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Diaries of a League fan: ‘Rabbits’ Warren tribute

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The news of legendary commentator Ray ‘Rabbits’ Warren’s retirement this week marks a poignant moment in Australian sport. One that needs some clear air for reflection.

Rabs wasn’t just a commentator, he was a master of his craft. A voice that transcended those who called before him, and raised the bar of expectation for what our greatest occasions deserve. He was a voice of comfort, a father figure you never met, yet felt like you had known your entire life. His dulcet tones triggered an escape from the stresses of life into an illuminated arena where he captured your imagination, made superheroes of men, and immortalised moments that left lifelong memories.

Rabs amplified drama and encapsulated a sense of occasion like no other. He took sporting feats and produced theatre that moved you; emotion you still feel today. Calls from 20 to 30 years ago that still reverberate clearly in your mind like it was yesterday, making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

He was Mark Coyne’s miracle try and Joey’s run down the blind. He was Slater’s chip and chase and that Scott Sattler tackle. When he announced players on the ball you shot-up in anticipation. Langer! Fittler! Thurston!

Rabs was Friday Night Footy and State of Origin, giving the biggest occasions in League even more life. His commentary grew the game and compelled viewers to tune in, leaving young girls and boys dreaming of wearing sky blue or maroon, of holding the Premiership trophy aloft on that final Sunday.

For all that he brought to Rugby League, the intrinsic beauty of Ray Warren is that it was never about him. He never sought the camera or limelight, it was purely about his love for the game – a trait exhibited so perfectly in his retirement announcement. He could have soldiered on for one more season, commentated his 100th Origin, and received the accolades and fanfare that followed. But he didn’t. Accepting that his best is beyond him and that any mistakes might detract from the occasion, he selflessly resigned with little fuss, displaying the humility and dignity that saw him become one of the nation’s most beloved sporting characters. 

In the words of the great man himself; “…we won’t see anything like that again this year, and maybe never!” 

‘Rabs’ leaves behind a distinguished 55-year legacy, stretching from his time as a young upstart on Radio 2LF in Young, through to his most prominent role as head commentator for Channel 9 where he became ‘The Voice of Rugby League’. He shattered records along the way, most notably calling 99 State of Origin matches and 45 Grand Finals. His departure leaves a gaping hole in the rugby league landscape, with no obvious successor ready to take his place.

Mat Barnes
Mat Barnes
A self-confessed sports nerd who would spit the dummy as a kid on family beach days so he could stay home to watch the cricket - Mat has lived and breathed sport his entire life. Following a three year stint as a Sports Statistician with Fox Sports Australia, he has since enjoyed an extended period in the golf industry helping grow the game he has loved since he was a kid. While Mat loves golf amongst many other sports and codes, his passion for the NRL and the Newcastle Knights is borderline obsessive!

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