TRAVELS: XXVI

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
AS you might imagine, after five weeks attending matches, dinners and media events in Britain, one gains a few extra pounds – and a better understanding of the challenges facing rugby league here.
What I am about to offer are a bunch of assumptions based on conversations with all manner of people involved in the game in the UK. If I could quote or name these people, I would have. I can’t.
What I have learned is that the situation is markedly different to the way it appears from the outside, from just reading the trade press. And it’s not as dire as it appears, either.
We are all wondering what the competition structure will be the year after next, and whether London will be involved next season. Here’s what seems, to me, to be the case:
1) EVEN THE ‘REBEL’ CLUBS SUPPORT THE NEW STRUCTURE. The clubs who have walked out of meetings aren’t necessarily against splitting Super League into three divisions mid-season – they just want to use the situation to gain more power. They will eventually agree to the proposal – as long as they get something out of it for themselves;
2) MOST SUPER LEAGUE CLUBS ARE SICK OF LOSING PLAYERS TO AUSTRALIA. Ian Lenagan says it’s a compliment to Super League that players are succeeding in the NRL and Super League – but not many of his counterparts at other clubs agree. There is a push for two marquee players per club – one overseas and one local, to help prevent the brawn drain;
3) THE GAME IS GOING TO LEVERAGE THE ADVENT OF BT SPORT AS MUCH AS IT CAN. Another way to compete with the Aussies is to get a shedload of money from broadcasters, as they have. The arrival of BT Sports gives Sky some competition and the British game plans to use that to get a significant increase in the rights, promising a better product in return. Negotiations won’t wait two years to commence – the proverbial iron is red hot;
4) LONDON ARE LIKELY TO BE BAILED OUT BY A RIVAL CLUB: It seems an established Super League club is preparing to lend the Broncos money and players. NRL CEO David Smith met Gus Mackay and Tony Rea this week to see if there was anything he could do to help.
You may have been broadly aware of some or all of these senarios but since this is my last column for the year, I thought it worthwhile to spell them out.
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SINCE last week, I’ve changed my view somewhat on the requirement that Fiji play Samoa mid-year 2014 for the right to be included in next year’s Four Nations.
As the NRL’s Andrew Hill points out, it was entirely possible that two Pacific countries would be eliminated at the same stage of the tournament, which would have left officials in a bind.
And going into a Four Nations with a 64-0 defeat to one of the other teams in it as your last result doesn’t seem very “box office”.
The real problem is that none of these deliberations were reported, so Fiji thought they had been gyped.
There is enormous interest in the international game today and the flow of information from the RLIF is, frankly, appalling.
This is one of many factors that make it impossible to accurately predict what the legacy of this World Cup will be.
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AS I said, this will be my last column for the year so I’d like to thank Paul Cunliffe and Paul Coward for giving me the opportunity.
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TRAVELS: XXV

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
THE great thing about the NRL’s enquiries into playing matches in England is that it gives the Commission an excuse to help the British game.
In case you missed it, colleague Brad Walter wrote this week in the Sydney Morning Herald that NRL officials are considering playing a State of Origin game at Wembley, or club games there and elsewhere in Britain.
Before this news emerged, domestic events in the UK were none of the NRL’s business – which was unfortunate given their A$1.025 billion TV deal. Now, they have an excuse to meddle constructively. NRL officials recently met what’s left of the London Broncos, for instance.
Unfortunately, I think there are a couple of miscalculations currently at work. One is to have dismissed the impact of five weeks of World Cup play on selling 74,000 seats at Old Trafford last Saturday. Those 74,000 people didn’t sign up for “an all-NRL contest” – they signed up to hopefully see England play in a World Cup final and went anyway when they missed out!
Secondly, the NFL flooded television for years before playing games at Wembley. They had a long-term strategy. The NRL has a long-term deal on a station most Londoners have never heard of.
The Origin and even Kangaroos brands are almost unknown in London and years of marketing are necessary before such a game can be a success. You invented rugby league here but in London, when it comes to sexiness the NFL is Naomi Campbell and rugby league is Acker Bilk.
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AS you might imagine, after five weeks attending matches, dinners and media events in Britain, one gains a better understanding of the challenges facing rugby league here.
What I am about to offer are a bunch of assumptions based on conversations with all manner of people involved in the game in the UK. If I could quote or name these people, I would have. I can’t.
What I have learned is that the situation is markedly different to the way it appears from the outside, from just reading the trade press. And it’s not as dire as it appears, either.
We are all wondering what the competition structure will be the year after next, and whether London will be involved next season. Here’s what seems, to me, to be the case:
1) EVEN THE ‘REBEL’ CLUBS SUPPORT THE NEW STRUCTURE. The clubs who have walked out of meetings aren’t necessarily against splitting Super League into three divisions mid-season – they just want to use the situation to gain more power. They will eventually agree to the proposal – as long as they get something out of it for themselves;
2) MOST SUPER LEAGUE CLUBS ARE SICK OF LOSING PLAYERS TO AUSTRALIA. Ian Lenagan says it’s a compliment to Super League that players are succeeding in the NRL and Super League – but not many of his counterparts at other clubs agree. There is a push for two marquee players per club – one overseas and one local, to help prevent the brawn drain;
3) THE GAME IS GOING TO LEVERAGE THE ADVENT OF BT SPORT AS MUCH AS IT CAN. Another way to compete with the Aussies is to get a shedload of money from broadcasters, as they have. The arrival of BT Sports gives Sky some competition and the British game plans to use that to get a significant increase in the rights, promising a better product in return. Negotiations won’t wait three years to commence – the proverbial iron is red hot. If Sky loses soccer, the stakes will be still higher;
4) LONDON MAY BE BAILED OUT BY A RIVAL CLUB: It seems an established Super League club is preparing to lend the Broncos money and players. NRL officials met Gus Mackay and Tony Rea last week to see if there was anything he could do to help.
You may have been broadly aware of some or all of these senarios but since this is my last column for the year, I thought it worthwhile to spell them out.
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SINCE last week, I’ve changed my view somewhat on the requirement that Fiji play Samoa mid-year 2014 for the right to be included in next year’s Four Nations.
As the NRL’s Andrew Hill points out, it was entirely possible that two Pacific countries would be eliminated at the same stage of the tournament, which would have left officials in a bind.
The real problem is that none of these deliberations were reported, so Fiji thought they had been gyped.
There is enormous interest in the international game today and the flow of information from the RLIF is, frankly, appalling.
This is one of many factors that make it impossible to accurately predict what the legacy of this World Cup will be.
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THIS will be my last column for the year so I’d like to thank Paul Cunliffe and Paul Coward for giving me the opportunity.
read on

TRAVELS: XX

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
THE news out of Wigan the other day prompted media reactions on either side of the globe which were, Travels believe, out of step with reality.
In Australia, Sam Tomkins’ signing with the New Zealand Warriors was downpage brief in even the most enthusiastic rugby league paper, the Daily Telegraph.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact the signing has been the worst-kept secret in the game for months, and that Tomkins is not going to a Sydney club, but we are predicting his performances will render it a much bigger story than that.
The second media reaction which we reckon will be proven as a gross under-playing is that of the signing of Matt Bowen as Tomkins’ replacement at the DW.
I watched both Super Leaguer Fulltime and Backchat and they each described Bowen as “a stopgap” who was there primarily to mentor younger custodians at the club.
I think Bowen has the potential to be a sensation at Wigan and to make the sort of impact John Ferguson did. Have you seen his last couple of games for North Queensland? He almost won that controversial, seven-tackle, game against Cronulla.
“Mango” (so called because the north Queensland town of Bowen is a mango-producing hub) is an electrifying returner of the football and has evasive skills to match those of the man he is replacing.
He looks to be over his knee problems. He is the best Super League signing in years – on name alone, the best since Luke O’Donnell or Danny Buderus.
Wigan fans and Super League pundits, don’t be so maudlin.
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CLUB Call is just fascinating.
Logic suggests that getting to choose your opponents in a final should be an enormous advantage. And Warrington’s record against Huddersfield suggests it will be.
But coaches rate psychology, and motivating rivals, so highly that they deem it worthy of distancing themselves from this advantage that has been offered to them, and which they have taken.
If you’ve ever wondered why coaches are so careful about what they say, and what their players say, and why they pin seemingly inane newspaper articles to dressing room walls, here’s your answer.
Warrington’s Tony Smith is a smart man. He knows that he can have his cake and eat it too by distancing himself and the players from their club call choice.
Barrie McDermott recently said being picked in club call did give teams an extra edge – something mere mortals like us find hard to understand because we think you’d be heavily motivated for a sudden death game anyway.
But something drives a team when they are on their last legs, like Manly was last weekend. If it’s being called out as a desirable opponent, sobeit.
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A LITTLE bit of World Cup broadcast news that has reached my ears.
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TRAVELS: XIX

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
WE are one week away from the play-offs in the NRL and have two major controversies hanging over rugby league.
Both of them had their origins in the pre-season. Call them slow-burners.
The announcement in February that Australian sport had been infiltrated by organised crime and performance-enhancing drug use shocked everyone.
But when the investigations dragged on and on, and nothing happened, cynicism grew. Was this whole thing merely a political football?
But last week, Canberra winger Sandor Earl (who once claimed he had been approached by England to play in the World Cup) was suspended for using and trafficking a banned peptide.
Earl, who is supposed to be joining French rugby union club Pau next year, is co-operating with authorities in the hope his ban will be reduced to six months. The coach of the Essendon Aussie Rules team. James Hird, has also been suspended for allowing peptide use to occur on his watch.
There are two clear implications of this development. A) No Cronulla player confessed, because they were interviewed before Earl and B) The defence that the substances involved were not named in the WADA code at the time is not going to work, because Earl has been banned over those very substances.
The second drama has also been lying in wait all season, waiting to pounce.
When Ben Barba was stood down at the start of the season because of “personal problems”, there were immediately rumours of domestic abuse. When I say ‘rumours’, some media men were so confident in their sources, they went public with the allegations Barba had hit his ex-partner, Ainsley Currie.
One of these media men was the great Wally Lewis, who was forced to apologise for repeating the allegation.
As the season wore on, rumours of a photo showing the injuries emerged. That photo was finally published on Sunday by News International papers and it has – rightly – caused a firestorm.
Not only did the Bulldogs apparently not tell the police or the NRL of the allegation, they consistently denied any such issue when specifically asked by media outlets.
Currie, speaking through her lawyer, has denied Barba hit her. Text messages to a friend, in which Barba was not named, from the time of the alleged incident have become public in the last 24 hours.
And the Dogs’ chief executive at the time, Todd Greenberg, now works at the NRL as director of football! He has said nothing since the photos were published.
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ONE of the best parts of my flying visit to the UK for the Challenge Cup was the opportunity to address the Rugby League European Federation meeting in London on Wembley-eve.
It was the biggest roll-up they’ve ever had for the AGM and I was planning to share some of my rather dubious wisdom with you here. Alas, I lost my notes the very next day so I’ll spare you such tedium.
Basically, I talked about using wider reference points to “sell” stories, something that is second nature to journalists but often doesn’t occur to others.
A couple of years ago, I mentioned in a story about a World Cup qualifier that it was being played in ‘the murder capital of the US’. An official challenged me, saying ‘what does that have to do with the story?’
The answer was: “nothing, but it will make someone with no interest in a rugby league game between the United States and Jamaica read further’.
I also advised countries to use their NRL and Super League players wisely, as they can win you exposure if you plan carefully.
I think it was the Danish delegate who asked why he should care about exposure in Australia or Britain. He wants publicity in Denmark.
Good question.
One, the principle about finding wider, non-RL reference points is applicable to the domestic market. Two, overseas publicity (if it’s positive) can be used to fill up your website and social media pages.

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Renewing Your Vows With Rugby League

WembleyBy STEVE MASCORD

RUGBY league is beginning to engage in what high school economics taught us to call “vertical integration”.

We have bought out a participant sport that provides us with players and fans, and gives our own participants somewhere to go when the bones creak too much: touch football.

The NRL no longer just provides content for broadcasters, it has become one itself via its ipad app. The Rugby Football League in England effectively has its own television station on YouTube. The NRL plans to break stories itself on its own website when the new media unit gets up and running.

Vertical integrations is buying up the raw materials – the mines and farms – and also the points of sale – shops and markets.

But it’s also about buying the means of transport in between and this reporter’s annual trip to the Challenge Cup final at Wembley has convinced him that rugby league should get involved in the travel business.

Because when you’re renewing your vows, when you’re visiting Mecca, then the church should be in on the deal.

“It’s unbelievable.,” says Wigan’s former Parramatta, Cronulla and Canterbury halfback Blake Green, standing in the mixed zone media area at Wembley after his side’s 16-0 win over fumbling Hull.

“The crowds over here are so loud. There’s lots of singing, they’re very passionate. Obviously the national anthem is not my anthem but the crowd were right into it.

“It’s such a special trophy, this Challenge Cup. It’s well documented about the famous players who have played in the game and we were made aware of that by some of the old Wigan players during the week.”

But the real attraction of Wembley is not the game. The venue has something to do with it but is only part of the magic.

The real thing that should attract at least a small group of Australian fans each year is the part the Challenge Cup final plays in the identity of northern England, the culture that gave us rugby league and therefore defines what we are as a sport.

Imagine if Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra did not exist and Melbourne was the undisputed political and cultural capital of Australia. But rugby league was still enormously popular in NSW and Queensland.

In this parallel universe, when a major rugby league event was staged in Melbourne, we would behave differently. It would perhaps be the only time many of us went there each year.

As a group under-represented on the national stage, it would be more than a football game to us. It would be like a pride parade for the provincial hoards from north of the Murray, a show of strength and vitality. We would go even if our team was not playing, we would feel a camaraderie with the fans of rival clubs that we don’t currently experience in the NRL.

Once a year, we would celebrate our “otherness”, the way minorities across society do.

If you’re looking to sum up what Wembley is, it’s someone raised in Warrington, living in Boston Massachusetts and wearing a 1980s vintage Brisbane Norths jersey to the Challenge Cup final, where he sits in roughly the same seats every year with his uncle and Londoner mate.

That fellow happens to be my best friend.

You don’t get much more northern, Wigan and rugby league than the coach of the cherry and whites, Shaun Wane. He played prop in the 1987 World Club Challenge win over Manly and was the first British coach to win the Cup since 2005.

“I woke up this morning and thought ‘to win this would be an absolute dream’,” he said. “We won nothing last year – we won the League Leaders’ (minor premiership) – and got hammered for it.

“I was very keen that all the players knew we are the most famous club in the world and I wanted them to write their name into the history of the Wigan Warriors – and they’ve done that.”

For Wigan, climbing into the royal box to collect winners’ medals is almost an entitlement. They’ve now done it 19 times. But that doesn’t mean it happens by itself.

“(Sean O’Loughin), who’s not played for many, many weeks – his Achilles tendon was sore and for him to come out and play like that was outstanding,” said Wane.

“Sam Tomkins is another one. Ben Flower is another one who was all jabbed up to play.”

For Hull, the only saving grace was their defence. They kept pushing the ball to the edges in slippery conditions and paid the price – repeatedly.

Coach Peter Gentle, the former Wests Tigers assistant, has also had to contend with speculation over his future. He said the thrill of being at Wembley will be something he doesn’t appreciate for “years ahead.

“Look, it’s a great occasion,” said Gentle. “But we’re just extremely disappointed we didn’t give ourselves a chance with what we did with the ball.”

Down the track, even Peter will be grateful he was there. But don’t believe me – make the trip yourself next year.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

TRAVELS: XVIII

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
THE Australian Rugby League Commission has today cut a deal that, in terms of participants, is far more significant than even a reunification of the rugby codes would be.
The ARLC and NRL has formed a “partnership” with Touch Football Australia, which has suddenly taken the number of participants in rugby league in this country to well over over one million.
You read that right: one million players. The NRL claims 844,000 people play the game already, although this includes schools programmes that involve one-off carnivals. The combined sport is now arguably the biggest in Australia – ahead of netball, soccer and Australian Rules.
And the announcement is typical of the administration of CEO and former Welsh banker David Smith. There were no leaks, no whispers that it was happening – just a media conference and an a release..
Touch football (I’m sure you used to call it ‘tig and pass’) is a massive participant sport in Australia, even in states where the AFL is dominant. All those men and women of all ages we see playing at dusk each in cities and towns will now be linked to the NRL.
Together, they will be able to attract more government funding and sponsorship. League players will be directed to touch teams in summer and – more importantly – vice versa. Their officials, offices and infrastructure will now also help recruit and promote full contact rugby league.
It’s a massive development for our game – but there are still recidivists who are complaining that “the commission has turned out game into touch anyway – now they’re making it official”.
The merger with touch football makes us a more inclusive sport. It hopefully allows us to cherry pick the Benji Marshalls and Shaun Johnsons of the future and prevent them playing the other code.
The boss of TFA, Colm Maguire, said: “Touch Football in Australia was born out of Rugby League and the opportunity to create Australia’s largest sporting community aligned with the NRL is as compelling as it is ambitious and fortuitous.”
If this sounds like cheerleading from me, then it comes with no agenda. Your columnist doesn’t cheer for a team, he cheers for rugby league against other sports. And this feels like we’ve won the grand final.
Unfortunately, I am told touch in the UK is linked very closely with rugby union. Having this marriage happen at an RLIF level might be problematic, but it’s worth a try, right?
Announcements like this make it more apparent why the NRL currently needs 140 staff. Trying to integrate two sports like this to maximum benefit won’t be easy. One can only wonder what other projects Smith and his men have in store.
I am glad David Smith doesn’t care what I or any other journalist writes. As long as he keeps coming up with coups like this, I am happy to be completely ignored.
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THE way in which Super League is consumed in Australia has just changed enormously.

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TRAVELS: XVII

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD

LONDON’S heavy loss on Saturday led to a reader contacting me about one of my favourite hobby horses – an English team in the NRL.
But this reader, whose given name was Leigh of Dallas (?) came at the idea from an interesting angle. What are the drawbacks of an NRL franchises based in Leeds or Manchester? That it would completely overshadow Super League and effectively relegate it to what the Brisbane comp has become.
But what if the franchise was based in London, and aimed not at league-loving northerners but Aussie and Kiwi expats in the capital?
Let’s get some of the obvious reservations you might have about the idea out of the way immediately. The travel time in Super rugby union between Dunedin and Durban is roughly similar, as is the time difference, and they manage just fine.
There is now a flight that leaves Sydney at 6am and arrives in London the same day, meaning a team could have plenty of time to acclimatise – as much or more as successful World Club Club Challenge sides have had
Of course, London Exiles (or whatever) would not be away every second week. They’d go “on tour”, playing two, three or four away games at once. Visiting teams would play the previous Friday and the following Sunday or Monday.
They would not steal every player from Super League because they would be subject to the NRL salary cap. They would not detract from Super League because they are geographically distant from most of the teams. They would earn the NRL a shedload in TV rights but not detract from the value of the existing SL rights.
I can’t see too many negatives. It’s time to get the ball rolling.
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GEORGE and Tom Burgess have just re-signed with South Sydney.
George and Sam are now pretty much the first choice props for the bunnies, ahead of Warrington signing Roy Asotasi, and this Saturday phonto (1)night they come up against the Australian pairing of James Tamou and Matt Scott when Souths take on North Queensland.
Australia coach Tim Sheens will be watching. Even at this early stage, I am told Sheens is considering picking a bigger side to take on England in the World Cup opener than the side that will eventually play New Zealand.
He believes the Kiwis’ dummy-half running will make the big fellows vulnerable against the Kiwis.
The big loser out of the rise of the Burgesses is set to be Cronulla back-rower Chris Heighington. It’s hard to see him getting a starting berth with all the talent at Steve McNamara’s disposal.
Meanwhile, the return from a pectoral muscle tear of Wests Tigers prop Keith Galloway on Monday is a big boost for Scotland. I spoke to him at training yesterday and he’s very keen to play for the Bravehearts.

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ROCK CRUISING: Going Overboard (2012)

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By STEVE MASCORD
ON the final night of Vince Neil’s Motley Cruise in 2008, shortly before the aforementioned peroxide imp was about to go on in front of a raucous crowd of heartland head-bangers, a representative of Carnival Cruise lines approached the stage manager.
“I’d like to make an announcement,” said the uniformed official, smiling. “Sure,” he was told.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” several-hundred tipsy-to-slaughtered fans in the Carnival Fantasy‘s ornate ballroom were told, “We would like to thank you for coming along tonight and coming on the cruise.
“We hope you’ve had a great time and have enjoyed yourselves.
“In closing, I would like to assure you this will be the last Motley Cruise. So if they’ve started asking you for deposits for next year, you should think about getting that money back off them tomorrow morning.
“Thank you.”
Backstage, according to Larry Morand, who helped organise the cruise, “everyone’s jaw dropped – including Vince’s and (guitarist) Jeff Blando’s. We couldn’t believe someone would get up there and say that.”
While eighties hair metal and AOR may have become – as the name of this magazine suggests – “Classic Rock“, with all the soccer mom connotations that term carries – there was still a major cultural gulf between the genre’s beer-chugging constituents and the ultra-conservative world of cruise ships.
Too big a gulf for Carnival.
“They didn’t tell the other people who booked their honeymoons and retirement parties and things like that,’’ Neil later said in a TV interview.
“Because, my room overlooked the swimming pool and I could see all these people, just drinking and women with their tops off.
“And this is, like, eight o’clock in the morning!
“Then, on the other side, you’d see the little old ladies with the cruise director, getting told where the shuffleboard was, what time that’s going to start. They’re looking over the other side, saying ‘who are these people and are they going with us?’’’
But Carnival’s greivances were more precise, Classic Rock presents: AOR can reveal. Like the couple caught having sex in the pool and kicked off the boat at the next port. Or the man locked in the brig for smashing a glass window (“and that’s sea glass – not something that you can do by accident,” Morand admits).
Almost before it got started, Cock Rock Cruising had no future. This story was almost over before it began.
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INDUSTRY veteran Morand, an experienced tour and production manager, didn’t give up so easily. He and his partners just had to find another cruiseline. They also had to find another name, since Motley Crue were reportedly not all that impressed with their clever pun. Read: possible legal action.
Italian cruiseline MSC, whose first ship burned in port at St Thomas in the 1960s and whose second was hijacked, had a brand new commission in the Poesia. It has a capacity of 3605 passengers and on the first Shiprocked cruise, they included the likes of Queensryche, Tesla, Ratt, Skid Row, Broken Teeth, StoneRider, Endeverafter and Lynam.
The sight of Geoff Tate and wife Susan waltzing during the fancy dress eighties school disco was the highlight. The following year, Vince Neil, who shared his stateroom with four strippers, leaving the stage for the bulk of his own show while his band played Led Zeppelin covers was unarguably the low light.
But slowly, Shiprocked was moving away from the original premise of the Motley Cruise by including modern rock acts such as Drowning Pool and SevenDust. Over the course of three years, other things changed too.
The Poesia learned not to close the bar at 2 am – and that drunk people wanted pizza at 1am when the ship cafeteria would normally be closed  and ‘normal’ passengers tucked up in bed for the night.
While this writer was offered drugs more than once on the Motley Cruise (one passenger even asked if I knew his Melbourne-based dealer), there was a zero tolerance rule on Shiprocked. Nevertheless, sobriety was not exactly a popular pursuit and it became apparent that there was a core group of fun-loving fans who attended each of
these cruises, along with the M3 Festival in Maryland.
“There is no Metal Edge magazine anymore,” says Morand. “There’s no Headbangers Ball. How do these bands reach their fans? That’s what we tell them. This is where you come to find out who your fans are.
“And for the fans, this is their chance to go on vacation with their favourite band. The interaction is a big thing.”
While mostly positive, this aspect of the cruise also has a dark side. Normally, you can have a beer after a gig and whinge about how the band sucked.
On Shiprocked/Motley Cruise/Monsters Of Rock, chances are the band are behind you in the drinks line. When Ratt drummer Bobby Blotzer overheard a damning assessment of his outfit’s performance and was later asked by the critic for an autograph, he replied: “yeah, I’ll sign with with this” and offered his middle finger.
At least, that’s how the story was recounted to me – five minutes after it happened.
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MORAND worked with Ronnie James Dio at the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donnington in 1987.
“The best thing about it was the vibe backstage with all the bands that was great,” he said. “I mean, Download is a little like that – but not so much.
“I’m not as big a fan of Download but maybe that’s because I’m older and codgier.”
But it was an American DJ, Harlen Hendrickson, who re-animated the Monsters Of Rock brand name. The promoters of Donnington let it lapse and official records show Henrickson – who runs a syndicated metal radio programme – registered it on February 11, 2002.
“He called me saying he’d like to put a concert together,” recalls Morand. “I already had contacts through the cruises and I said ‘nah, let’s make it a cruise!’ He said really?'”
Instead of selling out half a ship – creating the sitation described above by Vince Neil – the new partners decided to take over a whole thing. To pull that off, they needed bands – a lot of bands.
If you are fans of a certain period of time, a certain boulevard in Los Angeles and a certain brand of hairspray, then there is no festival on dry land like this one.
In March this year, the Monsters Of Rock Cruise boasted: UFO, Tesla, Cinderella, Night Ranger, Kix, Stryper, Firehouse, Y&T, Lynch Mob, Helix, Eric Martin of Mr. Big, Ted Poley of Danger Danger, Keel, Black N’ Blue, Faster Pussycat, John Corabi, Bang Tango, Rhino Bucket, XYZ, Odin and DC4.
All on a ship, in three days – seriously.
Whereas previous cruises allowed guests to sleep in or lounge around until the music started at sundown, MOR was more like a three day festival with music kicking off early afternoon and most acts playing twice. For aficionados, there was almost no time for getting drunk.
Here at Classic Rock presents AOR, we are nothing if not aficionados but somehow we still managed to miss one of two of these storied hair metal icons.
And we still managed to get drunk.

TESLA have a loyal following, charge promoters a little more than many of their contemporaries and with good reason. Singer Jeff Keith’s voice is strong, he is more than willing to spend time with fans between shows and the band is as tight as a drum.
CINDERELLA are also reliable – as long as Tom Keifer’s voice holds out and the right piano is wheeled out (he tipped one over in disgust during one cruise). NIGHT RANGER included Damn Yankees and Ozzy Osbourne covers. “I
asked my friend Ted Nugent if he wanted to come,” Jack Blades – who was in the super group – told the crowd. “He said ‘can I bring my gun’. I said ‘nope’ so he isn’t here but the next best thing is a Damn Yankees song, right?”.
Morand thought of KIX as a “cult band” and wasn’t disappointed. Singer Steve Whiteman told a delightful story during the outdoor deck show about how he once jumped in the air at the start of a gig and shat his pants – a situation he had to battle through for the remainder of the gig.
Y&T seem to play in Europe more than the US these days but Dave Meniketti was up against driving rain and wind at one stage during their set. It’s sad not to see the late Phil Kennemore anymore but the California act has lost little musically.
HELIX delighted the Canadians aboard with a full tilt, deafening set in the tiny indoor lounge (although the appeal was somewhat lost on the reviewer), FASTER PUSSYCAT continue to impress with their updated sleaze sound –
now tinged with industrial leanings – while BANG TANGO have a great current album to work off (something Cinderella haven’t had in decades) and RHINO BUCKET’s rifferama was reminiscent of Broken Teeth on previous cruises.
Each night, after midnight, punters would stagger out of the bigger shows held in multi-storey ballrooms and find the likes of ERIC MARTIN or JOHN CORABI performing in a bar or lounge. The hirsuite Corabi played acoustic versions of Motley Crue’s “Hooligan’s Holiday” and The Scream’s “Man In The Moon” along with classic rock material, while Mr Big’s Martin fronted a full band including his wife Denise on drums.
To hear Mr Big’s “To Be With You” belted out by the ageless and eminently capable singer who made it hit must have beggared belief for some fans who had already seen four or five acts that day and would normally maybe only witness one of these bands live every six months.
After being snowed in following a casino show in Michigan, STRYPER and LYNCH MOB literally missed the boat. They raced the Poesia and each other down the Florida coast in rented vans to join the cruise when it stopped in Key West.
“One minute Lynch Mob was in front, then George saw water and wanted to get out for a swim,” Morand recalled.
When the ship set sail that night, Lynch joined Tesla’s Frank Hannon and Corabi for an all-star jam in a lounge. “My name’s been associated with this but don’t blame this shit on me,” the former Dokken axeman told revelers. “We’ve never met each other and we don’t know any songs.”
Starting with Free’s “All Right Now”, the jam was fantastic.
Fellow absentees Stryper were close to being the band of the weekend. They’ve toned down the bumble-bee look somewhat but still cut a striking figure in their black and yellow accoutrements (and still throw our bibles) and Robert Sweet, with his kit positioned side-on in centrestage, is a mesmerising skinsman.
DJ Luc Carl conducted morning “gym sessions” in support of his book “The Drunk Diet” which tells readers how to lose weight and get wasted at the same time.
There were occasions things did get a little cheesy – as you would expect from one of rock’s most commercial genres. Night Ranger appeared to spend plenty of time striking rawk poses and KEEL frontman Ron Keel’s favourite subjects seemed to be himself and the “rock history” he was making on the deck stage.
UFO were one of the few bands who only played once on this cruise and US DJ and television host Eddie Trunk was slavish in his praise of the veteran blues rockers when he introduced them. The US metal crowd’s reverence towards UFO knows no bounds and they were greeted in deafening fashion.
At one stage in a flawless set, vocalist Phil Mogg paused to watch a video on the big screen – opposite the stage – promoting sales for next year’s MOR. In it, a David Lee Roth lookalike posed on his bed surrounded by scantily-clad nymphs and empty whiskey bottles.
“Who’s That fellow?” said Mogg. “My cabin’s not like that at all. There’s a lamp and a couple of books.”
Mogg and bandmates, apparently, had taken the “fan interaction” aspect of MOR to new heights, opening and closing the main bar on the pool deck some days.
Pointing out fellow drinkers from the stage before “Lights Out”, Mogg said: “Just to show that I’m not completely gone … Lulu, Collette and Leabond.
“I’m not doing too bad. Blokes’ names, you can make up as you go along – ‘hi John, awright Fred’, drinks on you, drinks on him’.”
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BUT do most bands enjoy, or merely tolerate, living at such close quarters to their fans?
Georg Dolivo, of Rhino Bucket: “There were certain people, who shall remain nameless, who had rockstaritis going on and were thinking that they didn’t want to be over-run by their over-zealous millions of fans.
“Everybody was respectful. Every now and then they’d come up and want to take your picture but, that’s fine. Plus, we were blind drunk the whole time so I don’t think anyone wanted to come near us.”
A strong indication that rock cruising has moved into the mainstream – after the tetchy start in ’08 – comes with the news that KISS have now done two ‘KISS Kruises’. After all, there’s nothing more mainstream than KISS.
Starting with an unmasked accoustic set outdoors, with a stage built over the pool, the KISS Kruise also features two full shows which must be performed at anchor because the painted ones’ platform boots are so high they make playing at sea dangerous.
The band answered pre-subitted questions after the acoustic show. One youngster said his dad, a veteran, did not want to come because “he thought he wouldn’t get on with people from other countries”. Paul Stanley said those who criticise the continuing use of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss’ makeup “can go fuck themselves”. The band also undertook to send one fan’s entire family on vacation.
When KISS play, the entire deck between their dressingroom and the stage is closed off. Gene Simmons and Stanley were rarely sighted between shows (Eric Singer carries hundreds of guitar picks everywhere, handing them out) but one
kruiser told me he was able to get 20 minutes with the demon – by spending $4000 on a Punisher bass.
Simmons’ business partner had set up a shop in one cabin. You negotiated your price for the instrument, and if you bought it, you were taken to a cabin to see Simmons.
Bear in mind the former reality TV star had just been married at the time and was no doubt being paid a fortune to take part in the cruise. But an extra few grand was clearly worth him investing some of his valuable time.
But KISS fans are a different breed (if you were from the same town or country as a fellow cruiser and they didn’t know you, you seemed to be considered nothing more than an insignificant infantryman in the KISS Army).
Generally speaking, says Bang Tango drummer Trent Anderson, fans no longer tolerate such aloofness.
“It’s changed from even five years ago,” he says. “People no longer want the rock star to go hide in the dressingroom or in their cabin on the boat. They want you to be personable, they want you to be real.
“These people have supported this music … for thirty-something years. They’re no longer intrigued by the guy who’s a jerk and goes and hides. They want recognition that they’ve been loving that music for 30 years. If you’re not giving that to people, they’re not going to stick around.
“Our theory in Bang Tango is we no longer have fans, we have family and friends.
“We’re not curing cancer. We’re not feeding the poor. We’re just a bunch of monkeys at the zoo, trying to be entertaining.
“Today’s rock star is the guy who sits there and hangs out with you and has a beer.’
Dolivo did admit that by the end of the second day, things had started to become a little “tedious”. “You’re on a floating hotel with the people,” he said. “You start to think …. OK, can we move on now?”
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KISS sold out their second KISS Kruise. The second Monsters Of Rock, setting off on March 16, features many of this year’s acts – along with a reformed Arcade, Queensryche, Lita Ford, Saxon, Loudness, Great White, Dangerous Toys, Nelson, the Quireboys, LA Guns, Enuff Z’Nuff, Femme Fatale, Alcatraz and Russ Dwarf.
Shiprocked continues independently. In December, it included Godsmack, Korn, Five Fingered Death Punch, Sevendust, POD, Fuel, Filter, Helmet, Lit, Geoff Tate, Gilby Clarke and The Letter Black.
The KISS Kruise is run by Sixthman, who specialise in this sort of thing. They’ve done similar events for Kid Rock and Weezer.
Morand’s little business is booming, too, a DJ with a keen eye for a trademark has a profitable stake and everyone is getting royally drunk.
“The first Monsters Of Rock, we got beers from around the world and around different parts of the United States to recognise where people had come from,” says Morand.
“But the staff on the Poesia were a bit … European. They hid the beers where no-one could see them and sold what they normally sell. We can still improve them, make them think in a more American way.”
Not that getting wasted is a peculiarly American passtime – as evidenced when Morand received a phone call from security as the first Monsters Of Rock cruise was disembarking in March this year; a phone call that put the smarmy Carnival announcement of four years before very much in perspective.
“This guy says to me ‘we have a problem’,” Morand recalls. “He said ‘I’ve got the singer from UFO here, passed out in a deckchair’. I said ‘well, wake him up. We’re all getting off the boat’. He said ‘he’s unresponsive’.”
Morand responded with horrified silence.
Eventually, Phil Mogg game around. But not before the promoter of Monsters Of Rock had recalled several important plot devices from the movie “Weekend At Bernie’s”.

John Corabi, Frank Hannon & George Lynch – “All Right Now (live)” from Steve Mascord on Vimeo.

Filed for: CLASSIC ROCK PRESENTS: AOR

TRAVELS: XVI

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
MY favourite piece of Origin III commentary from Ray Warren came some time during the first half when the Channel Nine cameras focused on the visiting Manchester United squad.
“I don’t follow the soccer that much, Peter,” he said in reference to co-commentator Peter Sterling, “but you do.”
Sterling then went on to name several members of the Man U line-up. I don’t remember who it was because, like Ray, I don’t “follow the soccer” either.
Let’s quickly talk about the game. Queensland were fantastic, despite a hefty penalty count and everything NSW could throw at them. Terrible penalty to NSW before the James McManus try.
The streaker preventing a late Maroons try was pretty much unique in a big rugby league game. Can you imagine if it had been a Blues try disallowed? There would have been calls for a replay.
And Greg Inglis is out for up two months with a knee injury that he bravely played on with. Those tipping South Sydney to run away with the premiership had better think again.
Now back to my main point.
I’ve always been bemused by the number of feature articles in match programmes in the UK which quote stars from other sport saying how much they love rugby league.
On one hand, you could stay it smacks of insecurity. On the other, however, you have to accept that rugby league is in the shadow of what you call football in England so there is logic to the trend. These stories get the attention of casual sports fans.
But Paul Gallen even said before Origin III that one of his biggest regrets about missing the game through a foot injury was that the Man U stars wouldn’t “know my name” for 80 minutes!
Aside from stratospheric salaries, what is it about any foreign sportsman that an NRL player should envy? No other sportsman on earth goes through what those 34 players at Homebush did on Wednesday night and there were 83,000 people there for the Origin decider.
You might say I am promoting ignorance. But I’m just advocating confidence. Would an NFL player, a Serie A footballer, a Major League baseballer regard it as an honour that Ryan Giggs “knows his name”?
I have my doubts.
These remnants of a colonial inferiority complex affect Australia’s role as the leading rugby league nation. Instead of trying to spread the game, we have only recently shed our all-encompassing obsession with just winning all the time.
If Australians could think of themselves as leaders in spreading a passtime they are passionate about, rather than underdogs needing to beat England at it, our whole sport would be better off.
I can’t imagine any Australian rugby league player who has been to a Premier League game could be more impressed with the experience than the Man U footballers would have been with watching a pulsating deciding Origin game live.
But then again, who cares whether they enjoyed it? We have to stop being obsessed with what others think of us. It’s a teenage trait that it’s high time we grew out of.
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WOULDN’T it be great if we could keep Benji Marshall in rugby league by having him join a Super League club?

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