BONDI BEAT: October 2016

Brlw-novembr-2016y STEVE MASCORD

THE departure of Stephen Kearney as coach of our number one ranked nation, just weeks before the Four Nations, raises a host of intriguing questions.
One must be the inescapable conclusion that coaching a tier one Test team is a post with decisively less prestige than heading up an NRL franchise.
Wayne Bennett would never have chosen England over Brisbane, not in a month of Suncorp Stadium Friday nights.
Mal Meninga at least chose Australia over Queensland but if he was offered, say, Bennett’s job, how long would he stick around? And he also upset Papua New Guinea by walking out on them.
And even though Kearney could have been ready to start work at the Warriors’ Penrose offices by the end of November, he chose to step aside immediately he was picked to replace Andrew McFadden.
At the time of writing, David Kidwell was favourite to replace Kearney. Like Kearney, he has been biding his time as an NRL assistant and comes well recommended.
What will be interesting is how Kidwell handles the politics in the Kiwis camp. Kearney was adept at politely sidestepping questions about why the likes of Benji Marshall and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves were on the outer for periods.
He was also adept at not picking players he felt did not fit into the culture in order to attract those questions. It was the diplomatic equivalent of one of Marshall’s best passes.
Whether Kidwell inherits an sort of unspoken blacklist or gives everyone a fresh start will be extremely interesting to observe.
.
IT might seem self-evident but I’m still surprised that a club chief executive would come out and say it.
In a recent episode of the excellent Fox Market Watch podcast, Canberra’s Don Furner admitted the national capital’s cold weather was a key recruitment tool for English players.
Next year, Jordan Turner will join Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead at GIO Stadium
“Without a doubt there’s been a sea change in Australia,” Furner told the podcast. “People like to live at the beach and in the warmth and Canberra gets a bad rap.
“We didn’t have the beach and warm weather that could maybe attract players for less money.
“To get a kid from Manly beach or Newcastle beach to move down here, it’s not easy.
“We certainly changed our focus a while ago because we realised those guys don’t want to live here. It’s really hard for them.
“We’ve just extended Elliott and we’re signing up another one for next year actually, so we think we go all right with Englishman, they don’t mind the cold.”
Whitehead, meanwhile, said he “felt sick” conceding the penalty that allowed Cronulla to down the Green Machine in the first week of the finals.
An example of how highly Hodgson is held came from club great Laurie Daley, who said that while the Raiders could get into a grand final without the former Hull KR rake, they would not be able to win one in his absence.
.
MORE often than not, a day or so before this column is due I am bereft of ideas. Many of the day-to-day happenings in rugby league are cyclical, if not downright repetitive.
But there are few other areas of human endeavour, particularly those to have been pursued for 121 years, so consistently capable of jaw-dropping ridiculousness.
And so it was one Thursday morning, on Facebook, I got an alert saying “Live: Eddie Hayson media conference”. Say what?
Now, I am familiar with Facebook Live. My wedding was on it. But former brothel owners who owe millions of dollars calling media conferences? This was innovative.
Hayson had called the Sydney rugby league media together to answer allegations he had been involved in match fixing. The New South Wales police had taken the issue so seriously, it had formed a strike force to deal with the allegations.
Hayson went on to name a bikie says had given the police knowledge of his involvement. He named a bikie, Antonio Torres, as the man who sold the cops a dummy and pornography baron Con Ange as the one who embellished it to journalists.
He named the journalists whom he believed had wronged him – the Sydney Morning Herald’s Kate McClymont, Channel Seven’s Josh Massoud and the Daily Telegraph’s Rebecca Wilson.
Then, he allowed two them to cross examine him!
Yes, he had tried to put $30,000 into the betting account of Kieran Foran. Yes, he owed boxer Jeff Fenech millions. Yes, rugby league players, police and judges had visited his brothel. Yes he had given them “freebies”.
He gave several people money “because he liked them”. He could afford PR to stars Max Markson because he had had a few wins on the punt recently.
Need I go on?
Hayson ended up denying two allegations and confirming a dozen others – while paying for the platform himself!
I’m sure these sorts of things happen in other sports. Just can’t think of one at the moment.
.
LAST month we waved the flag (Stars and Stripes, of course) for the American 2021 World Cup bid. We kind of think it’s a good idea.
Of course, these things are dictated as much by money as anything else and the International Federation relies on the profits from World Cups to run the sport for the next four years.
An American World Cup with empty stadiums, little television income and a massive financial black hole would be a disaster for the game, both logistically and from the point of view of our image.
But here’s the thing.
Promoter Jason Moore plans to just give an “eight figure sum” to the RLIF for the right to run the tournament. That’s at least $10 million. Furthermore, he says he will plough another multi-million-dollar investment onto American rugby league.
Now, next year’s World Cup is currently projected to make only $7 million.
I know the offer in the UK is Stg15 million plus infrastructure. I am not sure if the infrastructure figure is conditional on Britain being granted the tournament.
But I ask you this, as a rugby league fans, would you really rather a few nice facilities than someone take on all the risk of taking the game to American and handing over a check for $10 million, making it the more successful than the previous tournament?
No doubt the RLIF would like to ease America in by giving them the new Continental Cup first. Moore doesn’t seem the sort of guy for consolation prizes, however.
Guaranteed 10 mill, no risk, America … Tweet me with your thoughts at @BondiBeat.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUR WORLD

The A-List: Josh Hodgson (Canberra & England)

Hodgson, Josh
Photo credit: Rugby League Week
By STEVE MASCORD

HAD Hull Kingston Rovers not tried to extend their contract with hooker Josh Hodgson some 18 months ago, he might be still playing for them.

You read that right.

The 26-year-old returns to Canberra this month for his second season a player transformed. From a solid first-teamer in Humberside who’d had a taste of international football, he kept the legendary James Roby on the bench for the entire winning series against New Zealand.

One popular narrative is how he’s still breaking down barriers a year after smashing through a door at a Dunedin student dorm.

But had the Robins not tried to secure him to a long-term contract in the middle of 2014, Hodgson’s career may have not taken the series of left turns that has him a bona fide rugby league A-Lister heading into the coming season.

“I’d always expressed my feelings to Hull KR that if I’d got my chance to go to the NRL, I’d go,” says the affable Yorkshireman, taking a seat in one of the many lounge areas at the plush St George’s Park Hotel at Burton-on-Trent.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 09.24.13“I’d spoken to them about it previously and I think I’d signed up for another two years. They said ‘why don’t we tie up a new deal and we’ll try to write out the whole ‘you going to the NRL’ clause? We’ll sign a new deal and kick that to the curb so we know we’ve got you for this set period of time’.

“We started negotiations into a new deal for quite a length of time and we probably nearly had it sorted out until my agent told me that Canberra was interested.

“I think they enquired about me.

“Ricky (Stuart) asked Nathan Brown how I went and I think he gave me a good wrap. Then, from what Sticky tells me, he watched a couple of our games and liked what he saw, liked how I played, and just approached my agent to see if I was available and obviously my agent contacted me and told me what the interest was, to see what I wanted to do … whether I wanted to keep negotiations going with Hull KR and probably play out my years there, to be honest, or whether I wanted to go ahead with the dream and go and test myself over there.

“As soon as it came up, I kind of knew what I wanted to do. I’ve got quite a good relationship with the chairman in Neil Hudgell at Hull KR. I sat down with him and had a chat with him and he was good about the whole thing.”

Normally, we’d now be moving on to 2015 and Hodgson’s industrious 24 appearances for the green machine. But we’ve still got a few, um, doors to go through first.

He knew the conversation would get there eventually.

So, England have just been eliminated for the 2014 Four Nations…

“It was at a party. There were holes in the door. The people at the party said ‘we’re getting a new door Monday’. Then someone decided to shout ‘why don’t you run through it?’ They said ‘you might as well, we’re getting a new door Monday’, If the people who owned the place were telling you you might as well do it .. if I’d had my time again I obviously wouldn’t have done it but …..”

Josh Hodgson became a misbehaving NRL player before he was an NRL player.

“We all flew back to Sydney and from Sydney I went to Canberra and they all flew home. We had another night there (in Dunedin) as well.

“I was definitely serious and down and probably hating life a little as well. Just a lot of regrets.

“It got blown up out of proportion. People made out that we trashed the place and it was nothing like that. I don’t want to go into detail too much. It was a mistake and you learn from your mistakes. That’s what everybody does, as a player and as an individual and as a person in life.

“I spoke to Sticky the next morning, He just said the same as you – what happened? I told him what happened. I said ‘what do you want me to do?’ He said ‘we’ll wait donate2until you get back to Canberra’. When I got to Canberra, he said ‘just be honest. Say exactly what you just said to me, tell them what happened and we’ll wipe a clean slate, get you ready and looking forward to training, get you settled in here’.”

It took a couple of weeks for Hodgson, who knew almost before he could walk that he’d be a rugby league player, to get over being in the Aussie headlines.

Then there was a new hurdle: self-doubt.

“It was all really unknown and as much as I’d played four or five years at Super League level I was … not doubting myself but your confidence levels do drop a bit. You do think ‘am I good enough, am I going to make it, will I get in the team at Canberra? Will I make a success of myself over here? What’s the pace of the game going to be like? There’re just so many questions that go around in your mind. You don’t know how you’re going to adapt to that kind of league and that kind of intensity every week. It was a tough time, especially at the start. Mentally it tests you. You’ve got to stay strong in yer ‘ead and back yourself and work hard. (That) is the main thing I definitely had to do. I just had to knuckle down and believe in myself and really put in the hours.”

advertise hereWhat got Hodgson focused was also what shocked him – how competitive it is WITHIN an NRL club.

“The intensity in training and the competition for places was definitely another level. The amount of fighting we had between people itching to get that starting jersey for round one and right through the year the competition for places … the guys that were playing at Mounties the majority of weeks and the guys that were playing first team, we had to do opposed against each other and it used to get pretty full-on because everyone’s trying to impress Sticky and trying to get their name on the team sheet. That was definitely an eye-opener for me and it does bring out the best in ya.”

By the time father Dave and mum Nikki arrived in the national capital for round one, however, their son had the nine jersey in his keeping.

“They came for the first four games and they really loved it. They probably didn’t want to leave, if I’m honest.

“I love Canberra. I think it’s a fantastic place. My mum and dad did as well. It does get a bad rap but I don’t know why. I think it’s just because Aussies like beaches. I ain’t a fan of beaches so I’m alright.”

By the end of the season, our man says, he was a completely different player to the one Rovers had tried so desperately to sign for the rest of his career.

“Decision making has improved in leaps and bounds. My creativity has come a long way through playing in a different competition, just my experience in general, just playing against different opponents. The intensity and the game speed and all that over there, in all areas, I’ve really upped it to another level.”

And while there is a perception in England that the NRL is full of robots, Hodgson says: “Creativity is massive over there – definitely where I’m playing. If there’s a quick play-the-ball I’m going and everyone’s flooding around me and just trying to push off the back of that and as people were saying all year at the Raiders, we’ve played some really good footy this year. I’d say 90 per cent of our tries came off the back of off-the-cuff plays.”

amazonLike Josh, his father played for both teams in Hull. But that’s where the similarities end, he says. Creativity?

“I think he was more of a fighter than a rugby player! He was more of the roughnut, or so the stories that he tells me go. He probably plays himself up a bit. He tells me he was the roughnut they sent on if there was another roughnut in the other team, maybe to try and sort him out.

“He isn’t the best looking bloke in the world so I’m guessing he came off second best a few times.”

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

139 Minutes Of NRL Without Throwing A Pass

international-official-ball-rugby-leagueBy STEVE MASCORD

IMAGINE playing 139 minutes of NRL and not throwing a single pass.

We still like to think of passing the football as the key skill in our game. That’s what we do. We run up and down the field and we pass the football in such a way as to evade the numerically equal opposition, placing it on the ground as to accrue points.

But is that really, in 2015, what our game is?

American football derived, very slowly, from rugby union. In rugby union, the same 15 players run, pass, ruck and tackle. Once upon a time, they probably all kicked as well.

Yet in American football, only a small number of players pass the ball. Only a small number of them catch. Some never even see a football from a closer vantage point than the sideline or a huddle.

Fewest passesAs rugby league becomes more professional and coaches search for an edge, we have seen the roles of players in different positions change. Interestingly, while American Football evolved towards greater specialisation, it could be argued that our game has actually gone in the opposite direction.

A poster on the League Unlimited site in 2011 made the point: “…in the eighties …
props were big and slow, second rowers might’ve been leaner and a little bit quicker, but both were generally used as battering rams up the middle.

“The halfback almost always (was) the first receiver … the five-eighth would generally be the second receiver in a backline play and would be similar to a third centre. The centres themselves were classified as inside and outside.”

These days props, second rowers and centres look the same and play similar roles, while the halves can also be interchangeable. Players are more easily defined by the side of the field on which they play than by the old nomenclature.

So if everyone is now big and fast, should everyone not also have ball skills and use them? If you can’t imagine playing 139 minutes of NRL without passing the ball, let’s get you some help.

That is, help from someone who has.

LeagueWeek Back Issues“Not really, but I can’t change it,” says Canberra forward Mark Nicholls when I ask him if he is proud to have topped a poll we commissioned from NRL stats – of the most minutes played without throwing a pass.

“When I did throw one, I put Toots (captain Jarrod Croker) over for a try. So let’s just say I’ve got a good strike rate.”

The only other player with more than 100 minutes of game time without a pass was North Queensland’s Kalepi Tanginoa. But what does it mean? Is it a poor reflection on the modern game and an indictment against current-era coaching?

Nicholls, a utility forward from Leeton who comes across as a rather thoughtful chap, agues not. Coach Ricky Stuart at no point instructed him to conceal the Steeden upon his person.

“I hadn’t played first grade in two and a half years,” he explains. “When I got my chance again, I didn’t want to blow it.

No passes“Any young fella would take a while to get the confidence to throw a few passes. For me, when you finally get another crack, you don’t want to give the coach a reason to drop you. You just want to run hard and keep the ball safe.

“It’s funny, because in NSW Cup I consider myself as someone with some ball skills. Not just a battering ram. But it took me a few games to feel like that in first grade.

“For a few weeks there, I felt like I was playing up a grade, if you know what I mean. It’s a shame I got injured because after the Souths and Titans games, I was starting to feel comfortable at that level.”

Just as players get more confident in using the ball, according to 25-year-old Nicholls, so do teams. It’s not your imagination – NRL sides are more adventurous now than they were in the opening rounds.

“At the start of the year, the coaches have their structures and things are kind of driven by statistics and by completions,” he says.

“Then, as the year goes on, teams look at each other on video and they see things that they might be able to exploit. That’s when team start trying things.

“At Canberra we actually use the ball a fair bit in the forwards. That’s why we’re one of the better attacking teams to watch.”

As well as asking NRL Stats who had played longest without throwing a pass, RLW also asked them to list those who had thrown the fewest passes per minute played.

Now, bear in mind that NRL Stats consider a “pass” and an “offload” to be two different things.

Basically, a pass is before the attacker has made contact with the defensive line and an offload is afterwards, creating second phase play. So, full disclosure there – some of the results may be skewed by that distinction.

Tiger Brendan Santi has thrown the fewest passes per minute played, at a rate if 0.0038 passes per minute. By comparison, Sydney Roosters’ Jake Friend throws 1.55 per minute.

At South Sydney, George Burgess has thrown only four passes in 870 minutes of football.

amazonOne of rugby league’s greatest playmakers, Peter Sterling, is scared by the prospect of giant automatons ploughing up the field with no other thought in their minds.

“I don’t want us getting to the situation we have in the NFL, where some players don’t touch the ball for their entire career,” said Sterling.

“Sure, the position you play on the football field is going to a certain degree of specialisation. We know you are responsible for different things on different parts of the field.

“But just because you have a role to play shouldn’t nullify the continuing development of your skills.”

Now, if only Pete had got into coaching….

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

 

 

 

 

JOY OF SIX: round one 2015

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

SEEING RED OVER MOSES
WHAT if Dallas Donnelly pulled up outside an NRL ground in his time travelling Delorian and went inside for a gander? What would he make of a competition where you are sent to the sin bin for punching someone but stay on the field for a deadset coat-hanger? How can we be SOFTER on an offence now than we were in the seventies? It defies logic. The ban on referee comments stifled the debate on Saturday night surrounding Mitchell Moses’ shot on William Zillman. Set of Six will debate it; Moses should have been sent off. Flailing fists deter parents from letting their kids play rugby league – do we think mum wants little Johnny to do his best rag doll impersonation every weekend?
BATTLE AHEAD
WELL may Phil Gould and Penrith oppose an external draft – they have more juniors than most other clubs. But one donatechange in the game that has gone un-noticed over the summer has been the rebranding of the state leagues, aside from NSW and Queensland. The South Australian Rugby League is now NRL South Australia – and so on. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Moore Park HQ. No doubt, the aim is to do the same with the NSWRL, the QRL and the CRL. The NRL wants to be to rugby league what the NBA is to basketball – that is, just about everything. It will take care of all development and clubs will be shells focused only on winning first grade matches and attracting fans. Set of Six likes the idea.
COCKY FOWLS NOT SCARED OF FOULS
LOTS of things have changed this season by according to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, one thing hasn’t. “It’s a little bit faster, sides are trying to find their feet. Sides don’t want to give away too many penalties away – bar the Roosters. They were quite happy to give penalties away and then defend ‘em.” The Roosters do not like accusations they deliberately give away penalties. Flanagan nominated Trent Robinson’s team, South Sydney and Parramatta as sides who had “put their hand up” over the weekend. The Sharks boss wasn’t sure how he’d feel going to Remondis Stadium last night for his first game back from suspension. “Surprisingly, I’m pretty calm about the whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’ve got a job here to do and I’ve just got to get on with it.”
HELLO 2015
SOME random observations about our first taste of premiership football for the year. One, the game IS faster and there IS amazonless wrestling, and the crowds like it. Friday night at Pirtek Stadium, particularly in the first half, was a revelation; the word “fickle” just isn’t in the dictionaries of western Sydney. Your correspondent was at Headingley, where they sing all night, eight days previously and the local Blue and Gold Army outdid their British cousins easily. A bulked-up Anthony Milford in the halves is a gamble. We won’t get reliable forward pass rulings until there are chips in the balls. Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua could be the centre pairing of the year. Pat Richards could easily realise his ambition of playing in the 2017 World Cup. Live free-to-air TV coverage on a Sunday should have happened years ago.
THE SHAFT FOR SHILLO AND SHANNON
TRENT Merrin was only “dropped” for Monday Night Football if you don’t count the game against Warrington, which he also started from the bench. He was in the starting side for round 26 last year, though – we checked. Two men who WERE dropped, by any definition, are big Canberra forwards David Shillington and Shannon Boyd. They were named in Canberra’s first grade side on Sunday – Shillington in the starting front row – but played NSW Cup. Coach Ricky Stuart admitted the hot conditions were in his mind but “there’s a few other reasons – nothing untoward in regards to the two boys. We made the decision earlier in the week.” Stuart reckons the quicker rucks this year mean “dropped balls and penalties are making a big difference between winning and losing.’
CARNAGE IN FRANCE
Dwrq4E1421835700EVEN a broken rib for Todd Carney took a back seat to the scoreline in the Catalans-Salford Super League game over the weekend. The match finished in a 40-40 draw – which in the Australian premiership would make it the highest scoring drawn game ever, beat three matches which finished 34-34.. In England, there’ve been higher scores in draws – and there almost certainly have been in France, too. After a tackle by Lama Tasi, Carney – who missed the opening two rounds through injury – tweeted: “Just got home from the hospital, Broken Ribs Fingers crossed I won’t be out for long.” Dragons coach Laurent Frayssinous said the tackle was illegal. “It is not acceptable that there is a late tackle on Todd Carney that has left him in the hospital with a broken rib,” he told reporters. Oh, and the penalty which gave Salford a late draw was a tad controversial, too.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Six Highlights Of The 2014 NRL Regular Season

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

THERE Is something unnatural – even mean-spirited – about the finals.

For 26 weeks, rugby league is just THERE. Some weekends, there aren’t eight NRL games but no matter how well or otherwise your team plays, there’ll be a match to watch again in a minimum of a fortnight

That’s 24 matches in all – pain, sweat, ecstacy, danger, drama and heartbreak. Leave aside the commercial aspect and look at it as a football competition – 1920 minutes are played purely for the right to make the finals.

Once there, the maximum number of minutes of football you will be afforded is 320. The mathematics, therefore, answer the most basic of questions: how much more important is a final than a regular season match?

Six times more important. Every minute in a final is worth six during the home and away rounds. Put another way, the NRL season is the equivalent of running six times around a track to decide whether you make the final one-lap sprint, and what your handicap will be.

But it’s those six laps that often give us our best stories and our memories. Those six laps are what makes a season for most of us, not the hare-like sprint at the end.

From a logic standpoint, the play-offs are clearly an artifice – a construct intended to add excitement and therefore profitability to the back end of a sporting competition. We are often told performances under the pressure of sudden death are “the true test” of a team.

Who says? Why? Surely how many tries and goals you score, and how few you concede, are more impartial barometers. That’s why Manly coach Geoff Toovey said the minor premiers were not given enough credit.

Here at League Week, we’ve tried to redress the balance this week by recording and honouring the players and teams who passed the post first in 2014.

A football season is often described as “a journey” but for your correspondent, it has been many. At the time of writing, I have travelled 162,922 km this year, mostly in pursuit of rugby league.

A season for me is a blur of airports, insane taxi-drivers, rental car desks, wifi passwords and hotel loyalty programmes. What do you ask Greg Inglis after he scores the try of the century? How do you report Alex McKinnon’s injury when no-one will talk about it? How do you get Steve Matai and Anthony Watmough to comment on reports they’ve just asked for a release?

Here are my moments of the season – from the point of view of a travelling hack trying to cover them for radio, newspapers and the great Rugby League Week. They are feats which weren’t only observed, they were lived (your favourite memory may have missed the cut for a simple reason – I wasn’t there).

April 14: MELBOURNE SCORES AFTER THE BELL TO BEAT ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA

THE NRL would later confirm fulltime should have prevented the Storm scoring the winning try in a 28-24 win. Working for Triple M, your reporter grabbed the winning scorer – Young Tonumaipea – right on fulltime. Unfortunately, we were on the same frequency as another outlet, meaning Young sounded like he was broadcasting from Venus. The mobile phone was quickly produced, and interviews were submitted by email. The trouble with the clock was not immediately obvious but Dragons coach Steve Price told us on air: “When I thought it was zero, he still hadn’t played the ball. We were truly the better team tonight – by far.”

April 20: BIG PAUL VAUGHAN BAGS A TRY ON THE DEATH TO BEAT MELBOURNE’

WE were on the scene within seconds of the Italian International danced nimbly between defenders to score the try of his life. “I just picked up the ball, I don’t know what happened, it happened so fast,” said Vaughan after the 24-22 victory.. “I think there was a loose ball, I saw a couple of lazy defenders and skipped across and gap opened up and I went for it. I thought it might have been a possible obstruction.” It was the Raiders’ third win of the year – they would find them harder to come by over the balance of the camptain.

April 25: GREG INGLIS SCORES LENGTH OF THE FIELD SOLO TRY BEATING SIX DEFENDERS

THERE was a collective withholding of breath in the Suncorp Stadium media box as Inglis set off on this run for the ages. Surely, he won’t get there – will he? Even gnarled hacks applauded when he did. Coming to the South Sydney dressingroom doors later in the evening, Inglis said: “I think anyone can score one of them. You’ve got Benny Barba …you see a try like that from (Michael) Jennings over the years at Penrith. You just see all these naturally gifted players. It’s a bit unfortunate in our game that you don’t see enough of it.” He came close with another beauty in the return encounter.
June 7: CRONULLA WINS FROM 22-0 DOWN

CRONULLA’S season has been bleak by any measure. The ASADA controversy and suspension of coach Shane Flanagan meant 2014 was a write-off from the start. When they arrived at Suncorp Stadium in late Jun,e captain Paul Gallen had publically questioned whether caretaker Peter Sharp was giving 100 per cent. No-one expected them to win and they duly trailed 22-0 after 27 minutes. What followed seemed impossible; the Sharks started their comeback just before halftime and won 24-22. “I think it’s a turning point for the club – it doesn’t matter where we finish this year, and in my career – where we’ll remember when everything turned around,” he said. Days later, Carney would be sacked over the bubbling incident.

June 15: CRONULLA WINS FROM 24-0 DOWN

GENERALLY speaking, I don’t cover Sydney games for the newspaper. There are enough rugby league reporters in Sydney. But when they Sun-Herald gave me one, it was a doozy. Eight days after the biggest comeback in the Sharks’ 47 year history, they broke the record again – by beating the reigning premiers and world champions. Not only that, they did it without Sharp, Carney and captain Paul Gallen. Jeff Robson scored the winner with three minutes remaining, and the Roosters crossed with 11 seconds on the clock but the try was disallowed because the referees were unsighted. “I thought I got it down,” Mitch Aubusson said. Cronulla’s round 25 display in Townsville almost got the wooden spooners three mentions here.

JULY 20: RISE FOR ALEX

NEVER mind that Newcastle lost their home game to Gold Coast, 28, on the Rise For Alex weekend. McKinnon’s injury was the saddest event in the careers of most of us. I covered the match and will never forget that night and what I witnessed and heard from the sidelines. But the Rise For Alex round was a testament to the compassion of the rugby league community and a platform for a brave, stoic young man who has already made a difference n the lives of so many and will continue to be beacon. The character, bravery and hard work of Alex McKinnon and those around him was best thing about 2014, and will remain so no matter what happens over the next four weekends.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE BIG ISSUE: #59

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

HOW quickly they forget.

By the time you read this, the campaigns of eight NRL teams is are already fading memories. It’s worth pondering how arbitrary and brutal an industry rugby league, and professional sport in general, is.

You train like a dog all summer, you get locked into a weekly grind which is painful, repetitive and unforgiving. And just like that, sometimes at the whim of a match official, injury or suspension, it ends with a shrill siren in round 26.

Bang, you’re not competing anymore. It doesn’t happen so suddenly in too many other areas of human endeavour, except perhaps life itself.

The play-offs are, objectively, even weirder. You train and play for 10 months just to get into one of these things. If it’s a sudden death game, you have effectively put four days into each minute of that contest.

And if you lose – just one game off football – the entire 10 months is gone. The who 10 months is wasted for 575 out of 600 footballers, who have to start again or will never get another chance. Brutal odds.

GOLD COAST: An admirable rear guard action, desperately short on troops. If the comp was a month longer, they may have made the grand final.

PENRITH: Over-achieved due to own hard work. Ivan Cleary has some claim to coach-of-the-year voting, so impressive were the Panthers at times. Luke Walsh, in particular, will be missed.

WARRIORS: Same number of competition points as Penrith but a completely different performance in relation to expectations. Finding the ark of the covenant or King Solomon’s mines easy compared to making themconsistent.

BRISBANE: No-one seems to think they should be subject to the same cycles as other clubs, chiefly because they’re in the capital of the rugby league world. They still have to comply with the salary cap.

CANBERRA: If you can do a “drama and atrocity” graph and overlay it with a “Raiders results” graph, the lines would track each other pretty closely. Dugan, Ferguson, Furner, Earl just does not happen to the same club in the same year.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA: Still in the midst of a massive downswing post-2010 premiership. The system is designed to inflict such misfortune – but it shouldn’t last this long.

WESTS TIGERS: A woeful years which you could charitably put down to a new coach who had little influence over the shortcomings of the roster he inherited. Must improve.

PARRAMATTA: Not only is there no light at the end of the playing roster tunnel but the coaching and political tunnels each look pitch black as well.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE WRAP: NRL Round 25

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

BRISBANE prop Ben Hannant played on with two potentially serious injuries on Friday night in a vain bid to lift the Broncos into the finals.

There are 10 teams still in the running for the play-offs following the penultimate round of the 2013 season, with Brisbane crashing out of contention in a 26-18 defeat to Newcastle at Suncorp Stadium on Friday.

Hannant should be relishing an encounter with former club Canterbury to finish the campaign on Thursday but is in dire doubt after playing 48 minutes against the Knights despite shoulder and hand injuries.

“I hurt my shoulder and then my hand in the first set of six – that’s the way it is,” Hannant tells smithyspeaks.com.au. “I did my AC (joint).

“It’s just frustrating. The effort was there and it’s very disappointing really.

“We worked hard. We put ourselves in a good situation there at halftime, we got someone sent off (Sam Thaiday to the sin bin) and we scrambled well there near fulltime.

“Both teams wanted it and they came through the end better than us.”

The Broncos made a mid-season run towards the finals but ended up missing the play-offs for only the second time in 21 years.

“We always thought we were going to get there,” said Hannant.

“You play the game because you want to be there in the finals. We shot out of the box really well (against Newcastle), started playing some good footy, it’s just disappointing we couldn’t do it for 80 minutes.”

Asked what the Broncos had to do better in 2014, Hannant said: “It’s a tough one. That’s a question for the coach. I think all of us need to be better.”

The other sides to drip out of finals contention over the weekend were Penrith (beaten 34-14 by Canterbury) and Canberra (tonked 50-16 by the Warriors).

Penrith performed much better than many expected this season while Canberra have been hit by multiple dramas, with Blake Ferguson’s on-going problems, Josh Dugan and David Furner’s sackings, Anthony Milford’s release request and the Sandor Earl drugs infraction notice.

Asked if there was a way a club could minimise its changes of being embroiled in such controversies, caretaker coach Andrew Dunemann told this reporter: “I think you’ve got to set a culture and you’ve got to set some standards and you’ve got to maintain them.

“Obviously having a happy work environment as well. That’s the biggest area. You get their respect, you get the happy work environment and they what to do things right.

“…whereas, you know, I don’t think we’ve always been that way and we need to get that way.

“I honestly think that the staff that we’ve got there, and the playing group, when everyone’s fit we’ve got the team to do very well.

read on