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

Brent Tate: We All Bought Into Cowboys Hype

North Queensland - Brent TateBy STEVE MASCORD

NORTH Queensland star Brent Tate says Cowboys players were guilty of believing their own hype this season and has called on management to consult team-mates Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott before appointing a replacement for Neil Henry.

Five days after Henry was told his services would not be required next season, the Cowboys turned on a startling display to thrash NRL hotshots 30-12 at 1300smiles Stadium.

But Tate says players should have realised that despite predictions of a premiership in 2013, the absence of a settled half and hooker was always going to make it a difficult season.

“So much expectation has been heaped on us and I think we got ahead of ourselves, really,” Tate tells RLW.

“We didn’t handle it very well. I’ve spoken to Neil about this – we started the season with an untried hooker and without a stable halfback. They we had injuries to our fullback, Mango (Matt Bowen).

“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to notice that all the top clubs have nine, six, seven and one nailed down.

“I was like anyone, I was excited about this year and what we could do and had a heap of belief in the team but in hindsight, you peel the layers back and see what the real situation was.

“I’m not point the finger at anyone because we have all played poorly at periods this year, me included, but those positions just weren’t settled and all the great sides have those positions settled.

“Hooker and half has been our Achilles heal, through injury and form. “

Tate says he understands Henry’s frustration that Saturday night’s performance didn’t come sooner. “If it did, we wouldn’t be in this position,” he said.

“I think maybe there was a feeling of a pressure valve being released for the players, knowing the decision has now been made. But really, you can’t explain it.

“it’s probably our first 80 minute performance of the year, it’s probably the only time we’ve played to our potential.”

The Australia centre says players weren’t consulted before the NQ board decided to rescind Henry’s contract extension.

“I certainly wasn’t asked and I’m part of the leadership group,” he said “That’s a decision the club had to make and I didn’t hear about it until Monday.

“But if not the leadership group, you’d like to think Johnno and Matt would be consulted because they’re the captains and they’ve put a lot into the club. I think they should be consulted, it’s important they are.”

Aside from finding the right man as coach, the Cowboys have to make sure they don’t start 2014 in the same positional disarray as they did 2013.

Tate believes Robert Lui at seven and Ray Thompson at nine could be “the answer”. But no recognised fullback is contracted for 2014 yet.

“Ray Thompson hasn’t been playing hooker in his entire career. Both are getting better and better. Robbie just needed an opportunity and some football under his belt. He could be the answer for us.

“As for fullback, I hope something is sorted out soon. All the good players in that position tend to be locked up way ahead of time. You can see how important Mango is to the way we play.

“Hopefully the club can sort something out with him.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: August 2013

RLW August 2013By STEVE MASCORD

IT is 11.12pm and I am sitting in the Suncorp Stadium press box surrounded by half-empty bottles, programmes covered in scribble and colleagues who are concentrating intently and attempting to meet deadlines that I’m pretty sure they won’t.

This is the only copy I will file from Origin II, which finished in a 24-6 win to Queensland over New South Wales.

I am convinced I saw history tonight. I hope I did. And I feel like I am surrounded by people who insist the world is flat. I almost typed “By Copernicus” at the top of this column.

(The disciplinary just came through. Justin Hodges contrary conduct no suspension, Trent Merrin striking one week if guilty, Billy Slater cleared, in case you were interested).

As I sit here, I am thinking about how tonight may be remembered. This could be a landmark year for our game, regardless of what happens at the World Cup. This, 2013, could be The Year Rugby League Cleaned Up Its Act.

The night before the World Club Challenge, what seems an eon ago, I attended a fans night at Headingley where everyone was up in arms (well, if they used their arms, it wouldn’t be a problem) about the banning of the shoulder charge.

Firstly, I tried to explain, there are legal implications to ignoring the blanket advice of doctors. Secondly, society is slowly becoming more gentrified. Last year before the Autumn Internationals game in Hull, your correspondent visited York where I learned the racecourse had been positioned to take advantage of the crowds who already attended the executions.

It was a double-header – the races following the one that rolled into a basket.

I am convinced, dear reader, that in two or three centuries, rugby league itself will be banned as too brutal and violent. Think about it – in the same time period we have stopped finding the spectacle of seeing someone hung, drawn and quartered a bit of a giggle.

In the meantime, it’s down to how we manage our steady demise along with other body contact sports. Do we want to become like UFC – a sport played only at the top level by highly trained professionals who risk life and limb for our amusement? Or do we want to continue to compete with other mainstream sports as a pastime for participants?

It’s a decision we had to come to eventually. The boffins at NRL Central were faced with it after Origin 1, when Paul Gallen stiff-armed Nate Myles and then punched him repeatedly in the head.

Think about it. A completely new administration. An interstant competition that had always been run on a nudge and a wink and one which turned over a massive profit.

A dilemma for sure and an outsider, Welsh banker David Smith, effectively had to decide between giving up on mums and dads and showing a “don’t try this at home” PSA before State of Origin, or rebuilding a bridge between junior football and the professionals that collapsed in Australia a couple of decades ago.

He chose the latter, saying he wouldn’t tolerate the series turning into a “rolling brawl”. And the referees’ coach, Daniel Anderson, said anyone who threw a punch in the second game of the series would be sent to the sin bin.

But with tensions simmering over Gallen, who stayed on the field after his “indiscretion” in Sydney but was suspended for one match, how would the referees handle it if there was an all-in brawl?

There were whispers that the players would muddy the waters by all rushing in if things got, as Stevo would put it, “tasty”.

But until the 54th minute, it looked like we wouldn’t find out. When tensions rose until that point, players grabbed each other by the jersey and jostled.

But then Brent Tate pushed Trent Merrin, the Blues forward – yes – punched him and players rushed in as if that had been the plan all along. How they reacted moved the goalposts when it comes to violence in rugby league.

From my perspective, I hope they’ve been moved forever.

Four players – Tate, Merrin, Greg Bird and Justin Hodges – were sent to the sin bin. Bird and Hodges were dispatched for rushing in, Tate for starting the whole thing. Merrin actually did what they had all been warned not to and punched someone.

The Queenslanders were pointed off first – and I’m sure a rain of beer cans straight out of the 1980s would have ensued if they were still selling the things.

The reaction from commentators like Andrew Johns and Wally Lewis said “this is Origin, I can’t believe it” while rival coach Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley called for the NRL to re-examine its stance and Gallen described events as “embarrassing”.

“No-one goes out there to fight but it’s a tough game,” said Daley.

I found myself shaking my head, thinking “they just don’t get it. It’s not 1988 anymore”.

A straw poll of journalists as they left this press box (leaving me alone now, at your service, dear reader) found only one who agreed with me. He is a pugilist of some note and said “I watch boxing to see people hit each other. These blokes can’t fight. I watch football to see football”.

One of the others, who I won’t name because he didn’t know he would be quoted, said ‘Mascy, what if they do all this to win back the kids, they don’t come, and all the fans are lost in the meantime?”

But that’s not the point, see? Blokes who are not wearing boxing gloves standing in the middle of a packed stadium punching the bejesus out of each other while drunken bloodthirsty hoons cheer is UNCIVILISED. It’s sub-human. If we saw it on the streets, we should be horrified.

And if we’re not, our children and grandchildren will be.

It’s just wrong.

To me Johns, Daley, Lewis and Meninga may as well have been denying an object heavier than air can fly or that the sun is at the centre of the solar system. How the referees acted tonight (OK, poor Tatey copped the rough end of the pineapple) is self-evidently the way our society and our sport is going.

As I got in the lift to come back to the press box, a colleague told me he saw ARLC chairman John Grant talking intently to operations manager Nathan McGuirk in a small operations room down below.

It’s entirely possible the League will backpedal in the face of pressure from coaches, players and the media. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. It means they lack the requisite cohunes for the time being.

There is no putting the cleaning up of our game into reverse.

Rugby league is the second or third most popular sport in Australia with regard to television ratings and attendances but ranks seventh for participants.

Why? One, because it is a hard sport to play. That’s not going to change. But two, because it is dangerous and violent and parents don’t want their kids to play it.

This afternoon I spoke to the chairman of a Brisbane Queensland Cup club who said young players were increasingly coming from poor areas with participation rates in affluent suburbs dropping off alarmingly in recent years.

Young Polynesians from modest backgrounds see the game as a career option, maybe one of few before them. Are they the only people we want in our game in future – youngsters who put pressure on themselves to succeed that in a couple of sad cases this year became intolerable?

If we still want people to play rugby league for fun, then tonight had to happen and I’m glad I was here to see it.

Goodnight all. It’s 12:41am. See you at Wembley.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

THE WRAP: NRL Round Five

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
WHAT constitutes a slump? And how to teams get out of them?
North Queensland, St George Illawarra and Brisbane are three of which much is expected in our competition each year. Over the three weeks in the lead-up to round five, they had just victories between them.
All had wins over the weekend, relieving scrutiny and pressure on their coaches and players. It’s four years since a side with a 1-4 record has made the finals
“It’s more of a confidence thing,” Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough tells NRL.com in the wake of a 32-12 win over Gold Coast.
“Obviously, we’ve been copping it in the paper. It’s all part of the Broncos standard which is probably a good thing. It just comes with the territory.
“But we’re going along alright.”
Criticism can be used as a motivator, McCullough says. It’s down to the individual. “You can go either way with that.
“Hook (coach Anthony Griffin) is always on us about how good you’re going and how bad you’re going. You just believe what they (coaching staff) have to say. If they say something, you listen.”
The big area where the Broncos have improved? “Just composure. We’ve got to back ourselves. The games we lost … the Roosters put 50 on Parra, they beat us 8-0. Manly? We let ourselves down after leading that game. Melbourne, we went well there.
“So we’re not going as bad as people think.”
North Queensland coach Neil Henry said after the 30-0 shutout of Penrith on Saturday that it was a little early in the year to have “must win” games – but the Cowboys were at the point of “please, please win”.
“I wouldn’t say it was a good way (to win) but there’s points on the board, a clean sheet and that’s pleasing,” said centre Brent Tate.
“Sometimes you’ve got to win them like that to kickstart you.
“I just thought our ball control at times is still really letting us down. We put a lot of pressure on them defensively. We’re stil a little off with our attack but that will come.
“If we toss ball control like that up against good teams, you can’t hold them out no matter how good your defence is.
“The fe
Tate doesn’t know why his men have hit an early-season wall. “You can’t explain that sort of thing, it just happens,” he says.
“The feeling I have is that we need to improve. I think that’s the feeling across the board.”
For whatever reason, coach Steve Price has borne the brunt of the Dragons winless opening three weeks. That turned around against Sydney neighbours Cronulla in round four and the revival continued against Steel City rivals Newcastle on Sunday.
At Sharks stadium, says five-eighth Jamie Soward, “we were under the pump and needed to come out and stand up for ourselves.
read on

Cowboys Bucked By Contentious Calls

James Tamou

By STEVE MASCORD

GIANT prop James Tamou doesn’t feel like Manly beat his North Queensland Cowboys on Friday night, adding that neither side played to a finals standard.

While the Sea Eagles’s 22-12 win was marred by major refereeing controversies, many saw it as a sterling Manly performance – particularly defensively,

But Tamou tells RLW: “It didn’t feel like we were beaten. It was a tough one to swallow.

“In saying that, we didn’t come out to play like a semi-final football team – but neither did they.”

The Cowboys felt two calls – tries awarded to Jorge Taufua and Michael Oldfield – were clearly wrong. Tamou said video referees should go on “first glance” and not look at replays repeatedly.

“As we were standing there on the sideline, watching the big screen, the more they watched it, the more you feared the call was going to go against us. It was just hard to bear,” Tamou said.

Centre Brent Tate was at a loss to say what can be done to improve refereeing standards.

“I mean – we’ve spoken about getting the standard of them up and I don’t know how you do it, what you do?” he said.

“The players are probably leaving them behind a little bit, to be honest. We’ve tried two refs . I don’t know.

“It’s disappointing that these are the headlines – that we’re talking about some decisions that are what I’d like to call a lottery.

“We’ve been talking about it deciding games all year. I’ve got about 30-odd text on my phone saying that we were … very unlucky … if I can use those words.

“It’s a lottery. It’s a real lottery. I don’t want to take credit away from Manly because they’re a bloody good side and they know how to win those tight games but crucial calls at crucial times – especially in semi-finals – you just can’t come back from that.

“That’s what happened to us.

“You can cop losing. I’ve been around a long time and you can cop losses but that’s a real bitter pill to swallow. That’s hard to take. That’s really disappointing.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK