Sixteen weeks ago, Newcastle Knights’ player Alex McKinnon suffered a serious neck injury which has seen him confined to a wheelchair. The 22-year-old now has a long rehabilitation process ahead of him. Almost immediately after the incredibly rare, yet devastating event, the rugby league community, from the professional right through to the grassroots level, rallied around the rising star of the NRL whose whole life has now changed.
In a wonderful gesture, the Newcastle Knights – under financial strain – said that they would honour the rest of Alex McKinnon’s contract in order to assist Alex and his family with the long rehabilitation process. The NRL stepped up and delivered too. Alex McKinnon was graciously offered a job for life with the organisation, and a foundation was set up in his name.
But that was not all. Not that long ago the NRL said that Round 19 would be the #RiseForAlex round. The aim of the round, to raise funds for the foundation and for McKinnon. Another wonderful idea.
That round commenced on Friday night, with two very entertaining and high-scoring matches played. The two games so far were a celebration of rugby league, as much as they were a chance to help out a young man in need.
As I sat comfortably in my loungeroom, I began to ponder all things Alex McKinnon and all things NRL. It was a cathartic experience as I parsed through the thoughts I was having about what this tragedy, and the way the different actors have reacted, says about the NRL and its’ players. And there were thoughts about the man himself.
There might have also been a quiet tear or two. But they were happy tears. The Alex McKinnon situation resonated with me on a personal level.
Aside from a small issue I have grappled with in relation to the #RiseForAlex hashtag, and the contentious judiciary decision involving a Melbourne Storm player, the Knights and the rugby league community as a whole, not just the NRL have conducted themselves admirably. Their actions soon after the full extent of the injury to Alex McKinnon was known, could barely be faulted.
The one thing that I am still the tiniest bit unsure about is the wording of the hashtag. Is it a call to the community to get in and raise money? Or does it imply, in the tiniest way, that others have to help Alex and that he cannot help himself? I am probably over-thinking this. I have a tendency to do that. But nonetheless, the thought did cross my mind. Obviously though, I am not claiming there was any malicious intent. It’s just the case that words can have different meanings to different people.
Aside from my happiness at seeing the NRL community pull together, I also considered how Alex has so far dealt with what is the biggest challenge in his young life.
This is where it got really personal for me. I too have a disability. I was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.
I thankfully still have the use of my legs. But life has not been without its challenges. But they pale in comparison with those struggles that Alex and his family are now enduring. Alex is the very personification for me of the old adage that there is always someone doing it tougher than you.
The way that he has dealt with his acquired injury – and in the public eye – is something to behold. I have known nothing but a life of disability and I struggled to come to terms with it, basically until I found swimming when I was about 11. A few months after his injury, Alex appears to be dealing with his far more severe disability in a much more positive way. Of course he admits there have been tough times, but it barely shows when you see his smiling face in the video updates.
A horrific event in rugby league has brought out the best in those involved in the game. And it appears it has brought out the best in the victim. Perhaps most importantly, the response of the broader community appears to have been quite significant based on early indications.
You cannot underestimate too, the effect this might have on the way that we as Australians view disability.
Queensland are again on the cusp of another special achievement in the sport of rugby league, needing only one win from the remaining two matches in the series. Their first opportunity to achieve further sporting greatness comes in just a matter of hours when at just after 8pm the New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons run onto our Olympic stadium in Sydney, the Blues in front of a favourable crowd, to do battle on what is seen as the toughest stage of rugby league.
Origin is all about that old, well reasonably old adage anyway of mate against mate, state against state. The time of year where you find yourself squaring up against your fellow club men, them going hard at you and you required to show just the same level of intensity, strength, agility and passion as your temporary foe.
Queensland won the first game, but only just. The team were far from consistent throughout the match, starting incredibly poorly, but they were able to turn it around when it mattered and capitalised on enough of the opportunities they had to find the New South Wales line and dive or run over for those all important four pointers.
Were it not for the poor kicking game of Carney, including that awful decision by the Blues captain to go for the two points from so far out when the NSW team had all the running things more than likely would have been at least 2 to 4 points closer.
Then there’s the controversial try which for the first million angles didn’t look a try, but the more it was replayed and explained it seemed to flip a switch that said try and of course the decision was backed up by referees boss and known NSW friend, Bill Harrigan.
There were some flaws in the Queensland game that they will want to rectify if they are to beat a NSW outfit confident in the knowledge they have what it takes to be seriously competitive against the most dominant team in Queensland history, even though the Maroons are not doing it with Darren Lockyer this time around.
Our early possession rate was incredibly poor and to play against a New South Wales outfit that now knows the weaknesses that the Queensland team displayed in game one will be dangerous to deal with. So more consistent ball control will be key.
Part of the poor ball control was a pretty shocking game by Billy Slater’s world beating standards where one spill lead to a try that ordinarily wouldn’t have happened if his game was right on the money, indeed it may well have been a riot for the Queensland team if that were the case.
Our forwards too during game one were made to do an incredible amount of hard work early on and that meant that for the entire game the key Queensland big men racked in enormous tackle counts across the board. Queensland will need to do more to ensure that the work our forwards do in defense doesn’t tire them out for bringing the ball forward in a more concerted attack tonight.
Apart from being able to take advantage of the play more often as has been the case under the Maroons team for 6 years now and even prior to that but to differing levels of impact the Blues in the first outing absolutely had all of the pace against a Queensland team that may well have been suffering from complacency. There is a good chance though that the speed they lacked in the first game in Melbourne will not be required so much with wet weather being part of the recipe for tonight’s game.
Indeed though, this complacency may have been a key factor in the silly mistakes and lack of energy that the team displayed throughout the match, but mostly in the first half of the game so that will need to be put in check and it is hard to believe that a such a senior Queensland side would not be capable of closing that complacency gap for the game in Sydney tonight.
Sam Thaiday will clearly be missed tonight too as one of the tough enforcers that have been a strong leader of the muscle men in the pack but Thaiday is being replaced by experience and talent in the reshuffled 17.
Other than those areas, the Queensland team that won the first match by a whisker was a well-oiled and clearly experienced and tested machine that need to overcome psychological barriers perhaps much, much more than any physical deficit they will have against a comparatively young side full of energy and on fresher legs.
Nonetheless, there are not too many ingredients to add to the recipe to make the best Blues stew around.
Ahead of Queenslanders going to the polls to vote out a long-term ALP state government tomorrow, it’s time to make some final predictions about the numbers that will begin to unfold beyond the 6pm closure of voting in this government-changing election. The most important aspect of the count to watch tomorrow will be who wins Ashgrove, whether it is Premier Campbell Newman or soon to be ALP backbencher Kate Jones. The size of the swing to the LNP will also be an important piece of data, with the swing required for the Opposition to take government being 4.6%. The total number of seats has also been much talked about with polls predicting the ALP could be reduced to as few as 12 if swings across the state were uniform. The highest profile scalp that the LNP claims in this certain election win also deserves a major focus as does the likely downfall of other Bligh Government ministers. The final major point of interest will be how Katter’s Australian Party performs in their first election.
ASHGROVE AND THE RACE FOR PREMIER
From the moment when Campbell Newman decided that he would run for the Premiership and the seat of Ashgrove from outside of the parliament the polls indicated that the would-be Premier was well ahead on a 2-party-preferred basis, cruising to a win at that point.
Then came smear and allegations against Mr Newman and his family over business dealings as the election campaign got closer, which intensified once the campaign proper began with a plethora of ads asking questions of the candidate for Ashgrove and the Premiership. This saw support crumble for the former army engineer and Lord Mayor of Brisbane into single digits and eventually, in recent weeks to a small lead for incumbent ALP MLA Kate Jones.
The Crime and Misconduct Committee (CMC), an anti-corruption body set up in the wake of the Bjelke-Petersen era investigated allegations on multiple occasions and on each it was found that there was no case to answer for Campbell Newman.
Not long after the final clearance by the CMC and once it became clear to all voters this week, that the LNP would certainly be heading to a sweeping victory, the polls bounced back, indicating this week, at the time with just days to go, that the Premier hopeful would likely win the seat and therefore become the Premier of an LNP Government.
The swing required to win the electorate of Ashgrove is 7.1% and this should be eclipsed with a swing around 8-9% seeming likely.
THE STATEWIDE SWING
Polls seem to indicate that the swing to the LNP in Queensland will be massive, up to around 10% statewide against the Australian Labor Party after such a lengthy term in office.
The LNP only requires a swing of 4.6% to take office and is certainly set to achieve that.
MY PICK: The LNP win will come with a swing of anywhere between 7%-10% and Labor will be decimated around Brisbane and the suburbs and will lose significant numbers from the regions.
NUMBER OF SEATS LABOR WILL BE LEFT WITH
There has been much commentary in recent days over how many seats the ALP will be left with after votes have been finalised by the Electoral Commission Queensland.
The results have been talked about in terms of sporting teams, whether it be a cricket team (11 plus a 12th man), a rugby league team (13 plus a bench of 4), a rugby union team (15 plus 7 reserves) or an AFL team (18 plus 4 reserves).
It is almost certain that the number of seats the ALP will be reduced to after the election will fall somewhere in this range.
MY PICK: Labor will be reduced to a rugby union team minus the bench players, that’s 15 MPs in a parliament of 89.
THE BIGGEST ELECTORAL SCALP
Other than the must watch seat of Ashgrove, which now looks certain to go to the LNP and incoming Premier Campbell Newman, the electorate of Mount Coot-tha will be a major focus as the current Bligh Government Treasurer, Andrew Fraser battles to hold onto his seat with a margin of 5.3%, just 0.7% above the swing needed for the LNP to take the reins of government.
On the polls it looks certain that the LNP will well and truly surpass the margin needed to form government in their own right, possibly more than doubling the swing of 4.6% required if the polls are near accurate. This means that the LNP candidate for the electorate, Saxon Rice will almost certainly beat the incumbent Mr Fraser.
This result would be absolutely disastrous for the ALP which look set to lose other ministers tomorrow and the last thing they need is to lose the Deputy Premier and Treasurer and youngest member of the Bligh Government and quite likely Bligh successor as Labor leader.
MY PICK: Saxon Rice but close, especially if the ALP vote does not collapse too much in the seat as the Greens traditionally poll very strongly in this seat and any preferences would flow to Mr Fraser.
THE FORTUNES OR MISFORTUNES OF KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY
As noted, this will be the first election for Katter’s Australian Party and its state leader and former LNP, Independent and Queensland Party MLA Aidan McLindon. This party was created by Bob Katter and included the Queensland Party which Mr McLindon started after leaving the LNP and giving up being an Independent member of parliament.
The party had high hopes for themselves, at first of taking government and then holding the balance of power, though we all knew that this was completely out of the question. Polls have continuously confirmed that the swing against the ALP was unlikely to convert into many, if any extra seats for the fledgling political party fielding candidates in 76 of the 89 seats (though they did hope to do so in all 89).
Dalrymple MLA and LNP defector Shane Knuth will probably hold onto his seat in the north of Queensland, becoming an electoral success story for Katter’s Australian Party. With a margin of 14.4% it would be a difficult gain for the LNP.
A member of the Katter family looks able to win the electorate of Mount Isa in the north west of the seat.That person is Robbie Katter, son of party founder Bob Katter who represents that electorate in the federal parliamentary seat of Kennedy.
The big battle for Katter’s Australian Party could be to hold onto the seat of Beaudesert with Aidan McLindon on a margin of 8.3% within the possible statewide swing range in a conservative seat (although the party that Aidan McLindon represents is heavily socially conservative).
The electorate of Nanango is a real possible gain for the new party with high-profile candidate Carl Rackemann in with a real chance upon the retirement of Independent MLA Dorothy Pratt. The margin at only 2.9% opens up the seat for a possible LNP gain for candidate Deb Frecklington.
MY PICKS: Aidan McClindon to lose Beaudesert. Robbie Katter to take the electorate of Mount Isa in a tough fight. Shane Knuth to hold Dalrymple. Deb Frecklington to beat Carl Rackemann in Nanango
Queenslanders are a day away from knowing the make-up of the parliament for the next 3 years and just how large a majority the LNP will be granted by voters across the state. It will certainly be a sweeping majority, with the LNP likely holding more than a 2/3 majority in the unicameral Queensland Parliament, with big ministerial scalps claimed in the process. The electoral hopes of Katter’s Australian Party will prove to be another big fizzer.