22 Oct 2020

Bidwell: Cool it with the expectations on Caleb Clarke

2:20 pm on 22 October 2020

Opinion - We in the sports media need to slow down sometimes.

All Blacks winger Caleb Clarke during the 2nd Bledisloe Cup test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Australia - Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand.  18  October  2020       Photo: Brett Phibbs / www.photosport.nz

Caleb Clarke on attack against the Wallabies at Eden Park on Sunday. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2020 www.photosport.nz

Take our infatuation with new All Blacks wing Caleb Clarke, for instance.

By rights, he'd have been playing sevens at the Olympic Games this year.

Instead, they were postponed and thanks to some encouraging Super Rugby form - and the season-ending injury suffered by George Bridge - Clarke found himself in the No.11 jersey against Australia last Sunday.

Clarke played strongly. He smiled, he spoke well afterwards and he appears to have a bright future in the game.

But, between his early shower this week and appearance off the bench the week before, Clarke is about 80 minutes into his test career. Eighty minutes.

Again, Clarke seems a very nice young man and - as the son of former All Black Eroni Clarke - appears to have come from a good family. But we, as media and fans, are doing him a complete disservice by proclaiming he is a superstar in the making and perhaps (dare I even mention it?) the next Jonah Lomu.

Lomu was a remarkable player, not least because of the chronic kidney condition that ultimately killed him. To play that well despite such a debilitating illness really was some feat.

Lomu might not have been the best or most-talented wing to ever don an All Blacks' jersey, but few are more fondly remembered or revered.

Let's let Caleb Clarke be himself and succeed or fail on his own terms, without lumbering him with unrealistic labels or expectations and seeing if he can live up to the reputation of the great Jonah Lomu. New All Blacks are under enough pressure as it is.

At the other end of the scale we seem to have gone GOAT crazy.

Off the top of my head LeBron James, Lewis Hamilton, Rafael Nadal, Cameron Smith, Virat Kohli, Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi and Tom Brady are among the many GOATs who are said to walk among us these days.

Wow, what a time to be alive. What are the odds of so many GOATs going around in the same era, particularly when some of them even play the same sport?

For those who don't know, GOAT is the apparent acronym for Greatest Of All Time and, as you can see, we're living in a time of rare greatness.

I'm going to linger a minute on Smith, the decorated Melbourne Storm, Queensland and Australia rugby league player.

Cameron Smith

Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith. Photo: Photosport

As much as the media love to anoint the next great one, they can't get enough of ushering a champion towards retirement either.

Smith, rightly or wrongly, is in the discussion for best rugby league player of all time.

He's certainly my favourite player from this era because so little of his success has relied upon size, strength or athleticism.

Through more subtle means, Smith has learned to exert control over his own team, the opposition, referees and the media.

That's quite some achievement and for all those who'd like to declare him the GOAT, ahead of Melbourne's NRL grand final clash with Penrith on Sunday, there are at least as many media folk demanding he disappear into retirement.

Smith, 37, has yet to announce his intentions for next year and beyond and that - if you'll excuse the pun - gets a few people's goat.

I don't know where Smith ranks among the all time greats and actually I don't care. In fact, knowing or determining his place in history makes no difference to the enjoyment I get from watching him play.

But it's a kneejerk world these days. One week new All Blacks head coach Ian Foster is a gumboot, for instance, and the next he and the team are apparently bound for greatness.

We in the media insult people's intelligence when we swing so violently between extremes or we rush to anoint or retire or canonise athletes.

There's nothing wrong with just taking a breath and letting events unfold or speak for themselves.

Time will tell how good an All Blacks wing Clarke becomes. Just as it told its own story about previous inheritors of Lomu's throne such as Joe Rokocoko, Doug Howlett, Julian Savea and Rieko Ioane.

For now, let's allow him to enjoy his footy without the burden of living up to a nation's expectations and the legacy of a man like Lomu. He is just 21 after all.

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