4th January 2018, 09:44 | steve_mascord
I once sat next to Anthony Gelling all the way from Rarotonga to Auckland.
On a plane, mind. Not on a canoe. But it was still a while and he didn’t say a word. I only figured out who he was by the Cook Islands sticker on his laptop and the fact I’d just seen him play!
Half a decade later at DW Stadium, he also declined to speak to me. At least, that is, until he borrowed my pen to get Wayne Bennett’s autograph in a copy of Don’t Die With The Music In You that he had packed in his kit bag before the match.
It was a 50th birthday present for his dad Tony.
Whether Bennett recognised Gelling as he signed outside the Broncos’ team bus is 50-50. He may have just though this starry-eyed kid was a fan.
An hour earlier, Wigan’s Gelling had unforgettably tried to charge down Corey Parker’s penalty goal attempt in a tight, tough and ill-tempered World Club Series loss to Brisbane.
You can’t charge down goal-kicks in rugby league. Gelling was penalised and Parker was given another shot.
Anthony Gelling, who – it has been announced – is departing the Warriors, did many things that you apparently can’t do in rugby league as a pro player.
Chief among these was being himself.
“You know it's coming, he's going to kick the two points," said Gelling by way of explanation for his charge at Parker.
"You don't want it to happen. You chuck the kitchen sink, I guess.”
While he was often circumspect in what he said to the traditional rugby league media, Gelling was the sort of likeable loon who would set up an art installation featuring his own kitchen sink to underline the point made above – and then post a video of it on Instagram.
In their excellent post about the 27-year-old's greatest off-field hits, Love Rugby League reminded us how he once went to the Good Friday Derby on a BMX and then stopped in a fan’s party on the way home.
How he responded to a taunting Warrington video with his own parody version following a huge win over the Wolves.
How he used his video production skills to put together a club jingle and record rap songs.
How he described himself on Sky as the “man of the people” - and how it stuck.
Gelling will be a loss to Wigan and – if he goes somewhere where they pronounce the ‘t’ in his first name again – a loss to the British game.
But in a world where players are so careful to stay on-message and live increasingly sheltered lives, he set a subversive and important example for all professional sportsmen.
You've got a decade and a bit in the spotlight to show the public what's different about you, why they should care when you stop playing. It's an opportunity, not a burden.
Gelling proved that our rugby league heroes can be people too. Hilarious, intelligent, engaging, magnetic people.
Thanks to Anthony Gelling, a man of the people.