BONDI BEAT: July 2016

RLW Juy 2016By STEVE MASCORD

I FEEL sorry for Andrew Johns.

Unless you live under a rock or follow rugby union (give me a rock any day), you’ll be aware that there’s a match fixing ‘scandal’ taking place in Sydney right now.

Two matches last year involving Manly are alleged to have been manipulated by players involved being paid A$50,000 a man.

Now, the way this has played out is a reflection of two things: the changing face of the media and journalism and the way authorities in Australia seem to behave out of political expediency.

Many fans have drawn a comparison between the so-called ‘Darkest Day In Australian Sport’ a couple of years ago, when we were told organised crime had infiltrated out dearest institutions and doping was rife.

Since then, we had had sanctions levelled at Cronulla and the Essendon AFL club but the scale of the cheating was no-where near what was initially touted.

From a fan’s point of view, this smacks of something similar.

Even as a professional journalist I can appreciate the cynicism and that’s because politicians and law enforcement in Australia seem to like to use the media to ‘smoke out’ offenders.

Apparently many of my colleagues were aware of these match fixing claims for some time but couldn’t get the story ‘up’ – that is, no-one would be quoted. This changed when the Daily Telegraph’s Michael Carayannis managed to get a line from a police spokesperson at the end of May.

Again, for whatever reason but perhaps as some kind of deterrent, further high-ranking police officers have been quoted since. In other parts of the world, I would imaging police would be far more reticent to talk but there is a ‘Wild West’ feel to the way things are done Down Under.

As for the change in journalistic practices, that is reflected in the way the story has been covered since it broke.

In the old days, naming groups of people – such as football teams – and individuals such as the ‘big punter’ and former brothel owner Eddie Heyson would have been considered actionable and therefore ill-advised.

But today, decisions are made based on what a news organisation can get away with. One former News Corporation used to say “don’t start a fight with anyone who buys newsprint (ink) by the tonne.”

The question asked is not ‘can they sue?’ but ‘are they likely to’ and ‘does that person have a good reputation that can be sullied anyway?’ Increasingly we see lines in stories like ‘the Daily Bugle does not suggest the players named in this story are guilty of any wrongdoing’ when the rest of the story suggests exactly that.

As a result, we have seen detailed allegations of exactly who is supposed to have done what and which games and clubs are allegedly involved, when such stories would never have been printed in the past.

What does all this have to do with Andrew Johns?

One report suggested Manly blamed a former great no longer on the club staff for introducing Heyson to the club.

Johns, who has a number of media gigs, stepped up and said such allegations were ridiculous and he had done nothing of the sort.

By responding to the allegations, he outed himself. The reporters no longer needed to refer to him as “a former great”. They could name him – and so in the next day’s paper he found the allegations against him spelt out in greater detail but someone who was not named.

It’s a great three-card trick – put allegations you cannot publish for legal reasons to the target of those allegations and if they are denied, you no longer have any obligation to protect the aggrieved party.

No doubt Johns felt his time at Manly was positive and he left on good terms (he’s now an advisor at Sydney Roosters). Now one of his former ‘mates’ is trying to blame him for match fixing and he has no idea who it is.

That can’t be fun.

AT the time of writing, it appeared Zac Hardaker’s likely new home would be Canberra, where Jack Wighton is the likely fullback.

(I actually once had a copy of Rolling Stone with Jack White of the White Stripes on the cover at a Raiders game one day. It was only after Wighton had left the stadium that I realised what a great photo opp that would have been),

Wighton, from Orange in the NSW central west, is a likeable lad. Perhaps too likeable as indications are that the curry he has been getting from fans on social media recently has been getting to him.

Wighton made a couple of ugly errors against Canberra but also engineered the win. “Forget all those voices in your head and listen to mine,” is what coach Ricky Stuart claims to have told him at halftime.

A move to the centres or even to stand-off would relieve Wighton of the burden of playing in rugby league’s loneliest position.

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WHILE on Stuart, there’s a juicy rumour going around that he is going to be the new coach of Lebanon, in place of Darren Maroon.

Maroon quit just a couple of weeks before the recent international against the Cook Islands when was told his position would be reviewed after the match.

He had previously believed he would be in the post until after the World Cup.

Now, Stuart has not always been painted as a fan of international football, with many a developing nation coach wishing he was more charitable about releasing players.

But if there is any duplicity there, it seems to almost be de rigeur ….. right, Wayne Bennett?

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ALL is not going smoothly with the World Cup.

Recently, governing bodies poised to send teams to the ‘Festival Of World Cups’ – students, women, armed forces, wheelchair etc, were contacted by the organisers

Each participant was going to have to find extra funds because various hoped-for revenue sources had not eventuated.

Meanwhile, Suncorp Stadium was awarded the final with little or no fanfare.

While on the World Cup, it’s a shame Cook Islands won’t be involved, purely from a playing talent point of view.

Brad Takairangi, Jordan Rapana, Tepai Meoroa and Zeb Taia have all been among the season’s top performers in the NRL.

But, as you may have anticipated, Rapana and Taia have already declared their intention to try to make the New Zealand side.

Filed for:RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

How Joey Overhauled Manly’s Attack

Manly - Kieran Foran (cropped)By STEVE MASCORD
MANLY players have revealed how Immortal Andrew Johns has overhauled the attacking play of halves Daly Cherry Evans and Keiran Foran for 2013.
It was a feature of the Sea Eagles’ 22-14 win over Brisbane on Friday night that the playmakers were often next to each other rather than patrolling different sides of the field, as has been the case for most of their time together in first grade.
“You might have notices they linked up a couple of times … which was good to see,” said prop Brent Kite.
“They’ve been locked in on their respective sides and it was good to see them linking up. We scored a try off one movement.
“I think Joey might have had a bit to do with that, Toovs (coach Geoff Toovey) as well. There’s a bit of a brains trust there – Brad Arthur’s going really well.
“They’re doing a bit of work with Joey away from the team but also, they’ve got a few structures where we big blokes are involved in some of their collaborations.
“We’re in the middle of some of their linking movements and we need to be there (at training) for that.”
Johns, who had previously worked as a consultant at a number of clubs, became a fulltime member of the Manly coaching staff in November.
Back rower Anthony Watmough added: “Having Joey on board is massive for our young boys. Look at the way they played. The thing is, they’ve got improving to do – that’s only going to be a bonus to us.
“Any time you can get your halves on the big side, running plays, it’s dangerous. Teams are doing it, so is our team, and it’s exciting football to watch.”
Hooker Matt Ballin said: “If we can involve Daly and Kieran in the same play and we’ve got guys like Brett Stewart out the back – and Jamie Lyon.
“We want to involve those two guys together and I think they’re really dangerous when they do play together. Whey they’re running the ball, they’re very good.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE BIG ISSUE: #27

By STEVE MASCORD

IT’S easy to call for the head of the head coach.

For 100 years, people have been trying to get coaches sacked for poorly performing years and right now, Bill Harrigan, Stuart Raper and – to a slightly lesser extent – Tim Sheens are in the firing line.

In many case, poor performances may not be the fault of the coach. But he’s the bloke in charge, so he has to cop the blame. Governments get ousted when times are tough – even if they are doing the best anyone could for the city, state or country they preside over.

But none of us – unless you work under these three fellas or are friends with those who do – really knows what happens behind closed doors and why their respective teams, Wests Tigers and the refs, are losing.

In the case of footy clubs, we’ve seen plenty of coaches get the flick in recent years only for their replacement to fair worse. The faction trying to get rid of Sheens should be convinced that won’t happen before they punt him.

We have a process now that works like this: losing team – coach sacked. But the process should really be: losing team, coach sacked, team still loses, board sacked.

Unfortunately there are mechanisms in place which save board from this fate. If our clubs were run in a truly democatic fashion, that’s what would happen.

In the case of the NRL, there is a full beaurocracy that should be able to get to the bottom of what is going wrong with the “merry whistle-blowers”, as Mike Stephenson calls them. They’re not so merry right now.

We already had a coup attempt against Harrigan earlier this year – so that should throw up all sort of information about what is going on in the match officials’ ranks. There should be people willing to talk. Maybe we need to appoint someone whose sole job it is to sort the mess out, like Brian Canavan did for the Blues.

The refereeing administration has tried having former refs in charge. They’ve tried having former coaches in charge. Now we’ve got one of each! Still, it’s been a poor year.

Fans simply won’t tolerate the status quo remaining over the offseason. We don’t know who is to blame but we are paying the wages of those at League Central whose job it is to find out.

By the way, there is going to be a fans symposium at Old Trafford to kick off the next Super League season. Would you go to one if it was held here?

 

TOMORROW night, the eighth Immortal is named. I’d almost forgotten that in one of the first Big Issues of the season, I promised to tell you who I thought should get the nod.

I wasn’t on the voting panel – I’ve really only been at League Week for five minutes in comparison to those who were and anyway, I really don’t like judging stuff anyway.  Just doing the player ratings each week in this journal gives me heart palpitations.

To make this interesting, I thought I would count down the top four candidates in my mind – including those who didn’t even make the shortlist.

4. PETER STERLING: In my 25-years covering the game, I really only saw three players who could completely control the flow and outcome of a game. There were others who would inject themselves at the right time and change a result, sure. But there were three who had the air of a puppeteer, for the whole 80 minutes. One was Wally Lewis, who is already an Immortal. Another is Peter Sterling, who didn’t play as many Tests as he could have because of the number of other great halfbacks at the time;

3. MAL MENINGA: Mal will be an Immortal eventually, in my opinion. It’s just a case of when. He is the only player to go on four Kangaroo Tours, he retired with the most points and most appearances for Australia and was a colossus of State Of Origin. Again, to watch him play was to watch someone on a level above those around him – a fact records don’t accurately reflect;

2. BRIAN BEVAN: This fellow scored 796 tries between 1942 and 1964. Need I say more? On occasions he ran around entire teams – some players twice – to get them. Because Bevan played most of his career in England, he is often overlooked. He scored 100 hat-tricks and twice posted seven tries in a game! The whole Immortals concept would be richer for his inclusion;

1. ANDREW JOHNS: The reason the Immortals was conceived as a post-war concept is because they wanted the judges to have seen all the candidates play. Using that criteria, I have to go for Johns because he is the best player I ever saw. Here is someone who tackled big forwards head on, laide on tries for others, scored them himself, kicked goals, kicked tactically and saw things no-one else could. Johns admitted taking recreational drugs but he did not cheat. He took performance-reducing substances but trained long hours after his team-mates had gone home. I respect the older judges who disapprove of some of his actions. But he wasn’t Milli Vanilli. There was no miming involved for Joey. He did it all himself.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

The Immortals: Joey’s English Peerage

By LYLE BEATON

MUCH more will be written in coming days about the sterling contribution of Andrew Johns to rugby league. His consideration as an eighth Immortal will, in itself, guarantee that.

Many icons of the game have indicated Andrew Johns should be regarded as the best rugby league player to ever play the game. Included in their number are such luminaries as Phil Gould, Peter Sterling, Brad Fittler and Warren Ryan; all figures with exemplary records at playing and/or coaching level.

While such arguments are, by their very nature, entirely subjective, it is still useful to examine them against the historical record as best we can.

Rugby league, as a sport with 117 years of history, has a wonderfully long and rich tradition of producing players of exceptional calibre. Furthermore, unlike a certain unspecified competitor on the Australian sporting landscape, it also features a number of other legitimate playing nations – each with their own history of competition at club, provincial and international levels. Not least of these is the game’s birthplace in 1895 – England.

It is perhaps trite to say that, over time, Australia has performed exceptionally well in rugby league. Nine World Cup titles since 1954 is clear testament to this fact. But it should also be remembered that Australia did not win a Test series against England/Great Britain for thirty years in the period 1921-1949 (inclusive). Other countries, most particularly France, Wales and New Zealand, have had periods of glory of differing lengths and frequencies. All of these leading teams have produced exceptional players.

It can also be safely stated that Australian rugby league has an unfortunate tendency to ignore the remainder of the world and to understate the importance of other countries to the overall fabric of the game. This has sadly been to the detriment of international football since the Super League War.

Without making judgments as to respective qualities, it is useful to compare the record of Andrew Johns and that of another great rugby league player from days past. Not an Australian player. But a man who did play in the same position and who was similarly dominant on the sporting landscape in a different era: the former St Helens, Leigh, Warrington, Lancashire and English/British halfback, Alex Murphy.

Murphy played a career total of 575 matches: 319 for St Helens (175 tries), 118 for Leigh and 67 for Warrington. Added to this were 27 Tests (16 tries) for Great Britain, two internationals for England and assorted other representative matches. This included smashing wins against Australia on tour with the (then) mighty Great Britain Lions in 1958 and 1962.

His first tour to this country, 1958, coincided with the career of the great Western Suburbs, NSW and Australian halfback, Keith Holman. The first Test of that series, played before 68,777 fans at a jam packed Sydney Cricket Ground, saw Murphy comprehensively outplayed (in his Test debut) by the wily and experienced Holman.

The quality of the then St Helens star, who had been signed at one past midnight on the day of his 16th birthday (League rules prevented a player under 16 being signed by a professional club), shone through brightly in the famous Second Test of 1958 played before a capacity crowd at the Exhibition Ground in Brisbane and won 25-18 by a British side reduced to 11 men – and with captain Alan Prescott carrying a broken arm from the third minute of play (he saw out the full game in one of the greatest acts of sporting courage ever witnessed).

Murphy was at his superlative best, carving up the Australian defence and playing a hand in the creation of Britain’s first three tries, then scoring the fourth himself. This form was carried into the third and deciding Test, again at the SCG before another massive 68,000 crowd, in which Britain played majestic football to run out 40-17 winners.

After the lessons of the First Test, Murphy had proved himself a player of the absolute highest order – missing the only other loss in the remaining 22 games played by Britain on tour. In contrast, the great Keith Holman never played another Test for Australia.

After helping Britain win back the 1960 World Cup in England, Murphy again toured Australia and New Zealand in 1962. Once more, Murphy dominated major matches on this tour. After comprehensively outplaying Australia’s Barry Muir in Britain’s First Test 31-12 win (in front of a dangerously large 70,000 plus crowd at the SCG), Murphy backed up with a winning performance in Britain’s Second Test victory, 17-10. Despite suffering an ankle injury 55 minutes into this match, Murphy was again the difference as the Ashes were retained by Britain in the first two Tests.

Even in losing sides, such as the 17-18 loss to Australia in the third “dead rubber” Test at the SCG, Murphy would often demonstrate his brilliance with superb displays. His majestic solo try in this match must still rate as one of the greatest ever witnessed in international rugby league.

Perhaps Murphy’s highlight on this remarkable tour, however, was his masterful display in the first ever club match against a touring side in Australia, the game between Britain and St George hastily scheduled for a midweek afternoon at the Sydney Cricket Ground. St George, at the very heart of a world record 11 straight premiership run between 1956 and 1966, were crushed mercilessly 33-5 before nearly 58,000 disbelieving fans; Murphy again contributing to the scoreboard with two slashing tries.

It could be reasonably suggested that if Murphy had not refused a third tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1966 (on the grounds he was not appointed captain by Britain’s selection committee), the narrow Australian win by two Tests to one may not have occurred. Certainly this was one of the closest Test series on record with the deciding game of the series, the Third Test, going right down to the wire (won 19-14 by Australia with Britain on the attack at the bell).

Alex Murphy’s record at club level was no less impressive: Challenge Cup wins at Wembley in 1961 and 1966 with St Helens, 1971 with massive underdogs Leigh (also winning man of the match) and 1974 as captain of Warrington; and five championship wins (four with St Helens and one with Warrington).

His playing career was both long and highly successful, albeit often marred by off-field controversy.

Like Johns, Murphy possessed every skill needed to control and win a game of rugby league: sublime passing, kicking, running and tackling being fundamentals of his repertoire.

Unlike Johns, Murphy was genuinely fast. He was undoubtedly one of the fastest halfbacks to ever play the game. The great Jim Sullivan had trained him hard to be just that. His scrum-base partnership with the formidable Wigan five-eighth David Bolton was arguably the fastest ever seen in the game – at any level. His ability to shred the tightest defences was appreciated by all other countries – his then equal record four tries against France in 1959 being further evidence of this fact.

A try scorer of note, his 37 tries in the 1958/1959 domestic season was a record for a halfback in England.

None of this is to downplay the ability and contribution of the magnificent Andrew Johns from Newcastle. There is no need to reflect on the qualities of this irrepressible competitor and modern phenomenon. Enough on that subject has been written previously by a range of commentators.

This brief glimpse into the career of another great halfback, whose career spanned the (poorly recorded) years 1956-1975, is simply a reminder of the richness of rugby league’s great tradition – and a cautionary note to those who would immediately portray all previous players as subservient to those playing the modern game.