It is that time of the year when sport and politics warmly embrace in cooling temperatures. Enter centre stage two little big men in opposing corners in contrasting games.
Being an avid Queensland rugby league supporter I stayed glued to my television set in anticipation of the first State of Origin game of the year.
Queensland selectors chose five Indigenous players in key positions - the creative general Jonathan Thurston at five-eighth, speed kings Ty Williams and Matt Sing on the wings, with the little master Matt Bowen and the colossal 110kg enforcer Carl Webb both warming the reserves bench.
I don’t know whether it was the high representation of elite Indigenous talent on show or my loathing of the colour blue on this special day of the year, but I was definitely on edge as the seconds ticked down to kick-off. My wife Rhonda sarcastically observed the only thing missing from my well choreographed pre-game routine was the smell of liniment, the footy socks and a mouth guard.
Funny though, I seem to remember Rhonda cheering the loudest every time a certain winger and fullback from her hometown touched the elusive ball. I’m not quite sure what the neighbours thought during the game with all the commotion emanating from our house in a normally tranquil part of the street.
The game had its traditional body clashes in the opening exchanges that registered sufficient readings on the Richter scale to make the large enveloping grandstand shudder. And then on to Queensland’s hallowed ground trotted Webby, and within seconds he was upsetting everyone south of the border with his exuberance in roughing up one of the opposing book ends - who had a look of fear in his eyes. With the smell of blood in the air, the crowd went wild as the plethora of sports-crazed journalists phoned in their headlines for the next day’s coverage.
Just when I thought the games couldn’t possibly reach any greater heights along came Jonathan Thurston to coolly slot the oval shape ball through the uprights to force the game into extra time. If ever a situation was custom-made for the littlest big man in the game it certainly was this one. Blues’ half-back Brett Kimmorley attempted an extravagant high-risk cut out pass to his winger that unfortunately landed effortlessly in the waiting arms of Matt Bowen. End of game and end of the Blues’ playmaker from game two.
The pride of the far north Queensland Indigenous community of Hopevale, the Prince of Dairy Farmers’ Stadium, Matt Bowen, 175cm and 81kg of finely tuned muscle, departed the arena to the deafening roar of 52,000 adoring fans. This quite unassuming dignified Murrie is truly an enigma in a game of big men with big pay packets and even bigger egos.
Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, a Hopevale resident, remembers the youngest of his cousin Richard Bowen’s six children as very quiet, polite and sensitive when a little boy.
Not much has changed, just his marketability as the most dynamic attacking player in the toughest contact sport of all. His real worth to the game and his people can never be quantified.
This brings me to the second of the two little big men whom Noel Pearson also has a lot to do with, and has complimented often in the past fortnight. This time it is a maturing smaller man, Prime Minister John Howard, whose preferred position on the run on side in any footy team is the right-wing. The way he plays politics is spectacularly grafted out through his propensity to lead his team further and further to the right side of a constantly changing playing field to score tries.
At a game played before a capacity crowd in Canberra during Reconciliation Week, captain Howard pulled on the number five jersey as he began his stretching exercises before kick-off.
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