Bondi Beat: January 2016


IT’S a rather strange dichotomy: players in Australia have never been better paid yet nor have they ever been more militant.

Since the last Bondi Beat, the National Rugby League has secured a satellite TV deal with Rupert Murdoch’s FOX Sports which has taken the total television rights contract to A$1.8 billion – with overseas to be added.
Securing this contract – which involved terrestrial broadcaster Nine selling back one Saturday night game to Fox – allowed the League to put out a draw for the new season.
Only problem is, after making all the right noises regarding player welfare (and giving the Australian team an autumn of) they didn’t actually ask the players first. It’s not the first time the game’s stars have been brushed.
Much work was done on a season of only 22 games, only for the former NRL chief executive David Smith to settle on 25 without telling anyone when a $925 million terrestrial deal was done.
Suddenly, industrial action was being discussed. The RLPA recruited the former boss of the AFL Players Association Ian Pendergast, as it’s new boss. The Aussie Rules players are a bigger political force in their game but, interestingly, they also agree to a draft – which is rugby league players traditionally oppose.
A rebellion from clubs was averted but one by players is still a possibility.
The big bugbear of the players is the five-day turnarounds between matches. Before the formulation of the 2015 draw, we were told they were to be eliminated. Now, they’re back – and while Monday Night Football is about to enter its final season, the advent of Thursday night games means completely eliminating them is going to be tricky.
Calls to change the draw have fallen of deaf ears and the NRL has even stopped well short of apologising for not consulting players before putting it out.
Michael Shenton’s column in last month’s Rugby League World brought the matter into sharp relief; players have short careers and have trouble focusing Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 09.24.13on the long-term lot of their brethren. It’s often every man for himself.
But with the clubs also knocking down the door of NRL chairman John Grant for cash, asking for 130 per cent of the total salary cap in funding, could we one day see the day where the middlemen are removed from the equation?
The NRL owns the team names and colours. Why can’t it simply employ the players directly, appoint 16 coaches and 16 identical offices and operate like McDonalds?
IT’S common for Australians and New Zealanders in Super League to have clauses in their contracts which allow them a quick getaway if opportunities arise at home – all of which must make British fans feel a bit unappreciated.
But the Aussies seem to be getting a taste of their own medicine with Tom Burgess travelling to New York to trial with a couple of NFL franchises.
This has been characterised in the South Sydney came as Big Tom trying to ‘better himself’. Please. Tom Burgess is an elite athlete of international standard who is risking injury by training during the off-season in a completely different sport while under contract!
The fact that such a proud club as South Sydney can take such a subservient role in regard to the NFL proves that my dire warnings in this column over the years may have finally come true.
European soccer and American sports rule the world and we’re all sitting around fighting over their scraps.
AS an old Illawarra Steelers fan, I was thrilled to read that Wollongong-loving media tycoon Bruce “Commissioner” Gordon was about to buy the Dragons.
Previously, Gordon – the man who owns WIN TV – owned half the mighty Steelers which meant he owned a quarter of the Dragons.
We Illawarra types have lamented the shrinking influence of the scarlet half of the joint venture in recent years, even though the training base is smack bang in the middle of the steel town.
The joint venture seems to have 50 jerseys, of which not one is the old Steelers design!

Maybe Bruce can change their name to the St George Illawarra Steelers?

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FURTHER to my earlier item about Gary Carter, as I write this I have just come back from visiting him in the Royal London Infirmary.

While it was a harrowing experience to see a mate hooked up to all number of contraptions, today was also the first on which has been able to speak.
Gary can move all his limbs, he smiles at jokes, squeezes your hand and answers any question put to him with a nod or a shake of the head.
The capacity of the human body to heal is indeed a wonder. I know that Gaz is grateful for everyone’s best wishes and encouragement, as well as to those who donated to his appeal. His wife Gemma is an incredible woman.
I am sure that by next month I’ll be able to report even more profound improvements.
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MAL Meninga’s appointment as Australian coach since the last Bondi Beat deserved to attract publicity – just not for the reasons it actually did.
The likes of former NSW coach Phil Gould reckoned paying Meninga to be a full-time national coach was a waste of money. Clearly, even in its most prosperous nation, rugby league just isn’t important enough for the Test coach to be paid much money.
What should have actually caused a storm was claims from the Papua New Guinea Rugby League that Meninga was still contracted to them when he signed up with the green and golds.
According to Kumuls CEO Bob Cutmore, Big Mal was supposed to be their coach until after the 2017 World Cup. While he informed Queensland of his decision to leave the Maroons’ loving embrace, he did not pay the same courtesy to PNG.
Customer said he only received a call days after Meninga was paraded before a media conference in Sydney.
If it’s true, it’s pretty shabby. Now the man who missed out on the Australian job because he didn’t want to be full-time, Wayne Bennett, might get’s Mal’s sloppy seconds in Port Moresby.
IT’S a little curious that Steve McNamara was’t immediately reappointed following the Test series win against New Zealand.
Instead, there was the beginning of a long debrief from the series, Steve returned to Australia and an RFL spokesman said there was unlikely to be a decision until the new year.
You would imagine Steve’s position would have been strongest immediately after the series win and that every passing day allows Red Hall to further hedge its bets.
No doubt Wayne Bennett – who helped win New Zealand its first World Cup in 2008 – would be top of Nigel Wood’s shopping list.
McNamara rightly has support amongst the players to keep his job until after the next World Cup, Under his guidance, they beat the number one country in the world.
But few coaches have reason to grumble when they are replaced by Wayne Bennett Just ask Anthony Griffin.
Twitter @BondiBeat

COMMENT: What’s Wrong With NRL Radio Coverage


DURING round 20 I was placed in a situation which has been rare for my recent rugby league viewing and it confirmed to me one area where the NRL is failing to reach it’s potential – radio coverage.

This piece is not a comment on the abilities or presentation of the key networks, 2GB/Macquarie, ABC and Triple M who all do a terrific job headlined by their chief commentators of Ray Hadley, David Morrow and Dan Ginnane.

If anything it’s about expanding their listener base to enhance the reach of the game.

Due to personal circumstances (ie the birth of my first child- since you asked a boy, Lucas. 4.04 kilos possible NSW centre of the future but dad is a Kiwis that’s a story for another post) my ability to consume rugby league became limited.

So with the in-room Foxtel in the hospital (sound on mute) and the trusty TuneIn radio app on my smart-phone it was with those two pieces of technology I set myself up for a Saturday night’s viewing/listening. After the Warrioirs blew their 18-0 lead at home to Newcastle it came to 7:30pm and it’s where the issue struck me.

I was without access to any live coverage  of the Parramatta versus Melbourne clash which was arguably the most anticipated match of the round given the circumstances of both clubs. In the case of Eels it was how would they react to coach Stephen Kearney leaving and for the Storm the heat was on for a win.

The Foxtel default game was South Sydney’s match-up with St George Illawarra and both radio broadcasters went with that game… Thus began my Twitter embargo until I had seen the replay of the Eels’ 16-10 upset triumph which followed the Rabbitohs win.

As a new parent I am starting to learn my time will become increasingly scarce and being able to access matches live and at a reasonable time (not ones that finish at 11:15pm for two nights running,taking into account often a Friday night game) becomes more important.

I was able to watch the game on replay, no problems, but a person without access to Foxtel/Austar and perhaps with a new baby who is trying to relax on a Saturday evening should be able to hear, as a minimum, a live radio description of the game.

Round 20 was by no means the first time this has happened during the season.

The Melbourne-Souths contest on Sunday night in round two created the same dilemma and from what I remember elicited a lot of talk along this line. Particularly as it was the only game on in that timeslot.

I guess the situation I was in recently amplified to me the point about the market which is been missed.

So as a great man once said, don’t come to me with problem’s come to me with a solution:

* Use the talent pool. Many local radio stations of the current radio rights holders and their associated networks have teams for local matches (eg Canberra, North Queensland and Newcastle) so it’s not as if there are not enough callers for the matches. Although travelling can be an issue but maybe it’s time to explore using those already experienced more often.

* Think laterally. In the case of Melbourne the most knowledgeable rugby league person connected to a local radio station is actually Rob Gilbert (brother of Channel 9’s Tim Gilbert). Rob works in the sales department of 3AW and would be a fine sideline eye. The depth of rugby league folk connected to key radio stations in Melbourne is probably part of the problem I am seeking to address.

* Simulcast game commentary from Fox Sports/Sky Sports on-line. I see no reason why a simulcast from Fox Sports (or Sky in New Zealand) can’t be utilised with an extra fee paid to Fox Sports to cover this. The style would not be the same as a radio commentary but it provides an alternative to nothing.

I concede radio broadcast rights do not bring in anywhere near the revenue of television. However, it still plays an important apart of the media mix of rugby league in Australia.

Leading sports leagues over the world have access to a strong vibrant radio coverage. The NFL in the USA has often two radio calls (home and away team) each week. The Football League in the UK (the three divisions below the premier league) have the same but they also charge sometimes up to 30 pounds a year so you can access your team’s radio call for each match.

This is often linked to other exclusive web content and things like a text message with the team one hour before kick-off etc. I’m not saying the NRL should go down the latter road but it’s always good to compare similar situations.

The NRL deserves comprehensive broadcast coverage (radio included.) Technology, expansion of digital radio and record TV figures for the game means we now have the technology and market which proves the current radio coverage should be expanded.


THE WRAP: NRL Round 19 2012


YOU would think that a Neville Nobody like me would appreciate the opportunity to have a greater involvement in the radio broadcast of the match of the season.

But when I learned that Andrew Johns had the flu and I was to be the sole sideline eye at last night’s Sydney Roosters-South Sydney epic, my feelings were less than enthusiastic. On Sunday night I got back from Canberra at 9pm. I got up at 2.30am yesterday to watch the Challenge Cup semi between Huddersfield and Warrington. Between 4.45am and 6am I slept again. And from 6am until it was time to leave for Allianz Stadium at 4.15pm, I wrote five stories for Rugby League Week including a 1500 word feature.

Monday is RLW deadline day. What I really needed was two coach interviews at 5pm, two at 9.30, checking on injuries during the game  and that’s it – which is the way some Mondays go for me on Triple M’s Monday Night Football, if I’m lucky.

Instead, I got a ringside seat for the closest thing we get to miracles now they’ve stopped adding chapters to holy books, an evening that should have reminded us all that rugby league is not just “product”, “content” or what might even be lucky enough to call work. After conceding two tries in the final three minutes to lose their last game against Sydney Roosters, South Sydney scored two in the same period to win.

These co-incidences do not happen elsewhere in the universe. We are involved in a group endeavour that somehow creates an environment for them to happen, like some sort of Hadron Collider – but better. As he waited to be interviewed on air after a loss he described as “gut-busting”, Roosters coach Brian Smith still had the wherewithal to muse: “That’s what’s so special about live sport. That’s why people watch it.”

Live radio can be scary if you psyche yourself out and it takes years to realise that if you stuff up, it’s no big deal. It’s not like you mucked up the moon landing and accidentally landed on Mars. It’s footy, after all. Before doing a sideline on the ABC, I scribble out a few notes – the team changes, weather and ground conditions on one page, a list of stats on the next, and a point on each player on the following two.

Sometimes you do not use even one of those points in a call, but it’s a nice security blanket to have.

Things went OK until fulltime but then the enormity of the game, the fact it would be talked about for years, and my fatigue kind of kicked in. As a print journalist, I would have been happy with the quotes we got from John Sutton, Issac Luke, Greg Inglis, Adam Reynolds, Brian Smith and Michael Maguire. So would my colleagues, just quietly, who were still waiting outside the Souths rooms almost an hour later!

But as a broadcaster, I thought I was a bit untidy – some unnecessary pauses and slight stumbling over questions. You want to do the occasion justice.

It didn’t help that Sutton and Luke were absolutely exhausted by the time I reached them a minute or so after the siren.. “We never give up in any football game, no matter how short the time is, and we just proved it then,” said Sutton. “There’s more bunnies supporters than Roosters supports here and it really helped get us home.”

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