SKIPPER Jamie Lyon savoured the greatest moment in his rugby league career at the weekend, lifting the NRL Grand Final trophy after leading Manly Sea Eagles to a 24-10 victory over the New Zealand Warriors.
It is every Australians dream to captain a team to glory in the country’s greatest sporting competition, but it could have been so different had Saints not plucked Lyon from obscurity of country rugby and resurrected a career which seemed to be going nowhere.
Disillusioned by life at the top – and rightly or wrongly being saddled with a bad–boy image – he quit Parramatta Eels to return to his junior club, Wee Wa.
He could still have been there now had Saints chairman Eamonn McManus not taken a calculated gamble and brought the errant Lyon to Knowsley Road, where he made his Super League debut in February 2005.
Mr McManus could have been left with egg all over his face, but it proved a masterstroke as Lyon helped Saints clinch the League Leaders’ Shield in his first season, and also claimed the much coveted Man of Steel award, made the Super League Dream Team, and was chosen as the Rugby League Writers’ Association player of the year.
More honours came his way in the never-to-be-forgotten 2006 campaign in which Saints swept the board by winning the title, the League Leaders’ Shield, and the Challenge Cup as well as the BBC TV Team of the Year accolade.
Lyon then returned home – a slightly older and wiser person – to join Manly in the NRL, and hasn’t looked back since, having representing his country and, before last weekend, had already one Grand Final victory under his belt as a member of the Manly side.
But where would he have been today without the gambling instincts of Mr McManus? I think he owes the Saints chairman a massive debt of gratitude.
n I CAN’T understand why the RL authorities always insist that clubs reaching the Grand Final send eight players each, as well as their coach, to Old Trafford to be grilled by the Press just five days before the most important fixture of the year.
No doubt Royce Simmons and Brian McDermott, the bosses of this year’s finalists Saints and Leeds Rhinos, will look on the press conference as a necessary evil, but cannot be too happy at sending along almost half of what will be their 17-man squad.
Two or three players, including the captain and the coach, would, in my view, be more than adequate, especially in an era when all clubs have their own media man capable of knocking out one or two stories about individual players and feeding them to the Press.
It can also be a daunting prospect to any young player thrown into the media spotlight – something Saints’ 21-year-old half-back Jonny Lomax experienced for the first time on Monday afternoon.
The lad coped more than adequately with the searching questions, even though he had constantly to ask for a much-needed glass of water so he wouldn’t lose his voice!