The A-List: GREG EASTWOOD (Canterbury & New Zealand)
By STEVE MASCORD
NRL PLAYERS, you should read this. Especially if you are one of those guys who thinks that saying too much publically will get you in trouble. That the press will “twist your words”. That a meaningless soundbite is enough.
Greg Eastwood has never been one of you.
The returning Bulldog, since making his debut for Brisbane in 2005, has always told it like it is. He’s respectful, even a bit shy, but honest. And it’s rarely – if ever - got him in trouble. No-one thinks Greg Eastwood is churlish or arrogant or big headed.
In fact, he’s pretty popular.
Eastwood’s colourful quotes have helped promote the game he plays and will probably assist the New Zealand international in getting a job when he returns to the Gold Coast at the end of it all, which is still a long way in the future considering he’s only 24.
Greggy sits in a burger bar across the road from the Athletics Centre at Homebush Bay. He can’t train with rest of his team-mates because of surgery on both wrists around Christmas time. True to what you’ve read, he’s slimmer than ever – it’s the first burger bar he’s been in for a while, that’s for sure.
Let’s see if I can illustrate my point. Our opener is an obvious one: how do injury both wrists?
An NRL Automaton would answer: “Aw mate, just something I brought back from Leeds. They’re almost better now. All good.”
What Greg says: “The doctors who did it over there, it’s real delicate surgery and they’ve actually missed the fractures. I played all last year with both of them fractured. I didn’t realise until Christmas. I told the physio here they were both sore and they sent me for x-rays and it showed up I had cracks to both. I did it in ’09 with the Kiwis. I just got back from injury, from the left one, and I managed to do the same thing on the right four weeks later playing for Leeds in the World Club Challenge.”
See, good yarn. As long as we don’t libel any medical professionals, no-one’s hurt. Next question.
You left Leeds early. What happened? When did you decide you were coming back?
NRL automaton: “I decided just before the announcement. They were good to me but I felt a bit homesick, that’s all.”
What Eastwood says: “I sort of wanted to get out of there in April. I spoke to my manager David Riolo and wanted to try and get back before the deadline.
“I had to stick it out. I ended up playing at Wembley so it was a pretty good thing in the end. I think a lot of it came down to my injury, doing the first one and not being able to play and about four weeks later doing the second one and just missing my family and how cold it was. I just didn’t think it was right for me at the time and I just wanted to come back to the Bulldogs, given how good a season it was the year before. I really missed the club.
“I wanted to get out and the CEO, Gary (Hetherington), over there really held things up and sort of wanted to wait until the end of the season and see if I’d change my mind. I didn’t.
“There’s a few fans that gave me boos … a lot of fans, they understood that it’s hard for a young kid to come over on his own.”
Played a whole year with two broken wrists! Wanted to come home in April! How many NRL players volunteer this sort of stuff, almost unprompted? OK, Greg, how did you get a release?
NRL Automaton: “I leave all that stuff to my manager”.
Eastwood says the Warriors had been interested in him but “I believe they just couldn’t afford the transfer fee at the time. It was a lot of money. I know I’ve got to pay most of it back. It comes out of my contract. I told Todd (Greenberg) ‘I’ll do anything to get back’. He made it happen so I’m real happy.
“(I’m getting) enough to live on, that’s all I can say.
“It’s going to take three years (to repay).”
Paid his own release fee and living on a pittance! Another back page lead! Keep going, Greg. Read and learn, boring automaton.
You were initially denied a working visa in the UK and had to appeal. What happened there?
NRL Automaton: “It was nothing serious, just some traffic offences. I don’t want to go into it.”
What Eastwood says: “I had a few speeding fines – no drink driving or anything like that. I bought a car for my brother Shane ….
“I got the fines and they disqualified me. I hadn’t received the letter yet and two days later I got pulled over. I had to go to court to sort that out.
“A few of the boys gave it to me for not getting a visa. I felt a bit embarrassed
“Apparently I would have been a nuisance to the public – that’s what they (UK Border Agency) wrote me back in the letter. It’s only speeding fines. People speed. It’s not like I robbed the bank or something. “
Oh, we’ve got more for you. How about why the Kiwis didn’t even make the 2009 Four Nations final? Most of them will tell you they tried hard but just weren’t good enough.
Greg says: “In ’09, there were a lot of boys drinking midweek. It shows on the field. In England, we had a poor performance over there.
“… all the problems that are coming out in nowdays, it’s really good not drinking.
“When I first started, as soon as we got into camp we’d have a session, a big drinking session, to get to know the boys. That’s all gone now. We go out to dinner or do an activity.
“Things have changed a lot. Bringing Ruben (Wiki) in has really straightened all the boys out.”
The Kiwis lost their final pool game of last year’s Four Nations 34-20 at Eden Park, only to turn things around dramatically seven days later and take out the tournament.
At the time, the New Zealanders denied complacency in Auckland and mocked suggestions an elaborate new haka before kick-off involving the entire squad had distracted them.
But here’s what Greggy reckons: “We turned up – because they sort of picked a second string side – thinking we were just going to win it.
“We might have been too worried about doing the haka. It was pretty nerve-racking, how long it was. The boys were practising it at warm-up.”
Practising the haka in warm-up! Should I keep going, or have I proven my point about how interesting footballers can be if they just tell the truth? Greg casually lets this one drop, too: “I first got a scholarship from Canberra but they didn’t want to proceed. I don’t know what happened.
“I played under 15s for Queensland and that’s where Wayne Bennett and Cyril Connell spotted me. I was waiting for something (from the Raiders) but it didn’t come. It worked out good.”
Eastwood also tells us that Leeds players were offered World Club Challenge winning bonuses after the Melbourne salary cap scandal but weren’t interested. He describes his spartan “Wolverine” diet, admits he is the only player in the history of the Broncos to put on weight during a game and says his partner Ashley has already warned him about getting fat in retirement.
This stuff just tumbles out, because it’s interesting and it’s true. Most first graders probably have just as many funny, interesting, heartwarming, sad yarns to spin – but they for whatever reason they choose not to.
And our sport is much the poorer for it. Same time, same place, next week Greg?
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK