It’s considered an honour to become the official “face of the NRL”. Or perhaps it’s misfortune.
The Curse of The NRL Poster Boy is well established and long feared in the NRL. People still remember Brett Stewart and Greg Inglis both being the faces of the NRL’s promotional ads not long ago but lost the gigs thanks to alleged off-field indiscretions. And although both were found innocent of the respective charges, the curse was born and undoubtedly the scars linger.
Ben Barba was also the face of the game last year, but 13 months down the track his relationship troubles are firmly in the limelight and he’s at a new club.
But like records and droughts, curses are made to be broken. So say farewell to the curse this year, because Anthony Minichiello has been given the role.
Yes, he made the mistake of lending his mobile phone to a fired up Mark Gasnier during the 2004 Origin series, but since then he’s been the model citizen and one of the few sports stars who embraces being a role model, because he lives it.
He’s come back from crippling back injuries that would have ended many a career and has since played Origin again, won the Women in League’s Favourite Son award, had a child and captained the Roosters to the 2013 premiership in his first year at the helm.
His naming in the accursed role shows the NRL has finally realised who they should promote. Nathan Hindmarsh, Petero Civoniceva, Andrew Ryan; these were the players the NRL should have been promoting over the past 15 years (which isn’t to say Stewart and Inglis weren’t at the time, or that they would be bad choices now).
The face of the game isn’t necessarily the best player, nor who was the stand out player the year before: It’s the player every other player should aspire to be and a player every fan is proud to say “he’s a rugby league player”.
And sometimes, it doesn’t even need to be a player.
Which brings me to Marwan Koukash, the Salford owner who saved his club and through his profile put rugby league back on the map in England, in the way the Monorail did for Brockway, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook.
Without question, this man should be the face of Super League.
It’s one thing to have cash (and Marwan has plenty of it) but it’s another to put your money where your mouth is and actually make changes. In his 12 months in charge he’s squashed the club’s debts, made a name and branding change, and rebuilt the squad into a potential force.
[Roosters fans may remember the push from Marwan to get Sonny Bill Williams to play for Salford after his contract with the Chooks ended in 2013 — JJ.]
He is constantly on Twitter interacting with fans and gathering their ideas (a ploy a few NRL club CEO’s should take note of).
He’s ambitious as well: last year at the Melbourne Cup he told reports he was scouting the NRL’s best talent to join him over at Salford, and while it may have been a bit tongue in cheek, he did at least have people talking about the English competition in Australia. In November.
He has a passion for the game in the UK but also on the international stage. With his influence, the NRL, ESL and RFL could reap the benefits through increased awareness of a code many in the world see as middling at best.
He has successfully made another Mitchell (@niles1991) a Salford fan, and in chatting on Twitter with Michael (@Shunter86) and Rick (@EastsFan) two of the best hashtags you will see were born: #Marwanderland and #Marwanderful.
Curses are breaking all round, replaced by faces the game needs.