By STEVE MASCORD
FOR most of the last century, our game suffered from a giant gulf between the innovation displayed by our coaches plus players and that of our administrators.
While our players were joining the ranks of the most finely-tuned athletes on the face of the earth and our coaches were so good at exploiting the rules that we had to change them almost every year, our administrators were just trying to keep their heads above water.
There were, and are, good reasons for this.
Our game is played in many places that are not flushed with funds. And if the places are, then our people are not. It is pointless to pretend that the ‘Big End Of Town’ is in our corner, 1. without being disingenuous and 2. without mixing geographical metaphors clumsily.
And that goes for everywhere – with the possible exception of Queensland.
Big business, private school boys, the expat community, goverment interests – they all want other sports to succeed. Those sports achieve, financially, way above the level of innovation and excellence of their coaches and players.
I am going to get to a point here. Bear with me. It concerns the fact that our working class origins are our greatest strength on the field, where everyone is scrapping for a penny, and our biggest weakness off it, where unfortunately the same is the case.
We are, and always will be, from the wrong side of the tracks.
My point is this: over the past month since the grand final, I’ve seen evidence of a new gulf. Our various administrations – often part timers, at the coalface of the game at grassroots level – are now trying things, they are being bold.
Things that readers of this column have been calling for, for years, are finally coming to fruition.
It appears we will get the expanded World Club Challenge. The last two World Cups have had proper qualifying tournaments. One one weekend last month, we had internationals played in Thailand and Vanuatu for the first time, with NRL players. Junior internationals now have a structure, the NRL is planning a game in China, the list goes on.the list goes on.
But the new chasm is between that spirit of adventure from grass-roots, footy-focused rugby league people and the marketing and media back-up to make the events a success.
When Cook Islands hooker Sam Brunton chased Lebanon winger Cliff Nye back with 10 seconds left and the Cooks leading by four at Bass Hill the week after the NRL grand final, he didn’t know the game was on the line.
There was no ground announcer and no scoreboard. Few family and friends knew it was Cliff Nye and Sam Brunton because there was no programme.
When captains Luke Srama and Charlie Jones led their teams onto the Royal Thai Police Stadium on October 21, their entrances were perfectly timed, a state-of-the-art PA system played the national anthems and both sides had branded training apparel and backpacks.
But there were, generously, 150 people watching.
It is wrong to blame those who sacrificed hours organising these games, attracting sponsors, booking grounds, raising the money for hotels and transport and convincing NRL clubs to release players, for any of these shortcomings. People like Thai Rugby League founder Andrew Charles and the Lebanon Rugby League’s Remond Safi are the true heroes of our game – but they’re not miracle workers.
Our sport needs to do more to help them in areas outside their expertise.
We desperately need an events division – working primarily with Super League and the NRL but also available to developing countries – to help co-ordinate and promote our increasing number of incursions into new territory.
We’re playing a game in Barcelona? Great. Who are the key media people we need to get on board? What is the most cost-effective form of advertising? Where do the expats drink and is there an email list? Let’s start a Facebook page. Let’s keep people involved after we leave town.
The same should go for Szenzhen, Perth, Manila, Las Vegas or the Sea Of Tranquility. One sponsorship across all these events – some pitch-side-signage perhaps – could pay for one job for a year.
You know what? You’re right. We’re not co-ordinated like that yet. But we need to be. For 100 years, our rank-and-file rugby league administrators weren’t up to the level of our players and coaches.
Now, the blokes who buy the tackling pads, run the chook raffles, coach the kids, put the pads on the posts and get the sponsors are leaving the fellows in the well-paid suits in the dust.
THERE was something of a kerfuffle after the Townsville Test over the Queensland members of the Australian team singing the Queensland victory song – and a couple of red herrings thrown in for good measure in their defence.
One of the arguments was that the Australian victory song was a NSW invention anyway, as it had been adapted from St George’s “We are the Saint George boys, we had a win today….”, the suggestion being that the maroons in the Australian squad had every right to get even for decades of this terrible injustice.
That’s how silly interstate rivalry still is in Australia.
The second argument tapped into the hysteria over the Bulldogs’ ‘Bad Monday’ drama, suggesting that the ‘intrusive media’ was to blame.
Um, on halfway, on live international television, at fulltime? Yeah, those damn paparazzi!
The truth is that although NSW captain Paul Gallen was not in the slightest bit offended, it wasn’t the best look and probably shouldn’t happen again.
DURING the build-up to the trans-Tasman Test, Australia coach Tim Sheens was going through a tough time.
Sheens, a man who loves his job more than anyone else on earth perhaps, had been sacked by Wests Tigers but asked to accept a lesser role to save the joint venture club some money.
This was, understandably, a subject he was not overly enthusiastic on talking about. When cornered by us on the eve of the match, Sheens intimated that he felt he had been surrounded by sharks.
We weren’t offended, however. The official press conference was being held in an aquarium.
THERE is finally movement on the eligibility debate – although I’m not at all sure it’s movement in the right direction.
Earlier in the season, the chairman of the ARL Commission John Grant said the defections of James Tamou (now followed by Josh Papalii) from New Zealand to Queensland were a matter for the RLIF.
“Nothing to do with us,” responded the Federation, led of course by a kiwi in Scott Carter.
In fact, foreign countries are free to pick Origin players because the RLIF does not recognise them as being eligible for Australia. Only Australia does. That’s how Anthony Minichiello was able to represent both NSW and Italy last year without it affecting his country of election.
Carter said he wanted it sorted out by the end of the year. Ah-hah, said the Australians. If it’s nothing to do with you, we don’t have to tell you a thing!
At the moment, as far as Bondi Beat can ascertain, what is being considered is banning Junior Kiwis from changing allegiances to Australia. That will just weaken the Junior Kiwis, we reckon.
What should happen is that residency for three (push it out to five) years can get you into the Australia team but not NSW or Queensland. Then how many kiwis will switch?
And being picked by NSW or Queensland doesn’t stop you representing another country. Many Feleti Mateos and Akuila Uates will then stick with foreign countries, boosting the international game.
What do you think?
ONE of the funniest moments of the month was the Philippines team serenading history-making female referee Kasey Badger with “Wonderwall” on the way back to the hotel in Bangkok. The first husband-and-wife officiating team in world sports history got more space in the Observer than most Super League matches.
Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD