By STEVE MASCORD
THE kerfuffle caused by colleague Robert Burgin’s RLW piece a couple of weeks ago is still rumbling on.
So far, the mooted rebellion of a dozen countries from the RLIF’s rule is still very much underground. There is still at least some possibility many countries will accept the offer of a fully funded tournament next year.
The way Far & Wide sees it, there is a very important line to be drawn.
I openly opposed, for instance, Penrith and Brisbane playing a game in Hawaii two years ago. My reasons were this: NRL players had demanded that spring off and Great Britain had therefore been told to stay home. Also, to be honest I was not sure NRL players on an end-of-season trip could be trusted to do more good than harm in a new territory.
But the main concern was this: expansion is too important to be done on an ad-hoc basis. It’s OK for soccer clubs to organise their pre-season and end-of-season games because soccer is widely played internationally.
Rugby league still is not.
International expansion should be part of an over-all strategy, not done in a piecemeal fashion by the competing teams – and in that respect alone I have sympathy for the RLIF in the decision not to allow Emerging Nations games to go ahead.
The games were initially intended to be curtain-raisers but would the teams involved have actually have fielded true national sides? I doubt every player would have satisfied the grandparent rule and I doubt the best players would have been available. And it was not the best countries; some of them do not have the required domestic activity to be in the World Cup qualifiers and others do.
But the RLIF did not block the tournament because of these concerns. The countries weren’t asked to stop calling the matches a “championship”. It was blocked because the World Cup asked for it to be blocked, citing exclusivity clauses.
The countries involved were allowed to continue planning for several months only to have those plans blocked. That’s why they’re angry. And they are justified in that.
Far & Wide would like to see any replacement tournament next year built into a proper structure. Perhaps a country without the proper bonafides could win a wildcard into the next World Cup qualification (although once there they would have to meet all requirements regarding the team they field).
By STEVE MASCORD
FAR & WIDE’s favourite club, the Toronto Wolfpack, will make their full competitive debut this weekend in the Challenge Cup.
We thought we’d be waiting until March 4 when they take their National League One bow against London Skolars at New River Stadium but now we don’t have to wait that long.
The BBC will live stream the Challenge Cup third round tie against Halifax amateur side Siddal.
Siddal is only about six kilometres from the Wolfpack’s UK base at Brighouse. The match will be shown on the BBC website at 1pm UK time on Saturday.
The Challenge Cup is, of course, rugby league’s most famous knock-out competition and a good Cup run could see the ‘pack take on Super League opposition in later rounds.
IT’S a week now since colleague Robert Burgin brought you the shattering news in these pages that the planned Emerging Nations tournament to be run in conjunction with the World Cup had been blocked.
The most worrying aspect of his commendable double-paged feature from the point of view of Far & Wide is that a number of un-named countries are considering breaking away from the RLIF.
On one hand, I can feel their anger and frustration. But on the other, with rugby league so close to getting recognition from Sport Accord and the IOC, any splintering could be disastrous.
Interestingly, next year is a “rest” springtime for the NRL’s Australian players, which means the international calendar will be relatively sparse. A properly-funded Emerging Nations tournament in Australia (the RLIF have promised some money as compensation for the disaster this year) could be successful, particularly if the RLWC is a hit.
You could even make some of these games worth something – perhaps offer a wildcard entry into the qualifying series for the 2021 tournament.
Hopefully, sanity will prevail but if I had wasted all that time planning something, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and been humiliated in front of sponsors and government officials, I’d be threatening rebellion too.
Twitter @RLWfarandwide Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RLWfarandwide
By STEVE MASCORD
WELCOME to the most exciting season for at least four years for any Far & Wide reader – a World Cup year!
While there may be a little doom and gloom around the domestic campaigns in each hemisphere, if you’re a follower of the international scene you’ll probably have never been so positive about the sport of rugby league.
The Toronto Wolfpack make their competitive debut in Britain’s National League One on March 4, having been hugely impressive in two pre-season matches.
In December their trialists, drawn from North America and the Caribbean, beat Yorkshire amateur club Brighouse Rangers on the bell. The search for talent over the past six months was filmed by a production crew called Last Tackle and will be coming to your screens this year.
Then in January the contracted players were unfortunate not to beat Challenge Cup holders Hull at their home of KC Stadium. More about all that in the accompanying story in this edition of RLW.
But the thing we’re all really focused on is the World Cup at the end of the year. The main tournament’s going to be shown in Australia on Channel Seven and seems to be coming together well, with sponsors being announced all the time.
The side-tournaments have had it a little rougher.
The qualifying process for the Women’s World Cup was, frankly, a bit of a joke. France were kicked out for no reason and – also for no apparently reason – Canada was included. Then we had a Pacific Qualifying Tournament that was so hastily arranged that every country bar one boycotted it.
That’s except the Cook Islands, who showed up and didn’t have to play anyone to get through to the World Cup!
A group of countries who missed out on World Cup qualification, or who aren’t yet ready to take part, decided it might be a good idea to hold an Emerging Nations tournament at the same time. They were soon told there would be absolutely no funding for them.
The RLIF did, however, approve the idea – perhaps in the very reasonable expectation it would never happen because of the expense involved, what with travel, insurance and accommodation.
To everyone’s amazement, the likes of Malta and Greece got things to the point where they were ready to make an announcement. Then – nothing. Far and Wide hears that because there are so few actual World Cup games in Sydney, there is a concern that this side tournament could steal some of its thunder.
Surely they can’t be trying to “un-endorse” something that is clearly good for the game?
ANOTHER big milestone which seems ahead of us this year is rugby league finally being recognised by Sport Accord.
If you live in Australia this might be hard to believe but in most places on earth, rugby league is not legally a separate sport from rugby union.
This means people trying to start the game in a new place can legitimately be stood over by rugby union, with Sol Mokdad’s 13 nights in a Dubai jail a particularly disgraceful example.
League’s recognition has been delayed twice. We’re up again in April.
By 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?
“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.”
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.”
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
By STEVE MASCORD
IN locations as diverse as Bray, Ireland, Prague, Czech Republic and Tokyo, Japan, our international season got underway at the weekend.
In Bray, the Irish Wolfhounds were taking on Malta and the home side ran out 56-10 winners. It was only in the dying stages they ran away with the match, however with the score 22-4 at halftime and 34-10 with 18 minutes to play.
Greece have had a tough year domestically, with the country expelled from the European Federation for a number of administrative irregularities.
But they have shown their fighting qualities with a successful visit to the Japanese capital, winning 74-0.
The game was played on an artificial surface in front of a vocal crowd of a couple of hundred. Australia-based players now proceed to Athens for a number of rugby league events.
In Prague the Czechs went down heavily to the visiting Ukraine, 64-12. The Ukraine won the earlier match 46-6, meaning they will be the side to progress in the World Cup qualifiers.
AN innovative series played over the weekend was the Capitals of Europe Nines in Budapest.
The tournament at Epitok Sports Field featured teams from London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Belgrade, Paris, Vitez and Budapest.
London Warriors took out the event. Hungary are taking part in the Cabramatta Nines next year.
MEETINGS are continuing aimed at having Emerging Nations curtain-raisers for next year’s World Cup in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
There now appears to be an alternate plan under consideration – a seven team Emerging Nations World Cup played in western Sydney.
The matches would all be played between November 20 and 25, with venues to include Pepper Stadium and Campbelltown Stadium.
FORMER international Marc Palanques has joined the RLEF board as a representative of France.
Elsewhere, Wests Tigers’ Daniel Burke, alongside Jordan Grant and James Mirceski are newcomers to Serbia’s squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers – starting with this weekend’s visit to Wales.
Spain have also called up a couple of foreign-based stars, Hull’s Joel Laynez and Leandre Torres of French outfit Palau XIII.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
IN rugby league we like to do things at the last minute. It’s how we roll. But this has got to take the cake.
Jamaica are to tour the UK, playing Ireland at Bray and Wales at Wakefield. When? IN TWO WEEKS!
That’s right, an historic international tour has been announced three weeks before it commences. The games are on October 16 and October 21.
It will be the first international at Belle Vue since 1909.
In other international action recently, the Czech Republic beat Norway 12-6 in Krupka.
The Czechs scored unconverted tries to Petr Šedina, Petr Fanda and Jan Howard with centre Henning Jørgensen posting the visitors’ touchdown.
Meanwhile, Serbia warmed up for the coming World Cup qualifiers by beating Spain 64-4 in Valencia.
There is also an Under 21s series between Lebanon and Serbia underway, with the Cedars winning game two 22-6.
WELSH language TV station S4C is to show live the Dragons’ World Cup qualifier against Serbia on October 15 from Parc Stebonheath in Llanelli.
It’s the first time the national side has featured in a live broadcast on the station since the heady days of the 1995 World Cup, when their semi-final against England was played before a well-populated Old Trafford with thousands
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
EUROPEAN Countries are getting ready for the final stage of World Cup qualifiers, with the matches played in the coming weeks.
Pool A includes Wales, Italy and Serbia while Pool B comprises Ireland, Spain and Russia. The top two in each group automatically qualifies for Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with second in each playing off for the final berth.
The tournament kicks off on October 15 at Moscow’s Fili Stadium, when the host country takes on Spain.
Of the six teams involved, Spain and Russia would be regarded as the outsiders.
THE United States Rugby League is again making a push towards the Wesr Coast.
Jacksonville Axemen founder and Floridian league pioneer Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland recently reached out to interested parties about getting a competition up and running.
He received quite a response.
It’s to be hoped those involved in California previously, such as Zane Hirtzell, Col Manners and Ben Everill can be involved.
We’ll keep you posted.
SINCE our last column, we had the great announcement that the Women’s World Cup would be run concurrently with the men’s tournament next year.
And while Sydney controversially missed out on most of the men’s tournament, Wooloware’s Southern Cross Stadium will host the pool matches and finals.
The final itself will be played at Suncorp Stadium on December 2, the same day as the men’s final.
It’s a feather in the cap of RLWC CEO Andrew Hill that he was able to mend bridges between the tournament organising committee and the NSW government by attracting funding.
One can only assume the bridges were burned by former boss CEO, given that the government offered the men’s tournament no funding at all.
The US is playing Canada on October 1 at Wilmington, Delaware, and F&W will be there!
THE RLEF is continuing to rebuild rugby league in Greece. It recently conducted match official training there, accrediting the country’s first female referee, Zoe Valassa.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK