Fittler Endorses Maloney For NSW Job

Maloney, JamesBy STEVE MASCORD

JAMES Maloney says the endorsement of Brad Fittler as NSW Origin I five-eighth is no consolation for Country’s poor showing in what will probably be the second-last match ever against City.

Fittler, who represented the Blues 31 times, reckons Cronulla’s Maloney is the stand-out candidate to wear the six jersey on June 1 at ANZ Stadium.

But Maloney, 29, tells RLW: “I supposed it’s a nice endorsement to have but I said it leading into this game: my whole focus was to get a win.

“And I’m pretty down at the moment because it wasn’t the case. That’s what this week was all about.

“It was getting a win for Country and we didn’t do it.”

Speaking on radio Triple M at fulltime, Fittler – coach of victors City – said: “Right now at the present time, we’d have to say James Maloney at five-eighth.

“Early on, he had us in all sorts.

“The game got away and he most probably … I’m not sure how urgent he got personally but … the game got away and that wasn’t due to his fault.

“He’s most probably in the best form out of all of them.”

Fittler said halfback was a more vexed position because of the lack of in-form candidates. “I think Adam Reynolds is a fantastic player but the last couple of games, the kicking game, the backbone of his game, has been a bit down,” he said.

Because of a change in the NRL TV deal in 2018, City-Country has only one game to go for the foreseeable future and Country needed to win both remaining matches to draw level on the all-time ledger since the concept went Origin.

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Maloney said: “We couldn’t shut down that free-flowing, off-loading style of football they played.

“I would have loved the (City-Country) game to stay. Hopefully there’s still room for it on some form.

“It means a lot to the country. I think the turnout here showed that and a lot of the boys enjoyed playing in the week. I know our boys had a ball this week.

“They had a lot of pride in the jumper and that’s why we’re all hurting now because we couldn’t get the result.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
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Fittler Responds To Grant’s Barb

By STEVE MASCORD
Miscellaneous - Brad FittlerBRAD Fittler has responded to suggestions from ARLC chairman John Grant it was City Origin’s fault stars didn’t want to play for them.
City coach Fittler lost a dozen players including Matt Moylan, James Tedesco, Adam Reynolds, Lachlan Coote, Blake Austin and Josh Reynolds from the side that beat Country 44-30 in Tamworth last week.
And after Fittler hit out at the NRL for failing to be stronger, Grant appeared to suggest it was City’s problem that no-one wanted to play for them.
Grant told a media conference last Saturday: “There’s not a lot of players who are not going to play for Country because they want to play for Country. I think that reflects on City.”
It’s a comment that discounts the clause in the standard NRL playing contract players must be available for representative football, and appears to support players picking and choosing.
“Coaches have such a huge job – you’ve got to take it out of their hands,” said Fittler.
“To say blokes like Adam Reynolds don’t want to play and hopefully get a shot at Origin … they’re highly persuaded by coaches in the case of a lot of them.
“The big thing, I suppose .. there wouldn’t be much parental pressure (for City).
“Country blokes get taken out of the the country and you get guys like Boyd Cordner who are very passionate about playing for them.
“Meanwhile, on the City side, there seems to be very little argument. There would be three million people in Sydney who wouldn’t give a shit.
“Our league reflects that. The Roosters, who develop that really busy area, they get one development officer … compared to the Swans, the Waratahs who have 30..
“If the league helped out with the City more, we might be able to build that same sort of morale.”
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FIVE METRE GAP: Round Six & Rep Weekend

Hamish NealBy HAMISH NEAL
Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round six and the representative weekend.
WITH the representative weekend taking centre stage last weekend, Five Metre Gap, will take this chance to assess some of the season’s action to date, highlighting  players who look to have exceeded expectations.
And we will start from the back with Canberra fullback Reece Robinson. With the drama surrounding Josh Dugan’s departure Robinson has cemented his spot as the Raiders custodian with some great impact for the side. In his last two games alone he has broken eight tackles and ran for 303 metres combined.
Mahe Fonua has continued his meteoric rise as the first Victorian-produced Melbourne Storm top-grade player. This time last year it was unlikely a player behind Sisa Waqa, Matt Duffie and others in the Craig Bellamy-coached side would end up a World-Cup bound international who has featured in a World Club Challenge win. A few errors aside, the bustling Tongan international is fast becoming an important finisher for the Storm.
James Maloney has become the cog that is driving the Sydney Roosters to a somewhat unexpected 4-2 start to the season. Maloney’s goal-kicking and kicking in general play was never the query but his link play with NSW halfback Mitchell Pearce and dual-international Sonny Bill Williams must be the most pleasing aspect for coach Trent Robinson. The one-time Eels player had stagnated in some ways at the under-achieving Warriors by the end of last season but is a player re-born this club season.
Another part of a team who has started with win four wins and two losses gets a vote for exceeding expectations in the form of the Gold Coast Titans back-row. The selected back-row for round seven may change but the likes of Greg Bird and Ashley Harrison have reeked havoc and worked hard to help lay a platform for the inexperienced halves combination of Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly.
Harrison continues to be a tackling machine and  Bird adds a constant threat on the edge. However, Bird is also making a lot of yardage up the middle at times with 202 metres in the win against the Eels.
Newcastle Knights forward Willie Mason appears nailed on for a return to the NSW side for the State of Origin series after some barn-storming efforts for the Knights and, last weekend, Country Origin.
The evergreen 33 year-old has been a key factor in the Wayne Bennett-coached sides unbeaten run at home this season and will be more important with Kiwi international Jeremy Smith now out due to suspension for the next month or so.

THE BIG ISSUE: #39

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

THERE has been some conjecture over the past couple of days that the number of players who have pulled out of City-Country suggests the fixture has (again) run its course – and when it is killed off this time, it shouldn’t make another comeback.

But since when did players decide what games were in the calendar? Maybe they don’t like going to Campbelltown or Canberra in winter or Townsville in autumn so we should call those games off too!

City-Country should be scrapped, or amended, when it is decided it is no longer good for rugby league, not when players all suddenly develop previously unknown injuries.

The problem with the fixture is really that only one of the teams inspires any passion. Have you ever met someone who described themselves as a ‘City’ supporter?

Our All Stars fixture will eventually encounter the same problem. The NRL All-Stars are a little sexier than City but for a while in Origin, NSW were just the Washington Generals to Queensland’s Harlem Globetrotters.

NSW then started caring about the Blues. Sydney has had a century to start caring about City and clearly does not.

We need to approach these fixtures with the same mentality we are attacking our venues problems. The right game for the right venue? Make it the right opponent for the right rep team.

Scrap City and have Country play someone else? Then we don’t have a NSW selection trial. So City-Country will be here as long as we believe the Blues need leading selection candidates to play each other.

Personally, I don’t think they need it now. The absence of selection trial has not hurt Queensland.

But if City-Country goes, I still believe Country has a place on the representative weekend. What if they played Tonga or Samoa? The interest in this week’s Penrith international (almost 500 ‘shares’ of team-sheets on our facebook page at the time of writing) suggests there’d be plenty of support.

What about Country v the Pacific All Stars? Now there’s a representative game!

The other way to prevent players pulling out of games under the assumption that “the clubs pay them, after all” is to make sure they clubs don’t pay them anymore.

The NRL has the expressed ambition of making sure the grant to clubs equals the salary cap. In effect, the NRL will then be providing all the players’ wages.

So why pay the clubs first? Have the NRL put the money straight into the players’ bank accounts, which aside from insulating them against their clubs going broke, will ensure they take games run by the league – their employer – equally seriously, no matter what colours they are asked to wear.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE WRAP: Representative Round

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
THERE may not have been many of them there, but according to Country centre Jack Wighton someone in the crowd at Coffs Harbour yesterday will have a dream crushed if City-Country is called off.
Wighton’s passionate defence of the fixture has been backed up today by a plaintive CRL media release calling for calm over the smallest crowd in the 102-year history of City-Country games.
“It was only four years ago this game was back in Orange and I was sitting in the crowd watching,” Wighton told NRL.com
“Thinking how much it meant to me … all the country towns, they come from miles to watch it. I don’t think it’s in doubt at all. We all had a lot of passion for it and it should stay.
“It’s chasing a dream.”
CRL general manager Terry Quinn said a temporary grandstand at BCE Stadium created an expense that was passed on to spectators.
“We fought extremely hard to keep this game and the ARL Commission has supported us with a significant investment in helping stage the match,” he said in a statement.
“At no stage has anyone approached this game as a money-making exercise.
“It was with the best of intentions that we invested in extra grandstand seating for the match but this impacted on the pricing structure and we all have to take some lessons from that.”
Country coach Trent Barrett said after Sunday’s game that criticism of the fixture angered him, pointing to the progress made by the likes of Wighton.
The Raiders star continued: “It was unbelievable. It was amazing playing outside of Micky Ennis and playing with people like big Willie Mason, people who’ve done it all. It’s just unreal.
“(Willie) is a very passionate man. He’s always giving advice. It’s great for a young fella.”
The 18-12 win by City marked the end of a largely successful representative weekend, with a sellout 25,628 crowd seeing Australia beat New Zealand 32-12 on Friday night at Canberra Stadium.
ARLC chairman John Grant said on ABC on Sunday he was looking at ways of involving Queensland next year – and of formalising team medicals so that clubs were not seen to be pressuring players to withdraw.
The crowd at the Saturday night representative double header of 10,143 was also a triumph – although the fact around one tenth of them invaded the pitch with the Tonga-Samoa match still underway took some gloss off the occasion.
Grant said: “While there was a pitch invasion and while that’s absolutely not where we want to be, if you talk to the players and officials, there was not one bit of malice in that pitch invasion.
“It was all about the fact there was an unexpected win and they were excited.”
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THE JOY OF SIX: Representative Round

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
1. COUNTRY ROADS, TAKE ME SOMEWHERE
SUPPORT for the City-Country game rallied over the 24 hours before yesterday’s game at BCU Stadium in Coffs Harbour. Then, 4635 people showed up. The first question that needs to be answered is whether NSW needs a selection trial at all. Paul Gallen did say on Triple M last night that he would have confidence playing alongside Adam Reynolds after seeing him in action. So assuming they do need the game, the next question is whether candidates actually oppose each other in that selection trial. Yesterday, that probably happened only in the front row or second row … maybe the centres. So if the object is to see how players fair at rep level, not against each other, then why do City and Country have to play each other? “Sydney Origin” would draw a massive crowd in Port Moresby, while Country could take on an island nation or Pacific All Stars in a rural centre and in interest would be huge. In the NRL, we’re trying to find the right venues for the right games. At rep level, we have to find the right opponents for the right teams.

2. ISLANDS GO FROM INVADED TO INVADERS
IN almost a quarter of a century of covering international rugby league outside the top three, I have learned of a strange dichotomy. Those running and supporting the games want to be taken seriously regardless of rubbery qualification rules, dodgy venues and last-minute planning. That’s until something goes wrong. Then they – administrators, coaches, fans and players – want forgiving coverage and charity because it’s “a development game” and they’re just doing their best for the great sport of rugby league. You can’t have a bet each way, it’s either serious or it’s not. On Saturday night, a fully recognised Test match was abandoned with 45 seconds left – and a scoreline which will appear in the record books forever was affected by a conversion that couldn’t be taken – because match officials had been escorted off for their own protection amid a pitch invasion. Other sports would cop it over that and so should we.

3. A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE INTERCHANGE BENCH
WHEN Willie Mason retires, he has an opportunity to start a new form of corporate service: motivational comedy. Your correspondent on the touchline yesterday heard Mason mix humour with exhortation in a manner perhaps not seen elsewhere in the English language. “Off already?” he says as opponent Nathan Peats trudged past. “I got you on your back, brother,” Peats said back. “That’s must be a big aim,” Mason responded. But Mason’s encouragement of his team-mates – mixed with good-natured humour and mostly gentle sledging of the opposition – bordered on inspirational. Mason may have cashed in his representative retirement fund but his representative footballing chips remain firmly in his pocket.

4. BAAAH HUMBUG
IN all the discussions about the ANZAC Test and its place in the calendar, two things are forgotten. One, we used to have the Test after Origin and Australia beat Great Britain 64-10. Australia are too strong after being steeled by Origin and are capable of setting the international game back decades. That’s why the Test is on first.
Two, no-one considered that the game is there for the Kiwis. Australian league people often just think of themselves. The NZRL has precious few fixtures to promote the game and its trademarks. The leading country in any sport has a moral responsibility to the other nations playing that game to help them. Oh, if it’s not worth playing the World Cup holders, who is it worth playing? And no-one said the Tonga-Samoa game should be scrapped when the margin was bigger…

5. VIDEO KILLED THE TEST STAR
A FORMER touch judge admonished me on Twitter on Friday when I suggested there was no basis for the NRL video referee procedure (form a T with your hands, say you think it’s a try, say what you want to check) being used in a Test match. “Isn’t it about getting it right?” he said. Well, it isn’t JUST about that. This is a World Cup year; a World Cup that still doesn’t have a naming rights sponsor. Shouldn’t we be trying to create the impression that there is a level above domestic football that is a little different? There is never a feeling when Australia plays New Zealand in mid-season that it is part of a wider level of competition that now involves more than 30 countries. We should be working hard on creating that impression – so (see above) people take us seriously.

6. DAVID’S NOT WELSHING ON ANYTHING
YESTERDAY on the ABC, NRL Commission chairman John Grant addressed criticism that his chief executive David Smith is not as accessible as predecessors like Neil Whittaker, David Moffett and David Gallop. Now, I have heard that even NRL clubs struggle to get as returned phone call from Smith at times. Grant said that Smith had been busy with the ASADA investigation and many other matters, including the prioritising of 30 key ‘tasks’ the commission wants to address in the coming months. He said Smith would become more visible but would not be talking to the same journo or journos every day, as previous CEOs have done. I’m a journo but I think that’s fair enough. Does the NFL commissioner finish every day by returning 47 calls from every daily newspaper in the US? The media is too diverse now for Smith to favour just a handful of hacks without rightly being accused of unfairness. Oh, those days were great. Thanks Neil, thanks Davids. But I can accept they’re over.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

DISCORD 2013: Edition 16

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

WHILE this column, among others, has welcomed the advent of the representative weekend as a step forward for international rugby league, the mass withdrawals from the City and Country teams reveal an inherent flaw in the scheduling.

When City-Country or a Test was played on the same weekend as a full round of club games, players who were unfit for the rep match were most often unable to play for their clubs that weekend. Sometimes this was enforced, sometimes is was a convention followed out of guilt.

The rep weekend gives clubs a get-out-of-jail-free card – there is no punishment for compelling a player with a minor injury to sit out the weekend and back up for his club the following week.

Even so, there have been reports Country already expected Brett Stewart to miss the clash with City before he played for Manly at the weekend. If so, it’s got me beat.

City-Country pretty much has to stay as long as NSW believe they need a selection trial. Any other format, such as Probables v Possibles, would be even less attractive to fans and less digestible to clubs.

But we need to tighten up and standardise the procedure at representative medicals. All players MUST be examined by the representative team doctor. If they don’t show up to the medical, they have to sit out a club game. If that means flying from Auckland to Coffs Harbour in a plaster cast just to be ruled out, sobeit.

The time for doing things by “consensus’ is over because the goodwill is being abused.

And when the NRL grant to clubs equals the salary cap, then cut out the middle man and have the League pay players directly. That way, the clubs won’t be able to say “we pay them” any longer. It will also make the salary cap a little easier to police and protect players from their clubs going broke or their superannuation not being paid on time.

By the way, I don’t think NSW needs a selection trial any more. But hopefully the Under 20s Origin and Pacific internationals with grow in stature as City-Country fades, and eventually they;ll replace the fixture as a matter of evolution.

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A QUICK word about Ross Livermore.

Ross was the last of the traditional league administrators who had, a touch of showbusiness and a talent and instinct for hype.

I had my disagreements with Ross but I knew that if I called him, he would invariably say something interesting – especially around Origin time.

In latter years, State Of Origin was supposed to raise money for the NRL Partnership and the state leagues were expected to just live off a grant. But Ross know how to “leverage’ the prestige of the series with stadium tours on match-day and the like to bring in a few extra dollars for the QRL.

Ross was a showman. He was more worried about creating interest for the game than avoiding conflict by saying nothing. These days, we have administrators with greater academic qualifications and more experience in the business world but I doubt we’ll see more flair and enthusiasm for a long time.

You’ll be missed, Ross.

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THERE were a few comments last week. Jim wanted to know why the Sharks have got more bad publicity than Essendon over the drugs drama. I’ll be honest here Jim and say I don’t follow AFL at all and don’t feel qualified to comment.

THE BIG ISSUE #9

By STEVE MASCORD

SO that was it, then. Have we really seen the last of City-Country?

The Big Issue thinks many people have forgotten the fixture was already pronounced DOA in 1997 and didn’t return until 2001. Post-Super League, we all thought we were too grown up for such a down-home concept. So regardless of what happens in 2013, I’m not prepared to say City-Country is gone forever.

Whenever the game’s officials feel they want to buy back the farm – literally – then reviving City-Country is the obvious gesture, just like state governments currying favour by abolishing tolls.

But once again, we are at the point where we think we’re too grown up for it. We have an independent commission, an allegedly billion dollar TV deal and an All Star game that we feel better recognises the more sophisticated tastes of our marketplace. It definitely feels like City-Country is going to go into another indefinite recess, particularly since the ‘representative weekend’ we have been waiting for for so long also looks like being a one-hit wonder.

The biggest indictment on the viability of the fixture was the Danny Buderus affair.

Sure, players have been pulling out of rep games – particularly this one – for years. But what was unseemly last week was the way it played out: Buderus’ club coach – in these very pages – said he shouldn’t have to play, the State coach agreed, he was picked as captain, he didn’t show up for the medical, he was out.

In the eternal battle between club and Country (in this case with a capital C) it was one of the most humiliating defeats the latter has ever suffered. ‘Club’ won by knock-out in the first round, something that should never be allowed to happen.

The precent set by Newcastle and Wayne Bennett has pretty much doomed the fixture we saw in Mudgee on Sunday.

Any player who does not want to represent can now simply not front for the medical. And if the player who does the right thing and replaces him is seriously injured when he should really have been sat at home or sitting on the bench …. HIS club is fully entitled to kick up a massive stink.

See, clubs are built on loyalty, reward, earning your stripes. Those are concepts Wayne and Ricky Stuart have based their coaching careers on. But when administrations start even taking those concepts into account, they are in big trouble.

Sporting competitions and representative teams must IGNORE loyalty, reward and experience. They must treat everyone equally. They must be transparent, consistent and even-handed. It is ridiculous and naive to expect a representative team to overlook a player who is a) very good and b) available.

Pub teams can do that but for it to happen at this level is like something out of the 1930s, like giving someone the afternoon off because they have to mow the lawn. Again, this a cultural problem of the old, pre-Commission rugby league: to massage things through, do it by consensus, minimise the drama handle things ‘sensibly’. No, the professional way is to do things using rigorous process and protocols.

Of course, Buderus really should have been stood down from a club match but given the other players who have skived off in recent years, that would be a tad unfair. Everyone needs a warning.

But I think we are getting to the point where even doctor’s letter is not enough in these situations. Medical reports should only be accepted at the pre-selections stage. If you are picked, you MUST show up and be examined by the same doctor that rules on everyone else in the rep team. If you don’t you are stood down from a club game. If that means crossing the Tasman just to be ruled out, sobeit.

One thing’s for certain, Danny Buderus’s place in the history of the City-Country game will not be the one he wished for himself.

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NOT sure what it is but international eligibility just seems to be a topic that gets the blood racing among league geeks like me. It’s got that mixture of the exotic and the anally retentive that we anoraks love!

My ABC colleague Daniel Anderson last week threw up the most basic concept that’s been tossed around in the last few years: you are eligible for a country in the top three and you are eligible for another country outside the top three. This is loosely what applied in the last World Cup.

The concern with this is that Samoa, who Daniel coaches, could just about pick New Zealand A every year, using different players depending on who the Kiwis leave out. In the last World Cup qualifiers, the Samoans struggled in the early rounds and were forced to play off with the United States for their spot.

Samoa recruited a host of New Zealand internationals immediately before that qualifier and easily accounted for the Americans  before finishing second-last in the tournament proper.

There should still be some reward for staying loyal to a developing country. Limiting the number of Origin or top-tier Test players in each squad to three would achieve this.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Fittler: NSW Lacks Queensland’s Star Power

NSW do not have the star power of Queensland and have to use a State Of Origin match plan that takes this into account, according to City coach and former Blues captain Brad Fittler.

“We don’t have the chance to have the stars, like a (Greg) Inglis),” Fittler tells League Week. “We most probably don’t have that at the moment. We’re going to have to be a different style of football team.

“Our assets are different. I think we’ve got a good, strong back row. With Michael Jennings not being here (in Mudgee) – we missed Jennings. We missed him bigtime. When they’re all back, if they’re all there and fit, we most probably can compete in all areas

“But at the moment, our assets are our toughness. We’ve got a great back row and we’ve got to utilise them a bit more.”

– STEVE MASCORD

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK