From Rugby League to Radio: Updated | radioinfo

From Rugby League to Radio: Updated

Friday 16 October, 2020
Greg Alexander. Photo
Peter Saxon speaks with the Panthers' favourite son.

NEWS FLASH: Penrith Panthers into the Grand Final

If you listen to the “galaxy of stars” on Sports Entertainment Radio or on Triple M or 2GB’s Continuous Call Team you would think that it would be easy for a retired athlete to find a cosy position as a commentator once their playing days are over. 
Not so.
Remember that many on the “panel of experts” may only be appearing once or twice a week for an hour or so which earns them pocket money. But full-time jobs or even seasonal jobs that pay a living wage are much rarer. 
Of all the people who play any sport at any level, think how few end up selected for a national team or state of origin. It’s even harder to get a decent media job because those who do make it into a high paying position, tend to stick around for up to 3 – 4 decades (barring injury) making vacancies more difficult to find. 
Greg “Brandy” Alexander, is one of the “lucky” (his word, not mine) few who happened to “be in the right place at the right time.” In his case, to ask legendary king maker, John Brennan for a job, and get it.
Alexander says he hadn’t given much thought to a post rugby league career until a year out from his retirement at the end of the 1999 season.
“The year I retired, 2UE were doing an outside broadcast at Panthers (the giant licensed club in Penrith). They were doing that starting with Alan Jones right through the day to whoever was doing their night time program.
"That was just two months before I was retiring at the end of '99.
"So, apart from thinking about staying involved with the club's marketing and coaching, I hadn't thought about the media because I didn't think that I was suited. I was a bit quiet. Even though I was loud on the field, I was quiet off the field. I wasn't great at interviews during my playing days. I always felt a bit nervous. And I certainly wasn’t a public speaker at all. Even though I captained Penrith, I didn't like it.
"Anyway, my wife said, 'look why don't you go down and see John Brennan. He likes you. He called all your games when you were a schoolboy.' So, she drove me down and said, 'go ask him if you can get involved in Radio. Which was not what I was thinking, but I did it. 
"I walked in and John was there and we had a chat. I said look I'm going to retire at the end of the year, John. Just wondering if the media was an option for me.
"And he said, 'I'll speak to Ray (Hadley) and we'll get you on’.”

By way of full disclosure, I should, at this, point reveal that I am a rugby league tragic. What’s more, I’ve been a diehard Panther fan since 1973 when I became the afternoon announcer at 2KA (now The Edge96.1) and the station called all the local team’s games.   
At that time, the club was only six years old and the trophy cabinet was bare. It was hard work supporting a team dubbed the chocolate soldiers as much for their soft-centred defence as their dowdy brown and white vertical striped jerseys.
Then, in the mid 1980’s a green shoot in the guise of Greg Alexander, a product of the local rugby league nursery, made his debut for the Panthers and in 1991 captained the team to their first ever Premiership. It is little wonder that Greg Alexander became, and remains, Penrith’s favourite son. He is currently vice chairman of Panthers, overseeing both the organisation’s string of licenced clubs and the Penrith Panthers NRL team who, if you didn’t know, are favoured to win this year’s premiership.
Incidentally, that particular 1991 trophy winning team spawned what must be a record number of successful media personalities and respected NRL commentators. Apart from Alexander who is a staple of FOX Sports and was for 13 years co-hosting a daily hour-long sports show on 2UE, there’s his brother in law, Mark Geyer on Triple M as well as Brad Fittler and the team’s coach, Phil Gould on Channel Nine’s NRL coverage.
As the Melbourne based SEN sets up shop in Sydney after their recent purchase of 11702CH, they’ve been quick to bolster their NRL credentials with the appointment of Matty Johns as its champion and Alexander will appear a couple of times a week on his show
It’s been 17 years since the Penrith Panthers last held the Provan-Summons trophy aloft. Last night they defeated the South Sydney Rabbitohs to put them through to the grand final next week with a chance to win their third if they can beat the Melbourne Storm. Carn the Panthers! 

I feel better, now that I got that off my chest.
Although, Greg Alexander (known as Brandy after a popular cocktail in the 90s) is thrilled by his team’s record-breaking success (they’ve notched up 17 games without defeat) it’s been a frustrating year for him due to COVID – forced to stay away from the players he would normally help coach and mentor.
“The clubs had to nominate who was in ‘the bubble’ and who wasn't. I could never be in the bubble I couldn't be part of that with my commitments at FOX. There's just no contact at all really separated from the footballers and the training staff that are part of that bubble. I do miss it,” says Greg.
As with many businesses that rely on bums on seats, COVID restrictions meant that revenue has also been a frustrating issue.
“Can you believe that with the year we've had? (When we’d racked up) seven games in a row (without loss) we couldn't get a crowd there (at Panthers Stadium). Slowly they increased. We had seven and a half thousand for that the first semi against the Roosters. Every home game would have been a sell-out this year with us going so well. That side of it is pretty disappointing.”
By 2000, with his playing days over, Greg, was a regular on what was then 2UE’s Continuous Call Team. And then, the unthinkable happened, 2UE lost its long-held grip on the NRL broadcast rights to 2GB along with half the Continuous Call Team’s members. Greg stayed at 2UE, which for him turned out, once again, to be the right place at the right time.
“Timing is everything in life, isn't it,” he says.
Not long after, Hadley, himself, along with the rest of the Continuous Call Team was lured to the opposition. With virtually everyone else in the sports department gone, Greg found himself co-hosting 2UE’s daily 6pm sports roundup with Peter Bosley and later Johny Gibbs. In the interim, Greg had been picked up by FOX Sports. And as luck would have it, he could work at 2UE during the week and weekends on FOX.  
Remarkably, he was given virtually no training for the job, no voice or elocution lessons. Nothing, like the intense training players get in Rugby League - although he does credit Ray Hadley, Peter Bosley, Johnny Gibbs and John Brennan as mentors. Those who are familiar with John Brennan’s mentoring style would suggest that he was keen not to take the footballer out of Greg’s soul. 
"I practiced hard. I'd work hard at what I wanted to say and what I thought needed to be said. What's that saying? The best ad lib lines arethe ones you practice the most.
"I didn't find talking about football difficult at all. Even though I didn't have any training I used to talk about it a lot. I was a big talker on the field. I'd almost referee a game when I was playing.
"Because I was a half back, and the sort of player that read what was happening and how it was happening, you knew what you needed from the players what the opposition was thinking and doing, that helped a lot.
"I guess I’m not someone that's forceful, who would force my opinion down someone's throat. But you don't survive unless you’ve got an opinion and you’re prepared to say what you're thinking."

The low key feedback he was getting in radio compared to football didn't seem to worry Greg.
"I didn't really know too much about it. I just thought that either one day I’ll get tapped on the shoulder and someone will say, look, mate this is probably not for you, or I’ll just keep hanging around.
“Every year when contract time came around, I’d say, ‘What’s happening?’ And they’d say, you want to go another couple? I’d say, Yeah, absolutely!”

Having achieved “legend” status, what he tells young players carries a lot of weight. In regards to a life beyond football, he’d tell them, “Your career goes faster than you think. Then all of a sudden you are 30 - that’s if you've had a good career 30 plus. And it's almost time to get a job. So think about it".

Peter Saxon
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