BONDI BEAT: June 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

IF the Rugby Football League is looking for ways to give the Exiles fixture traction, then the path forward was laid out before them on April 25, Anzac Day.

Bondi Beat knows the link will not be all that obvious to many, aside from the fact that ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps and the Exiles are full of Australians and New Zealanders.

For those of you who have never been in Australia on Anzac Day, I’ll try and paint a picture. People get up early and go to the Dawn Service, commemorating fallen countrymen in war. Each town, from Sydney and Melbourne down to Broken Hill and Broome, has an Anzac Parade, with children and grandchildren wearing their forefathers’ medals.

Generally speaking, then it’s onto the pub for a game that was played in WWI, is illegal in every Australian state, but is permissible on this one day of the year: two-up.

Then – and this is where we come in – it’s onto a sporting event. The St George Illawarra-Sydney Roosters game at Allianz Stadium (the SFS) drew 40,163 this year and the Melbourne-Warriors game 20,333. The AFL game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground attracted a smidgeon under 90,000.

Now that you’re up to speed, here’s my idea: one of the England-Exiles games should be played in London, on Anzac Day.

See, Aussies and Kiwis in London, after the dawn service, only have the pub to go to. You saw the sort of interest that can be revved up when Australia player New Zealand at The Stoop four years ago in the Four Nations.

This is Australia combining with New Zealand to take on the Old Enemy, England! Which thirsty backpacker would not want to be there on Anzac Day?

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AS previously foreshadowed, the Melbourne Storm is to play the United States in New York on or about October 13.

There are two interesting aspects of this. One, weren’t England forced to stay home this autumn because of “player burnout” on the part of Aussie players? And now clubs are conducting tours? If ever there was evidence of the increasing power of clubs in the NRL, it’s this.

Secondly – and these things are linked – Bondi Beat is reliably informed the NRL is concerned about the trip being a junket designed to get around the salary cap by giving players a free trip. They are strictly limiting the number of players who can go and placing other restrictions on the club.

I know this sounds confusing but while one of our concerns is that the Storm are even going, it’s an even bigger concern that the sport’s governing body is throwing up roadblocks to try to stop them going!

Imagine if we had NRL and Super League clubs flying around the globe playing developing nations all the time – as long as it did not take the place of proper internationals, which this game is sort of doing.

In fact, I would have thought the NRL should be saying: “You can go on an all expenses paid junket at the end of each season – as long as you go somewhere that rugby league is present and play a game!”

We aren’t against the Melbourne Storm playing the Tomahawks. But we are against this year’s England tour of the southern hemisphere being called off for reasons which are looking increasingly bogus.

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THE Independent Commission continues to be a somewhat shadowy and unpredictable body.

A couple of their early decisions were nicely direct and strong. They changed the finals system, just like that. They suspended Robert Lui and Issac Gordon after they were found guilty of domestic violence.

But, given that none of the commissioners had previously been rugby league officials, they were always bound to make some mistakes. Given that they are in charge of a competition that includes the Warriors, showing up to the Anzac Test in green and gold ties wasn’t a great look in the eyes of this column.

That sort of stuff started a war – the Super League War.

But in the face of concerns expressed above, the other day on ABC Radio we quizzed ARLC chairman John Grant just how concerned or otherwise his body was when it came to international rugby league.

“You get a much stronger argument along those lines from other countries aside from Australia and New Zealand,” he said. “You go and talk to the Brits, they’d be (arguing in favour) in a more strenuous way.

“What form of oxygen can be given to that competition, that remains a responsibility of the International Federation. I go to my first meeting of the International Federation (soon) and I’ll able to understand it and understand what their priorities are and start injecting our priorities into that as well.

“We should make the international game very important.”

Grant has hinted the mid-season, trans-Tasman Test may be after the State Of Origin series in future. Bondi Beat took it upon ourselves to remind Grant why that configuration was scrapped in the first place: that it prepared Australia too well for the international.

Does 64-10 ring a bell, anyone?

Grant said a pause in club competitions worldwide for a proper international weekend “could be the ideal situation”.

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I RECENTLY had the pleasure of a long chat with England’s next long-term stand-off, Gareth Widdop.

Gareth can come across as a little bit staid in structured interview situations such as fulltime in a game or standing in front of a backdrop. But he’s a thoroughly nice chap in more relaxed circumstances.

Here’s what he had to say about the possibility of returning to play in Super League: “I’d love to stay in Melbourne but, look, I’ve always wanted to go back home. Growing up as a kid, I’ve always wanted to play Super League, I’ve always followed it, so I definitely wouldn’t mind going back and playing there. When? Who knows? I’m really happy in Melbourne for now.”

And on playing with Danny Brough this autumn: “I think he’s a fair few years older than me. I saw him playing when I was over there growing up and stuff. To be honest, I don’t get to watch many of their games. All you do is just hear from other people how people are going.

“The key positions are in the halves, it pretty much controls your team. You need to have good halves for your team to be playing well.”

Widdop says he and his family were to move to the Sunshine Coast but his mother was ordered by immigration authorities to go to Melbourne because there was a shortage of teachers there. He concedes he may have found it much harder to make progress in an area where rugby league is strong and junior talent plentiful.

And on being stuck on the bench during last year’s Four Nations: “Obviously it would have been nice to go over there and start every game.

“But, the coach has decided to go the way they did and that’s fair enough. I was disappointed I didn’t get to start but at least I was still there playing.

“It’s all part of growing up and learning. You just have to deal with these things.There’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to keep training hard and hope next time it comes around, I will get a crack. “

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

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