WHITE LINE FEVER Column: December 2016/January 2017

p1_coverBy STEVE MASCORD

THE real question in the current imbroglio between the NRL and its clubs is not who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong.
It’s which group is worse.
Firstly, the basics. The clubs are trying have Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant ousted. They have the required votes. What they are angry about is a promise to give them 130 per cent of total player payments from 2018 being broken when Grant came back from the Rugby League International Congress in Liverpool.
A memorandum of agreement was “taken off the table”, causing a group of chairman to walk out of a meeting at Moore Park’s League HQ in Sydney. Subsequent meetings were postponed when the chairmen refused to show up.
Let’s start with the clubs. They have all their player wages and travel expenses covered by head office but only one of them returned a profit last year. Why? Because they spend so much money trying to out-do each other via high-priced coaches, cutting-edge technology and expensive scouting networks.
In most cases the clubs run their own local junior leagues, too. They have under 20s sides and a reserve grade team of some kind. In Sydney, any short-fall is made up by grants from Leagues Clubs, which are basically giant poker machine palaces that get tax breaks precisely because they support junior rugby league.
The entire structure of the traditional Sydney clubs is mired in the past, when players played for beer money and TV rights were worth a few thousand dollars.
Now to the so called “Independent Commission”.
Australians love a “commission”. Forming one is what they do when there is perceived to be a problem with something. There’s the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Australian Football League Commission, etc, etc.
All eight members of the commission are independent of the clubs. Under chairman Grant, in its four years the ARLC has performed an almost complete clean-out of the NRL, on the back of an army of consultants picking the brains of existing staff members and using the information to appoint those staffers’ new bosses.
Grant’s big mistake in promising the 130 per cent of player wages to the clubs is that he underestimated their deviousness and desperation. Now the clubs stood to make more money, the more the players were paid – so the players and clubs were suddenly allies and the central body became a giant cash cow.
But the question has to be asked: if the clubs are truly calling for Grant’s head because he’s shown incompetence, then why didn’t they point it out to him in the first place instead of pulling the wool over his eyes?
Like in England, rugby league in Australia needs blowing up and starting again. Like just about everywhere, it’s a cargo cult driven by self-interest.
In truth, the clubs should just be shells. Twenty five players, a capped staff selling tickets and sponsorships and that’s it. Everything else should be run from head office. The best model for the sport would be the lean teams making money for the the rest of the game, franchises in the true sense.
Junior development would be run centrally, players would change clubs via a draft.
But would I trust THIS head office not to make a mess of this fantasy scenario? Definitely not….

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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.”

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BONDI BEAT: October 2016

Brlw-novembr-2016y STEVE MASCORD

THE departure of Stephen Kearney as coach of our number one ranked nation, just weeks before the Four Nations, raises a host of intriguing questions.
One must be the inescapable conclusion that coaching a tier one Test team is a post with decisively less prestige than heading up an NRL franchise.
Wayne Bennett would never have chosen England over Brisbane, not in a month of Suncorp Stadium Friday nights.
Mal Meninga at least chose Australia over Queensland but if he was offered, say, Bennett’s job, how long would he stick around? And he also upset Papua New Guinea by walking out on them.
And even though Kearney could have been ready to start work at the Warriors’ Penrose offices by the end of November, he chose to step aside immediately he was picked to replace Andrew McFadden.
At the time of writing, David Kidwell was favourite to replace Kearney. Like Kearney, he has been biding his time as an NRL assistant and comes well recommended.
What will be interesting is how Kidwell handles the politics in the Kiwis camp. Kearney was adept at politely sidestepping questions about why the likes of Benji Marshall and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves were on the outer for periods.
He was also adept at not picking players he felt did not fit into the culture in order to attract those questions. It was the diplomatic equivalent of one of Marshall’s best passes.
Whether Kidwell inherits an sort of unspoken blacklist or gives everyone a fresh start will be extremely interesting to observe.
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IT might seem self-evident but I’m still surprised that a club chief executive would come out and say it.
In a recent episode of the excellent Fox Market Watch podcast, Canberra’s Don Furner admitted the national capital’s cold weather was a key recruitment tool for English players.
Next year, Jordan Turner will join Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead at GIO Stadium
“Without a doubt there’s been a sea change in Australia,” Furner told the podcast. “People like to live at the beach and in the warmth and Canberra gets a bad rap.
“We didn’t have the beach and warm weather that could maybe attract players for less money.
“To get a kid from Manly beach or Newcastle beach to move down here, it’s not easy.
“We certainly changed our focus a while ago because we realised those guys don’t want to live here. It’s really hard for them.
“We’ve just extended Elliott and we’re signing up another one for next year actually, so we think we go all right with Englishman, they don’t mind the cold.”
Whitehead, meanwhile, said he “felt sick” conceding the penalty that allowed Cronulla to down the Green Machine in the first week of the finals.
An example of how highly Hodgson is held came from club great Laurie Daley, who said that while the Raiders could get into a grand final without the former Hull KR rake, they would not be able to win one in his absence.
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MORE often than not, a day or so before this column is due I am bereft of ideas. Many of the day-to-day happenings in rugby league are cyclical, if not downright repetitive.
But there are few other areas of human endeavour, particularly those to have been pursued for 121 years, so consistently capable of jaw-dropping ridiculousness.
And so it was one Thursday morning, on Facebook, I got an alert saying “Live: Eddie Hayson media conference”. Say what?
Now, I am familiar with Facebook Live. My wedding was on it. But former brothel owners who owe millions of dollars calling media conferences? This was innovative.
Hayson had called the Sydney rugby league media together to answer allegations he had been involved in match fixing. The New South Wales police had taken the issue so seriously, it had formed a strike force to deal with the allegations.
Hayson went on to name a bikie says had given the police knowledge of his involvement. He named a bikie, Antonio Torres, as the man who sold the cops a dummy and pornography baron Con Ange as the one who embellished it to journalists.
He named the journalists whom he believed had wronged him – the Sydney Morning Herald’s Kate McClymont, Channel Seven’s Josh Massoud and the Daily Telegraph’s Rebecca Wilson.
Then, he allowed two them to cross examine him!
Yes, he had tried to put $30,000 into the betting account of Kieran Foran. Yes, he owed boxer Jeff Fenech millions. Yes, rugby league players, police and judges had visited his brothel. Yes he had given them “freebies”.
He gave several people money “because he liked them”. He could afford PR to stars Max Markson because he had had a few wins on the punt recently.
Need I go on?
Hayson ended up denying two allegations and confirming a dozen others – while paying for the platform himself!
I’m sure these sorts of things happen in other sports. Just can’t think of one at the moment.
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LAST month we waved the flag (Stars and Stripes, of course) for the American 2021 World Cup bid. We kind of think it’s a good idea.
Of course, these things are dictated as much by money as anything else and the International Federation relies on the profits from World Cups to run the sport for the next four years.
An American World Cup with empty stadiums, little television income and a massive financial black hole would be a disaster for the game, both logistically and from the point of view of our image.
But here’s the thing.
Promoter Jason Moore plans to just give an “eight figure sum” to the RLIF for the right to run the tournament. That’s at least $10 million. Furthermore, he says he will plough another multi-million-dollar investment onto American rugby league.
Now, next year’s World Cup is currently projected to make only $7 million.
I know the offer in the UK is Stg15 million plus infrastructure. I am not sure if the infrastructure figure is conditional on Britain being granted the tournament.
But I ask you this, as a rugby league fans, would you really rather a few nice facilities than someone take on all the risk of taking the game to American and handing over a check for $10 million, making it the more successful than the previous tournament?
No doubt the RLIF would like to ease America in by giving them the new Continental Cup first. Moore doesn’t seem the sort of guy for consolation prizes, however.
Guaranteed 10 mill, no risk, America … Tweet me with your thoughts at @BondiBeat.

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BONDI BEAT: September 2016

rlw-september-2016By STEVE MASCORD

BECAUSE next year’s World Cup is in Australia, expect officials to pull out all the stops to have as many NRL stars sprinked across the teams as possible.
The new CEO of the tournament, Andrew Hill, has been working on eligibility rules for years and walking a diplomatic tightrope in his dual roles as RLIF secretary and NRL head of integration.
In one ear, he’s had NSW and Queensland officials stridently refusing to budge on their oft-heard refrain ‘you must be Australian to play Origin’ which translates to “son, if you play for that country we won’t pick you’.
Then there’s the NRL’s own investment in the South Pacific, which would be far more useful if those countries had their best teams on the pitch.
And finally, there’s been his empathy for the objectives of the RLIF and the countries frustrated by the likes of Wayne Bennett barring Anthony Milford from representing Samoa with no reason given.
Now Hill can be a little more unequivocal – and it wills start with new eligibility rules at the end of the year.
Origin players will hopefully be permitted to represent tier two nations without changing their country of election.
(These changes don’t help the likes of, say, Scotland for this year).
And Bondi Beat expects Hill to go door to door, if necessary, to make sure as many of the world’s best players as possible are on show next October and November.
The question is whether a Tongan side full of players born in south Auckland, Penrith and Logan City – to use an example – is a threat to England’s chances.
It probably is.
Full strength Samoa, PNG, Tongan and Fiji teams on hard grounds during an Australasian spring will present Wayne Bennett with plenty of headaches.
One suspects another big part of Hill’s role will be ease the concerns of his colleagues in Fitzrovia and Red Hall.
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LAST month we reported for you how RLWC chief executive Michael Brown was forced to resign after leaving an abusive voicemail for Penrith CEO Corey Payne.
Michael was browned off that Payne – the youngest chief exec in the NRL, only a couple of years out of playing – had claimed Pepper Stadium was snubbed for a World Cup match when in fact they Panthers had demanded half a million dollars to host one.
We thought that was typically rugby league.
But the follow-up is even less likely to happen in any other sport, or indeed field of endeavour.
Payne himself has fallen out with someone or another and is no longer involved in the game! The Panthers issued a media release referring only vaguely to “overseas business interests”.
Maybe he’s buying Salford off Marwan.
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IF there’re two things rugby league fans love to moan about, it’s refereeing and the disciplinary system.
We can have match fixing and chaotic international eligibility rules and Gawd knows what else but if Johnny Appleseed got two weeks when he should have got four, the sky is falling in.
Same goes for that knock-on Warren Whistleblower failed to detect.
Here and Bond Beat Towers we try not to get caught up in such minutae. We really do. But in the last couple of weeks we have seen things get a tad daft.
First, St George Illawarra’s Welshman-cum-New South Welshman Tyson Frizell is suspended for a week for brushing a referee as he walked past.
I’d have no problem with that on its own. We don’t want to go the way of soccer in this area. But the way it is enforced Down Under is woefully inconsistent.
Then, a couple of weeks later, Gold Coast Titan Ryan James breaks the jaw of Wests Tigers starlet James Tedesco. Sure, Tedesco was falling but James still copped a grade two careless high tackle charge.
He chose to challenge, as is his right.
After he is found guilty, he and his counsel take a deep breath and begin to gather up their paper when judiciary member Royce Ayliffe says “you’ve only been found guilty”.
You mean we can still challenge the grading? Yes. And what do you know, James gets downgraded to one and doesn’t miss a match.
You touch a referee as you walk past – one week. You break a star fullback’s jaw – none. I mean, really….
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ONE of the reservations many people have about the 2021 World Cup bid from America is that it does not come from the governing body, the USARL.
But have you thought about how many national governing bodies in our game CAN afford to bid for the World Cup?
Sure, South Africa made play for next year’s tournament but they used an external consultant with soccer experience all the way, Chris Botes, and basically just stood alongside him and nodded.
Even Leagues with the right business acumen in their ranks probably wouldn’t be able to attract the requisite government support
Steve Williams is the communications manager for the USARL. He recently told my Kiwi colleague: “We do not have any affiliation with Jason Moore.
“We weren’t consulted about the actual bid. This was a bid submitted to the international federation.
“We’re happy to partner with anybody who is willing to help promote rugby league in the USA.
“That being said, we are 100 per cent an amateur, volunteer based organisation so if something like this was to come along and let’s say the international federation did embrace it, we would expect them to also provide assistance and a plan to support any type of growth that would be expected.
“You’re talking about a 350 million population so … I’d consider it unfortunate if we weren’t structured properly to funnel (the interest) into development at some level.”
The places where we need to have World Cups – Japan, mainland Europe and North America – do not have viable local leagues who can submit applications.
It’s going to come down to people like Chris Botes and Jason Moore.
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JUST quick note to wish all the best for the departed editor of this esteemed organ, Joe Whitley.
He was only a young lad but I’m sure you’ll agree his flair for design, in particular, was obvious and abundant.
Good luck in your next endeavour, old chap.
@BondiBeat

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The A-List: JEREMY SMITH (Newcastle & New Zealand)

smith-jeremyBy STEVE MASCORD
IT’S the most obvious question to ask any retiring player, a clichéd query that invites a clichéd response, asked more out of obligation than anything else.
And it’s usually saved until last: “what was your career highlight?”.
Jeremy Smith, 36, has more than a few clichés from which to choose: the 2008 World Cup with New Zealand, St George Illawarra’s first premiership in 2010, a grand final success (to which there is no longer a title attached) in 2007 for Melbourne.
Adding to the odds of a response something like “that one!” is the fact that in 13 years of first grade, Jeremy Smith has not been known for outrageous utterances.
“Obviously winning comps and World Cups and Four Nations….” he begins, as he sigs on a concrete partition with A-List outside Wests Mayfield days before his final game.
“But I just think when you’re in the trenches with your mates, defending your line for set after set, the other team not scoring and then….”
He looks off into the distance, like he can actually see battles past.
“You get the ball back and you’ve gone 100 metres and scored a try. I think you take more out of those games than you do out of winning competitions.
“It’s just one of those things. You can look at your mate and your arse is hanging out and you can look at one another and give him a nod and know he was going to turn up for you.
“In tough games – that’s when you get the most joy. It might not be fun at the time, but….”
It’s a prescient metaphor for the entire 200-plus game career of Smith, which ends this weekend. It wasn’t much fun at the time – certainly not for his opponents – but it was pretty damn impressive.
It began in Melbourne – but not at the Storm. They knew nothing about him until he went to Queensland, a curiosity which will amuse cynics.
Smith recalls: “My parents up and moved us from Christchurch to Melbourne and I ended up playing for Altona Roosters down there. I was about 13 or 14.
“It wasn’t the strongest comp. I played there for a couple of years and we up and moved to the Gold Coast to play football and school as well.” There was an ill-fated stint with the Northern Eagles in there somewhere. In 2005, Smith made his debut for Melbourne.
And for a year after that … nothing.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy made it clear that this career might be over at one game, too. “I was playing reserve grade and getting suspended and (had) injuries and what-not.
“Bellyache called me into his office for one of those meetings and he said ‘you’ve got one year left on your contract and if you want to make the most of it, you’d better knuckle down’ and that’s what I did.
“I hit the ground running in the pre-season and the rest is history.”
History includes 22 Tests for New Zealand a fearsome visage at Melbourne, St George Illawarra Cronulla and Newcastle. Like Parramatta’s Beau Scott, he had a reputation as being on-field “security” for the most talented men in the game.
“I wouldn’t say look after them, as such. That’s a tough question, actually. I wouldn’t say I’m a bodyguard but I look after my mates, that’s for sure.
“If they were good enough to play first grade, they’re all equal that’s for sure.
“I definitely relied on my defence …. to be aggressive. Back then, 2006 … it was a pretty tough comp and you could be a bit more physical than what the game is now.”
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At times Smith was painted as a villain for the niggle but he’ll retire with an overwhelmingly positive legacy in the minds of most, to the thinking of this reporter. There’s no escaping, however, his proximity to two of the biggest controversies we’ve had in recent times – the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal and the Cronulla peptides affair.
“They were fairly big deals at the time,” he nods. “Darkest day in rugby league, it got touted at one time. I wasn’t at the frontline with the boys at Cronulla, that’s for sure. I was up here in Newcastle, we didn’t really get much and Wayne protected me from the media.
“(Current Sharks players) were right there and in the thick of it and I tried to keep in touch with the boys and make sure everyone everyone was going alright, what was getting said and what was going to happen.
“With the Melbourne one, I wasn’t there either. I’d moved on. Copping a bit of backlash from it, it’s part and parcel, isn’t it? I couldn’t really do anything about it. It had already been done.
“I’m not really one to worry about too much, I’m a pretty easy going, happy-go-lucky person. Whatever is meant to be is meant to be and whatever happens will happen. It didn’t really bother me.
“… with the Cronulla … they said that we were going to have the back-dated (suspension), a little three-month stint out … we didn’t really have a leg to stand on there at one stage.
“I’m pretty comfortable with it. It’s all done and dusted now.”
Surprisingly for such a fit man, Smith detests the gym and reckons he may never set foot in one again. The game itself was hard enough and he’s suffered enough for several lifetimes. “You get out of bed and you limp around and you come to training … I’ve got a sore knee, I’ve got a sore shoulder. I probably haven’t been 100 per cent fit since the start of the year. But that’s not only me.
“It is hard, but that’s what makes you who you are, isn’t it? You want to be a tough competitor, you’ve got to put up with bumps and bruises.”
We conclude with me asking if he still actually enjoys playing rugby league. There’s a cheekiness in his answer, but more than a modicum of truth, too.
“I still enjoy playing – you just don’t get away with any more high shots.
“It is still physical. It’s just not as grubby as it used to be….
“You’re not allowed to put your hand on people’s faces for some reason … “

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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BONDI BEAT: July 2016

RLW Juy 2016By STEVE MASCORD

I FEEL sorry for Andrew Johns.

Unless you live under a rock or follow rugby union (give me a rock any day), you’ll be aware that there’s a match fixing ‘scandal’ taking place in Sydney right now.

Two matches last year involving Manly are alleged to have been manipulated by players involved being paid A$50,000 a man.

Now, the way this has played out is a reflection of two things: the changing face of the media and journalism and the way authorities in Australia seem to behave out of political expediency.

Many fans have drawn a comparison between the so-called ‘Darkest Day In Australian Sport’ a couple of years ago, when we were told organised crime had infiltrated out dearest institutions and doping was rife.

Since then, we had had sanctions levelled at Cronulla and the Essendon AFL club but the scale of the cheating was no-where near what was initially touted.

From a fan’s point of view, this smacks of something similar.

Even as a professional journalist I can appreciate the cynicism and that’s because politicians and law enforcement in Australia seem to like to use the media to ‘smoke out’ offenders.

Apparently many of my colleagues were aware of these match fixing claims for some time but couldn’t get the story ‘up’ – that is, no-one would be quoted. This changed when the Daily Telegraph’s Michael Carayannis managed to get a line from a police spokesperson at the end of May.

Again, for whatever reason but perhaps as some kind of deterrent, further high-ranking police officers have been quoted since. In other parts of the world, I would imaging police would be far more reticent to talk but there is a ‘Wild West’ feel to the way things are done Down Under.

As for the change in journalistic practices, that is reflected in the way the story has been covered since it broke.

In the old days, naming groups of people – such as football teams – and individuals such as the ‘big punter’ and former brothel owner Eddie Heyson would have been considered actionable and therefore ill-advised.

But today, decisions are made based on what a news organisation can get away with. One former News Corporation used to say “don’t start a fight with anyone who buys newsprint (ink) by the tonne.”

The question asked is not ‘can they sue?’ but ‘are they likely to’ and ‘does that person have a good reputation that can be sullied anyway?’ Increasingly we see lines in stories like ‘the Daily Bugle does not suggest the players named in this story are guilty of any wrongdoing’ when the rest of the story suggests exactly that.

As a result, we have seen detailed allegations of exactly who is supposed to have done what and which games and clubs are allegedly involved, when such stories would never have been printed in the past.

What does all this have to do with Andrew Johns?

One report suggested Manly blamed a former great no longer on the club staff for introducing Heyson to the club.

Johns, who has a number of media gigs, stepped up and said such allegations were ridiculous and he had done nothing of the sort.

By responding to the allegations, he outed himself. The reporters no longer needed to refer to him as “a former great”. They could name him – and so in the next day’s paper he found the allegations against him spelt out in greater detail but someone who was not named.

It’s a great three-card trick – put allegations you cannot publish for legal reasons to the target of those allegations and if they are denied, you no longer have any obligation to protect the aggrieved party.

No doubt Johns felt his time at Manly was positive and he left on good terms (he’s now an advisor at Sydney Roosters). Now one of his former ‘mates’ is trying to blame him for match fixing and he has no idea who it is.

That can’t be fun.

AT the time of writing, it appeared Zac Hardaker’s likely new home would be Canberra, where Jack Wighton is the likely fullback.

(I actually once had a copy of Rolling Stone with Jack White of the White Stripes on the cover at a Raiders game one day. It was only after Wighton had left the stadium that I realised what a great photo opp that would have been),

Wighton, from Orange in the NSW central west, is a likeable lad. Perhaps too likeable as indications are that the curry he has been getting from fans on social media recently has been getting to him.

Wighton made a couple of ugly errors against Canberra but also engineered the win. “Forget all those voices in your head and listen to mine,” is what coach Ricky Stuart claims to have told him at halftime.

A move to the centres or even to stand-off would relieve Wighton of the burden of playing in rugby league’s loneliest position.

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WHILE on Stuart, there’s a juicy rumour going around that he is going to be the new coach of Lebanon, in place of Darren Maroon.

Maroon quit just a couple of weeks before the recent international against the Cook Islands when was told his position would be reviewed after the match.

He had previously believed he would be in the post until after the World Cup.

Now, Stuart has not always been painted as a fan of international football, with many a developing nation coach wishing he was more charitable about releasing players.

But if there is any duplicity there, it seems to almost be de rigeur ….. right, Wayne Bennett?

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ALL is not going smoothly with the World Cup.

Recently, governing bodies poised to send teams to the ‘Festival Of World Cups’ – students, women, armed forces, wheelchair etc, were contacted by the organisers

Each participant was going to have to find extra funds because various hoped-for revenue sources had not eventuated.

Meanwhile, Suncorp Stadium was awarded the final with little or no fanfare.

While on the World Cup, it’s a shame Cook Islands won’t be involved, purely from a playing talent point of view.

Brad Takairangi, Jordan Rapana, Tepai Meoroa and Zeb Taia have all been among the season’s top performers in the NRL.

But, as you may have anticipated, Rapana and Taia have already declared their intention to try to make the New Zealand side.

Filed for:RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

Castle: Is Origin A Defacto Salary Cap?

Canterbury - Raelene CastleBy STEVE MASCORD

 CANTERBURY chief executive Raelene Castle has blasted the 11th hour call-up of Josh Morris as “not very reasonable” and suggested split rounds now operate as a de facto salary cap.

Nineteen-year-old Reimis Smith – with an entire match the day before under his belt – had to drive to Canberra to make his debut on Sunday when Blues centre Josh Dugan pulled himself out of last night’s opening interstate match due to an elbow complaint.

 “The etiquette in place at the moment is we just have to release our players for Kangaroos and Origin,” Castle tells League Week.

“But in reality, when you’re running a professional competition, to expect us to do that on the morning of a game when we’re 300 km away and our NSW Cup team has played yesterday is not very reasonable.

“If we played (Saturday), they would still have called J Moz up (Sunday).

“The rules need to be documented, they need to be looked at and thought about … the impacts for all parts of the competition, not just Origin.”

Smith may now go doing in league history as the man who ended an era when the game punished clubs in order to keep Origin in a commercial advantageous television time slot.

“The three teams who have lost the most players all lost this weekend,” Castle said.

“The Broncos, the Cowboys and the Bulldogs – five, five and three (players), four for us on the morning, have all lost.

“So you’ve got to question: is this another form of salary capping? The teams that don’t have many players involved in Origin end up with points they may not have otherwise got.

“You’ve got to question the impact for the credibility of the NRL.

“Origin’s amazing. Everyone knows that. Commercially it’s really beneficial. We all know that. But when you look at the actually integrity and credibility of the NRL competition over 26 weeks, you have to question whether this is the right outcome.”

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Interstate football was put in midweek some 45 years ago to minimise impact on clubs. With the advent of Origin, it was discovered to be a ratings bonanza.

By the late eighties, players were being stood down from the previous weekend’s club round – defeating the entire purpose of the games being played on Wednesdays in the first place.

“Maybe we have (re-examined it) but not enough,” said Castle. “The fact is we’ve tried to under the new TV deal in 2018.

“But I think we’ve got to ask the question again.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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