Mary, Joseph, a wise man and a mule: It’s a rugby league Christmas

    Christmas is ostensibly a celebration of the birth of a man who preached a timeless message of compassion and charity, and even non-believers like me get together with family every year and at least attempt to be nice to them.

    You’re unlikely to find much compassion or charity on a rugby league field, though, and that’s part of the reason why we love it. Regardless, this year I decided to try and bring together the spirit of Christmas and the brutality of rugby league through selecting a Christmas XVII.

    Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all rugby league Roarers.

    1. Abraham Fatnowna

    We wouldn’t have the Christmas story without the likely mythical story of the prophet Abraham, settler of the holy land.

    His rugby league namesake tended to go by the name ‘Butch’, hailed from Mackay and debuted for the Brisbane Broncos at the tender age of just 18 in 1992. While he was evidently a prodigious talent, Fatnowna never settled at the star-studded Broncos and his career fizzled out in England a few years later.

    2. Angel Marina

    For a guy who managed a measly 22 first grade games for Canberra in the 1980s, Angel Marina left quite a legacy. I’d never heard of him before I spent a brief period residing in the capital, but I quickly discovered that he remains something of a cult figure.

    I’m not going to discount the possibility that Canberra folk will still be talking about the great man in reverential tones a couple of millennia from now.

    3. Paul ‘Mary’ McGregor

    Like many Dragons supporters, I’ve said some unkind things about ‘Mary’ in recent years. In the spirit of the season, it’s worth remembering that he was an outstanding player, a NSW and Australian representative, key member of the first successful Steelers team and a founding member of St George Illawarra. Well played, Mary.

    Paul McGregor. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    4. Wayne Merry

    Wayne ‘Bugsy’ Merry was a well-respected policeman who had a long involvement with the service’s representative league teams, including representing NSW himself in the 1970s and ‘80s. He also managed five games in the top grade for Western suburbs in 1971 and ’72.

    Sadly, Merry passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 73. Vale, Bugsy.

    5. Wise Kativerata

    The wise man of Suva had a brief and well-travelled playing career with the Dragons, Souths and Parramatta. He’s since turned his hand to coaching and most recently led Fiji to the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.

    6. Joseph Busch

    Joe ‘Chimpy’ Busch – great name that and a double whammy on the Christmas theme – is a Hall of Famer who rose rapidly through the ranks after debuting for Easts in 1928. He played for both NSW and Australia the same season, before touring England with the Kangaroos in 1929-30 and playing a key role in one the great Ashes series.

    7. Noel Goldthorpe

    There may be one or two Noels who’ve reached greater heights in rugby league, but Goldthorpe’s the only one I know of who lives up to his name through being born on Christmas Day.

    Regular readers know he’s a favourite of mine, an underrated player who played an understated part in leading St George to three Grand Finals in the space of five seasons in the 1990s, before losing all of them.

    8. David ‘the Mule’ Hosking

    Speaking of cult heroes, the ‘Mule’ was certainly that for Manly supporters, having carried the club’s precious cargo on his back as they traversed the barren land between their 1987 premiership triumph and renewed success in the mid-1990s.

    9. Arthur ‘Snowy’ Justice

    As far as I know there’s not much snow around Hurstville at Christmas, with Justice’s nickname apparently deriving from his shock of blond hair. As his provenance suggests, Snowy was a St George junior and went on to become a club stalwart, playing first grade for a decade, captaining the club in the 1930 Grand Final, serving as head coach and club secretary and becoming a life member in 1944.

    10. Toby Rudolf

    Rudolf is more Khal Drogo than beloved, red-nosed bearer of Santa Claus. But he has to be here because I’m fast running out of options.

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    11. Mike Nicholas

    Saint Mike Nicholas MBE is one of the all-time greats of Welsh rugby league and a tireless advocate for the 13-man game in his home country.

    He’s also a legend of the Warrington Wolves club, having won a Challenge Cup in 1974 and become a fan favourite due to his passion and commitment, including 13-send-offs during his club career. Not very compassionate, but I’ll forgive him.

    12. Josh Jackson

    Which brings us to the man himself. Like his namesake, Yeshua of Nazareth, Joshua Jackson was a shining light and saviour for Canterbury throughout his illustrious career.

    13. Brandon ‘The Cheese’ Smith

    Craig Silvey’s wonderful novel, Jasper Jones, is a remarkable piece of writing for many reasons, not least the author’s ability to blend tragedy and irreverent humour into his narrative. ‘Baby Cheeses’ plays a prominent part in this.

    I’m the cheese-bringer at Thompson family gatherings, mainly because I live just up the road from one of Brisbane’s finest purveyors of gooey, stinky French cheese, and selecting Baby Cheeses is one of my favourite parts of Noel.

    Bench: Adam Starr, Fonua Pole, Mark Carroll and Arthur Romano.

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