Just how rude and foul-mouthed can a rugby league player get? Not very, apparently

VIEW FROM THE SOFA: Rugby League Challenge Cup, BBC2

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The Independent Online

On the face of it, wiring a rugby league player to a microphone mid-match seemed like a terrible idea, bound to send the game plummeting further down sport’s ladder of shame.

Even when we don’t know what is said on the field of play, the only times rugby league appears on the radar of the casual sports fan is when a player is caught fighting, drinking to excess or finding new and creative ways to urinate. An unfair judgement on the game, perhaps, but such is life. 

So surely the BBC’s experiment to bring a new dimension to its Challenge Cup coverage by hooking up a microphone to the Leeds Rhinos prop forward Jamie Peacock for their sixth-round match against Huddersfield Giants would end in tears. Did we really want to know what those tiny-shorted balls of muscle said to each other in between bouts of smashing into each other – especially well before the watershed? It was unlikely to be gentlemanly.

Our concern grew when the St Helens captain Jon Wilkin, on punditry duty, asked Peacock pre-match whether he would censor himself. “No, I’ll just be me,” he answered. “I am playing to win.” Uh-oh.

There was relief when Saturday’s host, Mark Chapman, revealed that Peacock’s comments would not go out live, unlike those of Twenty20 cricketers, the only other players to have microphones mid-match.

We had to wait until yesterday, in the build-up to Leigh’s match against Wakefield, to find out what Peacock had said. And going on the duration of the segment, entitled “Peacock’s Perspective” (little more than a minute), we were right in thinking it would be very heavily edited.

Peacock was a pundit for the Leigh game, along with Eorl Crabtree, his opponent on Saturday. And the look on his face when yesterday’s host, Tanya Arnold, introduced the piece revealing what he had said would be best described as pure terror.

But the worst to come out of his mouth was him calling his team-mate Ryan Hall “a big melon”. Sure, there was an incident when he began remonstrating with an opposing player, saying “you know that’s a knock-on all day”, which got cut off pretty sharpish, but he was remarkably polite – if bossy – towards his players. What was particularly revealing was the sound of players colliding. Together with the thwack of flesh on flesh and crunch of bones under pressure came various eye-watering grunts, groans and bellows. It sounded like one of those horror movie sound-effect records.

Peacock admitted listening back to himself was “a bit cringeworthy” but he added that he was pleased to give viewers a little insight. And he was right, it did give a deeper understanding of how a leader on the field in a match fraught with intensity and physical pain marshals his men. And it also showed that (from what we heard) the opposing players are civil to each other. Peacock’s less-than-incendiary words to Crabtree after the final whistle were: “See you tomorrow.”

It made us wish for microphones in other sports – especially football. If we’d heard what sparked John Terry’s momentary lapse of reason against Anton Ferdinand, or what possessed Zinedine Zidane to headbutt Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, we might have a different perspective on both men. Probably not, but we can but wonder.