EARLIER this year an Italian artist auctioned off an invisible sculpture for $18,300. Like the world hadn't gone mad enough.
The 'sculpture' is invisible because it is literally made of nothing.
The artist, a bloke named Salvatore Garau said "it is a work that asks you to activate the power of the imagination."
The buyer went home with a certificate of authenticity, only to discover it didn't fit in his lounge room.
Kickoff makes no claim to understanding art. The only artwork hanging in this columnist's abode is a signed picture of Larry Thomas - the actor of "no soup for you!" Seinfeld fame.
What brought that story back to mind was all the talk we heard at the beginning of this finals series about the mind games between coaches - in particular Wayne Bennett and Ivan Cleary.
What it illustrated is that we, in the general sense, give coaches way too much credit in the mental warfare stakes.
All we really saw were two coaches seeking a small edge via the standard means - planting public seeds in the mind of referees.
If anything, it's a tired tactic. There was no nuance or subtlety to it at all, nothing to which you would attribute genius.
It was only after the Rabbitohs went out and defeated the Panthers in week one of the finals, an upset, that Bennett was transformed into some sort Sun Tzu. It must be said Bennett himself makes no claim to that. He just knows how easy it is. He'd have probably sold that sculpture for 20 grand.
He'd supposedly 'played Cleary off a break'. The Panthers coach had learned the hard way that 'you don't spar with wily old Wayne'.
It was all nonsense. To think it had any material impact on the result or the mindset of the players on the park is absurd.
Cleary's 'oh here we go' testiness following the result can be attributed to that more than anything else.
All we really saw were discussions coaches have with the referees boss every week which were played out in public. In week one of the finals, it was easy fodder for us media types. It's our job to create narratives and compelling storylines.
It's more difficult to do these days as one-on-one access to players and coaches is virtually non-existent - especially at finals time.
Like the art of invisible sculpture, the job is often asking fans and observers to "activate the power of the imagination".
That's rugby league baby. But as far as metaphorical pre-game chess matches - it's all just gravy. The best coaches understand that.
This column's often marvelled at the many different ways coaches find to mess with their own heads - whether it's smoke and mirrors over team selections or hours pouring over video of refereeing decisions, often from games their team didn't even play.
There are plenty that would happily drop 18k on an invisible sculpture if they thought it would give them an edge (it's why the NRL had to implement a cap on football department spending).
It's understandable given NRL coaches spend their entire careers underneath a coiled guillotine, but the good ones know they have enough on their plate without adding to it.
How often do we see Craig Bellamy getting all David Blaine in the lead-up to a game?
The real art is one of distraction, getting people to focus on something superficial so they can get on with the really important stuff.
As we often see, it's not too difficult. Maybe Salvatore Garau has a future as an NRL coach.
Earlier this year an Italian artist auctioned off an invisible sculpture for $18,300. He'd probably make a good NRL coach.
VACCINATION DEBATE NOT SO SIMPLE FOR THE NRL
IT'S been rightly pitched as a major development, but the case of NBL players parting ways with their clubs over anti-vaccination stances is hardly prescriptive when it comes to other professional sporting organisations.
The Illawarra Hawks cut import guard Travis Trice this week before he'd arrived in Wollongong over his unwillingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The news came a day after the New Zealand Breakers also terminated the contract of star guard Tai Webster for the same reason.
The Breakers also mutually parted ways with Webster's older brother Corey by "mutual agreement" last month.
It didn't cite vaccination differences as the cause, but Corey did take to social media to spout vaccination conspiracy theories a few days later.
The NBL has firmly stated it won't implement a mandatory vaccination policy and these developments illustrate that it doesn't need to.
With teams in all six states, and one in New Zealand, government policy on vaccination and travel simply make contracts with unvaccinated players untenable.
The NRL is spending more in a month to house players and their families in Queensland than the entire value of the NBL's television deal. As such, the NBL can't afford 'bubbles' charter flights or to play games in front of no fans.
Players need to be able to travel freely, and commercially, between multiple states and access venues that, as they are attended by large swathes of the public, have vaccination as a condition of entry.
If a player can't meet those obligations, see you later.
Neither Trice or Webster has had their freedom of choice impinged upon, they've mutually acknowledged that that personal choice leaves them unable to meet the obligations of their playing contract.
That scenario has been amicable, but it's not all that difficult in the case of basketball, a truly global sport. Beyond the NBA, the existence of a professional basketball player is a nomadic one.
NBL imports can be cut, no questions asked, without being entitled to their full contract value provided the decision is made before a mid-season deadline.
It's not unusual for them to play in three or four different countries or continents in a calendar year. With rare exceptions, playing contracts seldom extend beyond one season.
It means players will always have multiple options and avenues to ply their professional trade outside Australia.
A player forgoing a one-season deal in the vicinity of 60-70k to simply pick one up elsewhere is a vastly different prospect to an NRL player on a multi-year deal worth 500k a season or more - particularly given the latter has far fewer prospects of alternative employment.
Given the NRL has constantly cleared the hurdles put in front of it in order to keep the game ticking over, a sense of complacency may have crept in among players.
On that score, players who refuse to be vaccinated should prepare themselves for some harsh truths.
With or without a specific NRL policy on vaccination, if a player's unable to fulfil the obligations of their playing contract, will clubs be entitled to void or renegotiate those contracts?
It's not denying an individual freedom of choice in regards to the vaccine, in the same way sporting organisations not wanting to be in the Israel Folau business does not infringe on his freedom of speech.
It's simply facing up to commercial and business realities. Whatever your view, it'd be optimistic to think any issues that arise on the vaccination front in the NRL will be worked through as smoothly or amicably as we saw in the NBL this week.