2013 Season Review: CANTERBURY BULLDOGS

Canterbury - logoBy STEVE MASCORD

IN a way, these Rugby League Week year-enders can serve as historical records. You can leaf through old dog eared copies of the The Bible and relive what went right – and wrong – for your favourite team.

But in the case of 2012 grand finalists, the Canterbury Bulldogs, the full story probably hasn’t been told yet.

A season which promised so much ended on September 15 with a 22-6 elimination final loss to Newcastle at ANZ Stadium. The fact fullback Ben Barba failed to finish the game due to an ankle injury completed a sorry circle for the Bulldogs.

At the beginning of the season, Barba was suspended by the club for a month over “behavioural issues”. There is a photo of his former partner, Ainslee Currie, with a bleeding lip which remains unexplained.

And no sooner had Barba been stood down than rumours began to circulate over deep divisions in the first grade squad. By the end of the season, the daily press reported he was not even on speaking terms with many of his team-mates and had failed to finish counselling sessions which had been described by the club – at the time of his suspension – as mandatory.

It would take an extremely optimistic Dogs fan to maintain these internecine conflicts had not adversely affected the club’s bid to go one better on last year’s runners-up finish.

But many of these factors remain unexplored, the subject of speculation and supposition. There’s not much we can say about them here and that may remain the case for years, although continuing media enquiries into club CEO Todd Greenberg’s move to NRL headquarters could uncover more about events during the coming summer.

In the meantime, all we have are the results and the public utterances of those within the club on which to judge why 2013 fell so far short of expectations for the men from Belmore.

The 24-12 home loss to North Queensland – in a game shifted to BlueTongue Stadium – in round one was actually not as big an upset as it now looks, given that many pundits had installed Neil Henry’s side as premiership favourites.

Des Hasler’s side then snuck home against Parramatta in Sydney – another performance that looks worse now than it did at the time – before losing a tight one to Melbourne at AAMI Park.

Further defeats to South Sydney and Manly followed before a 38-0 belting by the Sydney Roosters exposed the depth of the club’s predicament.

The break for the representative weekend ushered in some signs of life.

There was a 24-8 win over Cronulla and crushing 40-4 triumph against Wests Tigers, followed by a tough 24-16 success away to the Warriors. Steadily, the Dogs began to rise back up the table.

Heading into round seven, they were last. Before round 10, it was 11th.

Then it all came crashing down again – and it was at the hands of the side that would eventually end their season. Newcastle 44 Canterbury 8 at Hunter Stadium on May 19 was a shock to the Dogs travelling supporters and brought the soul searching back.

Wins against Brisbane and St George Illawarra righted the ship somewhat and, heading into the Origin series, the blue-and-whites were ninth, but on the same number of competition points as the seventh-placed Knights.

The Origin period was initially kind to Canterbury.

A ten-point away win over North Queensland was followed by a two-point overtime nail-biter at Brookvale.

The tricolours edged out Hasler’s men by two, then the Knights continued to exert their hoodoo before the Bulldogs scored a remarkable 39-0 Sunday afternoon success over a severely depleted Melbourne.

Into the home stretch then, with the rep season over, and going into round 20 in sixth position. There are wins over Parramatta and St George Illawarra before a watershed home defeat to a gritty, determined Gold Coast on August 12.

As we know, the Bulldogs hung on to make the finals, dropping a couple more games including their final regular season fixture to Brisbane. But the consistency, which coach Hasler must have been confident would arrive eventually, never really showed up.

Hasler said of the final that put the dogs out of their misery: “That could be any game that we’ve tossed up in the last 10 weeks.

“I’m really disappointed with the ball (retention), I’ve been going on about that for a while.”

He insisted it was too difficult to sum up accurately why his side had not managed to recapture the magic of the previous year. “I think we’ve been pretty inconsistent,” he said.

“We’ve got an off-season to review it. We’ll certainly be doing that.”

Our season reviews are supposed to be about football, not off-field intrigue. But when one has an impact on the other, the dividing line becomes more than a little blurry.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

2013 Season Review: SYDNEY ROOSTERS

Sydney Roosters logoBy STEVE MASCORD
HE made it sound so easy that anyone could do it: sign a few superstars, treat everyone equally and: abracadabra, a premiership at first attempt.
But beneath the professed credo of Sydney Roosters’ rookie coach Trent Robinson were two pillars which those in the inner-sanctum described as every bit as important as the worth ethic he espoused at post-match press conferences all year.
They were: simplicity and warmth.
“His structure is very simple,” chief executive Brian Canavan tells RLW in the hubbub of the winning dressingroom on grand final day.
“If it needs to be adapted, yes. But that allows everyone to work comfortably within that structure.
“That’s what I found about him – no-one’s confused, very simple delivery and it allows everyone to express themselves.”
The warmth is something that comes naturally for Robinson. While playing under new Melbourne Storm assistant Justin Morgan at Toulouse, he made the effort to learn French and immersed himself in local culture, something many Australian imports were not willing to do.
Empathy is a very under-rated aspect of coaching. Back in Sydney, that approach translated itself to including everyone in the club, from the ballboys to Sonny Bill Williams, in what he was trying to do.
“There’re so many people who put a lot of work into our club,” Robinson explained.
“People try to put it down to a player or two and coaches.
“But there were a lot of people who worked so hard over the last few years to get it to this point, where we were right this year. A lot of us have come in and we’ve benefited from that.”
The Roosters face to the outside world changed; they seemed a team with no secrets – open, honest and available. That philosophy was most sorely tested two weeks from the finish line when a test results registering high levels of HGH were found on a crime figure’s phone.
Robinson was at a crossroads: should he shut the media out, show his anger at the reports and pull down the shutters or continue on the road that he had set out on in February.
He chose the latter – and it may have delivered a premiership.
“We’ve got nothing to hide in everything we do and that’s how we’ve dealt with everything this year,” says Robinson. “We’re clear about our footy and we know who we are as a club and as a team.
“We’re comfortable when we talk about that … and last week was really hard.
“We decided to talk about it rather than shut it down. And we probably need to talk about it more … but there’s no issue from us.
“I think that’s a good policy. Sometimes … there is anger there.”
The elephant in the room in discussing what Robinson and his assistants Jason Taylor and Paul Green did this year is why they had to do it.
It’s one thing to say that various philosophies and measures had to be put in place but not the done thing to address what it was like before.
Robinson did a thorough apprenticeship under veteran Brian Smith but there would have been no need to put the highest paid player on the same level as the lowest, and make sure they work hard, if there was no danger of the opposite occurring.
“People thought the star factor would take over our club,” Robinson told the assembled media on Sunday night.
Robinson played the ultimate psychological card trick on his side: we’ve got the players to win the competition but let’s behave all year as if we don’t.
He explained: “We know we’re a club that’s seen as quite a wealthy club, seen as the high fliers, but we’re built on a real hard-working foundation. That was our team. We were really clear on who we were at the Roosters.
“We knew we had some good players but we wanted to work hard for each other, as our club has.
“We knew this group of players was ready to win a comp but we didn’t know if we coaches were.”
Consider it a question now conclusively answered. Robinson’s own confidence was probably the final plank in building the Roosters’ 13th premiership.
When asked before one finals series game what the big question in his mind regarding the contest was, he replied that he was not wondering about anything at all.
If the events of last week did not surprise the coach, then they did others in the club.
“It does surprise me,” said Canavan. “To come from where we’ve been the last couple of years and end up club champions, minor premiers and now the premiers is quite an extraordinary run.
“I’d like to know why …. And I’ll write it down.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE BIG ISSUE: #59

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

HOW quickly they forget.

By the time you read this, the campaigns of eight NRL teams is are already fading memories. It’s worth pondering how arbitrary and brutal an industry rugby league, and professional sport in general, is.

You train like a dog all summer, you get locked into a weekly grind which is painful, repetitive and unforgiving. And just like that, sometimes at the whim of a match official, injury or suspension, it ends with a shrill siren in round 26.

Bang, you’re not competing anymore. It doesn’t happen so suddenly in too many other areas of human endeavour, except perhaps life itself.

The play-offs are, objectively, even weirder. You train and play for 10 months just to get into one of these things. If it’s a sudden death game, you have effectively put four days into each minute of that contest.

And if you lose – just one game off football – the entire 10 months is gone. The who 10 months is wasted for 575 out of 600 footballers, who have to start again or will never get another chance. Brutal odds.

GOLD COAST: An admirable rear guard action, desperately short on troops. If the comp was a month longer, they may have made the grand final.

PENRITH: Over-achieved due to own hard work. Ivan Cleary has some claim to coach-of-the-year voting, so impressive were the Panthers at times. Luke Walsh, in particular, will be missed.

WARRIORS: Same number of competition points as Penrith but a completely different performance in relation to expectations. Finding the ark of the covenant or King Solomon’s mines easy compared to making themconsistent.

BRISBANE: No-one seems to think they should be subject to the same cycles as other clubs, chiefly because they’re in the capital of the rugby league world. They still have to comply with the salary cap.

CANBERRA: If you can do a “drama and atrocity” graph and overlay it with a “Raiders results” graph, the lines would track each other pretty closely. Dugan, Ferguson, Furner, Earl just does not happen to the same club in the same year.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA: Still in the midst of a massive downswing post-2010 premiership. The system is designed to inflict such misfortune – but it shouldn’t last this long.

WESTS TIGERS: A woeful years which you could charitably put down to a new coach who had little influence over the shortcomings of the roster he inherited. Must improve.

PARRAMATTA: Not only is there no light at the end of the playing roster tunnel but the coaching and political tunnels each look pitch black as well.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FIVE METRE GAP: Round 20

Hamish NealLike the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 20.

Penrith-bound Elijah Taylor is learning plenty from a new team-mate with the Warriors forward crediting Storm premiership player Todd Lowrie with his increased input on attack. Known primarily for his defensive work, 23-year-old Taylor told Kiwi broadcaster D’Arcy Waldegrave on Radio Sport this week he was “getting as much information out of him (Lowrie) that I can before I leave.” The attention to detail of the future Panther is paying dividends with Taylor now an off-load threat to go with his work-rate which has consisted of the following tackles/runs breakdowns in the last three matches (30/10, 44/11, 43/10.)

When at their best, Cronulla are excellent in making ground up the middle but even without Paul Gallen, they had some great examples of that in the win against Penrith. In the lead-up to the first try, Ben Pomeroy took the first tackles and was able affect a quick play-of-the-ball. That allowed John Morris a fast burst out of dummy half, which laid the platform for an Andrew Fifita hit-up, giving the Sharks great field position after three tackles. That, in turn, also allowedthe side’s halves Todd Carney and Jeff Robson to focus on the ‘red zone’ attacking options which resulted in fullback Michael Gordon’s try.

Tongan international Sam Moa is proving one of the buys of the season and should Trent Robinson have second thoughts about his starting 13, Roosters fans could see more of him in the coming fortnight due to the enforced absence of Sonny Bill Williams. In cricketing terms Moa’s strike-rate off the bench has been a useful tool for the tricolours. In 34 minutes on the weekend in Newcastle he made 21 tackles and had ten hit-ups. In the previous week, also off the bench, he ran for 146 metres against the Sharks,

What seems to have been lost in the Mitchell Allgood-Steve Matai drama, which will see Act Two in round 21, is the improvement in the Eels forward. Allgood, 24, in his return from suspension, made 100 metres in his 15 runs as a bench replacement in the 40-12 loss to the Bulldogs. Added to this recent efforts which have included 12 runs, Allgood has been reliable off the bench for a wavering Eels pack, often nearing on 20 tackles in about 45-50 minutes of action each week.

The euphoria of Maroons’ Origin triumph has given way to the northern wasteland of the NRL, highlighted in recent weeks by the Cowboy. However, Five Metre Gap has honed in on a recurring problem for the Titans after their 32-4 lose to the ladder-leading Rabbitohs. Midfield general Albert Kelly is again going missing in defence, have missed some of his defensive bodyguards in recent weeks due to Origin duties and injuries, the 22-year-old is lacking confidence and missed six tackles on the weekend of his 24 attempts.

RLW Season Preview: SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

By STEVE MASCORD

SOUTH Sydney started last year with no halfback – and finished the season the same way.

When RLW ran a rule over what 2012 had in store for the Pride Of The League, we weren’t sure who would inherit the no.7 shirt from Parramatta-bound Chris Sandow. In the queue were a couple of unknowns called Adam Reynolds and Ryan Carr but the position was seen as a weakness of the squad inherited by Wigan recruit, coach Michael Maguire.

Eight months later, the Rabbits’ title hopes snapped with the hamstring of Reynolds, who had surged to such stardom that he is now a leading NSW Origin contender.

Halfback was not a weakness at all – until then. The injury occurred in the 27th minute of the preliminary final against Canterbury, when Souths were leading 8-4. Without a playmaker, they crashed 32-8.

“This time last year, I didn’t know what to expect really,” says coach Michael Maguire.

“Now we have Adam and Sutto (John Sutton) with a good understanding of each other. Having said that, we have some good support for them – players right behind them coming through.

“Having that sort of depth is a good position to be in.”

Last season was one of seismic changes at Redfern. Maguire arrived at a club with flamboyance off the field to match the freewheeling attack on the other side of the white line.

He had to tighten up the bunnies’ defence and also made them a little more defensive in their public outlook. Talk of grand finals was outlawed, he became the only spokesman on recruitment and football-related matters and there were times when the hatches were well and truly battered down – if politely.

But fans and observers no longer have theories and hopes for what South Sydney can do. They now KNOW. This season is more a question of whether potential can be realised.

“The players understanding what we’re trying to do here is the biggest change,” says Maguire, when asked about how his role has evolved in 12 months.

“…the processes and the structures we put together over last season, now they’re a lot slicker I suppose, with what’s required of each player. Their understanding of their roles is greater.

“We’ve got to take that into the season and show it but training itself has probably been sharper.”

Maguire says he won’t stop his holistic focus on the way the club appears to the outside world, 12 months in. He’s not about to become a mere technician. “I can’t speak for everyone else but as head coach, I see that as part of my role here,” he says.

“That’s understanding we’re working here as one organisation and the administration … we’re moving forward in one direction. From the sponsorship point of view and the corporate stuff outside of football, I can really see it progressing.

“It’s all part of the growth to where we want to go as a club.”

On the field, there are specifics to address. Michael Crocker is captain.

“We’ve still got the leadership group – underneath, nothing’s changed,” Maguire says. “It’s just that Michael … it’s going to be more of a spokesman-type role from that position.”

Hooker Issac Luke seems likely to take a more influential role. “It’s down to himself and where his game is now,” the coach comments.

“We’ll see him take a greater role. He has taken an interest, he understands his role better and wants to do that each week.”

And fullback Greg Inglis looks so imposing that colleague Mark Geyer last week reckoned he could be the greatest player ever!

“I’ve known Greg for a long time, from my time down south,” says former Storm assistant ‘Madge’. “He’s more of a senior player now and he’s just enjoying what he’s doing.

“He’s excited about training now. He shows up excited every day and that helps show our younger kids what it takes to be successful at the top level. It affects the whole group because of his focus.”

What else do you need to know if you’re heading to the season opener against Sydney Roosters? That the bunnies beat PNG 38-12 and St George Illawarra 28-10 but lost to Newcastle 18-6 in the pre-season. That Ben Te’o and Nathan Merritt were dropped for disciplinary breaches. That midnight army camps were a feature of their summer.

“Everyone’s doing camps at some stage,” says Maguire. “I experienced it as a player.

“(Mental toughness) is a little bit of the reason for why you do them but it’s also the experiences and the bond formed by what your team goes through.

“Everyone goes through different stages during the pre-season when things are hard. Being able to push through does make you mentally tougher.”

Twelve months ago Souths didn’t have a halfback – but we ask Maguire to name something else they’ve gained in that time.

“The senior playing group is really driving things along with me – that’s something that’s really improved,” he answers, after a few moments’ thought.

“Their expectations are a lot greater, which has been a significant difference.

“The depth in a lot of positions is quite strong. At the end of the day, it’s about how we perform each week. That’s going to be the telling factor this year.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE BIG ISSUE: #34

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

YOU couldn’t make it up, could you?

The National Rugby League is now run by a slick new commission, has earned itself $1.025 billion  in television rights and has its sights set on a salary cap of $7 million by 2017.

Yet as we prepare to burst into this ‘brave new world’ on Thursday with the opening of the new season, our players are under investigation for taking drugs, fixing matches and fraternising with underworld figures.

And our number one drawcard is out of the game indefinitely after joining a drinking club called the “Epic Bender Crew” and telling a trainer days before he was due to be the public face of the new season “I don’t want to play footy anymore”.

As an outsider coming into our game, new NRL CEO David Smith must be already scratching his head about what he’s taken on. (He is also scratching his head over the names of some of our biggest stars but I promise not to mention that again, David).

No matter how had hard you scrub the face of rugby league with solvol, it never ceases to be a soap opera.

Have a think about it; is rugby league on the back of the papers just because it is the most popular sport in NSW and Queensland?

That plays a big role in it but where else to we get our fix of public feuds, boardroom intrigue, salary cap cheating (two championships stripped from a club, furchisakes), rebel leagues, selection drama, player misbehaviour and – these days – social media gaffes?

You can bring in all the artifices you like, from the salary cap to media training and rookie camps, but rugby league was, is and always will be, barely-containable chaos.

As we prepare to digest another season of slanging matches, salacious rumours, claims, counter-claims, the odd arrest and, er, games of football, I’d like to humbly throw up a few theories as to why things are the way they are.

The first is the demographics of our workforce.

If you own a business, imagine employing ONLY males between 17 and 33. Once they turn 33, they are laid off and replaced. Now, how big would your human resources department have to be? Would anyone even want to work for you in HR?

First, you have a single sex workplace. I won’t generalise but I can’t find any studies that suggest this is a good thing. Then you have a scenario where adolescent men in a single-sex workplace seek to gain acceptance from, but also compete with, their older colleagues.

Then there is the public recognition factor that results from being in the entertainment industry. It’s the ‘fishbowl’ effect we have spoken about in relation to Ben Barba, where all indiscretions are magnified.

Some observers here would throw in the fact that most of our players come from working class backgrounds. But really, the extent to which they rely entirely on football for their livelihood should make them more appreciative and less likely to get ‘loose’.

What it can do is make people more desperate and willing to take risks. Rugby league has been a gravy train since 1895 – a sport played by the poor that pays money, as opposed to one played by the rich which payed nada.

The tendency for it to become a cargo cult has probably held it back in relation to rugby union. While they were expanding, we were trying to pay for our next meal.

My second theory is anecdotal and open to rebuttal: it’s the ingrained culture in our game’s hotbed, Sydney.

Once a convict settlement, always a convict settlement. In Sydney ‘larrikins’, ‘colourful racing identities’ and ‘scallywags’ are sneeringly revered. Sydneysiders have always gambled, always regarded minor dishonesty as being merely ‘cheeky’ and – importantly – deeply distrusted authority.

In what other city do bullying breakfast DJs earn such obscene wages and set the agenda so completely? Compare this to the more genteel atmosphere in the states populated by free settlers all those years ago, where they still say ‘darnce” rather than ‘daance’.

The last convict ship arrived in Western Australia in 1868, the last NSW ship was in 1840. It’s entirely possible that the children of convicts saw the first round of the Sydney premiership in 1908, a competition whose future was assured by offering Dally Messenger 50 pounds.

(Like Sonny Bill Williams today, Messenger was a ‘big ticket player’ and played only a handful of games for the Roosters because of representative commitments ).

That knockabout, opportunistic Sydney culture is at the core of Australian rugby league culture – and probably gets us into trouble sometimes.

Yet despite all these factors, our players are generally a credit to themselves, their clubs and their game, doing hours of charity work and respecting the few women that are in their workplaces. Player behaviour has improved many times over in the fulltime professional era – I know because I saw what it was like beforehand.

But my message here is simple. Just because we are now overseen by a banker doesn’t mean everyone in the game will start behaving like one.

Maybe David Smith already knows it – and that’s why we launched the season at a casino.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: March 2013

Rugby League World March 2013By STEVE MASCORD

THIS is March, which means Bondi Beat again has to make a fool of itself with a bunch of predictions for the forthcoming National Rugby League season.

Last year we listed Five Things That Could Go Wrong in 2012. Did the Independent Commission isolate Australia internationally? Well, the green-and-golds refused to play at the end of the year but, on balance, no.

“England are forced to play a home series in October and November against minnow nations. No-one shows up, the national media ignore the games and England are even beaten in one of the matches”. Two out of three ain’t bad.

“New Zealand are comprehensively flogged in their only two Tests, both against Australia. The green and golds go into the World Cup next year as unbackable favourites”. The Kiwis were beaten, but not flogged;

“Rugby league writers continue to be laid off on national newspapers and budget cuts at the BBC lead to the sport largely disappearing from your radio dials.” One out of two again.

“More Super League clubs go bust and are deducted competition points while Manchester Magic fails to attract any more people than the last round of magic”. One out of two there.

Here’s five more predictions:

· Sonny Bill Williams’ return to rugby league to be messy, an ultimately unsuccessful. He won’t play in the World Cup and his biceps injury will severely interrupt his season;

· Parramatta to be the biggest improvers of the year, Manly the biggest sliders;

· Israel Folau to return to rugby league at the end of the season, with South Sydney;

· Canterbury to win the competition;

· New Zealand to win a successful World Cup.

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I HAD the pleasure recently of interviewing United States forward Curtis Cunz on the 40th floor or his Park Avenue office building.

That night, David Niu, Marcus Vassilakopoulos and the rest of the AMNRL heavies were to meet in the same office to discuss American Rugby League business.

No, I still don’t know what happened to their website. More of that in a sec.

But I do know, thanks to Curtis, that US will be playing Samoa in a World Cup warm-up match in Hawaii some time in October. How cool does that sound?

From a travel point of view, the warm-ups are almost as exciting as the tournament itself. Before the 2000 World Cup, I remember seeing South Africa host Wales in Pretoria one day, and England take on the US in Orlando the next!

Mind you, it is to be hoped that the countries who have qualified for RLWC2013 don’t just play each other but rather give the other nations an opportunity to earn some coin and exposure during early October.

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NICE fellow that Curtis is, a few months before the World Cup bow of the Tomahawks it is difficult to conceive of a more confusing situation that that confronting the AMNRL right now.

I fancy myself as a follower of these affairs and even I had missed a report from last May confirming the sale of the governing body to Grand Prix Sports, the organisation that wants to play the World Club Challenge in Las Vegas.

On the US business site marketwatch.com, Grand Prix Sports’ Neal Pilson explained the company’s interest in investing in both codes by saying: “While maintaining the independent integrity of the rugby union and rugby league operations, yet folding them under one production umbrella, we at Grand Prix felt from a broadcast perspective this transaction was a smart move to avoid unnecessary confusion in a US media market at a very critical time in rugby’s growth.”

That sounds very much like buying out a competitor, from a rugby union point of view, doesn’t it?

Grand Prix were supposed to put on the Tomahawks v Melbourne Storm game. It never happened, due to lack of funds. The AMNRL website has disappeared, with questions about its absence on Facebook going unanswered.

Meanwhile, Grand Prix Sports is promoting a rugby union sevens tournament in mid-year with ONE MILLION DOLLARS as the first prize!

It would appear the AMNRL and its new owner are not on fantastic terms. Meanwhile, the rival USARL struggles on, with its players still expecting to be locked out of World Cup selection.

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THE worth of contracts in the NRL has never been more in question.

Penrith and Australia centre Michael Jennings was not appreciated at the foot of the mountains, even though he had three years left on his contract there.

Gold Coast, South Sydney and Sydney Roosters all showed interest. When he ended up at the Roosters, it set in train a chain reaction which illustrates just how weird the player market down under has become.

Souths instead signed Beau Champion back from the Titans. And the Titans then attempted to snare Jamie Lyon – Manly’s CAPTAIN – immediately, with less than two months remaining until the end of the season!

Lyon, who in 2004 was roundly criticised for walking out on Parramatta mid season, en route to St Helens, issued a statement denying that he wanted out of the Sea Eagles.

But when new Titans CEO David May approached Manly rival David Perry to ask about Lyon’s availability, he was reportedly “left with the impression” that the door was open.

Add to this the fact that clubs regularly contribute to the wages of players who have left, to relieve salary cap pressure, and you have a confusing situation for fans.

We used to look at the Brits and their custom of “loaning” players to rival clubs and scratch our heads. But in retrospect it’s a whole lot cleaner and more sensible than some of the things going on in the NRL right now.

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IF YOU are a regular reader of this column, you’d be aware I am not a big fan of taxpayers’ money in PNG being spent on a bid for NRL inclusion.

On the other hand, inclusion in the Queensland Cup seems infinitely less expensive and more practical.

To that end, South Sydney are linking their premiership game in Cairns on June 16 with the pre-season game against the Kumuls at Redfern Oval on February 9.

The Cairns league has a strong relationship with PNG – for obvious geographic reasons – and the Kumuls candidacy for Q Cup inclusion will be promoted during at the June game.

Souths could even end up shifting a home game to Port Moresby at some stage in the future.

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ONE of the more startling stories written in recent weeks suggested that if Craig Bellamy was to leave Melbourne, captain Cameron Smith could take over as player-coach!

Bondi Beat would have thought captain-coaches went out with contested scrums.

Has anyone seen what coaches do these days? And Craig Bellamy spends more time coaching than most.

Although ‘Bellyache’ does manage to stay as fit as the players. So I supposed the least they can do is be as smart as him.

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WE all have our ideas on what issues the ARL Commission should address, particularly when it comes to things we believe have been overlooked until now.

For me, it’s taking responsibility for Australia’s leadership of the international game.

For historians and journalists like Ian Heads, David Middleton, Sean Fagan, Gary Lester and Geoff Armstrong, it’s determining which was the first rugby league club in Australia.

Newtown have long laid claim to this distinction but the pointy-heads say Glebe held a meeting on January 9, 1908, which committed them to the new code.

Newtown stand accused of adding “January 8, 1908” to their minutes of their first meeting “at a later date” to give them bragging rights.

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GREAT to see Super League spending some money to show the ‘League Of The Extraordinary’ advert to a wider audience.

We’re yet to hear much about the NRL’s advertising strategy for 2013 at this stage. But give the trouble our players are capable of getting into, it’s unlikely it will focus on just one or two of them.

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YOU’D expect me to say something here about Jon Mannah, the 23-year-old former Parramatta and Cronulla forward who passed away from cancer during the last month, and I want to.

Much has been made of the Christian faith observed by Jon and his brother Tim.

But regardless of faith, the bravery which Jon showed in the face of a terrible, painful illness should be a lesson to us all.

The end is what gives the beginning and middle of life meaning, I guess. But this end came way too soon.

Vail Jon Mannah.

Follow @BondiBeat on Twitter.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD