Viewers need more of Paul the analyst, less of Fatty the class clown’s cringeworthy commentating


Television commentary is a tough gig. Everyone’s a critic and if you are going to make it all about yourself, the viewers get real cranky really quickly. 

Paul Vautin is a semi-retired commentator for Nine these days, usually only dipping in for Queensland matches like Friday night’s Broncos vs Dolphins clash at Suncorp Stadium. 

And he’s getting plenty of viewers offside with his attempts at humour and old-school commentary style which belongs to another time. 

It’s hard for younger viewers to appreciate how big a star Vautin was in the 1990s in the heyday of The Footy Show, Logie success and endorsing products left, right and centre.

Tooheys, a very NSW brew, moved a lot of product on the back of Vautin’s popularity in the early 1990s even though he was as Maroon as they come, culminating in the World’s Biggest BBQ series of concerts/piss-ups. 

But nowadays, nearly seven years after he lost his gig as the host of The Footy Show before the outdated show itself was put out of its misery, he is coming off as the drunk uncle who has stayed too long at the party. 

His long-time commentary and Footy Show compadre Peter Sterling has often told the tale of how he thinks there are two versions of Vautin.

There’s “Fatty”, the court jester  who will do pretty much anything for a laugh, and Paul, the former premiership-winning captain, Test player and Origin coach who can dissect the game with high-level expertise. 

He’s actually no mug when it comes to rugby league – he was an under-rated back-rower during his glory days with Manly, a loyal ally to Wally Lewis at Origin level who filled in as skipper (and five-eighth once) when he was out and although his coaching philosophies were simple when he was parachuted into the 1995 series for Queensland, it will remain part of rugby league folklore in perpetuity that he guided a team of fringe first-graders to a 3-0 clean sweep over Phil Gould’s star-studded line-up.

It’s a shame the viewers are getting weighed down by Fatty with only glimpses of Paul. 

Unfortunately, his antics seem to get guaranteed laughs from someone with peerless gravitas in the game, Cameron Smith. 

Whenever “Fatty” dusts off one of his hackneyed one-liners, Smith giggles like the straight-A student who knows he shouldn’t be encouraging the class clown in front of the teacher. 

Vautin was at it again on Friday night, appealing to the lowest common denominator with his “goooone” catchphrase when describing how Corey Oates looked fatigued during the first half. 

He then openly exhibited his lack of knowledge of the grading for the concussion protocols when the conversation turned to the topic of Jesse Bromwich’s head knock.

Too often the cringeworthy moments like these lowered the tone. 

Fatty was at it again a few weeks ago when the touch judge made an incorrect call on Tom Dearden’s exceptional cover tackle on Selwyn Cobbo in the Broncos’ win over the Cowboys . 

After the Brisbane centre had sprinted 90 metres upfield off an intercept only to be bundled over the sideline while taking out the corner post, the touch judge recommended to the referee that he thought Cobbo’s legs had stayed in the air while he was planting the ball down. 

It was a decent effort for the touchie to keep up with the play as Cobbo streaked away downfield and his split-second call from his vantage point just behind the play turned out to be just wrong when the replay showed Dearden dragged his opponent’s hip into the sideline while dragging him into touch. 

None of the commentators had made a definitive call on whether they thought the try was valid or not and as soon as the replay showed Cobbo was out, Vautin lampooned the sideline official like he had just made a howler of a bad call. 

There is a place for levity in commentary and many of the talking heads on the various pre, post and in-game NRL broadcasts take themselves way too seriously. 

But there’s a fine line between buffoonery and irreverence. 

The great Kerry O’Keeffe recounts the unforgettable moment he smashed his one and only six in a test match! ????#TheBackPage@FOXSportsAUS @kokeeffe49 @craddock_cmail @MattParslow1

— Best Bits of The Back Page (@backpagebestof) March 25, 2024

The leading example for all Australian sports commentators when it comes to striking this balance is Kerry O’Keeffe in the way he mixes outlandish frivolity with in-depth analysis. 

For all the snorting, guffawing and snickering, usually at the ludicrous nature of his own jokes, O’Keeffe retains top-notch credibility as a commentator with his attention to detail. 

His fellow commentators often speak with awe about how much research “Skull” puts into his craft off air.

Thoroughly prepared on tactical trends, the nuances of the current stars and the detail about emerging prospects, he has managed to prove you can be entertaining and informative as a commentator without resorting to lowbrow antics. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.