Forwards persuaded to learn the art of communication

Dave Hadfield sees the players' association teach its members how to deal with the media and prepare for life after rugby league
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The Independent Online
The attempt to force Mike Kuiti to admit that drugs were rife at his club met a defence at least as solid as anything he displayed in his heyday as New Zealand's loose forward.

Likewise trying to get Billy McGinty to bad mouth his club's new coach. He was not falling for that one, so the Rugby League Professional Players' Association's workshop in handling the media seemed to be working.

Kuiti, now of Wakefield Trinity, and McGinty, the former Wigan and Great Britain forward currently plying his trade at Workington Town, are typical of players learning how to cope with thorny questions - not just to minimise embarrassment during their playing days, but also to help equip them for life after rugby league.

The RLPPA, under the aegis of Britain's biggest trade union, the GMB, sees part of its role as preparing the game's new breed of full-time professionals for that after life.

"The idea is that when they finish their playing careers they should have something to look forward to," said Denis Hannah, the union's management consultant for future care services. "They might have been plasterers or brickies before going full-time, but that doesn't mean they will want to go back to that."

Not all of them are going to be pundits, of course, but some training in communication skills will not come amiss.

Hence McGinty and Kuiti, along with the players' association's chairman, Nic Grimoldby, are squirming in front of the camera at the GMB's National College in Manchester, playing out fictional interview roles.

There are some teething problems. McGinty is uncharacteristically subdued; in fact, his shirt - a mistake on television, those checks - is louder than he is.

It is possible that, in this sphere at least, league might have something to learn from the articulate front that rugby union always seems to be able to portray.

Paul Johnson, the captain of Orrell, is there to see what the GMB might have to offer to a parallel union for union players, but he is reluctant to claim greater expertise in communication for his code.

"In the past, there might have been some difference based on class and education," he said. "But I wouldn't like to say that those differences exist now."

Answered like one who has already passed the course with flying colours, but McGinty and Kuiti are starting to warm to their studies as well.

McGinty refuses - in his adopted persona as a Warrington player - to say anything nasty about John Dorahy or Alex Murphy.

Kuiti straight-bats a tabloid-style grilling about the arrest of a team- mate on charges of dealing in Ecstasy with considerable composure. "Quite good fun, this," he admits after sending the hack away empty-handed.

Fun with a serious purpose, though, as illustrated by some rather earnest advice in the workshop booklet: "Never ever share your confidences with a journalist. There is no such thing as off the record."

It would be a rather glum old game if they all suddenly became impeccably discreet and unflappable. Take McGinty's one radio appearance to date, for instance. Asked for his opinion on a try by his then team-mate, Kelvin Skerrett, he referred to him throughout as Melvin Ferrett.

"They never asked me again. But I'm different now," he told me, off the record.