Curtis Set To Be A Northern Force

Rona, CurtisBy STEVE MASCORD

NORTH Queensland rookie Curtis Rona has revealed how he always thought he would one day play at Eden Park – for the Western Force.
Unheralded Rona scored two tries in the Cowboys’ 16-7 NRL Nines final win over Brisbane to secure the club’s first title at senior level. It’s been a long journey to the rugby union citadel for Rona, who was born in New Zealand.
He says if it wasn’t for his girlfriend he’d be still in his adoptive home of Perth, struggling to make ends meet.
“They brushed me – I would have loved to have gone back and played for the Western Force,” Rona tells RLW.
“My family moved to Perth from Taranaki when we were younger. One day I thought I’d be playing Super Rugby here. Family? Pretty much the whole stadium was my family. I had to get 15 tickets (for the nines).
“My girlfriend was the first person I spoke to. She’s pretty much why I’m here. She put me on the straight and narrow. I was on a crooked path over in Perth. I wasn’t training, I didn’t want to compete, and she said ‘you either train hard, or….'”
Rugby union officials might find themselves kicking stones over the loss of the talented threequarter if he continues his rise in Townsville.
“I played league for an opportunity,” Rona explains. “I played rugby union through my upbringing but I switched over to league when I was 17, 18, and it pretty much just took off from there. There are more pathways for young players.
“It’s pretty crap that you can’t play (senior) rugby league in Perth because there’s no team or pathway. Bring me back – I wouldn’t mind playing with them (if they get into the NRL).”
Rona says the his last club, Sydney Roosters, showed little interest in retaining him. “The Cowboys gave me an opportunity,” he said.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: NRL Nines

The Joy Of SixNO HARD FEELINGS
LACHLAN Coote hasn’t given up on playing again this year despite suffering the fourth serious injury of a comparatively short career. Coote was a casualty of the Nines, ruled out for six months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. ”I definitely want to get back and play with this bunch of boys,” he said. ”It will be a goal for myself to try and get back.” Coote wasn’t taking out his frustration on the new Nines concept. ”We’ve still got another trial next week and it could have happened then. Footy is a cruel game.” Zac Santo is the early favourite to replace Coote at fullback.

INJURY TOLL PAYED WITHOUT COMPLAINT
INJURIES led to the demise of the World Sevens in 2004, along with poor crowds and declining TV interest. With the return of truncated rugby league to the NRL, casualties made a return as well. Lachlan Coote, Paul Gallen, Todd Carney, Curtis Sironen, Jarrod Mullen, Luke Keary, David Stagg, Michael Chee-Kam, David Williams, Ben Barba, George Jennings and others all return to Australia sicker and sorrier. So why is no-one calling for the Nines to be cancelled? Because the clubs are being so handsomely compensated? Because the organisers have spent money courting the media? Because, as Eric Watson says, the clubs no longer dislike each other? Or is it because the often-maligned rugby league media is actually less negative than it was a decade ago? “Everyone here has had a good experience – I think that’s the main reason,” said victorious Cowboys coach Paul Green

SLIPPERY SLOPE
THE decision suspend Melbourne’s Richie Kennar for one nines match in 2015 for his grade four careless high tackle against St George Illawarra is, on the surface, eminently sensible. The game in which he committed an offence was not rugby league as we know it and if he had committed a serious offence, it would have been referred to the judiciary and his ban would have included 13-a-side games. But the precedent is dangerous. The lobby for suspensions meted out in trials and Origin games to only cover those arenas will be emboldened. And what if his hit determined the rest of the final? Would we have been as comfortable seeing him play next weekend?

FREDDIE’S NIGHTMARE
“They were terrible, the refs in our game,” Brad Fittler told an NRL video crew after his comeback on Saturday (the first game, not the one with the intercept). Then there was a grin. The match officials were walking behind Fittler in the the tunnel’s ‘Mixed Zone’. “Can I bag refs? Can I get fined? I’m retiring at the end of the day!” Fittler didn’t play yesterday due to a hamstring injury. Andrew Johns’ comeback in the media match was less successful; he hooked himself for a horrible pass at one stage and the NZ team beat the Aussies 3-2.

FOURTH ESTATE EVICTION
MEDIA types were happy enough Warriors owner Eric Watson took the time to visit the Eden Park media box and dispense some useful quotes. Aside from the comments which appear on page ??, Watson also said the Nines should stay in Auckland forever and reckoned England signing Sam Tomkins was valuable because he would remedy a communication problem at the Warriors. But when the media opp was over, Watson remarked that the view from the press box was so good it should be sold as a corporate suite and the hacks kicked out. Journos might be left wishing he had not paid them a visit. These are hard times for non-rights holding hacks, with social media and leveraged content swamping them.

PUTRID ONE DAY, BEAUTIFUL THE NEXT
BRISBANE endured their worst-ever season last year and North Queensland were dudded by a refereeing error. So while the 45,403 fans at Eden Park yesterday were disappointed at the Warriors missing the final, it was still a feelgood story. Things could have been different, however. South Sydney’s Dylan Walker grouned the ball just outside an upright in the dying moments of the quarter-final against the home side. Had he picked up the lolling ball and put it down inside the woodwork, meaning a five-point try, the game would have been tied and bunnies may have progressed. But the scoring system confused everyone – including scoreboard attendants and journalists.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Comment: The NRL Auckland Nines Must Expand

NRL NinesBy STEVE MASCORD
PROMOTERS of the Auckland Nines aren’t keen to add teams next year – but if the concept is to be of any lasting benefit to rugby league aside from generating truckloads of cash, the NRL must insist on it.
A full house at Eden Park yesterday saw nines league revived at the top level in the southern hemisphere after a 17-year absence and by almost any measure, it was a triumphant return.
Fans came dressed as everyone from Caligula to Steve Matai, they cheered like they were actually paying attention and Warriors stars Sam Tomkins and Shaun Johnson were so good it gave you goosebumps.
This was en event that had the hallmarks of something grand; guides meeting officials and media in their hotel lobbies, fleets of buses, closed streets and even a dedicated lane in customs at Auckland Airport.
In a country where rugby union reigns and some of the old vestiges of anti-league bigotry survive, the NRL Nines is the PR equivalent of a right hook to the temple of the other code.
There are those who say Auckland is actually ‘a league town’ – or close to becoming one, anyway.
But in the past month, people have slowly got their heads around the potential of Nines to expand the sport as a whole.  It beggars belief that most of us didn’t know until this week that rugby league nines is to be played at the Commonweath Games THIS year.
The game seems almost embarrassed about this.
We also have the Cabramatta Nines which showcases a host of international teams – this month, Canada sent a team – and annual tournaments in the north east of the United States and Las Vegas.
Nines has also been played recently in the UK, Germany and elsewhere and now Salford owner Marwan Koukash wants Super League’s Magic Weekend at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium turned into a Nines tournament.
But this new NRL administration is probably unaware of all that.
They have big plans and great expertise but a lack of perspective and knowledge on the state of the game outside their own big-buck Australasian bubble. It’s the same administration that decided on Friday to allow its clubs to raid Super League with transfer fees outside the cap, whereas if they raid each other, the fees are included.
And if there was one negative at Eden Park it was the thought of Wigan – one of our game’s most famous clubs – sitting in the grandstand getting suntans. They wanted to be out there. So, too, did Warrington and there are suggestions even cash-strapped Bradford were clamouring for a spot.
The NRL needs to identify whether it is promoting rugby league as a whole or just itself. And if it’s the former, it needs to determine how the Nines can assist in that objective. Nines will not help expand rugby league while we leave the Super League champions sitting in row G with a few bags of chips.
I understand my earlier idea of having state teams full of NRL stars in the Auckland Nines and using the tournament for some pre-season publicity in non-league states was a bit harebrained. Would the crowds have flocked yesterday to see the might of Tasmania take on the superstars of South Australia? Probably not.
But the NRL needs to get something out of the nines other than money. Underdogs, minnows and exotic combatants are part of the DNA of sevens and nines.  That’s where the charm lies – although many assume it is located behind the bar.
Turn the other tournaments into qualifiers for the NRL Nines and you have an international ‘circuit’ overnight, with a minimum outlay. From there, it’s not too far to see dedicated nines franchises. Why not allow Brad Fittler, Darren Lockyer and Steve Menzies to play for the Washington DC Slayers next year?
What are we so scared of? The fact that Wigan won the World Sevens in 1992, perhaps?
Filed for: SUN-HERALD

DISCORD 2014: Edition One

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
BRAD ‘Freddie’ Fittler’s announcement that he is playing in the Nines dovetails nicely with our final column of last year, in which we discussed the possibility of a summer circuit for the truncated version of the game.
As commenter Matty rightly said, NRL players already complain about the length of the season so it is unreasonable to expect them to play all summer as well. So the teams would be made up of fringe first graders, up-and-comers and retired stars.
The main question of this first Discord of the year is: would you support a Nines series held that included retired players, or would this erode its credibility in your eyes? Titanic says he was willing to give the Auckland tournament a go – until Fittler’s announcement.
“Keep it serious and then you may well have your niche summer market … you’d at least get me,” he wrote. Do you agree?
In writing about this subject two columns in a row, we may be tempting you to think we have a financial stake in the proposal! Certainly, some of the rather “forced” publicity about the Auckland Nines so far has been interesting to see – it’s being shoved down the public’s collective throat.
But here at Discord we are interested generally in rugby league’s place in the wider sports market and the southern hemisphere summer seems ripe for the picking if the vehicle is right. Players who have not picked up contracts for the following season, for instance, could prove themselves on the Nines circuit.
Maybe we could have national teams, or states, instead of NRL clubs. Or a mixture? Tell me what you think.
.
WELCOME to 2014. This column comes to you from New York City where it is freakin’ freezing.
The game has undergone enormous change in the lifetime of Discord, which has been around since mid 2009 on various platforms. The NRL is awash with money and is making sizeable corporate strides with strategic decisions that should ensure its long-term viability.
Television and cinema are just about the only media platforms making money today so it’s fortunate for professinal sport that one of them provides the biggest slice of  its income. But David Smith is still savvy enough to look elsewhere.
In the UK, things are less stable. There is a dispute over the future structure of the professional game which seems more about political opportunism than real strategic planning. The game is stronger, proportionally, at the grassroots level outside the heartlands than it is in those areas in Australia – but the London Broncos remain a basket case. Big changes, good or bad, are afoot.
Internationally, we seem at the cusp of something really great. The most recent rugby league game of note was a world record for internationals even though the host nation was not involved and anecdotally, in England and Ireland, I have had people with no interest in the sport quote a perception that rugby league is “coming back” after years of invisibility.
That comes from being on the BBC on Saturday afternoon, I guess. Imagine if there was a Super League game on every Saturday afternoon for 30 weeks! But the real worry is that we know little about the international calendar even this year, the RLIF still don’t have fulltime employees and office and any sponsors who were involved in the World Cup have now gone back to what they were doing beforehand.
Our officials don’t want international football to start commercially competing with the club game. But it has to. It’s time we showed confidence in both levels of the game to co-exist and flourish.
COMMENTS new and last week’s column dealt with the spectre of supplements and prescription medicine – and also the future of the Nines format in rugby league.

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 22

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

1. ‘FIXTURE’ IN NAME ONLY?

THE NRL is adamant it won’t be forced to back down over another potential fixture clash with the AFL a week after revising their draw because ANZ Stadium was double-booked. On September 6, South Sydney are due to host Sydney Roosters at Homebush in a game that could decide the minor premiership. But there is also some chance that Sydney Swans will have a home final assigned to the same weekend. “Our game is locked in to the Friday night and it won’t be moved,” and NRL spokesman said late Sunday. South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson added: “When Allianz Stadium offered to host the game, ANZ said they definitely wanted it.” The Swans will just have to play on Saturday – at least that’s what the Mungos are saying. Set of Six was told P1 parking tickets were hard to come by, leading to suggestions the venue remained undecided on who it would favour if the clash occurred.

2. A PUNCH AND DUTY

WHILE this is one of the few rugby league columns you’ll read that’s in favour of the punching ban, predictions that it would be interpreted by some players as a licence to niggle were just about proven right at Suncorp Stadium. “I held him down in the tackle, fair enough,” St George Illawarra halfback Nathan Fien told referee Jason Robinson, in reference to Brisbane’s Corey Parker, “but that doesn’t give him the right to strike out at me. You referees have made a big deal about that.” In other words, the rules now make it acceptable to drop knees and elbows into attacking players and if they retaliate, it’s they who should be punished. If Fien’s interpretation was in vogue, the punching ban would be unworkable. There should never be an incentive to niggle. If Parker had thrown a punch, he should have been sent to the sin bin but the penalty should still have gone to the Broncos.

3. MISERABLE DECISIONS

EVEN the referees and touch judges didn’t think Joel Thompson knocked on when he tried to catch a line drop-out with Canberra coming to get the Sydney Roosters and a couple of minutes left at Allianz Stadium on Saturday. But when the Raiders second rower froze, they thought they must be mistaken, packed a scrum, and the tricolours hung on. The match officials’ boss, Daniel Anderson, however says their eventual decision was the right one. “I thought it was a knock-on, as a spectator,” Anderson said. Anderson added there was little alternative but to penalised Newcastle’s Jeremy Smith for kicking the ball loose in a tackle at Remondis Stadium, even though it appeared an accident. “The ball has to come out some way – it’s either dropped or a defender is responsible,” he said. “Under the rules, there is nowhere else for the referee to go. Sometimes they have to make miserable decisions.”

4. TIGERS CHANGE SPOTS – AND CHANGE THEM BACK AGAIN

ONLY at Wests Tigers could bad news become good news and then be bad again. When the club released a statement saying three staff members had been let go, it was reported these included assistants Royce Simmons and Steve Georgallis. Bad news – the experienced coaches said they had been used in a publicity stunt because they had each told the joint venture weeks before that they would be departing of their own accord. On Sunday, club chief executive Grant Mayer said they weren’t the men being referred to. Good news. But that mean there are still three officials who are sready for the high jump – and who may very well have some unkind things to say about the decision. Bad news again. Mayer’s comment on ABC that Wests Tigers seem behind Manly when it comes to “sports science”? Could have been better timed….

5. NINES LIVES

A couple more of points regarding the Auckland Nines. If clubs have to field one of their five highest-paid players, but all five go to the World Cup and are therefore exempt, what then? Also, club reportedly resent the NRL is “out-sourcing” the tournament but would you have our governing body steal the intellectual property of someone else who had done all the spade work? I’d suggest they would be in court quicker than you can say “chilly bin”. What the ARLC should have done is gone back to promoters with what they wanted out of the concept. It could have been the launching pad for a Nines circuit, it could have involved Pacific countries or the states or Super League clubs. Instead, all the ARLC and the clubs seem to want out of it is the moolah -– and admittedly some valuable promotion for the sport in New Zealand.

6. WORKING FOR THE ENEMY

COACH Stephen Kearney has received help from the unlikeliest of sources for New Zealand’s bid to retain the World Cup. The Auckland Blues and Waikato chief rugby union franchises have reportedly told Benji Marshall and Sonny Bill Williams respectively that they are happy for them to play in the tournament, to be played in England, Wales, Ireland and France from October 25 to November 30. Marshall wrote in his Sun-Herald column that although his is available for selection, he does not believe his form warrants selection ahead of Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran. He’s right – but Marshall could be a game breaker off the bench. Australia’s stocks were severely dented on Sunday with the loss of Justin Hodges (Achilles), Boyd Cordner (ankle) and perhaps Trent Merrin (knee).

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Match Officials Should Have Stopped Play For Injured Farrell, Says Maguire

By STEVE MASCORD
SOUTH Sydney coach Michael Maguire has hit out at officials for not stopping play when winger Dylan Farrell was knocked out during the loss to Melbourne.
Maguire, whose side regained some form despite being beaten 26-8 at AAMI Park, said officials had a “duty of care” to Farrell, who was carried off on a stretcher and in a neck brace in the 66th minute.
Play was eventually halted for Farrell, who was accidently kneed in the head by Andrew Everingham while both were in the air pursuing a kick, but only after it continued upfield for several minutes,
Maguire said Farrell was illegally pushed by a Melbourne defender into Everingham.
“When Dylan Farrell got taken out of play, knocked out, in goal … the game continued,’ said Maguire, who said Greg Inglis (knee) and John Sutton (ankle) could both be back for next Friday’s encounter with Manly.
“Usually you will get a penalty there. Instead, they play on and we end up at the other end of the field. I’ll have to have a chat about that.
“He (Farrell) was in a bad way to start with but he’s pulled up OK in the changeroom. The biggest concern there is the duty of care of one of our players.
“You’ve got to look after your players. He was knocked sideways and hit his head on one our players.”
Maguire – who contended his side lacked “polish” – had no complaints over a contentious try to Melbourne winger Sisa Waqa in the 53rd minute. There were doubts Waqa got to the line.
Storm skipper Cameron Smith had no doubt South Sydney would figure prominently in the finals.
“They’re a great footy side,” said hooker Smith. “I think they’ve been the most consistent footy team all year.
“Obviously over the past couple of weeks results haven’t gone their way but they’ve got a couple of injuries at the moment, in particular Greg inglis.
“You take him out of any footy team and he’s going to be a blow to your team. It looks like he’s going to be back next week. Talking to a couple of Souths players out there, he was pretty close tonight.
“All the players around him will be more confident when Greg Inglis is on the field, too. I think they’ll be in the finals and we’ll see plenty of them.”
Maguire said of Inglis and Sutton’s chances of playing at Brookvale Oval: “Both are a chance. We’re going to be doing everything we can to make the right decision.”
Bellamy also amended his comment from Thursday about not picking any of his World Cup players for the 2014 Auckland Nines. “I meant our Australian World Cup players – the big three,” he said.

Filed for: THE AGE

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 21

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

PILLAGED RAIDERS

DO the mechanisms which give us an even competition also give us even games, or are there completely different influences at work? Melbourne’s 68-4 win over Canberra was the eighth largest margin in premiership history. But the result was not the product of any obvious competitive disparity; Canberra had not lost a game at home all year and went into the match just three competition points behind their eventual pillagers. If you organised a soccer competition from scratch and made every team completely equal in strength, but then doubled the width of the goals, would margins still be bigger, or would we just have higher scores? Referees believe the crackdown on some slowing tactics in the ruck has saved many players from knee and ankle injuries. But it may have also made it easier to run up cricket scores with a smidgeon of momentum.

SENDING THE BILL

FORMER referee Bill Harrigan performed some consultancy work on live radio on Friday. After his side beat Penrith 42-6 at Centrebet Stadium, coach Trent Robinson said Sydney Roosters had been copping it in penalty counts for a best part of a decade. When Robinson was interviewed afterwards, Harrigan – a commentator on Triple M – told him: “I went with Ricky Stuart in 2004 when he was having problems and I identified, after looking at a few tapes, three players who we pulled aside and said ‘you three guys are giving away a certain amount of penalties per game … maybe you need to grab a referee” Robinson replied: “I was keen on asking you. Do you see trends there … or do you think it’s individuals?”. Harrigan said it was down to individuals. Robinson was then told by other commentators jokingly – that he if he wanted more from Harrigan “there will be a fee”.

DRESSED FOR THE NINES

phonto (1)Joy of Six hears that Warrington’s majority shareholder , ‘pop impresario” Simon Moran, wanted the Wolves to take part in the inaugural Auckland Nines but was turned down. Nines has major role to play in the expansion and promotion of rugby league but a tournament involving the 16 NRL clubs in Auckland in Februrary achieves only two things: promotes rugby league in New Zealand and earns the clubs a shedload of cash. Involving international sides, or dividing the teams into states plus the north and south islands on Origin grounds (Ben Barba for Northern Territory, Joel Reddy for SA etc), could have left a lasting legacy. A break for the All Star game won’t really do any harm and it is to be hoped a Polynesian side – perhaps in place of the NRL combination – can be incorporated when it returns in 2015.

TAKING A LEAK

IT’S been a big year for leaks. For a start, leaks have a new poster boy in Warriors front rower Russell Packer. Then there are those upset about the leaking of ASADA documents. North Queensland coach Neil Henry was dismayed members of the media knew about his fate before he did. Reporters know that most people who leak information aren’t like Edward Snowden; they are motivated by self-interest rather than altruism. If it’s someone in authority, that motivation is often that they wt to be seen to be doing something in the face of criticism. The reporter’s job is to sift through the spin and self-interest and draw out the raw information which is in the public interest – not to take sides with someone just because he or she has helped them. In the two examples listed above, the reporters have done their jobs and done them well.

HAILING A MEDICAB

IT can be an unsettling sight when a game is stopped for a long period while an apparently seriously injured player is carted from the field. There were three of them at the weekend. Cronulla centre Ben Pomeroy was knocked out as he hit the ground but not before setting up a try against the Warriors. Melbourne’s Maurice Blair was in a particularly bad way after his neck was hurt in Canberra and Gold Coast under 20s player Tom Rowles was also fitted with a neck brace and carried from Skilled Park on a medicbab on Sunday. Thankfully, Rowles was well enough to watch the rest of the game from the bench while Pomeroy was soon reasonably lucid although his memory of the incident was hazy. The Storm reportedly contacted Blair’s partner on Sunday night to assure her he was not seriously injured.

REPORTING THE REPORT

IS a referee required to tell a player why he has been placed on report? “What was it for?” Gold Coast’s Greg Bird asked Gavin Badger and Allan Shortall at Skilled Park after he was booked in the 56th minute of the 36-6 win over Wests Tigers. “Shoulder charge? High tackle? Late tackle.” “It’s been reviewed, it’s on report,” Badger replied. Despite the scoreline, Wests Tigers coach Michael Potter was also unhappy with the whistlers. “My concern was the actual penalties,” he said. “I looked at the replay and shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know what they were for. You could certainly come up with some if you look close enough. A couple of the 50-50s … they weren’t penalties. That’s not the reason we lost but it contributed to the possession gain the other team had.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD