For me, there’s nothing like a visit to a sauna. They’re not usually memorable visits. Get in, pour water on hot coals, sweat for 20 minutes or so, then get out.
Down time in Coffs Harbour (five hours north of Sydney) covering the New South Wales Blues first training camp leading into Wednesday’ s State of Origin Game I against the Maroons gave me the opportunity to do just that – but it was one that will stand out.
Laurie Daley’s squad was staying in the same building, meaning that running into players around the complex at some point was going to be inevitable.
Walking into the gym area and seeing a stack of “Blues” backpacks scattered outside the sauna door made my heart sink.
As some players in the adjacent spa saw me walk in- turning around to leave wasn’t an option.
It meant I was about to have an uncomfortable time.
To some players, journalists are public enemy number one due to stories aired or written or spoken about in the past.
Probably a major reason why trying to get good grabs from them these days is like re-inventing the wheel.
They just don’t trust us. The shoe was about to go on the other foot on this occasion though.
I was about to feel as uncomfortable as these players usually do when confronted by a waiting media pack – all by themselves and copping questions which makes them squirm.
This time I was on their turf, I was the lamb to the slaughter.
Now, let’s point this out first. I’m in OK condition for a 44-year old. I wear speedos when I swim but board shorts at the beach – but what I’m getting at is – I’m comfortable with my body.
I was about to go into a confined space with men who make a living from playing rugby league. A sport which requires them to push themselves to the very limit every day in an effort to create a body tone equipped for physical combat.
My physical shape however is more of a man that’s about five divisions down from that. A man fighting the good fight to keep his current belt notch at the same spot without having to create a new one.
A man who sucks his tummy in when a beautiful woman starts walking towards him on the footpath, then farts from the pressure it creates after she’s well past.
A man that…I think you’ve probably got the (slightly gross) picture by now. Back to my conundrum people.
To sauna, or not to sauna, that is the question.
Will these guys ridicule me for my profession or my under prepared torso? Or both? But I was at the point of no return.
If I walked out I’d be forever known as the journo that couldn’t stand the heat before he even encountered it. I was already sweating.
Here goes. I open door. In I get.
I make no eye contact with any of them. Their conversation that was free-flowing only moments earlier turns to silence. A sure sign they’ve all realised who I am.
I say, “Guys, don’t stop due to my presence.” I then get some sniggers. “I’m switched off for the day,” I follow up with.
“But you’re a journo, you never switch off,” comes the reply.
I turn to that player. “Mate, I’m just someone who is using a sauna right now, just like you.” A murmur of approval from some others follow.
I think I’ve broken the ice – but then an exodus of around 75% leave all at once… so maybe not then.
But the players that stayed on were happy to chat off the record an array of things away from their sport.
Steam rooms compared to saunas, how expensive weddings can be and how couples fight more in the lead up to the big day – and prestige cars – I could go on.
It was enjoyable. And I got a story out of it as well.
Maybe that player was correct. We can’t help ourselves.
Michael Cain is a senior rugby league television journalist for TEN Eyewitness news in Sydney