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Wally O'Connell on Today's Game

[From Rugby League Week 2002 Year Book, pp 14-15.]

When it comes to the modern game, Wally O'Connell's as resolute as he was marshalling from five-eighth In his playing days.

He says one of his major disappointments with today's game is that younger players no longer seek out the past masters for advice and a sense of the pantheon they're a part of, as he did when he was schooled by greats like Dally Messenger, 'Chook' Fraser and 'Bluey' Watkins.

"Nowadays as an old ex-player you can't get into the dressing-rooms and you're certainly not invited. They won't even tell you where they're training! And when you do get to mix with the blokes at a reunion or something, only very few will listen. Most just think, 'Nah, those days are gone'

"Money's done that. The game itself has been commercialised and it's wrong. They don't even want crowds at football games anymore! They want you to watch the box and see the sponsors. They keep saying the crowds are coming back but they'll never come back."

Then there's Wally on tackling, a skill at which he excelled despite his impish stature. "The gang tackling we see today is stupid and seems to be devoted to hurting blokes."

Wally's equally critical of the lack of set attacking moves in the game, a structured and potentially explosive element of rugby league that has been banished by too many rules

"The play-the-ball is a crucial competitive aspect of league which has been abolished. If you've stopped the other guys progress you now have to step back 10 metres instead of being able to play for the ball on the ground. Now, there's 450 tackles in a game and if you've wiped out 60 scrums and got'em down to 10 per game then that's 500 competitions for the ball wiped out to none!

"The problem is," says Wally, "that the game cannot develop as intended. Scrums were put there so that the six forwards were out of play leaving five backs with the whole field to use to show their speed and their sidestep. If the opposition were good enough there'd be a flying winger or full-back there to cut 'em down at the death. Now that's what people came to see.

"Nowadays there's 13 blokes fanned out in a line and nowhere to run. They just make rules now with no logical explanations for why. Same with the case where a player kicks the ball on his own 10-yard line and it goes out short of the 22 almost 70 metres'and yet the other mob gets the ball. But if you're on the 40 and you kick it to the 20 you get the ball back - where's the logic?"

It was often said that when it came to heart Wally O'Connell had a "double-yolker". Even now he says size was never a factor in his day, although today it is.

"Fellas like Allan Langer and Geoff Toovey, well, the game changed for the worse for those fellas. "I look at myself and I've come out of it pretty good - a dicky knee but otherwise nothing much - and yet today we see small men like Johns and Langer so heavily marked that they're at constant risk of
being hammered out of the game.

"I was only five-foot-three and a half. Churchill - the bloke they called The Little Master' - was five-foot-eight, and yet we played alright didn't we?"

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Wally O'Connell
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