JOY OF SIX: round one 2015


WHAT if Dallas Donnelly pulled up outside an NRL ground in his time travelling Delorian and went inside for a gander? What would he make of a competition where you are sent to the sin bin for punching someone but stay on the field for a deadset coat-hanger? How can we be SOFTER on an offence now than we were in the seventies? It defies logic. The ban on referee comments stifled the debate on Saturday night surrounding Mitchell Moses’ shot on William Zillman. Set of Six will debate it; Moses should have been sent off. Flailing fists deter parents from letting their kids play rugby league – do we think mum wants little Johnny to do his best rag doll impersonation every weekend?
WELL may Phil Gould and Penrith oppose an external draft – they have more juniors than most other clubs. But one donatechange in the game that has gone un-noticed over the summer has been the rebranding of the state leagues, aside from NSW and Queensland. The South Australian Rugby League is now NRL South Australia – and so on. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Moore Park HQ. No doubt, the aim is to do the same with the NSWRL, the QRL and the CRL. The NRL wants to be to rugby league what the NBA is to basketball – that is, just about everything. It will take care of all development and clubs will be shells focused only on winning first grade matches and attracting fans. Set of Six likes the idea.
LOTS of things have changed this season by according to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, one thing hasn’t. “It’s a little bit faster, sides are trying to find their feet. Sides don’t want to give away too many penalties away – bar the Roosters. They were quite happy to give penalties away and then defend ‘em.” The Roosters do not like accusations they deliberately give away penalties. Flanagan nominated Trent Robinson’s team, South Sydney and Parramatta as sides who had “put their hand up” over the weekend. The Sharks boss wasn’t sure how he’d feel going to Remondis Stadium last night for his first game back from suspension. “Surprisingly, I’m pretty calm about the whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’ve got a job here to do and I’ve just got to get on with it.”
HELLO 2015
SOME random observations about our first taste of premiership football for the year. One, the game IS faster and there IS amazonless wrestling, and the crowds like it. Friday night at Pirtek Stadium, particularly in the first half, was a revelation; the word “fickle” just isn’t in the dictionaries of western Sydney. Your correspondent was at Headingley, where they sing all night, eight days previously and the local Blue and Gold Army outdid their British cousins easily. A bulked-up Anthony Milford in the halves is a gamble. We won’t get reliable forward pass rulings until there are chips in the balls. Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua could be the centre pairing of the year. Pat Richards could easily realise his ambition of playing in the 2017 World Cup. Live free-to-air TV coverage on a Sunday should have happened years ago.
TRENT Merrin was only “dropped” for Monday Night Football if you don’t count the game against Warrington, which he also started from the bench. He was in the starting side for round 26 last year, though – we checked. Two men who WERE dropped, by any definition, are big Canberra forwards David Shillington and Shannon Boyd. They were named in Canberra’s first grade side on Sunday – Shillington in the starting front row – but played NSW Cup. Coach Ricky Stuart admitted the hot conditions were in his mind but “there’s a few other reasons – nothing untoward in regards to the two boys. We made the decision earlier in the week.” Stuart reckons the quicker rucks this year mean “dropped balls and penalties are making a big difference between winning and losing.’
Dwrq4E1421835700EVEN a broken rib for Todd Carney took a back seat to the scoreline in the Catalans-Salford Super League game over the weekend. The match finished in a 40-40 draw – which in the Australian premiership would make it the highest scoring drawn game ever, beat three matches which finished 34-34.. In England, there’ve been higher scores in draws – and there almost certainly have been in France, too. After a tackle by Lama Tasi, Carney – who missed the opening two rounds through injury – tweeted: “Just got home from the hospital, Broken Ribs Fingers crossed I won’t be out for long.” Dragons coach Laurent Frayssinous said the tackle was illegal. “It is not acceptable that there is a late tackle on Todd Carney that has left him in the hospital with a broken rib,” he told reporters. Oh, and the penalty which gave Salford a late draw was a tad controversial, too.


World Cup: SAMOA 38 PAPUA NEW GUINEA 4 at Craven Park

ANTHONY Milford is playing fullback – a position likely closed off to him if he succeeds in joining Brisbane next year – at the World Cup simply because he wants to, coach Matt Parish has revealed.
The 19-year-old, centre of a tug-o-war between Canberra and Brisbane for his services in 2014, was named man of the match as Samoa claimed their first win of the tournament, 38-4 over a disappointing Papua New Guinea at Hull’s Craven Park.
While Milford insists his bid for a compassionate release from the Raiders is wholly in the hands of his managers, Parish gave a surprising answer when asked if he considered switching the rookie into the halves following a first-up loss to New Zealand.
amazon“He can play where-ever he wants, that kid,” Parish said. “He’s certainly a great talent. I personally think he’s suited to fullback. If he wants to play fullback, I’m happy to play him there.
“But again, he could play halfback really well.”
The signing of Ben Barba means Milford would probably not be able to play the custodian role at Suncorp Stadium – particularly since the club also boasts the current New Zealand no.1, Josh Hoffman.
Asked if he was suggesting Milford was allowed to play where-ever he wanted for Samoa, Parish responded: “Why not?”
Beng given the run of an international side while still a teenager works well, according to Milford. “If it’s too far for me to come across, I just play that first receiver role,” he told Fairfax Media.
“They boys don’t mind playing at the back as well, which is good. I can pick and choose.”
Milford is saying little about his 2014 plans. “I’m not too sure. I’ve got a four week break when I go back. Everything’s up to my management team. Hopefully when I go back, I’ll have something sorted out,” he said.
Samoa led 22-0 after 24 minutes, effectively anaesthetising the hardy 6782 fans who braved the cold at East Hull. The Kumuls remained he local favourites, however, and responded with a more spirited display after trailing 28-0 at the break.
The Samoans were deadly at times on the edges, with Pita Godinet’s 14th-minute try the result of a mesmerising interchange of passes on the right side.
But Samoa are running low on troops, with Reni Maitua (groin), Harrison Hansen (leg) and Frank Winterstein (pectoral muscle) to miss the rest of the tournament.
A call to bring in re-inforcements, which would have incuded St Helens’ Tony Puletua, has fallen in deaf ears.
PNG coach Adrian Lam, meanwhile, was battening down the hatches for a wave of criticism. Coaching director Mal Meninga has moved to write a lettet to the country’s public after the one-point loss to France which opened the campaign.
“Although we wanted to do well here, the priority is that next (World Cup),” Lam said.
“At the last World Cup, we had 15 international players and eight locals. At this World Cup, it’s swapped around, it’s the opposite.”
donate2Lam said his message to league-mad Papuans was “just to be patient with the process”.
“We’ve got seven million people who were probably up watching this morning.They judge the boys pretty harsh on performance. I know everyone at home will be pretty disappointed. Probably, we’ll see our critics over the next couple of days and the next week or two. That’s cool. Off the back of that performancetonight, it wasn’t too cool.
“We’ve still got New Zealand to go. All is not lost. We might win that to go through to the quarter-finals.”
Lam offered a wry smile as he uttered that last sentence.
SAMOA 38 (Antonio Winterstein 3, Suaia Matagi, Pita Godinet, Ben Roberts Suasu Sue tries; Anthony Milford 5 goals) beat PAPUA NEW GUINEA 4 (Jesse Joe Nandye try) at Craven Park. Referee: Shayne Hayne (Australia). Crowd: 6,782.


THE JOY OF SIX: Round 23


SHOULD a player who gains compassionate leave profit financially from it? According to NRL head of football operations Todd Greenberg, capping payments made to a player released on compassionate grounds – perhaps for the term of the original contract he escaped – will be discussed as part of the salary cap review. Another suggestion was to hand the difference in any contract back to the player’s former club, as compensation. This might work if, say, Ben Barba or Anthony Milford go into the Brisbane’s cap by NRL decree at a higher price than Canterbury or Canberra would be paying them next year. In that case, the difference between that figure and the cap amount could be paid by Brisbane to the Bulldogs and Raiders. “Compassionate grounds, if that (release) is awarded by clubs, they may well make the decision that the commercial terms don’t change,” Greenberg said on the ABC


BRISBANE coach Anthony Griffin and his media manager, James Hinchey, are friendly, down-to-earth, likeable fellows. But their approach to talking about the – very necessary – recruitment going on at the club right now is curious. Even after signings have taken place, such as that of Sydney Rooster Martin Kennedy, there is no announcement. Peter Wallace and Scott Prince being told they are in reserve grade, or the club’s interest in Ben Barba and Anthony Milford, are treated as if they are figments of the media’s imagination – but never denied. And on Friday, Josh Hoffman was stopped almost mid-sentence while talking to television cameras . Fans have a right to know who a club is talking to and letting go. If you can’t comment because talks are at a delicate stage, why not say “I can’t comment right now because talks are at a delicate stage”? Melbourne’s squeamishness about anything concerning their departing assistant coaches is equally mystifying.


BRENT Tate won’t be retiring from State of Origin and wants Australia’s World Cup selectors to know it. Tate has heard coach Tim Sheens will be picked a team with a view to the future; his future will still including playing for Queensland. “I’m very mindful of where I am with my body but at the same time, I think Origin makes me a better player,” said Tate after the 22-10 win over Gold Coast. “Being around that environment, it takes me to another level. It would be really hard for me to to say ‘no’ to it. I feel as if I’m not quite ready (to quit). On the World Cup, he said: “I’d love to go, although I know Tim has said there’s a bit of an eye on the future. I was part of the last World Cup and it would be nice to be able to go there and right a few wrongs. If I get a chance there, I’ll be the first one with my bags packed.”


THE NRL’s ill-advised crackdown on what is arbitrarily deemed “excessive” criticism by coaches of referees will be put to the test today when Geoff Toovey’s post match media conference from Friday is examined. It used to be that you had to question the integrity of a match official to cop a fine; now you pretty much only have to upset the NRL. How can reporters rely on the NRL to enforce media regulations and free speech at clubs when the administration itself indulges in censorship? On a more positive note, the ARLC will attempted to make the link with touch football an international association by encouraging the RLIF to make contact with touch’s international governing body, FIT. We’ve rapped the NRL over the touch footy deal but here’s another brickbat: officials travelling around Sydney in chauffeured cars isn’t a great look.


YOU may have wondered exactly when Johnathan Thurston turned from a footballer to a role model and ambassador; the sort of fellow who spots kids in the crowd during games and tells the ballboy to hand them a signed kicking tee. The Closing The Gap round, of which he is a frontman, seemed an opportune time to ask him. “When I had that misdemeanour of getting locked up in Brisbane (in 2010),” he said on ABC when I asked. “It didn’t only just affect myself. It affected my fiancé Samantha, my parents, my brothers, my sisters, my family. That’s when I really had a good, hard look at myself and the legacy I wanted to see when I leave football. I’ve got a four-year deal and I want to make the most of these four years because after that, you know, I’ll be in the real world.”


MELBOURNE have become the victims of ball tampering for a second consecutive week, it is alleged. Last week it was Sam Burgess fiddling with Chambers’ willie, this week it was Knights officials lubricating the pigskin with water. Storm halfback Cooper Cronk complained to referees Jared Maxwell and Brett Suttor that the Steedens had been placed in water before kick-offs and this had lead to at least one knock-on. Melbourne officials did not want to add to the allegation when contacted late Sunday. Co-incidentally, while Sam Burgess is currently serving a two-week suspension for tampering with Chambers, the last known example of interfering with a ball in the NRL was perpetrated by his England team-mate, James Graham last year. Graham rubbed his legs in vaseline, primarily to make him harder to tackle but with the perhaps unintended incidental result of making balls harder to handle too. OK, enough.

And a bonus ‘zero tackle’


NEXT weeks’ Set Of Six will come to you from Wembley Stadium, where Wigan and Hull are preparing to take part in a rematch of one of the top two matches I’ve ever seen, the 1985 Challenge Cup final that pitted Peter Sterling (black and white irregular hoops) against Brett Kenny (cherry and white). Playing half for Wigan will be former Parramatta and Cronulla man Blake Green and NRL talent scouts should be glued to Eurosport to check his form. Just about every Australian who signs with a Super League club these days has a get-out clause and experienced halves aren’t really thick on the ground. Blake’s agent Isaac Moses is flying to London for the game but no doubt in a different part of the plane to your correspondent. We’re cheering for Hull though, on account of Mark ‘Ogre’ O’Meley having an opportunity to win something special in his last season.


Hoffman Interview Cut Short

Brisbane - Josh HoffmanBy STEVE MASCORD

MAN of the match Josh Hoffman was stopped by a club official from answering a question about the club’s links with rival fullback Ben Barba in a dramatic aftermath to Brisbane’s win over Parramatta.

On a day which started with Fairfax reporting Barba’s request for a release had become formalised, Hoffman the one shining light in a mediocre clash at Suncorp Stadium that saw the Broncos keep their campaign alive with a 22-12 victory.

But television reporters said Hoffman was dragged away by a club official after being asked about the Barba situation, although the timing of the intervention could have been co-incidental.

“Massive issues post match in @brisbanebroncos dressing room,” Channel Seven reporter Ben Davis Tweeted.

“Club officials pull Man-o-match Josh Hoffman mid intv”

Nine and Seven are expected to on Saturday show footage of media manager James Hinchey grabbing Hoffman by the shoulder and leading him away in the middle of the media opportunity.

Hoffman has spent most of the season on the wing and the club has reportedly courted fullbacks Josh Dugan, Barba and Milford in recent times. Coach Anthony Griffin said he could understand fans wondering why the club needed another fullback.

“I understand that – it would be the same as … I’m the same as everyone else, we ain’t signed anyone,” Griffin told radio Triple M.

“He’s done a great job for us. He’s scored 14 tries on the left wing. He had a great game tonight at fullback, he did a great job for us tonight.”

When asked what the answer was to that question which fans were asking, Griffin answered: “I don’t know. I’m not in the media. People have got to write something. You’re asking the wrong bloke.”

Earlier at the media conference, Griffin said none of the players were under pressure – despite halves Scott Prince and Peter Wallace being told they would likely be in reserve grade if they stayed at the club.

“I don’t know if any of them are under pressure,” he said. “Within our four walls, we’re all content. It’s you guys that aren’t.

“You’re seeing the way they’re playing. Everyone’s playing for each other.”

Asked if he could provide a comment about Barba, Griffin said: “No, I can’t. He’s under contract from Canterbury. You’ll have to ask Des (Hasler).”

One of Hoffman’s heroics was to stop Parramatta superstar in his tracks when he was headed to the line during the second half.

The Eels did not believe Hayne had been seriously injured, despite jarring a knee. Broncos Ben Hunt (cork) and Josh McGuire (knee) were other casualties, albeit minor.

Broncos captain Sam Thaiday said “a better team would have rolled over the top of us” at stages of the match while Griffin was disappointed at the flow of penalties.

“it turns into a game of basketball for the fans, too,” said Griffin. “Everyone is in with a shot.

“Two weeks ago in Newcastle, the penalty count was 2-all. We played about 44 sets against each other.”


DISCORD 2013: Edition 31


THERE is an eminently straightforward way Canberra can regain the moral high ground in their dealings with Anthony Milford: offer him indefinite, paid compassionate leave.

Milford wants a release from his 2014 contract to return to Brisbane and look after his sick father, Halo. If he returns to Queensland, he would play for the Broncos.

The Raiders’ response has been say they intend to keep the 19-year-old but are concerned about his welfare and want to delay all discussions until the end of the season.

The club says it was talking to Milford about extending his contract beyond 2014. His agent, Sam Ayoub, angrily denies this. At the moment, one would suggest public sympathy is with Milford; there are more important things than football.

But if Canberra were to give Milford compassionate leave for as long as he wants it – until the end of next year if necessary – then they would be doing the right thing by him and protecting their interests at the same time.

As we said, there are more important things than football and Milford would not have to play football while he spent time with his ill dad. Surely the NRL would look favourably on the payments not counting towards the Raiders’ salary cap next season.

At the end of 2014, Milford could either sign with the Broncos or, out of gratitude to the Raiders, return to the capital if his dad is well enough.



GREAT to finally see some thawing of relations between the warring parties in the United States.

On August 24, Canada and the US Tomahawks – a team made up only of players from the establishment AMNRL – will play a double-header with the grand final of the ‘rebel’ USARL.

Australian-based Steve Johnson played a role in negotiating this ceasefire and it will hopefully lead to a ‘united’ United States going to the World Cup.

The little piece of history is to take place at AA Garthwaite Stadium in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. The USARL National Championship Match is at 3pm, the international is at six.



read on

Green Brotherhood

Canberra - Anthony MilfordBy STEVE MASCORD
WHEN Josh Papalii told Anthony Milford he was joining Parramatta, there was a profound silence.
The Canberra Raiders pair had grown up near each other in Brisbane. The players, each of Samoan descent, saw each other most days in the national capital – they were like brothers.
And now ‘Papa’ was leaving.
“When he told me, I was pretty much speechless,” Milford, the exciting 18-year-old Raiders halfback, tells Rugby League Week.
“I didn’t know what to say. I was just … he’s pretty much a brother to me.
“I knew him from back home in Brisbane. Our suburbs don’t like each other, Inala and Woodridge. They’re pretty much rivals every time. We met through there and when I came down to Canberra, I stayed with Papa a little bit.
“Just meeting his family and stuff was heaps good and helped me out a lot.
“I think it’s shown – that I’ve felt more comfortable around the boys, especially with him helping me.”
But what impresses anyone who meets Milford is his maturity. For such a young fellow, he’s articulate and thoughtful. So the silence didn’t last long.
“Hearing the news, afterwards, I looked at it as just another step for him. He was just doing what was best for him and his family,” says the captain of the Queensland under 20s, speaking to us at Canberra Airport.
“I just told him that the decision was ‘based on you and your family so don’t listen to anyone else telling you what to do or stuff like that. There’s no wrong or right. If you make a decision, don’t look back’.”
Sage words from someone so young. But Papalii, as Parramatta fans reading this would be acutely aware, did look back. After receiving a counter-offer from the Green Machine, the 21-year-old backrower decided to enact the June 30 clause and stay in the land of roundabouts.
The quick-stepping Milford is happy – insiders say he played a role in the big man’s decision – and will be joining ‘Papa’ in the Samoan side at the World Cup this year.
“I want to pledge to Samoa,” he says enthusiastically. “I got asked to go play for them in the Test match (on April 20) but my first instinct was to play for the Queensland 20s. I was hoping to get the captain of the 20s squad so I couldn’t say ‘no’ to that.
“I was born in Australia.
“At the end of the year, if I keep playing good footy, I’m hoping to get a spot in the World Cup team, I guess.
“The whole family is Samoan. They moved here just for a better life. Everyone knows the island vibe, around Samoa and New Zealand. They all come here trying to get a better life, just better stuff for the kids and to give them what they didn’t grow up with.”
Milford, more or less a fixture in first grade now, was recruited like Papalii through the Raiders twinning arrangement with Souths Logan.
“I did similar to him,” Milford explains. “ I came down for SG ball and just did the ranks, went to 20s. Last season I did the pre-season with NRL and that helped me out a lot.
“Canberra, it’s a small spot. I think it’s perfect for rugby league players because the people are nice. You don’t get people yelling this or that out in the streets, calling you stuff, calling you names, Everyone’s aware of who you are here. You’ve just got to be careful what you do. Everyone knows who you are. Your image around the people is (important).”
Milford aimed to play first grade at some stage this year – and only had to wait until round five to achieve it. “It’s massive growing up watching these players go through the ranks and … just being there is something special,” he reflects.
“Just the quality of the players … they rarely make a mistake whereas in the 20s, you get found out a lot. Everyone knows your strengths and weaknesses, through the whole team.
“But having said that, in the (first grade) opposition teams, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses . With the videos and that, they point them out.
“I’ve got next year (here). I haven’t really thought about it. I want to, first and foremost, play good for the Raiders. If an extension comes up, I’ll just leave it to my manager.”
One suggests Josh Papalii might be in his ear as well. It’s shaping up like some sort of unofficial pact…