Guerra Ready For Biggest Month Of His Life

Sydney Roosters - Aiden GuerraBy STEVE MASCORD

GIAN Antonio Guerra’s took the slow boat from Italy when he was just 13, in the first half of the last century. Now, grandson Aiden has him to thank for the biggest month of his life.

Three weeks after lining up for Sydney Roosters in the NRL grand final before 82,000 spectators, the back rower will honour his heritage by taking to the 72,500-capacity Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for Italy against Wales on the opening day of the World Cup.

“My grandfather was born in Italy and migrated over here. He was 13 years old, he came over with his mum and his sister,” Guerra tells RLW.

“Being picked in the Italian side, I’ve got more in touch with the heritage and the story behind it. It’s quite a story. He’s passed on now but I’ve got massive amounts of respect for what he did.

“It’s going to be good to go and represent his family name.

“It will be a good month. I’m just focused on the grand final now, whatever happens after that…. “

Guerra told an interviewer earlier this year “I was shitting myself” when Sonny Bill Williams joined the club but he has found a home in the Roosters’ top 17 by altering his role in the team somewhat.

He still remembers just how bruising the 4-0 win over Manly was on the opening weekend of the finals series.

“We were still sore on the Thursday,” he said. Asked if the tricolours would have won the following week, he answered: “It’s speculation but I’d like to say we would have. We pride ourselves on consistency throughout the season and getting up for the big games. Now that’s what we’ve got to do this week.

“They’re a team that has shown over the years that they’ve just got that mental grit and they put how they’re feeling physically in another mind and they’re just out there to win footy games. We’ve got to expect that they’re fresh minded and they’re going to come out and batter us.

“We’ve known all year they’re capable of that. They’re always going to be Manly. You know when you go out against a Manly side, they’re going to be tough. We’ve got a lot of respect for a lot of their players but we just have to go out there and do what we do and hope for the best.

“We’ve been training for this game for 10 months now and it’s no secret that if you put in the hard work, all the little secrets along the way aren’t going to matter.”

NB: Since this story appeared, Sydney Roosters beat Manly 26-18 in the NRL grand final, with Guerra scoring a try.


2013 NRL grand final: SYDNEY ROOSTERS 26 MANLY 18 at ANZ Stadium


AFTER winning a National Rugby League premiership at his first attempt, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson was none the wiser about the plans of his cross-code rugby superstar, Sonny Bill Williams.

The former All Black played a key role in the tricolours 13th premiership, his team twice coming from behind to secure a 26-18 win at ANZ Stadium in a decider that featured a rare penalty try to Manly centre Jamie Lyon and a number of other contentious calls.

New Zealand international Shaun Kenny-Dowall is believed to have played the second half with a broken jaw, with x-rays to confirm the extent if the injury.

Williams is yet to commit to the club for next season and there is intense speculation he will accept an AUD $1 million offer to box instead of playing in this month’s rugby league World Cup and then sign for New Zealand rugby union franchise the Waikato Chiefs.

“I haven’t asked him – I said ‘after the season’ but it’s only been 45 minutes,” said Robinson, who transferred from Super League side Catalan at the start of the season.

“Give us a little more time.

“After it gets past a point in a season, if he decides not to stay, that’s a huge hole you can’t fill anyway. You can’t find that type of player at this time of year, usually.

“That’s the risk you take with a player like that. He’s proved a lot of people wrong this year. We just decided to back him and we’ll do the same again.

“He can make a huge difference to a team.”

Lyon’s penalty try came three minutes into the second half and the decision looked like it would change the course of a contest at ANZ Stadium, during which his Manly side had endured the rough end of some first half calls.

Instead, Williams set up a try which lifted the tricolours back into the game and centre Michael Jennings touched down just millimetres short of the dead ball line, with seven minutes remaining, to secure victory.

The penalty try was one of a number of contentions calls at the end of a finals series that started with a seven-tackle try eliminating North Queensland.

Lyon chased Daly Cherry-Evans’ kick before he was pulled down by rival Mitchell Aubusson.

“I’ve got a try, I want to check the penalty try,” referee Shayne Hayne told video officials Ashley Klein

Six minutes later, centre Steve Matai added to Manly’s total with a converted try but just as Geoff Toovey’s side appeared set to take control, the Roosters responded with a try to Italy forward Aiden Guerra.

From the opening seconds, when Manly’s Glenn Stewart staggered out of an attempted tackle on rival Sam Moa and received medical attention before continuing, it was a grand final full of incident and contentious officiating.

Sea Eagles players claimed Sydney Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves had head-butted Justin Horo in the 33rd minute. There was definitely contact, but no classic butting action, and a previous penalty to the tricolours stood.

A penalty against Eagle Matt Ballin for tackling in the air was also highly contentious, as was a decision to award Sydney Roosters a scrum feed when their centre Michael Jennings appeared to play at the ball before it went into touch.

It was almost written into the plot that the trend should continue and when Sonny Bill Williams released James Maloney in the 60th minute, the pass to captain Anthony Minichiello drifted forwards – but went undetected – before Kenny-Dowall scored.

Well-known for his outbursts about refereeing this year, Toovey was measured post-match. “Pretty tough on the big calls again tonight,” he said.

“It was probably the lowest penalised game of the year.”

Losing halfback Daly Cherry-Evans was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal as man of the match.

Australia back-rower Greg Bird tweeted: “Am I the only person that finds it strange that every camera close up is on Sonny Bill. If he wins Clive I’ll retire!”

SYDNEY ROOSTERS 26 (A Guerra M Jennings S Kenny-Dowall D Tupou tries J Maloney 5 goals) bt MANLY 18 (J Lyon S Matai J Taufua tries J Lyon 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: S Hayne/ B Cummins. Crowd: 81,491.


THE JOY OF SIX: Finals Week Three


SYDNEY Roosters coach Trent Robinson accepts blood test results which are not under investigation will still be remembered by some fans long after Sunday’s grand final. “How do you take that back?” he said on ABC yesterday. “The way the media works now, the way all those things are kept on the internet, it’s hard to take it back. I was amazed at how those guys played under that pressure. You can see their conscience isn’t weighing them down, they played freely. They knew they were in right.” Robinson has been pretty straight-up with the media and fans for most of the season but when it comes to grand final team selections and the comeback of Boyd Cordner, “that’s something I haven’t really talked about all year, whether I’m going to play someone or not, before we get to the game. He’ll be in the selection. We’ve probably got about 21 guys who we’ll select from. Every grand final team has a motto, for the Roosters it seems to be this quote from the coach: “It’s not about being in one, it’s about winning one – we were really clear about that”


IF THAT’S the Roosters’ call to arms, what’s Manly/’s? Knowing them, they won’t tell us. But plenty of people are comparing the current side to the storied 1978 premiers, who had to play six games in 21 days – two replays including the grand final – to lift the trophy. Not only that, they repeatedly came from behind. After losing their first finals series match, the Sea Eagles snatched a 13-13 draw with Parramatta, forcing a midweek replay. When the grand final was drawn 11-11, there was another replay ending in a 16-0 win over Cronulla.  Warwick Bulmer, a staffer at Manly who has been involved since the 60s, said there were “more needles than players” in the dressingroom back then and rated Friday’s win over South Sydney as the best since. Interviewed on radio on Sunday, he said Geoff Toovey’s side couldn’t eclipse that team but they had matched their toughness.


YOUR correspondent has been covering rugby league for almost three decades and the idea that grand finals and major games should somehow be worth more before the judiciary than other matches has been around almost as long. It popped up again when Glenn Stewart was booked; no-one has ever been able to come up with a workable formula. Players would stretch the envelope in a preliminary final knowing they could get away with more. Every member of a senior squad would have to get, say, two games sliced off an existing suspension if their team made the grand final, to avoid exploitation of the rule through team selections. And finally, victims of foul play would still be sidelined for the same time while the assailant gets a discount because he committed the offence at the ‘right’ time of year. Great idea; doesn’t work.


AUSTRALIAN players were stunned that a game which kicked off in bright sunshine was suddenly hit with thunder and lightning when the Prime Minister’s XIII beat Papua New Guinea 50-10 at Kopoko’s Kalabond Oval yesterday. Of particular concern was the young children perched on electricity pylons at the packed venue. The fact that two tweeters, listening on the radio in Port Moresby, were the only links between the 50-10 win and the outside world is evidence there won’t be a PNG side in the NRL in our lifetimes. Do  Peuto Rico or Haiti have Major League Baseball teams? The only hope would be to base the team in Darwin and fly in for ‘home’ games. PNG’s James Segeyaro (shoulder) was forced off at halftime and is in a little bit of World Cup doubt. It was the first big game in the Rabaul area since the volcano eruption of 1994.


ACCORDING to the NRL’s Paul Kind, people who seek to resell their grand final tickets at face value are not in any real danger of having them cancelled by the League or Ticketek. Some 14,000 more seats are to be released on Monday morning and with all the South Sydney fans trying to off-load theirs’, plenty of scalpers seem certain to do their dough. But why do rugby league care so much more about who is in the GF, when deciding whether to go, than their AFL counterparts? Do you really think  of this Sunday’s match as a celebration of rugby league, or just a game to decide who wins the comp? And if it’s the latter, why? Does this go to the heart of the cultural differences between Sydney and Melbourne, right back to convicts v free settlers?


THIS one’s for the trainspotters, geeks and anoraks. And if you’ve read this far, that’s most of you. Manly, it has been argued on Facebook (where else?), did not score 30 unanswered points on Friday night. Yes, they were down 14-0 and the scoreline turned into 30-14 in their favour, But, their 30 point – at the very least – was ‘answered’ by a late South Sydney try. So ‘unanswered’ is often misused when ‘uninterrupted’ or ‘consecutive’ is more accurate. We deal with the game’s biggest issues here. Next week: what time each weekend does the the team with the bye actually get those two competition points? Should you count them when you go through the competition table before kick-off on Friday? Are they sent out registered post? Should they be?


Morris: My Incident Wasn’t The Difference

Running out of troops ... Cronulla


CRONULLA hero John Morris says he hopes the Sharks’ campaign is not remembered by the misdemeanour which led to captain Paul Gallen’s late try against Manly being disallowed.

Hooker Morris – the man who chased Kane Linnett to save the day in the controversial elimination final win over North Queensland – found himself tangled up with defender Matt Ballin while in an offside position as Gallen steamed over on Friday night.

Video referees detected the illegality and chalked off a try that, with a conversion, would have tied the contest and probably sent it into overtime.

“I’m not sure who called it, I didn’t even think they’d go back to it,” Morris tells League Week.

“I pushed through on the play before, because (Sam) Tagataese made a half-break and I was in support.

“Then he got a quick play-the-ball and at the time there was no-one at dummy-half. I went to accelerate to get to dummy half and I realised I probably couldn’t get there.

“Just at that split-second, Gal’s picked it up and unfortunately I made a tiny bit of contact with Matt Ballin.

“That’s the obstruction rule. Some go with you, some go against you.

“It was a crucial part of the game but hopefully that’s not talked about as what cost us. It was a good effort by the boys to be in there at the end.”

Morris said he’d rather focus on what a great year it was for a team that was constantly under the glare of the ASADA investigation

“Obviously the video referee’s try at the end there is going to stand out but I don’t think we’ve got any hard feelings. We just roll with the punches. That’s footy,” he said

“There was definitely not much in it, as the score indicated. They sort of jumped away to a lead and we pulled them back there at the end. There were a couple of decisions.

“I’ll just remember the camaraderie that’s come out of this place and the tightness of the group, the resilience of the group. This is a really strong club. It always bounces back when there’s a bit of adversity around the place.

“Flanno’s done an awesome job. Steve Noyce has come in and done a great job and everyone’s just focused on footy. We’ve had a really professional approach to the year and it’s a credit to everyone that we’re here and just fell short of a grand final qualifier.”


George Rose: I Was Getting Ready For Mad Monday

George Rose/wikipedia

George Rose/wikipedia


MANLY favourite George Rose says he was already mixing drinks for Mad Monday in his head when Manly were trailing the preliminary final 14-0.

Sitting on the bench as the bunnies got off to a flier, Rose was mentally preparing for his new life as a Melbourne Storm player.

“I was actually sitting there with Jamie Buhrer talking about what sort of drinks we were going to mix up and enjoy tonight,” says Rose.

“We were gonna do it tough. They were fresh.

“I’m stoked. Twenty minutes into the game, I thought the season was over but I’ve got another game to play with my mates so I’m going to make the most of it.”

While Manly’s ability to fight back in seemingly hopeless situations has taken on an almost mystical air, Rosed says it comes down to little more than hard work.

“I’m surprised they (Souths) got as tired as they did but it was from my team-mates who kept turning up, kept running hard, kept tackling hard and slowly wore them down,” he said.

“I know how tough they’ve had it in the last two weeks. There’re blokes playing 80 minutes against these two good sides that we’ve already played – and then they have to do it again.

“I’d love to leave here with a premiership. We’ve got nothing more to play for after next week, We’re going to empty the tank, that’s for sure.”

According to Rose’s team-mate Tom Simmonds: “We probably felt better going into this game than we did going into the Sharkies game.”


Cordner Sorry For The Unkindest Cut

Sydney Roosters - Boyd CordnerBy STEVE MASCORD

INJURED Sydney Rooster Boyd Cordner says taking a team-mate’s place is going to be his toughest part of grand final week.

The former NSW Under 20s captain has been sidelined for seven weeks with a broken ankle but tells RLW he was close to being fit for Saturday night’s preliminary final against Newcastle.

But a return against Sunday’s title joust with Manly means taking the place of Luke O’Donnell or Dylan Napa.

“I wanted to play this week, I’ll definitely be right for next week,” said Cordner, 21.

“It’s just a matter of whether I get picked or not.

“I don’t wish (missing out) upon anyone but I suppose that’s down to the coach in the end, and his decision.

“It’s not going to be pretty but I don’t want to miss out on a grand final.”

Cordner argues he’s had more than his fair share of stewing on the sidelines this year. “It’s torture to watch, it’s so hard – especially from round 26 against Souths,” he said.

“The boys have been playing unreal; it takes as much out of you as playing.

“The stress and anxiety, I’d rather be out there.“

Cordner says the mental aspect of the game has been the biggest change under new coach Trent Robinson, who said he’d have no hesitation putting the star back rower straight into the team.

“We didn’t talk about winning the competition at all – I knew we had ability but I never thought we’d be in this position now,” he said.

“I suppose throughout the season, probably halfway through, we started to feel we were the real deal. It’s just been a great year. There’s one more (game) to go – we don’t want to be losing that.”




“A person is intelligent and sensible,” someone remarked to me at the start of the week, ‘but people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.”

The comment, about the fascinating and scary herd mentality we call “mob rules”, came in the wake of the outcry over Cronulla’s seventh-tackle try on Saturday night.

Let’s look at the facts: the referees miscounted. The video referees, who are supposed to help them keep count, didn’t. Cronulla scored a try on the seventh tackle and subsequently won by a margin which meant the try in question – mathematically – determined the result.

A completely different officiating error, this time by the video referee, also ended North Queensland’s season at the same venue last year.

Those are the facts. From there, the Cowboys’ coach throws up, without explicitly supporting, the idea there is a conspiracy that everyone wants a Sydney Roosters v South Sydney grand final. Somehow, in the minds of thousands of people, this becomes fact.

Here’s where this column splits in two.

Strand A goes like this: to even address the suggestion that the NRL is in cahoots with referees and would willingly embarrass themselves and the sport to ensure a team that has been the subject of a drugs investigation all year progresses in the finals is an insult to your intelligence.

That’s the end of Strand A.

Strand B goes like this: Neil Henry is right. The Sydney media does want a Sydney Roosters-South Sydney grand final. The Sydney media, and the television and radio broadcasters, have an audience in mind.

You could argue the news values employed in a Sydney newsroom are just representing the genuine priorities of its audience – or you could contend the motivations are purely cynical and commercial. That’s a debate for another column.

But the referees are a furphy. The real issue is that media outlets are inherently selfish and inward looking and the NRL isn’t doing enough to counter this.

The referees are a furphy but in truth, the NRL IS Sydney- and Brisbane-centric.

Because ratings in those cities are the ones that attract advertisers and raise advertising fees, they are more important to the broadcasters. Magazines know which players and clubs on the cover will sell, and which won’t, as another example.

But the NRL has no control over who is on the front of magazines. It can control when games are played.

It is frankly outrageous that Brisbane Broncos should be on every second Friday night, that Canberra are never on free-to-air television and that Melbourne should have to play in every timeslot possible, being tossed around by broadcasters like a hand grenade with the pin removed.

Brisbane, South Sydney, Parramatta, St George Illawarra, Canterbury, Manly and – thanks mainly to SBW – Sydney Roosters are the pretty girls everyone wants to dance with because they represent dollar signs to broadcasters.

And the NRL is happy to make those damsels dance to the broadcaster’s tune, impacting on the very fairness and parity of their own competition (through scheduling), which becomes collateral damage.

The NRL is really about the size of an American college competition, in terms of reach. Because we have a small market and canibalised ourselves a decade and a half ago, the compromises detailed above have been deemed a necessary evil.

We’re happy to cut corners. Canterbury and Sydney Roosters each got to play at their home grounds in the first week of the finals – but one of them had to share it with another game, and the other didn’t. We have some teams who play in giant stadia and others who go round at suburban parks. One team has a whole country to draw on, another has a cluster of inner-city suburbs.

The NRL is Sydney- and Brisbane-centric because those are the cities that make the cash registers tinkle. But as this column has always said, a professional sport needs to be capitalist to the outside world but intensely socialist internally to succeed.

Until everyone is treated equally, all the time, the dumb, the panicky and the dangerous will always have something to latch onto.


Knights Tyro Draws Strength From Veteran Smith

Newcastle - Tyrone RobertsBy STEVE MASCORD

NEWCASTLE tyro Tyrone Roberts says Jeremy Smith is the man who’s given him the confidence to guide Wayne Bennett’s side around the park under intense pressure at finals time.

Only 22 years old with just over 50 first grade games to his name, Roberts helped the Knights end the premiership defence of Cooper Cronk-guided Melbourne on Saturday and faces up to Mitchell Pearce this weekend.

Unheralded at the start of the year, he’s playing with maturity beyond his years.

“Jeremy Smith, he’s had confidence in me every week to do the job,” Roberts, who will play despite a long-term posterior cruciate ligament injury, tells League Week.

“He calms me down.

“It’s a good balance. The (experienced players) give us some advice. We take a leaf out of their book and they trust in us to do the job.

“Bedsy (Danny Buderus) … all the older boys have got faith in the younger boys.”

The secret behind his own form?

“I think it’s just the belief, being the player that other players want to play with which is our motto, he answers.

“Wayne (Bennett), he settles us down and makes sure we don’t get too amped up before the game and overplay ourselves. I think it’s a credit to the boys, we stayed calm.”

Jeremy Smith says about the Knights chances against the Roosters: “We have nothing to lose next week – everyone wrote us off anyway”.


THE JOY OF SIX: Finals Week Two



ASKED on Saturday night why his Newcastle side was coming good in the finals, coach Wayne Bennett replied: “It’s spring”. Then quizzed if that was the reason just for him, he replied: “For all of us, that’s the time you want it to happen”. On the eve of the second preliminary semi-final, veteran Danny Buderus said Bennett was “a different coach” during the finals. That was apparent to outsiders after the 18-16 victory, when Bennett acceded to every interview request. On Sunday, he even made a rare appearance on FM radio. The reason Wayne Bennett makes himself scarce for most of the year is so he can cash in his media chips when it matters most, drawing attention and pressure away from the players by cracking jokes and hamming it up in public. The man with an image for dismissing the media actually strategies his interactions with them down to the finest detail.


YOU’D be forgiven for forgetting there is plenty of rugby league on after the grand final, by virtue of the World Cup. But will there be any star players still standing? Benji Marshall and Justin Hodges are already gone, Sonny Bill Williams is rated at long odds chose the tournament over boxing and then there are the walking wounded of the the NRL finals series. Greg Inglis, Anthony Watmough and Billy Slater (all knee) all look doubtful for Australia. Jack Reed’s shoulder has already cost him his England spot and if Brent Kite is playing with a broken hand, it’s hard to see Penrith encouraging him to play for Tonga. Sisa Waqa suffered a grade two medial ligament tear on Saturday night and seems set to be a Fiji Bati casualty. There will no doubt be more withdrawals – probably many more.


WOULD it really be such a bad thing for referees to be given a third option when they send a try decision upstairs, namely “dunno”. The signal could be arms at the side, bent at the elbow, with flat palms pointed at the sky. Maybe a head tilt as well. But seriously, is there not a logic disconnect in saying the on-field official must make a decision in 100 per cent of cases, only using technology to doublecheck his decision, then making it significantly harder for technology to disagree than agree with him? Surely the information of the video referees is being hampered to such an extent that we might as well not have them at all. Not having “dunno” seems a matter of pride rather than practical sense. At least I think that’s the case. I’m not sure.


LATE on Sunday night, Tony Smith – brother of Brian – was force to make a decision which he detested. Under the rules of the Super League play-offs, as the highest-ranking winner of week one in the play-offs, Smith’s Warrington got to choose their preliminary final opponents. The Wolves had a choice between Huddersfield, 76-18 winners over Hull, or perennial late-season-peak men Leeds, 11-10 winners over St Helens. Smith detests ‘club call’, as it is known, for old school coaching reasons – it gives the opposition ammunition. That’s how highly coaches rate psychology – they’d rather pass up the chance to choose their own opponents! The question is, who would 2012 Catalan coach Trent Robinson choose this year? I’m banking on the team where he used to be assistant under Tony Smith’s brother – Newcastle.


ONCE upon a time, all finals were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground or Sydney Sports Ground. You knew it was September in Sydney when the wind picked up and you waltzed onto the hill around midday to watch under 23s and reserve grade. But crowds were poor early in the finals, so we shifted matches to home grounds. Then we did that in week two, then week three. And we stopped using suburban grounds completely. But – as we saw at the weekend – attendances are still and issue. What is the logical next step? Tendering out finals to venues who can guarantee big gates and financial security, perhaps? Perth, Auckland, Brisbane, Wellington, Adelaide, Darwin? Seems to be worth a try, given that finals venues are already centrally controlled and the grand final is in Sydney until further notice.


SOME questions regarding Saturday’s NRL media release: One of the people interviewed as part of the probe, a reporter, says he was told by the SC’s assistant the alleged incident itself was not being investigated. If this is true, how can one investigate a cover-up without determining if there was something to cover up in the first place? And how can a person who was not investigated be exonerated in the subsequent press release? Given that that the release said there would be “no further comment”, I guess we’ll never know.  You might be wondering why this column is appearing, given its Sun-Herald predecessor. I’ve only stepped away from chasing news, because I can’t see the point under current conditions. I’m still hoping someone wants me to cover games and write columns and features. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.