I was away on holiday recently for ten days, during which time I missed three things.
The first was the premiere of Rufus Wainwright's opera Prima Donna at the Manchester Festival. Although I had only heard snippets of the music on TV and radio, I can say that it sounded characteristically florid, and something of a fey departure from the two operas I had most recently seen: The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutte. But sarcasm aside, I really like the new beard, even if he, with all his Dorian Gray-like devotion to staying young and hedonistic, can't be too impressed with the shades of grey that are appearing. What's more, he now looks exactly like his dad on the cover of the latter's excellent 1975 album Unrequited. Rufus will need to put on a few pounds before completing the 'bear' look, mind you.
The second was the Lords test match, which on my return from Italy/Corsica I was too tired to give the indignation it deserved or discover what went wrong. Suffice to say, Mitchell Johnson was flayed around to the extent that he resembled Wile E. Coyote on one of his most soul-destroying days of failure with Roadrunner, and now I hear he is going to start at Edgbaston. Something that many, such as Kevin Mitchell here, have noted would be verging on the sadistic.
The third was the final State of Origin game at Suncorp Stadium. NSW won the dead rubber relatively comfortably, alongside some amusing old-style-Origin fisticuffs that resulted in the astonishingly pathetic Queensland actions of putting up a bomb with the last play of the game in order to simply pummel the hapless NSW taker (Kurt Gidley) with all their raging forwards.
This has largely been a disappointing Origin series. Queensland's dominance and NSW's staggering ineptitude in the first two games ensured that the competitive edge of the series has been dented. At the start, I had such high hopes. I drew parallels with 2001, when NSW had a side packed with superstars and proven elite in the NRL, while Wayne Bennett's Queensland side included ten debutants. Queensland crushed NSW in the first game 34-16 thanks to the maniacal Queensland spirit of these fledglings - I remember one try by Carl Webb being particularly galling for NSW, as the current North Queensland Cowboy flung off various more seasoned players like flies to score.
I hoped the reverse might be the case this year, but no. This is only partly down to the NSW players themselves, mind, because of the unforgivable errors made by NSW selectors. This hurts me to say, as Laurie Daley, a childhood hero, is one of them alongside Bob Fulton, one of Australia's most successful ever national coaches. But they really did make a mess of things in three out of the four key positions. Peter Wallace at halfback should have been dropped after the first game, while Terry Campese at five-eighth should not have been picked, but then shouldn't have been dropped so indiscriminately after failing, especially for the largely ineffective Trent Barrett. Robbie Farah might have seemed the answer at hooker based on the City-Country game but anyone paying attention to the NRL would have seen that Michael Ennis was outperforming pretty much every hooker he came up against. Getting rid of Wallace (whose inclusion in the second game was about as mean as, oh, say, Mitchell Johnson playing in the 3rd test) for Brett Kimmorley and Farah for Ennis for Origin 3 was exactly right, if about a month too late. And is it just me, or is it absurd that Matt Orford has never played a single Origin game?
The other mistake was picking Jamie Lyon. The guy doesn't want to play rep footy, so don't make him. There are plenty of alternatives in the Morris brothers, Matt Cooper and others. One could also make a case for getting Jamie Soward involved at the expense of Barrett, especially for the dead rubber, despite the fact that pundits everywhere were spouting he was too young and green for Origin.
On the plus side, I would suggest that Jarryd Hayne is probably the best player in the world at the moment, while the Panthers' very own Michael Jennings should become an Origin regular. Anthony Watmough remains a beastly presence, too. There is talk of getting rid of Craig Bellamy as coach, but as I say, it is with the selectors, not the coach, where the problem lies. One more year. The alternative, they are saying, is Wayne Bennett. But having a Queenslander coach NSW would be an ignominy rivalled only by having a Kiwi coach Australia's rugby union team. Oh wait...
Three songs that are good: 'Going Down' by Blitzen Trapper (who are really good all of a sudden), 'Rapture Of The Deep' by The Witch and the Robot and 'Gandalf' by The Phoenix Foundation.