Rugby League: Tough Tallis just wants to be loved

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The Independent Online
Gorden Tallis hardly looks like the sort of vulnerable individual in need of particular care and protection. But that is what the Australian team management have tried to give him this week, declaring him off limits to the media while the controversy continues to rage over his distinctive contribution to last week's second British Gas Test.

Tallis' penchant for the high tackle in that match, coming on top of his notorious assault and battery on Wigan's Terry O'Connor in the World Club Championship, has made him a popular hate-figure for the series.

That is a position he has inherited from other Australian forwards with a similar approach to their job, because Tallis is the latest in a long line of combative characters.

His spiritual grandfather would be Ray Stehr, a prop forward of the 1920s and '30s, who survived in first grade in Sydney from the age of 15 thanks to a pragmatic philosophy which he summed up as "get your retaliation in first". His pitched battles with his English opposite number, Jack Arkwright, are the stuff of legend.

There was Frank "Bumper" Farrell, who bit off an opponent's ear before Mike Tyson ever had the idea. Even the classic Australian side of the early '60s had its feared hard man in Noel "Ned" Kelly, while Les Boyd filled the same role with the unbeaten 1982 Kangaroos.

More recently, there have been intimidating enforcers such as Paul Harragon, who effectively ended the career of the Great Britain prop, Ian Lucas, with a tackle in the 1992 Test in Sydney. Tallis's excesses are part of a long tradition and one in which British forwards have also shared enthusiastically.

"He's as dangerous as any of them," says the Great Britain manager, Phil Lowe, who, as a player, locked horns with some of toughest. "But he's more dangerous to his own side, because he's a loose cannon. But that's only because the rules have changed - you get away with a lot less these days."

Tallis has found that out the hard way: his impetuosity cost his side 10 points in the second Test. And yet he remains, for all his flaws, a potential match- winner.

Like many of his predecessors, Tallis is one of the more quietly spoken and polite of players off the field. In an interview before he was placed in purdah, he even revealed that he wants English crowds to like him.

He would like to emulate his father, Wally, who played briefly for Leigh in the 1960s, by joining an English club. "But I'm not going to come over here and get booed. If I know I'm coming over here to be a bad boy, I wouldn't come," he said.

Tallis is unlikely to come away from Elland Road with an enhanced view of British fans' opinion of him. The British management have done their best to wind him up during the build-up to the game and the process will continue after kick-off tomorrow.

"I only have a reputation over here," he insists. "Back home, I'm just a normal forward who plays with a bit of aggression. Over here, I'm labelled an axe murderer."