THE JOY OF SIX: Round 23

The Joy Of Six1. WHAT PRICE COMPASSION?

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

2. WHAT HAPPENS IN BRISVEGAS

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.

3. BRENT TATE: ORIGIN MADE ME

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.”

4. NATIONAL INFORMATION MINISTRY

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.

5. BEING JOHNATHAN THURSTON

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.”

6. MELBOURNE BALLS TAMPERED WITH AGAIN

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’

7. GREEN GRASS OF WEMBLEY

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.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Storm Could Start Doubting Themselves, Says Campese

Canberra - Terry CampeseBy STEVE MASCORD
CANBERRA captain Terry Campese has predicted self-doubt could creep in for the out-of-sorts Melbourne Storm if the Raiders hold them out for the opening 20 minutes of their crucial clash.
The Storm arrived in the capital late Saturday hoping to end a two match losing streak and right their premiership defence. While Melbourne have won 10 of their last 11 games at Canberra Stadium, the Green Machine hasn’t been beaten there all year.
“The main focus for us … will be the first 20 minutes,” five-eighth Campese said at training on Saturday.
“If we can match it with them in the first 20, hopefully they start asking themselves a few questions and that’s when we can get on top of them.
“That’s when young Tony Milford and players like that, like Reecey (Robinson) come into their own and can hopefully create some havoc in the middle.”
Campese, who turns 29 on Sunday, predicted the premiers and world champions would be “fired up”.
“They’ve lost two in a row and it’s definitely unlike Melbourne to be in this kind of slump,” he said. “I know Craig Bellamy will have them at their best.”
But Canberra aren’t just hoping for victory, which would leave them just one competition point behind the Storm. David Furner’s side has its sights on a top four finish – even though they have arguably the toughest run of any of the teams around them.
“We’ve got a tough run home – I think everyone we play’s in the top eight (plus the Warriors)… top four’s our main focus,” he said. “You get a home semi-final and if you lose, you get another week.”
Canberra could be further boosted by the late inclusions of centre Jack Wighton (groin) and prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (foot).
“Close, very close,” Furner said when asked about the chances of the pair playing. “Tommy and Jacko are going to do a bit of warm-up.”
But controversial NSW Origin star Blake Ferguson will not be playing a role. He played NSW Cup on Saturday.
phonto (1)“The team’s been going well, Fergo said to me after the game last week he was underdone,” Furner explained. “And even in the fitness during the week….I know he’s been doing some alternative training in those four or five weeks but …..
“I expect a good showing for the following week. I watched his game … there’s some areas there he needs to work on. It’s just about match fitness.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy, meanwhile, says assistant Kevin Walters will definitely stay on untol the end of the season, regardless of whether he is appointed as Neil Henry’s replacement at North Queensland.
“We do things a little bit differently than in the AFL,” said Bellamy. “I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face.
“Kevvy’s does a good job and and is an important part of what we do here.”
Teams for the match, which kicks off at Canberra Stadium at 2.05pm, are:
CANBERRA: Anthony Milford; Reece Robinson, Jarrod Croker, Joel Thompson, Sandor Earl; Terry Campese ©, Josh McCrone; Shaun Fensom, Joel Edwards, Josh Papalii, Dane Tilse, Glen Buttriss, David Shillington. Res: Shaun Berrigan, Jarrad Kennedy, Brett White, Paul Vaughan.
MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Justin O’Neill; Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hoffman, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith ©, Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jason Ryles, Tohu Harris, Siosia Vave, Slade Griffin .
Referees: Jared Maxwell/Gavin Morris.

Filed for: SUNDAY AGE

F

DISCORD 2013: Edition 26

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

LET’S start this item about the $15,000 fine meted out to Ricky Stuart on Monday by saying we understand what the NRL is trying to achieve.

Yes, respect for referees is paramount and yes, there is culture of criticism – some would say attempted manipulation – in our competition which is probably unhealthy.

But the thing about the rule as it stood until about 5pm on Monday was that you could defend it as an apparatus that kept rugby league out of the courts.

Generally speaking, aside from a couple of times when coaches have used swear words in their criticism, the comments which have attracted fines could conceivably have led to defamation proceedings.

No-one wants referees suing coaches for libel.

But on Monday, the goalposts moved – or more precisely, they got wider and higher, so much so that they now cover most of the tryline and the uprights go up to the back row of ANZ Stadium.

Here are the comments that could vaguely be described as questioning the integrity of officials

“We cannot be so different every week to the opposition in regards to – not penalty counts but – what we’re getting penalised for”

“The same actions aren’t being penalised for the opposition team”

Now, every weekend captains make comments like that to referees out on the field. Those comments are broadcast, via SportsEars, to television and radio audiences nationally and internationally.

Are we going to start fining captains for bringing the game into disrepute?

Or was Stuart fined for questioning the “competency” of Daniel Anderson? Our whole game was born out of questioning the “competency” of authority, back at The George in 1895.

Without rabble-rousing and rebellion, there would be no rugby league. Do the current inhabitants of League Central understand that? It’s the purpose of rugby league, it’s in every strand of our DNA.

You can say that coaches should not be allowed to intimidate referees – that’s right, referees shouldn’t allow themselves to be influenced and I don’t think they do.

The precedent set by Monday’s breach notice is that if someone says “David Smith is hopeless” or “the commission are doing a crap job”, they can now be fined for bringing the game into disrepute by questioning “competency”.

I don’t think anyone would stand for such oppressive censorship. Not only is it Orwellian and even somewhat fascist, it’s against what rugby league has always been about.

PS: And if Stuart is being picked on as a repeat offender – isn’t that what he was accusing referees of doing to his team in the first place? It suggests he might be right.

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OK it’s comments time, going back to last week’s column, and there have been lots of them.

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DISCORD 2013: Edition 25

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

LAST week Discord was rightly criticised for posting yet another column on the Origin I biff, a couple of readers pointing out that they’d already read much more than enough on the subject.

Fair cop.

But sometimes, when the current debate on a footy-relate issue seems to be missing something, Discord feels a duty to point out the elephants in the room. So we’ll do that regarding recent events and move straight on to something else.

The first elephant is not in any way highlighted as an excuse for some of the boorish behaviour we have seen over the last week… but it is a major contributing facotr and has been completely overlooked for some mystifying reason.

It’s hormones. While columns like this love to point out that players have limited careers and should learn to stay indoors and out of trouble, to the players the limited time span is a reason to go out. They’ll only be this fit, this famous, this single and this good looking – all at once – for less than a decade and there are plenty of wild oats to sow in that time.

To a 23-year-old, there is a fear that if you don’t take advantage of these unique circumstances, you’ll regret it in your old age. The jealousy of your contemporaries can be over-powering. Of course, getting in trouble creates even bigger regrets … but that may not happen … so it seems worth the gamble.

To Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan, NOT going out on Sunday night would have seemed a terrible, tragic waste of an opportunity.

Secondly – and I will use this as an excuse for the Mal Meninga ‘incident’ – how easy is it to be refused service or even entry to a pub these days? I’m sure many readers have been refused entry in Sydney when they have not had a single drink, just because the guys on the door don’t like the look of their eyes as a result of some training course they did.

I have been refused service, or entry, in licensed establishments at least 20 times. I probably deserved it on more than half those occasions but I have never done anything more anti social than drop a glass on the floor.

It’s easy to understand why Mal would feel aggrieved that every daily newspaper saw fit to put his transgression on the back page today. But footballers (and their coaches) are really just reality TV stars these days. Without television, they’d be amateur or part time.

Bluntly, the media machine sees them as merely being there for our amusement, offering us two-dimensional pulp morality tales with everything they do.

So they get treated the same as reality TV stars. If Joel Madden was in town to promote a record, his little dope stash would get less space than if he was judging a massive talent show, publicity for which has been deliberately whipped up by a television network.

Same with Mal. If he is asked to leave the local pub in Redcliffe in November, it would be lucky to rate a paragraph in a gossip column. But Origin is the best rating piece of reality television in Australia.

If the players thought of it more like The Voice, they might understand a little better the way the gossip-obsessed mainstream media treats it.

OK, onto something else.

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FOR the record, your correspondent was only joking on Monday when he described Daniel Anderson’s trip to the NHL “bunker” as a junket.

Of course, it’s a good idea for the NRL referees’ boss to drop in on the way back from the World Cup. We were just making the point that commercial radio stations have already set up similar facilities in this country which would be worth checking out.

Of course, commercial radio stations don’t need to communicate with referees and touch judges. And they often have communication breakdowns with their people at the ground which would be disastrous for match officials.

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COMMENTS now, and I’ll go through everything written on the bottom of a story on leaguehq.com.au or stevemascord.com for the last week.

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Players In NSW And Queensland Don’t Understand Damage To Game’s Image

Queensland - Cameron Smith 2By STEVE MASCORD
MELBOURNE and Australia captain Cameron Smith has lashed out at misbehaving players who live in cocoon in rugby league’s heartlands and don’t understand how much they are hurting the game in its frontiers.
In an eight-day period which has seen NSW prop James Tamou, would-be team-mate Blake Ferguson and South Sydney prop George Burgess all charged by police, Smith said many players in NSW and Queensland don’t understand the harm they are doing.
“It’s huge – we’re trying to grow the game in new places like Melbourne and they think they can do what they want,” Smith told Fairfax Media in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens, shortly after the Queensland’s team announcement.
“Living down in Melbourne you’re constantly hearing about how far our game is behind and this sort of stuff only adds to that.
“The players who live in NSW and Queensland aren’t confronted with that, they don’t see it.
“I don’t want to make too much comment on it because it’s been dealt with by the NRL and the respective clubs but it’s disappointing because it’s a few blokes letting the whole game down really.
“Nearly the whole competition, except for a few, they uphold their responsibility to the game and to the public.
“They can go out and a have a few beers and do the right thing. But it’s these blokes who think they can do whatever they want who let the game down.
“For someone to say what they did is OK – they’ve got to have a serious look at themselves.”
Smith also defied the conventional rugby league wisdom when it came to the punching ban introduced since Paul Gallen’s attack on Nate Myles two weeks ago. Maroons coach Mal Meninga said during the team announcement media conference he could not guarantee there would be no punches at Suncorp Stadium next Wednesday.
Referees coach Daniel Anderson said at the weekend that Smith’s contention on television last week that the Gallen-Myles incident was “not a good look” was taken into consideration in handing down the edict.
“He changed the rule because of me? I think it’s a good move,” said Smith. “Probably a lot of people would disagree but I think the sport is moving with society.
“It’s unacceptable to go around punching blokes whenever you want now.”
Motioning to a junior player in uniform who had been part of the announcement, he continued: “If we want these little fellas playing the sport when they’re 20 years old….
“And kids being born this year, if we want them playing rugby league then we’ve got to be showing their parents that it’s a good game to play and a lot of people would have seen that incident in game one and though ‘oh, maybe I want my kid to play soccer or something else.”
“It’s a good move for the NRL to come down hard on starting fights because there’s no place in the game for it now.”
Ferguson has been kicked out of the NSW team for indecent assault, Burgess has been stood down by South Sydney for wilfully damaging a car and Tamou was disqualified from Origin selection and suspended by his club for driving unlicensed at four times the legal alcohol limit.
Maroons and South Sydney star Greg Inglis told reporters yesterday he knew nothing about the Burgess incident.
The Maroons dropped Gold Coast lock Ashley Harrison and Canberra prop David Shillington for a game they must win to keep alive their seven-year winning streak against New South Wales.
South Sydney’s Chris McQueen comes into the starting side and Canberra’s Josh Papalii is on the bench with Sydney Roosters’ Martin Kennedy 18th man.
“We’ve got a culture of loyalty … we had to make a touch choice,” said Meninga. “There are young kids poking their heads through who have been in our system for a while.
“There was a long 10 metres … we needed to pick a side with more mobility in the ruck.”
On the punching ban, he said: “I understand where they’re coming from with it.
“But it’s an aggressive and combatative game. It’s difficult to control your emotions. Origin is all about emotion. “
Asked if he could guarantee there would be no punches, he answered: “I don’t think you can guarantee that in any sport … any combatative sport be it rugby or soccer.
“It’s a tough one. It’s black and white. We’ll see what happens.”
Meninga is a confidante of Ferguson and said: “It’s sad to see what happened to Blake.
“He doesn’t have a tendancy to mix with the right people. He’s easily led.”

Filed for: THE AGE

THE WRAP: NRL Round 14

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
“As scandals go, it certainly has the potential to be the worst in Origin’s tumultuous 33 years – and that’s saying something”
It’s the view of the doyen of State of Origin reporters in the wake of news NSW winger Blake Ferguson has been charged with indecent assault and kicked out of the team to play Queensland next Wednesday.
When reporters sat down to cover the Monday Night Football match between Brisbane and Wests Tigers, the extreme right seat in the Suncorp Stadium press box was left vacant as a mark of respect for veteran AAP reporter Wayne Heming.
After almost forty years covering rugby league, 62-year-old Heming was made redundant following Origin I in Sydney. He wrote the news agency’s preview of the very first State of Origin game in 1980 and began covering games in the iconic series the next year.
Heming, who will be employed next Wednesday by the Courier Mail for one night only at Origin II, has seen players, coaches, administrators and scandals come and go but says Ferguson’s arrest for indecent assault takes the cake.
“Ferguson going out on the drink with his former Canberra Raiders teammate Josh Dugan the night before both were to enter NSW Origin camp ranks as one of the dumbest things I’ve heard of,” Heming tells NRL.com
“Back when I first started covering rugby league in Sydney in the mid 1970s players got away with things because there were no mobile phones and they often had ‘contacts’ who fixed things up.
“But those days are well and truly gone and the intense scrutiny on players is such that they can’t step out of line or they get dobbed in.
“What on earth were they thinking?
“The last time they got out on the drink together it ended in Dugan being sacked by the Raiders and Ferguson being stood down for six weeks after they Instagramed a picture of themselves on a Canberra rooftop drinking.
“The fact the NRL has acted so swiftly against Ferguson would suggest they have seen some pretty damning evidence.
“In the current climate of change they could throw him to the lions to show they are serious about finally cracking down on unacceptable behaviour by players who tarnish rugby league’s image.”
Next Wednesday will be an emotional one for ‘Ticker’ Heming who has been probably the longest surviving fixture at Origin games since ’81.
His favourite memories include Wally Lewis announcing his retirement at halftime in the deciding game of the 1991 series. “Lewis, who’d only learned before the game his young daughter Jamie-Lee had been diagnosed a profoundly deaf, walked off Lang Park a winner for the last time,” he recalls.
His best game and gutsiest win was the Origin II 1989, when Queensland won in Sydney despite a slew of injuries.
Tries by Mark Coyne and Mark McGaw were his favourite and the Maroons’ 1995 success was the most remarkable series victory he saw.
“While I have to confess I was born in Manly – that’s in Queensland isn’t it – I have always loved the attacking never-say-die style with which Queensland play and the way they compete,” says Ticker.

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NRL round 13: CANBERRA 30 BRISBANE 18 at Canberra Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

BLAKE Ferguson promised to stay off the roof of the NSW team hotel if he is reunited with Josh Dugan for Origin II after the Canberra centre made a booming return to club football in the Raiders’ big win over Brisbane.

The Broncos’ premiership campaign is on life support after a 30-18 Monday Night Football defeat. They trailed 24-0 shortly before halftime, languish in 11th and face missing the finals for only the second time in 23 years.

With Jarryd Hayne likely to miss the second interstate encounter with a hamstring injury and Dugan short-priced favourite to replace him, Ferguson was asked by Andrew Johns on radio at fulltime if he would be reconvening on a rooftop with his former club mate.

“No, not unless you’re there,” Ferguson told Triple M NRL. “The three of us – forget it.”

Johns then asked the Blues winger if he was still drinking pineapple cruisers, the beverage Dugan held in the instagram picture which got him sacked.

“Nah, I’m off them – come on, I’m a good boy now,” Ferguson said.

There were other Origin implications last night too, with Queensland hopeful Josh Papalii placed on report in the dying moments of the game for a lifting tackle on Brisbane’s Josh Hoffman.

Raiders coach David Furner did not think the incident was serious while rival Anthony Griffin did not see it. Raiders captain Terry Campese said “you know he’s not going to get punted for that”.

Coming oft a 56-18 defeat to the Warriors seven days earlier, The Broncos found themselves 24-0 down three minutes short of halftime.

The Raiders tries had been eye-catching. Ferguson fielded a Campese kick and offloaded deftly to scorer Josh McCrone, almost in the same movement.

Captain Campese roared into the clear to put Joe Thompson over. Reece Robinson and Edrick Lee combined over 70 metres for Jarrod Croker to score.

But Scott Prince crossed just short of halftime and Matt Gillett 12 minutes after it to briefly make things interesting, before late Canberra inclusion Joel Edwards bustled his way over for a try which disgusted Griffin so much that he dropped a rare expletive describing it in the media conference.

Furner said: “A 6-1 penalty count in the second half is going to bring any team back into the game. I’ve got some questions.

“We were obviously trying to play a fast style of the game against the Broncos … we were getting held down a bit longer.”

The Raiders have won nine in a row at home for the first time in 2000 and Campese said: “It’s something we spoke about at the start of the season – making Canberra Stadium a fortress again”.

Both sides went into the game on the back of two losses but it’s the plight of the perpetually glamorous Broncos which continues to attract headlines.

“There’s only one way to get out of it and that’s to look it square in the eye and keep fighting,” said Griffin.

“We can sit and do sums but at the moment it’s about sticking together and working hard to get a win.

“At 24-0 tonight, we were miles away from that. We’ve just clearly got to be better than that.”
Captain Sam Thaiday said: “Nothing really goes your way when you’re not winning games.

“It’s going to take a lot of fight and a lot of hard work to get out of what’s been happening over the last few weeks.

“We’ve got a very talented squad, we’ve just got to believe in it.” Hoffman rolled his hamstring while back rower Alex Glenn finished the night with a hamstring problem.
CANBERRA 30 (J McCrone J Thompson J Croker E Lee J Edwards tries J Croker 5 goals) bt BRISBANE 18 (S Prince M Gillett M Dodds tries S Prince 3 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Referees: G Sutton/L Phillips. Crowd: 10,419.

Filed for: THE AUSTRALIAN