THE JOY OF SIX: NRL Round 17 2015


SO David Klemmer accidentally knocked out a NSW staffer who was holding a tackling bag? If he is on the field for a kick-off on Wednesday, Maroons players are best advised to stay out of his sight. The Beast Of Belmore has revealed he spots an opposition player from 30 or more metres away and tries to cause as much damage as possible by running over the top of him in such situations. “Whoever I see, I try to spot someone and run as hard as I can at them,” Klemmer told Triple M in the aftermath of the Belmore triumph last Monday. “I’ve probably got someone lined up to run at before the kick-off. As soon as I get it, I’m going straight for him.”


THE silence flawlessly observed for Phil Walsh before the weekend’s three NRL games made your correspondent proud to be involved in rugby league. Such unity, such empathy. Now, if I add a ‘but’ to that, someone is bound to take it the wrong way. I’ll just say this: Danny Jones, James Ackerman and Zane Purcell died playing rugby league this year. Ackerman was honoured at two NRL games. I would like to have seen the whole comp observe a minute’s silence for each of them. Sometimes NRL clubs seem culturally isolated from the rest of rugby league – particularly overseas – while identifying themselves more closely with big time leagues in other sports. To reiterate, I fully support the solidarity shown regarding Walsh – maybe we can honour the three we lost on grand final day.


IN a manner of speaking, I have a small inkling of how Cameron Smith feels after Sunday night’s 60 Minutes program. I covered the game in which Alex McKinnon was injured, for radio and for the newspaper. Like Cameron, I misread the situation completely. When people told me Alex’ treatment was “just precautionary” and that he reacted the way he did because he “got a fright”, I foolishly believed them. Fox’s Andy Raymond showed himself to be, frankly, a better journalist in the way he reported on the injury. Like Smith, I focused too much on the short term – in my case, trying to get a quote in the paper. I did that – but the quote was another well-intentioned smother. I am sorry for my performance and my decisions that night, which do not stand up to scrutiny. I wish I could change them. I’m sure Cameron feels the same.


TEAMS are fined if they are late onto the field for a match but what if the game starts late? Who gets fined then? This was the dichotomy highlighted by St George Illawarra officials when they were told by the TV floor manager  to stay in the sheds an extra five minutes at WIN Stadium on Saturday night.  No-one could argue with the point made, either. Still at Wollongong, while the commentators sought to honour the days of the Steelers, it was a boy from the local suburb of Windang – North Queensland centre Kane Linnett – who was the hero for the visitors. Asked if Linnett was feeling the cold as much as his tropical team-mates, NQ captain Gavin Cooper said:  “He can wear a singlet because he’s got that much hair over his back.”


I AM indebted to reader “Pete” for this example of why the idea of restricting representative suspensions to representative games is an intellectual miscarriage. “So Justin Hodges could go out on Wednesday night in his last origin game before retirement and cause absolute mayhem and cop six million demerit points and be suspended for next year’s origin series that he won’t be playing in anyway yet not miss any club games?” A million demerit points? I told you a trillion times not to exaggerate, Pete. Expect the Ennis loophole to be closed as soon as 9am Thursday. Suspensions will expire at the start of the following round.


ORIGIN shmorigin. The real rugby league grudge match was played over the weekend – and get ready with you “red zone” puns. Russia defeated the Ukraine 34-20 in neutral Belgrade to move a step closer to qualifying for the 2017 World Cup. “Russia was a really tough opponent,” said Ukraine coach Gennardy Veprik, no doubt echoing the thoughts of millions of his countrymen. Present at the game was RLIF chairman Nigel Wood, who will take part in something called the Founders Walk from July 19 to 24. Participants will walk 193km from St Helens to Hull, taking in the grounds of all the original Northern Union clubs from 1895.


THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week Seven

ENGLAND coach Steve McNamara has been retained. When asked by Set of Six what process would determine who has the job next year, Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood told us: “There is no process because there is no vacancy. Steve is 12 months into a two year contract.” When McNamara joined Sydney Roosters at the start of the year and his RFL contract was renegotiated, no term was made public. What of Australia’s Tim Sheens? He would no doubt be seeking a three year extension to take him though to the next World Cup. His old protege Mal Meninga could be an alternative candidate. Sheens said Australia only had one Test next year – even though the TV contract demands two

THERE was a touching moment on the field at fulltime on Saturday night when some Australian team staff had a whisper in the ear of captain Cameron Smith to let him know winger Sione Matautia was doing it tough. Matautia could easily have been the hero with a last-ditch try that was called back for a forward pass but was no doubt upset at the performance of opposite number Manu Vatuvei. Smith comforted Matautia in concert with some team-mates. We can’t remember Australia ever fielding a player with fewer than 10 games experience against a man with almost 200 – with the foreigner plying his trade in what was once the “Sydney premiership”!

WOOD is also the chairman of the Rugby League International Federation and he has warned against getting carried away with the performance of Samoa in the Four Nations. There are calls for an annual New Zealand-Samoa three-Test series at Origin time. “Our priority must be to construct a clear, fair fixture calendar for all member countries,” Wood said, “Sometimes it is tempting to a react to a good one-off Test performance but only 12 months ago we all thought Fiji were clearly our number four country. We have to look beyond knee jerk reactions, our priority is to build countries four to eight,” Wood gave little away regarding the quest for an RLIF CEO, aside from saying the search was “on-going”. He said the much-vaunted 12-year calendar would be from 2018 to 2029, with the next two seasons already settled,

THE aftermath of the final was something of a strip show, with some Australian players throwing everything into the crowd by their jocks, Sam Thaiday emerged for the dressingrooms with his entire kit back and began flinging its contents into the terraces like an automatic sprinkler. Cameron Smith, Greg Bird and Greg Inglis were also very generous, The Kiwis performed a post-game hake and then returned to the ground when it was empty to reflect on the victory, as is now customary. They must have got a shock when the cleaning staff started shouting and applauding them as they stood in a circle some time around midnight.
donate2SHAUN Johnson was so excited at fulltime he dropped the F-bomb on Triple M. The former touch footballer was probably man of the tournament and really came of age over the last month and a bit. He also made an interesting statement at the media conference: it was the first time he had been part of a team that had set a goal and them achieved it. That realisation will mean a lot for the Warriors in 2015 – Johnson could become an all time great. It was the first of the Kiwis’ four tournament victories over the last nine years to be registered in front of a home crowd and the first back-to-back wins against Australia since 1953.


THIS is the last Set of Six for 2014, although Discord will continue during the break. Where has the year left us? Some of rugby league’s problems can be solved, others can’t. Young men will always misbehave. Bigger, more wealthy sports will always poach players. Most of our solvable problems are a result of parochialism and self-interest. There are signs that these flaws are finally being addressed: the game is becoming more inclusive, there is a growing realisation there are too many teams in Sydney and the importance of international competition is finally dawning on even the most conservative commentators and administrators. We are getting more people of influence who don’t rely on the game as a meal ticket and who can therefore act with a greater degree of altruism. Onwards and upwards. See you in 2015.


NRL round one: MELBOURNE 23 MANLY 22 in golden point time at Brookvale Oval

MELBOURNE coach Craig Bellamy revealed he would have given the job of kicking the winning field goal in an amazing comeback win over Manly to someone else if he’d known captain Cameron Smith had not booted one in his NRL career.
The Storm trailed 20-0 eight minutes before halftime, levelled the scores 15 minutes into the second half, hit the from with 13 left in regulation time and secured an historic when when captain Smith – playing a club record equaling 262nd game – booted a 22-metre field goal four minutes into overtime.
It was Manly’s worst capitulation at home and Melbourne’s equal-second biggest comeback, although hooker Smith described it as the best in which he had been involved.
“It’s the first field goal I’ve kicked since under 16s, actually – back at Logan Brothers,” Smith said. “The best I have is a couple of pot shots at the end of the week from 40 out, as a lot of footballers do … I don’t do any practice at all.”
The admission surprised Bellamy, who commented: “We sent out the message for Cameron to do it … I hadn’t realised he hadn’t kicked one before, I wouldn’t have made that decision if I’d known. We probably would have gone (Benny Roberts) on Benny Hampton”
The Sea Eagles were cruising at 20-0 when fullback Brett Stewart sought attention for a sore hamstring 10 minutes before halftime. Stewart did not return for the second half and in his absence, Australia captain Smith took firm control of proceedings.
The 29-year-old’s bomb to the north-eastern corner gave winger Sisa Waqa his first try seven minutes short of halftime and the long road back continued six after the resumption of play when the Fijian completed his brace off the pass of Billy Slater.
Again it was the no.9’s scheming which gave five-eighth Ben Hampton a 52nd-minute try – converted by Smith – that narrowed the gap to six.
The spirits of the 14,000 crowd, dampened by a rain shower, were completely drowned when Kenny Bromwich crossed between the posts after Hampton fielded a kick and Jesse Bromwich almost knocked on at 55 minutes.
The penalty which allowed Smith to boot his side ahead for the first time also landed Manly tryscorer Justin Horo on report for a high tackle. A penalty at the other end gave Lyon the chance to square things up and magnificent defence from Ryan Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hoffman precent a Cheyse Blair try shortly after the start of golden point time. Ben Roberts missed a field goal attempt before Smith’s successful pot-shot.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey admitted the loss of Stewart – who hopes to play against South Sydney on Friday – had been a turning point “but when you’re up by 20 points at Brookvale Oval, you don’t lose from there.
“There was a massive change in posession. It will be interesting to watch the video and see what happened.”
Bellamy said: “The score could have been more in the first half, we made some bad decisions in defence.
“We’ve got a few young guys in our side who it probably would have been easy for them to be shellshocked by that score. They made a couple of errors as well but they didn’t go away, they kept doing their job.”
According to Lyon, former Eagle George Rose knocked on while playing the ball, shortly before the end of regulation time. “It’s a bit hard (for the ball) to get from your hands to your feed without dropping it when you’re on the ground,” Lyon said.
Lyon approached referee Gerard Sutton about the alleged fumble but Rose countered: “It didn’t happen. Killer always goes up to the ref. That’s why they changed the rule!”

MELBOURNE 23 (S Waqa 2 B Hampton K Bromwich tries C Smith 3 goals field goal) bt MANLY 22 (S Matai 2 C Blair J Horo tries J Lyon 3 goals) in golden point time at Brookvale Oval. Referees: G Sutton/G Reynolds. Crowd: 14,200.

Filed for: SUN-HERALD

DISCORD 2013: Edition 47

YOUR correspondent has a tough decision to make before Christmas – how to vote in the Golden Boot poll.
The nominees for that gong that goes to the best player in the world have been released today: Johnathan Thurston, Sonny Bill Williams, Danny Brough, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Sam Burgess.

It seems like a pretty good list to me. Thurston was man of the match in the World Cup final, Williams was RLIF Player of the Year, Brough won Man of Steel, Cronk got the Dally M, Smith and Burgess were consistently outstanding.

I’d be interested – and maybe even swayed – by your comments over who should get it. I won’t say mine will be a “vote for the people” but I’ll listen. Personally, at this early stage, I’m leaning towards Thurston – even though he was on my bench in the Team Of The World Cup which was published in the final match programme.

Thurston was rested during the tournament while the United States Joseph Paulo played every game and played well. That is not a contention that Paulo is a better player. To me, the spirit of such teams is that you don’t take into account the quality of the opposition, you just look at performances.

In fact, that’s the spirit of the whole World Cup, why it’s not just about who won. Anyway, let me know who you think should win the Golden Boot.
AUSTRALIA were unbelievably ruthless last Saturday but anyone labelling the performance the ‘most complete in memory’ has a short memory.
In the 2004 Tri-Nations final at Elland Road, Australia led 38-0 at halftime on the way to a 44-4 win. The Great Britain side they beat had been widely tipped to give them a run – they finished top of the competition table – and there had even been injury and illness concerns for the Australians before kick-off.

But the Aussies played football as close to perfect as any this reporter has ever seen in the opening 40 minutes.
We ran into Shane Webcke – who played in the game – on the way out of Old Trafford on Saturday and checked that our memories were not deceiving us. He said that while the Aussies had been great on Saturday, the 2004 performance was something else again.

“And I am the one who came closest to making a mistake in that first half,” he said.
WIGAN coach Shaun Wane knows Super League clubs can’t compete with the NRL or rugby union financially – so he tries to reward them with life experiences.
That’s why the Super League champions are looking at playing PNG in Kopoko on February 15. The proposal to play the Warriors in Auckland is back on the table, I understand – just a couple of days before the Nines.

That would make for a fantastic week of rugby league in the City of Sails but the problem is that Matt Elliott’s side has pledged it will field its best side and the Nines and Wigan don’t want to play against second stringers.
If the game against PNG – which will be their last warm-up before joining the Queensland Cup – is played, I’ll be going to a little place called Kokopo, not Eden Park.
OK, a few comments now.

read on

2013 Season Review: MELBOURNE STORM

Melbourne - logoBy STEVE MASCORD

CAMERON Smith is standing in the middle of AAMI Park, trying to explain a premiership defence that fell a fortnight short.

“It wasn’t enough right from the start,” the Australia captain says with a shake of the head. “It’s pretty much been the story of the second half of our season, really.

“…just giving teams head starts and you can’t do that this time of year, in particular.

“You could look at all different things throughout the season. In particular, State of Origin takes its toll – but it takes its toll on every team, not just ust.

“But we seemed to struggle a bit more than usual, than in past years. We still had the team to win it.”

The loss to Newcastle on September 21 was an upset; the Knights first win in the Victorian capital for nine years. And despite what Smith says, there had been no repeat of the previous season’s five consecutive losses around the Origin series.

The Storm were the first side in premiership history to run up 60 points against two sides in the same season.

But there were a couple of heavy defeats too; defeats which it’s hard to imagine recent Storm sides incurring, like 22-4 to Wests Tigers and 39-0 to Canterbury.

After returning from the World Club Challenge victory over Leeds, the Storm were faced with a rigorous schedule. But they managed early wins over St George Illawarra, North Queensland, Canterbury, Brisbane, South Sydney and the Warriors and there was some early speculation they might go through undefeated.

Canberra ended that on May 4 with a 24-20 boilover at AAMI Park. The next week, an away loss to Penrith. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a side that beat Melbourne,” Panthers halfback Luke Walsh enthused at fulltime.

The Monday Night Football encounter with Manly on May 20 finished in a 10-10 draw and, as a high quality contest, marked a return to form. A worthy away win over the Roosters followed.

But then came the Origin series.

A 38-6 win over Cronulla was followed by a nailbiting success over Newcastle. Then came the Wests Tigers and Canterbury losses, with a 32-0 shutout of Brisbane in between.

The minor premiership was slipping away; after Origin there was a further eight point defeat in Auckland to the Warriors, who were finally picking up some momentum of their own.

Then came the 68-4 win in Canberra and a gutsy 26-8 home success against South Sydney. Smith was superb in a 23-10 win in Newcastle and then there was another 60-point flogging, of Parramatta.

But a trip to Brookvale that ended in a 28-8 loss to Manly showed Melbourne still had ground to make up on the top teams. The regular season was rounded out with a one-point win over Gold Coast at AAMI, where a refereeing call helped the home side.

Then it was a straight-sets exit from the play-offs, with defeats to Souths and the Knights.

“If you take out the last two weeks, it’s been a really good year for us,” said coach Craig Bellamy. “We went over to England and won the World Club Challenge, we started the year with six or seven wins in a row.

“After that, we hit a few rough patches but we came through those rough patches pretty well and found a way to come third in the minor premiership.

“Our draw this year, how it worked out: we travelled a lot early, to hot places, and we had short turnarounds. We came through it well.”

But when the finals came around, there wasn’t enough left in the tank for the world champions.

After the Knights defeat, Bellamy declared: “A lot of you people thought we didn’t have that September buzz, for want of a better word.

“And I think you were right. Whether it’s want, desire, the reason to believe, I’m not quite sure. The last couple of weeks, we just haven’t had that something that you need in September.”

For hooker Smith, 2013 will take a bit of getting over.

“The disappointing thing is not that we’ve gone out of the competition but the way we’ve gone out,” he said.

“It wasn’t our best performance, the last two weeks. We had a team there capable of doing something this year but we didn’t play good enough when it mattered.

“It’s going to hurt … I’m not thinking about next year yet. I’ll probably have a couple of sleepless nights … pondering what could have been this year.

“We’ve got a great side, we’re losing a couple of guys. Brett Finch and Jason Ryles, they’re finishing up

“It’s hard, in this competition, to go all the way. This is our worst result, taking out 2010 (when the Storm’s salary cap punishment involved playing for no points) since 2005, when we haven’t made a prelim or a grand final.

“That’s a fair achievement for an organisation.”


Storm Laments Poor Start Not Disallowed Tries

Melbourne - Cameron SmithBy STEVE MASCORD

THERE were two disallowed tries about which he could have complained loudly, but Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith instead applied the blowtorch to himself and his charges.

The Storm’s premiership defence is hanging by a thread after their 20-10 qualifying final loss to South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Friday. The world champions’ cause wasn’t helped by would-be tries to winger Sisa Waqa (32 minutes) and fullback Billy Slater (64) being chalked off by the video referees.

And Waqa was hospitalised with injuries to discs in his back after a spectacular aerial collision with opposite number Dylan Farrell late in the match.

“We need to make a decision, as a team, where we want to go now for the rest of this season,’ said disconsolate hooker Smith.

“It’s really in our hands, what we want to do with it. We’ve got three games to go – or three possible games – but we’ve got to turn it around quick from that performance tonight.

“To me, it just comes back to individuals and how much importance they place on the ball when they’ve got it in their hands.

“For some reason, it’s been a trend for us at the back end of the year. We can’t hold onto the footy, we invite the opposition down to our own end and we’re putting pressure on ourselves.

“It’s frustrating, it’s really frustrating. I can’t remember the last time we scored first. It wouldn’t have been many times out of the last dozen matches.

“To get on that tryline in the first 10 minutes and talk to the boys, it’s just the same old thing.”

It was a stark assessment for a team which has dominated the NRL for long periods over the last decade.

Coach Craig Bellamy added: “Our mental toughness, I’ve got no doubt we’ve got enough of that. It’s whether we’ve got the respect for the footy at the start of games. That’s the question.

“That’s been a real disappointing part of our game. I think we completed one of our first five tonight, or two of our first six – some ridiculous amount.”

The Waqa try was disallowed because of inconclusive video evidence after on-field referee Shayne Hayne said ‘no try’, while Will Chambers was found to have stopped Souths’ Nathan Merritt catching Cooper Cronk’s bomb when Slater claimed what would have been his second four-pointer.

“The first one … it was probably a fair ruling in that there wasn’t any conclusive evidence to overturn the referee’s decision,” said Bellamy.

“Som times I don’t think the referee can get a real good view of it either, so why should you make a decision on no try, or try, if you don’t really see it?

“Shane might have seen something there but five (camera) angles couldn’t tell.

“The other try was a real tough call against us, to be quite honest. He said Will took Merritt out. At the same time (Bryson) Goodwin was escorting Will, who knocked him off balance. Will didn’t have a proper shot at the ball because of the escort.”

Smith said Slater claim was “a fair try … I thought it was a fair contest”.

Bellamy said that while Farrell meant no harm in the collision with Waqa, “he tackled him early, before he had the ball. Sisa was going up, he knocked him off balance before he even had the ball.

“That’s the reason why it was so ugly.”

On the use of five-eighth Gareth Widdop, in what was his first game back from a dislocated hip, Bellamy explained: “Finchy (Brett Finch, shoulder and sternum) wasn’t fit to play.

“It’s a bit more serious than what they first thought.”

While Widdop was somewhat tentative on Friday, he is expected to benefit from the run when Melbourne plays Canterbury or Newcastle on Saturday night at AAMI Park.

Filed for: THE AGE

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 26

THREE games on the final day of the regular season exposed an unintended benefit of the second tier salary cap and an unforseen danger of changing it without careful consideration. With the finals spots assured, Cronulla and Manly fielded somewhat under strength sides but still put up a fight and provided fans and broadcasters with credible entertainment. Some 16,949 km away, Super League minor premiers Huddersfield rested almost their entire side and were lapped 58-6 by Bradfordon national television. The only thing stopping the same happening here is the second tier salary cap, which limits the number of players outside each club’s top 25 who can appear in first grade. “That’s right – I definitely thought about leaving out more,” Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan told Joy Of Six. “We don’t have a problem with our second tier cap but if there was none, you’d consider resting them all.”

RUGBY league just can’t help but go around in circles. In 2005, when 41,260 saw St George Illawarra play Wests Tigers in a preliminary final the Sydney Football Stadium, the outcry over the number of fans locked out led to a policy change which introduced greater flexibility into the scheduling of play-offs. That flexibility was gradually extended to the point where the NRL now has complete control over which Sydney venues are used for which matches. The downside of that is that venues can’t be booked in advance. This opens the door to the AFL getting in first, and that has resulted in a double header at Allianz Stadium this Saturday, back where it all started. And what will be the main criticism of the double header? That fans are locked out. Will we then see a call for finals venues to be booked further in advance?

THE chattering opposition to golden point is becoming a roar with even Australia captain Cameron Smith joining in after Melbourne’s narrow escape against Gold Coast. “It’s got no rules, there’re no rules in golden point,” said Gold Coast coach John Cartwright. “It’s good for the crowd, the fans, they cheer. But one of the field goal attempts Aiden Sezer went for, Cameron Smith was five metres offside. I understand they don’t want to give a penalty because we were doing the same thing. But does that make it good for the game? ‘Cause it doesn’t. It comes down to a lottery”. As for the try Sezer had disallowed, Gird Bird yesterday put a screen grab on Instagram which showed Ben Ridge not touching the ball as he tackled Billy Slater. Cartwright mused: “They’ll find a way to say they got it right and pat themselves on the back but they got that one wrong.”

GOLD Coast giant David Taylor has become such an enigma that friends and foes have discarded the standard diplomacy in describing the mind-blowing extent of his unrealised potential. “He could play like that every week if he wanted to but it comes down to him, whether he wants to do it,” said Cameron Smith after a fearsome DT outing on Saturday. “Hopefully he looks at that game that he played tonight and says ‘why don’t I do that every week?’ He’s a Queenslander, so hopefully he does.” John Cartwright said now that Taylor’s switch was in the ‘on’ position, the trick was to keep it there. “It is pretty simple – as long as Dave don’t complicate things … his last two weeks, he’s been unstoppable,” the coach said. “Where that’s been all year? We’re not the only club where he’s struggled for consistency. We think there’s a player there who can win us games of football. We won’t give up on him, we’ll keep working on him.”


EVEN if North Queensland wins the comp, coach Neil Henry says there’s no hope of him sticking around. The Cowboys are undefeated in six games since Henry was sacked, with the calls for the club to reconsider growing steadily louder. “I think it’s off the table,” Henry said on the ABC yesterday. “I think they’ve canvassed a number of potential coaches … they’ve shortlisted it down for further interviews. I’m down the track with possibilities for me. We’re just getting on with the season. I’, pretty resigned to the fact. I’ve had a lot of support up here.” Henry says the Cowboys will find it difficult to omit prop Matt Scott (finger) next week.

A REALLY interesting trend in rugby league is players who have had occasionally prickly relationships with the media seeking to become journalists. Jamie Soward wants to be involved in general sports broadcasting when he retires, Jamal Idris is studying journalism and retiring Scott Prince revealed on Thursday night he was about to commence a Sports PR course at university. All three eemed willing to foster good relationships with reporters early in their careers but somewhere along the line became aggrieved. With Soward it was criticism over his form, with Idris it was unflattering pictures in newspapers and with Prince it was the Titans salary cap scandal. Perhaps their personal interest in the media makes them more aware of criticism. Maybe they want to change the system from within.\


Farah Says Marshall Going Nowhere; Manager Not So Sure

Benji Marshall/wikipedia

Benji Marshall/wikipedia


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referees: Jared Maxwell/Grant Atkins.

Filed for: THE AGE