There really can’t be too many people more passionate and eager for the Buildcorp National Rugby Championship to succeed than FOX SPORTS’ head commentator for the competition, Sean Maloney.
The Rugby HQ funny-man has fast become the voice of the competition through the network’s Thursday night broadcasts in 2014, and is busting out of his skin to crack on again in 2015.
Maloney is grassroots rugby to his core. A former Manly lock in Sydney First Grade, who also played with Warringah and had a season with Rovigo in Italy, the big fella also played NSW Under 19s and 21s back in the day. He clearly knows his stuff.
Maloney has been with FOX SPORTS for what feels like a lifetime, and has firmly established himself as the next in line to the great Greg Clark. But the NRC, with its slightly relaxed nature, has provided Maloney with the chance to add his personality and his colour to the Fox Sport coverage of the tournament. He was super keen to tell rugby.com.au what NRC fans can expect in 2015.
“The commentary is a tonne of fun,” Maloney told me this week. “And we’ve got the benefit this year with the Bar TV guys coming in for the three streaming games each weekend, and we’re able to give a bit of life to those other games that aren’t broadcast each round. I think it’s unreal.”
“And from a FOX point of view, with this year being a World Cup year, all our mainline commentators will be in the UK and off the back of that we need new, younger experts back here. So Stephen Hoiles is going to do a lot of commentary - I think he’s down for eight or nine games - Phil Waugh will stick his head in for the first time as a TV broadcaster, and Morgan Turinui as well.
“That younger group of guys that I was lucky enough to come through playing the same age footy with, are all making that jump from playing into commentary, and it’s nice to keep it young and fresh in line with where the tournament is going,” he said.
One the most noticeable elements of the NRC last year was that everything was a little more laid back, a nod to the competition being a step up down from Super Rugby. From a media coverage perspective, it meant that you could exchange text messages with coaches, and even have a chat with them over a beer after games. The competition is serious enough, but it’s not sheep stations, and so the old-fashioned post-match function, with both teams mingling and catching up after games still had a place.
“I think Paddy Ryan captured it best, when he said straight after the first game last season, ‘we’re going to take a slab of tins in next door and have a beer with them’,” Maloney said, of Ryan’s infamous on-field interview, only minutes after his Sydney Stars team lost the opening game of the NRC to Brisbane City. It was - and is - rugby as we all remember it.
It also gives FOX SPORTS the opportunities to try new things in their broadcast.
“We’re going to have a player miked up every game, so similar to what we did with Christian Lealiifano [back during the Super Rugby season]. We’ll package that up each week and run it past the coaches and players each week - they’re the most important piece in all this, they need to be happy with it before we show it.
“We’re going to have a ‘waterboy cam’ - there’s some protocol issues around the refs and ref cam, so the waterboys will toss it on and they’ll take you right into the thick of it. And we’ll have player interviews through the game again hopefully, I think that was the first time it had ever been done, last year when Gerard Middleton scampered on and grabbed [NSW Country winger] Andrew Kellaway after he’d scored.
“This is the beauty of this competition; the coaches, the players, and the administrators are all keen to try things, and hopefully they take hold at this level, and then at Super Rugby level they say, ‘maybe we should give that a go ourselves’.
“And I’m so pumped up to have a dedicated show to the NRC [“NRC Extra Time”] on a Monday night. ‘Hoilesy’ and I are going to host that, and hopefully that’s a springboard for next year as well.
“With the luxury of having those additional cameras around the grounds, we’re looking to incorporate some fan feedback, we’ll get some grassroots faces up here and there, and we’ll combine that with all the other stuff, too. Try of the Week, the ‘Hammertime’ stuff - we’re going to call that “the Boom Boom Room” - and a whole lot of other things that we’ll bring in to try.
“We want to target that younger demographic and try give them some rugby content to sink their teeth into. Everyone’s got half an hour, and if we package it up right, and I think we will, hopefully we can get them on board and get them interested in the NRC.”
More than anything though, Maloney genuinely loves the competition, and is just looking forward seeing the young talent coming through. And what’s the one thing that would make him walk away from the 2015 National Rugby Championship a happy man?
“That’s a good question. The one thing I’d be happy with is if we can see another wave of guys from this year’s NRC into Super Rugby next year, and on from there. I take great delight, when you’ve got your nose to ground and see kids coming through at the grassroots level, and you tip them off to your mates, or you shout it out on the world wide webs and social media. And when that comes to fruition, it’s just awesome.
“So I just want to see them all do well, and I want to see the game humming!”
Sean Maloney will present Extra Time every Monday night from 24 August on FOX SPORTS Channel 502 at 7.30pm AEST, taking a light-hearted look back at the weekend's action in the 2015 Buildcorp National Rugby Championship.
For all the latest news and views from the 2015 Buildcorp NRC head to the official website www.buildcorpnrc.com.au