Fullblood: An Englishman Who Plays For Ireland & Lives In Queensland

McCarthy, TyroneBy STEVE MASCORD

PROFESSIONAL rugby league players get a bad rap. At best, they are seen as mindless automatons, oblivous to the nuances of life around them, trained wholely to run at brick walls and tackle semi-trailers.
At worse, our football stars are portrayed as oafish, neanderthal hoons with no regard for anyone but themselves.
In the case of either cliche, an appreciation and understanding for their game’s history and culture, and a concern for its future, are not often ascribed as part of the current player’s make-up.
The reality is most often somewhat different. Just about every NRL player gives up countless hours doing community and charity work. When Newcastle halfback Dane Campbell was understudy to Andrew Johns at Newcastle, he was using his spare time to help start rugby league in Jamaica.
And for Ireland vice-captain and new Northern Pride signing Tyrone McCarthy, time spent in Africa doing charity work during his gap year has had a much more profound impact on his life than anything he achieved as a Super League player with Warrington.
Like Campbell, McCarthy has become involved in helping rugby league develop in places affected by poverty; in his case, Fiji, with his project The Fullblood Project.
“People do said to me ‘why?’,” the 25-year-old backrower says from Cairns. “They’re, like, how do you make money from that?
“But if you’d gone to Africa on that trip, and you’d seen how happy those kids were … and it’s not just making them happy, it’s the fact that you could give them an opportunity and through the work you do, you could help make them a better person.
“It would be great if, when my rugby (league, Australian readers!) career is over, I could get paid to go and do these programs but that’s not what it’s about.”
Charity work, particularly in Africa, is so much in demand among young westerners that the organisations involved not only charge to do it but there is a long waiting list and many kids actually miss out.
“We did the normal things: building houses, putting up mosquito nets,” McCarthy recalls. “But we also did a rugby league programme and at the end of it we had a little carnival which the kids really enjoyed.”
When McCarthy returned to England, he and some mates – Rob Griffiths, Tom Whitehead and Nigel Scott – came up with the idea of doing a rugby league-based program in less fortunate parts of the world. “And then we kind of thought ‘well, if we went to Fiji, what if we used it to identify some talent too, to help get players in touch with clubs and vice-versa”.
It was when McCarthy began playing for Ireland in 2009 that the idea of Fullblood was born. “I’m obviously a heritage player and we want fullbloods playing for Ireland, Fiji, whatever,” he explains.
“The idea was to introduce young kids to the sport, teach them about the game and show them about the standards of behaviour that are required in an NRL or Super League environment as well.
“So we are doing general work in the community as well as things that are specifically introducing people to rugby league.”
While Tyrone was eeking out a professional career at Warrington and playing in the World Cup, his cohorts were taking Steedens to remote islands in Fiji, teaching the locals rugby league. They’ve enacted a full ciriculum, teaching kids about the history of the game as well as how to play it. It’s a trip McCarthy is itching to take himself – as well as expanding Fullblood to other parts of the world.
“My move from Warrington to the Northern Pride has slowed things down a little,” he says.
And after scoring two tries on debut against the Sunshine Coast (“that beats my total for last year”), it’s a move that is going well for McCarthy. “Cairns is pretty different to home – very hot and humid,” he said.
“But I couldn’t have asked for more from the club when it came to helping me and my missus settle in. It’s been fantastic.
“Naturally it would be great to get back into a fulltime set-up (with an NRL club) but I have no complaints.”
Being part-time means McCarthy has to take a job – and it’s one he is well suited to: teaching.
“It’s a joint position with the Queensland Department of Education and the Northern Pride, doing the Pride’s rugby league program,” he explains. “With all the indigenous communities up here, I think the Fullbloods Project would be perfect.
“Actually, there is a lot in the Pride program that is quite inspirational. Towards the end of the year, we’ll look at doing a joint program, perhaps.
“It’s not until you get out here that you realise how big rugby league really is in Australia. It’s massive, it’s everything. If we could get our brandname out there and ride on the back of that, we could really make a difference.”
Visit Fullbloods at thefullbloodproject.org

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

History As PNG Hunters Score First Win

photoBy STEVE MASCORD
MOST of them had not seen their families for 11 weeks. Half a dozen had never been overseas. But as they were embraced by ecstatic strangers, they knew that had carved themselves a little piece of rugby league history.
In Australia, we are often told how Papua New Guinea is “the only country where rugby league is the national sport”. But even in developed countries, our game is riven  by distrust and profiteering. In a nation where 37.5 per cent of the population lives in poverty, those problems are multiplied exponentially.
The PNGRL itself has been bitterly divided in recent years and the below-par showing at the 2013 World Cup, where the Kumuls were winless, eroded public confidence stil further.
Yet on Sunday at a baking hot Dolphin Oval, a PNG Hunters side made up entirely of domestic players made a winning debut in the InTrust Super Cup, defending bravely on the way to a 24-18 success against the might Redcliffe.
“It’s a turning point,” said PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka, “a pointer to the way forward.”
Coach Michael Marum: “Back at home, after the World Cup when everyone got back into the country, the guys that played in the Wprd Cup never went in public places because a lot of media and people around the country were pissed off at the performance of the players and, overall, the team.
“This is probably one way of getting those sponsors and supporters back.”
To play for the Hunters, players were required to enter a police training camp in Kopoko. They trained three times a day, were not allowed to return home, and even the lowest alcohol breath test reading would result in dismissal.
“The boys, they’ve been put on contacts and they’ve all come together – that’s including myself as well, the coaching staff,” said Marum. “We all live together in one Police barracks and we have to do training and stuff like that together. We’ve got some of our rules from (the police).
“We’ve been living together for the last 11 weeks now. Most of the boys have left their families behind and they haven’t been back to see their families for the last 11 weeks. That’s really something we need to look at but a win today would satisfy most of the families back at home. 
“There’s five or six boys who haven’t been outside the country and probably 10 who haven’t played outside PNG. I’m pleased with the way they stood up and faced the Dolphins team.”
According to Tsaka, the spartan measures were suggested in the aftermath of the World Cup.
“The World Cup was a wake-up call for us,” he tells League Week. “After our terrible World Cup, we realised how far behind we were and it was decided the only way we could be competitive would be to put everyone together in camp to prepare for the Q Cup.
“These boys come from rural areas. They needed that training. We didn’t want to come into the competition with players from England or New Zealand. Our point objective was to show the level of talent we have at home.:
Indeed, most of the Hunters side which won on Sunday were unknown in Australia. Player agents Steve Deakin and Jim Banaghan were in the 5000 crowd. World Cup star Mark Mexico – out injured at the weekend – is tipped to join Manly this week.
While the Hunters will be difficult to beat at home in Kopoko, outsiders predicted the bright lights of Queensland would be a distraction as the season wore on.
“I haven’t been to Brisbane before, this is my first time and it’s good to see a different place and experience footy in a different place,” said back rower Brandy Peter (no, he’s not named after Greg Alexander).
“At the start of the game I was a bit nervous but when you get into the game, you get a rhythm and you have to work hard.
“We have plenty of talented players in PNG but the coaching staff have to go into rural areas and look at them … and find them.”
Tsaka says it’s part of PNG’s strategic plan to have 10 players each in the NRL and Super League. The Hunters are happy to be Hunted. But when it comes to silverware in September, the Hunters could also become collectors.

THE JOY OF SIX: Pre-Season II

KoukashBy STEVE MASCORD

EARL GREY OVER DANK NEWS
EXILED footballer Sandor Earl was not best pleased to read on the Sun-Herald that controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank has a job with the women’s Indian Premier League Twenty20 Cricket Competition. “Unbelieveable – I can’t even play park footy. Flanno (suspended Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan) can’t watch footy and Dank gets a new job,” Earl Tweeted, presumably from Thailand. Flanagan, of course, is under investigation for attending a Cronulla trial while banned for his involvement in the club’s supplements programme. Earl, 24, remains the only player yet issued with an infraction notice. ASADA revealed last week it had concluded its investigations into the supplements issue. Dank, who denies any wrongdoing, insists he is yet to be interviewed. If he is still on staff at Hull KR, it isn’t helping much; Rovers were lapped 30-10 by Castleford on Friday night.

I DID IT HIS WAY
THE truth is out: Sam Burgess WAS inspired by Sonny Bill Williams in his decision to change codes. Burgess has steadfastly refused to talk about the motivation behind his switch; although despite suggestions he has been affronted by the coverage of the news, he is talking football with journalists and TV inquisitors again. His supporters reckoned the suggestion his decision he was influenced by the man he will face next Thursday at ANZ Stadium is nothing but scurillous gossip. But here’s what the Bath rugby union coach (and former South Queensland Crushers half) Mike Ford said on BBC Radio Manchester’s Rugby League Extra programme. “I think he’s seen what Sonny Bill Williams has done, switching from one code to the other and how successful he was, playing in New Zealand in the World Cup in 2011. He boxed as well, Sonny Bill. That’s the challenge he wants. Sam, once he makes his mind up he wants something, he more or less gets it every time.” Burgess has every opportunity to reject the associated speculation he wants to fight Sonny Bill. Over to you, Sam.

OOMPA LOOMPAS UNITE!
THE latest weapon being prepared to fight the financial might of the NRL was first devised by Roald Dahl half a century ago. Feisty racing magnate and Salford owner Marwan Koukash has called for Super League clubs to each be given a “golden ticket”, ala Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, to sign players outside the salary cap. “If a club does not want to use its golden ticket, I will buy it off them for 200,000 pounds,” Koukash told Sky before watching his Reds humbled 38-0 by St Helens on Thursday night. The marquee player concept was voted down last week but will probably return to the agenda of Super League clubs. Koukash is causing such a stir in England that it’s understood RFL chiefs are conducting an exhaustive search for an Everlasting Gobstopper. (photo: Dr Kockrash Twitter)

POACHERS WELCOME
PAPUA New Guinea’s new team in Queensland’s InTrust Super Cup has a message for NRL scouts: please steal our players. And Manly may be about to take the advice; Joy Of Six‘s sources at Dolphin Oval during the historic 24-18 win over Redcliffe yesterday tell us forward Mark Mexico is on the verge of signing with the Sea Eagles. Another World Cup Kumul, Wellington Albert, is already on Penrith’s books. “That’s why we have entered a team in this competition,” PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka said. “NRL scouts don’t come to PNG, we wanted to put our players in a competition where they will be seen. If one player leaves, we have 15,000 kids who will want to take his place.” Stand-outs for the Hunters included lock Sebastian Pandia and lock Wartovo Puara.

REFS ON FILM
A FEW weeks after the video referees was heard explaining his decisions on television coverage of the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, the NRL introduced a version of the system for the finals. Instead of appearing live as they deliberated (as happens in England), however, our officials got the decision out of the way and then gave a short explanation. Since then, the English have lifted the bar again for the local boys by showing the video referees on camera as they toggle the vision before ruling yey or nay. This necessitates spiffy suits and turtlenecks for the likes of Ian Smith and Phil Bentham. It didn’t stop St Helens winger Mark Percival being denied a fair try in the 38-0 win over Salford on Thursday. Will the NRL follow …. suit?

IT’S A GAS
HAVING got off to a winning start on Sunday, PNG Hunters coach Michael Marum says Australian teams are set for a culturally enriching experience when they visit Kopoko for their away matches. “Back at home, there will probably be a few gas guns outside chasing people away who are trying to get in,” he said enthusiastically. “That’s the way we play the game up there; people are passionate about the game.” Hunters players have spent 11 weeks in a police camp preparing for the Intrust Cup; many have not seen their families in this time. Mal Meninga is Kumuls nationa coach elect; Tsaka says he is trying to organise a Test against the winner of the Samoa-Fiji Test at Penrith in May and another against one of the teams warming up for the Four Nations.

Bonus item: RADIO NO-RAHRAH
WILL we soon have a 24-hour-a-day rugby league radio station? The emerging internet radio industry is awash with speciallist stations and Sydneysider Alby Talarico -the man behind the Coogee Dolphins – has spent a pretty penny setting up a footy frequency at his Steele Sports site. He already broadcasts for six hours on a Saturday afternoon during the season (he’ll be at Belmore Sports Ground next week for NSWRL fixtures), boasts decent audiences and has plans to further expland, offering airtime to the many league podcasts already being churned out by independent broadcasters. He reckons a full day of footy isn’t far away. Full disclosure time: he has even offered to air my hokey production when I get around to doing one.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

FAR & WIDE: Number 43

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

BUMMED out because you’re not going to the World Cup? Never fear: there is a big day of international footy coming up in Sydney, with seven games at the same venue on the same day!

Lebanon will take on a Fijian combination made up of non-RLWC players at Club Italia, Lansvale, on October 19. The countries will also meet at under 18s, Under 16s and Under 20 levels and we’ll also have Malta playing Italy in an age group yet to be determined.

The remaining game will involve NSW junior representative teams and complete pretty much the longest day of football Far & Wide can remember.

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JACKSON Hastings, son of Kevin who Sydney Roosters recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan chased so hard, will be halfback for the Australian Schoolboys when the play New Zealand Under 18 Residents in Auckland this Saturday.

The game, to be played at 12.45pm (local time) at Bert Henham Park Mount Wellington, is an attempt to reward Kiwi kids who stay at home rather than join Australian clubs.

The sides played an earlier Test on Monday in Whangerei.

Australia’s Sione Matautia is the third brother from that family to represent the schoolboys, emulating the efforts of Shane, Ben and Chris Walker.

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TIME to get around the various state grand finals in Australia.

In South Australia, Centrals are the Division One winners after beating Norths 28-16 in the decider earlier this month. Well done boys.

In Western Australia, it was the North Beach Sea Eagles who lifted the trophy. They beat minor premiers Freemantle 16-8 in the wet a couple of weeks ago.

Onto Darwin an the NTRL, where Palmerston beat Brothers 36-22. It was the sixth premiership for Palmerston, who had to come back from 12-0 down.

And in Victoria, Sunbury lifted its first premiership, downing Altona 36-16 in a game that was televised on community television.

And it was a cliff-hanger in the ACT, where the Queanbeyan Kangaroos beat the Queanbeyan Blues 17-16,

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

@RLWfarandwide

Jason Becomes A Devil

Jason Ryles/wikipedia
Jason Ryles/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

JASON Ryles is going home.

Back when the Melbourne Storm prop was playing juniors at the Illawarra Steelers around the end of the last century, the era of premiership players going back to play in the bush was already almost over.

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was common. Some genuine stars spent most of their careers in the bush. Hell, Rex Wright and Phil Duke were picked straight from the country by NSW (not to mention the likes of Rohan Hancock in Queensland) in our lifetimes.

But since the Super League War, pro rugby league players have earned so much, and country clubs have struggled to such an extent, that the practice just about died out.

It just wasn’t worth it for anyone concerned.

“But it’s sort of coming back in the Illawarra comp,” Ryles, 34, tells League Week. “There’s Nathan Fien going to Thirroul, fellas like Chris Leikvoll and Reece Simmonds playing as well.”

In 2014, Ryles will join them – at Illawarra Wests, the club where his journey to 15 Test appearances for Australia began. You thought Ryles was retiring but really, he’s just reeling in the years.

“I started off talking to Collies (Collegians) about going there and getting a job as well,” says the 194 cm, 116 kg front rower.

“Then my junior club got involved and it just seemed a perfect fit. For the first year I’ll be captain coach, and then just coach.

“Yes, it looks like I’m going to have to sack myself! I’ll do it kindly. There’s certainly no job security in coaching!”

Ryles’ motivations are not just to keep the football party going another year or two. He believes he can become a top level coach and is willing to start at the very bottom, rather than raise his hand for an NRL assistant’s post.

“I did have a talk with (Melbourne football manager) Frank Ponissi about taking a job at the Storm,” he reveals.

“But we’ve had a little girl and there’s another on the way and Melbourne is a bit far away from our support network in Wollongong.

“We’ve got a house in Towradgi but it’s in such disrepair it might blow over at any minute! But at least we can go back there.”

You don’t captain-coach Illawarra Wests fulltime, of course. Ryles is talking to True Blue Chemicals about a “real job”. “I’ve been pretty lucky, I haven’t really had to do what I would call work,” he says.

“We have days off, time off, and now I’m going to have to get used to going to work in the morning and coming home at night and being exhausted but I’ll manage.

“I think being down here Melbourne has given me a real grounding for a work ethic.”

It’s a matter of starting at the bottom, the former NSW prop says. “I’m finished a player now,” he explains.

“If I want to be a coach, I have to go back and pay my dues and worth my way up. I gotta get a real job because I’ve got a wife and kids. I’m looking forward to all that and to working with young players.”

In the meantime, Ryles hopes that other NRL players will be encouraged to put something back into lower tiers of rugby league when their time is up.

It needn’t be a case of NRL, Super League or oblivion.

“I don’t know why more people don’t do it,” he said. “It’s not for the money – but I hope it does become more common.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

What Is The Future Of Second Tier Rugby League In Australia?

Holden_Cup_LogoBy STEVE MASCORD

EVEN the people who conceived the Under 20s competition, now known as the Holden Cup, admit it’s not working.

At least, that’s the scuttlebutt in rugby league circles.

Sydney Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan was on a committee that came up with the formula for the NYC in 2008. He says the scuttlebutt isn’t exactly right.

But Canavan reckons the NYC wasn’t supposed to get as big as it has, pushing open age second tier competitions into the background.

“Within second tier footy, we need an underage competition, closed-age such as the NYC, and we need our state cups,” Canavan tells Steele Sports.

“We then get a two-pronged benefit. For the NYC, it’s all about recruitment and talent development and from the State Cup, open age, that’s where you have the heart of football.

“That’s where you cater for the later mature-ers or the players who’ve had pretty severe injuries on the way up, at 18 or 19 years of age, or the player who is backlogged behind senior players at NRL level.”

The reason open age competition has been left behind? “A very simple physical thing – the major stadia, including ours here at Allianz Stadium, said you could only have two games on match day.

“The good old days of three grades on match day disappeared. Then the NRL made a choice of having NYC on game day attached to the NRL.

“The consequence was that your open age state cups got pushed to the backblocks. I feel as though that was (bad).

“But it’s a very saleable product, NYC. It has appeal to the masses. There are as many good players come out of the State Cups as NYC.

“That re-enforces the fact that we need to have two strong second tier competitions. No other sport has that.”

Alas, the problem of stadia refusing to host three games on the same day will not go away. Next year, Canavan says, the situation from a fan’s perspective will “practically speaking, stay as it is.

“But I feel as though the game is poised to far better resource state cups. Through grants, participation criteria, more staff, more specialists, strength and conditioning staff, sports medicine people, improved management….”

Filed for: STEELE SPORTS

THE BIG ISSUE: #49

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

RUGBY league has taken two important steps over the past fortnight towards realising latent potential – which is what the ARLC was put there to do.

Yet neither decision was actually taken by the commission.

NRL referees coach Daniel Anderson took the first of them, announcing that anyone throwing a punch at the top level would likely be sent to the sin bin from now on.

Many of you disagreed with this edict but it was the reason for it that was most telling. “We need to make sure our game can recruit young kids,” Anderson said. “We’ve got a duty to the community and to people involved in our sport.”

Why, in our sport, do we never talk about participation rates? I’ll answer the question for you: because they’re terrible. We’re in the top three for general popularity but in Australia we are eighth for participation.

Until recently, the women’s game – using an example – got almost no help from the traditional governing bodies. We deliberately kept participation and the NRL at arm’s length, probably because we fair so poorly in the former and were a tad embarrassed.

The choice the game’s administration had to make got down to this: do we have a “don’t try this at home, these are paid professionals” warning before every telecast or do we take ownership of our comparatively poor performance as a participation sport and use the popularity of our stars on television to improve the situation?

As a spectator, you just want to be entertained. So you may not like Anderson’s crackdown. But rugby league has responsibilities that extend beyond entertaining you. That’s why players are held to different standards of behaviour than actors and musicians – because people have given up their time along with way to get them to where they are.

Rugby league in not UFC. There’s no “grassroots” UFC with parents manning the canteen each Saturday morning. Maybe the NRL will lose a few spectators for the Hills District Under 10s to gain a few participants. And perhaps in the first year of a five year TV contract is the best time to make that sacrifice – because the money’s already in our pockets, isn’t it?

Which brings us to the second decision, which wasn’t even made in Australia.

The Rugby League International Federation sold the television rights to the World Cup to International Management Group, guaranteeing a big pay day for the RLIF which will hopefully filter down to the countries who need it most.

IMG’s responsibility then is to make a profit, not help rugby league.

In the case of selling the UK free-to-air rights to the BBC, the game’s interests will be served pretty well anyway given the enormous audiences that deal will deliver.

In the case of selling the pay TV rights in Britain to Premier Sports … maybe not so much, given that the channel is a small start-up with a comparatively tiny audience.

But when it comes to Australia and Channel Seven, the benefits could be enormous.

If reconnecting the grassroots game with the professional sport is crucial, then ramping up international football is absolutely essential for us to make meaningful growth in the years ahead.

With more than 100 NRL stars likely to be playing in the World Cup between October 26 and November 30, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for colours, concepts and brands of our national teams to be embedded in the minds of rugby league fans and the wider sporting market.

Philosophically, I’ve never agreed with the NRL’s position that sticking with one commercial broadcaster gives you greater support across the board. Nine do a fine job on the NRL but this is a capitalist society and competitive tensions get the best out of everyone.

Unconfirmed reports said one of the reasons for the financial disaster of the 2000 World Cup was that when a rights broker tried to sell the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, the broadcasters there claimed they already owned it through their domestic deals.

Finally, 13 years later, we have got our house in order in that respect. The international game is a position to call its own shots. BIG step forward.

In the cases of both decisions discussed here, certain interest groups had to be snubbed. In Anderson’s case, it was the blood thirsty biff fiends who only tune into Origin for the stinks.

In the case of the World Cup TV rights, it was the network that only wanted to show Australia’s games and, via that stance, suggested rugby league has ideas above its station and is not to be taken seriously as an international sport.

The worst thing about the belief that rugby league only has the biff going for it and will always be a joke internationally is that the game’s administration itself – by its inaction – seemed to actually agree.

Thankfully, belatedly … not any more.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK