THE news out of Wigan the other day prompted media reactions on either side of the globe which were, Travels believe, out of step with reality.
In Australia, Sam Tomkins’ signing with the New Zealand Warriors was downpage brief in even the most enthusiastic rugby league paper, the Daily Telegraph.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact the signing has been the worst-kept secret in the game for months, and that Tomkins is not going to a Sydney club, but we are predicting his performances will render it a much bigger story than that.
The second media reaction which we reckon will be proven as a gross under-playing is that of the signing of Matt Bowen as Tomkins’ replacement at the DW.
I watched both Super Leaguer Fulltime and Backchat and they each described Bowen as “a stopgap” who was there primarily to mentor younger custodians at the club.
I think Bowen has the potential to be a sensation at Wigan and to make the sort of impact John Ferguson did. Have you seen his last couple of games for North Queensland? He almost won that controversial, seven-tackle, game against Cronulla.
“Mango” (so called because the north Queensland town of Bowen is a mango-producing hub) is an electrifying returner of the football and has evasive skills to match those of the man he is replacing.
He looks to be over his knee problems. He is the best Super League signing in years – on name alone, the best since Luke O’Donnell or Danny Buderus.
Wigan fans and Super League pundits, don’t be so maudlin.
CLUB Call is just fascinating.
Logic suggests that getting to choose your opponents in a final should be an enormous advantage. And Warrington’s record against Huddersfield suggests it will be.
But coaches rate psychology, and motivating rivals, so highly that they deem it worthy of distancing themselves from this advantage that has been offered to them, and which they have taken.
If you’ve ever wondered why coaches are so careful about what they say, and what their players say, and why they pin seemingly inane newspaper articles to dressing room walls, here’s your answer.
Warrington’s Tony Smith is a smart man. He knows that he can have his cake and eat it too by distancing himself and the players from their club call choice.
Barrie McDermott recently said being picked in club call did give teams an extra edge – something mere mortals like us find hard to understand because we think you’d be heavily motivated for a sudden death game anyway.
But something drives a team when they are on their last legs, like Manly was last weekend. If it’s being called out as a desirable opponent, sobeit.
A LITTLE bit of World Cup broadcast news that has reached my ears.
read on

THE JOY OF SIX: Finals Week Two



ASKED on Saturday night why his Newcastle side was coming good in the finals, coach Wayne Bennett replied: “It’s spring”. Then quizzed if that was the reason just for him, he replied: “For all of us, that’s the time you want it to happen”. On the eve of the second preliminary semi-final, veteran Danny Buderus said Bennett was “a different coach” during the finals. That was apparent to outsiders after the 18-16 victory, when Bennett acceded to every interview request. On Sunday, he even made a rare appearance on FM radio. The reason Wayne Bennett makes himself scarce for most of the year is so he can cash in his media chips when it matters most, drawing attention and pressure away from the players by cracking jokes and hamming it up in public. The man with an image for dismissing the media actually strategies his interactions with them down to the finest detail.


YOU’D be forgiven for forgetting there is plenty of rugby league on after the grand final, by virtue of the World Cup. But will there be any star players still standing? Benji Marshall and Justin Hodges are already gone, Sonny Bill Williams is rated at long odds chose the tournament over boxing and then there are the walking wounded of the the NRL finals series. Greg Inglis, Anthony Watmough and Billy Slater (all knee) all look doubtful for Australia. Jack Reed’s shoulder has already cost him his England spot and if Brent Kite is playing with a broken hand, it’s hard to see Penrith encouraging him to play for Tonga. Sisa Waqa suffered a grade two medial ligament tear on Saturday night and seems set to be a Fiji Bati casualty. There will no doubt be more withdrawals – probably many more.


WOULD it really be such a bad thing for referees to be given a third option when they send a try decision upstairs, namely “dunno”. The signal could be arms at the side, bent at the elbow, with flat palms pointed at the sky. Maybe a head tilt as well. But seriously, is there not a logic disconnect in saying the on-field official must make a decision in 100 per cent of cases, only using technology to doublecheck his decision, then making it significantly harder for technology to disagree than agree with him? Surely the information of the video referees is being hampered to such an extent that we might as well not have them at all. Not having “dunno” seems a matter of pride rather than practical sense. At least I think that’s the case. I’m not sure.


LATE on Sunday night, Tony Smith – brother of Brian – was force to make a decision which he detested. Under the rules of the Super League play-offs, as the highest-ranking winner of week one in the play-offs, Smith’s Warrington got to choose their preliminary final opponents. The Wolves had a choice between Huddersfield, 76-18 winners over Hull, or perennial late-season-peak men Leeds, 11-10 winners over St Helens. Smith detests ‘club call’, as it is known, for old school coaching reasons – it gives the opposition ammunition. That’s how highly coaches rate psychology – they’d rather pass up the chance to choose their own opponents! The question is, who would 2012 Catalan coach Trent Robinson choose this year? I’m banking on the team where he used to be assistant under Tony Smith’s brother – Newcastle.


ONCE upon a time, all finals were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground or Sydney Sports Ground. You knew it was September in Sydney when the wind picked up and you waltzed onto the hill around midday to watch under 23s and reserve grade. But crowds were poor early in the finals, so we shifted matches to home grounds. Then we did that in week two, then week three. And we stopped using suburban grounds completely. But – as we saw at the weekend – attendances are still and issue. What is the logical next step? Tendering out finals to venues who can guarantee big gates and financial security, perhaps? Perth, Auckland, Brisbane, Wellington, Adelaide, Darwin? Seems to be worth a try, given that finals venues are already centrally controlled and the grand final is in Sydney until further notice.


SOME questions regarding Saturday’s NRL media release: One of the people interviewed as part of the probe, a reporter, says he was told by the SC’s assistant the alleged incident itself was not being investigated. If this is true, how can one investigate a cover-up without determining if there was something to cover up in the first place? And how can a person who was not investigated be exonerated in the subsequent press release? Given that that the release said there would be “no further comment”, I guess we’ll never know.  You might be wondering why this column is appearing, given its Sun-Herald predecessor. I’ve only stepped away from chasing news, because I can’t see the point under current conditions. I’m still hoping someone wants me to cover games and write columns and features. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.