Monday in a raw piece with News Corp in which he revealed he had been gambling like Kerry Packer. He also admitted to alcohol issues, but denied he had a problem with drugs.
It was shocking stuff, although I’d heard some of it before, from the man himself.
In May 2018, the Storm invited me to fly to Melbourne to interview Munster.
He’d come off an incredible 2017 season, which included an Origin series win for Queensland on debut, as well as playing for Australia at the World Cup.
A drunken scuffle with Ben Hunt in Darwin, though, gave a portent into what was happening away from football. The Storm were close to cutting him.
During our interview, Munster revealed how he’d turned his life around: he hadn’t drunk alcohol for 10 weeks and was working with leading Melbourne psychologist Jacqui Louder.
He also talked candidly, just as he did this week, about how dark life had become.
“Every time I got off the field I was thinking, ‘F— this’,” he said. “I went and got drunk and I didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t drinking every day but every time I got the opportunity, I was always on it. I was hanging around with the wrong people and I’d come into training hungover. I would be in team meetings and forget everything that was said. Everything was going so fast. I got caught up in the excess of everything and I wasn’t managing it right.”
There’s a lot of love for Munster in Melbourne right now. He should be applauded for the steps he’s taken, although you sense he had no alternative.
But he’s not cured. He’s not fixed. Addiction is a riddle that’s managed, not solved through the ticking of certain boxes, as Storm chairman Matt Tripp suggested last month.
‘If I was preparing him for a Melbourne Cup, you could say he’s doing really well in the early stages of his prep.’
“If I was preparing him for a Melbourne Cup, you could say he’s doing really well in the early stages of his prep,” Tripp told the Herald. “They’re finely tuned athletes, you want them right when the whips are cracking, and that will be March next year, when we want him ready.”
Doubtless, Tripp has the best intentions for Munster, like all his players, but footballers aren’t horses. They might do super-human things on the field but are as fragile as the rest of us off it, perhaps more.
The fifth step of rugby league redemption is the standout season.
Munster is already being tipped to make all the right moves, gobble up all the Dally M points, and lead the Storm to the premiership. But just like Carney, football has never been his problem. That comes naturally to a player who once compared his on-field mindset to “a monkey banging two cymbals together”.
Life is far harder. When it comes flooding in, Munster will need all the support he can get.
Punting sideline for News Corp
The rumour about ARL Commission chairman and Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys heading News Corp’s foray into online wagering has been doing the rounds for about a year.
He’s repeatedly denied it whenever I’ve put it on him, and laughed it off again in response to a Herald report on Monday that the media company’s wagering arm was about to take flight.
V’landys might not be heading up any new bookmaking business but claims from within News Corp that it’s not going to happen appear to be a fallacy.
Peter V’landys has repeatedly denied he will head News Corp’s foray into online wagering.Credit:Nick Moir
A document from executive recruitment firm Alex Kaar, which has been obtained by this column, outlines the new role of general manager of wagering brands for News Perform, the News Corp business formed after it bought Punters.com and Racenet.
It reads: “News Perform is a lively and innovative digital media business with an ambition to gain global recognition across three areas of focus: domestic horse racing; financial services products such as credit cards, buy-now-pay-later and home loans; iGaming internationally, such as sports betting, poker, casino, or bingo … They exist to help consumers make their best ‘bets’ on critical decisions they make, such as choosing the right financial services provider and choosing the right team horse [sic] to back in the Melbourne Cup. They use data, research and insights to give their consumers critical information at their fingertips to make their best ‘bet’.”
In other words, here’s some inside mail before you bet up, but if you do your cash on the horsies, fear not — we can spot you until payday!
Harbour desire for Kyrgios
Nick Kyrgios’ new love interest? The grand old dame otherwise known as Sydney.
The tennis star has been spotted all over Sin City the past few weeks, including back-to-back appearances at Sydney Kings matches at Qudos Bank Arena.
On Thursday, he was spotted at Fox Studios shooting commercials. He’s also been spending plenty of time at fancy schmancy Bondi eatery Totti’s. But it’s not all fun and games for the 26-year-old before the Australian summer of tennis.
Nick Kyrgios has been spotted out and about in Sydney.Credit:Getty
Last weekend, he was seen sweating it out during a gruelling session with former Davis Cup teammate Jordan Thompson at Sydney Olympic Park.
Vale ‘Skull’ Mulholland
It’s with the heaviest of hearts that I report that Raiders recruitment man Peter Mulholland has lost a long, brave battle with cancer.
The news came through late on Thursday that the man better known as “Skull” had passed away, aged 68. He was, quite simply, a ripper. I called him in January to chat footy. He was in the hospital, getting pumped full of drugs.
“Mate, I’m just walking in to get this poison injected into me,” he said. “But let me get in there, find a vein, settle down, and then I’ll call you back. There’s a few things I want to talk about the game and where it’s headed.”
He loved the game more than anyone I knew. And that’s saying something. Condolences to the Mulholland family, about whom he always spoke with great affection.
“This has been manipulated, man.” — Lewis Hamilton on the Mercedes team radio as Max Verstappen passed him with four corners remaining to win the Abu Dhabi GP and the Formula One world title in controversial circumstances.
Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry hit the 2974th three-pointer of his career in a match against the New York Knicks, breaking the NBA record for most three-pointers set by Ray Allen, who was courtside to congratulate Curry. In NBA Jam parlance, Curry certainly was heating up … from downtown … HE’S ON FIRE!
Shane Warne’s obsession with Mitchell Starc is becoming a little creepy. Calling the first Test for Fox Sports, he constantly referred to his so-called fallout with Starc whenever the Australian quick was bowling, before painting himself as the victim: “There’s no need for personal attacks when someone has an opinion.” Says the bloke who has gone for Starc’s jugular for two years.
It’s a big weekend for … Joe Root, the England captain who could become the adjective form of his surname if his side doesn’t come up with the goods in the second Ashes Test under lights at the Adelaide Oval following the demoralising loss in Brisbane.
It’s an even bigger weekend for … your humble columnist because I’m officially on holidays. Wishing all the very loyal and patient reader(s) of this column a Merry Christmas and safe and prosperous New Year. Thanks for reading. It really does mean a lot. Go Dragons.
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