Sandow Coy On NRL Return

By STEVE MASCORD
CHRIS Sandow says the quality of his football will determine whether he returns to the NRL when his Warrington contract expires at the end of next year.
The former Parramatta no.7 is one game away from a Challenge Cup final at Wembley after the Wolves’ 20-18 success on Friday night at Halliwell Jones Stadium and says he’s enjoying the attack-oriented Super League.
“We can throw the footy around a bit more over here – that’s what Smithy (coach Tony Smith) wants us to do, use the ball,” Sandow tells League Week. “But we’ve just got to do it at the right time.
“The hamstring injury set me back. I did everything to come back and I’m feeling really good about myself. But it always takes time to come back after something like that. A hamstring, that’s a big injury.
“I just progress each week at training.”
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Parramatta have been embroiled in in-fighting, a salary cap scandal and the loss of star signing Kieran Foran since his mid-season departure in 2015.
“I still keep in contact with some of the boys back home but I’m over here and I’ve got to worry about my team here,” Sandow said. “I’ve got to keep progressing and winning games for Warrington.
“I’ve still got some good mates back home in both (Parramatta and South Sydney) and I wish them all the best. I moved over here to continue my dream of playing rugby league and I’m enjoying it.”
Could he be rejoining those mates in 2018? “I’m here til next year. I’ll let my footy do the talking. The club’s been really good to me so hopefully we can work something out, the club and my manager.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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The A-List: FRANK PRITCHARD (Hull, New Zealand & Samoa)

Pritchard, FrankBy STEVE MASCORD

“WHEN he walked into training, the session stopped,” Hull coach Lee Radford says. “That doesn’t happen for me, I can’t do that.”

It’s early in the season. The wind howls in off the North Sea. It’s pretty much dark by 5.30pm. Not far from the front door of Hull FC’s striking KC Stadium, past a chippy more battered than anything it sells, boarded up shops and convenience stores with reinforced glass, there are what’s known in England as Estate housing.

Outsiders use words like “bleak” and “grim” to describe Hull. But for Frank Pritchard, posing for photos with a few lingering fans in the cold, it’s not foreign. Not at all.

“We were brought up in housing commission, out west in Campbelltown, everyone waiting for hand-me-downs,” ‘Frank The Tank’ tells A-list, in a corridor outside the KC’s media room.

It wasn’t just the Airlie Birds players who took an instant shine to Pritchard, as Radford recounted. Fans immediately recognised him as one of their own. “Super Frank, Super Frank. Super Frankie Pritchard” they chanted during a pre-season derby against reviled Hull KR, in which he set up a try with his first touch.

Frank is now 32. While the road from humble beginnings to success  is what rugby league is made of, the former New Zealand and Samoa international hasn’t taken the most direct route.

Along with being blessed with size and speed and power and delicate hands, Frank has always had something which coaches increasingly see as a liability – a personality.

In 2006 alone, this correspondent can remember quoting him, while at Penrith, as saying he was sick of playing for peanuts, that Karmichael Hunt would be made to regret choosing Australia over New Zealand (Hunt was smashed in the first tackle of the Anzac Test) and that Melbourne’s Ian Donnelly had eye gouged him.

The move to Canterbury in 2011 seems to have made Frank more circumspect. It’s easy to imagine him being gagged by a famously inward-looking club. He argues not.

“It was just growing as a player,” he says, giggling a little at his early utterances.  “I was a bit immature then, I didn’t know how to handle the media and all that stuff. I could have been a bit more mature with my words, thought before I spoke. I could have chosen better words to use at the time.

“At the time, I was 21 and coming off contract and I had all the clubs chasing me. It’s overwhelming but you’ve got to just keep your feet on the ground.”

On the field, there have always been suggestions Pritchard could have done more, become more. Now, he played well over 200 first grade games and 30 Tests, but….

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“On the field, early in my career, I could have been a lot more dominant instead of just sitting back, waiting for something to happen, waiting for the other player to do something.

“I got to the Bulldogs matured a lot, let the game grow a bit. It was good to play around those guys – Mick Ennis, James Graham and that who are dominant blokes in their own right.”

But can some coaches get more “out” of Frankie than others, as commentators have suggested? Yes, he admits. And Des Hasler is one of those men.

“There’re some coaches that you learn to go that extra mile for,” he answers

 “Just a lot of belief in myself … I was out at Penrith there, had a few good games here and there at Canterbury it was c confidence builder. I got to a club that had a winning culture and it just rubs off on you when everyone is willing to win.

“Dessy’s a mastermind, he’s a magician. During his time there, he’ll get one. I wish I could have won a premiership in my time there, with Mick Ennis and the rest of the boys.”

And of all Pritchard’s seasons at Canterbury, 2013 was the most problematic. Perhaps one day, a book will be written about how the protracted departure of the previous year’s Dally M medallist, Ben Barba, tore the club apart.

“We had a lot of in-house drama there with the Benny Barba saga and stuff like that,” he says, as fellow reporters grow impatient waiting for us to finish.

“Things like that were out of our control. There was stuff like that that shouldn’t affect a team, which it did.

“We made the eight and then we lost the first game of the finals series. It was a bit of a shock and Des blew us up at the Leagues Club, after that game. He blew us up. So he should. He said not enough of the boys wanted to bleed for their brothers. Thirteen wasn’t a good year.”

It was at the end of 2014, during the Four Nations, that Pritchard first heard that Canterbury might be willing to release him early. First it was Catalans, then Salford, and the Warriors posted an 11th hour bid after he had agreed to terms at Hull.

“I gave the club my word …,” he explains, when asked if it was an offer he considered. “I’ve come over here to do a job so the moment I get comfortable, I need someone to kick me in the arse.”

He likes Hull and Hull likes him. “Rough streets” aren’t just a cliché for Frank. In 2007, his brother Tom was stabbed in the heart as they each tried to protect their sister in Penrith.

“I almost lost my brother and two of my relos,” he says. “I come from a family that are big believers in Christ and faith had its role. My brother got another life.”

And so the circle is about to be completed. Football is many things but amid the gossip and adulation we often forget it is a way out for many families, a way to make things better from one generation to the next.

 “Rugby league has helped my family financially, it’s given them a better start in life,” Frank reflects. “I was able to help my family get ahead.

“To every kid out there looking to play footy, it’s a great job. You get to travel and if you’re smart with your money, you can invest it and buy a couple of houses.

“Football’s been great to me.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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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.
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“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
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Rugby League’s Resolutions For 2016

ResolutionsBy STEVE MASCORD
WHEN News Corporation gave up its first and last rights over NRL satellite TV, we heard the expression that rugby league was “in control of its own destiny”.
The decision to surrender those rights supposedly cost Rupert Murdoch’s righthand man in Australia, Kim Williams, his job.
We had heard the same thing when News stopped being a half-owner of the game in Australia.
Yet we still had games being shown on delay, in low definition, on Channel Nine. We still had the Fox Sunday games kicking off at 2pm so they could be over before Nine’s delayed telecast started at four.
It didn’t feel like rugby league was in charge of much at all. At least not the NRL, which still seemed to be run for the sake of the broadcasters.
In England, the recent Baskerville Shield series was a success with good crowds – but the days of three Tests being played at Wembley, Old Trafford and Elland Road seem long gone.
With new streaming opportunities, British rugby league also believes it has “control of its own destiny”. But what does that actually mean?
Put another way, if you were rugby league, what would your New Years Resolutions be? Let’s have a shot.
A WORLD NINES CIRCUIT
IT was interesting that the recent RLIF strategic plan, ‘World Rugby Nines’ got a Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 09.24.13mention. Given that rugby union don’t play nine-a-side, perhaps we are about to make an attempt to reclaim that word that makes up half of our name. Semantics aside, we’ve now been talking about an off-season circuit for long enough to have acted upon it. The blueprint is already there – rugby union sevens. We use second tier players and those who are recently retired or off-contract. The developing nations pick their best and the games are therefore competitive. I am sure Duco Events, the smart people behind the NRL Nines, would love to be involved. Maybe the first year there are only two or three events – Abu Dhabi, Perth and Las Vegas – but it builds. And the beauty of it is that we use our other properties to leverage nines carnivals “You want an NRL match? An Origin? Let’s see how you go with a Nines tournament first”. As Hot Chocolate said, everyone’s a winner!

GIVE THE RLIF MORE AUTHORITY
THE appointment of the RLIF’s first full-time CEO was another milestone for the game – and we can’t expect miracles from David Collier overnight. But the spectacle of Super League CEO Blake Solly trying to get the first Anglo-New Zealand Test on Australian television a few hours before kick-off, and the feudal nature of refereeing appointments for those games, were rather unedifying. There are two countries with power in international rugby league – Australia and Britain. And if the Australians have little appetite for that side of the game, then there is a danger of the RLIF office being dominated by the country in which it resides. A real RLIF with teeth would be able to censure the RFL, something which is hard to imagine under current circumstances. Get rid of bilateral Test series completely. Have them run by the RLIF, with profits passed onto the countries involved as required. We need something more than a front for government funding.

FIX THE NEW END-OF-SEASON SCHEDULE
JAMES Lowes complained that The Qualifiers put too much pressure on his part-time players in one game but isn’t that what professional sport is all about? Most of our leagues worldwide have a final rather than handing out trophies on a first-past-the-post basis. The real problem with the new system in the UK in 2015 was that clubs were able to stockpile their teams at the end of the season, employing the same degree of cynicism that always swarmed around promotion and relegation like flies at a litter bin. The Super League teams absolutely should not get stronger when they are about to play opposition that was already spending less money. You would not be able to sign a whole new squad of players for the NRL semi-finals, would you? The bottom of the top division was also a little ho-hum for the tail end of the season, wasn’t it? Solutions on a postcard, please.

A CEASE-FIRE BETWEEN PLAYERS AND AUSTRALIAN AUTHORITIES
THREATS of awards night boycotts and even industrial action are almost annual events these days in Australia, where players complain they are overworked. Never mind that those in Super League play 10 more games a year. The NRL agreed to a 25-game schedule, still with five-day turnarounds, without consulting them and now the RLPA has hired a high-powered AFL man as its new CEO. In Australia, rugby league is a grab for cash. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is … well, it’s not an agreement at all. When the NRL tried to mandate a 30-game season for all players, the players mocked Shane Richardson for trying to help them. A few months later, they’re screaming the house down because the season’s too long. Any cease-fire is certain to be temporary.

SEPARATE ORIGIN AUSTRALIAN SELECTION FROM ORIGIN
THE old school coaches and administrators Down Under are scared. While many other attempts to modernise and streamline the competition structures and representative programme have been greeted with enthusiasm, the simple measure of not requiring all Origin players to commit themselves to Australia has been greeted like it’s a heresy. It works like this: the RLIF does not recognise State of Origin in any way. It’s only Australia that requires dual-eligible players like Aquila Uate, James Tamou and Aiden Guerra to swear allegiance to the green and gold before they don maroon or blue. This allows Australia to retain players using the $30,000 per game appearance fee. You cannot play Origin unless you lived in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13 but international selection criteria, across all sports, are far less stringent. The solution is simple: let Origin players represent any (maybe just tier two) country for which they properly qualify. Those who fear this either don’t understand it or want Australia to have an unfair leg-up.

SUPER LEAGUE SHOULD PUSH INTO THE AUSTRALIAN MARKET
BETWEEN 20,000 and 40,000 people get up at 5am in Australia to watch Super League. The vast majority of them know nothing about this magazine. They don’t know who Blake Solly is. They have no idea there are podcasts, radio programmes and sponsors of Super League trying to reach them. While the denizens of Salford Quays struggle to get national mainstream media attention – the midweek papers are increasingly devoid of rugby league – there is an insatiable hunger for the game Down Under. The World Cup ebaymost gambled-upon Super League game of the year is the 1pm match on Magic Weekend – because Australian fans have just finished watching Super Saturday on Fox. Super League should play more matches in this time slot and work more closely with their Fox in Australia so the matches are mentioned during NRL broadcasts and other rugby league programmes are not put up in competition with them. Super League should open an office in Sydney and Super League clubs could even sell perimeter advertising to Australian companies, as happens in soccer with overseas sponsors.

STAND UP TO OTHER SPORTS
WE’VE been warning for as long as we can remember that if rugby league did not get off its backside it would be swamped by other sports. When Sam Burgess can walk out and try international rugby union on for size, when the Dally M medallist is happy to train with an NFL team rather than play our sport, when Sonny Bill Williams can go from Allianz Stadium to Soldier Field and Twickenham in a matter of weeks, when Tom Burgess can trial for an NFL contract while he is under contract with South Sydney, you know the warning has come true. We are, globally, second division and trying to avoid further relegation. We need to stand up for ourselves in places like Dubai, where the local rugby union authorities want to run league comps and – so far – the RLIF seems to be appeasing them. We’re under siege. The barricades need manning.

REAL CULTURAL CHANGE
READ the letters page of any rugby league publication. Talk to clubs and players and administrators and media people. No-one is happy, everyone is moaning. Being a ‘working class game’ is what’s great about rugby league – but it’s perhaps also a big part of what’s wrong with it. In order to progress, the game needs to learn from its rivals, to embrace the ‘big end of town’, to leave behind the bogans and whippets. If you want violence, go watch extreme sports. If you only want to make money out of the game, we’re not giving you any. If you want to start a rebel league, start one. If you want to abuse referees, don’t come back. If you want to stay in suburban grounds, we’ll be at the big ones with corporate boxes and decent toilets. See you. We’ll take the hit. Someone needs to grab rugby league by the scruff of the neck, drag it out of what sometimes seems like a ghetto, and damn the consequences. The alternatives are obscurity and irrelevance. And if that person pays with his job, like David Smith did, we’ll just wait patiently until the next messiah comes along.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

Bondi Beat: December 2015

RLW DecemberAFTER the snorefest that doubled as the Second Test in London, maybe it’s time to rethink our approach to tinkering with the rules of rugby league.
Instead of asking ourselves how we can make our game more exciting, maybe we really need to look at how we can make it less boring.
The NRL is our peak club competition and many of the rule changes and interpretation adjustments come from that part of the world.
But the NRL has supreme athletes who can rise above the mundanity of a pre-programmed style of play to entertain us. Without them, we just get the pre-programmed style of play.
I am not trying to be disrespectful to the Kiwis who took the field at Stratford when I say it may have actually been possible to fit them into an NRL team salary cap.
Without Waerea-Hargreaves, Foran, Johnson, Mannering and Vatuvei they lacked the sort of players I spoke about – those who can rise above sheer athleticism with their skill and flair.
Should we be tailoring our whole sport for these few players who transcend what can often be monotony?
Or should we be making games that do not boast these stars better to watch, and leave the NRL to do what it wants? Should we be rewarding tries scored through the hands by awarding bonus points according to the number of passes in the movement?
God forbid, should we ban hit-ups or drives in junior matches?
At the start of the series, Steve McNamara said England and New Zealand would play with more flair than an NRL game. Clearly, that only applies when the series is not on the line.
To see them both play like Australian club teams, minus the superstars, was very disappointing indeed.
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WE finally have a strategic plan for the game worldwide and, as always, the interesting stuff is in the fine print.

The document released after an RLIF meeting in Paris was big on ideas and short on detail but here’s a few things that stood out to me (both within the document and whispers around the edges):

1. The expression “Rugby World Cup Nines” appeared several times, Are we about fight for the use of the word “rugby”? That would be great;

2. Target two G20 nations. These must surely be the United States and South Africa, although Canada will be fighting hard to be included;

3. The new tournaments, to be known variously as Federation Cups, Intercontinental Cups, Continental Cups and Confederation Cups, are unlikely to involve Australia UNLESS they are nines;

4. By 2025 the RLIF wants half the teams in the World Cup to be capable of making the final. You can bet that they won’t be repeating only half the teams can make the final when the 2025 tournament kicks off;

5. Somehow, 30 more rugby league-playing countries have appeared on the map overnight, including Burundi.
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Of course events on the field in London paled by comparison with the shock we all felt regarding the attack on our colleague Gary Carter.

I was not aware of what had happened until I arrived at the Olympic Stadium on match eve for the respective captain’s runs.

Gary was supposed to be there. The Press Association’s Ian Laybourn broke the news to me and it was hours before I could properly process it.

In these situations you always read about what a nice person someone is but Gary is possibly the most generous man in our trade on either side of the world.

I have lost count of the number of times he has dropped me at my hotel after matches, going miles out of his way.

amazonBefore I did my most recent NRL 360 appearance, I called him for some background and he ended up giving me about three stories!

In some ways it’s still difficult to process. I’m looking forward to visiting him when the series is over and I’ve got some time in London.

I’m sure I speak for everyone reading this when I say I’d do anything necessary to help Gary and his brave wife Gemma during his recovery.

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ONE thing that has really stood out during the Anglo-New Zealand series has been the quality of the pre-match entertainment.

Sure, one wag had a point when he said using choirs of local schoolkids in London cost little or nothing and sold a shedload of tickets to their parents.

But the use of fireworks, marching bands, anthem singers and the mic’ing up of the haka have all been first rate. Understated and classy.

A FEW days before the Third Test, England back rower Brett Ferres sat down with at few of us for what is known in the biz as an “All-in”.

No punches were thrown.

donate2Phil Thomas of The Sun, filling in for our stricken Gaz, asked if there was a sense of a missed opportunity with the loss in London in the wake of the poor performance of the England rugby union team.

“I’ve no interest in rugby union,” he replied, “especially after recent events”

When I pressed him if he was talking about that sport’s treatment of Sam Burgess, he replied: “You can read into that what you want”.

I’m with Brett. I honestly don’t care who is to blame for what when Sam Burgess was playing rugby union.

I’ve no interest in the sport. He’s a league player again so I’m interested in him again.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD 

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@therealsteavis’ Highlights Of 2015 (Aside From The NRL Grand Final)

highlightsBy STEVE MASCORD

SO the guys from the Full 80 Podcast are calling it a day. “Do you think some of the passion has gone out of the game?” one of them asked me on their last episode.

“Like, we still follow our teams, but……”

You’ll hear plenty of people say the game is going soft, that it’s being run by suits, that it just doesn’t feel the same.

The Full 80 fellas, well they’re doing what everyone else is threatening to … packing up, going home. They probably have other reasons, too – but are they right? Has the game lost something?

About this time last year, RLW asked me to write about my personal highlights of the season. It’s an indulgence, I guess, but one which I hope you find bearable.

When I go back through 2015, I find plenty of experiences that were truly visceral, not anodyne or sterile.

Rugby league lost fans during the Super League War and it will lose some during what I term a peaceful coup. It is being cleaned up, repackaged for a wider market, made safer for t new world. It will lose more.

But many of those of us who love the game believe it is more than punching and shoulder charging. We have always believed it deserved a wider appeal and we are excited to think it might finally happen. If all you ever liked about the game was the grubby stuff, you didn’t really like the game at all.

So here they are: a few highlights of 2015 that prove rugby league still got passion.

February 22: SOUTH SYDNEY 39 ST HELENS 0 at Langtree Park

“RUSSEL Crowe Snubs Oscars For St Helens” read the incredulous UK national newspaper headlines as the South Sydney owner sprinkled some stardust on the old Merseyside glass-making town. It was the culmination of a three day World Club Series, with Warrington taking on St George Illawarra and Brisbane meeting Wigan in the first expanded such competition in 18-years. This was the only lopsided game. Crowe being interviewed by Brian Carney and leading over the fence of the corporate box to sign as many autographs as possible? Priceless.

May 3: NEW ZEALAND 26 AUSTRALIA 12 at Suncorp Stadium

A BIT of financial belt-tightening by yours truly meant I had written off attending this, as much as it would hurt to miss any international. But then the rain came. The Anzac Test supposed to be played on Friday night but the players were told to go back to their hotel when Suncorp became a rice paddy. So I took it as a sign and hopped on a plane. And what an old-school day Sunday was – sunny, Sunday afternoon Test football and the Kiwis underscoring their recent dominance with a convincing win. Thankyou, mother nature.

advertise hereJune 6: CANTERBURY 20 MELBOURNE 4 at Belmore Sports Ground

BACK in the day, Canterbury were such a welcoming club to young reporters. Barry Nelson and Peter Moore were almost fatherly when you would ring them up and visit their dressing rooms. So going back to Belmore in June was like stepping back into cadet lectures. It was a night of old faces – so many that when I ran into the owner of The Australian bar in New York, my head almost exploded in confusion. Interviewing Josh Reynolds with the crowd chanting his name and walking to the eastern side as the Dogs performed their team song in front of the hill – unforgettable stuff. Canterbury has been a conduit for many years through which people new to this country celebrated their Australian-ness.

June 17: NSW 26 QUEENSLAND 18 at Melbourne Cricket Ground

I’VE not chosen this because of the result. Although I was born – and live – south of the border, I’m not the world’s biggest Blues fan. I flew in from Europe the morning of this match and going back to the MCG, as part of a 91,513 crowd, was quite an experience. Highlights of the evening included running into Scotland coach Steve McCormack in the NSW sheds and the bizarre sight of NRL media strategist Peter Grimshaw competing in a Family Fued episode that was showing in the press box! Origin on the road is a winner.

August 2: ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 46 NEWCASTLE 24 at Kogarah Oval

AS a sportswriter, there is a scary age you reach when you realise you covered the entire PLAYING careers of today’s COACHES. I was there when Dragons boss Paul McGregor played for City Seconds after just a handful of first grade games. And I’ve been on tours with Danny Buderus, I’ve even seen him play in Jacksonville for Leeds. On a sunny winter’s afternoon, this was a reminder of a life well spent as Buderus jpined the coaching ranks. “It’s lonely up there,” he said, when I eventually got hold of him after his animated catchi-up with is mate “Mary”.

August 29: LEEDS 50 HULL KR 0 at Wembley Stadium

RUGBY League turned 50 on an average day in London, and 80,000 of us got an average Challenge Cup final. Not only did Leeds set a new scoring record against poor Hull KR, but winger Tom Briscoe posted an historic five-try haul. But none of that mattered. What we will take away from the day was Lizzie Jones, widow of Wales halfback Danny who died playing the game he loved in May, performing the hymn abide with me. Thirty seconds into her performance, the whole stadium erupted in applause. It was the most spine-tingling moment I can remember at a rugby league match.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: November 2015 – The differences in RL media between Australia and the UK

RLW Nov 2015By STEVE MASCORD

I’VE held off writing about this subject for years now because I feared offending colleagues: the different ways in which rugby league is covered in Australia and Britain.

But this year’s Super League grand final presented a couple of extremely stark examples of the contrast and I just couldn’t let the opportunity go by once more.

Two incidents stick out for me. One, Danny McGuire’s apparent knock-on before Joel Moon’s 26th minute try, and Liam Farrell shoving McGuire into the advertising hoardings as he crossed eight minutes later.

I asked Wigan coach Shaun Wane about the former at the media conference. I refrained from asking McGuire about either incident when he came to the presser because I wanted to get him on his own. No-one else asked and as I write this I haven’t had the opportunity to ask Danny one-on-one.

The video refereeing decision to award the Moon try decided a competition – make no mistake. While Wigan winger Joe Burgess complained about the call, very little was written about it.

donate2Compare this to the NRL grand final, where North Queensland won but there was plenty of chatter about whether Johnathan Thurston was illegally dispossessed before a Jack Reed try.

A contentious video refereeing decision that decided a premiership would be headline news for days in Australia – inestimably bigger than Wayne Bennett’s complaints about golden point time, as an example.

Over the years, I’ve gained a better understanding about why this difference in approach exists. There are several reasons but they all revolve around rugby league being a much bigger sport in Australia.

The reporter covering an NRL game assumes most of his readers saw the match. He tries to find something different to tell them over their bacon and eggs.

A journalist at a Super League game assumes the exact opposite: most readers DID NOT see the game. He or she must use their allotted word count to explain the basics which an Australia hack can gloss over – who won, how and why.

For Australian readers who wish there were more stories about Joe Blow being a good player and the match being very entertaining – there’s your reason. When you’re popular, scrutiny really does come with the territory – in an almost mechanical way.

However, I have also sensed over the years that rugby league reporters in the UK are – perhaps largely subconsciously – protective of the sport. I may be completely wrong but I would guess at least some of them would be embarrassed to highlight a grand final being decided by an officiating error.

I am not qualified to judge the performance or decisions of my colleagues and I avoid doing so at all times.

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But I do wonder if sometimes this well-intentioned positivity robs coverage of some of its drama and colour. Would Burgess’s comments screaming from the front page of the specialist press on the Monday after the grand final have hurt anyone?

It was a story – not just content, which is what far too much of the daily churn of sports coverage today has become.

Another factor which I have seen in second-tier sports – in Australia, that’s soccer – that affects the coverage is a lack of competition.

You are always going to get the same space in the paper, regardless of what you write so there is more incentive to not miss something than there is to get something different.

Your sports editor is focused on the big show, not you. He’s only going to notice if you stuff up. The secret to a peaceful life is to collude with your rivals and write the same thing every day.

I am not saying this happens in the UK – because rugby league isn’t even in most national papers on weekdays anymore.

But I have even seen it recently in Australia. Journalists covering the NRL feel under appreciated with the collapse of the newspaper industry. They don’t travel anymore, they have to get copy in early regardless of quality.

So they have taken to cutting corners – sharing the duties of transcribing quotes and doing away with the old tactics and gamesmanship that used to be a hallmark of the trade.

Last season a journalist misheard a quote on his digital voice recorder and the misquote appeared in every newspaper the next day because the reporters were transcribing for each other.

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THE upcoming World Cup qualifiers in South Africa and the United States present some interesting questions regarding eligibility.

Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah wanted to play for Lebanon in Brakpan (that’s where the games actually are – not Pretoria, which sounds better).

He was told by RLIF liason officer Tas Baitieri he would be sacrificing his New South Wales jersey if he did so.

Regular readers of this column would be aware of my position on this: it’s ridiculous. State of Origin’s integrity has been propped up by recent rule changes that mean you must have lived in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13 to play.

Why should NSW or Queensland care what country you represent beyond that? Only if they want to use Origin to stockpile players, which is precisely what is happening.

It’s my understand that part of the new ‘whole of game’ proposal before the NRL right now is to separate Origin from the Australian team – but it has precious little support from key figures who see New Zealand’s international dominance as a reason to use the system to Australia’s advantage.

Having said all that ….

You cannot take part in World Cup qualifiers without meeting a minimum level of domestic activity. But once you are in the qualifiers, the availability of fulltime professionals can make your national team completely unreflective of how much rugby league is played at home.

Wales has more players than the United States but lost to a Tomahawks side full of foreign-based players at the last World Cup.

As a sport, we need to ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with teams getting into the World Cup with players who have only visited that country fleetingly. Once the tournament is on, I guess we want to see the best players on the pitch.

Part of me thinks it’s a good thing that Lebanon will not have Farah’s services in Brakpan against a South African side that has a selection policy of not picking anyone who has never played the sport domestically.

The Cedars will still win – just not by as much.

The RLIF showed its own view of this by making the top seven teams from the last World Cup automatic qualifiers for the 2017 – pointedly snubbing the US.

But making the rules up as you go along, while a time honoured rugby league practice, isn’t terribly professional.

How do we write a consistent rule that gives us strong national teams that have connection to their domestic competitions? Answers on the back of a postage stamp….

@BondiBeat

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD