World Cup second quarter-final: AUSTRALIA 62 UNITED STATES 0 at Racecourse Ground, Wrexham

IF injury realistically presented a bigger hurdle at this World Cup than many of Australia’s opponents, then it is becoming an increasingly vengeful foe.
Two weeks after back rower Luke Lewis’ tournament ended in a collision with an advertising hoarding, fullback Billy Slater’s recent off-field misfortune following him onto the Racecourse Ground for the 62-0 quarter-final whipping of the United States.
Slater, who was detained without charge by Manchester Police after a dispute outside a nightclub last week, finds himself in the hands of another branch of the emergency services after suffering an injury relating to the absence of posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee a minute into the second half.
“It’s an old injury – he’s got no PCL so he can’t hurt it,” said the Australia coach, Tim Sheens.
“But damage may have been done to the cartilage and other things. He’s gone for scans.
“We haven’t given up hope that he may be possibly available – if not this week after that sort of knock, then the next week if we get get that far.”
It’s a measure of Australia’s depth, however, that the man who replaced Slater in the custodian role yesterday – Greg Inglis – was considered by opposition coach Terry Matterson a more dangerous prospect there than in the centres.
Slater may have been the offical player of the 2008 World Cup but the prospect of facing Inglis wearing the number one will not exacly fill Australia’s opponents with glee.
By almost any measure, Sheens’ side was ruthless in Wrexham. It ran in 12 tries, with centre Jarryd Hayne and winger Brett Morris each equalling the Australian record for a full international with four.
Hayne’s selection in the centres is something of a leap of faith for Sheens, and it paid off spectacularly. One of the three men he kept out – Michael Jennings, Josh Morris and Brent Tate – will now be called up as a replacement for Slater in a reshuffled backline.
If ever there was a team in less need of luck, it was Australia playing the United States in rugby league.
Nonetheless, the green and golds’ kick-off to start the mismatch rebounded off the wordwork and into the arms of loose forward Paul Gallen.
The Tomahawks initially held them out, but it was only two minutes before Hayne scored his side’s opening try.
There were positive moments for the American initially. By the time 19 minutes had elapsed, the score was only 10-0 and stand-off Joseph Paulo has been unfortunate not to have scored after charging down a clearing kick.
But Morris equalled his country’s try-scoring record in a full international by halftime. His hat-trick was registered in just 14 minutes.
The World Cup favourites showed no favouritism when it came to their route to the tryline. There were sweeping backline movements, pin-point kicks and soft walk-ins.
They didn’t try to find the easy way to points but nor did they display the previous week’s stubborn insistance on talking the hard road.
Parramatta’s Hayne could scarcely have done more to justify Sheens’ vote of confidence, with the extra work required of a centre preventing him from zoning out of a contest, as he can sometimes do.
Hayne started and ended the scoring spree; the score could have been uglier had Johnathan Thurston kicked more than seven from 12.
Sheens took particular pride in his men having kept their tryline intact.
“I think we’ve the best defensive record in the competitiom at the moment,” he said.
“We had our pants pulled down early by England and we were determined that won’t happen again so we’ve worked hard on that aspect.”
Matterson said he was relieved the game was over and proud of his previously unheralded charges despite the margin.
“We won’t dwell too much on what happened today,” he said. “It’s an experience. What we’ve done over the past four weeks has been special.
“It’s a group of people I wil always remember and we’ll always have a very strong bond.”
Tomahawks captain Joseph Paulo said the tournament had given him the confidence to speak more on the field and become a more dominant player with his club, Parramatta.

AUSTRALIA 62 (Jarryd Hayne 4, Brett Morris 4, Greg Inglis 2, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk tries; Johnathan Thurston 7 goals) beat UNITED STATES 0 at Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. Referee: Henry Perenara (New Zealand). Crowd: 9762


THE JOY OF SIX: International Season week six

FORMER NSW Origin forward and founding Brisbane Bronco Terry Matterson says the current Australian team could be the best in his quarter-century involvement in the game at the top level. Matterson, who made his first grade debut for he Roosters in 1986, was in awe of the green-and-golds’ firepower in dispatching his US Tomahawks 62-0 at the weekend. “I think this team’s got an opportunity to be the best, no doubt about that,” Matterson told Joy Of Six. “You have a look through the elite players, the players that may be called Immortals at the end of their career … to have someone like Daly Cherry Evans coming off the bench, he couldn’t get in the side, Josh Papalii – wow. I’m really looking forward to the next two games because that New Zealand side is pretty special too. The challenge from the opposition has never been greater than it is at the moment.”
AUSTRALIA coach Tim Sheens said he’ll give Billy Slater ‘until the last minute’ to prove his fitness for the World Cup final at Old Trafford on November 30. It may appear that the tournament favourites have the fullback position well covered with Greg Inglis moving there but Slater was named man of the tournament at the last World Cup and will be given due leeway if his knee injury is touch-and-go. “You’d always wait until the last minute, I think,” said Sheens. “How he recovers in the next few days will give us some sort of idea.” Brett Morris may prefer playing with brother Josh for sentimental reasons but with eight tries between him and centre Jarryd Hayne, nothing is changing on the right side. “I’ve always thought Jarryd could be a right centre,” Sheens said. Neither player knew that a fifth try would set a new Australian Test record, the coach revealed. “Where’s (stats whiz) David Middleton? I saw him here somewhere. He should have told us.”
THERE’S sports memorabilia and then there’s … a rugby league ball signed by Julian Assange. That was the curio being raffled outside the Racecourse Ground before the Australia-US semi-final by activists who were also brandishing banners that read “Free Bradley Manning”. The reasons the group travelled to Wrexham were manyfold – Manning has family connections in Wales, Assange is Australian and of course his would-be persecutors are American. But it gets weirder. Intermediaries are attempting to arrange a meeting at the Ecudorian Embassy in London between Assange and … wait for it …Johnathan Thurston. News of the bizarre overtures were carried in Rugby League Week. Thurston has been chosen as a representative of the indigenous community, Assange’s Iceland-based publicist has a contact number for the Australian camp but last time we heard, the call had not yet been made.
IF New Zealand successfully defend the World Cup, it will be Nice. That is, the glamorous French reviera city will be have played a large role in the result, according to players. Not only have the Kiwis spare no expense on their support team, transport and technology for the tournament but after their big win over France on November 1, they were treated to an all-expenses-paid holiday in Nice. “We got away from footy but I think the main part was getting together and bonding,” said winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who scored twice in the 40-4 win over Scotland on Friday. Tuivasa-Sheck was outstanding on Friday but reckoned he was “surprised” to be chosen ahead of Jason Nightingale. With Manu Vatuvei suffering a groin injury, Nightingale could be back this Saturday against England.
TWO men with pretty decent NRL careers behind them hung up their boots on Saturday, with Matt Petersen playing his last game in the US’s loss to Australia and Clint Greenshields calling it a day following France’s defeat to England. “I spoke to the Cowboys about staying there and the option was there,” said Greenshields, 31. “In the end, I wanted to finish up while the body was still feeling good. I started a business with my partner and it’s started to kick off. It’s the ’82 babies, turning 31, the body starts to tell you.” He rates playing in the 2007 Challenge Cup final as a career highlight. As for next Saturday’s events at Wembley, and having seen New Zealand and England up close, Greenshields says: “I don’t think too many sides are going to get close to the Kiwis. They’re the biggest side I’ve ever seen.”
NOW there are only four sides left in the World Cup, the inevitable question arises for the rest: where to now? Details of international matches up to the 2017 tournament remain sketchy and there is a concern on the part of players – as much as fans and coaches – that many of the national teams will not assemble at all for another four years, leading amongst other ills to skewed world rankings affecting the draw for the next RLWC. There are, of course, rumours. Samoa or Fiji to compete in next year’s Four Nations. The United States to tour France next October. Fiji to play Cook Islands in Australia mid-season 2014. American players seem to think they have already qualified for the next World Cup by making the quarter-finals in this one, although it’s not clear why they think this.


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.


DISCORD 2013: Edition 27


THE return of Saturday afternoon football will be confirmed on Wednesday with five games kicking off at 3pm (NSW) time to finish the regular season.
Discord has been told Melbourne will get their wish of a blockbuster game against South Sydney on Friday, August 9, at AAMI Park. The five Saturday afternoon games will include two at Mt Smart Stadium – which is really a 5pm kick-off, isn’t it?

Saturday afternoon has been vacant – handed over to the AFL – for years and Discord reckons it’s a great move to take them on again.
The draw for the final five rounds will be announced in the morning.


THIS week, Discord would like to point out what could best be described as a “logic gap” in our policing of very different forms of misconduct in rugby league.
On one hand we have Billy Slater, who reportedly said “that’s one-all, c___” after an elbow to the face of Mitchell Pearce in Origin II – an act which was later determined by the match review committee to have been accidental.
Given the chance at a media call on Monday to deny his action had been intentional, Slater stopped short of doing so.
We would not dream of reopening a footy-oriented judicial case in our game due to something someone said, or didn’t say, at a later date.
Yet on the other hand, with have the ASADA investigation into drug use in rugby league which is based almost ENTIRELY on what people have allegedly said, or refuse to say. There is no video evidence or positive test results, just what people have said.
I have no ulterior motive in raising this, no overarching point to make. It just seems a big discrepancy that’s worth highlighting. And it shows how much more forgiving our little “Monopoly Board” justice system is in the NRL compared to the one out there in the big, bad world.
FOR those of you who think rugby league fans should stop banging on about the French rugby union’s collusion with the Vichy government in World War II because we live in a much more enlightened world, there are constant reminders that in some parts of the world things haven’t improved much.
First there is the South African Olympic Committee’s continuing refusal to recognise rugby league as a separate sport to rugby union, and threats against local sports councils who do help the thirteen-man game.
Now there is even more shocking news from Morocco, where a British students team known as the “GB Pioneers” – the players pay their own way to development areas to promote the code – was prevented from playing by an embargo enforced by the local rugby union authorities.
Rugby League Express reported this week that the Royal Moroccan Rugby Federation stopped local firms from transporting the tourists and that police removed two journalists from a match against Casablanca XIII.
The following game was cancelled after an email from rugby union authorities threatened venues, referees and players.
Management told League Express that they were told police would stop the game going ahead if necessary, by physically removing the English players from the field.
As is South Africa, rugby league is not recognised as a separate sport to rugby union in Morocco. The aim of the tour was to help in the campaign to change that – and rugby union seems to have done all it could to prevent any progress.
This is why we need a more active RLIF.
A READER had an interesting point about Sonny Bill Williams playing against Canterbury and Set Of Six’s call for mandatory reporting of all injuries, as happens in the NFL.
He said to me that no matter how much transparency was legislated by the NRL, cynics would still have questioned SBW’s injury and it would have made no difference.
Tell me what you think.

COMMENTS time and if you’ll remember, there were a ton of them two weeks ago and last week’s column kind of got lost in the Origin rush.

read on

Five Things We Learned From … ORIGIN I

#Origin11. Origin is still a primal anachronism

RUGBY league fans completely understood how NSW coach Laurie Daley could call flurry of punches aimed at an opponent’s head as “a great Origin moment”. The army of casual viewers attracted by the game could not. As big as rugby league is in New South Wales and Queensland, Origin reminds us there are sections of society there that complete ignore it most of the time. And they are the people outraged today that you can punch someone in this sport and not be sent off. One or two hundred years from now, society standards will demand fully body contact sport be banned. In the meantime, Origin will become as clean (some would say ‘as sterile’) as club football, then club football will get less and less physical.

2. Seven Years Bad Luck Has Given NSW a Queensland-sized shoulder-chip

QUEENSLANDERS took 70 years to build up enough indignation and anger to make Origin a success. It’s taken their southern cousins seven. The concept was a product of Queenslanders moving to Sydney for money and then playing against Maroons sides chosen on residential ground. But NSW have not just mimicked the inside-ball move that gave Jarryd Hayne his try. They have replicated Queensland’s beaten-dog mentality. Instead of ‘thrashing us with our own players for seven decades’, they have ‘bullying us with their Nate Myleses for seven years’. You can tell when something has been used as a cause celebre by a rugby league team and Nate Myles was it last night.

3. The rules are still different in Origin – but less different

SHAYNE Hayne called for a penalty when the ball was thrown away after a knock on early in the contest – but fellow referee Ashley Klein over-ruled him. In Origin, clearly, you are expected to be more disappointed when you knock-on or cop a forward pass than you are in a club game, and tossing the ball away in disgust is permissible. You can also stiff-arm someone and then punch them without being sent off. But as Cameron Smith lamented, holding opponents down for an eternity seems to be out of vogue. The Queensland captain conceded his team adjusted to the NRL-style rucks in the second half. Logic dictates Origin should, and will, be refereed the same way as club rugby league before long.

4. It’s easier for a hard-working forward to play wounded than a creative back

RYAN Girdler revealed on Triple M early in the second half that NSW back rower Luke Lewis had been bed-ridden for two days with a virus. Lewis, who has also been sidelined with injury in recent weeks, was a colossus. By comparison, Johnathan Thurston seemed severely restricted by an aductor (groin) muscle strain.; he had also suffered from a virus in the build-up. Cameron Smith, who did the goal-kicking in leiu of Thurston, was reportedly battling a knee complaint but was as heavily involved as usual. Conclusion: illness effects the artisan more than the labourer.

5. It’s difficult for Greg Inglis and Billy Slater to both recognise their potential in the same team

BILLY Slater’s attempt to fool the NSW defence late it Origin I by ambling up to the 20 metre line as if he was going to take a tap before shooting off upfield illustrates what a masterful custodian he is. But these days, so is Greg Inglis. The idea that Queensland would somehow have two fullbacks on Wednesday didn’t work and Inglis hardly got his hands on the ball. When he did, he laid on a try for Darius Boyd. One of the biggest challenges for Mal Meninga and Michael Hagan between now and June 26 is figuring out how to get the best out of both of them.


Rugby League Should Care More About Crowds, Says Souths Boss

South Sydney - Shane RichardsonBy STEVE MASCORD

SOUTH Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson has claimed rugby league doesn’t care enough about crowds and should follow the AFL’s lead by making attendance figures top priority.

Speaking as his side prepares to take on the Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium tonight, Richardson told The Age his club had received little help from the National Rugby League in promoting the showdown between the competition’s two unbeaten teams.

“The number one KPI for AFL employees is crowds – we have to start worrying about getting bums on seats too,” Richardson said.

“We are going to get twice the crowd we budgeted for this weekend – around 25,000 – but we’ve done it all ourselves. We could easily say ‘Melbourne don’t bring many fans’ but how many do Brisbane Roar take to the sellout crowd at Parramatta.

“We got more than 50,000 at Easter because we worked together with the Bulldogs. The League should be far more involved in this.

“This week there was all this stuff about the Sonny Bill Williams game (Sydney Roosters v Canterbury) on Friday night and yet Sonny Bill Williams hardly spoke to the media all week!

“We’ve got to do better. Taking out ads is one thing but access to players gives you publicity for free – and far greater exposure.”

Tonight’s clash has, at least, not been robbed of its major drawcards with Storm fullback Billy Slater (foot) and halfback Cooper Cronk (niggling injuries) cleared to play.

Speaking to journalists at AAMI Park yesterday morning, prop Jesse Bromwich said of Slater: “He trained this morning and he looked sharp as usual.

“It will be a very exciting match-up (with Souths fullback Greg Inglis). They are two of the best players I’ve played with or alongside.”

Australia coach Tim Sheens, who tomorrow names his side to play New Zealand at Canberra Stadium on Friday, has revealed he would be willing to nurse Slater through next week’s training schedule if necessary.

The selection of an 18th man could also be influenced by the fullback’s problem.

“A player of his experienced, you could having him just train the day before the game if need be,” Sheens told Fairfax Media.

“But I’m on the front foot over this injury – no pun intended.

“Alex Corvo is the staff of both Melbourne and the Test side. It will be assessed after the game but the moon boot he was wearing, I’ve been told, was mainly a precaution – to keep him immobilised.

“The 18th man could be influenced by the situation and I’ll carry two extra men if I have to.”

A number of Storm players – including several in line for Tonga and Samoan selection for their international next Saturday – will stay on in Sydney after tonight’s clash.

Australia, New Zealand, NSW City, NSW Country, NSW under 20s, Queensland Under 20s, Tonga and Samoa will all be named tomorrow night or Monday morning.

Slade Griffin has already been omitted from the Storm bench while Brett Finch and Kenny Bromwich are the others favoured to drop off. The Rabbitohs have won just one of their last 13 against the Storm.

Teams for the match, which kicks off at AAMI Park at 7.35pm Saturday, are:

SOUTHS: Greg Inglis; Nathan Merrit, Dylan Farrell, Bryson Goodwin, Andrew Everingham; John Sutton, Adam Reynolds; Sam Burgess, Ben Teo, Chris McQueen, Roy Asotasi, Issac Luke, David Tyrell. Res: Nathan Peats, Jeff Lima, Ben Lowe, George Burgess, Michael Crocker, Justin Hunt, Jason Clark (three to be omitted).

MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Junior Sau, Mahe Fonua; Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hoffman, Tohu Harris, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith (c), Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jason Ryles, Lagi Setu, Siosaia vave, Kevin Proctor, Kenny Bromwich, Brett Finch (two to be omitted).

Referees: Shayne Hayne/Alan Shortall.

Filed for: THE AGE

NRL round four: MELBOURNE 32 BRISBANE 26 at Suncorp Stadium


BRISBANE captain Sam Thaiday said he was demonstrating what rival Bryan Norrie had done to him when he grabbed referee Adam Devcich by the shirt in the high-scoring loss to Melbourne on Friday night.
In an ultimately crucial incident, Thaiday claimed to have been held in a scrum by Norrie while the Storm’s Gareth Widdop put Billy Slater away for one of the three tries that put him in the all-time top 10 during the Storm’s six-point victory.
“I was just showing him what (Norrie) did,” Thaiday said, when told about a photograph of him grabbing Devcich.
“It’s tough. In that situation, that’s where I’d be, that’s where I’d be chasing. Being held back and stopped from doing my job is pretty tough
“To see the green light come around on the big screen is pretty disappointing as well. It was the front rower, Norrie.” Asked about the tactic, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy replied: “I could sort of understand – a little bit – where he (Thaiday) was coming from. I think they were still packed, weren’t they? They go in there for a rest, the front rowers.
“That’s the way things roll. We got a couple of scratchy calls last week so …. some of them are grey areas. Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes it goes the other.”
Somehow, Brisbane managed to lead against an otherwise white-hot Melbourne for nine minutes. In doing so, a loss may have turned around a season that was promising less and less.
It’s a situation that looked inconceivable at half-time, when Anthony Griffin’s Broncos trailed 20-6 and looked certain to receive a smacking in front of 40,071 home fans.
Centre Justin Hodges had withdrawn before kick-off, replaced by youngster Jordan Kahu. But after the Broncos’ right winger, Lachlan Maranta, went close to scoring in one corner, the other flanker, Josh Hoffman, posted his second try in the other with Scott Prince converting. Another three minutes passed and centre Jack Reed forced his way over on the left and Prince goaled again. Melbourne led by just two.
Hoffman completed his hat-trick after creative play from fullback Corey Norman and a quick ball from Reed with 27 minutes to go. Brisbane were actually in front, having scored 16 unanswered points.
It didn’t last.
Billy Slater defied superlatives with a magnificent leap to claim a Cooper Cronk bomb and score next to the posts. Winger Matt Duffie then completed a sizzling movement to give the visitors a 10-point lead.
But a contest which had threatened to be little more than an exhibition had become a spectacle. Brisbane pegged one back with Alex Glenn’s score heading into the final five.
Bellamy said it was “disappointing to lose a grip on it like that …. we weren’t quite with it with our defence … it’s the end of a long month for us, I can probably cut them a little bit of slack there.
“We needed a couple of things out of the ordinary to get out of this game.”
He said his team’s right-side defence was “an issue”.
Griffin told journalists: “I’ve got no questions on our character and our attitude. Those questions have been coming from you guys. There were no concerns in our four walls.
“It’s frustrating we got ourselves in a position to win and couldn’t close it down.’
Brisbane winger Josh Hoffman (achilles) and forward David Stagg (knee) picked up injuries which are likely to sideline them for several weeks.
Griffin continued: “They scored some freakish tries. That’s the disappointing thing. They don’t get much better than that. We can sit here and pat ourselves on the back and say it was a good effort but in the end, we’ve got to win those games.”
Thaiday summed up the Broncos’ situation by saying “we’re catching the switch – we haven’t flicked it yet”.

MELBOURNE 32 (B Slater 3 M Duffie 2 J Sau tries C Smith 4 goals) bt BRISBANE 26 (J Hoffman 3 A Glenn J Reed tries S Prince 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: JMaxwell/A Devcich. Crowd: 40,071.


Storm Had To Overcome More Than Leeds To Lift World Title

World Club Challenge logoBy STEVE MASCORD

FROM a bus driver who slept in to a drug tester who wouldn’t let the Storm do likewise, Melbourne’s campaign to reclaim the final piece of silverware stripped from them has gone anything but smoothly.

When the NRL premiers flew out of Tullamarine on February 11, everything was rosy. Coach Craig Bellamy had come straight from a media conference to announce he was staying at AAMI Park until the end of 2016.

Players has specialised meals for their flight, QF9 via Singapore, and “designated pests” were put on sleep watch to make sure Storm stars dozed at the right time. “Our sports scientists had a system worked out,” said coach Craig Bellamy, “of when they were allowed to sleep and when they weren’t.”

There would likely be no interviews at Heathrow, the club said, because players were being rushed through customs to a waiting coach and onto their four-star Richmond Hotel for the sort of recovery session that normally follows 80 minutes of brutal NRL football.

But with the flight arriving at 5.22am last Tuesday, it was obviously too big an ask for the bus driver who failed to show up. Recovery soon morphed into coffee at the airport Costa outlet, before a fleet of taxis carried the Storm to the Richmond Gate Hotel.

Players were required to stay up all day in order to adjust to the time zone as quickly as possible – but that evening’s sleep was interrupted when Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority swooped for random tests.

“I had the ASADA team knock on my door the first night I was in London,” said fullback Billy Slater. “They got us up and had a bit of a test.”

Two nights later it was Valentines night and the sight of four men going to a West End musical together would have surprised, well, actually, no-one.

“About four of the staff went in to the West End to watch The Bodyguard, actually,” said Bellamy. “I thought it was a great, show

“I like getting to the West End whenever I visit London and hopefully I’ll get another chance before I go home.

“We went early and went for dinner and went to a restaurant and forgot about Valentine’s Day. There were balloons and flowers everywhere.”
Twitter reported halfback Cooper Cronk had a virus but there was no sign of it when he trained with team-mates at picturesque Harrow School last Friday. Football manager Frank Ponissi had only secured the venue, for an opposed session against London Academy, that morning.

This time roadworks, and London’s notorious traffic, made the team bus an hour late. Broncos coach Tony Rea and players Craig Gower, Chris Bailey and Shane Rodney watch as Craig Bellamy conducted a gruelling three-hour session.

Last Sunday, it can be revealed, the Storm should have been lining up against them at The Stoop – where instead a tiny crowd watched the Broncos take on Wakefield. An administrative wrangle meant the premiers sat out a weekend that is vital to the preparation of any NRL side.

“The League put – it wasn’t a share of the gate, it was a big fee on the game,” said former North Sydney hooker Rea.

“It just became – plus costs, plus everything else – something we just couldn’t do.

“Big cities love big ticket events and we just wanted a big ticket event. I hope everyone’s learned from it. I think we lost focus on all levels … the League should have found a way to make it happen.”

In lieu of a proper game, Bellamy organised opposed sessions against the Broncos Academy and Halifax yesterday.

At least the risk of injury was reduced. Slater was prickly when asked about Canberra’s complaints that he pulled out of the All Stars game and yet played in a trial against the Raiders on the same weekend.

“Injury? Which one? What are you talking about?” he said.

“I never said I was injured. I said I’d missed a couple of weeks of training in the pre-season due to injury but the body’s feeling pretty good at the moment.

“It was just due to lack of fitness and lack of time on the training paddock. I know what it takes to play a representative game of football at that level and I certainly wasn’t in any shape, or didn’t have the fitness under my belt, to play a game like that.”

Slater described the criticism from Canberra as “irrelevant”.

Bellamy defended his fullback. “He did the right thing and pulled out three weeks before. He got a week’s training in before our Geelong trial with the Raiders and we just wanted to give him 20 minutes to make sure he was right to come over here.

“I can’t believe they had a whinge about it.”

The Storm’s opponents, Leeds, have had their own problems. The Rhinos lost their second game of the season, 14-12, to Castleford in an epic which saw fullback Zac Hardaker knocked out, centre Brett Delaney suffer a hamstring injury and prop Ryan Bailey hurt his knee.

Bailey, who has a happy knack of getting under the skin of Australian sides, is rated extremely unlikely to play on Friday.

Castleford’s Rangi Chase was suspended for two weeks over his shoulder charge on Hardaker, who played the following week against Salford and promptly broke a finger.

Friday will be the last chance most Storm players will ever get to execute a shoulder charge.

“I’m sure somebody will take the chance to do it,” said Bellamy.

“It will probably be the last chance they get to do it in their careers, unless they come and finish their career over here.”

Back-rower Ryan Hoffman said: “I guess if one or two of the big boys get the chance, they might throw one in.”

It could also be the last stand-alone World Club Challenge game in England.

After years and to-ing and fro-ing, NRL and Super League clubs have agreed to play next year’s game in Australia, before expanding to a six team competition in 2015.

“And we may not play it in Sydney, we may go to a new market like Perth,” says Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, who is a on WCC working party with Ian Lenagan, Shane Richardson and Peter Doust.

So what will happen on Friday?

Leeds will be a month into their competition while Melbourne have had one semi-serious hit-out in Geelong.

Former Stormer Jake Webster scored a try for Castleford in the win over Leeds and said: “Leeds are a champion side and they know how to turn it on in big games.

“With the conditions the way they are, I think the change of direction’s going to be a big thing. Rangi took control of that (for us). We were dropping players off non-stop and we seemed to be winning a lot of plays.

“Make ‘em work, turn ‘em inside out. The conditions are going to be very physical. As long as they come ready for that, I can’t really see them getting beaten.”

If the new prospective owners of the Storm – a group of London-based Kiwis – have been at any of their public appearances in the UK, they’ve kept an extremely low profile.

Bellamy revealed upon landing that he had met a member of the consortium – but stressed the meeting played no role in his decision to stay.

“From my own personal point of view, the longer it (negotiations between Bellamy and the Storm) goes on, you get a bit worried,” said utility Brett Finch, who has just returned to the club from Wigan.

“But all the players respected whatever Craig did. He’s earned the right to make his own choice in his own time. We were just really happy he signed on and it was good timing too, just before the trip.”

The WCC has been a poisoned chalice for the Australian champions over the years. Bellamy says “probably two weeks after the grand final” is the best time for it.

“It does disrupt your preparation for round one,” said back rower Ryan Hoffman,

“But they’re just obstacles you have to overcome. I think this is a good way to prepare for the season. We’ve got a really tough start and there’s no better way to get into the swing of it than against a tough team.”

Hoffman play for Wigan in the 2011 WCC against St George Illawarra. “You don’t have the travel and you’re three rounds into your season,” he said.

“It’s just such an enjoyable game. The best thing about playing in it is how much the English fans love it. As an Australian player, coming over and being part of an Australian team, it was great.

“And having all the English fans cheer for you when I was playing for Wigan was fantastic as well.”

Melbourne beat Leeds 18-10 to lift the 2010 World Club Challenge – only to have the title stripped.

It’s possible the Storm will start the NRL season against St George Illawarra, the club Bellamy shunned, with a full set of the trophies that were taken off them and a brand new owner.

That’s if things go according to plan – for a change.


Raiders’ Complaints ‘Irrelevant’, Says Slater


MELBOURNE fullback Billy Slater has dismissed Canberra’s complaints about his involvement in a trial match as “irrelevant” while coach Craig Bellamy says he “can’t understand” his former club’s complaint to the NRL over the issue.

A joust between the Raiders and Storm has erupted over Slater playing in a trial between the clubs at Geelong last week despite him pulling out of the NRL All Stars game played on the same weekend.

Raiders chief executive Don Furner said he was told his players would be banned from playing on the same weekend of the All Stars game if they withdrew. Slater said he lacked the match fitness to play at Suncorp Stadium because of a pre-season ankle injury.

When Slater was asked by The Herald in London about his injury, he responded: “Injury? Which one? What are you talking about?

“I never said I was injured. I said I’d missed a couple of weeks of training in the pre-season due to injury but the body’s feeling pretty good at the moment.

“It was just due to lack of fitness and lack of time on the training paddock. I know what it takes to play a representative game of football at that level and I certainly wasn’t in any shape, or didn’t have the fitness under my belt, to play a game like that.”

Asked about Furner’s comments, he said: “That’s my reason. It’s irrelevant what other people say. I know what it takes to play a game of football. I’m comfortable with my decision.”

Bellamy said he didn’t know what the Raiders were “coming at”.

“I know they had some concerns about how many players they had in the All Stars game – that’s probably a fair complaint,” he said.

“At the same time, we didn’t make the rules there. Billy let (NRL All Stars coach) Wayne Bennett know very early. He didn’t start training until after January, he was out a couple of weeks with his injury.

Don Furner/ABC

Don Furner/ABC

“He didn’t think he’d be ready to play in that game. He did the right thing and pulled out three weeks before. He got a week’s training in before our Geelong trial with the Raiders and we just wanted to play him for 20 minutes to make sure he was right to come over here.

“I can’t believe they had a whinge about it but if they’re trying to make a comparison to how many players they had in the All Stars, that’s a thing they need to take up with the League, not us.”

Proving that the rivalry with the Raiders is only skin-deep, the Storm dined with formula one driver and devout Canberra fan Mark Webber on Friday.

The squad shifted base to Leeds on Saturday, with Slater, Ryan Hoffman and Gareth Widdop in the party which watched Huddersfield beat Wigan 22-10 at John Smith’s Stadium.

Leeds prop Ryan Bailey (knee) and fullback Zac Hardaker (finger) appear certain to miss the World Club Challenge at Headingley on Friday but centre Brett Delaney (hamstring) should be back.