By STEVE MASCORD
QUEENSLAND coach Mal Meninga last night called on the Australian Rugby League Commission to prevent Tim Sheens’ departure by making the national post a fulltime position – a move which would also defuse Sheens’ looming brawl with Wests Tigers.
On the eve of tonight’s Dairy Farmers Stadium Test against New Zealand, Sheens – who is still involved in wrangling with his club after they sacked him as head coach – said he would relinquish the Test job after the 2013 World Cup in Britain and Ireland. He is yet to be appointed Australia coach for next year, although this is regarded as a formality.
The Herald late yesterday contacted Meninga, his rival Origin coach Laurie Daley and Sheens’ Test predecessor Ricky Stuart to guage their interest in the post. All are former proteges of Sheens at Canberra. Daley said “definitely not” while Stuart declined to comment.
Meninga – whose relationship with Sheens goes back to 1988 – said: “Maybe if they offered Tim a fulltime job, he wouldn’t leave.
“I think the Australian coaching position should definitely be fulltime. Sure, the person involved would coach the team for Tests and tours but they would also promote the game around Australia and worldwide.
“We are just about to have a lot of money come into the sport and we need an experienced coach to head up the strategic planning. It would be good for someone with a complete understanding of the grass roots right up to the elite level.
“Other sports in Australia and overseas do it, I don’t know why rugby league can’t.”
Sheens has been offered alternative employment at Wests Tigers and would not comment on his response yesterday. His murky future was the main talking point yesterday as two injury-free teams prepared to do battle in front of a sold-out 26,500 crowd in sweltering Townsville. The match is a one-off Test but Australia captain Cameron Smith stands to be only the third premiership captain to lift club, state and international trophies in a calendar year.
Meninga did not rule himself out of the running for the Australia job but said it would be better suited to a man with recent NRL experience. When Sheens was asked yesterday if the post could be fulltime, he responded: “That’s a good question.
“We probably, technically, coach more games than the Origin do – although the Origin, obviously, generates a lot more cash and a lot more profile which is unfortunate for the Australian side.”
Earlier, when asked about reports he would stand aside at the end of next year, he said: “Yeah, I would be thinking that.
“It would be a five-year cycle since the last World Cup. I sort of started with that, even though I didn’t make it too public: trying to win back the trophies we held. The Four Nations – we held it and lost it. That isn’t played now until after next year.
“The main focus now would be the World (Cup) My main aim would be to get that and then at the end of the year, I’d be standing down. Yes.
“They’re talking about the Anzac Day Test in Gallipoli in two years’ time. That would be lovely but that’s a fair way away.”
Wests Tigers, trying to avoid a payout of up to $1 million after dumping Sheens, would no doubt support Meninga’s call. But if Sheens was to accept alternative employment at this stage, it could endanger his hopes of a full payout from the joint venture.
Sheens said he was “never in for” the Warriors job. “I was never, particularly, looking to go there. I was too focused on this and sorting out my issues with the Tigers.
“I always said when this was done, we’d sit down and sort things out.”
There was little sign of ill-feeling between Sheens and his Wests Tigers star, Benji Marshall, yesterday when they met for a pre-match media conference at the Reef HQ aquarium. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” Marshall said at one stage.
The Australian and New Zealand boards will meet this afternoon, with international eligibility likely to be discussed but extremely unlikely to be resolved. Sheens said he opposed any change which would cost Australia the right to choose from every State of Origin player.
“Origin, initially, was a trial match for the Australian side,” Sheens said. “Origin is still, in the year of tours particularly … you’d want to be playing players in those games that are eligible to be picked in the Test side.”
New Zealand have chosen seven grand final players in a bid to break the Australians’ stranglehold on the fixture while Australian have remained loyal to tried and true combinations. But Greg Bird said it was players in his position, back row, which were under the most pressure to perform.
“The back row is, I think, the most competitive position in rugby league,” said Gold Coast’s Bird. “There’s so many back rowers who missed out on this team – they’re all injured at the moment.
“I’d have to put at least a couple of us playing in that position (down) as fringe players.”
The Australians trained under lights at Dairy Farmers Stadium last night. New Zealand have not won a stand-alone Test against Australia in 10 years.
Teams for the Test, which kicks off at 7.40pm (NSW time), are:
AUSTRALIA: Billy Slater (Melbourne); Brett Morris (St George Illawarra), Josh Morris (Canterbury), Greg Inglis (South Sydney), Darius Boyd (Newcastle); Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland), Cooper Cronk (Melbourne); Nate Myles (Gold Coast), Paul Gallen (Cronulla), Greg Bird (Gold Coast), James Tamou (North Queensland), Cameron Smith (capt, Melbourne), Matt Scott (North Queensland).
Reserves: Tony Williams (Manly), Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers), David Shillington (Canberra), Ryan Hoffman (Melbourne).
NEW ZEALAND: Josh Hoffman (Brisbane); Sam Perrett (Canterbury), Krisnan Inu (Canterbury), Dean Whare (Manly), Gerard Beale (Brisbane); Benji Marshall (capt, Wests Tigers), Kieran Foran (Manly); Simon Mannering (Warriors), Kevin Proctor (Melbourne), Frank Pritchard (Canterbury), Sam Kasiano (Canterbury), Issac Luke (South Sydney), Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne).
Reserves: Elijah Taylor (Warriors), Ben Matulino (Warriors), Greg Eastwood (Canterbury), Adam Blair (Wests Tigers).
Referee: Ben Cummins (Australia)
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD