STATE of Origin has rugby league fans in Queensland and New South Wales agog - but this year it's not the football that's making headlines, but a love triangle involving a coach, a Sydney shock jock and his estranged wife.
Ray Hadley, the top-rating talkback host and sports commentator, is widely considered Australia's most influential broadcaster.
Now it is being alleged that he tried to use that influence to persuade league authorities to sack Matt Parish, assistant coach of the NSW Blues team, who has been spotted at public events with his estranged wife, Suzanne.
Mr Hadley has denied doing so.
The row was the talk of Sydney social and sporting circles - particularly after claims that one popular tabloid, had sat on the story for two weeks.
The famously abrasive radio personality was reportedly heartbroken following the breakdown of his marriage in February. He and his wife separated after she marched into a police station and applied for a restraining order against him. Although she later withdrew the application.
Around that time, according to the gossip columnists, Mr Hadley was sleeping on a sofa in his office at the 2GB radio station. He also took a rare day off sick.
Three months on, Suzanne Hadley has been seen on the arm of Mr Parish, a former league star turned coach.
With the first Origin match in Brisbane less than a fortnight away, Mr Hadley was today accused by the head Blues coach, Laurie Daley, of "unsettling our entire [Origin] campaign".
Rugby league coach Matt Parish Rugby league coach Matt Parish
The explosive allegation against the 59-year-old is that he telephoned the chief executive of NSW rugby league, David Trodden, last week and, according to Mr Daley, tried to "exert his influence and power to have Parish disciplined or stood down".
Mr Hadley - who also attacked Mr Daley and Mr Parish on air several times this week - today denied trying to get the latter sacked.
"I simply asked Dave Trodden to advise Matt Parish to be more circumspect in matters involving my wife," he said.
"This is a very difficult situation… All I did was ask someone to pull his coat with relation to my wife and to be a bit more dignified in his actions."
On his morning radio programme, Mr Hadley opened up about his troubled personal life, telling listeners that in recent months "at times I have felt like staying in bed and not coming to work".
He added: "Listeners have to understand that despite the fact I'm on the wireless, I face the same problems off air [as] you do every day, and the fact my life ends up over three pages of the paper today doesn't make it easier."
The affair was discussed at a NSW rugby league board meeting last Monday, where directors expressed unanimous support for the coaching staff, including Mr Parish.
Mr Daley told the Telegraph: "Ray Hadley is way out of line. He's using his influence and power to undermine Matt Parish and me."
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