IT WAS 6am, and NRL boss David Gallop was looking forcefully into his bathroom mirror performing his daily affirmations. ''Today I will be the best possible chief executive of the best NRL in the world!'' he repeated, as the can of shaving foam he was shaking exploded violently, shattering the mirror and leaving Gallop with mild lacerations.
Illustration: Edd Aragon
''Mmmm, won't catch me believing any silly superstitions about seven years bad luck,'' said Gallop, as his black cat Benji wandered past. ''No one can convince me this league is cursed.''
Gallop dressed and went outside to fetch the newspapers. As he bent down, the seat of his best suit pants ripping at the seams, he caught a glimpse of the front page. ''NRL Stars In Violent Nude Hot Tub Porn Star Betting Scandal Romp!''
Gallop breathed a sigh of relief. ''Nothing new there, then,'' he thought, remembering how expertly he had handled the late night phone call from yet another salacious muck-raker.
''Our players are fully educated in the appropriate use of hot tubs and other therapeutic aqua-based facilities,'' he had told the reporter. ''We are confident that, by and large, they are using hot tubs in an appropriate and professional manner.'' That had set the record straight!
As Gallop walked down the drive-way past the large brown mess covering his BMW - what were the odds of a flock of 700 seagulls defecating simultaneously on one car? - to a waiting taxi, his phone rang. It was NRL trouble-shooter Jerry ''The Fixer'' McDougall.
''You're not going to believe this, boss,'' McDougall said. ''We've had another 'Face of the NRL' bust-up.''
Gallop's composure was briefly broken. When he anointed 102-year-old Dame Elisabeth Murdoch as the face of the NRL, he figured he was bulletproof. But things had turned nasty at La Traviata. A fight had broken out over a pair of opera glasses, and Dame Elisabeth had sat Barry Humphries on his backside. The press were all over it.
''I don't care what her son says,'' said Gallop boldly. ''Tell Dame Elisabeth those Bulldogs season tickets are cancelled!''
Arriving at his office four hours late after a tunnel closure, three taxi breakdowns and traffic congestion caused by rioting kindergarten children, Gallop wiped the spilled coffee from his tie and studied the list of 100 potential NRL commissioners. ''I'm not saying we're cursed or anything,'' he said to his personal assistant, as the ink from his pen exploded on her dress. ''But for now let's make sure none of these people travel together on the same flight.''
There was a knock on Gallop's door, which collapsed into a pile of splintered baltic pine. It was ARL boss Geoff Carr and, as usual, he wanted to talk about the AFL expansion.
''They're coming for our kids!'' screamed Carr. ''They're going to steal our homes! Look, under your desk, I think there's an AFL player there! Everyone hide!''
Gallop, who had fallen backwards off his chair, picked himself up and tried to talk reason. ''Calm down, Geoff,'' he said. ''The only reason anyone has heard of Greater Western Sydney is that we keep talking about them. Or when we don't talk about them, and everyone wonders why we aren't.''
Gallop ushered the bewildered Carr through the hole where the door had been and, after removing several splinters from his leg, called in his PA. ''What else have we got on our plate today?''
''Well,'' she said. ''Gus Gould has called for your public decapitation; Nathan Tinkler wants to rename the Knights the Newcastle No Mining Taxers; we've had seven overnight arrests but only four actual charges laid, and Russell Crowe has told a US chat show that Roy Asotasi is an African shaman who will put a spell on the rest of competition. Oh, and Des Hasler is in the waiting room with what looks like a box of matches and a bottle of kerosene.''
''Thank goodness,'' said Gallop, accidentally stabbing himself with a paper clip. ''Not sure I could handle any new crises.''
Finally, at the end of another long day, Gallop took his seat in the grandstand for the season opener and, as the contents of a tomato sauce sachet splattered his forehead, considered how blessed he was. ''OK, we've had a few little hiccups,'' he told himself. ''But I'm still the boss of a bloody great game.''
At that moment, the earth began to tremble, and Gallop ducked under his seat. But, this time, he didn't need to bother. It was just Greg Inglis warming up on the sidelines.