I don’t know what Jaemon Salmon did prior to last night that upset Ricky Stuart so much, but it was inappropriate for the coach to call him a weak-gutted dog.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s impossible to prove intent from this side of the television screen, but it seemed that at the very least Salmon was reckless in his action against Tom Starling. A foot in the giblets and one in the face doesn’t happen often, so when it does one can be assured that unusual circumstances created it. When Starling crumpled to the floor like his finest Ed Hardy shirt, it wasn’t for show. Those feet had been swung around in the hope of at least frightening Tom. When they made contact what was dumb became dangerous. Salmon should sit before the match review committee this week.
So I can understand Coach Stuart being upset. Combined with the frustration of the Raiders bumbling away their best opportunity to beat the Panthers since 2019, it would have made for a night where you’d be better off not answering questions. Nights like that make it hard for your regular punter not to get on the social media and vent. Sticky doesn’t do that, and instead of shouting into the ether he had microphones in his face. So the frustration came out for all of us to see.
You should read our review of the game here to understand why Sticky was cranky.
I don’t remember a coach ever targeting an opposition player so directly, though I’m sure it’s happened. Normally the referees or the league cops it. Most of the time we assume it’s the coach trying to shield his players from the glare of a shined light on their ineptness. When it gets personal like it did last night, it moves beyond being a distraction, and into an embarrassment for the club and the game. This will be one of those occasions where non-rugby league types talk down their nose about the game, as if they have any depth of understanding of the game or the culture. This also doesn’t account for the unfair attention Salmon will face this week.
So whoever deals with this will step in (is it V’Landys? Is it the match review committee? I have no idea). It will end with a Stuart apology, a fine and maybe even a suspension. The talking heads that love Sticky will talk about “free speech” and “cancel culture removing all the characters from the game”. This of course idiotic. Someone will leak what it is that Salmon actually did before tonight that upset him so. This is as much a distraction as Sticky’s comments originally were. The long and the short of it is that Stuart shouldn’t have said what he said and he’ll be punished for it. A leader needs to be calming the storm after a loss like that, not feeding it.
How that ends specifically we’ll have to wait and see. At the very least Coach Stuart’s pockets will be a bit lighter by the end of this week, and the Milk may be without their coach for a hot minute. There’s been suggestions that Salmon may pursue legal avenues, which would hopefully end with a Stuart apology. Rugby league doesn’t need a high-profile legal case like that.
For the Milk it’s impossible to say what it will do. If left to it’s own devices an issue like this can be the kind of thing that makes a team spiral from the attention, or galvanise. Canberra are best when they think the world’s against them (when in reality most people don’t think about us much). Regardless it inserts yet another variable into a season where the Milk have never settled. A bit of quiet focus to work out how to fix their on-field issues seems needed. A off-field maelstrom is not what they need right now.
I hope Stuart had a sleep on it last night and realises this can cease to be an issue today. It’s fine for him to be frustrated. And I’m sure there are reasons beyond Salmon’s behaviour last night that drove his irritation. But Canberra need to find a way to win battles on the field. This is an off-field battle they cannot win.
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