Many who love rugby league and horse racing enjoy trying their luck on the punt.
Ray Warren, who on Wednesday called time on his legendary sports commentary career, certainly falls into that category.
Among the many priceless stories told in the aftermath of Warren’s announcement is one by Paul Vautin, a long-time colleague and friend.
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“Rabs was the ground announcer at the Hawkesbury races this day. He did love a punt,” Vautin told 4BC’s Wide World of Sports radio.
“Kenny Callander tells a story.
“He found him wandering around in the ring, and the race was very close. He was watching Rabs and he says, ‘Rabs, what are you doing?’. (Warren) says, ‘Mate, I’m trying to get 5-2 (odds) this favourite, I can’t find it anywhere. It’s 9-4 and I’m trying to get 5-2’.
“(Callander) goes, ‘Well, I’ve got some news for you, Rabs’, and (Warren) says, ‘What’s that, Kenny?’… he said, ‘They’ve jumped’.
“Luckily for him it was a 2000-metre race. So he sprints back up to the box, nearly has a heart attack. The race is on and no one can hear anything. They’re looking up at the grandstand, looking up at the (caller’s) box going, ‘What’s happened here?’. Then Rabs, too smart – he starts tapping the microphone. Tap, tap, tap, tap. (He says), ‘Oh yes, we’re back working, we’re back on air, ladies and gentlemen, as they come round the turn’.
“Mate, he never missed a beat down the straight and nailed it. The people had no idea he was down in the ring trying to back the favourite.
“Golden. Too good.”
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Vautin’s story encapsulates the ease with which Warren mastered his craft.
In his calling of Mark Coyne’s “miracle” State of Origin try, Billy Slater’s instantly famous chip and chase in a Queensland jumper, Benji Marshall’s grand final flick pass and Johnathan Thurston’s premiership-winning field goal, Warren’s feel for a call oozed.
Ray Warren’s famous ‘miracle’ try call
He provided the soundtrack to Gorden Tallis’ “lasso” tackle on Brett Hodgson, Greg Inglis’ extraordinary Centenary Test bat-back, the ‘Battle of Brookvale’ biff between Glenn Stewart and Adam Blair, and the Blues’ breaking of the Maroons’ dynasty.
In every one of those moments and many more Warren’s brilliance shone through.
“As a player through the 80s… you wanted to get home and watch a replay – you had to put the VHS in in those days – and you wanted to hear your name called by Ray Warren,” Vautin recalls.
“It was just fantastic. History has shown over the last 30 years at Nine how good a caller he is and has been… to me, he’s the greatest sports broadcaster that Australia has ever seen, and maybe the world. He is that good at his craft.”
Phil Gould was by Warren’s side for hundreds of his calls.
“We all have great moments in rugby league and we remember them through Ray Warren’s voice: through his eyes, through his emotion,” Gould told 4BC’s Wide World of Sports radio.
“Some of the biggest moments in our game’s history and our country’s sporting history have been captured through his eyes and with his emotion in that iconic voice. It’s a real thrill. It’s what grandparents tape – to hear their grandchildren being called by Ray Warren. It’s so special to so many people for him to be a part of their lives in calling the great moments of their careers.”
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Slater’s preparation for his first Origin match as Queensland coach is in overdrive, but he spared a moment in camp to pay tribute to Warren.
“I feel very fortunate to have, I suppose, individually all the great moments I had in my career voiced by Ray Warren,” Slater told 9News.
Blues coach Brad Fittler made a similar remark.
“Those memorable moments always have that particular voice in the background just making it that little bit more special,” Fittler said.
Warren didn’t only call rugby league and horse racing, but swimming.
It was alongside another Australian sports broadcasting icon in Ken Sutcliffe that Warren set off in 1966.
They were both young men living out their dreams on Radio 2LF in the country New South Wales town of Young.
“He is someone we have had in our living rooms for a long time for major sporting events,” Peter Psaltis said on 4BC’s Wide World of Sports radio.
“I say sporting events because not only is Rabs the best rugby league commentator this country has produced, he’s the best swimming commentator.
“He’s part of the soundtrack of our lives – the voice of Ray Warren.”
The boy from Junee in country NSW called a record 99 Origin matches and 45 grand finals, and carved out a commentary career spanning 55 years.
‘The voice of rugby league’ was inducted into the NRL Hall of Fame in 2019, becoming the first member recognised for contribution to broadcast media.
As fate had it, it was Warren’s fear of flying that saw him land at Channel 9’s Wide World of Sports.
Warren, now 78, was in his mid-40s when he was sacked by Channel Ten.
“I pulled out of the Olympic Games that I was supposed to be the head presenter of in 1984 and it was probably the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life,” he told Wide World of Sports in 2019.
“I can’t dodge it: I still am scared. I’m frightened of flying.
“It didn’t just cost me the Olympics, it cost me my job at Channel Ten in 1986. They said, ‘Look, we don’t see a great future for us, given that you’re our lead sports commentator’.
“I’d done three Melbourne Cups for them and then I pulled out of the Olympics after that. They weren’t necessarily all that impressed.”
Many rugby league followers have vivid memories of Warren and Gould getting in a tango in the commentary box.
Gould loved winding him up and Warren often took the bait.
But Gould remembers a time when his great mate had the last laugh.
“We didn’t have bunkers back then. We just had the video referee in the box next door and we pushed the button: red or green,” Gould says.
“In those days… we could actually hear the video referee going through his process.
“Winger’s gone over in the corner and he’s half dropped the ball and I’ve gone and said, ‘That’s no try, he’s got no control of that, there’s no control of that, he’s lost that, I can’t give that a try, that’s not a try, that’s got to be a red light, that’s got to be no try. Rabbits, what do you think? Rabbits? Rabbits, what do you think?’
“Well of course Rabbits won’t commit because he doesn’t want to be wrong. So he’s waiting to hear the video referee in his ear to see what the video referee thinks before it happens.
“I’m saying, ‘Rabbits, it’s no try. If they rule that a try I’m going to jump out of the commentary box. Rabbits, that can’t be a try. What do you think, Rabbits?’
“All of a sudden he hears the video referee say, ‘I think I can see downward pressure’. And he says, ‘Rightio, Gussy boy, if you look in the rule book, and you never read the rule book, downward pressure is the thing, it’s not about control, but you wouldn’t know that because you go off half-cocked all the time’. So he’s into me now because he knows the video referee’s going to rule try.
“I can’t give up… so I’m saying it’s no try. He’s into me. Of course he’s got the confidence because he’s got the referee decision. Of course up goes the green light, they rule a try, they kick the goal, they go to an ad-break and he reaches over and grabs me on the leg and he says, ‘That was brilliant, son. Just remember, I’ve always got to be right’.”
Many hearts are heavier after Warren put the microphone away, but Gould wants to remember the good times.
“As they say, don’t be sad it’s over,” he said.
“Be happy it happened.”
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