Hard News by Russell Brown

Blood, fury and concussion

Blood, fury and concussion. Terrible injuries. A mob baying for the head of the authorities. And that was just the rugby league.

The Warriors won their way through to the NRL finals yesterday, when they conquered the Brisbane Broncos in what I think was the most brutal game of rugby league I have ever attended.

Yes, there was the all-in brawl, triggered after Monty Beetham objected to being carted several metres towards his goal-line and dumped on his back. It must be a little difficult to explain to your young son that fighting is bad when half the stand is on its feet cheering, but at least no one was claiming that this particular rumble was going to stop youth suicide or something.

And anyway, the greater part of the carnage was within the rules of the game. Richard Villasanti's thunderous hit on Shane Webcke effectively put the world's best prop out of the game - even after Webcke tottered back onto the field he wasn't scaring anyone.

And then, about 120 seconds after Bill Harrigan had cleared up the brawl and sin-binned four players, the Broncos' Brent Tate slipped going into a tackle and caught Fracis Meli's forearm flush on the forehead. His head jerked back and you could hear the slap halfway up the stand. He didn't get up. Christ, I thought, this is really violent.

I wondered what the immigrants - quite a few Indians and Pakistanis, from little kids to little old ladies - who come to Warriors games these days must make of it all. Still, they get what they come for: a sense of community. The Warriors crowd is a broad and accepting church. If you turn up, you're in, and you have something to talk about at morning tea on Monday.

Having finally lucked a home game when it wasn't raining, the Warriors also played the kind of footy that makes people come and see them: a wild, brilliant passing game that, but for late fumbles, could have delivered them two or three more tries. It was all the more remarkable that they did so without Lance Hohaia, whose season was ended by a knee injury three minutes into the game.

It's a good thing the Warriors appears to have a steady stream of clever little playmakers, because the attrition rate is something awful. But the tiny 18 year-old Thomas Leuluai, who really should still be playing reserve grade, stepped up in quite remarkable fashion. (He is also, according to my old friend, who's enjoying his footy even more since he came out, "drop-dead gorgeous".)

It was while Hohaia was being carted off that it became clear that the Lion Red Guy was going to be a major problem. Rule One: never give a man with nothing to say access to a microphone and amplification. Yet here he was, down in front of the "Red Zone" blathering on at high volume while play continued, kicks were lined up and tries were scored. When he couldn't think of anything else say - which was most of the time - he'd just bawl "smash 'em!"

It got funny during the break when a couple of likely lads jumped out from the crowd in his absence and started distributing his Lion Red t-shirts. The crowd warmed to them in a way they had not warmed to Lion Red Guy, but a couple of cops - ex-English Bobbies by the look of it - were obliged to wander up and restore order.

The merchandise was clearly very important to Lion Red Guy. So much so that he later shaped up to start a fight with one father who helped himself to a cap for his son (frankly, having had to sit in front of the PA system for the whole game, they deserved their money back and then some), and the police were obliged to intervene again. It's a shame they didn't do everyone a favour and arrest Lion Red Guy. Anyway, assuming that this will trigger some media-monitoring alert for Lion Nathan: people, this incident did your brand harm. Fire the bum, and, ideally, don't replace him. It's about footy, not some idiot with a microphone.

Anyway, the New Zealand Herald has gone DigiPoll crazy in the past few days, measuring Maori mood on the foreshores (away from the iwi fundamentalists, Maori sentiment is more favourable to the government's compromise), and public opinion on Ahmed Zaoui (50 per cent of the sample wanted him thrown out, even though no one making a balanced reading of the evidence would think he was a terrorist) and genetic modification, where it appears that the public mood has shifted as the end of the government's moratorium looms.

As previous polls have shown, the response you get from the public on GM has a lot to do with how you phrase the question, but the government does have a job of work to do in building public trust and, frankly, has probably left it too late. It's also probably too late to push Marion Hobbs sideways, but her public representations on the issue seem increasingly problematic. This is a ministerial gig that needs to be in the hands of someone with absolute command of the detail - perhaps as a rite of ministerial initiation for David Cunliffe - not a blurter.

The problem is that no one will really know how well the system works until it is working. And the risk is much less in the science - which hasn't moved a hell of a lot since last year - than in foreign consumer sentiment, which Erma does not seem to be very well set to assess.

The government can't go back on the moratorium deadline - it would be political madness to allow GM to hang on as an election issue, after what happened last time. And the debate is not helped by the kind of idiots who are dropping pictures of sheep with human faces in people's letterboxes.

But the government's professed caution will be on trial in the most acute fashion from now on, not just when the moratorium lifts but for the year or so it will probably take for the first application to go through the approval process and be approved or declined. It's hard to escape the feeling that everyone would be happier for now if Erma just said "no", if only to prove that it can.