That Time I Shared A Sauna With The NSW Blues
To some players, journalists are "public enemy number one".
State of origin is here, so I thought I'd rip out a yarn with a difference -- an Origin drama with a twist, which I encountered a couple of years back.
I like a sauna. They're not everyone's cup of tea. I get that. They aren't usually memorable visits. Get in. Pour water on. Sweat. Get out.
Downtime in Coffs Harbour in 2016, covering the New South Wales "Blues" camp, ahead of their series opener in Brisbane, gave me time to jump in one.
It was an experience that I'll never forget.
Laurie Daley's squad was staying in the same building as many of the travelling media, which meant that running into players at the complex at some point was inevitable.
Walking into the gym area and seeing a stack of "Blues" backpacks outside the sauna door made my heart sink. There were a few players in the adjacent spa who saw me walk in, so turning around to leave wasn't an option. That would be embarrassing!
To some players, journalists are "public enemy number one". It's mainly due to stories aired, written, or spoken about in the past. I get that. It's probably the reason why trying to get good quotes from them these days is a bit like chasing the wind. They keep their cards close to their chest.
Many don't trust us. Some hate us. Some like us more as their careers come closer to an end as they look to join us in the media one day. (Funny that. Might be another yarn there. Leave it with me.)
The shoe was about to go on the other foot on this occasion. I was about to feel as uncomfortable as these guys usually do when confronted by a waiting media scrum and copping questions that sometimes makes them squirm. For a change, I was about to go on their turf.
Now, let’s point this out first. I'm in OK condition for a man in his forties. I wear Speedos (don't judge me). What I'm getting at is... I'm comfortable in my own body.
I was about to go into a confined space with men who make a living from playing rugby league. A sport which requires them to push themselves to the limit every day to create a body tone equipped for physical contact. My shape, however, is more equipped for pushing a lawnmower at best. In a nutshell, I'm about 5 divisions below these dudes.
I think you get the picture.
Now back to my conundrum: To sauna... or not to sauna? That was the question. Will these guys ridicule me about my profession... or my torso? Or both?
I was at the point of no return. If I walked out, I'd be considered the journo that couldn't stand the heat before I actually encountered it. I was sweating already.
Here goes: I opened the door. I walked in. I made no eye contact with any of them. Their conversation that was free-flowing moments earlier had turned to silence.
"Hey, don't stop talking just because of my presence," I said.
"I'm finished for the day. I'm switched off. You guys have nothing to worry about."
Then came a reply from the back: "You’re a journalist. You guys never switch off. You can't help yourselves."
Ouch! I'm now in a slanging match.
"NO! I'm just a man like you who wants a sauna -- deal with it."
The ice broke at that moment. The wall came down. Some left straight away with my combatant. The others stayed.
We then chatted about all things except their chosen sport. Cars, weddings, in-laws, gardening, poker, even poodles. Yes. Poodles.
I learnt a lot from the chat. Players feel like they're never left alone and entering the sauna that day was "crossing the line".
I’m glad I crossed it though. In the end I got to write about it.
Hang on! Maybe that player was right all along. We just can't help ourselves.
Michael Cain is a senior journalist for TEN Eyewitness news.