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They Call This A “Mugs Game” 

But for me, Rugby League was The Great Provider.

By Craig Braithwaite

I wasn’t long out of school. I was surfing lots, sleeping in my car – a 1971 Holden HG wagon I bought for $500, chewing through bags of dope and playing a little pub rugby league on the side.

I wouldn’t say that I was aimless, I let everyone around me do that particular piece of talking on my behalf. But I was at a bit of a loose end. There were a few guys on the footy team who worked at the wharves and reckoned they could get me in. I had no idea what that life was all about, but when they said I’d earn $60 an hour for a midnight shift on a public holiday, I was pretty keen to find out.

I did have to go through a bit of an application process. They wanted to drug test me and test my liver function for alcoholism. I barely drank at that point, so that was sweet. But I didn’t mind a scoob of nature’s finest, which posed what I thought would be a fatal problem. But not so. Apparently.

Craig playing in his backyard

The boys cooked up a plan on the day of my piss test, that I would take a medical pouch (which they even supplied) – like what they use in hospitals for catheters to drain into – full of clean urine. When I go behind the curtain at the doctors, just open the lid, pour the clean wee into the container and, “Bob’s your fucken uncle,” they chuckled manically with their crazy swirling eyes.

Turns out they were right.

But not in the way they thought. The onsite company doctor was an avid surfer and a totally disinterested GP. Seeing my long hair scruffily tied back, glistening with sun drenched blond bits he immediately picked me as a surfer. We talked about Fiji and Hawaii and even Bells Beach. Then, the doctor asked me point blank if I smoked. Caught in the moment, I did what any self-respecting surfer would do. I told the truth. The doctor smiled and looked at his assessment sheet and passed my medical in a stroke of his silver pen.

With strict instructions to visit him and come say hi on my first shift, and loose plans made to surf up the coast on his next RDO; just like that I was a wharfie – but more about those hijinks in a later article.

More than a decade later I was working as a Youth Worker in Alice Springs with indigenous kids. And again, I was playing rugby league. This time with a pregnant girlfriend watching me in the stands. After a solid season, where we had to win the last game of the season to qualify for the finals – which we did 42-16. We were celebrating that success with multiple drinks that night at the local sports club which sponsored us.

The prop of our team was Australia’s youngest ordained reverend, and a good friend (who incidentally, I first met working at the wharf) … I was living and renting out a Baptist church house in town which he’d hooked me up with. It never sat well with him that I was living in one of the churches houses, with a girlfriend, who was seven-months pregnant and we weren’t married.

The beer fuelled speeches were flowing, spirits were high and brotherly love was in the air. We’d qualified for the finals! When the big prop stuck his giant arm around my neck and pulled me in close. Crouching his massive frame down to my eye level, he offered to marry us. For free.

I broke his grip on me, and yelled across the bar to my then misso who was there with a bunch of other WAGS, at the other side of the bar and asked if she was keen to get married. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “yeah sure.”

The local paper’s sports photographer was on hand – and a huge fan of our footy club – and he immediately offered to professionally shoot the wedding. Also, for free.

Word spread through the pub, and people were offering their services left, right and centre. By the end of the night, we had a live band, free hairdressers & styling for the girls, free flowers, suit hire, the local golf club offered to put on a Bucks we’d never forget (which we did not).

But perhaps the biggest coup de grâce of the night was the fanciest restaurant in town at the casino, and also a club sponsor, offered to put on a full reception of free drinks and a three-course meal for all. For free, with just one proviso. We had to win our way through the to the Grand Final.

Which we did from a qualifying place. We were battered senseless just to reach the Grand Final, and on the day, we were far too wounded to make any noise. But as we did all year long, we played our guts out and each of us bled for the cause.


The following weekend we got married in the red centre. The whole team was out there – mostly for the free drinks and three-course meal at the end of it. And all for the princely sum of blood, sweat and tears on a footy field.

If there’s a better community out there than a rugby league community, I don’t know of it. In my time playing, I’ve scored a job which ultimately paid for me to travel and surf three-quarters the way around the world. Got married. But more than that, I’ve seen clubs raise money for life saving cancer treatments and surgeries, hold minute’s silence before games for people on the opposing side who have died, or lost children who have died. I’ve seen more outpouring of good will, respect, big hearts and putting it all where their money is and giving generously for anyone falling onto hard times.

When the mainstream media target league and call it a mug’s game played by animals, drumming up their usual media panics … I just think how they have no real fucking idea.

Published by Jed Smith

Journalist with 15 years experience across every major news outlet in Australia.

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