BONDI BEAT: December 2016

By STEVE MASCORDrlw-december-2017

LETTNG Australian NRL players playing a role in determining the next 10 years of international matches might sound daft – but there could be method in the madness.
The NRL itself will play a huge role, of course, in determining what is played – and where – between the 207 World Cup in Australia and the 2025 tournament which will most likely (fingers, toes, tongues and all other appendages crossed) in North America.
The NRL, in turn, has chosen to consult Australia coach Mal Meninga. Now, there is a very good argument it should give David Kidwell just as much say but that’s another column.
Meninga, in turn has consulted his players. Before the England-Australia Test in London, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg was to address the Kangaroos about the options set to be tabled in Liverpool at the RLIF congress.
Here’s why listening to the players may not be such a bad idea: they like trips.
I surveyed a number of them at the Four Nations series launch about where they wanted the 2021 World Cup to be held and the US had sizeable support.
Before the London Test, Australia prop Matt Scott said he’d be willing to give up the post-season break mandated by the Rugby League Players Association in 2018 if it was possible to play a touring Great Britain side.
Scott head earlier told me he wished the Australian side was able to see more of Europe during the tournament.
For what it’s worth, it is still likely to be a spring break in 2018 for the Aussies. There is a push for a full Kangaroo Tour in 2019 with perhaps an eight-team Federation Cup in 2020. That may be in America. The preferred structure is two pools of four teams, seeded, with a final.
Promoter Jason Moore has some different ideas on that structure.
But while NRL administrators are dominated by money and the clubs in in their concerns, empowering players who want to see the world might be the key to unlocking the potential of the international game at the highest level.
AT the height of the is-Wayne-Bennett-rude controversy I called the RFL to find out exactly what the great man’s job entails.
When I asked Bennett at his now-infamous London media conference if his only responsibility was to coach the team, he responded: ‘That’s exactly right.”
Asked if there was anything else in the job description, he said: “No”.
I won’t go into who I called and who called back and who I thought would call back because there are some personal relationships at work. But suffice to say three people were involved, two of whom I spoke to, and after four hours I was told there would be no on-the-record comment.
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To me, Bennett is entitled to be himself. It’s not as if the RFL didn’t know what they were getting. I agree with colleague Paul Kent that if there was any additional abrasiveness during the Four Nations it could be a sign of vulnerability at the end of a difficult personal year in unfamiliar surroundings.
But the RFL needs to be accountable for the choice they made. They need to come out and say they only care about winning and support Bennett.
Or they need to have a word to Bennett about their bedside manner.
Or they need to explain why they didn’t have a word to him about his bedside manner.
To duck for cover and say nada says little for the courage or leadership at Red Hall. When the RFL challenged me on an aspect of my reporting about this issue, I challenged them back to have a go at me publicly because that would at least be be an on-the-record comment on the issue.
At the time of writing, I am still waiting.
SOME of you, with an interest in such things, might find a look at the way the media was handled during the Four Nations somewhat instructive.
The Australians held media opportunities, on average, every second day at their hotel. There was an electronic media ‘all-in’ – usually involving, Channel Nine and Channel Seven – followed by the same player speaking to print. That was usually just News Limited, Fairfax and Australian Associated Press but anyone covering the tournament was invited.
It was possible to request interviews outside this set-up.
I didn’t go to New Zealand media opps but I’m told they were rather weird – everyone speaking at once. What I mean by that is a coach and two players facing media representatives all at once, with questions and answers flying from everywhere. Also, the Kiwis openly labelled these as being for “travelling NZ media only” – not much help when you’re in Carlisle and there are still tickets to sell in Workington.
(It subsequently transpires this designation was only supposed to deter Kiwi journos at home, trying to cover such events over the phone – not locals)
The England media opps were just as complex but in a different way. England would have a ‘media day’ once a week. In my experience, a ‘media day’ involves reporters and players mingling and talking one-on-one.
But an England media day involved the coach and three players each sitting at a desk and speaking to everyone at once. The first part of each of these was open to radio, TV and agencies. Then the cameras were told to stop rolling and newspapers took over.
The UK newspaper reporters would then collude to decide which day Mike Cooper or Josh Hodgson interviews would be run, agreeing all to quote the same player on the same day.
This system came a little undone when newspaper reporters from other countries, with other requirements, became involved. I approached with this philosophy: I would use answers to my own questions when I chose as I don’t really like being part of a cartel.
But even this approach causes some tensions.
While the England media manager could separate print from electronic, he could hardly dictate what day each story would run so it only took one dissenter for the system to fall apart.
As for one-on-one interviews, I made requests for players from Australia, New Zealand and England for Rugby League Week’s A-List feature. As I write this, I have not done a single one of these interviews.
A way to raise money for the international game, aside from a second ‘property’ such as the Federation Cup, would be for funds from a sponsorship in all internationals to be handed over to the RLIF.
There is an idea out there that the referees in all internationals across the world should be branded with a sponsorship that goes straight to the RLIF.
You’d think, with there being relatively few internationals at present, it would be easy to achieve. Not so. Red tape abounds.



The A-List: Josh Mansour (Penrith, Lebanon & Australia)


IT works like this: never open with your best question.

To some people, the journalistic practice of softening up an interview subject with some ‘Dorothy Dixers’ is just plain sneaky. Lull the person into a false sense of security, wait until their guard is down, then hit them with a curly one.

But to most journalists, the procedure is just plain good manners. Would you bowl straight into a conversation, at work or socially, with the most adversarial question you can think of?

With Penrith’s 24-year-old Australian and Lebanese international Josh Mansour, it’s not hard to make polite conversation. Sitting out the back of the main grandstand at Pepper Stadium, he’s a polite guy, asking almost as many questions as he answers.

But eventually, A-List has to man up and ask about the big issue others don’t dare discuss … THAT beard. We’ve been staring at it for 15 minutes, after all.

“Ha – It started with a bet between me and Wes Naiqama last year,” says Josh.  “Wes, he stuck solid. I don’t think anyone thought I was going to stick solid as well.

“Last year I just let it go and it was bad, it was terrible. I looked like one of the cast from Lost. This year, I’ve put some time into it.

“I went just to the hair dressers. I comb it every day. A bit of Moroccan oil to get it set when you go out. “

Sadly for the man coach Ivan Cleary once described as being “built like a Chippendale”, he’s got plenty of time to focus on grooming right now. The Kingsgrove Colts junior a knee injury that ruled him out of Test selection and is not expected to allow him to return before Origin I.

Nonetheless, four Test appearances last year is not to be sneezed at. Things have happened so fast for mansour, it might be a blessing to just take stock.

“I came to training over the summer with the same attitude I had that got me there,” says the chirpy son of a Lebanese father and Portugese mother.

“I didn’t change anything. That experience last year was probably the best experience of my whole NRL career. I’d love to do it again with all those blokes.”

His form piqued the interest of the Canberra Raiders.

“Canberra were sniffing around, yes,” he nods, glancing down at the brace on his injured knee.

advertise here“For lifestyle reasons and family reasons …  I think that was the main thing that kept me here. I also believe in this club and where it’s going. I’ve been at this club for three years no and I’ve just seen it rise every year. We’re setting the standards more with every passing year.

“We’ve got an outstanding coaching staff. We’ve got Gus (Phil Gould) who’s been outstanding behind the scenes for us as well and the recruitment has been outstanding.  We’ve been hit by a lot of injuries, we like facing adversity and we’ve been getting the results as well without our main players.”

All of which is great – but as it turns out, we could easily have lost J Mansour to the round-ball game.

“As a kid, I started with soccer,” he recalls. “I aspired to play in the top league in soccer … anywhere, preferably overseas because I grew up watching overseas soccer. But I used to live in an apartment block and all my close mates used to play rugby league, same as all my school friends. One day out of the blue, I went to my parents and said ‘look, I want to play rugby league’. They were very upset with me, I can tell you that. They were devastated.

“I think they really believed I was going to go places in soccer, which is fair enough. But I lost the passion for the game.

“I was a striker. I was going really well. I stopped playing around 10 and then I was playing both codes because I couldn’t make up my mind around 13, 14, 15. After the age of 15, I called it quits on soccer and I was going to put my whole attention on rugby league.”

Mansour insists he wasn’t a natural – but he worked harder than everyone else.

“I always knew it was going to be tough,” he says. “I was lucky to have good coaches in the juniors. I always believed in myself. I felt that if I was keeping up then, I’d always be able to keep up in the top grade.
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“I didn’t make any junior rep footy but I think I had the passion and the drive that helped me. I was enthusiastic to get better. Even going to the gym on my days off, just to get better. Whatever it took. I look back and I thank God for pushing me and doing all those things that got me here. When I first experienced rep footy in under 20s, I was surprised I was keeping up. My first year of NRL was really tough but as the years went on I started getting used to it.”

There’ve been some interesting detours along the way: Papua New Guinea with the Prime Minister’s XIII, Europe with the Lebanese team on an unsuccessful World Cup qualification bid in 2009. He played Junior Kangaroos too.

“We played in Tripoli. It was a bit rough. I think the stadium was more of an army base than football stadium.

“I also played in Scotland … I think it was the worst conditions I’ve ever played in. The field was drenched, flooded, freezing weather. It was so windy, I’ll never forget.

“I met my family (in Lebanon) that I haven’t seen in my whole entire life, my uncles and aunties. That was really touching. I saw what my dad went through in his village. It was eye-opening, what he grew up in, how he grew up. It really meant a lot to me. I’m glad I had an opportunity to go.”

This is a common experience for young rugby league players who represent the country of their heritage – something that deeply affects many of them and an aspect of our sport’s international set-up that is often overlooked.

But Josh’s first loyalty is to Australia, where he was born.

And it’s here that he has been pioneering research into how to score tries from impossible situations – a very popular field amongst today’s wingers.

“I think you learn more from the actual games than you do from training,” he reasons.

“It’s putting your body in the right place at the right time. It’s little things. If it’s a kick chase of a ball, catching a high ball in defence, those things matter heaps to the team. Wingers don’t get enough (credit), I think. I might be biased but we’ve got to make important reads and if we make the wrong one, we look silly. It’s all a matter of seconds. You come in too early, they put a kick behind you. If you come in too late, they throw the pass past you. Scoring tries, it comes with instinct, knowing how to put your body in the right position.”

And pretty soon, ‘Sauce” will be pouring over the tryline again. Penrith have had a rough trot but with a full-strength side, there’s little doubt they can make an impact in September if they get there.

amazonThe bet with Naiqama is long finished, but the beard will be in play this year as long as Penrith is. Mansour says he doesn’t look in the mirror too much before games, sprucing it up for the TV – despite what you may imagine

.”I know the first tackle, it’s just going to get messy again so there’s just no point,” he laughs.

“I think it’s my trademark since last year. When I shaved it, no-one knew who I was. It was weird. When I grew it again.

“I love it now.”

Then there’s this line, offered with a straight face: “it’s just grown on me now”


THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week Seven

ENGLAND coach Steve McNamara has been retained. When asked by Set of Six what process would determine who has the job next year, Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood told us: “There is no process because there is no vacancy. Steve is 12 months into a two year contract.” When McNamara joined Sydney Roosters at the start of the year and his RFL contract was renegotiated, no term was made public. What of Australia’s Tim Sheens? He would no doubt be seeking a three year extension to take him though to the next World Cup. His old protege Mal Meninga could be an alternative candidate. Sheens said Australia only had one Test next year – even though the TV contract demands two

THERE was a touching moment on the field at fulltime on Saturday night when some Australian team staff had a whisper in the ear of captain Cameron Smith to let him know winger Sione Matautia was doing it tough. Matautia could easily have been the hero with a last-ditch try that was called back for a forward pass but was no doubt upset at the performance of opposite number Manu Vatuvei. Smith comforted Matautia in concert with some team-mates. We can’t remember Australia ever fielding a player with fewer than 10 games experience against a man with almost 200 – with the foreigner plying his trade in what was once the “Sydney premiership”!

WOOD is also the chairman of the Rugby League International Federation and he has warned against getting carried away with the performance of Samoa in the Four Nations. There are calls for an annual New Zealand-Samoa three-Test series at Origin time. “Our priority must be to construct a clear, fair fixture calendar for all member countries,” Wood said, “Sometimes it is tempting to a react to a good one-off Test performance but only 12 months ago we all thought Fiji were clearly our number four country. We have to look beyond knee jerk reactions, our priority is to build countries four to eight,” Wood gave little away regarding the quest for an RLIF CEO, aside from saying the search was “on-going”. He said the much-vaunted 12-year calendar would be from 2018 to 2029, with the next two seasons already settled,

THE aftermath of the final was something of a strip show, with some Australian players throwing everything into the crowd by their jocks, Sam Thaiday emerged for the dressingrooms with his entire kit back and began flinging its contents into the terraces like an automatic sprinkler. Cameron Smith, Greg Bird and Greg Inglis were also very generous, The Kiwis performed a post-game hake and then returned to the ground when it was empty to reflect on the victory, as is now customary. They must have got a shock when the cleaning staff started shouting and applauding them as they stood in a circle some time around midnight.
donate2SHAUN Johnson was so excited at fulltime he dropped the F-bomb on Triple M. The former touch footballer was probably man of the tournament and really came of age over the last month and a bit. He also made an interesting statement at the media conference: it was the first time he had been part of a team that had set a goal and them achieved it. That realisation will mean a lot for the Warriors in 2015 – Johnson could become an all time great. It was the first of the Kiwis’ four tournament victories over the last nine years to be registered in front of a home crowd and the first back-to-back wins against Australia since 1953.


THIS is the last Set of Six for 2014, although Discord will continue during the break. Where has the year left us? Some of rugby league’s problems can be solved, others can’t. Young men will always misbehave. Bigger, more wealthy sports will always poach players. Most of our solvable problems are a result of parochialism and self-interest. There are signs that these flaws are finally being addressed: the game is becoming more inclusive, there is a growing realisation there are too many teams in Sydney and the importance of international competition is finally dawning on even the most conservative commentators and administrators. We are getting more people of influence who don’t rely on the game as a meal ticket and who can therefore act with a greater degree of altruism. Onwards and upwards. See you in 2015.


THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week Three



A slippery surface and strangely mute crowd – those were the minor negatives on an otherwise positive and encouraging opening day at the World Cup. Despite claims the crowd of 45,052 was a day one record, the Australia-Great Britain game to kick off the 1968 tournament attracted 62,256 at the SCG. Saturday’s attendance was certainly a triumph but England fans seemed scared of investing emotionally in a team that has let them down so often over the years. The match was not boring but it was slow. Players believe this was a result of the surface, which tends to suffer from condensation when the roof is closed – they were watching their footing and playing conservatively. Anthony Minichiello called the pitch “gluggy”. Oh, and Sam Burgess’ discipline problems are becoming a real issue.


THE World Cup format was widely derided when announced before the 2008 tournament. Effectively, all the good teams are concentrated in one or two pools and they get the majority of places in the latter stages.  Pools containing “development countries” have to progress through play-offs and repercharges. This matches like with like and gives the illusion of a competitive tournament while maximising the possibility of money-making clashes of the titans throughout. Your correspondent was one who dismissed this as cynical and even deceitful but is now happy to admit it is a stroke of genius. In fact, the principle could be applied to lopsided leagues in many sports – including Super League. Wigan, Leeds, Warrington and the rest could play each other and get most play-off spots, while those directly below them competing with the best of the rest for the remaining couple of berths. The beauty of it? You don’t even have to admit there’s two divisions – you dress it up as one.


FEIGNING injury is a growing problem in rugby league but Canberra and Italy prop Paul Vaughan was involved in a bizarre strain of the practice at Millennium Stadium on Saturday. He was being helped off with what appeared a serious knee injury in the 48th minute – before waving away the medicos and breaking into a jog on the way to the bench. When  Vaughan was jeered by the crowd, he put one hand up to an ear and then signaled with the other that they should give him more. Why was it so strange? Because this all happened with the Welsh preparing for a line dropout – it was they who needed a spell! “I got a bit of a hit in the knee and I thought the worst,” said Vaughan. “The boys had a bit of a roll-on. I probably put a halt to that. As soon as I had a bit of a jog, I was alright.”


IT was wonderful hearing the ground announcer at Cardiff use perfect continental pronunciations for the names of Italy’s largely Australian squad– but stuff up the England side. The England halfback was “Ran-jee” Chase and the hooker was “James Robbi”. Question of the day came from the BBC’s Robbie (not Roby) Paul, who posited to Billy Slater in one of those new fangled halftime interviews that the game so far had been “a half of two halves”. Veteran BBC caller Ray French was fascinated that one of the Italians played for “Maroon Bar Miners’ – Moranbah. Italy coach Carlo Napolitano was asked about the split in the game there and insisted winning games internationally with the best available team was the best way to promote the sport and that the Azzurri had garnered domestic publicity already.


IF a team makes its World Cup debut and no-one sees it, has it really made its World Cup debut? On-selling the television rights to International Management Group may have made commercial sense to the RLIF but it has resulted in the disappointing situation of the games being shown nowhere but the internet in the United States and Italy, who are in the World Cup for the first time. IMG’s concern is making its money back, not promoting rugby league. And as for England coach Steve McNamara refusing to discuss why James Graham was not picked, how can one expect the passion and support of a public without feeling any accountability to that same public? The whole thing was poorly managed.



HAVING watched rugby league over the past three weekends in Port Vila, Johannesburg and Cardiff, it is probably incumbent upon this writer to pass comment on the general state of the not-union. Despite the civil war in Super League and growing pains in the NRL, the amount of activity is quite remarkable. After a century stuck in the starting blocks, rugby league is starting to spread its wings somewhat; who would have though Welsh bootleggers would one day be flogging fake Italian rugby league merchandise in the streets? The World Cup opening ceremony was professional and classy but the best pictures of the weekend were the Greek team teaching Hungry how to pack a league scrum – directly before they played each other.


Shopping At ASDA And Forgetting ASADA


THERE is a history of Australia sending teams to World Cups in Britain with controversy swirling at home.

In 1995, it was the Super League War. The courts had ordered the Australians to consider players who had signed for the breakaway league.

They were considered – and left out. Heading to a World Cup without the likes of Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart, Allan Langer, Bradley Clyde and Wendell Sailor placed Bob Fulton’s Brad Fittler-captained squad under enormous pressure to win as the PR battle heated up at home.

After losing the opening game at Wembley 20-16, the green and golds survived a gripping semi against New Zealand and beat the host nation 16-8 in the final.

In 2000, players sat up late one night waiting for the courts to decide if South Sydney would be readmitted to the competition. After a mammoth march in the streets of Sydney, they were reinstated – and the story completely overshadowed the Australian campaign which finished with a 40-12 World Cup final win over New Zealand.

Because of the – quite encouraging – growth of the playing programmes of developing rugby league nations, the Australian controversy de jour in 2013 threatens to disrupt more than just Tim Sheens and his men, who are trying to win back the trophy lost to the Kiwis in Brisbane five years ago.

This controversy threatens a wide range of teams competing in the 14th rugby league World Cup.

ASADA, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, is expected to finalise its investigation into peptide use during the 2011season at some stage following the NRL grand final on October 6.

Read: smack bang in the middle of the World Cup, probably at the most inconvenient time for all concerned.

The highest profile of the players recently interviewed by ASADA is Paul Gallen, the Cronulla and Australian captain who is also likely to be Cameron Smith’s deputy in England and Ireland. He even described himself as the agency’s prime target and recently had his phone confiscated upon his return from an away game in Auckland, although there were reports this was at the behest of a different law enforcement agency.

Others reported to have been interviewed include Fiji back rower Jayson Bukuya and Tongan utility forward Anthony Tupou.

Also linked to the investigation are Newcastle players Jeremy Smith of New Zealand, Kade Snowden of Scotland and Kevin Naiqama of Fiji.

“That’s not something I want to go into in any detail,” Australia coach Tim Sheens says when Forty20 puts it to him the investigation could provide obstacles every bit as tricky as those thrown up by any opposition.

“That’s a matter for the ARL.”

We are told the Australian administration has, or will, approach tournament organisers about replacing players in the finals squad of 24 if they are called home by doping authorities.

At the moment, the no changes are allowed to the squads that start the tournament.

There will also be assurances sought that silverware cannot be stripped if the findings come after the tournament. Given that the alleged doping offences occurred two years ago, such a sanction would appear unlikely – but possible.

Sheens, though, has more tangible concerns.

Australia’s only warm-up game actually won’t involve them at all. Instead, it will be the Australian Prime Ministers XIII match against what will probably be a full-strength Kumuls side in Kokopo on September 29.

“We’re going to take this game pretty seriously, even though it won’t be the Australian side by any stretch,” said Sheens.

“I’d imagine they will have a full Test side out and given they are not in our group at the World Cup, they’ll want to get a result against us.”

The side will be coached this year by Laurie Daley, who succeeds his Origin rival Mal Meninga, and as usual will include only players with no club commitments. The Australians have decided playing any warm-ups in Europe, as most otherccountries are doing.

Players involved in the finals, as Sheens has already seen, are no guarantee to be still getting about on two legs by the time the World Cup kicks off in Cardiff on October 25.

Centre Justin Hodges (knee) and utility Kurt Gidley (foot) are already out of the tournament. At the time of writing, there was a finals series involving most of the remaining Aussie players left to run.

“We are fortunate that we have depth in most positions – but you don’t want to be losing your x-factor players, of which Hodgo is definitely one,” said Sheens.

“He plays on the left side so anyone who replaces him will have to come over from the right.”

North Queensland’s Brent Tate and Sydney Roosters’ Michael Jennings are the major candidates. Jennings will likely make the squad in any case, and be lost to Tonga.

Like Hodges, Tate was linked during the 2013 State of Origin series to a retirement from representative football.

The 31-year-old Tate, who has overcome an horrendous injury run over a glittering career, recently made it clear he would play on and wanted Sheens to know his availability.

“Don’t worry,” the coach laughed, “Tatey also made it clear to me when I saw him in the sheds after the Origin game!

“I would never, ever forget Tatey. He is an example to every young player when it comes to perseverance and professionalism. He has always done a job for me.”

Up front, the likes of Ben Hannant (shoulder/wrist) and Matt Scott (hand) have suffered minor recent injuries but Sheens’ side is not likely to be significantly different to the line-up which beat New Zealand 32-12 on April 19 at Canberra Stadium.

There is a perception that the opening match at Cardiff is more important to England than to Australia because the winner will stay away from New Zealand until the final. But Sheens says the Australians want to stay away from the Kiwis just as much.

“If you look at the last few series over there, you’ll see teams losing the first game and bouncing back,” he says.

“The first game is a very, very important once for us too.”

Aside from ASADA, another potential hurdle is the difference in rules between the northern and southern hemispheres. The advantage rule, the video referees, even the number of referees make the sport as different in Australia and the UK as it has ever been.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll even be able to throw a punch at the World Cup without being sent to the sin bin!

“In my time as Australian coach, we’ve had as few as two pages of rule variations and as many as six,” Sheens says.

“It’s going to be interesting. Yes, it is a potential hurdle. My understanding is that Daniel Anderson and Stuart Cummings are working on a united set of rules and interpretations for the tournament.

“It’s going to be a combination of what happens in the NRL and Super League because that’s where most of the players will be coming from.

“I remember Matt Cecchin pulling up play after a turnover and getting bagged by Eddie and Stevo before they remembered that under international rules, you’ve taken the advantage when you’ve thrown a pass.

“That’s just one example.”

Sheens has indicated he may quit the Test post after the World Cup – and that would be more likely with a victory.

But thanks to a swirling scandal at home, there are likely to be things not even he can control.

Filed for: FORTY-20 Magazine

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.


NRL round 22: BRISBANE 26 ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 24 at Suncorp Stadium


CURSED Australia centre Justin Hodges wasted no time in completely ruling out the possibility of retirement after he snapped an achilles tendon in Brisbane’s win over St George Illawarra.

“It’s not the end of me,” 31-year-old Hodges told reporters after the Broncos rallied in his absence when he collapsed without a hand on him, taking the ball one off a scrum in the 18th minute at Suncorp Stadium.

“No player ever wants to retire injured. That’s not me. That’s not how I’m built. I’ve had many injuries and it tests your character. It’s not going to be the end. I’ll fight.

“I’ll be bouncing back bigger and better next year. It’s a good challenge. Bring it on.

“I’ll get it done and finish my career the way I wanted.”

The left achilles injury follows a right achilles rupture in 2010 which required a year-long convalescence as well as a knee reconstruction, shoulder reconstruction and chronic lower back and problems.

This year’s will be the second consecutive World Cup Hodges has missed through injury and his run of outs is now comparable with those of fellow Queenslanders Mal Meninga and Brent Tate, who he will have to emulate to re-ignite a glittering carerr,

“I can’t figure it out – his whole body just keeps breaking,” said coach Anthony Griffin. “It took him, probably, a year to get over the last one.”

Brisbane’s ability to win every remaining game and sneak into the finals without Hodges is certainly under question; but so too was their ability to beat the Dragons on Sunday and they did so – only just.

St George Illawarra exploited the defence in the part of the field Hodges would have filled and led 18-14 with 23 minutes remaining.

But after going down with cramp near the posts, Brisbane captain Sam Thaiday made a miraculous recovery to score the try that put his side in front for the final time.

The lead opened out to 26-18 before a late Dragons try made it a nervous final two minutes for 31,191 fans enjoying the Broncos’ first Sunday afternoon home game in more than a year.

The joint venture was also hit with casualties. Prop Trent Merrin’s World Cup involvement is at least under a cloud due to a medial knee ligament injury, while fullback Josh Dugan suffered a suspected broken thumb.

The worst case scenario would see each out for the season. Coach Steve Price said a soft try conceded to Matt Gillett early in the second half, after lead-up from Ben Hunt and Jack Reed, was particularly costly.

“I felt like we were the better team for the majority of the game,” said Price. “A couple of decisions … a lot of wounded blokes out there but they kept finding a way to turn up.

“That’s what what we’re about at this footy club.”

The Broncos were fuming over a number of officiating decisions, not least hooker Andrew McCullough’s disallowed try at 63 minutes.

“The same as everyone else, I thought it was a try,” said Griffin. “There was a bit of separation there but he got the ball down. We are just having to battle through those things at the moment.”

Thaiday said there “were probably times the Dragons should have run away and won that game … to hang in there and win was an enormous effort.’

The happiest man at Suncorp Stadium late Sunday was teenage debutant Jordan Drew, who scored after only 19 minutes.

“I only told my closest friends and family I was playing,” said Drew. “I didn’t put it on facebook or anything.”

BRISBANE 26 (J Drew M Gillett S Thaiday A McCullough tries S Prince 5 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 24 (D Vidot 2 A Quinlan 2 tries J Dugan 4 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: J Robinson/G Reynolds. Crowd: 31,191.