How Australia Turned The Anzac Test

Cooper Cronk/wikipedia

Cooper Cronk/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

COOPER Cronk has revealed the tactical change that turned a 6-6 halftime deadlock into a handsome 20-point Australian ANZAC Test victory.

“We definitely readjusted our gameplan in that second half,” the Australia halfback tells League Week.

“The conditions play a part in terms of New Zealand playing field position and (being) camped on our line. We threw a few long passes in that first half which allowed the New Zealand rushing defence to shut us down.

“We shortened things up (in the second half), played down the middle third of the field and obviously used the wind behind us.”

Prop James Tamou says winning back the World Cup was not mentioned once by coach Tim Sheens or his players in the lead-up to the 32-12 victory at Canberra Stadium.

“Obviously, Sheensy wants to keep this team together, depending on form and injuries,” says North Queensland’s Tamou.

“We want to keep this team close-knit.

“It wasn’t really mentioned this whole week, how New Zealand hold the World Cup. I think, later on, it will be more mentioned and the hype will be huge.

“We just wanted to play this game first.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Representative Round

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
1. COUNTRY ROADS, TAKE ME SOMEWHERE
SUPPORT for the City-Country game rallied over the 24 hours before yesterday’s game at BCU Stadium in Coffs Harbour. Then, 4635 people showed up. The first question that needs to be answered is whether NSW needs a selection trial at all. Paul Gallen did say on Triple M last night that he would have confidence playing alongside Adam Reynolds after seeing him in action. So assuming they do need the game, the next question is whether candidates actually oppose each other in that selection trial. Yesterday, that probably happened only in the front row or second row … maybe the centres. So if the object is to see how players fair at rep level, not against each other, then why do City and Country have to play each other? “Sydney Origin” would draw a massive crowd in Port Moresby, while Country could take on an island nation or Pacific All Stars in a rural centre and in interest would be huge. In the NRL, we’re trying to find the right venues for the right games. At rep level, we have to find the right opponents for the right teams.

2. ISLANDS GO FROM INVADED TO INVADERS
IN almost a quarter of a century of covering international rugby league outside the top three, I have learned of a strange dichotomy. Those running and supporting the games want to be taken seriously regardless of rubbery qualification rules, dodgy venues and last-minute planning. That’s until something goes wrong. Then they – administrators, coaches, fans and players – want forgiving coverage and charity because it’s “a development game” and they’re just doing their best for the great sport of rugby league. You can’t have a bet each way, it’s either serious or it’s not. On Saturday night, a fully recognised Test match was abandoned with 45 seconds left – and a scoreline which will appear in the record books forever was affected by a conversion that couldn’t be taken – because match officials had been escorted off for their own protection amid a pitch invasion. Other sports would cop it over that and so should we.

3. A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE INTERCHANGE BENCH
WHEN Willie Mason retires, he has an opportunity to start a new form of corporate service: motivational comedy. Your correspondent on the touchline yesterday heard Mason mix humour with exhortation in a manner perhaps not seen elsewhere in the English language. “Off already?” he says as opponent Nathan Peats trudged past. “I got you on your back, brother,” Peats said back. “That’s must be a big aim,” Mason responded. But Mason’s encouragement of his team-mates – mixed with good-natured humour and mostly gentle sledging of the opposition – bordered on inspirational. Mason may have cashed in his representative retirement fund but his representative footballing chips remain firmly in his pocket.

4. BAAAH HUMBUG
IN all the discussions about the ANZAC Test and its place in the calendar, two things are forgotten. One, we used to have the Test after Origin and Australia beat Great Britain 64-10. Australia are too strong after being steeled by Origin and are capable of setting the international game back decades. That’s why the Test is on first.
Two, no-one considered that the game is there for the Kiwis. Australian league people often just think of themselves. The NZRL has precious few fixtures to promote the game and its trademarks. The leading country in any sport has a moral responsibility to the other nations playing that game to help them. Oh, if it’s not worth playing the World Cup holders, who is it worth playing? And no-one said the Tonga-Samoa game should be scrapped when the margin was bigger…

5. VIDEO KILLED THE TEST STAR
A FORMER touch judge admonished me on Twitter on Friday when I suggested there was no basis for the NRL video referee procedure (form a T with your hands, say you think it’s a try, say what you want to check) being used in a Test match. “Isn’t it about getting it right?” he said. Well, it isn’t JUST about that. This is a World Cup year; a World Cup that still doesn’t have a naming rights sponsor. Shouldn’t we be trying to create the impression that there is a level above domestic football that is a little different? There is never a feeling when Australia plays New Zealand in mid-season that it is part of a wider level of competition that now involves more than 30 countries. We should be working hard on creating that impression – so (see above) people take us seriously.

6. DAVID’S NOT WELSHING ON ANYTHING
YESTERDAY on the ABC, NRL Commission chairman John Grant addressed criticism that his chief executive David Smith is not as accessible as predecessors like Neil Whittaker, David Moffett and David Gallop. Now, I have heard that even NRL clubs struggle to get as returned phone call from Smith at times. Grant said that Smith had been busy with the ASADA investigation and many other matters, including the prioritising of 30 key ‘tasks’ the commission wants to address in the coming months. He said Smith would become more visible but would not be talking to the same journo or journos every day, as previous CEOs have done. I’m a journo but I think that’s fair enough. Does the NFL commissioner finish every day by returning 47 calls from every daily newspaper in the US? The media is too diverse now for Smith to favour just a handful of hacks without rightly being accused of unfairness. Oh, those days were great. Thanks Neil, thanks Davids. But I can accept they’re over.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Tohu Talks More Than Smith Realises

Tohu Harris

Tohu Harris

By STEVE MASCORD

AUSTRALIA and Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith says clubmate Tohu Harris is so quiet his own parents probably only found out about his Test debut when they sat in front of the television on Friday night.

But the 21-year-old, a late inclusion in New Zealand’s Test team in Canberra on Friday night, gave relatives including father Paul and mother Dale plenty of time to get to the national capital for his big moment.

Harris, who made his first grade debut in the World Club Challenge just two months ago, came into the Kiwis side at the 11th hour when a calf muscle injury ruled out captain Simon Mannering. Australia turned a 6-6 halftime deadlock into a handsome 32-12 win.

“When I came on, they started scoring tries – I don’t know what to read into that!” the back-rower, who found out on match eve that he was playing, told The Age.

“Mum, dad, my fiancé Natalie and her dad, Mark, came down. I loved having them here. I had a little bit of time and the staff quickly got onto getting my mum over here.

“My fiancé and my dad were going to be coming anyway. As soon as we found out, Nat’s dad and my mum got a flight and came too.

“It was a big shock at first. I wasn’t expecting it at all. But it was a good experience and I enjoyed the whole week.

“I got told I was going to be 18th man so there was a chance if something happened, I would be a chance. But I thought I was mainly here for the experience. Unfortunately Simon, he pulled up sore, and I was fortunate enough to be the next one in line.

“(The game) was quick at times but I felt comfortable. “

Asked about his team-mate’s sudden elevation, man of the match Smith said: “He doesn’t talk at the best of times, Tohu. His family probably didn’t know until they turned on the Tv tonight.

“I’m extremely pleased for Tohu, he’s a wonderful young kid and he’s really playing consistent football for us in Melbourne.

“If he continues to work on his game and he continues to play good footy, I think we’re going to be seeing him fairly often in the black and white jersey.”

Another Storm star, Australia halfback Cooper Cronk, said Harris deserved his chance.

“I saw him the other night at the dinner and congratulated him,” said Cronk. “It’s a credit to him to be part of the squad to start with.

“He’s been playing exceptionally at club level and with Simon being out, he’s a ready-made replacement. Well done, congratulations to him.”

Filed for: THE AGE

ends

Test: AUSTRALIA 32 NEW ZEALAND 12 at Canberra Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE trio Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk helped inspire a second half cakewalk for Australia after the Anzac Test in Canberra was tied at halftime.

In chilly conditions in the nation’s capital, Storm rookie Tohu Harris – who made his first grade debut only two months ago was called into the New Zealand side at the 11th hour when skipper Simon Mannering pulled out due to a calf injury.

Four tries in nine minutes during the second half secured for Tim Sheens men a handsome win in their only full international before the World Cup at the end of the season in England, Wales, Ireland and France.

But while World Cup holders New Zealand had three first half tries disallowed, they still managed to score after the siren to tie the scores 6-6 for the break.

Proceedings seemed to be following the script when Storm star Cooper Cronk scored the first try after only six minutes. The halfback’s short pass sent Matt Scott hurtling towards the line and Cronk was on hand to take the offload and dive over, with Cameron Smith converting.

But the Kiwis upped the ante, defending stoutly and hammering the Australian line. Kieran Foran, named captain with Simon Mannering’s late withdrawal, and Frank Pritchard were particularly prominent.

At 11 minutes, Pritchard was held up over the tryline. At 17, Kiwis winger Jason Nightingale appeared to spill a bomb, allowing Australia’s Sam Thaiday to dive over.

But video referees Steve Clark and Henry Perenara spotted an aerial knock-on by Brett Morris and chalked off the try.

Another six minutes elapsed before New Zealand lock Alex Glenn dived over. Despite his confidence, the eyes in the sky ruled he had knocked on as he slammed the ball down and Stephen Kearney’s side remained scoreless.

Kiwis centre Dean Whare was just as confident he had scored on the half hour. But Klein spotted, and asked the video referees to check, Jason Nightingale dragging Justin Hodges away from diving on his own knock-on.

Foran argued that if the try was going to be disallowed, it should be a scrum feed to the Kiwis for Hodges’ knock-on. But Klein gave Australia a penalty, telling Foran “it’s a major infringement versus a minor infringement”.

Four minutes later, Foran grubber-kicked into the in-goal and Pritchard claimed the lolling ball. But he knocked on at his first lunge for the Steeden, making it the third New Zealand try disallowed.

After keeping the Australians out at one end, New Zealand scored at the other seconds after the bell for halftime.

Pritchard grubber-kicked, fullback Josh Hoffman flashed through to touch down and halfback Shaun Johnson – who had earlier landed a sweeping 4020 kick – landed a difficult conversion.

By scoring the try, the Kiwis bucked a trend from mid-season Tests which sees the Australians score late points in the first half.

But they couldn’t buck the trend of their own second half collapses in these matches.

Eleven minutes into the second session, Australia centre Greg Inglis scored perhaps the untidiest try of the season. A pass was knocked down, there was the suggestion of dummy runner Paul Gallen colliding illegally with Jared Wearea Hargreaves and also of Billy Slater knock on.

But the green light went up, Australia regained the lead and they never surrendered it. “Billy Slater knocked it on – and they ran behind the dummy runner,” Foran blasted, to no avail.

Three minutes later, Bill Slater popped the ball over the top to an unmarked Brett Morris and the scoreline was extended to 16-6.

At that point, New Zealand were still technically in the contest but tiring badly. When lock Gallen carted the ball into the teeth of the defence and handed Luke Lewis a lovely pass, the replacement charged over near the posts.

Hooker Smith made it 22-6 and Billy Slater made a break straight from the kick-off, after another gem of a Gallen pass. Seconds later, Johnathan Thurston’s kick put Darius Boyd over for a try which Smith could not convert.

Centre Justin Hodges scored Australia’s sixth try with seven minutes remaining. Pritchard was rewarded for his efforts with a late touchdown.

AUSTRALIA 32 (Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis, Brett Morris, Luke Lewis, darius Boyd, Justin Hodges tries; Cameron Smith 4 goals) beat NEW ZEALAND 12 (Josh Hoffman, Frank Pritchard tries; Shaun Johnson 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 25,628

Filed for: THE SUNDAY AGE

NRL round five: NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 PENRITH 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

AUSTRALIA prop James Tamou does not believe he has done enough to keep his jersey for the April 19 Test against New Zealand and reckons only a five-star showing for North Queensland on Friday will save him.

Tamou offered the stinging self-assessment despite running 199 metres in last night’s 30-0 Cowboys win against Penrith at 1300SMILES Stadium.

Asked if he felt he had earned the right in the first five rounds of the NRL to keep his place in the national side for the trans-Tasman international at Canberra Stadium, Tamou said: “To be honest, not really.

“I wouldn’t be filthy or anything if I didn’t get picked. I’d put that on myself. I know I haven’t been performing (to) my standards.

“Hopefully, the game against the Broncos will really set it up for me. I don’t know about Thumper (fellow prop Matt Scott) but the form we were in, we had to definitely lift.

“We were still in first gear. You get front rowers who play one good game and then, the next game, they can shy away. Hopefully I can do the same thing against the Broncos.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world, rugby league. With the rep side of it, you’ve got to watch out for other front rowers. They are definitely out there to take your spot.

“I wouldn’t say I’m up there at the top but there’s always guys trying to pull you down and trying to better than you

“It’s up to me to step up.”

After the Cowboys’ win – they led 24-0 at halftime – the diagnosis for halfback Robert Lui was altered from ankle ligaments to a kneecap problem. He is likely to be missing for a fortnight.

“We all know what he’s been through to get here and we all feel sorry for him,” said centre Brent Tate, involved in the lead-up to Lui’s 16th-minute try.

“But he’ll get his chance.”

Lui’s departure marked a slowing of the scoring deluge; Neil Henry’s side was averaging better than a point a minute at the time he crossed for his try.

The 22-0 lead at 18 minutes became 24-0 right on halftime and 30-0 when centre Kane Linnett posted his second try a minute into the second half.

But the match then got bogged down somewhat, with Penrith second rower Clint Newton booked for a high tackle on NQ hooker Anthony Mitchell in the 61st minute in front of 12,431 fans.

In the final game whose kick-off time is affected by daylight saving this season, fans could have been forgiven for heading to the home for a few extra hours’ sleep when it was only one-quarter over.

North Queensland winger Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa scored after only three minutes, off a Matt Bowen bomb, and Linnett got his first three minutes later.

That touchdown would have been disallowed under the previous interpretation of the obstruction rule as NQ forward Tariq Sims appeared to make contact with a defender while running a decoy. Under the new interpretation, the green light came up.

Further tries to winger Antonio Winterstain and Lui left little doubt that the Cowboys would end a three-match losing streak after losses to Melbourne, Newcastle and the Warriors.

Henry could also not guarantee winger Ashley Graham would come back into the team for Friday’s clash with Brisbane, given the performances of Faifai Loa and Antonio Winterstein.

Whoever plays on Friday, Henry and co-captain Scott agreed, a significant improvement would be needed on last night’s effort.

“On the back of a good win against the Titans, no doubt there’ll be a massive crowd down and Suncorp and we’re going to have to be a lot better than we were tonight, that’s for sure,” said Scott.

“Opening the season (against Brisbane) is great but any time we come up against them is a game we look forward to.

“They’re tough games and they showed last night what a quality side they are.”

Henry agreed, saying: “I think anyone watching that game (tonight) would see that compared to last night’s Broncos game, we are going to need to improve considering we’re going down there.

“And we’re realists about that.”

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said his men tried hard but were “just bad”.

“I can’t fault the preparation, the effort’s there, but execution in so many areas was poor – the worst we’ve had all year,” he said.

“There’s a reality to us that we aren’t fancied and there’s a reason for that. There’s guys down on their confidence and that happens when you lose a few games as well.”

NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 (K Linnett 2 K Faifai Loa  A Winterstein R Lui tries J Thurston 5 goals) bt PENRITH 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium. Referees: A Devich/C James. Crowd:  12,431.

Filed for: SUN-HERALD