The Eight Most Intriguing Players In The NRL


WE are constantly told that rugby league players have become vanilla, clichéd, boring. Either that, or that they are uneducated hoodlums.

The idea that they can be engaging, interesting, intriguing people is something that rarely enters the public imagination.

There could be a number of reasons for this.

Current NRL media guidelines do not guarantee any in-depth profile-type interviews at all … absolutely none. They are, instead, aimed at providing soundbites and clips to feed the churn of the day-to-day news cycle.

And what clubs don’t have to do, they more often than not don’t do.

Another reason would be players being burned by tabloid headlines and being unwilling to share anything of their personalities with reporters. And then there’s coaches, who tend to be bigger beat-up merchants than journalists when it comes to using the comments of rivals for motivational purposes.

But as a reporter, we talk to players before and after the digital voice recorder flashes green. We observe body language. We see how players interact with each other and with fans and officials … and there are some very interesting dudes out there.

Here’s a selection


South Sydney - Greg InglisFOR years, Greg Inglis was a quiet monolith. He destroyed defences on a weekly basis and said little the rest of the time. When South Sydney signed him from Melbourne in 2011, chief executive Shane Richardson famously declared “I think we just secured our 21st premiership”. Inglis soon began to appreciate his capacity to do good, particularly in the indigenous community. He worked on his public speaking – which has come in handy since he become captain of Souths. The transformation has been absorbing – and it will be very interesting indeed to see what Inglis does upon retirement.


Marshall, BenjiBENJI Marshall has grown up in public. From that outrageous flick pass to Pat Richards in 2005 to calm organiser with the Dragons, a decade later, it’s not always been a comfortable ride. His time at Wests Tigers ended acrimoniously when he was dubbed “Benchy Marshall” before a failed foray into rugby union. Along the way, Benji learned to be humble – and he’s likely to be rewarded by a return to the Kiwis number seven jersey in October. “I thought I was going alright – and no-one was telling me that I wasn’t,” Marshall says of his tome at Wests Tigers. “Sometimes you need to hear the truth, especially when you’re an older player, or else you get caught just coasting and that’s what I was doing. I just got too comfortable in my position. There was never a time when I was under pressure from someone else coming through who was going to take my position Even my family wouldn’t say anything, which is … which is a shame.”


EVEN when ‘Choc’ wasn’t doing interviews – back when Manly were under intense media scrutiny – he would be cracking jokes with us.

Manly - Anthony Watmough

Watmough comes across as stand-offish and friendly at the same time, a combination that seems to make absolutely no sense but has led to a budding radio career. ““The scrutiny that I was under at the time was pretty daunting and it was pretty hard on – not just myself but – my family,” he once told A-List. “My mum takes it harder than anyone, the things that are written. Me, my family, everyone around me, knew that I wasn’t a serial killer. I was on the front, back and middle pages every day for a while there. You don’t get anywhere fighting against the people who write about you every week. It’s more along the lines of just – grow up a bit, bite the bullet, get on with life.”
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Graham, JamesJAMES Graham is one of the more intelligent, humorous and engaging players in the NRL. Then he crosses the sideline; It’s the British Bulldog who was found guilty of biting Billy Slater’s ear in the 2012 grand final, and whose confrontation with referee Gerard Sutton sparked crowd trouble after the infamous South Sydney clash in April. Graham has also argued that if he wants to play on with concussion, he should be allowed to do so. It’s been suggested that Graham plays without concern for his own safety – or that of anyone else. ““In hindsight now, you just get on with it, but at the time you’re trying to get that point across,” he said a few days later. “Stakes are high, emotions are high and that’s not an excuse for questioning the referees decision because really, he’s not going to change his mind. It’s obviously not good behaviour, it’s not a good look.”


CONTRASTS are intriguing – and Michael Ennis is a man of contrast. On the field, he never shuts up and is known as one of the competition’s

Canterbury - Michael Ennisprimo sledgers. Off it, he’s a polished media performer, deep thinker and passionate advocate for players. His on-field ferocity becomes a joke, role play. But which one is the real Michael Ennis? ““I guess I skate a fine line,” he told A-List. “Well, not exactly skate a fine like but I have a competitive nature. I don’t know – not dirty things. Just competitive. I believe you should just get as much out of each game as you can. I could sit here and preach about what a good guy I am and how I’ve got kids and how I’m a nice family man but that’s not what I’m about, that’s not who I am. It doesn’t really worry me what people think.”


IN all my years as a radio sideline eye, no player has ever stopped a fulltime conversation with a rival so I could interview that rival. No Waerea Hargreaves, Jaredplayer except Jared Warea-Hargreaves, who made it clear to his fellow player talking to thousands of listeners was more important than shooting the breeze with him. Before he was injured, JWH was the form prop in the NRL. He’s 198cm and weighs 116 kg but is also possibly the most gentle, softly spoken rugby league player on earth. “Schoolkids picked on me a little,” he told an incredulous A-List a few years back, “but then I started eating my veges and I had this little growth spurt!”


‘GIFTY’ Stewart has a bit of his brother Brett – the ‘wronged’ bit – and Stewart, Glennsome of Anthony Watmough – the ‘reticent’ bit – in his complex make-up. He was aggrieved at his brother’s treatment at the hands of the NRL and the media, then about being forced out of the club without receiving an offer. There was rampant speculation about a rift with Daly Cherry Evans, who supposedly got his wages. Yet like Watmough, Stewart has mellowed somewhat and seems to have a decent relationship with the media for the first time. After his first game against Manly, he commented: “they’re all mates of mine … most of them”.



IT takes a lot for the public to take the side of journalists but Darius Boyd’s monosyllabic “media opportunities” at St George Illawarra and

St George Illawarra - Darius Boyd

Newcastle did the trick. “Yes”, “no” and “next question” came across very poorly on television, as did his response to being doorstopped by a reporter as he left Origin camp. But things changed dramatically for Boyd when good friend Alex McKinnon broke his neck last year. Boyd quit the game, sought help for depression and is now considered a future captain of the Brisbane Broncos. Boyd never knew his father but received a letter last year from a man claiming to be just that.


Benji Marshall: Leaving The Blues Behind

Marshall, BenjiBy STEVE MASCORD

“I WAS shattered by that,” says Benji Marshall, staring back at me, unflinching.

Since his return to rugby league last year, the iconic Kiwi magician has given a number of brutally honest, self-critical interviews. We know already that his ill-fated move to the Auckland Blues has changed Benji irrevocably – but it’s a story which has so far barely had its surface scratched.

But before we mounted our black leather swivel chairs in the business centre of the Marriott Victoria & Albert Hotel in Manchester, Marshall had entertained a Leigh team-mate of FuiFui MoiMoi.

The young Championship player, accompanied to the hotel by Fui himself, was such a fan he had even brought a copy of Marshall’s biography for him to autograph. Given the goodwill wafting about, wading straight into this interview with hard arse questions had seemed a little ungracious.

donate2So League Week waits a little before asking about the comment on midweek television of Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens – following his sacking – that “players get rid of coaches. It’s generally senior players too,”

“I still haven’t actually spoken to him about it,” Marshall says when the subject is raised, after saying the implication shattered him.

“I don’t understand how it can actually get to that, where that’s actually put out there.

“….firstly, that I could have any influence on a decision the board makes, or a decision by whoever makes that decision.

“I’m just baffled at how it got to me. There was heaps of shit floating around about it but I never said a bad word about Tim. I don’t know how it got to that.

“I think the perception is that players have a lot of pull but the only pull I’ve ever tried to influence is on the field and off the field you just do what you’re told, man.

“What confuses me is how it gets put on the players that we have that control.

“Put it this way: if I had control over the Tigers from 2008 to 2012, none of my mates would have left. I lost eight of my best mates through that time at the Tigers and the main reason I enjoyed being there was the family atmosphere at the club and having all those blokes around – which slowly got demolished group by group. In the end, it just me and Robbie (Farah) left. “

amazonSheens and Marshall were once said to have a father-and-son relationship. “I’ve never had a chance to come across Tim and talk to him. We’ve never seen each other face-to-face since then.

“You know what? People can have their own views or whatever but I’m not going to go out of my way to change who I am. I’m just the same person I was.”

Is he, though? During a half-hour chat while his St George Illawarra team-mates play cards on the other side of a glass partition, 29-year-old Marshall says enough to indicate plenty has changed.

His thoughts on the extremely disturbing trend of Holden Cup players taking their own lives are particularly forthright. Wests Tigers Mosese Fotuaika was the first.

tWLBd41422314935“I see some of these kids now and it’s a mental battle just to get through a season “I think what the 20s does is create a false sense of making it,” says Benji, after warning he has “a rant” prepared on the subject

”A lot of the Pacific islanders, particularly, their families create a mindset that playing under 20s is making it.

“From the outset, these kids are put in a position where they’re trying to prove to their families ‘this is it, I’ve made it’ and if they don’t move on from that, it’s like a failure and if they fail in that arena of under 20s, it’s like the end of the world.

“When reserve grade was there, some of these kids would come through and play reserve grade which was with men. And when you’ve got men in the team mixed with boys, the men can give advice on live experience, like coping with the pressure or ‘if you’re having problems come here and I’ll look after you’.

“…which I did, coming through. In Under 20s, it’s boys with boys who haven’t lived. You’re too embarrassed to tell your mate you’re having dramas mentally. They all want to be macho men, ‘I’m the man’, you know?

“… older people could recognise when a young guy needed help. What I had was Mark O’Neill, John Skandalis, Ben Galea saying every week ‘are things alright at home’, you know? I had issues with money growing up, they’d say ‘do you need money?’ and I’d borrow $100 or whatever. They’d look after me.

“Whereas these kids … if they get injured, their family’s not getting paid. A lot of them send their money home, which a lot of people don’t know, because they feel obliged. That’s just the Polynesian thing, you know?”

Benji paints an unflattering picture of himself during the tail end of his time at Wests Tigers: complacent, overweight, wilfully LOZHh51420274496oblivious to what others were saying about him.

“When I went there (rugby union), they were really honest with me, like about where I was fitness-wise.

“They were really honest with me about what I needed to do, what I needed to become. That’s something I never had during the back end of my time at the Tigers – that honesty.

“I thought I was going alright – and no-one was telling me that I wasn’t. Sometimes you need to hear the truth, especially when you’re an older player, or else you get caught just coasting and that’s what I was doing.

“I was just coasting and thinking everything was going sweet. When you’re playing, sometimes you don’t see it. You need other people to help point that out.

“I just got too comfortable in my position. There was never a time when I was under pressure from someone else coming through who was going to take my position

“Even my family wouldn’t say anything, which is … which is a shame.”

We’re just linking together Marshall’s compelling quotes now. A key marker in Marshall’s dramatic fall from grace in rugby league was being sacked as New Zealand captain in February 2013.

WLF2“At the time I was disappointed because it’s obviously a big honour. But I’ve got older and thought about it a lot more.

“My type of captaincy is different to Simon Mannering or, say, Ruben Wiki’s style of captaincy. I think what I tried to do was change my personality and not be, kind of, joking around and be more serious.

“I think if I was ever a captain again, I’d be the same me – just relaxed and have a laugh, have a joke and play my best on the field.”

Marshall believes he has “four or five” years left in rugby league. He likes the idea of being a coach afterwards. His post-career prospects in that area would have been seriously lessened had he stayed in rugby union.

But he went there for a challenge – one that, in the end, he was not up to. And even that is OK by him now. There is no pain on his face when I ask him about the day he decided to come back.

“It was the Monday after Easter Sunday,” he says.

“I walked into the coach’s office and he said the way he thought it was going, it wasn’t working for him. He said it didn’t look like it was working for me. He said ‘you can go back and play club rugby and learn your trade there’ and I said ‘you’ve got the best coaches here, why would I do that?’

“And then he said ‘you can go back and play league’.

“Melbourne were close. I made the best decision for my footy. Even my family was telling me ‘go to Melbourne’, everyone I knew was saying ‘go to Melbourne’ but I was after a bit of longevity. Melbourne could only offer me the rest of the year.”

addtext_com_MjAzNTE5NjcwMzQ2I ask what he would tell himself five years ago, if he could.

“Probably just be myself. The more I took the game seriously, the worse I got. The more relaxed I am, the less worried about what happens, it just seems to be better.

“Whatever happens, I don’t care about anyone else anymore. I used to care about everyone, all my mates. Now it’s just let it happen and if they need advice, they’ll come and ask.

“Off the field is more important to me now than on the field.

“But I don’t think I’d change anything., Where I am now in my life – more important than in footy – is the happiest I’ve ever been.”


THE JOY OF SIX: Finals Week Two



ASKED on Saturday night why his Newcastle side was coming good in the finals, coach Wayne Bennett replied: “It’s spring”. Then quizzed if that was the reason just for him, he replied: “For all of us, that’s the time you want it to happen”. On the eve of the second preliminary semi-final, veteran Danny Buderus said Bennett was “a different coach” during the finals. That was apparent to outsiders after the 18-16 victory, when Bennett acceded to every interview request. On Sunday, he even made a rare appearance on FM radio. The reason Wayne Bennett makes himself scarce for most of the year is so he can cash in his media chips when it matters most, drawing attention and pressure away from the players by cracking jokes and hamming it up in public. The man with an image for dismissing the media actually strategies his interactions with them down to the finest detail.


YOU’D be forgiven for forgetting there is plenty of rugby league on after the grand final, by virtue of the World Cup. But will there be any star players still standing? Benji Marshall and Justin Hodges are already gone, Sonny Bill Williams is rated at long odds chose the tournament over boxing and then there are the walking wounded of the the NRL finals series. Greg Inglis, Anthony Watmough and Billy Slater (all knee) all look doubtful for Australia. Jack Reed’s shoulder has already cost him his England spot and if Brent Kite is playing with a broken hand, it’s hard to see Penrith encouraging him to play for Tonga. Sisa Waqa suffered a grade two medial ligament tear on Saturday night and seems set to be a Fiji Bati casualty. There will no doubt be more withdrawals – probably many more.


WOULD it really be such a bad thing for referees to be given a third option when they send a try decision upstairs, namely “dunno”. The signal could be arms at the side, bent at the elbow, with flat palms pointed at the sky. Maybe a head tilt as well. But seriously, is there not a logic disconnect in saying the on-field official must make a decision in 100 per cent of cases, only using technology to doublecheck his decision, then making it significantly harder for technology to disagree than agree with him? Surely the information of the video referees is being hampered to such an extent that we might as well not have them at all. Not having “dunno” seems a matter of pride rather than practical sense. At least I think that’s the case. I’m not sure.


LATE on Sunday night, Tony Smith – brother of Brian – was force to make a decision which he detested. Under the rules of the Super League play-offs, as the highest-ranking winner of week one in the play-offs, Smith’s Warrington got to choose their preliminary final opponents. The Wolves had a choice between Huddersfield, 76-18 winners over Hull, or perennial late-season-peak men Leeds, 11-10 winners over St Helens. Smith detests ‘club call’, as it is known, for old school coaching reasons – it gives the opposition ammunition. That’s how highly coaches rate psychology – they’d rather pass up the chance to choose their own opponents! The question is, who would 2012 Catalan coach Trent Robinson choose this year? I’m banking on the team where he used to be assistant under Tony Smith’s brother – Newcastle.


ONCE upon a time, all finals were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground or Sydney Sports Ground. You knew it was September in Sydney when the wind picked up and you waltzed onto the hill around midday to watch under 23s and reserve grade. But crowds were poor early in the finals, so we shifted matches to home grounds. Then we did that in week two, then week three. And we stopped using suburban grounds completely. But – as we saw at the weekend – attendances are still and issue. What is the logical next step? Tendering out finals to venues who can guarantee big gates and financial security, perhaps? Perth, Auckland, Brisbane, Wellington, Adelaide, Darwin? Seems to be worth a try, given that finals venues are already centrally controlled and the grand final is in Sydney until further notice.


SOME questions regarding Saturday’s NRL media release: One of the people interviewed as part of the probe, a reporter, says he was told by the SC’s assistant the alleged incident itself was not being investigated. If this is true, how can one investigate a cover-up without determining if there was something to cover up in the first place? And how can a person who was not investigated be exonerated in the subsequent press release? Given that that the release said there would be “no further comment”, I guess we’ll never know.  You might be wondering why this column is appearing, given its Sun-Herald predecessor. I’ve only stepped away from chasing news, because I can’t see the point under current conditions. I’m still hoping someone wants me to cover games and write columns and features. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.




THE outrage fans feel when a departing player poses in the jersey of another team really goes to the heart of what it is to support a club – and all the illogical, contradictory emotions that entails.

Personally, I don’t care if Benji Marshall poses in an Auckland Blues jersey or Anthony Mundine blows out the candles on a birthday cake wearing a Brisbane shirt while he’s still playing with St George.

But that’s because I don’t support St George or Wests Tigers.

On the other hand, if someone from MY team (for the record, I don’t really have one these days) was to hold a press conference mid-season and promote a rival side, I’d be hitting the roof.

But I’d have trouble explaining why.

It doesn’t mean the fellow isn’t going to try this weekend. No-one thinks he is going to throw a game, for instance. It’s rare that one club’s jersey sponsor is in direct competition with yours’.

He’s probably on a day off, he hasn’t skived off training. He isn’t saying his new team is better than his old team, it’s just where he’s going next year and the club want him to tell everyone, to make the sponsors happy.

It isn’t really a betrayal in any real sense of the word. No-one is dying. No-one’s interests are REALLY being hurt.

Jerry Seinfeld put it best when he said: “Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city.

phonto (1)“You’re actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it. You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city.

“Fans will be so in love with the player but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt! They hate him now!

“Boo! Different shirt! Boo!”

Which brings us to this: if Sonny Bill Williams joins Marshall in rugby union next year, but both go to the World Cup, will that be a bad look for our game? Will two New Zealand rugby union franchises be using our showpiece to promote their code?

Of course not. Because we see Super Rugby as being bigger than our World Cup and we consider ourselves lucky to have them.

So maybe that’s where all this indignation about players promoting their next destination comes from: insecurity.


THE JOY OF SIX: Round 22



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


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


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


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


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


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


THE WRAP: Round 20


MICHAEL Potter wants Wests Tigers’ halves to play more like Manly pairing Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry Evans.

Potter made the stark comment last night in the wake of a 36-18 loss to the Sea Eagles that ended any mathematical hope the joint venture had of making the finals.

The round 20 defeat marked skipper Robbie Farah’s 200th first grade game and five-eighth Benji Marshall’s final appearance at Campbelltown Stadium.

While Potter insists his first priority over the final six weeks of the regular season is to win every game, he admits planning for the future will also be a consideration. The impact of this on Marshall’s involvement remains to be seen.

“We have some very good young talented players at the club and we have to have one eye on 2014 now. It would be opportune to try and blood a few,” he said.

“I’d like to do that maybe in the next few weeks.”

Potter joined radio commentators Andrew Johns and Peter Sterling in criticising the use of “no look” passes by Wests Tigers players in Monday Night Football.

He said of his attack in the heavy defeat: “They probably didn’t do as much as I wanted of playing short, playing inside, playing through the other team. We tried to be too flamboyant.”

Late last night on radio Triple M, he was asked by Johns if he planned to break down and rebuild Wests Tigers’ attack during the off-season.

“You’re not too far wrong there, Joey,” he said. “I’ve tried to make some subtle changes given the skill set of some of our players but also tried to complement them and try and alter how some of our halves play.

“It hasn’t probably worked out how I’d have liked. Yes, you’re closer than what we were doing tonight.

When asked which opposition halves he would like his own six and seven on, he responded: “Probably the team we played tonight. I’m not sure if they were at their best tonight but certainly Foran and Cherry-Evans, I think they’re fantastic players. They play square, they can play lateral at times and they create space for their outside and inside men and I think they’re a good example.”

The victory, in which a try to Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma was the undoubted highlight, elevated Manly to third position, overtaking premiers and world champions Melbourne.

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BONDI BEAT: July 2013

NEXT year’s World Club Challenge in Perth? Someone should hurry up and tell Perth about it.
Normally reliable Bondi Beat sources have informed us the most isolated city in the world outside of Siberia is just about nailed on for the first WCC in Australia since 1994.
But John Sackson, the CEO of the WARL, tells us: “If an event of that magnitude was going to take place in Perth next year, I would say negotiations would be well under way.
“And aside from Gary Hetherington throwing up Perth at some stage, I haven’t heard a whisper.
“They’d need to be talking the West Australian Events Corporation, they’d need to be talking to nib Stadium and maybe other venues and I hope they’d be talking to us.
“I haven’t heard a whisper. WCC in Perth? Very doubtful if you ask me.”
All of which suggests two possibilities. One, we’re going to have a one off in the north of England for the fifteenth consecutive year or two, we’re doing things by the seat of our pants as usual.
“I’M Welsh. Does that make me a pom?”
With that, former Harlequins and Saracens chief executive Mark Evans introduced himself to the Melbourne media as the new boss of the world champion Storm – and the World Cup lost a consultant.
Evans has been appointed by Bart Campbell, a London-based New Zealander who will be the new majority shareholder of our greatest club side.
But amid all the business related questions at the media conference on May 21, there were others like “do you feel the Purple Pride?” – a good sign I guess from reporters who usually cover religion (ie: AFL).
Are you just bringing outsiders, they wanted to know – conveniently overlooking the fact that only one Victorian has ever played for the Storm.
Hence Evans’ question back to a reporter. “Well, it makes you British,” she responded.
“Right, I’m British. I’m the only Brit. Everybody else is Australasian including Melbournians. Is that how you say it?”
Having watched a live feed of the press conference on my Ustream channel (sorry about the plug!), one fan commented that Evans needed to learn how to say Melbourne.
It’s not “Mell born”, it’s “Melbin”
IT was gratifying to see the Rugby Football League’s Blake Solly reveal that what we suggested in last week’s column – a marquee player system for Super League – is under consideration.
The question now is: who would these marquee players be and which clubs would sign them?
I am sure Salford, whose owner has already vowed to cheat the cap, would be one. Although perhaps he means a “marquee player” in the Melbourne Storm sense, where funds for the hire of a tent are funnelled into players’ bank accounts.
Wigan could afford one, Leeds could afford one, Warrington, maybe Saints … who else?
Personally, I hope the system is introduced in time for North Queensland’s mercurial Matt Bowen to be a beneficiary. Why Warrington went cold on him, I’m not too sure.
But I reckon he’d be a hit in a town famous for outstanding Australian imports.
OK, I have a little bit of info about some warm up games that are due to be held the week before the World Cup kicks off in October.
Expect France to host the United States, England to take on Italy, Wales to tussle with Tonga and Fiji to clash with one of rugby league’s top countries, Rochdale.
Australia don’t believe they need a warm up. The Kiwis do, but there’s still no news on an opponent.
The World Cup remains a niche event among rugby league fans but I know plenty who are going or are trying to arrange the journey.
Aaron Wallace, the stats man who so superbly briefs the Fox Spots commentators, has never been the UK and is hiring a campervan to ferry himself and his girlfriend from match to match.
He might have a passenger at times….
BENJI Marshall is such a big name in Sydney that his wife has a Sunday newspaper column.
So you can imagine the uproar back in round 10 when he was dropped to the bench for the match against South Sydney.
Add that to the fact he has a column in the Sydney broadsheet the Herald and doesn’t say much to the tabloid Telegraph and you have an idea of the level of interest in his dramatic fall from grace
But the whole thing could be played out again come October and November.
Marshall was relieved of the Kiwis captaincy during the pre-season and it’s not impossible to imagine Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson keeping him out of the New Zealand side at some stage of the tournament.
Such a scenario would put Bondi Beat in mind of the 199five World Cup, when Gary Freeman was dropped and sulked on a bus at training.
One of Sydney’s favourite soap operas, coming to a field near you.
THIS is not a joke, people have suggested it as a serious promotion.
There are those who want the Burgess brothers – Sam, Tom, Luke and George, to engage in what is known colloquially as a game of “backyard footy” with the Sims boys – Ashton, Tariq and Corbin.
In fact, it was North Queensland back rower Tariq who came up with the idea.
“Dead-set, if we can get that to happen, I would love it. We could do it for charity – it would be awesome,” Tariq said in the lead-up to the City-Country game.
Of course, the Englishmen would have a numerical advantage – something that could be remedied by adding Ruan Sims, who plays for the Australian womens’ team.
She recalled on a recent television appearance that one night a week, the four of them were allowed to wrestle in the loungeroom.
It was no holds barred but once someone cried, the bell rang.
MORE and more NRL types are seeing the error of their ways when it comes to golden point time.
Another chip in the foundations of the controversial rule came in round 10, when Manly played a 10-10 draw with Melbourne in Melbourne. That was the score in regulation time and it was also the score after overtime but only following seven unsuccessful drop goal attempts.
According Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey, it’s all gone too far.
After 80 minutes, if it’s a draw, it’s only my personal opinion but it should be a draw,” he said. “When we’re having field goal shootouts, it’s just crazy.
“There’re 26 rounds in the competition. There’s enough football played. You want to see the guys busted and bleeding. It’s a gladiatorial sport, I know, but we’ve got to look after our players as well.”
Commentator Phill Gould agreed, writing the next day: “I was always a fan of the golden point and believed it added to the excitement of the close finish.
“However, when you witness a gladiatorial classic from two teams such as Melbourne and Manly this week, a draw and a competition point each is a fair result.”
A FUNNY moment from the same game.
Storm winger Sisa Waqa (you’ll see him in action for Fiji in a few short months” was called inside the 10 chasing a kick and started walking off the pitch, asking a touch judge why he had been sent to the sin bin!


Farah Says Marshall Going Nowhere; Manager Not So Sure

Benji Marshall/wikipedia

Benji Marshall/wikipedia


AS Melbourne Storm prepares to take on Wests Tigers without captain Cameron Smith, his opposite number has sought to quell conjecture over the future of star player Benji Marshall.

Hooker Smith will miss the clash at picturesque Leichhardt Oval after a laceration below his right eye suffered in Origin II required plastic surgery. Ryan Hinchcliffe is almost certain to start in his place.

Wests Tigers rake Robbie Farah yesterday said of speculation over the future of five-eighth Marshall: “Regardless of what happens, Benji’s here until 2015.”

But Marshall’s agent, Martin Tauber, responded by telling Fairfax Media: “That’s just something Robbie has said. We’ve not said anything.

“It is true he is contracted for ’13, ’14, ’15. Wests Tigers have made an offer of an upgrade and we’ll respond to that in the next seven to 10 days.”

The uncertainty surrounding Marshall overshadows the absence of Smith and the return from Origin of Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman for the Storm plus Farah and Aaron Woods for the joint venture side.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Farah said of his long-term foil: “I try not to bug him too much about it, I don’t want to intrude.

“As I said to Benji, that will all take care of itself and that’s what his manager is there for.

“I’ve played my whole career with Benji and I hope it continues to be that way but I think it’s kind of been blown out of proportion.

“He’s still here for the next two years , he’s not off contract at the end of the year.

“Regardless of the contract situation, he’s here for another couple of years.”

It is part of Marshall’s agreement with Wests Tigers that he is entitled to a contract upgrade because of the increased salary cap this year and in coming years.

Whether he would ask for a release if unhappy with the terms of the upgrade is the big question. Tauber said he hadn’t even spoken at length with his client about the offer. “I don’t want to distract the kid,” he said.

Asked what would happen if the terms were rejected, Tauber said: “I guess we’d go back to the table and negotiate. That’s what happens. It’s parry and thrust.”

Meanwhile, Storm football manager Frank Ponissi said a decision on who would start for Smith – with Hinchcliffe switching from lock – had yet to be made. An extra reserve is also needed; coach Craig Bellamy has 19 players in camp for rounds 15 and 16.

Ponissi said scans next week would determine whether there was any hope at all of five-eighth Gareth Widdop (dislocated hip) playing in the finals and World Cup.

“It’s looking very doubtful,” he said.

Queensland team doctor Roy Saunders said Smith should be able to play against Brisbane next Friday at AAMI Park without too much of a problem.

“The cut was very close to a lower tear duct, which can be a very significant injury,” Sainders explained. “We decided to deal with it surgically … a plastic surgeon repaired a number of very tiny lacerations.

“There is absolutely no effect on Cameron’s vision.”

Teams for the match, which kicks off at Leichhardt Oval at 5.35pm Saturday, are:

WESTS TIGERS: James Tedesco; David Nofoaluma, Blake Ayshford, Chris Lawrence, Tim Simona; Benji Marshall, Curtis Sironen; Sauaso Sue, Joel Reddy, Liam Fulton, Adam Blair, Robbie Farah (c), Aaron Woods. Res: Ava Seumanfagai, Jack Buchanan, Shaun Spence, Bodene Thompson, Ben Murdoch-Masila (one to be omitted).

MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Justin O’Neill; Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk; Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hoffman, Jesse Bromwich, Jason Ryles, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Bryan Norrie. Res: Mitch Garbutt, Tohu Harris, Slade Griffin (one to be omitted).

Referees: Jared Maxwell/Grant Atkins.

Filed for: THE AGE

NRL round five: MELBOURNE 26 WESTS TIGERS 12 at AAMI Park


WESTS Tigers star Benji Marshall left AAMI Park after Monday night’s loss to Melbourne in a surgical boot and is likely to be sidelined for weeks.

Marshall suffered the injury in the first 20 minutes of the 26-12 loss and battled on, scoring the try that put his side in front for the second time.

‘‘It’s a toe injury, as you can see he’s in a boot and going to have scans,’’ Tigers CEO Stephen Humphreys told Fairfax Media.

‘‘At the moment it looks like he’s going to have some weeks on the sideline.’’

Melbourne found it unexpectedly difficult to secure a club-record 13th consecutive win – but the National Rugby League may have found its’ latest rules controversy.
Given little chance of interrupting the world champions’ eight-match unbeaten home run, Mick Potter’s side led early and regained the lead midway through the second half of their 26-12 loss at AAMI Park last night.

A one-two punch from Mahe Fonua and Cooper Cronk ended the brave showing from the visitors but a controversial incident in the 46th minute when Wests Tigers replacement Eddy Pettybourne had a try chalked off under a “driver” is sure to create some debate.

Pettybourne’s teammate, Ben Murdoch-Masila, was found to have illegally interfered with rival Siosaia Vave as Pettybourne strugged with a phalanx of defenders before safely grounding the ball.

‘‘I got it down but they said you’re not allowed to push. I reckon it was harsh.  It changed the game, it’s something they’ve got to look at,’’ Pettybourne said.

But replays suggested Murdoch-Masila merely touched Vave. “You can push your teammate,” Robbie Farah said to referee Adam Gee, who spotted the illegality live.

“You simply can’t touch an opponent,” Gee responded. “That’s what we’ve found.”

Wests Tigers regained the lead 12 minutes into the second half just moments after Pettybourne had his try disallowed.

Captain Robbie Farah bombed into the north-eastern corner, replacement Murdoch-Masila flew high and tapped the ball down to Marshall who plunged over despite a nagging toe problem.

The final pass looked forward but referee Jason Robinson gave the touchdown without referring it upstairs. Makeshift halfback Braith Anasta’s conversion was good despite the difficult angle.

When Melbourne got their chance, they took it.

Firstly, Slater threw a pinpoint cutout pass for Victorian product Fonua to score in the corner, with captain Cameron Smith goaling from the sideline, in the 62nd minute.

Three minutes later Storm centre Will Chambers burst into the clear and positioned halfback Cronk for the final pass to give the home team the lead.

Earlier, Wests Tigers shocked the Storm by taking an early lead with a try to young winger James Tedesco.

Farah grubber-kicked into the south-eastern corner and Tedesco found himself an unimpeded passage down the flank to score.

The joint venture side had given an early indication it meant business, pinning Billy Slater in goal with a determined chase in the fourth minute.

Rival fullback Tim Moltzen spilt a bomb not long afterwards but Melbourne failed to capitalise and late Melbourne inclusion Sisa Waqa put Slater away in the 14th minute only for play to be called back when the match officials detected the No.1 had shoved Braith Anasta in backplay.

The decisive call of the first half was actually two decisive calls. Whistler Jason Robinson at first appeared to ping Wests Tigers’ Bodene Thompson for diving at the legs of Gareth Widdop after a kick.

But in fact, Robinson meant to penalise Storm chasers for being in front of Widdop and eventually stuck his hand up in the other direction.

A minute later came Tedesco’s try, which went unconverted.

Melbourne eschewed a penalty shot almost in front when Aaron Woods took Jason Ryles high on the half hour – an opportunity Anasta accepted three minutes later at the other end for 6-0.

Wests Tigers were penalised three consecutive times defending their line as halftime neared. “Every time we get down here, you try to slow it down,” Robinson told Farah.

The Storm eventually made Wests Tigers pay for their insubordination, replacement forward Siosia vave crashing over just short of halftime and Cameron Smith leveling the ledger at 6-6.

Wests Tigers’ Adam Blair was booked for lifting the leg of an opponent in a tackle at the 60 minute mark.

Waqa scored for Melbourne in the dying minutes.

MELBOURNE 26 (S vave M Fonua C Cronk tries C Smith 3 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 12 (J Tedesco B Marshall tries B Anasta 2 goal) bt at AAMI Park. Referees: J Robinson/A Gee. Crowd: 18,860