The A-List: KEVIN PROCTOR (Melbourne, New Zealand Maori, New Zealand)

2013 Melbourne Storm HeadshotsBy STEVE MASCORD

 ON May 27, 2014, the Canberra times breathlessly reported that the Raiders “sign James Tedesco and miss out on Kevin Proctor”.

Subsequently, of course, the Wests Tigers and Italy fullback reneged on that contract with the Green Machine – thereby guaranteeing himself a lifetime’s worth of jeers every time the road gets smoother as he crosses into the ACT.

Many, many kilometres from Bruce – Liverpool, England to be exact – we learn exactly what a bad month May, 2014, was for Ricky Stuart.

How close did 26-year-old Kevin Proctor come to signing with Canberra?

“It was pretty close. I think we’d shaken hands and everything,” says the corkscrew-curled back-rower, across the table in the hotel coffee shop

“Something just didn’t feel right, when I woke up the next day. I told them the truth. You don’t really want someone going to your club if they aren’t 100 per cent committed.

“I just told them the truth and he was sweet with that.”

“He”, of course, being coach Stuart. Not someone I’d like to face in such circumstances. Wasn’t young Kev just a little intimidated?

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“I was but you don’t really want to go there half-hearted. You want to go there and put your full commitment behind it. I just told them how I felt.

“Especially because I’ve got a daughter to worry about now and I’ve got a partner as well. That all came into account as well”

During our chat, Proctor admits he “hated” Melbourne at first. But after sleeping on his verbal agreement, he found his view had changed so much that he just couldn’t leave.

“It’s just the lifestyle there. It’s so cruisy for a city, anyway. You’re not fully under the spotlight like Sydney is and Queensland and Canberra I suppose, north Queensland.

“It’s all AFL down there so you fly under the radar and do your own thing and my partner and daughter love living there too. That all came into account as well and Storm, they’re the ones who have given me my opportunity to start so I guess it’s a little bit of payback there.”

Perhaps because of the reduced scrutiny on Melbourne players, Kevin Proctor is probably one of those players you know little about outside the weekly green rectangle. He played three codes of football in four cities before he was 21, only picking up league because there was no local rugby union sides when he resided on the Gold Coast.

That’s where his second bombshell comes from. When his current Storm contract expires in three years, he’d like to go back to the 15-man game.

He says: “I loved my rugby union growing up. I played that pretty much my whole life, until I was 16, 17 and then made the transition. It was really good and I’d probably like that to be my second option.

“I wouldn’t mind giving it a crack, eh? Just because I grew up with it so much and I know the game so well.

“I don’t know, I suppose you could leave that to my manager to try and help me find a club somewhere maybe. I wouldn’t mind having a go at something like that.”

Born in Te Kuiti, Proctor is an unaffected sort of chap. He travelled from New Zealand to Perth to the Gold Coast, playing whatever was going before being unearthed by the Storm.

Suddenly, everything changed for him.

“Moving down to Melbourne, the culture they have down there and the professional side of things made me grow up a lot quicker,” he reasons.

“Because I was moving away from my family and didn’t really know anyone down in Melbourne, you kind of have to…

“.I really hated it the first week I went there but … I was only 18 and the first one (in my family) to move away from home and I suppose I just didn’t really like the lifestyle down there at the time.

“Now I love it. I think I’ve been there eight years now. It was the culture down in Melbourne that really got me to where I am now.. They teach you all the good traits and I suppose I take that onto the field with me. I Craig (Bellamy) has been a big help for me too. He’s such a good coach. He gives you things to work on and … oh, mate I can’t really explain it too much.

“He turns you into one of those players and if he doesn’t like you, you’re pretty much … if you can’t keep up with the Melbourne training and the workload and all that stuff I suppose you’re in and you’re out. He’s taught me most things I know with my rugby league today and … I wouldn’t have got too far without him and the Melbourne Storm.”

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Another beneficiary of that tutelage is Proctor’s New Zealand team-mate, Tohu Harris.

The recent Kiwis tour of Britain, of course, should have been Harris’ second…

 “It was kind of … it was weird how they did that, when they picked him and then Sonny Bill made himself available and they didn’t pick him,” says Proctor, happy to discuss one of the touchiest recent subjects surrounding the black jumper.

“It would have been good to have him … he would have been one of the young guys like Sio Sia (Taukeiaho) now and Curtis Rona and all those boys getting the experience. He could have had it back then and it probably would have made him a better player.

“He’s doing really well now anyway. I’m happy he’s playing some good footy.”

Like his club-mate, Proctor was approached mid-season by the NZRL about the tour – which saw the Kiwis just fail to snatch a draw in the final Test at Wigan.

“They told us what was happening and we probably weren’t going to get as much pay but it doesn’t matter. Once you get the opportunity to play for your country, I don’t think anyone’s stupid enough to turn that down.”

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And there’s an upside. Because Australian players cried off playing last Spring, the likes of Tohu and Kevin had their feet up for a few weeks with The Big Three sweated it out.

“We’ve had a fair bit of a clean-out actually. We’ve got a new conditioning coach, we’ve got a couple of new physios, a couple of new coaches. I’m actually excited to see what we’ve got when we get back to training.”

Maybe the next visit to Canberra, however, won’t be so exciting…

 Kevin Proctor’s Kiwi Tour Highlights.

One: Liverpool FC. “It was schmick, all their fields. It was probably the best ground I’ve trained on.  Their facilities, their pools, their spas, their gym, they had chefs there and the quality of food they had there as well … they had lamb shanks and all that stuff for dinner. It was probably one of the best feeds we’ve had for the whole trip as well.”

Two: South Of France & Barcelona. “Perpignan was a cool change and Barcelona, we went down there for a couple of days. I’ve never seen a city so big before. We went down that street (La Rambla), we got scooters to go around the city, we got to see … it’s a pity we didn’t stay there for as long as we would have liked. We had four or five hours there, we had a feed there.”

Three: London. “London was cool. It’s just so busy there. I don’t think I could ever live there. It’s just way too busy for me. That was probably the three things that stood out to me.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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Rugby League’s Resolutions For 2016

ResolutionsBy STEVE MASCORD
WHEN News Corporation gave up its first and last rights over NRL satellite TV, we heard the expression that rugby league was “in control of its own destiny”.
The decision to surrender those rights supposedly cost Rupert Murdoch’s righthand man in Australia, Kim Williams, his job.
We had heard the same thing when News stopped being a half-owner of the game in Australia.
Yet we still had games being shown on delay, in low definition, on Channel Nine. We still had the Fox Sunday games kicking off at 2pm so they could be over before Nine’s delayed telecast started at four.
It didn’t feel like rugby league was in charge of much at all. At least not the NRL, which still seemed to be run for the sake of the broadcasters.
In England, the recent Baskerville Shield series was a success with good crowds – but the days of three Tests being played at Wembley, Old Trafford and Elland Road seem long gone.
With new streaming opportunities, British rugby league also believes it has “control of its own destiny”. But what does that actually mean?
Put another way, if you were rugby league, what would your New Years Resolutions be? Let’s have a shot.
A WORLD NINES CIRCUIT
IT was interesting that the recent RLIF strategic plan, ‘World Rugby Nines’ got a Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 09.24.13mention. Given that rugby union don’t play nine-a-side, perhaps we are about to make an attempt to reclaim that word that makes up half of our name. Semantics aside, we’ve now been talking about an off-season circuit for long enough to have acted upon it. The blueprint is already there – rugby union sevens. We use second tier players and those who are recently retired or off-contract. The developing nations pick their best and the games are therefore competitive. I am sure Duco Events, the smart people behind the NRL Nines, would love to be involved. Maybe the first year there are only two or three events – Abu Dhabi, Perth and Las Vegas – but it builds. And the beauty of it is that we use our other properties to leverage nines carnivals “You want an NRL match? An Origin? Let’s see how you go with a Nines tournament first”. As Hot Chocolate said, everyone’s a winner!

GIVE THE RLIF MORE AUTHORITY
THE appointment of the RLIF’s first full-time CEO was another milestone for the game – and we can’t expect miracles from David Collier overnight. But the spectacle of Super League CEO Blake Solly trying to get the first Anglo-New Zealand Test on Australian television a few hours before kick-off, and the feudal nature of refereeing appointments for those games, were rather unedifying. There are two countries with power in international rugby league – Australia and Britain. And if the Australians have little appetite for that side of the game, then there is a danger of the RLIF office being dominated by the country in which it resides. A real RLIF with teeth would be able to censure the RFL, something which is hard to imagine under current circumstances. Get rid of bilateral Test series completely. Have them run by the RLIF, with profits passed onto the countries involved as required. We need something more than a front for government funding.

FIX THE NEW END-OF-SEASON SCHEDULE
JAMES Lowes complained that The Qualifiers put too much pressure on his part-time players in one game but isn’t that what professional sport is all about? Most of our leagues worldwide have a final rather than handing out trophies on a first-past-the-post basis. The real problem with the new system in the UK in 2015 was that clubs were able to stockpile their teams at the end of the season, employing the same degree of cynicism that always swarmed around promotion and relegation like flies at a litter bin. The Super League teams absolutely should not get stronger when they are about to play opposition that was already spending less money. You would not be able to sign a whole new squad of players for the NRL semi-finals, would you? The bottom of the top division was also a little ho-hum for the tail end of the season, wasn’t it? Solutions on a postcard, please.

A CEASE-FIRE BETWEEN PLAYERS AND AUSTRALIAN AUTHORITIES
THREATS of awards night boycotts and even industrial action are almost annual events these days in Australia, where players complain they are overworked. Never mind that those in Super League play 10 more games a year. The NRL agreed to a 25-game schedule, still with five-day turnarounds, without consulting them and now the RLPA has hired a high-powered AFL man as its new CEO. In Australia, rugby league is a grab for cash. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is … well, it’s not an agreement at all. When the NRL tried to mandate a 30-game season for all players, the players mocked Shane Richardson for trying to help them. A few months later, they’re screaming the house down because the season’s too long. Any cease-fire is certain to be temporary.

SEPARATE ORIGIN AUSTRALIAN SELECTION FROM ORIGIN
THE old school coaches and administrators Down Under are scared. While many other attempts to modernise and streamline the competition structures and representative programme have been greeted with enthusiasm, the simple measure of not requiring all Origin players to commit themselves to Australia has been greeted like it’s a heresy. It works like this: the RLIF does not recognise State of Origin in any way. It’s only Australia that requires dual-eligible players like Aquila Uate, James Tamou and Aiden Guerra to swear allegiance to the green and gold before they don maroon or blue. This allows Australia to retain players using the $30,000 per game appearance fee. You cannot play Origin unless you lived in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13 but international selection criteria, across all sports, are far less stringent. The solution is simple: let Origin players represent any (maybe just tier two) country for which they properly qualify. Those who fear this either don’t understand it or want Australia to have an unfair leg-up.

SUPER LEAGUE SHOULD PUSH INTO THE AUSTRALIAN MARKET
BETWEEN 20,000 and 40,000 people get up at 5am in Australia to watch Super League. The vast majority of them know nothing about this magazine. They don’t know who Blake Solly is. They have no idea there are podcasts, radio programmes and sponsors of Super League trying to reach them. While the denizens of Salford Quays struggle to get national mainstream media attention – the midweek papers are increasingly devoid of rugby league – there is an insatiable hunger for the game Down Under. The World Cup ebaymost gambled-upon Super League game of the year is the 1pm match on Magic Weekend – because Australian fans have just finished watching Super Saturday on Fox. Super League should play more matches in this time slot and work more closely with their Fox in Australia so the matches are mentioned during NRL broadcasts and other rugby league programmes are not put up in competition with them. Super League should open an office in Sydney and Super League clubs could even sell perimeter advertising to Australian companies, as happens in soccer with overseas sponsors.

STAND UP TO OTHER SPORTS
WE’VE been warning for as long as we can remember that if rugby league did not get off its backside it would be swamped by other sports. When Sam Burgess can walk out and try international rugby union on for size, when the Dally M medallist is happy to train with an NFL team rather than play our sport, when Sonny Bill Williams can go from Allianz Stadium to Soldier Field and Twickenham in a matter of weeks, when Tom Burgess can trial for an NFL contract while he is under contract with South Sydney, you know the warning has come true. We are, globally, second division and trying to avoid further relegation. We need to stand up for ourselves in places like Dubai, where the local rugby union authorities want to run league comps and – so far – the RLIF seems to be appeasing them. We’re under siege. The barricades need manning.

REAL CULTURAL CHANGE
READ the letters page of any rugby league publication. Talk to clubs and players and administrators and media people. No-one is happy, everyone is moaning. Being a ‘working class game’ is what’s great about rugby league – but it’s perhaps also a big part of what’s wrong with it. In order to progress, the game needs to learn from its rivals, to embrace the ‘big end of town’, to leave behind the bogans and whippets. If you want violence, go watch extreme sports. If you only want to make money out of the game, we’re not giving you any. If you want to start a rebel league, start one. If you want to abuse referees, don’t come back. If you want to stay in suburban grounds, we’ll be at the big ones with corporate boxes and decent toilets. See you. We’ll take the hit. Someone needs to grab rugby league by the scruff of the neck, drag it out of what sometimes seems like a ghetto, and damn the consequences. The alternatives are obscurity and irrelevance. And if that person pays with his job, like David Smith did, we’ll just wait patiently until the next messiah comes along.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

Far & Wide: July 27 2015

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

OFFICIALS are hailing this year’s Ohana Cup at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium as the best yet, with Samoa thrilling around 8000 fans in their 20-4 win over Tonga.

The Hawaiian Rugby League are still trying to lure Penrith and Brisbane to the holiday isle, despite the reservations of the NRL, and plan to use next year’s event as a precursor to a state competition for domestic players.

“We’ll shoot for four month competition starting next July,” says organiser Steve Johnson.

The Western Corridor NRL bid boss also revealed he wanted this year’s game to be a double-header, with the United States taking on Fiji in the earlier game. But the newly rebranded USA Hawks weren’t interested.

LeagueWeek Back IssuesHe said ESPN Radio and Western Union were two American companies hugely impress with what they saw just over a week ago and keen to be involved again in future.

“Samoa is one of the big places Western Union does transfers to from Hawaii and we spoke to them about putting something back,” he said.

“American sports aren’t involved in the community like rugby league is. That impresses a lot of companies in Hawaii.

“ESPN Sport were blown away by rugby league. They’d never seen it before and they want to cover whatever we do.”

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ON the mainland, the US has named a 35-man train-on squad for the upcoming internationals against Canada.

And, as is consistent with the change of administration for the game in America, there are 28 potential international newcomers.

A number of training camps are to be held. The USARL National Championship Final will be held on rugby league’s 120th birthday, August 29.

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A PNG minister made headlines last week with some colourful quotes regarding the re-emergence of the Kumuls

State enterprise minister Ben Micah told parliament: “”We are going to hunt them down, we’ll kill them and we’ll eat them.”

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