World Cup: FIJI 32 IRELAND 14 at Spotland Stadium, Rochdale


By STEVE MASCORD

FIJI’s rugby league side which plays Australia this weekend is prone to emotional outbursts because it contains two sets of brothers, according to North Queensland’s Tariq Sims.

Sims was joined by siblings Ashton and Korbin plus Wes and Kevin Naiqama in the Bati outfit that outclassed Ireland 32-14 at Rochdale’s Spotland Stadium on Monday night, with Aquila Uate celebrating his return to the side with a hat-trick.

But a period in the first half, when Bati players rushed out of the line in an attempt to smash their opponents following a dust-up, concerned coach Rick Stone and senior players.

Decorated former Australia prop Petero Civoniceva described Saturday’s Langtree Park clash with the green and golds as “just another game” but Tariq Sims admitted playing with your own flesh and blood presented unique problems

“It’s unreal but sometimes it’s a bad thing,” he told Fairfax Media.

“You see one of them get tackled and you just want to race in there and help your brother out.

“Well, everyone in the team’s a brother but you want to help your blood out. We’ll make sure we can curb our passion next week.”

The Bati’s little burst of attempted vengeance resulted in a try conceded to Irishman Tyrone McCarthy and, later, interchange man Eloni Vunakece being sent to the sin bin. Stone said “we defended, at times, with too much emotion. That’s something I’ve got to control in the future.”

“Stoney’s right. We need to tone that down a bit; a few of the boys haven’t played for Fiji before,” said Newcastle’s Uate, who has played for Australia since representing Fiji in the 2008 World Cup.

Cheered on by the strong local Fijiann community, the Bati raced to a 10-0 lead after 12 minutes on the back of tries to Uate and man of the match Kevin Naiqama.

But McCarthy sneaking over in the corner after a period when the sides used each other as target practice interrupted their momentum. It was only regained when Tariq Sims reached over his head to score in the 51st minute.

There was a humorous moment when video referee Henry Perenara said “Oh Jesus, I can’t see much there, I can’t tell” when asked to adjudicate on a Korbin Sims touchdown. “I’ll go benefit of the doubt”.

At 77 minutes, it was 32-4. Catalans winger Damien Blanch and Manly forward James Hassan crossed for late Wolfhounds touchdowns to make the scoreline more palatable.

“It’s another game,” 37-year-old Civoniceva said of the clash with his former Test team-mates. “I haven’t really thought about too much.”

Ireland play England on Saturday. Captain Liam Finn said some of the players may have been trying to impress their new team-mates rather than displaying patience.

Coach Mark Aston added: “Brett White was the best player on the field, he was immense.

“I’m sure we can challenge England. Hey, England haven’t been great of late, have they?”

FIJI 32 (Akuila Uate 3, Kevin Naiqama, Tariq Sims, Korbin Sims tries; Wes Naiqama 4 goals) beat IRELAND 14 (Tyrone McCarthy, Damien Blanch, James Hassan tries; Pat Richards goal) at Spotland Stadium, Rochdale. Referee: Phil Bentham (England). Crowd: 8872.


Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Akuila’s Eyes For Victory

By STEVE MASCORD

WAYNE Bennett thought the turning point was a Warriors field goal just before halftime – but to tryscorer Dane Gagai, it was the look in team-mate Akuila Uate’s eyes.

Knights players rated Saturday’s 24-19 win over the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium as even better than the previous week’s belting of premiers Manly at home, coming as it did after trailing 18-0 after 17 minutes and despite having three tries disallowed. An unlikely finals berth is now on the radar of the Novocastrians, who looked like bagging the wooden spoon only a month ago.

James Maloney’s field goal with two minutes left in the first half gave the Knights a sniff, according to Bennett.

“I think one of the crucial plays in the game was their field goal,” he said

“They go in at 18-6, maybe they get a repeat set. But they kick a field goal, they go to 19-6, we kick off, they fumble the ball which was the only handling error they had for the whole half … and we we pick a try in the far corner. Now it’s 19-12 at halftime.

“That’s something to hang your hat on when they come into the room.”

But Gagai, the mid-season signing from Brisbane who put his side ahead in the 60th minute, reckoned Uate dropping the ball over the tryline when he attempted a one-handed put-down in the 45th prompted the win rather than made a loss more likely.

A minute after video referee Rod Lawrence flashed the red light, the Fijian and Australian international fielded a bomb spectacularly and surged 40 metres upfield before a quick spread to the left put Timana Tahu over in the opposite corner.

Gagai told the Newcastle Herald: “He made a bit of mistake but I just kept talking to him and I could see the look in his eye – that he wanted to get his hand on the ball.

“And when he did that, he made the most of it. It was a top run by him and he definitely made up for his error. It led to a try.

“We still have our eyes on the top eight and being a part of the finals. We’re not shutting anything out.”

Uate brushed off the gaffe just as readily after the game as he did during it.

“You just can’t put your head down when you do mistakes like that,” he said. “For me, I’ve got to make up for it and keep working on it. It was a bad mistake from me. The game is finished now, we’ve got to move on to the next game against Canberra.

“Coming to New Zealand is a tough game and we showed Wayne and we showed Newcastle we can do it – be in the top eight.”

Centre Tahu, who hit the Knights tryscoring record with his touchdown said he had never played in a game where fortunes swung so decisively. Lock Neville Costigan said most players rated the win higher than the previous week’s 32-6 success over Manly because of the head start they gave the opposition and the fact they had gone six games without a win in Auckland

Bennett’s comments on the field goal were part of an intriguing exchange after the game between the coaches and media over the use of interchange. Warriors mentor Brian McClennan was questioned about replacing Feleti Mateo, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino at crucial stages while Bennett said having too many youngsters on the field at the same time “will lose you games”.

McClennan admitted he would need to re-examine his rotation but insisted Mateo was not capable of playing 80 minutes.

“At 18-0, you’re on the highway to nowhere,” Bennett reflected. “You fight to get in front and you lose the ball over the tryline. You’re thinking ‘where’s this going to go now?’”

Bennett wouldn’t speculate on the possibility of a finals appearance. “I’m not one to get ahead of ourselves there – a month ago it looked like we could have been wooden spooners,” he said.

“What’s changed is the players are getting used to me, I think. We’re getting used to what we want to do and how we want to do it. They’re buying into it.

“And we’ve got a pretty stable side for the last five or six weeks too. I’ve worked out now who can get the job done here and who can’t.”

Filed for: NEWCASTLE HERALD

No Place For Fakers In Origin I, Says Bird

By STEVE MASCORD

IT would be “wrong” for players to dive or stay down for penalties in Origin I, NSW enforcer Greg Bird has declared.

As NSW and Queensland continue their preparations in Melbourne for the opening of the interstate series next Wednesday, the NRL is awash with controversy over players attracting the attention of the video referee by staying on the turf after dubious hits.

Origin I referee Matt Cecchin told South Sydney’s Sam Burgess “that’s the way the game is played” when he complained about the practice during Monday Night Football a couple of weeks ago but Bird told the Australian it had no place at Etihad Stadium.

“I’m not sure blokes would do that – I definitely won’t be doing it in an Origin match,” Bird said.

“It’s the toughest kind of football and I think it would be wrong to do it in this.

“It’s been, I guess, one of the big problems in the NRL – the video (referee) not seeing it and players staying down and then going back and checking on it.

“I don’t know if that’s going to be applying at all in this game.”

While there is general consensus that State of Origin games are played by a slightly different set of rules to club matches, Bird also had a strong view on how shoulder charges should be enforced by officials next week.

He said players probably would escape action on the field for such challenges if they went wrong – but the offences would be picked up by the match review committee and harshly punished.

“There’s always a risk involved in shoulder charges – I think those stand,” the Gold Coast star said.

“There’s been some quite bad contact with the head in a few games I’ve watched this year . I think that will be exactly the same.

“It’s just, it probably won’t be dealt with during the night but if the video (shows) you copped him in the head with a shoulder charge, I think you’ll be facing the match review.”

Both sides trained in the Victorian capital yesterday morning before – separately – attending a coaching clinic at AAMI Park. Some NSW staff crossed paths with Maroons players but generally the teams were kept apart.

Aggressive comments from the NSW camp – “I can’t wait to get out there, rip it up … I just want to give it to those Queenslanders” – have, meanwhile, come from an unlikely source – quietly spoken winger Aquila Uate.

Uate added: “It’s a bit intense this year. This is definitely the main (game), I reckon, winning the first one.”

The debate over player payments bubbled along, too, with veteran Maroons prop Petero Civoniceva saying: “It will, I guess, always be brought up around this time of year.

“But I haven’t spoken to the boys about it too much and I don’t think we’re too concerned. We’re just so focused on this preparation for game one.

“It’s something that will come out through our players association, the CBA negotiations are coming up and also the broadcasting rights a bit after that. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about that.”

NSW centre Josh Morris, who will line up against Greg Inglis for the first time in his career, said: “I don’t even know how much we get paid.

“I try not to read too much about that stuff. My focus is solely on the game. I’d play State of Origin for free if I had to because it’s such a great game to be part of.”

Queensland centre Justin Hodges dismissed any injury concerns, saying:  “The foot’s good. We had a big hit-out yesterday, I got through everything and had a little fitness run at the end.

“I came into camp a bit sore … I feel 100 per cent.”

Cameron Smith replacing Darren Lockyer as captain, according to Civoniceva, “feels like nothing’s changed at all”. The prop said Queensland giving up a home game to Melbourne would be “hard to cop”

Civoniceva is not counting on a fairytale farewell in Origin III because he is not convinced he’ll even be selected.

“You live by the sword,” he said. “I’ve put myself on the line again to go one more time at it. It’s in the back of mind, no doubt, that you run that risk.

“I just want to make sure I perform as strongly as possible. I’ve got an important role within this team.

“I’ve been targeted since the day I turned 30. That’s just part of the game. They’ll try and make their way through the middle of the ruck.

“No doubt, Wednesday night, I’ll have some traffic headed my way.”

Hodges – who wants to extend his stay at Brisbane – said he was enjoying rooming with North Queensland winger Brent Tate, who he has known since he was 12.

“Normally a guy who has had three reco’s (reconstructions) would give up,” said Hodges. “It just shows what type of man Tatey is – he’ll never give up and never give in.

“That’s what the Queensland spirit is.”

Filed for: THE AUSTRALIAN