Bondi Beat: December 2015

RLW DecemberAFTER the snorefest that doubled as the Second Test in London, maybe it’s time to rethink our approach to tinkering with the rules of rugby league.
Instead of asking ourselves how we can make our game more exciting, maybe we really need to look at how we can make it less boring.
The NRL is our peak club competition and many of the rule changes and interpretation adjustments come from that part of the world.
But the NRL has supreme athletes who can rise above the mundanity of a pre-programmed style of play to entertain us. Without them, we just get the pre-programmed style of play.
I am not trying to be disrespectful to the Kiwis who took the field at Stratford when I say it may have actually been possible to fit them into an NRL team salary cap.
Without Waerea-Hargreaves, Foran, Johnson, Mannering and Vatuvei they lacked the sort of players I spoke about – those who can rise above sheer athleticism with their skill and flair.
Should we be tailoring our whole sport for these few players who transcend what can often be monotony?
Or should we be making games that do not boast these stars better to watch, and leave the NRL to do what it wants? Should we be rewarding tries scored through the hands by awarding bonus points according to the number of passes in the movement?
God forbid, should we ban hit-ups or drives in junior matches?
At the start of the series, Steve McNamara said England and New Zealand would play with more flair than an NRL game. Clearly, that only applies when the series is not on the line.
To see them both play like Australian club teams, minus the superstars, was very disappointing indeed.
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WE finally have a strategic plan for the game worldwide and, as always, the interesting stuff is in the fine print.

The document released after an RLIF meeting in Paris was big on ideas and short on detail but here’s a few things that stood out to me (both within the document and whispers around the edges):

1. The expression “Rugby World Cup Nines” appeared several times, Are we about fight for the use of the word “rugby”? That would be great;

2. Target two G20 nations. These must surely be the United States and South Africa, although Canada will be fighting hard to be included;

3. The new tournaments, to be known variously as Federation Cups, Intercontinental Cups, Continental Cups and Confederation Cups, are unlikely to involve Australia UNLESS they are nines;

4. By 2025 the RLIF wants half the teams in the World Cup to be capable of making the final. You can bet that they won’t be repeating only half the teams can make the final when the 2025 tournament kicks off;

5. Somehow, 30 more rugby league-playing countries have appeared on the map overnight, including Burundi.
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Of course events on the field in London paled by comparison with the shock we all felt regarding the attack on our colleague Gary Carter.

I was not aware of what had happened until I arrived at the Olympic Stadium on match eve for the respective captain’s runs.

Gary was supposed to be there. The Press Association’s Ian Laybourn broke the news to me and it was hours before I could properly process it.

In these situations you always read about what a nice person someone is but Gary is possibly the most generous man in our trade on either side of the world.

I have lost count of the number of times he has dropped me at my hotel after matches, going miles out of his way.

amazonBefore I did my most recent NRL 360 appearance, I called him for some background and he ended up giving me about three stories!

In some ways it’s still difficult to process. I’m looking forward to visiting him when the series is over and I’ve got some time in London.

I’m sure I speak for everyone reading this when I say I’d do anything necessary to help Gary and his brave wife Gemma during his recovery.

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ONE thing that has really stood out during the Anglo-New Zealand series has been the quality of the pre-match entertainment.

Sure, one wag had a point when he said using choirs of local schoolkids in London cost little or nothing and sold a shedload of tickets to their parents.

But the use of fireworks, marching bands, anthem singers and the mic’ing up of the haka have all been first rate. Understated and classy.

A FEW days before the Third Test, England back rower Brett Ferres sat down with at few of us for what is known in the biz as an “All-in”.

No punches were thrown.

donate2Phil Thomas of The Sun, filling in for our stricken Gaz, asked if there was a sense of a missed opportunity with the loss in London in the wake of the poor performance of the England rugby union team.

“I’ve no interest in rugby union,” he replied, “especially after recent events”

When I pressed him if he was talking about that sport’s treatment of Sam Burgess, he replied: “You can read into that what you want”.

I’m with Brett. I honestly don’t care who is to blame for what when Sam Burgess was playing rugby union.

I’ve no interest in the sport. He’s a league player again so I’m interested in him again.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD 

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