DISCORD 2013: Edition 22


OUR greatest hope for the appointment of Raelene Castle as Canterbury chief executive today should be that columns like this will one day soon seem hopelessly patronising and old fashioned.

Because this column is welcoming the Kiwi’s appointment to the rugby league club based largely on the fact she is a woman. This column is pointing out that the Bulldogs have come a long way since the Coffs Harbour scandal of 2004, when sponsors didn’t want a bar of the club, and women in particular were deserting them

This column is recording the fact that Liz Dawson and Donna Burke were in charge of footy clubs 15 and 25 years ago respectively that they were – believe it not – also women.

This column is the response to a climate that still exists in society, and in rugby league in particular, which should not.

The CEO of the NRL, David Smith, issued a media release welcoming the netball administrator’s appointment.

He stressed that she was clearly the best person for the job, but then added: “It is also worth acknowledging the significance of a female chief executive and the message of opportunity that the appointment sends to women in our game.

“I’ve said before there is a place for more women in decision making roles in rugby league and we need to be even more inclusive in the years ahead.”

…hopefully so inclusive that Smith will have to give up issuing a press release every time a woman is appointed to a position of influence.

We welcome you, Raelene. We are happy about your appointment. We hope your presence improves our culture.

But at the risk of being a wet blanket, the fact it is a big story we have a female footy chief executive even when we have had a female prime minister for three years is probably not a great rap where rugby league is starting from.

Even during the recent Women In League round, many well intentioned media men and officials made comments about the appearance of those they were interviewing to recognise the role of females in the game. “You’re an attractive young lady, why would you play rugby league?” is not intended to be an insult or to be condescending but such comments are inappropriate given what that Women In League round is trying to achieve.

The idea that all comments about skin colour, positive or negative, are now firmly off limits is only just seeping through to many in rugby league. Similarly, comments directed at women about appearance – even compliments – are most often inappropriate in the workplace because they objectify and even subjugate.

But rugby league has always been a male workplace and those who have worked in clubs all their lives have never had to deal with these issues. You can’t use racial epithets  anymore and you can’t tell your boss she’s a good sort.

The reason is that these comments perpetuate historic power imbalances – between white males and everyone else.

Having more Raelene Castles will bring the culture in rugby league clubs more in line with the rest of society in the second decade of the 21st century. That’s why her job at the Bulldogs is good news.

Can you imagine a time in the distant future where we don’t need to encourage, recruit and welcome women, non-anglo saxons and gays to parts of our society in which they are not currently involved in any great numbers?

Consider what they will think as they scroll through this piece of archived commentary – no doubt through a wireless brain implant.

They’ll regard the things I am commenting on as completely alien and me as a primitive bigot.

At least, I hope they do.


I’VE written about this elsewhere but there’s some not-so-cool stuff happening in South Africa at the moment.

The South African government refuses to recognise rugby league as a separate sport from rugby union. Recently some regional sports bodies did affiliate with the SARL.

The South African Olympic Committee has responded by writing to all regional sports councils warning them not to recognise rugby league under any circumstances.

This is despite a bylaw which states any sport recognised by the Commonwealth Games Committee – as league is – is entitled to domestic recognition.

It’s the sort of discrimination that league has always faced when it tried to start (or restart – South Africa toured Australia in the sixties) in new territory.

If we had a real RLIF with an office and fulltime employees, they would be lobbying the IOC. But we don’t. Discord will keep you up to date in events over the next few weeks.


OK it’s that time again – comments.

read on

FAR & WIDE: Number 25


THERE was a big moment for our game in France last week when the national sports newspaper L’Equipe ran an expose on the Vichy government’s collusion with rugby union in the Second World War.

As most league fans should know, all of rugby league’s assets were seized and the sport was banned by the Nazi-backed administration.

L’Equipe rarely even covers rugby league and the article – with fantastic photographs from the era and a newspaper clipping featuring the headline “rugby league is dead” in the story – which featured on the cover of a supplement – will have done much to raise awareness of the issue.

However, the French government – while acknowledging the injustice – has so far baulked at any reparations. League in France has not really recovered from the setback.

Rugby union is so powerful in France that until 1991, league was formally banned from using the word “rugby” to describe itself.

To illustrate how deeply this runs, Catalan Dragons play at Gilbert Brutus Stadium – named after a resistance fighter tortured to death by the Gestapo in 1944.


photo (7)

CAN you rewrite the chorus of “We Didn’t Start The Fire” to take in West Australian Rugby League identities?
“MG, Dale Fritz, Matty Rodwell, Brett Goldspink – We didn’t start the fire…”

Here’s our exclusive photo of Billy Joel signing on as the West Coast Pirates number one US ticket holder, when Pirates official and music industry identity John Sackson recently met him in Sydney.

By the way, the Pirates have shelved plans to apply for a spot in Super League while they wait for admission to the NRL. Shame.


GERMANY and the Netherlands have played their very first international, in Heidelberg.

A very young German team prevailed 28-22. Rugby League Deutschland vice president Uwe Jansen said: “We hope to make this game an annual tradition. We will visit the Netherlands next year, and defend the trophy the Netherlands team brought with them, called the Griffin Cup.“


GREAT to see two members of the Wallaroos on The Game Plan TV show last Thursday.

Women’s rugby league is being restarted in Italy, with a selection trial to take place next month for an international tournament in Paris several weeks later.

A womens’ World Cup will be held in conjunction with the mens’ competition in Europe later this year.



DISCORD 2013: Edition Nine


AND so to Ben (nee Benji) Barba.

For the last two months, untold amounts of newsprint has been given over to torturous tales of pre-season army camps , sand hills and training sessions in the scorching sun.

“I felt like giving up,” our heroes have been quoted as saying. “I pushed myself to the edge. I questioned my decision to join (insert name of club).”

But when Ben Barba told a trainer in Goulburn last weekend “I don’t want to play footy anymore”, it was a completely different thing. Barba has been having troubles off the field, as we all well know, and has been given time by his club to address these.

But we all go into a very conventional way of thinking when these things happen, don’t we? Once he gets his life in order, we assume, Ben Barba will be back.

It is a given in our society that if you are good at something, if you win acclaim for your abilities, and you are paid a lot of money for it, you will do it for as long as you can.

Why does it have to be like that? Discord would submit that this is only the norm because people accumulate responsibilities and pressures when they are successful and are locked into doing what got them there, usually by financial factors.

I know I have written here before about our sport fawning over Sonny Bill Williams and Israel Folau and how it shows a lack of self respect on our part.

But that is no indictment on those players’ ambitions, even if the way SBW pursued his was initially offensive. In fact, I would contest that the most satisfying way for anyone to negotiate a working life is to become exceptional at something, quit, do something completely different, and repeat until retirement or death.

More of us would do that without the straps of responsibility digging into our shoulders, to paraphrase the character Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air.

If you are young, well paid, intelligent, and beholden to no-one then there is nothing wrong with deciding you want to do something else even when the rest of the world wants you to stay where you are. To quote a lyric written by Warriors fan Jon Toogood: “When you go against the grain, do you know how beautiful you are?”.

So beyond all the homilies and well-intentioned reassurance, we should afford Ben Barba the ultimate “space”, “compassion” and “freedom”.

The freedom to get his life in order, be a perfectly balanced human being, and still not “want to play footy anymore”.


THE best part of the new NRL commercial is women being depicted playing rugby league – or touch footy – rather than just cheering in the stands.

Many have seen the Women In League round has having a hint of tokenism in recent years with washing jumpers and working in the canteen given more plaudits than actually putting on the boots and playing.

It’s to be hoped women’s rugby league becomes more closely associated with the men’s game in Australia, as it is in New Zealand.


I’M back in Oz now after five months on the road and I want to thank everyone who has supported the column since it was taken on by the Sydney Morning Herald.

read on

Women’s Origin: QUEENSLAND 34 NEW SOUTH WALES 10 at McGrath Foundation Stadium

Photo: Central Western Daily


DEBUTANT centre Bianca Ambrum starred scoring four tries as Queensland’s run of Women’s Origin dominance over NSW continued on Saturday at Jane McGrath Foundation Stadium.

The Innisfail-born centre dotted down four times in the 34-10 win as Queensland extended its unbeaten run to 14 years in this format of women’s interstate matches.

Ambrum was thrilled with the result. “It’s a special moment,” she said.  “We have been training together all week in Brisbane and they are a great bunch of girls to play with, these Queensland girls. They have been around for years. It’s good to go 14 in a row this year.”

A current resident of Reipa in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Ambrum was buoyed by her opening try in the eighth minute. “You just keep rolling on” she said. “Our halfback Karyn Muphy, she is one of the best players you can play beside. She just reads the play well and running outside her I’m getting good balls all day. That’s what gave me the confidence.”

In praising her skipper Murphy, Ambrum also noted the impact of player of the match, prop Heather Ballinger “The hits she puts on you can hear it from the other side of the field,” she said “Her technique, she is just a brilliant player. I look up to her. She was one of our best forwards out there.”

Ambrum, who was the only debutant in the Queensland side this year, dominated the fixture after the foundation was laid by Murphy and the side’s props, Ballinger and Stephanie Hancock. The eight tries-to-two triumph ensured Queensland stayed unbeaten in the Women’s Interstate Challenge, the fixture’s official title.

Blues winger Tarah Westera opened the scoring when she was the end of a good backline move in the third minute. Dotting down in the left corner, the Auburn player gave NSW a 4-0 lead

The Maroons replied five minutes later when Ambrum opened her account for the day to level the scores.

Queensland halfback Murphy then engineered a 12-4 lead. The veteran of every match in the 14-year run scored one try after regathering her own grubber kick before setting up the play which lead to Ambrum’s second try

After looking lost as Queensland laid on two tries in quick succession, NSW halfback Samantha Hammond produced a great solo effort to see the margin reduced to two. From inside her own half, the Helensburgh player made a bust before evading Queensland fullback Teresa Anderson then outpacing two more defenders to the line.

NSW let themselves down, conceding on halftime when Blues fullback Emma Tonegato coughed up possession with the team on attack 30 metres out. Queensland hooker Natalie Dwyer scored in the ensuing set for a 16-10 halftime score.

Ambrum brought up her hat-trick in the 50th minute before laying on the final pass for Karina Brown five minutes later as Queensland moved out to a 24-10 lead.

Ambrum capped a remarkable debut when she again exposed the NSW left-side defence to charge over for her fourth try in the 72nd minute.

Dwyer sealed the victory with her second try of the day. Queensland got their first conversion when Amber Saltner nailed it from near the posts for 34-10 victory.

NSW coach Mark Riddell said: “We worked really hard and Queensland are a great side and they have been together for a long time and we are just starting to rebuild this year. It’s going to take time for us but we are definitely going to improve.”

Riddell pointed to the sides inexperience as not a negative but hope for the future. “The score, whilst it was 34-10 … we’ve got alot to work with. We’ve got two 17-year-old girls there, we’ve got alot of 18-, 19-, 20-year-old girls. There is alot that we can build on.

“We can keep this side together for a while. That’s our plan and we can just see how it goes.”

Riddell singled out two players in the losing side. “Front rower Rebecca Young was definitely a standout,” he said. “Jess Palmer, she played the whole game. She started at game at wing, went from wing to lock to edge back row and back to wing on the other side. Those two from a coaching staff point of view were probably two of the standouts… there were plenty right behind them.”

Queensland coach Beth Harlow praised her team’s ability to absorb early pressure from NSW. “We were expecting them to come out pretty strong,” she said.

“We probably weren’t expecting them to score as early as they did. We knew once we put some defensive pressure on them, with the fact they had so many players who hadn’t played alot of rugby league, that they would take a bit of a backward step … which they proved to do.”

Harlow praised her captain.“Karyn Murphy was excellent. Renae Knust in the second row was sensational.” Harlow noted the effort of woman of the match Ballinger. “Up in the middle she pulled off some sensational hits and Bianca Ambrum, if you score four tries in a game you are doing pretty well aren’t you?”

QUEENSLAND 34 (B Ambrum 4 N Dwyer 2 K Murphy K Brown tries A Saltner goal) bt NEW SOUTH WALES 10 (T Westera, S Hammond tries; M Studdon 1 goal) at McGrath Foundation Stadium.