OPINION: Another day, another of the NRL's ''media mixed zone'' feeding frenzies. This time, a chance to wander to the other side of the Rabbitohs-proof fence, prod microphones under the noses of six players and record their mind-numbingly anodyne responses to only slightly less intelligence-depleting questions.
Not just any Rabbitohs, we are told, but ''high-profile'' players. As if it was some sort of privilege that, on the eve of one of the most eagerly anticipated finals in the competition's recent history, the media were not being asked to interrogate an assistant coach's labrador. Say what you like, but the promotional genius of the NRL clubs puts Apple and Nike in the shade.
The star turn is Greg Inglis, who is swallowed whole by a ravenous pack of television heads, radio reporters and website types loosely fitting the description ''journalist''. ''I just like playing footy mate,'' pretty much sums up the substance of Inglis's answers, and also how thrilled he seems to be there.
Inglis is more forthcoming with a more intimate group of reporters. But there remains a defensive detachment. A dread he might say something half-interesting, and thus suffer the ire of the coaching staff for departing a script so bland it could come from an instructional video about door knob maintenance.
Inglis strikes you as the quintessential victim of the barrier that now exists between the so-called superstar athlete and the media. I once interviewed him at Melbourne when he was a shy, skinny - yes, skinny - teenager. He didn't have much to say, but what he said came from the heart. Now Inglis is friendly, but has the edgy detachment of someone performing a contractual obligation. A necessary evil - unless, as Inglis did in an interview with a rival publication recently - he has something to promote. A mindset that has permeated the NRL at a time when it should be embracing the world.
I ask Inglis if he would answer a few more questions after the official press conference. He breaks eye contact and scoots for the rooms. ''Sorry. No one-on-one ones. My bad. See Mozza [the club's media manager, Jeremy Monahan].''
You see Mozza, who points to the scrum of film crews and says: ''If I let you do it, they will all want to do it.'' So, as usual, this miserable piece of self-defeating logic is taken to its mutually unsatisfying conclusion, and no one does it. An officially sanctioned lose-lose.
Just as none of the other three South Sydney players who have declined interview requests will talk outside the superficial, impersonal boundaries of the ''mixed zone''. Players who, in the half hour before the media session, sat in the cafe near the ground tapping at their iPhones, making chit-chat and generally demonstrating that they were far too busy to provide an interview that might enlighten their fans, promote their game or dispel the cliched image of players spending all their time sitting around fiddling with their iPhones.
Who knows, their stories might even sell a few more tickets to Saturday night's grand final eliminator. Although, this week, the NRL holds the upper hand in its war against the media. The Bulldogs-Rabbitohs final is a sure-fire box office hit. So the media turn the crumbs thrown from the table into organic sourdough. Rightly, the game itself is what sells.
But does it take the game beyond its heartland? In 2005-06, the Sydney Swans' ''Bloods'' stonewalled the media, reasoning success on the field would inevitably create wider appeal. However, in the years that followed, attendances and membership flatlined. Significantly, the Swans seem to have taken a much more open-door approach as they look to fill ANZ Stadium tomorrow night. In a tough sporting market, opportunities like this do not knock often.
The Swans also now have a cross-town rival who run Kevin Sheedy up the Harbour Bridge flagpole every Monday morning. Alessandro Del Piero will create greater interest in Sydney FC and the A-League. The Waratahs have a new coach and can hope, again, the light at the end of the tunnel is not the 6.32pm express from Hornsby.
At the same time, NRL players have their eyes fixed firmly on the loot from the NRL's $1 billion media rights agreement. Money to which they are fully entitled. But with that extra cash comes greater responsibility to help create revenue. Ask those American athletes who sing for their Michelin star supper before, during and after games.
Meanwhile the NRL invites you to ''bring the noise'' to ANZ Stadium on Saturday. While players are not merely allowed, but encouraged, to take a vow of silence.
- Sydney Morning Herald