BONDI BEAT: April 2013

By Rugby League World April 2013STEVE MASCORD

WAS that the last stand-alone World Club Challenge we’ll see in the UK for some time? Was that a sentence that has been written before half a dozen times and will be written again this time next year?

This hack is proud of his record of having covered every WCC decider since 1994, bringing him to England every year since 2000 at some stage of February to enjoy your “summer” sport.

And many of those years, I have written a story – usually quoting one G Hetherington – about how the concept is about to take off again after the disaster of 1997.

And nothing every happened.

When South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson travelled to Britain in the middle of last year, his friends joked that he would announce “after long and productive talks, we are proud to announce that next year’s World Club Challenge will be played in England again”.

And that’s what he came back and did!

But in meetings with Leeds’ Hetherington, Warrington’s Simon Moran and Wigan’s Ian Lenagan, he made it clear that Aussie clubs were serious about turning the WCC into a moneyspinner.

Sydney teams are currently doing deals with stadia under the state government’s new policy which aims to put the right games at the right venues rather than tying teams to draconian lease agreements. The WCC is already being used as a bargaining chip in those talks.

I am led to believe the UK members of the WCC working group recently asked their NRL counterparts how serious they were about all this. The Aussies delayed answering so they could consult their fellow clubs and offer an united response.

I also know of one middle eastern venue that is serious about taking the game off Sydney next year.

The 2015 World Club Challenge, with the top three teams in each hemisphere playing each other, has more detractors than the plan for 2014.

Hetherington’s idea is to make it like a Test series, NRL v Super League, over one weekend – with the domestic competition paused. The world title would always be decided on the Monday but if, say, the NRL side won it, and the Super League teams won the other two, then the northern hemisphere could still claim a “series victory”.

Many people aren’t sold on that.

Melbourne football manager Frank Ponissi has a more radical plan bring over both NRL grand finalists. Play the WCC and a trial match one week, and then stage a full NRL match in England as part of a double-header the following week.

The next year, do the same in Australia with both Super League grand finalists playing the competition’s first-ever game staged down under as part of a double-header with an NRL match.

That might sound a tad fanciful to you – but there was going to be a game between Manly and Canberra in China this year.

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THE World Cup opening double-header at Milennium Stadium in Cardiff on October 26 has been “flipped” so that the Wales-Italy match is on after England-Australia.

Welsh Rugby League officials are hopeful the stadium doesn’t empty. But the reason for the schedule change is Australian television – a sure sign that an announcement is near on broadcast rights.

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BACK on October 23, 2006, colleague Roy Masters wrote an amusing piece about the “Fat Controllers” running the Tri-Nations.

He was referring to New Zealand’s Andrew Chalmers, Australia’s Ed Farish and Britain’s Nigel Wood. Roy explained: “(they) are the money managers of the Tri-Nations series. They are known as the Fat Controllers because they are… well … fat, and their official title is ‘financial controller’.”

Seven years later, the ‘Fat Controllers’ (who have all lost a few pounds, I think) are reunited. Farish, formerly the money man at the NRL and Gold Coast (arriving after the kerfuffle there, by the way), is part of the new regime at Salford, along with Chalmers.

And Wood, now CEO of the RFL, played a key role in saving the Reds and attracting racing multi-millionaire Marwan Koukash.

If Salford end up a successful as Koukash says they will be, the trio should be redubbed “the phat controllers”.

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THERE were only 1880 people at The Stoop on February 17 to see London play Wakefield – but there are a number of crowd-related happenings for which I will remember the afternoon.

The first is the repertoire of chants from the Wakefield fans, mainly directed at the Broncos mascots. “Tesco, Tesco, you’re in our burgers, you’re in our burgers” is a step up in class from anything you’ll hear from fans in Australia.

And “are you cows in disguise” was also quite pithy.

Unfortunately, the Wakefield fans blotted their copybook somewhat by chanting “your support is f**king shit”, which was uncalledfor, nasty and – worst of all – true.

The other unusual scene in the grandstand opposite the press box, from where I watched the unedifying spectacle of Wakefield’s 28-0 win – was the middle-aged man sat behind me who went by the name of Brian Smith.

I’m sure he was in the country – having arrived that very morning- to help out Steve McNamara with World Cup preparations and not to take a Super League job off someone.

But that won’t prevent Smith getting calls from tetchy club chairmen, I’m tipping.

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ANOTHER Smith, now: new NRL CEO David, the Welsh banker (no, that’s not rhyming slang).

While the ARLC has put expansion on the backburner, Smith (like his namesake, Cameron) has revealed himself to be something of an expansionist.

Speaking at a conference of volunteers in Queensland, Smith said the game needed to expand if it was match and outstrip its rivals.

The NRL got $1.025 billion without adding teams, fuelling the arguments of those who regard returning to Perth and Adelaide as folly.

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IT is not pleasant to have to pay tribute in consecutive columns to those no longer with us.

I first met David Oates on the 1996 Great Britain tour of the South Pacific. Actually, I didn’t go to the “South Pacific”, just to New Zealand, and it was a trip which cemented life-long friendships with the likes of fellow print journalist Andy Wilson, photographer Vicky Matthers, commentator David Woods and his off-sider, Oatsy.

It was hard to believe (in fact I did not know, until Woodsy’s wedding last year), that David was some six years older than me. I would have guessed six years younger, with a liver capacity of someone around two decades more youthful.

I found it difficult to write or talk about David in the past tense for some time after his passing on the first Sunday of the Super League season. For someone so healthy and enthusiastic to be there – virtually – one day and gone the next is a difficult concept to digest.

But after a wake attended by just about every rugby league media person in the UK and a touching – and believe it or not, entertaining – funeral at Ealing, I guess I now accept he’s gone.

It’s tempting to write something here which attempts to make sense of the randomness of life and death. But you can’t – because it makes no sense at all.

@BondiBeat

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

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