FOR cynics who believe State of Origin players are tempted to sacrifice the interests of their clubs for the sake of the glory of interstate football – and the $30,000 match payments – Gold Coast’s Greg Bird provided a salutary lesson on Saturday night. Bird rolled his ankle with his very first run of the 40-18 loss to Penrith at Darwin’s TIO Stadium. He admits he thought coming off. “But I thought we needed as many leaders as we can out there in games like that so I decided to play on with it,” he said. ““We just sort of strapped it over the boot and played the rest of the half. It’s sort of in the joint so you can’t really get at it with a needle.” Bird remains hopeful and even somewhat confident of playing in Origin III at ANZ Stadium next Wednesday. “He’ll be in the boot and he’ll be on crutches, probably, which always looks bad but Birdy’s generally a quick healer,” said Coach John Cartwright. “It’s a little bit swollen but if I to predict early if he’ll be right, I’m pretty sure he’ll be right.”
2. CONSIDER YOURSELF REBUILT
PANTHERS coach Ivan Cleary has finally conceded this might end up being more than a rebuilding year. Penrith are this side’s “under the radar” outfit, which is not necessarily a side that is under-rated so much as one that wants to be. But the only problem is, they keep winning. “We are in a position where we can, I guess, feature in the end of the season,” Cleary said. “That’s undoubted. But we still have to win more games than we lose and we haven’t done that so far this year. Our last two months have been positive and we are definitely better than we were at the start of the year but the stakes go up each week. Each game gets more important. You’ve got to play better.” Rebuilding years mean little to the large chunk of Panthers who won’t be around in 2014. “That word, rebuilding, is for the people in management, not for the players,” said departing captain Kevin Kingston. “We’re here to win every week”
3. THIRTEEN-A-SIDE DIPLOMACY
THERE was a little piece of sporting history made late last week when our eternal nemesis, rugby union, apparently agreed to give us a big hand. The South African Olympic Committee refuses to recognise rugby league as a separate sport, cutting the 13-a-side game off from government funding and opening to door for victimisation. And two weekends ago in Morocco, a tour by a British students rugby league team reportedly descended into farce when the local rugby union succeed in having a game banned from grounds, a bus company refused to carry the tourists and two journalists were escorted out of a stadium by police. Danny Kazandjian, the boss of the Rugby League European Federation, told us in a series of texts that the International Rugby Board had agreed to write to intransigent unions instructing them to recognise rugby league and stop undermining the code. Will wonders never cease? Still, we reckon rugby league needs an ambassador to parachute into trouble spots and solve diplomatic rows. Who should it be?
4. A JINXING RUN
IT used to be that England coach Steve McNamara had to be in the same stadium as one of his NRL stars for that player or players to be injured. Last year, McNamara claimed Sam Burgess and Gareth Ellis in the same game, an outstanding effort for any Jonah. Whether any Englishmen in the crowd were hurt has not been confirmed. Since he has been back in the country, James Graham suffered a minor injury in his presence and Gareth Widdop dislocated a hip, probably ruling him out for the rest of the year. But McNamara’s powers have now extended exponentially, with Jack Reed sliding into an advertising hoarding to suffer a dislocated and possibly fractured collarbone with Steve Mac not even in Victoria. If NRL clubs all contribute, they may be able to bribe him into staying on his own side of the equator. Sydney Roosters officials asked him to go to more South Sydney games.
5. GO WEST!
NRL officials hope to stage three premiership games in Perth next year. ARLC chief executive David Smith continues to set a cracking pace, meeting sponsors, tourism officials, media contacts, the sports ministry and junior players in West Australian capital on Thursday before flying out to England to see the Australian women’s and wheelchair teams compete in their respective World Cups. The Warriors’ training session at South Perth in the lead-up to the game was attended by some 1500 people, outdrawing the Rabbitohs’ by a few hundred. From next year, the NRL rather than clubs will negotiate deals with venues in expansion areas. Clubs will compensate for the loss of home games in their membership packages by doing reciprocal deals with each other. For example, Souths members will get into home and away games against Parramatta for free, as a trade-off for home games being taken interstate.
6. ONE YEAR AT A TIME
JOY Of Six is a keen student of the rich rugby league lexicon and is enjoyed that under-rated strain of leaguespeak that comes when teams pretty much can’t make the finals but don’t want to admit it. If we had a dollar for every “we’ve just got to stick together” and “no-one can get us out of this position but us”, we’d be over our second tier salary cap. Of course, there’s not much more these coaches can say – particularly when their own jobs may be on the line as a result of their under-performing teams. St George Illawarra, Brisbane and North Queensland all fit this description. “We need to have a good look at ourselves,” the Dragons’ Steve Price said on Saturday night after the 36-0 defeat to Sydney Roosters. “It’s all about hanging tough now and supporting each other.”
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD