By STEVE MASCORD
CANTERBURY chief executive Raelene Castle has blasted the 11th hour call-up of Josh Morris as “not very reasonable” and suggested split rounds now operate as a de facto salary cap.
Nineteen-year-old Reimis Smith – with an entire match the day before under his belt – had to drive to Canberra to make his debut on Sunday when Blues centre Josh Dugan pulled himself out of last night’s opening interstate match due to an elbow complaint.
“The etiquette in place at the moment is we just have to release our players for Kangaroos and Origin,” Castle tells League Week.
“But in reality, when you’re running a professional competition, to expect us to do that on the morning of a game when we’re 300 km away and our NSW Cup team has played yesterday is not very reasonable.
“If we played (Saturday), they would still have called J Moz up (Sunday).
“The rules need to be documented, they need to be looked at and thought about … the impacts for all parts of the competition, not just Origin.”
Smith may now go doing in league history as the man who ended an era when the game punished clubs in order to keep Origin in a commercial advantageous television time slot.
“The three teams who have lost the most players all lost this weekend,” Castle said.
“The Broncos, the Cowboys and the Bulldogs – five, five and three (players), four for us on the morning, have all lost.
“So you’ve got to question: is this another form of salary capping? The teams that don’t have many players involved in Origin end up with points they may not have otherwise got.
“You’ve got to question the impact for the credibility of the NRL.
“Origin’s amazing. Everyone knows that. Commercially it’s really beneficial. We all know that. But when you look at the actually integrity and credibility of the NRL competition over 26 weeks, you have to question whether this is the right outcome.”
Interstate football was put in midweek some 45 years ago to minimise impact on clubs. With the advent of Origin, it was discovered to be a ratings bonanza.
By the late eighties, players were being stood down from the previous weekend’s club round – defeating the entire purpose of the games being played on Wednesdays in the first place.
“Maybe we have (re-examined it) but not enough,” said Castle. “The fact is we’ve tried to under the new TV deal in 2018.
“But I think we’ve got to ask the question again.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
WE are constantly told that rugby league players have become vanilla, clichéd, boring. Either that, or that they are uneducated hoodlums.
The idea that they can be engaging, interesting, intriguing people is something that rarely enters the public imagination.
There could be a number of reasons for this.
Current NRL media guidelines do not guarantee any in-depth profile-type interviews at all … absolutely none. They are, instead, aimed at providing soundbites and clips to feed the churn of the day-to-day news cycle.
And what clubs don’t have to do, they more often than not don’t do.
Another reason would be players being burned by tabloid headlines and being unwilling to share anything of their personalities with reporters. And then there’s coaches, who tend to be bigger beat-up merchants than journalists when it comes to using the comments of rivals for motivational purposes.
But as a reporter, we talk to players before and after the digital voice recorder flashes green. We observe body language. We see how players interact with each other and with fans and officials … and there are some very interesting dudes out there.
Here’s a selection
FOR years, Greg Inglis was a quiet monolith. He destroyed defences on a weekly basis and said little the rest of the time. When South Sydney signed him from Melbourne in 2011, chief executive Shane Richardson famously declared “I think we just secured our 21st premiership”. Inglis soon began to appreciate his capacity to do good, particularly in the indigenous community. He worked on his public speaking – which has come in handy since he become captain of Souths. The transformation has been absorbing – and it will be very interesting indeed to see what Inglis does upon retirement.
BENJI Marshall has grown up in public. From that outrageous flick pass to Pat Richards in 2005 to calm organiser with the Dragons, a decade later, it’s not always been a comfortable ride. His time at Wests Tigers ended acrimoniously when he was dubbed “Benchy Marshall” before a failed foray into rugby union. Along the way, Benji learned to be humble – and he’s likely to be rewarded by a return to the Kiwis number seven jersey in October. “I thought I was going alright – and no-one was telling me that I wasn’t,” Marshall says of his tome at Wests Tigers. “Sometimes you need to hear the truth, especially when you’re an older player, or else you get caught just coasting and that’s what I was doing. I just got too comfortable in my position. There was never a time when I was under pressure from someone else coming through who was going to take my position Even my family wouldn’t say anything, which is … which is a shame.”
EVEN when ‘Choc’ wasn’t doing interviews – back when Manly were under intense media scrutiny – he would be cracking jokes with us.
Watmough comes across as stand-offish and friendly at the same time, a combination that seems to make absolutely no sense but has led to a budding radio career. ““The scrutiny that I was under at the time was pretty daunting and it was pretty hard on – not just myself but – my family,” he once told A-List. “My mum takes it harder than anyone, the things that are written. Me, my family, everyone around me, knew that I wasn’t a serial killer. I was on the front, back and middle pages every day for a while there. You don’t get anywhere fighting against the people who write about you every week. It’s more along the lines of just – grow up a bit, bite the bullet, get on with life.”
JAMES Graham is one of the more intelligent, humorous and engaging players in the NRL. Then he crosses the sideline; It’s the British Bulldog who was found guilty of biting Billy Slater’s ear in the 2012 grand final, and whose confrontation with referee Gerard Sutton sparked crowd trouble after the infamous South Sydney clash in April. Graham has also argued that if he wants to play on with concussion, he should be allowed to do so. It’s been suggested that Graham plays without concern for his own safety – or that of anyone else. ““In hindsight now, you just get on with it, but at the time you’re trying to get that point across,” he said a few days later. “Stakes are high, emotions are high and that’s not an excuse for questioning the referees decision because really, he’s not going to change his mind. It’s obviously not good behaviour, it’s not a good look.”
CONTRASTS are intriguing – and Michael Ennis is a man of contrast. On the field, he never shuts up and is known as one of the competition’s
primo sledgers. Off it, he’s a polished media performer, deep thinker and passionate advocate for players. His on-field ferocity becomes a joke, role play. But which one is the real Michael Ennis? ““I guess I skate a fine line,” he told A-List. “Well, not exactly skate a fine like but I have a competitive nature. I don’t know – not dirty things. Just competitive. I believe you should just get as much out of each game as you can. I could sit here and preach about what a good guy I am and how I’ve got kids and how I’m a nice family man but that’s not what I’m about, that’s not who I am. It doesn’t really worry me what people think.”
IN all my years as a radio sideline eye, no player has ever stopped a fulltime conversation with a rival so I could interview that rival. No player except Jared Warea-Hargreaves, who made it clear to his fellow player talking to thousands of listeners was more important than shooting the breeze with him. Before he was injured, JWH was the form prop in the NRL. He’s 198cm and weighs 116 kg but is also possibly the most gentle, softly spoken rugby league player on earth. “Schoolkids picked on me a little,” he told an incredulous A-List a few years back, “but then I started eating my veges and I had this little growth spurt!”
‘GIFTY’ Stewart has a bit of his brother Brett – the ‘wronged’ bit – and some of Anthony Watmough – the ‘reticent’ bit – in his complex make-up. He was aggrieved at his brother’s treatment at the hands of the NRL and the media, then about being forced out of the club without receiving an offer. There was rampant speculation about a rift with Daly Cherry Evans, who supposedly got his wages. Yet like Watmough, Stewart has mellowed somewhat and seems to have a decent relationship with the media for the first time. After his first game against Manly, he commented: “they’re all mates of mine … most of them”.
IT takes a lot for the public to take the side of journalists but Darius Boyd’s monosyllabic “media opportunities” at St George Illawarra and
Newcastle did the trick. “Yes”, “no” and “next question” came across very poorly on television, as did his response to being doorstopped by a reporter as he left Origin camp. But things changed dramatically for Boyd when good friend Alex McKinnon broke his neck last year. Boyd quit the game, sought help for depression and is now considered a future captain of the Brisbane Broncos. Boyd never knew his father but received a letter last year from a man claiming to be just that.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD (with research by David Middleton)
THE salary cap is often given credit for the fact we have had 10 different premiers since 1998 – but you can’t thank the salary cap for what Cronulla have done this year.
Maybe you can blame ASADA.
From wooden spooners in 2014 to eliminating the reigning champions in the first week of the finals in 2015, it’s a feat that has perhaps not really sunk in yet. We’re all taking it ‘one game at a time’, right? How will it be remembered? We love giving things context here at RLW.
In these days of fulltime professionalism, we perhaps expect things to go more or less according to plan. In the 1930s, when the premiership was played for beer money and there were only a handful of teams, we’ll believe such feats were possible.
But not now.
In the AFL (then VFL), Fitzroy actually finished last AND won the competition in the SAME year. It was 1916, and all but four clubs had withdrawn from competition due to the Great War.
So the same four teams played the regular season, and all of them made the finals. That’s how Fitzroy performed a feat we are never likely to see again, even if it does sound better as a trivia question than a real achievement.
In rugby league, we have only ever had a team go from last to lifting the trophy the next year on one occasion – Western Suburbs in 1933-34.
But there’ve been some pretty big form reversals over-all – very few of which we can fairly attribute to the salary cap. Where would you slot the Sharkies into this list?
1. 1. NEWTOWN 1928-29
THE 1928 had no official minor premier but that didn’t matter to Newtown, who were last, . with just one win from 12 matches. This was the year where an administrative dispute led to the League deserting the Sydney Cricket Ground for Sydney Sports Ground (now Allianz Stadium, although the field ran east-west). And there, the first-ever night match was staged post-season, nine-a-side, without the approval of the administration. But anyway … the 1929 Kangaroos left halfway through that season and it could be argued this game the Bluebags something of a leg-up. The Bluebags finished clear fourth, beat St George b a point in the major semi-final and went down 30-10 to South Sydney in the decider. The outhouse to the presidential suite, if not the actual penthouse.
2. WESTERN SUBURBS 1933-34
KANGAROO Tours were actually an early version of the salary cap! Back in the 1930s, there was no question that international football was more important than the club scene and the Test side could hardly just hop on QF 1 to London. So, up until the time the Roos left in July, Wests had won four of their six games and had drawn another. After the team left, they did not win again. Gone were backline stars Frank McMillan, Cliff Pearce, Alan Ridley, Les Mead and Vic Hey. When they returned the following year, the Magpies made up for lost time. In a year which saw University begin a run of 42 consecutive losses (and the league ban radio broadcasts because they believed it was affecting crowds), Eastern Suburbs and Wests each finished on 24 competition points, with the black-and-whites taking out the premiership final against the Roosters, 15-12. That’s the feat the boys from the Shire were trying to match this month and next.
3. SOUTH SYDNEY 1955
LIKE Fitzroy above, South s squeezed their highs and lows into a single season. After nine rounds they were equal last, having won just three matches. They did not lose another for the rest of the regular season, finishing fourth to slip into the finals. It was a magnificent run – they actually could not have afforded to drop a game during that nine-week run. It is immortalised (pun intended) in the second-last game of the home-and-away rounds when Clive Churchill broke his arm against Manly but still kicked the winning conversion on the bell. In the grand final, the bunnies played the minor premiers and defending champions Newtown and they were without Churchill and Greg Hawick. The 12-11 win made it five GF triumphs for captain Jack Rayner.
WHAT would happen today if a side collected SIX consecutive wooden spoons? Perhaps that’s where the salary cap does even up the competition! That was Parramatta’s dismal run from 1956. But in 1962, they didn’t just get off the goot of the table – they made the finals! The man behind it was Ken Kearney, a 1947-48 Wallaby who had switched codes with Leeds and returned to play for St George in 1954. It was a classic early case of a coach remodelling a club, like Wayne Bennett at the Dragons years later. Parramatta coaxed him away from Saints for just three years, with ’62 being the first, and he changed things for the better. But in a reminder of how slowly the wheel turns in sport, they would have to wait until ’81 for their first premiership.
5. EASTERN SUBURBS 1966-67
SYDNEY Roosters proudly celebrate the fact they’re the only side to have competed every year since 1908. There’s a new book about their glory years, The House That Jack Built, that has tricolour pride pouring from its pages. But if the Roosters could miss one of those seasons, then they would no doubt choose 1966. Eastern Suburbs lost 18 from 18 that year. Then Gibson started as coach, and they finished in the top four, before being eliminated by Canterbury in front of 47,186 fans at the SCG. This was the first year for Penrith and Cronulla in the premiership and the first year of limited tackle football (four). Gibson welcomed innovation and dealt with these changes better than most.
6. CANTERBURY 2008-09
In 2008, Canterbury finished a round inside the top eight on only three occasions out of 26. They ended up last, with five wins and 19 losses in the year Sonny Bill Williams walked out for France.. Coach Steve Folkes did not survive to see the following year, with injuries and high profile departures given as the contributing factors. They led Sydney Roosters 20-0 at halftime and lost. Brett, Kimmorley, Josh Morris, David Stagg, Michael Ennis, Greg Eastwood and Ben Hannant joined the club the following year, Kevin Moore took over as coach and the Doggies finished second before being eliminated 22-12 by Parramatta.
SLUGGED a wad of cash, two premierships and all their competition points in 2010 for their infamous salary cap breach, the Storm showed what they were made of the following year. The loss of Greg Inglis, Ryan Hoffman, Brett Finch, Aiden Tolman, Jeff Lima and Brett White prompted many to predict they would struggle but Craig Bellamy’s men won the minor premiership with 19 wins from a possible 24. In the play-offs they beat Newcastle before losing to the Warriors in a preliminary final, 20-12. It’s a season that set the tone for everything that came afterwards for the Storm, and perhaps made a statement about the bona fides of what had happened before. A year later they would win a premiership which no-one has since taken off them
8. SOUTH SYDNEY 2014
RUGBY league’s greatest comeback story – ever. Kicked out of the competition in 2000 and 2001 in an episode that because a cause celebre for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, the team named after depression street hawkers selling rabbit carcasses returned in 2002 and stumbled around for a few mediocre seasons (three straight wooden spoons) before actor Russell Crowe and businessman Peter Holmes a Court bought the joint in 2006. The Rabbits returned to the finals almost immediately and last October, Sam Burgess became the first South Sydney player to accept the medal named after one of its greatest, Clive Chruchill, when he led Souths to break a 44-year premiership drought despite a broken cheekbone. Sharkies, that is going to take some beating.
Malcolm Andrews writes:
“My first daily column for the Telegraph in 1983 was an interview with Wests winger Alan Ridley (of the early 1930s) urging the NSWRL not to kick Wests Magpies out of the Premiership. And interesting bloke. I wish I had accepted his offer to take away the diary he kept on the 1933-34 Kangaroo tour.
I have a feeling I read somewhere about Frank ‘Skinny’ McMillan that he ended up broke and used to cadge a few pennies for a beer at the Ashfield Hotel, just around the corner from Pratten Park, the Magpies home ground.
I lived 100 yards from Pratten Park and that’s why I always followed them. My first match was in 1953. That was the year when they won the wooden spoon, 12 months after winning the premiership.
The premiership win is unique in that they were coached by the former Test referee Tom McMahon – it was his first and only year as a coach. A perfect record. It was also the year that referee George Bishop is said to have backed Wests against the red-hot favourites Souths.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
THE BEAST IS COMING FOR YOU
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.”
DOING THE RIGHT THING
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.
RISE FOR ALEX
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.
IT’S LATE O’CLOCK
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.”
AS AN EXAMPLE….
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.
MATE AGAINST STATE
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.
Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
By STEVE MASCORD
TRY-HUNGRY winger Corey Thompson has revealed how joining Canterbury cost him a grand final– and a missed plane denied him the chance to celebrate with his team-mates.
Thompson has bagged 11 first grade touch downs since transferring from Brisbane Easts on a modest contract in the middle of last season. The Tigers went on to make the 2013 Intrust Super Cup grand final, where they lost to Mackay Cutters, without him.
“I was playing Queensland Cup at the start of last year, came down here and then my Queensland Cup team made the grand final,” Thompson tells League Week.
“I missed out on that. I was lucky enough to debut this year and I’ve got the grand final next weekend. “
He explains: “Funnily enough, I booked my flight on Tiger. It was delayed and cancelled so by the time I got there the grand final was over. So I missed the grand final.
“I was still in Sydney waiting for my plane to leave (when it kicked off).
“By the time I got there, they were all over the place. I couldn’t get around so I saw them the next day. They were pretty seedy.
“It was good to see them.”
Thompson hoped Easts would be playing Penrith in a curtain-raiser on Sunday – but they missed out again, this time to Northern Pride.
“I’m still in shock – it’s my first full year and I’m into the grand final. I’m over the moon for all the boys,” Thompson said,.
“School and juniors, three or four when I was younger.
“I really just played with my mates and loved playing until I got the call from the Dogs.”
Thompson looks back on the Bulldogs’ two-from-eight finish to the regular season by saying: “We’ve always had that spark. We probably overplayed it a lot in those past 10 rounds.
“We never gave up on each other – some people might have doubted us. The boys knew ‘one loss and we’re out’ and they just put their heads down.
“I’ve got (Alex) Johnston (in the grand final). I don’t know him. I marked him when we played the Rabbitohs. He’s an amazing young player, he’s a freak, he knows how to play so I’m going to have my hands full next week.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
EARLY in a recent Super League game, commentator Paul Cullen remarked: “We’ve been going for 10 minutes and there’s not a blade of grass that’s not been stood on”.
Leaving aside the double negative, you can picture the sort of game Cullen was describing – touchline to touchline attack, from the outset.
Now, I’ve already said that I could not remember a better weekend of football, given the comebacks and razor-edged finishes of the two preliminary semi-finals we had in the NRL.
But plenty of blades of grass went undisturbed.
The structured nature of NRL football could be one reason why the game is better to watch on television than live, in the view of all the people who also left seats at Allianz Stadium undisturbed.
The physical nature of the sport, which is harder to detect from the stands, is highlighted by tight camera shots while the ball movement – a feature of Australian football – is rather limited.
Result: you’re better off watching it at home.
Step right up, Ben and Shane Walker.
The brothers, both former first graders at a number of clubs, have turned back the clock almost a century and have employed at Ipswich Jets a style of football favoured by Duncan Thompson, who captained North Sydney to their only two premierships in 1921 and 1922.
It’s called “contract football” and it works like this: you have a ‘contract’ to pass the ball to your team mate if he is in a better position to me.
“If you played structured football, the way they do in the NRL these days, you make it easier for the defence to get three men into the tackle to do all that stuff I don’t like – wrestling,” Walker told Discord.
“The way we play, we test the defensive like three or four times on a single tackle. The defence can’t get enough numbers in to wrestle and we play off the back of it.”
Thompson, who died in 1980, once said: “Contract football is flowing football – it has no relation to bash-and-barge stuff – it is what rugby league is all about, or is supposed to be.”
Ben Walker says he learned about it growing up in Thompson’s home down, Toowoomba, where it was passed down from generation to generation.
He also says t works.
“It would work better in the NRL, where you can train fulltime,” he said. “You need players who can catch and pass under pressure – but mostly just catch and pass.
“That actually takes a lot of work these days. I have had our players say to me after watching an NRL game on TV ‘we would have towelled them up playing our style of football’.”
The Jets fielded seven rookies in their final 17 man squad of the year; they made the finals this year and next year they will employ their free-flowing style even more.
“I won’t say which NRL game I am talking about but one of those at the weekend, they played block play, block play, block play, kick.
“You could have defended it with your eyes closed.”
MY MEMORY tells me Greg Mackey was a player who pre-dated my career as a journalist; someone from whom I sought an autograph but never a quote.
The facts tell a different story; he was at Illawarra for three years that I was covering the game, albeit all of them as a casual reporter at AAP while still in highschool.
“Bluey” was such a good player, I must have interviewed him many times.
But I prefer to think of him as an untouchable footy hero, a flame-haired five-eighth who won a match with an intercept fresh off the plane for the Chatillon club in Paris – not before momentarily stopping when an “idiot” in the crowd blew a whistle.
These were days, for me, when football players and administrators could do no wrong. If I knew about off-field “atrocities” and official incompetence, a rarely paid it any mind.
I just lived for Sunday afternoon at 3pm when men like Bluey would take to Wollongong Showground and throw outrageous cutout passes, chip and chase from their own quarter and upend much bigger men.
These, days, the fact that they lost most weeks seems inconsequential.
Steelers legend Michael Bolt says he last saw Blue on Thursday, and he had “a cheeky grin”. That’s good to know, because it’s the way I remember him too.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
By STEVE MASCORD
COACH Des Hasler pleaded with reporters not to praise rookie Moses Mbye after the 20-year-old helped Canterbury for a scrappy victory over Melbourne.
Hasler said the Bulldogs would go into the 2014 season in a much better position to how they started last year after Mbye starred in a 20-10 win at Suncorp Stadium, where the match was used to promote the Brisbane Bombers NRL bid.
By comparison, Melbourne could be without Ryan Hinchcliffe (ankle), Justin O’Neill (leg) and Cooper Cronk (shoulder) for their March 8 clash with Manly, while there is still a little doubt over Billy Slater (knee).
“It was his first hit-out in the big grade, he’s got a big future ahead of him,” Hasler said after Noosa junior Mbye played a role in several Dogs tries.
“Don’t push him at this stage. It’s too early to write him up so I wouldn’t be doing that.
“You will – but I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Hasler insisted it was too early to say if Mbye could make the bench for the season opener against Brisbane on March 7. The coach’s assessment of how his team was placed heading into the season contrasted sharply with that of his opposite number, who lost lock Hinchcliffe to a twisted ankle in the 42nd minute.
“We’re going better than we did last year, when we had five out,” he said.
Bellamy commented: “Our attack was a little bit all over the shop. I think we’re in reasonable shape. Obviously we haven’t got everyone available but after today, at least our defence was in order.”.
Bellamy refused to comment on Cameron Smith’s ongoing deliberations on his future. “I’ve said all I am going to say on Smithy. First we’ll sort it out and see what he’s doing and I might say something then.” Bellamy then told reporters: “One more thing…” and stopped himself from continuing.
There were fears Canterbury winger Krisnan Inu had suffered a facial fracture in a head clash with Storm replacement Hymel Hunt but the initial diagnosis was merely bruising.
Melbourne signing Ben Roberts was booked for a lifting tackle with two minutes remaining. Of Hinchcliffe, Bellamy said: “They put him in a boot, they don’t think he’s too serious but I just saw it myself and it’s blown up.
“You’d like to think Billy will be OK. He could have played 20 or 30 minutes today. He trained yesterday and he got through a fair bit of work.”
Hasler said Melbourne “seemed to be on our tryline for an eternity – but they couldn’t do much with it. It would have been nice is Slater and Cronk were playing. You can only do what you can do.”
CANTERBURY 20 (J Morris 2 C Stanley M Brown tries; Stanley 2 goals) bt MELBOURNE 10 (M Fonua K Bromwich tries C Smith goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: A Shortall/S Hayne. Crowd: 10,083.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
IN a way, these Rugby League Week year-enders can serve as historical records. You can leaf through old dog eared copies of the The Bible and relive what went right – and wrong – for your favourite team.
But in the case of 2012 grand finalists, the Canterbury Bulldogs, the full story probably hasn’t been told yet.
A season which promised so much ended on September 15 with a 22-6 elimination final loss to Newcastle at ANZ Stadium. The fact fullback Ben Barba failed to finish the game due to an ankle injury completed a sorry circle for the Bulldogs.
At the beginning of the season, Barba was suspended by the club for a month over “behavioural issues”. There is a photo of his former partner, Ainslee Currie, with a bleeding lip which remains unexplained.
And no sooner had Barba been stood down than rumours began to circulate over deep divisions in the first grade squad. By the end of the season, the daily press reported he was not even on speaking terms with many of his team-mates and had failed to finish counselling sessions which had been described by the club – at the time of his suspension – as mandatory.
It would take an extremely optimistic Dogs fan to maintain these internecine conflicts had not adversely affected the club’s bid to go one better on last year’s runners-up finish.
But many of these factors remain unexplored, the subject of speculation and supposition. There’s not much we can say about them here and that may remain the case for years, although continuing media enquiries into club CEO Todd Greenberg’s move to NRL headquarters could uncover more about events during the coming summer.
In the meantime, all we have are the results and the public utterances of those within the club on which to judge why 2013 fell so far short of expectations for the men from Belmore.
The 24-12 home loss to North Queensland – in a game shifted to BlueTongue Stadium – in round one was actually not as big an upset as it now looks, given that many pundits had installed Neil Henry’s side as premiership favourites.
Des Hasler’s side then snuck home against Parramatta in Sydney – another performance that looks worse now than it did at the time – before losing a tight one to Melbourne at AAMI Park.
Further defeats to South Sydney and Manly followed before a 38-0 belting by the Sydney Roosters exposed the depth of the club’s predicament.
The break for the representative weekend ushered in some signs of life.
There was a 24-8 win over Cronulla and crushing 40-4 triumph against Wests Tigers, followed by a tough 24-16 success away to the Warriors. Steadily, the Dogs began to rise back up the table.
Heading into round seven, they were last. Before round 10, it was 11th.
Then it all came crashing down again – and it was at the hands of the side that would eventually end their season. Newcastle 44 Canterbury 8 at Hunter Stadium on May 19 was a shock to the Dogs travelling supporters and brought the soul searching back.
Wins against Brisbane and St George Illawarra righted the ship somewhat and, heading into the Origin series, the blue-and-whites were ninth, but on the same number of competition points as the seventh-placed Knights.
The Origin period was initially kind to Canterbury.
A ten-point away win over North Queensland was followed by a two-point overtime nail-biter at Brookvale.
The tricolours edged out Hasler’s men by two, then the Knights continued to exert their hoodoo before the Bulldogs scored a remarkable 39-0 Sunday afternoon success over a severely depleted Melbourne.
Into the home stretch then, with the rep season over, and going into round 20 in sixth position. There are wins over Parramatta and St George Illawarra before a watershed home defeat to a gritty, determined Gold Coast on August 12.
As we know, the Bulldogs hung on to make the finals, dropping a couple more games including their final regular season fixture to Brisbane. But the consistency, which coach Hasler must have been confident would arrive eventually, never really showed up.
Hasler said of the final that put the dogs out of their misery: “That could be any game that we’ve tossed up in the last 10 weeks.
“I’m really disappointed with the ball (retention), I’ve been going on about that for a while.”
He insisted it was too difficult to sum up accurately why his side had not managed to recapture the magic of the previous year. “I think we’ve been pretty inconsistent,” he said.
“We’ve got an off-season to review it. We’ll certainly be doing that.”
Our season reviews are supposed to be about football, not off-field intrigue. But when one has an impact on the other, the dividing line becomes more than a little blurry.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK