Mike Greenaway.
Mike Greenaway.

How a Sharks star was a midnight blackjack champ on Straeuli’s watch

By Mike Greenaway Time of article published Mar 14, 2018

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So, there we are in the foyer of the Crown Plaza hotel in Canberra when AJ Venter spots one of his favourite rock bands.

He is in a state of disbelief. There, sitting on a sofa chewing the cud is clearly a band of serious rock musicians.

They are waiting for their ride to their gig and the Sharks have just returned from an acrimonious defeat to the Brumbies.

Venter, a stylish man-about-town who dresses only in the best Italian clothes – he spent a few years in Italy as player during which time he learned the fashion trade – turned to John “Slugger’ Slade and said: “They are Live!”

To which Slugger, a humble and regular man in the street if ever there was one, replied: “Of course they are live, they are talking to each other!”

“No man,” AJ said in exasperation: “Live, the band. You know, ‘Lightening Crashes’, ‘I Alone’, etc. Surely you know Live? The great album Throwing Copper?”

Slugger says: “Let’s go to the Casino.” He wants to earn more than copper.

They hardly need a cab to the Casino. It is joined to the hotel.

It is the single greatest nocturnal attraction in Australia’s capital city, and any Saturday night that the Brumbies have played a home match, it is awash with visiting rugby players.

Blackjack tables are congested, with players crowded around the inevitable player that is winning, and his teammates are piggy-backing on his bets.

The night that the Sharks are painting the casino red, the player doing all the winning is well known to me.

On the Friday night, strictly against team protocol, this fellow and I were at the blackjack table and I was his partner in crime. And he really did have the midas touch. To be fair to him and his loyalty to his team, he was tee-total but drowning in winnings.

He stumbled back to the hotel drunk on success, but not having had a sip of booze, clutching a Fistful of Dollars. Clint Eastwood would have been proud.

Incidentally that player must have slept easily with that deep-seated contentment that comes with a belly full of success, and he took to the field like a man possessed and was easily the Man of the Match.

I wonder how well he would have played had he lost at the blackjack table the night before…

Anyway, my lips are sealed, but having piggy-backed on his bets, I spent a happy Saturday morning at the Kathmandu clothing shop in the Canberra CBD, praising the skills – on and off the field – of that player that shall remain forever nameless.

During the week of the final against the Brumbies in 2001, coach Rudolf Straueli, as always, was a master of security, after having been a naughty player in is day.

Not a lot of people know that.

Rudolf was taciturn as coach of the Springboks, and that perception of his as the Staaldraad mastermind is how many regard him, but as a player, he was as happy-go-lucky as they come.

He was a mischief-maker in his playing days.

And, with him knowing all the tricks of the trade, he will be kicking himself that one of his star players was a midnight blackjack champ.



The Mercury

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