THE WRAP: NRL Finals Week One

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

MY furry colleague at Rugby League Week, the Mole, last week wrote that Greg Inglis was unlikely to play in the World Cup due to his ongoing knee problem.

So when the finals series kicked off on Friday night, a couple of hours before kick-off between South Sydney and Melbourne at ANZ Stadium, I asked the Rabbitohs coach about the situation.

“I get asked that every week,” said Michael Maguire, who your correspondent interviewed pre-game for Triple M.

“To be honest, his knee’s where it needs to be. He got through a full week’s training this week, which is a real positive for us.”

You’ll remember the first week of the 2013 finals for your reasons. Maybe your team won, maybe your team lost, maybe your team is the North Queensland Cowboys which means they should have done the former but ended up doing the latter.

Maybe you’re Matt Cecchin or Henry Perenara, in which case you will never forget the weekend just passed.

Me? I spent the weekend doing a lot of radio; so much so that I still have the vestiges of a headache from wearing headphones for hours on end. So I’m going to do turn this week’s wrap into a kind of Things You May Have Missed – stuff I came across that slipped between the cracks of the daily news cycle.

FRIDAY:

Maguire went on to secure his first win over Melbourne, 20-10.

“We missed the start last time against Melbourne, we missed it against the Roosters,” said Souths utility Chris McQueen said.

Jason Clark suffered a knee injury at training and was in doubt right up to kick-off.

“We had the captain’s run last night and we were pretty confident,” he said, “But we left it right up until the game.”

SATURDAY

While his team-mates celebrated, Todd Carney cut a disconsolate figure as he limped towards the tunnel with a serious hamstring injury after the 20-18 win for Cronulla over North Queensland.

“The leg feels a bit sore,” he told me “It’s a bit disappointing, I can’t soak it up with the boys. I’ll have to do everything possible to get it right for the game.

“I wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t 100 per cent. I did everything I had to do yesterday but obviously it fatigued and it’s gone wrong again.

“It was a sharp pain, like happened a few weeks ago, and it just got worse as the game went on but I couldn’t leave the field.”

Shane Flanagan on Carney: “He hasn’t torn the hamstring, he’s just getting referred pain from his back.”

The Sharks had been unaware of Beau Ryan’s seventh-tackle try. Paul Gallen: “I just found out about it off Ryan Girdler. Sometimes you get things go your way, sometimes you don’t. We’ll take it.

“I suppose the NRL probably thought Melbourne were going to be here but they weren’t. Too everyone’s credit, the Roosters fans and the Manly fans, they turned out to watch us play as well.”

The Cowboys didn’t know either. Antonio Winterstein: “We didn’t have any idea, that’s the first time I’ve heard about it. We can’t do anything about it now. I thought he (Kane Linnett) had it there. The replay showed otherwise.”

Despite the rancour afterwards, Matt Bowen was nothing if not a sportsman. “It is disappointing to go out the way we did but in saying that, full credit to the Sharkies. They wanted it more than we did,” was his remarkable comment.

“It wasn’t meant to be tonight. In saying that, we did a couple of things to hurt (ourselves) in the first half. We can’t do anything about it now. They got the win and they get to play on and we don’t

On his future, Bowen said: “I’ll have to make a decision next week. We’ll see what happens.”

Coach Flanagan’s heart sank when Bowen got the ball with a few seconds left. “He was the one person in the rugby league world I didn’t want to have the ball,” Flanagan said.
A time keeper approached Flanagan while I was waiting to speak to him, to explain the confusion at fulltime over time on the clock.

“They just explained to me it was the clock the referees see on the ground.. The actual referees and time keeper did tell him there was 11 seconds to go. It was just a technical glitch with the game clock that all the fans saw and the players see as well.”

Does he care that the seventh tackle try took the gloss off the victory?

“I do care. It was done earlier. These things happen in our game, it’s human error. The referees, if they made a mistake, they didn’t mean it, I’m sure.

Neil Henry has been painted as a conspiracy theorist but he also said this to me, on the ABC: “No-one goes out to deliberately get the tackle count wrong. But with the number of officials they’ve got, they should get it right.

“I think the refereeing, overall, has improved a bit. We saved a couple of our worst decisions for the big stage.”

The next game was a 4-0 win for the Roosters over Manly – the scoreline from a certain preliminary final in 1992 which this Illawarra fan would rather forget.

“We’ll improve our attack next week but that’s the way we need to be defending at this time of year,” said Roosters five-eighth James Maloney.

All the points were scored by young winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. I asked if he’d ever done that before.

“It’s a first try for me. I’m glad I was able to get the points for the boys.” He then gave this gem of a quote: “We just looked at each other and said ‘this is who we are, this is the game we play’.”

The big worry for Manly fans must be backing up six days after and out-and-out war Geoff Toovey: “We’re fortunate we’re playing the Cronulla Sharks. They had a tough game here today as well, against the Cowboys. Very physical there as well and they played a similar type of football. Hopefully they’re as bumped and bruised as we are.”

I spoke to Roosters coach Trent Robinson after the game and again the next day on ABC’s The Hit-Up

“I grew up watching the eighties games and enjoyed that sort of footy,” he said. “The courage that used to get shown back then, we had to show tonight – along with Manly, We both showed it.

“Both sides should be proud.”

SUNDAY:

On Sunday, Robinson paid tribute to Steve Menzies, whose career ended with Hull’s 14-4 win over Catalan on Friday night.

“It’s a bit like Sonny coming here, my first head coaching gig, I recruited Beaver. He allowed me to coach him. He doesn’t need to stop, the way that he’s still playing.”

Video referees Justin Morgan and Luke Patten were booked as guests before the seventh tackle furore. Asked if video refs are supposed to keep count for the men on the field, Morgan said:  “Yes. That is right. It’s somebody’s role in the box to keep the tackle count during the match for reinforcement and correction. It would have been somebody’s job last night.?

And do you tell the referees about major blunders at halftime?

Morgan: “For me, it’s very similar to coaching. You have to know the individual. You have to know how they’ll take that information on. Some referees will want to know. They’ll want to know that information. They’ll want to know ‘did I get that right?’ ‘Did I get that wrong?’

“Others, you most probably need to be a bit more gentle … most of them, if they ask you the question, they want a straight answer.’

The final guest before I headed out to see Newcastle eliminate Canterbury 22-6 was Parramatta chairman Steve Sharp.

“We’ll have something in the pipeline in the next week, or two maximum, as to who’s going to be our coach,” he said.

Do players joining the club next year have get-out clauses? “In fact, if they don’t want to come to our club, I don’t really want them there. We want people who want to play for the club.”

What about the Bulldogs chasing Jarryd Hayne? “Jarryd’s got a contract with the club which he has just extended for two years. There is no getout clause. Jarryd’s going to be here in 14 and 15 at least.”

Filed for: SMITHYSPEAKS.COM.AU

read on

THE WRAP: NRL Round 26

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
POPULAR culture isn’t just entertainment – it helps us mark the passing of time, it’s a simplified facsimile of life itself.
The music you listened to in your teens, the movie you went to with your partner, the book that changed the way you look at the world – they all act as emotional triggers which, neurologists tell us, are discernible chemical reactions in the brain.
Love, they say, is the memory of a chemical reaction.
Of all the areas of popular culture, sport has an added resonance because it’s seasonal. Our memories of past deeds and disappointments are inextricably linked with sensations of climate and weather.
While movies and music may not evoke the same visceral reactions they did in our teenage years, the ability of sport to imprint itself on our psyche is more resilient – perhaps because it is results-driven, goes away for third of the year and doesn’t just mark the passing of years but of the months and seasons.
When I recall country trial matches, it’s the smell of sizzling sausages, shorts, sunscreen, notepads and motels. As a long-serving reporter, Origin evokes memories of tense media opportunities, the mid-winter chill, mind racing at deadline, competitiveness … and Brisbane nightspots.
And what of the finals, which are upon us this weekend?
For me, it’s Rex Mossop, posing with the then-brand new Winfield Cup before the 1982 grand final. Flags held by promotional girls behind him flapped violently. The gusting wind was so strong it almost blew the trophy off its stand.
That’s what Sydney is like in September. It’s windy and sunny. The finals, for me, are all about wind and sun and the murmur from fans as the gates open and they flood into the wide open spaces of giant stadia.
In September, I was always fascinated by the lower grades, how games which had been played in obscurity for most of the year were suddenly afforded attention and publicity – because they were FINALS. That is a practice which has sadly faded.
One thing which this Saturday’s double-header will give us is something so often under-rated in this country – the chance for fans of more than two clubs to mingle. When only two sides play at a venue, it’s just us and them, winning and losing.
But at a Nines or Sevens tournament, a double header or a Challenge Cup final, ‘us’ is rugby league fans and ‘them’ is everyone else. In that realisation that we have more in common with each other than we have that separates us lies Australian rugby league’s potential to be every bit as culturally important and powerful as Australian Football.
Unlike Australian football, it’s a reality we contemplate often enough. We don’t have time for such esoteric concerns in our brash, busy harbour city, do we?
The finals are driven by anticipation, both conscious and hardwired. The conscious anticipation is of the contest, of glory, of sudden death.
There’s also the anticipation of it all being over soon, of the break in routine that everyone in rugby league looks forward to in October after a long hard slog that is longer, harder and more unremittingly serious than it was for the first 100 years the game was played in this country.
And then there’s a less obvious, almost genetic anticipation that the season brings, especially among those of the age and sex of most rugby league players. How do we put this? “Spring is when a young man’s heart turns to love,” says the old expression.
Testosterone and adrenalin feed each other.
Another saying: without death, life has no meaning.
read on

THE WRAP: NRL Round 25

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

BRISBANE prop Ben Hannant played on with two potentially serious injuries on Friday night in a vain bid to lift the Broncos into the finals.

There are 10 teams still in the running for the play-offs following the penultimate round of the 2013 season, with Brisbane crashing out of contention in a 26-18 defeat to Newcastle at Suncorp Stadium on Friday.

Hannant should be relishing an encounter with former club Canterbury to finish the campaign on Thursday but is in dire doubt after playing 48 minutes against the Knights despite shoulder and hand injuries.

“I hurt my shoulder and then my hand in the first set of six – that’s the way it is,” Hannant tells smithyspeaks.com.au. “I did my AC (joint).

“It’s just frustrating. The effort was there and it’s very disappointing really.

“We worked hard. We put ourselves in a good situation there at halftime, we got someone sent off (Sam Thaiday to the sin bin) and we scrambled well there near fulltime.

“Both teams wanted it and they came through the end better than us.”

The Broncos made a mid-season run towards the finals but ended up missing the play-offs for only the second time in 21 years.

“We always thought we were going to get there,” said Hannant.

“You play the game because you want to be there in the finals. We shot out of the box really well (against Newcastle), started playing some good footy, it’s just disappointing we couldn’t do it for 80 minutes.”

Asked what the Broncos had to do better in 2014, Hannant said: “It’s a tough one. That’s a question for the coach. I think all of us need to be better.”

The other sides to drip out of finals contention over the weekend were Penrith (beaten 34-14 by Canterbury) and Canberra (tonked 50-16 by the Warriors).

Penrith performed much better than many expected this season while Canberra have been hit by multiple dramas, with Blake Ferguson’s on-going problems, Josh Dugan and David Furner’s sackings, Anthony Milford’s release request and the Sandor Earl drugs infraction notice.

Asked if there was a way a club could minimise its changes of being embroiled in such controversies, caretaker coach Andrew Dunemann told this reporter: “I think you’ve got to set a culture and you’ve got to set some standards and you’ve got to maintain them.

“Obviously having a happy work environment as well. That’s the biggest area. You get their respect, you get the happy work environment and they what to do things right.

“…whereas, you know, I don’t think we’ve always been that way and we need to get that way.

“I honestly think that the staff that we’ve got there, and the playing group, when everyone’s fit we’ve got the team to do very well.

read on

THE WRAP: NRL Round 23

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

IF rugby league is good at anything, it’s internal fighting. But if it has a second forte, it’s slang and jargon.
Where else could you have the squirrel grip, the prowler tackle, the grapple tackle, the bomb and the chicken wing?
So when Wayne Bennett accused Melbourne and Sydney Roosters on Sunday of deliberately conceding penalties to buy time, it was instantly too much of a mouthful. It cried out for a slang term.
Your industrious correspondent immediately took to Twitter to find a snappier term for the (alleged) practice. The winner? “Tandying”.
A deliberately conceded penalty is therefore a tandy and someone who deliberately concedes a penalty is a tandier. The problem with the allegation is, of course, that we’ll never know if someone is  Tandying unless we have evidence the coach told him to.
In any case, the Roosters and Melbourne deny employing the practice.
“Wayne’s entitled to his opinion,” said Roosters coach Trent Robinson.
“I think our integrity’s intact as far as the way we play the game. We’ve been very strong in the way we’ve gone into each game. We weren’t happy with that. But it’s not a snapshot of the season.”
Likewise, Melbourne’s Cooper Cronk laughed off the allegation when he fronted the media at Newcastle Beach on Monday Morning.
“No, I’m not sure where that question’s coming from,” Cronk said when asked if his side deliberately conceded penalties. “Wayne’s entitled to his opinion.
“He’s a respected voice of the game but, look, I haven’t been a part of a side what wants to deliberately defend its line any more than we have to. “I think the game is hard enough as it is without making it harder for yourself.”
Cronk had his own criticism of the Knights regarding the illusive spirit of the game – an allegation that they wet the footballs before kick-off. “That may have happened,” he said with a smile

BEST OF ROUND 23: James Maloney’s 10 from 10 kicking performance in Monday Night Football. Doesn’t happen very often. WORST OF ROUND 23: Jeff Lima’s leg twist on Anthony Watmough. Ugly.
WEIRDEST OF ROUND 20: Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin’s claim that no-one is under any pressure inside the Broncos camp. Even though they’re linked with two fullbacks from other clubs and their halves have been told they’re in reserve grade?
WHAT I SAW: Melbourne winger Mahe Fonua arrive in Newcastle from Brisbane by plane just four hours before the game. He was in the programme – but clearly wasn’t playing.
QUOTE OF ROUND 20: “Is this an interview about the game, bro?” Sonny Bill Williams after being asked by Andrew Johns when he was going to make a decision on his future and whether he was going to the World Cup.

THE WRAP: NRL Round 22

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

IN the life of a football fan, there are milestones. Your team wins its first title, you watch a player’s first game and then his last and realise you’ve seen an entire career flash by.

Remember when the Morris twins made you feel old because you remember their father, ‘Slippery’ Steve, in his prime?

Well your correspondent has reached another milestone. And it’s not a pleasant one. There is now a fellow in first grade whose GRANDFATHER I saw play. I am officially ancient.

“There’s been a couple of people say that,” Gold Coast centre Jamie Dowling says after the Titans’ 26-16 win over Canterbury at ANZ Stadium in Monday Night Football.

I am pretty sure I had a page in a scrapbook devoted to John Dowling, the former St George hooker who played Origin for Queensland in 1982.

And I’m pretty sure ‘JD’ signed it at Kogarah one afternoon, after he played alongside my PE teacher Brian Johnson. They were contemporaries of Steve Morris, but somehow first grade rugby league skilled a generation.

As a kid, Jamie knew his pop was pretty special.

“Growing up, footy’s been everything in the family and it’s kept me going in the right direction,” says the 22-year-old centre. “But it also has a bit of pressure.

“Pop coached me from under 11s through to under 26s so he was definitely a big influence on my rugby league.

“(People) would say ‘there’s JD, there’s JD’ and stop and have a chat with him – and me along the way.”

Almost three decades before Greg Inglis, Dowling played State Of Origin for Queensland despite growing up in Murwillumbah.

“Pop was born and bred down in Murwillumbah and put on the Maroon jersey,” says Jamie. “I’m qualified as Queenslander to but I was born and raised in Kogarah so I’m a bit of the same situation.

“I moved up to Queensland when I was 10 years old and all my footy from there on has been in Queensland.”

He says a medial ligament suffered in the MNF win won’t keep him out of Saturday’s big derby against North Queensland. “It’s just a medial,” he says.

Football’s got a nasty way of reminding us of the passage of time, even though sometimes its routine and cadence can trick us into believing nothing changes.

After winger Jordan Drew made a tryscoring debut for Brisbane on Sunday, coach Anthony Griffin said: “I remember taking him to some academy sessions when he was 13 years old in Toowoomba.

read on

THE WRAP: NRL round 21

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
THERE were maybe 50 photos, flashed up on the screen the way they do things at funerals these days.
The priest, father Frank O’Dea, had done a good job of setting the tone as a “celebration”, telling members of the Brisbane congregation that they were barred from praying for a NSW victory in next year’s State of Orgiin series.
The pictures were happy ones; Graham Murray with the pre-season challenge trophy he won with Illawarra, on vacation in Europe as a 20-something, next to a fresh-faced Mark Geyer celebrating a lower grade premiership at Penrith, laughing at NSW Origin training.
But right in the middle there was a frame depicting two hands. One was Murray’s with a hospital nametag visible, the other belonged to his wife Amanda.
The scope of this column has always been fairly broad. To write about anything other than the funeral of Graham Murray, at St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Bulimba on Monday at 11am, just didn’t feel right this week.
The photo was on the screen for only a second but there was a gasp from those who recognised it for what it was. Just a minute earlier, Murray’s 19-year-old daughter Cara had first read a tribute from her mother and then her own eulogy.
To quote either here would serve no purpose. They were nothing less than gut wrenching. Murray had been just 58 when heart problems took his life less than a week earlier.
There wasn’t much to celebrate.
The jerseys of many of the teams in which he had been involved had been laid on his coffin at the start of the service, held on a brilliantly sunny day in Brisbane’s east.
Matt Parish had a Balmain jersey, Tim Maddison a Hunter Mariners shirt, Ronny Palmer the Roosters, Royce Simmons NSW, Darryl Brohman Penrith, John Cross Illawarra, Marc Glanville Leeds, etc, etc.
I’ll list some other people I saw there: Brad Godden, Gary Roberts, Robbie McCormack, John Grant, Wayne Heming, Tom Raudonikis, Laurie Daley, Steve Gillis, Denis Fitzgerald, Geoff Carr, Johnathan Thurston, Frank Stanton, Jonathan Crowe, Paul McGregor, David Riolo, Kelly Eagan, Dean Ritchie, Zane Bojack, Peter Psaltis, Greg Davis, Steve Johnson, Shaun Timmins, John Coates, Josh Alston, Ben Davis, Michael Hagan…
Some of those names you may not recognise. They are people I know – players, officials, reporters. There were many other faces I’ve seen from a distance for decades.
But for that hour, whatever it was we did that had brought us into contact with Muzz was irrelevant. Johanathan Thurston wasn’t a football star, Jonathan Crowe wasn’t an ex-iron man, Zane Bojack wasn’t a sideline eye.
We were all just people who knew him, and who he knew.
read on

THE WRAP: Round 20

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

MICHAEL Potter wants Wests Tigers’ halves to play more like Manly pairing Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry Evans.

Potter made the stark comment last night in the wake of a 36-18 loss to the Sea Eagles that ended any mathematical hope the joint venture had of making the finals.

The round 20 defeat marked skipper Robbie Farah’s 200th first grade game and five-eighth Benji Marshall’s final appearance at Campbelltown Stadium.

While Potter insists his first priority over the final six weeks of the regular season is to win every game, he admits planning for the future will also be a consideration. The impact of this on Marshall’s involvement remains to be seen.

“We have some very good young talented players at the club and we have to have one eye on 2014 now. It would be opportune to try and blood a few,” he said.

“I’d like to do that maybe in the next few weeks.”

Potter joined radio commentators Andrew Johns and Peter Sterling in criticising the use of “no look” passes by Wests Tigers players in Monday Night Football.

He said of his attack in the heavy defeat: “They probably didn’t do as much as I wanted of playing short, playing inside, playing through the other team. We tried to be too flamboyant.”

Late last night on radio Triple M, he was asked by Johns if he planned to break down and rebuild Wests Tigers’ attack during the off-season.

“You’re not too far wrong there, Joey,” he said. “I’ve tried to make some subtle changes given the skill set of some of our players but also tried to complement them and try and alter how some of our halves play.

“It hasn’t probably worked out how I’d have liked. Yes, you’re closer than what we were doing tonight.

When asked which opposition halves he would like his own six and seven on, he responded: “Probably the team we played tonight. I’m not sure if they were at their best tonight but certainly Foran and Cherry-Evans, I think they’re fantastic players. They play square, they can play lateral at times and they create space for their outside and inside men and I think they’re a good example.”

The victory, in which a try to Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma was the undoubted highlight, elevated Manly to third position, overtaking premiers and world champions Melbourne.

read on