You know rugby league is back when a whitegoods scandal involving a flavoured milk sponsor threatens to distress the delicate fabrics of the game. For those who missed it, the big news off the field last week came from the Penrith club tuckshop – when the club chose to use a fridge full of Oak milk as the backdrop for their post-match press conference.
The promotional display is said to have infuriated the game’s major sponsor, Telstra, with NRL CEO David Gallop demanding the fridge be removed for all future post-match press conferences. Penrith head honcho Phil ‘Gus’ Gould has since refused, and the fridge is now under 24-7 E-Group Security guard. The saga, which some clever scribes have dubbed “Fridge-Gate”, is the second fridge related controversy this year, following the ugly Peter Peters Fridge scandal.
You have to hand it to Gus, not only has he got everyone talking about the club’s major sponsor/bogan darling milk drink, Oak, but he also managed to slip in a cheeky plug for the club’s security firm, which sponsors no less than five NRL teams. Gould’s penchant for continually referring to ‘The Sanyo Panthers’ during Channel 9 commentary may catch on yet again, but I’m not convinced that ‘The Oak Panthers’ has quite the same ring to it.
Incidentally, #OakPanthers is now the most regularly used twitter tag for Panthers fans and players. Who would have thought strawberry milk would ever become a contentious Rugby League issue?
Speaking of fruity flavours, the other off-field banter from last week centred on veteran NRL referee Matt Cecchin, who officially came out of the closet via a tell-all tabloid Herald Sun article (insert incredibly obvious joke about pink jersey here: __________). [Ed: Revealing one’s preference for the male species in such a testosterone-fuelled environment takes some courage – however, the announcement has certainly deflected the fact that he’s a rubbish referee with an obvious grudge against the Canberra Raiders.]
Not to be outdone, Victorian premier and Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett swiftly announced that at least 5% of AFL players are gay. Hearing Kennett’s explosive and utterly baseless claim I couldn’t help but envisage GWS coach Kevin Sheedy sitting atop a luxury cruiser, surrounded by oiled-up scantily-clad AFL players, Rene Rivkin/Gordon Wood-style. Truly the stuff of Tommy Raudonikis’ nightmares.
But could there really be a hidden 5% of gay men in the AFL? And how many in the NRL are waiting to jump from the closet when they finish up their career? Cecchin, in all honesty, has laid the ground work for these players to come out. Who knows, in years to come we may see the NRL All Stars vs the NRL All Gays played out in some regional stadium. Some blokes might even have to make the tough personal call on which team to represent.
By Luke Meredith