Barba Now The ‘Complete Footballer’ Says Ennis

Barba, BenBy STEVE MASCORD

THE star of the 2012 season who crashed and burned is now back as a “complete footballer”, according to a man who’s had a front row seat all along

Cronulla fullback Ben Barba was Dally M medallist as Canterbury fullback that year, only for off-field dramas to see him leave the club the following year.

A foray into the halves and a double change of clubs followed for Barba, who seemed to have permanently lost his way in the ruthless world of professional sports.

But in a 62-0 belting of Newcastle on Sunday, no-one was left in any doubt of the triple B headine – Ben Barba is Back.

“Benny’s been super slick since the start of the year,” said his team-mate then and now, Michael Ennis.

“He’s in a great space. Everyone will always look at 2012 in terms of that run that he had. But in terms of being the complete footballer, he’s taken massive leaps this year.

“He was brilliant back then too. That was as good as any fullback I’ve ever played with, what he did in 2012. But what he’s doing with our side both with the ball and more importantly without it, he’s evolved. He’s developed heaps in the last three years

“He’s in a good place and he’s playing some enormous footy for us.”

Ennis says it trying to recapture his attacking brilliance was the easy route for Barba, now 26.

“When you have a year like he did in 2012, everyone spoke about his attack and his line-breaks and his tries and the highlights reels,” the rake said.

World Cup ebay“When he went through those hard periods at the Broncos and the early part of last year with the five-eighth trial, you always try to attack well to get your confidence back.

“It’s what he’s done off the ball … you see his attack start to flow and his confidence start to come again. He’s a good player.”

Despite scoring 11 tries on Sunday, Ennis revealed: “It wasn’t until (Saturday) when we even worked on our attack.

“It’s been all about our defence this week because Flanno (coach Shane Flanagan) thought after a week and a half away from each other it’s an area where we could have taken our foot off the pedal.

“You look at the Broncos and the Cowboys and and their last 18 months that they’ve had and then the Storm have been doing this for quite some time– we’re just behind them.

“We’re just doing our thing and keeping it low key.”

As a veteran of 20 first grade games for the Knights, Ennis felt desperately sorry for his opposition.

“In those games, you sometimes get away from the opposition,” he said.

“I felt a bit sorry for them in the sense that it goes from 16, 18 to 50 really quick sometimes when the momentum’s not with you.

“As painful as it will be, they’ll get some real good experience from it.

“It’s hard to pull back. They’ve got some real good players up here, real good young kids who are going to be players of the future.

“I like what Browny (coach Nathan Brown) is doing up here. I think in the coming years they’re going to be a good side. It’s just hard at the moment.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
World Cup ebay

The A-List: MICHAEL MORGAN (North Queensland, Queensland & Australia)

RLW Michael MorganBy STEVE MASCORD

“YOU mean THE tackle?” Michael Morgan says, raising an eyebrow.

A-List has just pointed out to the 24-year-old Townsvillian that in sports, you can trade on one thing for your entire life. Exhibit A: Scott Sattler. Exhibit B: the 2003 grand final.

Michael Morgan hasn’t thought about that way before. He hasn’t thought about the impact of setting up the try that tied the greatest grand final of all time, three quarters of a year ago.

He insists it hasn’t changed his life. Yet.

“No, not at all. I think because of the way I see it … I don’t see it at all as I threw the pass to win the grand final. I don’t look at it like that,” he says, before the Cowboys begin training on a typically warm and humid NQ afternoon.

“I genuinely believe that I got extremely lucky and there were other things in the game that I didn’t do that I should’ve. So no, I don’t think it’s changed my life at all. It’s just … look, it’s a very proud moment, one that I will remember for a long time and I’m stoked it happened but ….”

When you retire, though, it could become the focus of every interaction you have with the outside world … just like Satts.

“… no, no, I haven’t thought about that. Yes, I still get asked about it a lot but I think to me it feels like it was only just last year so … we’re still the premiers from the year before.

“People still bring up a bit of last year because it’s early in the season. I think that’s the only reason … I only see it that way.”

You know how you can tell a smart person sometimes by the sparkle in their eye? Michael Morgan – nearing 100 games for the Cowboys, a Queensland State of Origin player – is one of those people.

He’s so steeped in north Queensland rugby league that his grandfather knew Arch Foley, after whom the Foley Shield was named. But he’s still managed the perspective to understand it’s just a game, weekend entertainment for the masses.

“I’d like to think I’ve been pretty level headed, even before,” he nods. “I think it’s a good thing, growing up around my mates and that.

“I went to Iggy (Ignatius) Park here. If you did anything that was cocky or anything like that, you couldn’t get away with it. I was never in a group of friends where that was acceptable.”

That is not to say he hasn’t taken his own career seriously. And the early NRL days, he is happy to admit, were tough. Quite tough, actually.

“When I debuted and first played first grade, that was probably the hardest thing for me,” he says, when I ask about the confidence to speak up as a playmaker.

“One, playing in the halves when I was 18, filling in for Johnno (Johnathan Thurston) for my first game. And then having guys like Mango (Matt Bowen), Luke O’Donnell, Willle Mason. As an 18-year-old I didn’t find I had the authority as a half to tell them what to do.

“I never talked enough. I suppose I wasn’t confident enough. I suppose I was still overawed at the whole situation.

“My debut game, like I said, I filled in for Johnno. It was a Monday night game and I found out the Monday before that I was going to be playing so it was a long week. All the hype about filling in for JT and being from here … there was a lot of talk.

“But I probably struggled with the physicality of it the most. I played four games that year but my body after every game was wrecked. I’d never played against men before. I’d never played local A-grade even. I played high school footy and straight into 20s so my first A-grade game was NRL. So my body at 18, I don’t think was ready. That was the biggest challenge for me.”

World Cup ebay
How did it change? Forget all the clichés about maturity and advice from older players. It changed by getting the hell out of the halves.

“I think the year I had at fullback (did it). I think I played 13 games in 2012, that was the most I’d played in a season before 2014 when I went to fullback.

“Moving away from the halves, I didn’t feel like I needed to talk and organise. I didn’t need to be the dominant voice or anything like that. I’d played in the halves with Johnno before but he’s a very dominant player and at times I wasn’t sure how to play with him, as much.

“So when I went to fullback I could follow him, play off the back of him. I wasn’t trying to … not compete for the ball but if there was something on, I wouldn’t have the confidence to call for it I suppose because if he wants the ball he gets it. I didn’t want to call it and stuff up.

“The year at fullback just allowed me to see the game from a different angle and pop up where I could. It was a bit more of a free reign without having to organise and talk. I could worry about myself more than anything and my own role.

“I think that was what made me start to get more comfortable and build into it better.”

Other things contributed to the player we have now, the man who many think would keep Anthony Milford out of the Queensland squad even if he was available. Not all of them were good things.

Like the loss of good friend Alex Elisala to suicide.

“Everything with Alex was extremely hard,” he said, when we finally get around to the topic. “But I think, as well, a lot of people talk about depression they only talk about suicide. Yes, its awful but there’s a lot of different types of depression that people don’t know about so to learn more about the different types of it, knowing that there’s not just one single form of depression, (is important).

“I suppose I grew from it as a person and that kind of thing and I’m just glad I can be in a position where I can help, maybe, one person.”

Back back to where we started. What fascinates me, and probably you if you contemplate it, is doing something so momentous that it changes lives. That literally millions of set of eyes can be on you when you performed a reflex action that will go on to define your life.

The vast majority of us will never experience it. I have to ask again: how does it feel?

“I haven’t actually thought about it. I thought if it didn’t happen, we would have lost because if I get tackled there or we have a go at a kick and it doesn’t come off then it’s ‘game over’ right there.

“But honestly the most I’ve thought, or what I’ve thought, is that we were very lucky because it was just a lucky play, I suppose, the way it all came off.

“I haven’t thought about it in that way, of how many people would have watched it and …

when you think about it like that, I suppose it is a bit. There’s a lot of people just at the game but I suppose with the TV, how much it was on TV, and been played since … it’s pretty crazy really.

“In a way, I don’t know if I’m answering it the way you want me to, but for that week or even months after the actual game, when the trophy went around, we were able to give people a lot of happiness – just from winning that game.

“One game brought so many people so much happiness.

“I think for that period of time, people forgot about their problems – whether it is not having work, struggling financially …

“To know we could actually make a difference in people’s lives like that and give them happiness from winning a football game … to know you’ve, by playing well and working as hard as we all did last year, made people we’ve never met extremely happy for a long period of time…..

“Even now, people still talk to you about the game and where they were for it, what they were doing, how they reacted, who they were with and everyone’s got their own story now of where they were when the Cowboys won their first premiership.

“It feels pretty special to have done that.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
World Cup ebay

Rankin: I Could Have Been Washed Up At 21

Rankin, JordanBy STEVE MASCORD
BOOM Wests Tigers winger Jordan Rankin says he could have been washed up barely into his 20s if not for a career-saving two-year stint with Hull.
In 2008, Rankin became the third youngest debutant in Australian first class rugby league history when he made his debut for Gold Coast at the age of 16 years and 238 days.
But he tells League Week he couldn’t handle the resultant pressure and was facing the possibility his NRL career was over before it began.
“It was a double-edged sword,” says Rankin, now 24.
“There was a lot of expectation on a kid. I was still in year 11 at school when I debuted and … mate, I didn’t live up to it. I didn’t live up to those standards people had set for me.
“I had a lot of growing up to do, maturity wise, with the way I played rugby league.
“To thrust a kid in at that age, there’s only a select few who will be able to handle it. I have no doubt that 18 is a good age now for kids (to make their debut).
“It’s not so much physically ready. It’s the mental side of the game that people have lacked in the past and it’s something I lacked as well, just having to deal with the media and how to shut that out.”
The call from Humberside came when he was at his lowest.
World Cup ebay
“Hull definitely saved my career,” he said. “They instilled so much confidence in what I can do.
“It was a decision I had to make pretty quickly while I was at the Titans. It’s a place I wasn’t getting a run, playing first grade and it was messing with my confidence a bit, playing Queensland Cup and messing with my confidence.
“I just thought it was a good opportunity to go over there and start afresh where no-one knew who I was. Hull … hadn’t even seen me play in person, they’d only seen me play on tape.”
“The two years I had in England matured me as a kid and all the media I had as a young kid, I learned to deal with that a little nit better as well.”Rankin, who scored two tries in the 30-22 win over South Sydney on Thursday, reckons the lessons he learned as an over-hyped rookie have helped him deal with the scorn heaped upon Wests Tigers during a six-match losing streak.
“You have the people close to you whose opinions mean more to you and people who don’t know you from a bar of soap and the people who judge you from the grandstands are the ones you don’t really need to listen to,” he says.
“You try to stay away from the people who are negative about how you play and what you bring to a team.”
And while he’s making a go of it on the flanks, Rankin doesn’t want coach Jason Taylor to forget it’s not the only string to his bow.
“I’d never say never to playing in the halves again or playing fullback again,” he said. “It’s definitely the two positions I feel more comfortable in.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
World Cup ebay

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.

World Cup ebay
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
World Cup ebay

Are St George Illawarra the fittest team in the NRL?

By STEVE MASCORD

“The fittest side in the comp” – that’s the mantra that St George Illawarra players use when the blow torch is applied to them, it’s been revealed.

The Dragons’ world look like it had fallen in on them when Jarrod Croker scored with three minutes left in regulation time at Jubilee Oval last Thursday after they had dominated the clash with Canberra.

But in a glimpse inside the joint venture’s game day mentality, English forward Mike Cooper tells League Week: “It goes back to our fitness. We always think we’re a fit side and that was a real test for us.

“We talked about it quite a lot, about backing ourselves late on in games. Our second half performances have been really poor so far this year.

“We just had to stay tight and be composed. We’ve got a lot of experience in the side and we didn’t really panic. It was a bit of a shock to me that we went level. We probably should have closed the game our really … learning curve.

“We all felt pretty good at that period of time. We certainly put the work in in the pre-season and we feel like we’re the fittest side in the the comp. We proved that last year. We would out-grind teams and beat them on fitness and grit.

World Cup ebay
“There was evidence of that (against Canberra), that we’re getting back to that sort of form.”

The Dragons recovered from Croker’s match-levelling score to win in extra time, thanks to an intercept from Scotland Four Nations hopeful Euan Aitken.

Captain Gareth Widdop confirms Paul McGregor’s men draw heavily on their torturous pre-season.

“We certainly back ourselves with our fitness and effort,” the five-eighth says.

“Last week we let ourselves down. It was a big challenge there, going to 12-all in that situation. You’ve just got to remain positive in what you do and that’s what we tried to do. With a bit of luck, we managed to get a win.”

One sour note was an overtime penalty for running a “wall” during extra time – two weeks after Raiders coach Ricky Stuart complained Penrith’s use of the tactic cost his side two competition points.

“To be honest I was more focused on taking the field goal,” says Widdop. “I didn’t really know what the penalty was for. I was just trying to get back onside.

“It’s a hard one. As long as they’re consistent with the ruling on it, that’s all that matters.”

Filed for:  RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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.”
World Cup ebay

BONDI BEAT: April 2016

By STEVE MASCORDRLW April 2016

THE clubs may not like it but do we now have enough English players in the NRL to revive a mid-season Test?

There is absolutely no reason why the Kiwis should not play while Origin is on, aside from the fact clubs would declare war if they had to stand down their New Zealanders along with their Maroons and Blues.

Even without the stand-down, though, the Test could be played on a Friday in the May split round.

The problem in the past has been opposition. But there is now enough Englishmen to need only a handful of others to take the long flight Down Under.

Of course, there is ideological issue of handing out England shirts to people who may not have earned it yet.

But as colleague Brad Walter pointed out to me after we watched Sam Burgess’ competitive return in round one, you could have a Great Britain selection that includes Ireland’s Tyrone McCarthy and any number of Scotland ‘heritage players’ such as Kane Linnett and Lachlan Coote.

What do you think?

WHAT about ‘The Bunker’, then?

Firstly, it looks like nothing so much as Mission Control at Cape Canaveral. It’s a real shame Chris Houston has left for Super League as I’d love to hear them say “we have a problem, Houston”.

I am someone who is extremely cynical about adding more apparatuses to officiating when you are always going to get human error.

But having said all that, I like what I’ve seen so far. It’s an improvement. And it puts the NRL even further ahead of Super League.

.

MANY readers will be of the opinion that sport’s borders are set in stone and expansionary efforts by rugby league are bound to fail.

Upon my return to Oz, I saw a convincing rebuttal of that argument in the UFC. Walking to Allianz Stadum for South Sydney-Sydney Roosters, I overheard a lad being told he was looking forward to having a few friends around for a fight from Las Vegas.

No mention of the 108-year-old derby taking place up the road.

In the UK, darts provide us with an example of a sport that can grow its market share and cultural relevance.

Sadly we don’t seem to have a united strategy at all – or if we do, we don’t have the resources to even consider putting it into practice.

advertise here
.

IN Australia there is a thing in television sports coverage called “fair use provisions”.

This means that any website or television station can post highlights from any sporting event, whether on not they have the rights.

So while the BBC, for instance, will have still photos of soccer matches they do not have rights to, in Oz they would be allowed by law to show video from those games.

That’s why Australian newspapers declined accreditation for the last rugby union World Cup – because the IRB wanted them to sign away those rights. So the reporters just bought tickets and interviewed players at their hotels.

World Cup ebay
What it means in a practical sense for rugby league is that when Chris Sandow kicked that amazing drop goal against Salford, the footage was all over Aussie sites within hours.

One suspects Super League would prefer the fair use provisions were introduced in the UK – the one-pointer on the hooter was a great advert for our game.

.

It’s probably the best rugby league story in the world and it’s going unwritten.

Belgian officials brought some Brussels City Council officials to the World Club Challenge on February 21 and they were so impressed with the sport that are going to sink further resources into promoting it.

Where?

In Molenbeek, a hive of extremist activity and a place where police centred their manhunt after the Paris attacks.

Rugby league has a wonderful record in underprivileged areas of channelling aggression more positively.

I’m hoping to visit Brussels this year to chase up this story.

.

THE round one NRL clash between Wests Tigers and the Warriors was dubbed the Ivan Cleary Cup by one cynic – because he’d be coaching whoever lost.

True to their form in recent seasons, it was the Aucklanders who fell a long way behind. Fought back, but still lost.

Cleary may not have a steady coaching income at the moment but he’s holding the whip hand when it comes to his future employment prospects.

It wouldn’t surprise if Hull KR sounded him out after sacking Chris Chester; even if Cleary went back to the NRL next year he could probably do some good things in East Hull in 2016.

.

WHILE Super League continues with one referee, Down Under we have two in a competition which is planned to be scrapped!

Two referees are in use for televised Under 20s matches and all finals. In round one, because there was only one of these, they threw two whistlers at the Sydney Roosters-South Sydney Holden Cup match, just for practice.

amazonYet this is the last year of the National Youth Competition, which revert to state-based league next year. The NRL still has enough referees to field two in the matches.

Now when we compare this to England … well, lets start with televised under 20s matches and work backwards from there.

And the editor had the hide to ask for 500 words on the biggest differences between rugby league in Australia and in the UK. I could have written 50,000.

.

GREG Inglis walked out of the dressing room at Allianz Stadium in round one with his eye on the prize – the fading sunlight at the end of the tunnel.

GI had already done a media conference and studiously avoided meeting the eyes of any of the waiting media.

Then a young Channel Nine reporter stopped him and directly requested a chat. He stopped, considered the request and eventually agreed.

donate2During those moments when he was giving serious thought to denying the cub reporter, I’d like to think he was considering his Queensland and Australian team-mate Jonathan Thurston.

Thurston has set such a high standard of accessibility over the past 12 months that he has almost shamed his colleagues into arresting the sad decline in co-operation with the media throughout the NRL.

He’s even allowed himself to be photographed at home and while in the UK recently did everything of which he was asked – and more.

JT knows that being in Townsville doesn’t help him when it comes to maintaining his profile and that he needs to go an extra yard to ensure his maximises his post-career employment prospects.

Throw in his game-day interaction with kids and he’s setting a high standard for everyone else.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD