THE JOY OF SIX: NRL Round One 2014

The Joy Of Six1. REMEMBER THIS
A CONCUSSION expert from Melbourne spoke to NRL chief executives in Auckland last month and spelt out the cold, hard facts of legal action from former players over concussion. The cost to the game, he warned, would be $3 billion. This would close the doors of Rugby League Central indefinitely. Sunday’s comments from former Australia international Ian Roberts, in which he said his memory had been affected by years of collisions, represented the first hole in the wall of a damn that could wash away Australian rugby league as we know it. By changing concussion rules, the NRL has stuck its finger in that hole. But it’s only a matter of time….

2. IT’S EVOLUTION, BABY
THROUGHOUT the modern history of rugby league, coaches have schemed to stymie the sport in interminable tackling and kicking, which extends their influence over on-field events, and administrators have sought to encourage passing and sprawling attack, which brings spectators through the gates and pays their wages. Like the eternal battle between good and evil, kinda. It’s clear from the weekend, particularly St George Illawarra’s 44-24 win over Wests Tigers yesterday, that administrators are on top right now. How long will the coaches take to nullify the changes to the rules this year? “I don’t think you’ll see too many 2-0 scorelines this year,” said Dragons coach Steve Price. “It’ll be fast for the first few weeks and then when the refs stop giving so many so-called penalties, it will slow down a little.”

3. MORE MAGIC REQUIRED
TWO weeks ago we discussed the dubious benefits of having a Magic Weekend – the entire round at one venue – in the NRL. But after disappointing attendances for three games at ANZ Stadium, a new benefit may have been uncovered. Why employ ushers and cleaners and pay three nights’ rent when you could stage all three matches on the same day and attract a bumper crowd? Obviously there are business-related hurdles but the Homebush venue received a shedload of bad publicity out of the poor turnouts; that would be instantly transformed by a festival day reminiscent of the Nines. The price of moving out of suburbia and into enormadomes may be playing more than one match on the same day, like rock bands who prefer to play together at festivals rather than separately at theatres.

4.EARL FEELING LESS GREY
SANDOR Earl says he would be “personally … devastated” if he was the only rugby league or AFL player suspended as a result of the ASADA investigation. “But in the fairness of it all, it wouldn’t bother me … if all the players got a fair warning and this never happened again, that would be a fair outcome … it would really annoy me, but….” he told Triple M. Earl believes he will soon know his fate and remains hopeful of playing again in August. “It’s been indicated I might be a week or two away from hearing a decision on what’s going on. I don’t know how the process will go down. I guess I’ll get my suspension and it’s just down to whether all parties are happy with it.The way I was told things would go down hasn’t happened. The lack of communication has made it really hard. Six months has flown

5. BY GEORGE….
DID George Rose knock on playing the ball at the end of regulation time in Saturday night’s thriller? It would have beeen a match deciding gaffe if a) the referees had seen it and b) it happened. Manly captain Jamie Lyon complained to the referees about it and later said: “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. Rose, who clearly remains popular at Brookvale judging by the reaction he received from the crown, countered: “It didn’t happen.” Then, in reference to the changes to the regulations surrounding players approaching referee, he added: “Killer always goes up to the ref. That’s why they changed the rule!”

6. GAGGING FOR IT
THIS is not another whinge about media access. It’s an open question to you, the potential spectator at ANZ Stadium on Thursday and Friday night. In the list of reasons you did not go, where does the paucity of meaty pre-match publicity rank? If Sam Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams had spoken widely about their coming clash, and their reasons for going to rugby union, would you have been more likely to go? If you had heard more from Canterbury players after Friday’s game, would you be more inclined to go next week? Traditional media will soon have no impact on attendance at sporting events. Are we there yet?

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

 

DISCORD 2014: Edition Eight

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
LET’S face it, the NRL didn’t do a very good job of proving that players WERE concussed when their clubs allowed them to play on over the past season or so
But now, we are being assured, the League is hellbent on proving they are NOT concussed when – or if – the new concussion guidelines are exploited to get a free interchange.
The bottom line is that it’s a good thing the League is doing something to protect players against themselves, and the sport in this country against bankrupcy which would surely come with an NFL-style class action. An American expert told the club CEOs by video conference recently that the legal action they would likely face would completely ruin them financially.
But the NRL has never taken action against clubs for flaunting the rules as they existed before. Even video of a player being given smelling salts was not considered compelling enough as evidence of an infraction. Players stumbled around on national television and nothing was done.
So it’s hard to believe that collusion that happens behind closed doors, with just a few people involved, to fake a concussion can be adequately policed by the governing body.
Hopefully everyone will just appreciate what is at stake now, and will do the right thing.
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IS deducting points from clubs who go into bankrupcy a bit like executing someone for being dead?
Bradford are on the brink of collapse after their new owners-in-waiting withdrew an offer in response to the Bulls being deducted six competition points for entering administration.
RLF chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer says the would-be owners knew the dangers. Obviously a club going broke is not a good look for the sport and the governing body feels it has the right to respond with some sort of punative measure against those who damaged its brand.
But if there’s a bigger example in professional sport of kicking a dog when it’s down, Discord has not heard it. If the punishment is aimed at clubs who deliberately go into receivership to avoid their debts, why are we punishing the team and the fans, on the field?
Surely we don’t want people who do business in this way involved in our sport OFF the field? Punishing the team by docking points would achieve little but exonerate the RFL of accusations they did nothing.
It’s hard to imagine an NRL club experiencing financial difficulty being docked competitition points. In the past, the administration in Australia has helped clubs in trouble, by either advancing grants or even forwarding loans.
And what of the players still owed money by failed franchises such as the Celtic Crusaders? How does docking competition points help them?
In light of Bradford’s problems, it’s not surprising that the Super League clubs voted against a marquee player system.
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TO those who scoffed at my tweet that Sonny Bill Williams had inspired Sam Burgess’ decision to switch codes, I offer the following quote from Bath coach and former South Queensland Crushers coach Mike Ford on the Rugby League Extra podcast from BBC Radio Manchester:
“I think he’s seen what Sonny Bill Williams has done, switching from one code to the other and how successful he was, playing in New Zealand in thw World Cup in 2011,” said Ford.
“He boxed as well, Sonny Bill.
“That’s the challenge he wants. Sam, once he makes his mind up he wants something, he more or less gets it every time.”
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THANKS to everyone who commented on Discord last week and Set Of Six on Monday.
Alan said the extended 1997 World Club Challenge was good. Most people would describe it as the most disastrous competition in the history of rugby league! As for his comment that State Of Origin was become irrelvant … Alan we dreamers often overlook the importance of tribalism in our game. Tribalism is why we have eight and a half teams in Sydney and none in Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory. There is clearly something to it!
Soot says a summer nines tournament may become irrelevant, like rugby union sevens. I’m sure the boffins at Rugby League Central would be happy to achieve that level of irrelevance. It doesn’t matter if the media ignores it, if it keeps the turnstile clicking over the summer, then the concept will do its job.
DOS called for a PNG team on the NRL. As you may be aware, the PNG Hunters are making their Queensland Cup debut against Redcliffe on Sunday – and I’ll be there. But NRL? Is there a Major League Baseball team in Haiti? Where does the television rights income come from? How do you get players to live there? I have serious doubts it will happen in my lifetime.
Frank from Bexley, I suspect, was taking the mick so I won’t be responding to him.
Taffy said he liked my optimism but I thought last week’s column was largely pessimistic! I disagree that no-one debated union players going to league when union was not openly professional – many column inches were devoted to the subject at the time. And clearly hybrid games are commercial attractive because there are powerful forces pushing for them. You are
right, however, to say rugby union in most places would have nothing to gain from rugby league – which makes the prospects I discussed last week even more forboding for league.
I recommend everyone read Friendly_Raptor’s comment at the bottom of last week’s Discord. I agree with Hear The Crow that Eddy Pettybourne should have been sent off on Saturday.
Here‘s the forum:
Subscribe to the podcast here

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

SIN BIN: October 25 2013

sinbinsign1By STEVE MASCORD

THE most embarrassing bombed try in international rugby league history? Not according to those who saw Martin Offiah’s clanger 23 years ago.

“Embarrassed to not score, but nothing wrong with a lil humble pie,” Sonny Bill Williams tweeted after his left foot slipped over the dead ball line as he attempted to touch down with no defender near him in the 42-24 win over Samoa at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium.

But while Williams’ gaffe will be replayed for years to come and dominated social media on Monday, it wasn’t the worst of its type. In 1990 at Christchurch, winger Offiah – who danced during the opening ceremony to the current World Cup – spilt the ball behind the posts without a hand laid on him.

“It was far, far worse than Sonny tonight – definitely,” Denis Betts, who played in the 21-18 defeat in 1990, tells Sin Bin.

“Sonny did a lot to get there and just slipped. Martin dropped the ball with one hand while waving to the crowd with the other – and it cost us the game and a 3-0 series win.

“We were in front at the time and the Kiwis went up the other end and scored.

“Personally, I think they should have given Sonny that try anyway. He earned it.”

The New Zealand-Samoa game was a genuine World Cup tie, full of colour (Williams’ gaffe and the video referee Thierry Alibert pushing the wrong button), pageantry (the hakas) and even romance (the crowd vocally adopting Samoa).

Williams got the tradition “Who Are You?” chant – reserved for perceived tall poppies – from the festive Warrington crowd.after the slip-up.

“I told him it’s his shout for brekky tomorrow morning,” said prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. “Hopefully he scores two next week.”

Coach Stephen Kearney added: “I’ve seen a few things in football but when you get them all in about 20 minutes like we did tonight, it’s a bit of a surprise.”

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RUGBY League’s looming difficulties in dealing with concussion were underscored on Saturday when Welsh forward Larne Patrick was left dazed making a tackle against Italy.

The Huddersfield player staggered back into the defensive line, cleared his head without being examined by medical staff and soon after made a try-saving hit on an Italian attacker.

Unlike American Football, league does not have the stoppages which allow injured players to be properly examined. It does not have the specialisation which means most players spend more time off the field than on it.

The continuous nature of the game makes it difficult to properly assess concussed players and easier to just leave them out there.

But it still has similar dangers to the NFL when it comes to head knocks. It is also possible to manipulate base scores on cognisance tests which make readings during matches unreliable.

US concussion researcher Chris Nowinski is to visit Australia next month as NRL doctors scramble for the exits amid concerns over the issue.

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BACK to SBW briefly and television viewers were surprised he did an interview with Premier Sports at halftime on Sunday night.

The explanation is simple. The broadcasters can pick who they want for these new interviews and the teams must comply under tournament regulations.

Premier’s Australian-based researcher chose Williams. They’ll only get him once.

Elsewhere, captain Simon Mannering told the Kiwis on the field at fulltime that the performance was not good enough for a World Cup, with a 36-4 lead becoming 36-24.

“It’s obviously not a good enough performance to carry on in this tournament,” said Mannering.

“Hopefully it’s a shot in the arm and gives us something … well, a lot of things to work on.”

Sydney Roosters’ Waerea-Hargreaves said: “You want to be priding yourself on defence and it’s disappointing we let so many tries in.

“The skipper touched on it straight away – we should be very disappointed in the way we defended. We’ve got t control the ruck a lot more.”

For players who were new to English crowds, the New Zealand-Samoa game was an eye opener.

“The crowd were unreal, even though they were going for Samoa,” said halfback Shaun Johnson. “We were talking about it in the sheds just then – the chants they got going and just how the crowd was on top of you.”

Winger Manu Vatuvei played on with an ankle injury while forward Frank-Paul Nuausala was cleared of concussion.


Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

DISCORD 2013: Edition 51

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

THE use of supplements in rugby league are a bit like that of mobile phones in the wider community – we think they’re safe but we can’t yet be completely sure.
News out of Auckland that the old ‘Stillnox’ controversy has made a comeback is obviously of concern. The former Sydney Roosters doctor, John Orchard, once said that people need ‘mental relaxation’ and that if doctors have a drink after work, they can hardly tell others not to.
The mixing of sleeping pills and energy drinks would appear to be a recreational pursuit which is undertaken as a substitute for something else.
It is all part of a bewildering cavalcade of health issues facing our players; issues which they, the game’s administration, fans or all three seem keen to overlook at times as the turnstile keeps turning and the cash register keeps tinkling.
Concussion seems to be something that is in the too-hard basket. No-one has been sanctioned for sending players back out after head-knocks, even though there is no disputing it’s happened.
Prescription drug abuse occurs in all levels of society, in a wide range of human endeavours. Congratulations to whoever it is in the Kiwis camp that raised the alarm. When you bring in experts and employ cutting edge science in a team environment, you also erode the boys club that once kept these things quiet.
Obviously the surfeit of shadowy characters hanging around the periphery of our clubs is the next health-related concern. It’s an issue that has caused us untold damage this year and, thankfully, one which the NRL has taken steps to correct.
Which brings us to supplements. The amount of money being spent on pills at some clubs in reputedly enormous and some players take more of the blighters than hypercondriac New York granny.
Obviously – hopefully – they are not illegal. But there have been few studies into their short-term effects and not enough time to assess long term impact. The concussion uproar now engulfing professional sport could well be mirrored in a decade by one regarding supplements.
Clubs would do well protect themselves legally now by making sure they are comfortable what they are giving their players will not result in a class action lawsuit down the track. WADA is one thing, long term health is another.
The New Zealand Rugby League wants to take a “leadership role” in the abuse of prescription drugs. It would be nice if the sport as a whole adopted a similar philosophy to the myriad other health issues affecting our players.

LEEDS and Wakefield played out an 18-18 draw on Boxing Day in a hangover from an era when rugby league was a winter sport in the UK.
But reading David Smith’s comments the other day about diversifying, and looking at the acquisition of Touch Football, will it be long before the NRL tries to make a move on the summer market?
The Nines are a perfect entry route. Teams of fringe first graders playing to marquees of beer-swillers around the country would seem a profitable concept. Perhaps the Auckland Nines will one day just be the ‘final’ of a tournament that runs from October.
The game’s elite stars need their rest but in rugby union, there are sevens specialists. The money being spent in Auckland suggests there’s an economy there that could support something similar.
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COMMENTS time and there were a lot last time around to go through.

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DISCORD 2013: Edition 46

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
WE don’t normally write much about the other code of rugby here but it was fascinating to see one of Ireland’s greatest-ever union players (and good mate of the Johns boys) Brian O’Driscoll sidelined by a doctor on Sunday.
At the time O’Driscoll was told he could not return to the field because he was showing signs of cocussion, Ireland was on the way to an historic win over New Zealand. Perhaps if he had returned, they may have held on.
Now, rugby union has been accused of not doing enough to protect itself against the sort of legal action over concussion that has happened in the US – but it’s still doing a helluva lot more than we are with its five-minute pitchside assessment policy.
In our World Cup, players have continued on after being assessed on the field, on the run, or seemingly not assessed at all.
Not one fine has been issued to an NRL club under the League concussion rules. The NRL’s chief medical officer, Ron Muratore, has to make an appointment if he wants to meet with … the NRL.
It looks suspiciously like our game has found itself in a legal bind – officially acknowlege any concussion and you can be sued down the track, so let’s pretend there’s none and talk our way through it.
But it won’t be long before someone with a record of being knocked around – and I am plucking Brett Hodgson’s name out of thin air here, as an example – brings the sport to account.
And the current head in the sand attitude is just going to ensure rugby league’s backside is kicked even harder.
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DISCORD had the pleasure attending a Wigan supporters evening on Tuesday, when the guests included Andy Gregory, Bill Ashurst, David Furner, Michael Jennings and Boyd Cordner.
Jennings and Cordner were of particular interest to the throng because they will, of course, playing for Sydney Roosters against Wigan at Allianz Stadium on February 22.
Things started well for Cordner when he was asked about Wigan and he said they must be a good side to win both Super League and the Challenge Cup.
But things went downhill when he added that the loss of Sam Tomkins and Pat Richards would leave Shaun Wane’s side “under strength”. Boo!
And the locals became even more feisty when Michael Jennings was asked how much Super League he watched on TV and answered he made a point of seeing “mainly St Helens”. Boo!
“I told the boys on the way in that all they had to say was they hated St Helens,” Furner, the Australian assistant coach, joked.
Speaking of the World Club Challenge, we’re hearing that the proposed game against the New Zealand Warriors is back on, possibly on the Wednesday preceding the NRL Nines.
The proposed Papua New Guinea game was to be played in Cairns, not Port Moresby, and isn’t completely out of the question, either.
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WE are reliably informed that Scotland’s Australian-based players – Luke Douglas, Kane Linnett and Peter Wallace – are the Bravehearts who gave back their expenses because of the SRL’s financial woes.
At the moment, Scotland can’t afford to fly them in for internationals next spring. Douglas, in particular, had an emotional journey this year in a campaign he dedicated to his late mum and wants to come back.
It certainly flies in the face of the idea that NRL players are self-centred and narrow minded, doesn’t it?
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OK, let’s address some comments\

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Is The NRL Too Scared To Fine A Club For Breaching Concussion Rules?

Dr Jack Kazanjian at 2010 Atlantic Cup in Jacksonville
Dr Jack Kazanjian at 2010 Atlantic Cup in Jacksonville

By STEVE MASCORD
WHEN it comes to doctors, “viral” usually has a more traditional meaning. But over the last month, a video dossier has gone viral – in the modern sense – among medics at NRL clubs.
It shows South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds being administered smelling salts in two matches, against Sydney Roosters and the Warriors, George Burgess apparently receiving the same treatment against Gold Coast, Issac Luke’s head jolting back when tackled against Manly and Greg Inglis being knocked out against the Warriors.
Comments from Inglis regarding his lack of memory of the Perth clash with the Aucklanders are also referenced.
The dossier forms a case other doctors believe they have against the Rabbitohs, who they say aren’t following concussion guidelines and may even be gaining a competitive advantage from it.
Ron Muratore, the NRL’s chief medical officer, knows about the dossier. He has passed on concerns to the NRL. But very little seems to have happened.
“We’ve been in discussions with a number of clubs, including South Sydney, over a number of issues this year,” said Nathan McGuirk, the NRL’s general manager of operations.
“We are comfortable with the processes that have been followed.”
Asked if he wanted to reveal what action that was, McGuirk said: “Not particularly. We’re satisfied with what has happened.”
Asked if the action was ongoing, McGuirk said: “Our dialogue with South Sydney over this has reached its conclusion.”
The concern from many is that if the NRL fines a club over breaking concussion guidelines, it could form the legal basis of the sort of class action that has just happened in the NFL. And that would bankrupt the game.
But rules with no teeth are less likely to be observed; so player safety is the casualty.
Rabbitohs chief executive Shane Richardson says there’s nothing underhand going on at Redfern. “Troy (Thompson, performance manager) says he’s been using smelling salts for years,” he says.
“Now we’ve been told we can’t use them, we won’t. It’s like caffeine tablets – once upon a time you couldn’t have caffeine in your system, now you can take those tablets before games.
“We stood down Issac Luke when he was concussed last year. Maybe someone wanted us breached. No-one brought it up with us. No, we weren’t fined.”
In November 2010, English referee Phil Bentham was outraged when an American doctor, Jack Kazanjian, ran onto the field and demanded an international be stopped until a concussed player left the field.
Dr Kazanjian, who hopes to be the United States team doctor at this year’s World Cup, had seen Jamaican hooker Jamaine Wray stumbling after a heavy hit and wanted him ordered off.
While many NRL and Super League doctors have worked behind the scenes to better protect players from the long- and short-term effects of head knocks, the American will be remembered for taking a singularly dramatic and militant stance
“I was ridiculed,” Kazajian tells League Week when we track him down in his Philadelphia surgery.
“I was made to feel like I was some American bozo who was hyper vigilant and wasn’t up with the toughness of rugby league. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“For people to suggest at the time I was intervening to help USA beat Jamaica – that was asinine.
“I was superseded by the referee, which appalled me at the time – particularly on American soil.”
Kazanjian says the concussion issue has “exploded” in the US since 2010, when it was already a massive issue in comparison to the comparatively relaxed attitude employed in Australia at the time.
He admits, however, that most sports still don’t have independent medical officers but reckons the days of doctors “having steaks and drinks with team owners” and doing their bidding are long gone.
The Pennsylvania physician says since 2010, the “crude” mandatory stand-down periods for different grades of concussion have been replaced with testing-based methodology.
“On one hand, this can get an athlete back on the field earlier,” he said. “On the other, if you follow professional hockey, you would know Sidney Crosby was out for almost a year and a half.
“It’s no longer a case of ‘OK, you know where you are, you can count to five, you know who the prime minister is, get back out there’.”
While it would be convenient to illustrate this story with an x-ray of a normal brain with one that has suffered multiple concussions, that would not tell the story.
“You can’t see lesion on the brain that indicate ‘when this clears up, the injury is gone’,” said Kazanjian.
“Someone could register a normal CT scan and actually have suffered chronic trauma.
“We have identified something called CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. It leads to irreversible psycological problems – depression, memory loss, people who want to commit suicide or forget where they are driving,
“In former athletes, it has caused alzeimers and the early onset of dementia.”
What does a doctor think when he sees a player stumbling? “The fact he (Wray) was stumbling around meant his brainwaves weren’t working properly.
“The big danger is in the second collision. That’s what research has taught us. That can be catastrophic and it’s important to get someone off to avoid that.”
Kazanjian says he was encouraged by emails of support from NRL doctors in the aftermath of his stand three years ago.
“Vindicated? I wouldn’t say I feel that. I am just pleased that rugby league has moved to make it’s game safer for everyone,” he said.
“These people might have rugby league as their priority right now but they have jobs and family to think of. Our proirity is that they can provide for their children and function fully well into their eighties.
“That’s what’s really important.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE BIG ISSUE: #38

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

EVEN if you are reading this the moment RLW hits the streets, there’s a good chance you’ll already be regarding the wall-to-wall ‘SBW v Canterbury’ hype as media overkill.

Friday’s game has been canvassed and foreshadowed for so many months that it’s going to be good for many league fans just to get it over and done with.

But it’s important to remember what happened in 2008 – and what didn’t. It was a MASSIVE story and sometimes our memories distort things. Here’s a few elements of Williams’ secret departure from the Bulldogs that have been lost in translation.

1. He left in “the dead of night”. Actually, it was a Saturday afternoon. Customs officials called rugby league open line radio programmes to report seeing him leave;

2. He paid a transfer fee. Well, he did eventually – after the Bulldogs kicked up a stink;

3. He went to London to get a Samoan passport, so he could play French rugby union. In fact, Williams had gone to Samoa in a trip partly organised by the Bulldogs in May of that year, where he made contact with government officials and started the ball rolling in securing a passport.

This reporter received a phone call in May at the Daily Telegraph. He asked if I was aware of the Samoan trip. I double checked with the Dogs and they said it had all been above board.

In my next conversation with the source, he insisted I wasn’t aware of the real reason for the trip and that it would be a big story.

He wanted money. I told my immediate superior, then told the source that to the best of my knowledge we did not pay for stories. That’s the last I heard from him.

I have no regrets about that – paying for stories is wrong in my opinion.

I will say it’s good to have Williams back in rugby league. I will also say it would have been much better had he never left.

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THERE aren’t two teams in the National Rugby League with more scrutiny and pressure than St George Illawarra and Brisbane.

The expectation on both to succeed must be intolerable and both coaches, Steve Price and Anthony Griffin, are following in the footsteps of a giant in Wayne Bennett.

In professional sport, expectation + poor results = criticism. Expectation + failure = the sack. If you are the coach or players at one of these two clubs, there are two variables in the equations above that are outside your control – expectation and criticism.

So they are things you can easily allow to annoy you and wear you down.

But the sun rising is outside your control too – that doesn’t make it any less inevitable. A successful club will get criticised if they are not successful in the short term and a coach will get sacked if his results are not up to scratch in the long term.

Actually, nowdays, make that the medium term.

Griffin last year seemed a likeable larrikin who seemed happy to do his best and let the cards fall where they may. This season, he seems more uptight. The Broncos have the look of a club battening down for a tough year. It was good to hear him talking at the end of his last interview on Friday about seeing his family and relaxing after a much-needed win.

If we’re talking body language, Price seems to be taking the opposite trajectory. Despite having his job offered to someone else and starting the year with three losses, he’s got his sense of humour back and is showing outsiders a glimpse of his personality for the first time.

The fact is, critics always lose because the team they bag always wins eventually. To follow professional sports – a bunch of adults dressed up like kids chasing a bladder around – you have to suspend disbelief somewhat, like going to a pantomime.

We all play roles that have been played for more than a century and the way we all interact is pretty much pre-ordained. In the grand scheme of things, it matters not. Football is just entertainment.

Sports critics will always be pantomime villains. We know it. But we love it.

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WHEN Jamie Soward collided with Chris Houston on Sunday and WIN Jubilee, there was mirth. It was an unusual, accidental, David-and-Goliath encounter that left Houston wobbly-legged.

Weaned on Roadrunner cartoons, we are conditioned to think of people (or coyottes) wandering around not knowing where they are as funny. We even have an image of tweety birds circling heads and friendly expressions like ‘in Disneyland’.

These clichés are as outdated as the cartoons they once featured in. Concussion is now clearly linked to dementia and early death.

It doesn’t help that we process a punch-up on the field completely differently to one we see in the street. In public, we would call 000 if we saw bare-knuckle fighting. On the field, we cheer and laugh.

But if we are to ever deal with concussion in rugby league properly, we have to learn to be horrified and worried any time we see the slightest hint of disorientation from a player after a collision.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK