THE JOY OF SIX: 2015 NRL Nines

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

THIS COULD BE MAGIC, SAY NINES ORGANISERS

COUNTING their dollars after a second wildly successful NRL Nines, the promoters have set their sites on a “Magic Weekend”, with an entire round of matches played at Eden Park. St George Illawarra hooker Heath L’Estrange, who has played in the British equivalent, pushed the idea to Set Of Six early Sunday and Duco Events’ David Higgins responded: “That’s a great idea and one about which I have already spoken to (business partner) Dean Lonergan. It would be a big success for the game. We have a good relationship with the NRL now and something I’m sure will be raised.” While Higgins said he had an open mind about adding teams to the Nines in future season, he didn’t sound keen. “If it’s not broke, why fix it?” he mused. “There is great purity to what we have now.”

CRONULLA CULTURE NEEDED AN OVERHAUL, SAYS ARONA

THERE are those who are cynical about the extent of any changes that have occurred at Cronulla since the ADASA controversy. But according to forward Tinarau Arona, the strong showing at the Nines was a testament, not to a distraction-free preparation as the popular narrative ran, but to the extent of how much things have been rebuilt. “It was more for us to play (in response to) the changes at the club, the change of culture,” he said. “We’ve worked hard in the off-season in cleaning up things on and off the field.” Asked to expand he said: “We’ve gone through a lot, obviously, last season and worked at being professional on and off the field.”

PATRICK MICHAEL HUNT

GOT an embarrassing middle name no-one knows about? Just as well you didn’t play in the Nines. The online link for official team lists seemed to include names straight of the passports of NRL stars. Jason Taumalolo is actually Vaai Taumalolo, the real first name of Young Tonumaipea is Yee-Huang., Chanel and Peter Mata’utia are really Chanel and Peter Mata’utia—Leifi and Isaah Yeo is Issah Ferguson-Yeo, amusing team-mate and radio commentator Jamie Soward. Wait, there’s more. “Nene” may be an unusual first name but the winger’s real Christian name is Bosam. And we’re guessing that aside from the tournament organisers, the only person who calls Josh Dugan “Joshua” is his mum.

WALLAROOS PLAY ROLE IN ROOSTERS SUCCESS

WOMEN’S sport played a bigger role in events over the weekend than it would appear at first glance. The girls involved in the three womens’ nine-a-side games at Eden Park thrilled the crowds but the Australian women’s rugby union sevens team also contributed to Sydney Roosters getting to the penultimate round. “One of the staff at the Roosters, her partner is Tim Walsh who coaches the women’s sevens,” said Roosters boss Trent Robinson. “He came in for a day and gave us some tips and told us how he would play the nines.” The Roosters concentrated last year on the World Club Challenge but earned more from getting to the finals at the weekend. “The players get a fair share, I think they keep thinking about the dollar signs at the end of each game.”

MOEROA’S ATOL

PARRAMATTA’S Tepai Moeroa was born in the Cook Islands, raised in New Zealand and lives in Australia. According to the way of the rugby league world, that would be – in reverse order – the countries he would want to play for. But not this hombre. Asked after a blockbusting try against Newcastle on Saturday to which nation he intended to pledge his loyalty, the giant 19-year-old said: “Cook Islands”. He’d chose the Cooks ahead of the big two, if they came knocking? “Yeah. That’s where I’m from so I’d represent the home country.” Good man Tepai – we need more like you.

SUPER BOWL SATURDAY

IT wasn’t quite the University Of Phoenix Stadium but Canberra’s Jack Ahearn bought a piece of the NFL to Eden Park at the weekend – two pieces, actually. The 22-year-old was wearing a pair of flash silver and blue boots as he scored the try that stunned the Warriors on Saturday afternoon. “They’re NFL boots, actually,” he said. “I got them from the US when I was over there. The boys bagged me about them but I think they were good luck today. I think I’m the only one, I haven’t seen anyone else wearing them.” Immortal Andrew Johns and new NRL official Shane Richardson spend the weekend at the real Super Bowl.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: TONGA 22 COOK ISLANDS 16 at Leigh Sports Village

By STEVE MASCORD
COOK Islands winger Jordan Rapana wrote himself into international rugby league folklore with a spectacular bombed try – and then told his coach he would have converted it to tie an epic World Cup battle with Tonga.
It took 23 years for Great Britain winger Martin Offiah’s in-goal fumble in Christchurch to be challenged – by Sonny Bill Williams in Warrington – and only nine more days for a gaffe that arguably eclipsed them both.
Searching for the first ever win in a World Cup match, David Fairleigh’s side roared back against the more favoured world game t-shirtTongans at Leigh Sports Village and by the 68th minute trailed by just six points.
After play broke down briefly, causing the Tonga defence to hesitate, five-eighth Johnathan Ford put Canberra’s Rapana over in the right corner without a hand laid on him.
But as the former Gold Coast prodigy tried to ground the ball, he dropped it. There was no further scoring and the Cooks’ campaign is over.
“He reckons he would have kicked the goal, too – fair enough,” said coach David Fairleigh.
“(The error) is not why we got beat. The game writes its own story. There was a collection of things throughout the game. To pin it on one thing … it’s not Jordan’s fault, that’s for sure.”
Interestingly, Rapana hadn’t even done the goal-kicking up until then in a game which kept alive Tonga’s and guaranteed the United States their quarter-final against Australia.
The duties had instead been performed by Newtown winger Chris Taripo, who with a hat-trick, provided all his team’s points and was man of the match.
Crossing in the 18th, 42nd and 61st minutes, he beat the flanker who has been ahead of him at Sydney Roosters all season, grand final star Daniel Tupou.
“Tupou, he was in my position at my club, and I was up against him. It was good,” said Taripo, who is without a club next season.
“I was stoked just to be in the team because I wasn’t named last week.”
The towering Tupou acknowleged he had been bested. “I know him as a bloke, a good friend of mine,” the 23-year-old said.
“I talked to him after the game, said congrats and thanks for showing me up.”
After losing their opening match to Scotland, Brent Kite’s Tongans were expected to roast the Cooks.
But after Glen Fisiiahi’s early scored for Tonga, the underdogs hit the front with Taripo’s first two touchdowns. The second, from Drury Low’s kick, took advantage Tupou’s height by keeping the ball on the ground.
On the half hour, Tonga regained the lead when second rower Jason Taumalolo bullocked over from close range – and then centre Konrad “Hurricane” Hurrell posted the individual try of the tournament.
donateFirst he beat Cook Islands captain Zeb Taia and he added five more victims on a bumping, steam-rolling 35-metre run to the tryline two minutes short of the break.
Taripo completed his hat-trick two minutes after halftime and converted for 18-16 and there it stayed until Tonga winger Jorg Taufua managed a benefit-of-the-doubt try in the 61st minute, with video ref Richard Silverwood unable to see the ball on the ground.
Tonga needs the United States to beat Scotland on Thursday to keep alive their campaign. “We definitely need a favour,” said Kite. “They’ve played well to get into the position they’re in.
“I’m just hoping they’re not going to take this one too easy and rest too many.
“I’m not too proud to beg: get out there USA and get us a win. We’ll owe you one.”
Cook Islands have a dead rubber against Wales at Neath on Sunday. “We want to try to create history by getting our first win at the World Cup,” said their captain, Zeb Taia.
TONGA 22 (Glen Fisiiahi, Jason Taumalolo, Konrad Hurrell, Jorg Taufua tries; Samsoni Langi 3 goals) beat COOK ISLANDS 16 (Chris Taripo 3 tries; 2 goals) at Leigh Sports Village. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 10,544.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: UNITED STATES 32 COOK ISLANDS 20 at Memorial Ground, Bristol

By STEVE MASCORD

AFTER 60 years of false dawns and half a decade of bitter civil war, American rugby league celebrated its finest hour in a midweek West Country rain squall at Bristol’s Memorial Ground.

When Mike Dimitro’s American All Stars toured Australia in 1953, there were overtures for the United States to be invited to the first World Cup – in France – the following year.

Their eventual exclusion became the first of a litany of snubbings, missed opportunities, hair-brained schemes and outlandish promotions for rugby league in the land of hype and glory since.

But when the Americans finally made it to the Coup Du Monde on Wednesday, they made their mark and declared afterwards there was finally something to build on and end the bitter internal wrangling and cycle of disappointment.

Late tries to prop Mark Offerdahl and halfback Craig Priestly secured a 32-20 win for the Tomahawks over a Cooks side including NRL stars Drury Low, Issac John, Dylan Napa, Brad Takairangi, Dylan Napa and more.

“To be honest, it’s probably the proudest win I’ve been involved with,” said Penrith’s Clint Newton, who as the son of golfer Jack was born in Myrtle Beach.

“Everyone thought we were just here to make up the numbers.

Key figures in American league had roundly criticised the number of heritage players selected by the Tomahawks, with incumbent captain Apple Pope missing the squad altogether.

Coach Terry Matterson and players called on the detractors to support them now the Tomahawks off to a winning start. “if they could just be here and see the bond the boys have built,” said Matterson, “it’s amazing”.

Newton added: “USA Tomahawks needed to field the best possible team to give it the exposure it needed to hopefully grow the game in the States.

“By that result tonight, hopefully people will say ‘this is something we can persevere with.

“I’d like to think (critics) will get behind us. Instead of throwing the knives in, let’s support it and be positive.”

When five-eighth Takairangi scored after only only six minutes, the portents were not good for an American team drawn from everywhere between the NRL and Hawaiian rugby union.

But winger Bareta Faramaimo dashed over off halfback Priestly in the 13th minute and then former Parramatta and Gold Coast winger Matt Petersen took his chance on the other side of the field.

Canterbury’s Low tied it up at 10-10 for the break and, as was the case the previous night with Tonga, Cook Islands seemed destined to win comfortably.

But when Tomahawks captain Joseph Paulo dotted down after regaining a kick a minute after the resumption of play, it was clear the US were not willing to fill the role of unlucky losers.

The sides exchanged tries before the moments that defined the event: replacement Offerdahl taking captain Joseph Paulo’s pass to score in the 71st minute and then Priestly winning the race to the ball two minutes later.

Cooks coach David Fairleigh said his men “lost some ball control at critical moments. This competition so far has been one of upsets.”

UNITED STATES 32 (Bureta Faraimo, Matt Petersen, Joseph Paulo, Tui Samoa, Mark Offerdahl, Craig Priestly tries; Paulo 4 goals) beat COOK ISLANDS 20 (Brad Takairangi, Drury Low, Lulia Lulia, Domique Peyroux tries; Rapana 2 goals) at Memorial Ground, Bristol. Referee: Ben Thaler (England). Crowd: 7247.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

 

Gelling Returns To Moore Park A Changed Man

Gelling, AnthonyBy STEVE MASCORD

WHETHER or not he plays, Anthony Gelling says just walking through the gates of Allianz Stadium this Saturday will be an act of catharsis.
The 23-year-old Cook Islands international was dramatically sacked by Sydney Roosters in 2010 when he was found, along with team-mate Sam Brunton, to have defecated in a hotel room.
It’s been a long road back for Gelling, who is fighting for a spot in the Wigan backline for the first World Club Challenge to be played in Australia for two decades.
“It’s huge … to go back to my old club where I played 20s and I’ve not played in Aussie since,” Gelling tells League Week.
“It’s a good opportunity. I feel like I’ve gone full circle since I left. I left there when I was 18, 19. All the footy I’ve played since, all the travel I’ve done, just maturing … it’s kind of a credit to myself, really.
“It will be great to go back and see all the people involved in the day and the people coming along to watch who have supported me along the way. To play will be awesome.”
Gelling hopes to earn a second chance and eventually return to the NRL. “I’d love to, it’s always been a dream to play NRL,” he said. “But I’ll focus on what’s ahead and that’s Super League.”
The lanky threequarter says the competition for places in the Wigan side was responsible for a blazing 30-points-without-reply finish to last Wednesday’s 46-22 win over the Warriors in Hamilton.
“He threw some of the fringe players on at the end and everyone’s pushing for a place,” said Gelling. “It’s a huge game for our club, particularly with the proud history we have. It showed with our defence and our attack.
“The tough thing, going into big games, is that the week before you’ve already got your eye on what’s ahead of you. It kind of happened to us before the Challenge Cup last year – we got touched up by Catalan in France.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: Number 31

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

MORE World Cup warm-up news from your favourite RLWC news source and New Zealand are set to take on the Cook Islands the week before the tournament commences.

Far & Wide has been told Doncaster is being looked at as a possible venue. It’s going to be a big moment for the Cooks to take on their ‘big brothers’, whom they are unlikely to meet in the tournament proper.

Of course, the Kiwis owe the Cooks big time after canning an international in Rarotonga at the last minute when the Warriors made the 2011 grand final the previous week.

At the time, there was great disquiet in the Cooks and demands for compensation.

Salford is likely to host the England-Italy warm-up while France will tangle with the United States in Toulouse on October 18.

Australia aren’t planning a warm-up but just about everyone else is. We’ll update you as soon as we can.

Meanwhile, Affiliated States combination will tour Samoa some time in September.

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FRENCH rugby league has been restructured for the coming season, which runs during the northern hemisphere winter.

There will be an eight-team Elite One Championship and then Elite Two East and Elite Two West. You play every team in your league once and then there is some complicated inter-league system which Far and Wide is struggling to understand.

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NORWAY have a bit European Bowl appointment with the Ukraine this weekend and if you think the State of Origin coaches bend the rules regarding bringing extra players into camp, check out coach Matt South’s squad.

He has whittled it down to …. 38 players. Ten are provided by the gun Oslo Capitals club.

The match is in Kharkov on July 6. The Ukraine squad is a much less unwieldy 20 players.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

International: COOK ISLANDS 28 LEBANON 24 at The Crest, Sydney

By STEVE MASCORD
 
IS there any way that Scott Sattler’s legendary tackle on a flying Todd Byrne in the 2003 grand final could have been more heroic? How about if Sattler had no idea of the score at the time?
That’s the situation the Cook Islands Sam Brunton and Chris Taripo found themselves in during an epic opening to the international season before a small but vocal crowd at Bass Hill in south-western Sydney a couple of Sundays back.
The David Fairleigh-led Cooks held a 10-6 advantage over Lebanon at halftime and then appeared to run away with the contest in the second half, with Wigan centre Anthony Gelling starring.
Fairleigh’s side, drawn from all over the world, knew they led by a lot. But with no ground announcer, scoreboard or even match program, they weren’t sure how much. In fact, it wwas 28-6 with 12 minutes to go
Then David Bayssari’s Cedars scored a try. And Another. And Another.
With less than a minute left on the only clock in the ground – on the desk of the time-keeper seated near halfway – Lebanon winger Cliff Nye broke into the clear.He swerved and sprinted past several defenders and to within 10 metres of an epic try.
Brunton and Talipo dove at his ankles. “It was Sammy Brunton who got him,” Fairleigh said later.
Brunton protested: “It wasn’t me. I think he just tripped over himself … or it was Chris.”
But what made their efforts even more astounding was that neither of them even knew the game was on the line. “We didn’t know the score,” said Gelling, who played 11 matches for Wigan this year.
“Apparently if they had scored and kicked the goal, they would have won. But we didn’t know that.”
Those who say today’s players don’t have any national pride and switch sides as mercenaries should have been at The Crest. Traditonal Cook Islands drummers played in the stands, a fearsome war dance was performed before and after by the victors and each country had merchandise stands which would put NRL clubs to shame.
The line-up for the sausage sandwiches – pay at the canteen first and they give you the bread – could have been faster and most fans would agree that a knowledge of the current score ehances the experience of watching live sport.
But passion?
There by the truckload. Just look at the Sydney Roosters pair of Brunton and Taripo who showed superhuman desperation without even knowing it had the capacity to decide the contest.
The Lebanese administration has undergone an overhaul and is very much based in Lebanon – rather than Sydney – these days. Chief operating officer Remond Safi flew out from Beirut and potential Cedars representatives are being identified at an increasingly young age.
“He’s been out for a month,” said Bayssari. “The boys get to know who he is, who’s running the show for us.”
Fairleigh’s original side included Canberra utility Reece Robinson and Newcastle’s Zane Tevevano, among other NRL stars who pulled out through injury. He expects to have them all available for the World Cup. “We’ve got quite a few to come in,” said Fairleigh.
This Sunday, rugby league breaks now ground with Thailand taking the Philippines and Bangkok Police Stadium, with Gavin and Casey Badger creating their own first as a husband-and-wife international refereeing team.
On Monday, the Phippines side will travel to Manila. NRL stars Andrew Everingham, Matt Srama and Kevin Gordon will visit an orphanage on Wednesday before hosting coaching clinics on Thursday and Friday.
The following Saturday, a Queensland Indigenous side likely to include former Brisbane hooker Ian Lacey will take on the Hawaii All Stars, guest-coached by ex-Cowboy Cory Paterson, at Kaiser Stadium in Honolulu.
The game will feature a cultural exchange with Aboriginal dancers performing with their Hawaiian counterparts before kick-off.
Injury and suspension means Luke Burgess is now likely to be the only NRL player involved in the triangular series that pits England against Wales and France this month and next. But brother George is also padding up for England Knights in the European Cup involving Scotland and Ireland.
And on November 10, plans to play the World Club Challenge in Las Vegas will be put to the test when the Foundation Cup – involving Coogee Dolphins – is played in the gambling mecca.
The tournament also involves British Columbia Bulldogs, California Condors, Utah Avalanche and Las Vegas Warriors – all comparitively new converts to our game.
But, knowing the Americans, a ground announcer and scoreboard are assured.
 

DISCORD 2012: Edition 38

By STEVE MASCORD
THE hysteria about whether Mad Monday should be scrapped is really just a matter of semantics.
What do we expect our players to do the Monday after their season ends? Stay home and knit? South Sydney have simply stopped club-sanctioned Mad Mondays. They can’t stop grown men going to the pub and they probably can’t stop them dressing as Wonder Woman.
There are plenty of precedents in the wider world for parties on company property being a thing of the past. Even Christmas parties are dying out.
We have media Mad Monday every year but no-one has ever suggested we do it at News Limited or Fairfax or that those organisations fund our indulgences.We exchange texts and phone calls and decide on a convenient venue amongst ourselves.
Players will have to do the same, probably. Face it: life is just less fun than it used to be.
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THIS week’s Discord comes to you from Townsville, where the Australian team trained in earshot of an ernest game of bingo at the Brothers ground today.
Everyone is in a good mood, it’s stinking hot and the game is sold out. What more could you ask for?
Last Sunday I saw the other end of the scale when it came to international footy when a desperate defensive effort saw Cook Islands hang on for a 28-24 win over Lebanon at the Crest in Bass Hill.
The scramble to ankle-tap flying Cliff Nye 10 metres from the tryline with 10 seconds left was even more remarkable given that – in the absence of a scoreboard or ground announcer – the brave defenders had no idea what the score was and how important their feats would be!
On to Thailand on Monday for Thailand v Phillipines – the first full rugby league international ever played in Asia.
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As a result of last week’s column, I’ve been on Twitter a lot this week. More of that later. One fellow yesterday asked for an apology given the findings of the NRL that the Bulldogs’ Mad Monday comments had not been directed at a Channel Nine reporter.
I’m happy to say I’m sorry or admit a mistake but I wanted to check what I was apologising for, first. There were six points regarding the Dogs in last week’s column.
Point one was about the conventions of covering Mad Monday – not affected by the NRL finding. Nor was point two about footballers getting more favourable treatment that other entertainers. Point three about the Bulldogs failing to generate goodwill with previous media engagment – no impact. I certainly won’t distance myself from believing clubs now have to deal with reporters they don’t know with as much respect as those they do.
Now, point five is the big one. If the comments were incorrectly reported by Channel Nine, then I do apologise for saying some good has come out of this. But the reporter involved still insists they were directed at her and not as presented by the Bulldogs. So it’s still hard to know on this point. I’m not in a position to call either party liars.
As for point six, about the absence of an experienced media manager, the NRL’s findings have no impact there.
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NORMALLY there is a section at the bottom of Discord called Feedback, where we respond to the four, six or 10 comments people have taken the time to make about the previous week’s column.
This week there were 101 comments.

FAR & WIDE: Number 17

By STEVE MASCORD

PACK your picnic baskets, international rugby league is coming to western Sydney a week after the NRL grand final.

Lebanon will take on the Cook Islands at The Chrest in Bass Hill on October 7. Both sides are expected to include a sprinkling of NRL talent.

The Cooks can call on the likes of Zane Tetevano, Geoff Daniela and Dominic Peyroux. More detail as it comes to hand.

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IT’S taken a while but we finally have a draw for the European Cup which – as predicted in Far & Wide – will not involve Italy even though Alitalia are the sponsors.

“When coupled with the significant expenditure FIRL committed to the World Cup qualifiers the Italian rugby league felt it was not in a position to support the national squad for a further three weeks, even with a support package from the RLEF,” said Rugby League European Federation general manager Danny Kazandjian.
“It was an extremely difficult decision for FIRL to take, and their board, with the close co-operation of the RLEF, has decided to undertake a full review of their governance to ensure they are running as efficiently as possible in this challenging economic climate.”

Here’s the draw:

Round 114 October: SCOTLAND v IRELAND, Meggetland, Edinburgh 1400 hrs Round 2 19 October IRELAND v ENGLAND KNIGHTS, Belfast Harlequins, Belfast 1930 hrs Round 3 28 October: SCOTLAND v ENGLAND KNIGHTS, Meggetland, Edinburgh 1400 hrs

 

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CONGRATULATIONS to the United States, 28-24 winners over Canada in the recent Colonial Cup game in Toronto

Two players in the Tomahawks train-on squad are figuring in the Intrust Super Cup play-offs. Tui Samoa of Redcliffe and Cory Blair of Tweed Heads hope to be turning out for the US in the World Cup.

Still on North America, British Columbia won a new cross-border representative game against Utah, 32-28.

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TRIALS will continue tomorrow for the Lebanon Under 16s team which will play in the Harmony Cup at Western Weekender Stadium on October 6.

The Cedars certainly have some knowhow in the coaching ranks for the side, with Paul Khoury the main man, David Bayssari head of the coaching department and Richard Kairouz the fitness man.

Selectors struggled last Wednesday to pick just 30 boys from the flood of hopefuls who attended the initial trials at Ruse Park in Bankstown. Tomorrow (Thursday) is the second of two trials this week aimed at whittling the squad down further.

Other teams in the Harmony Cup are set to be Australian Indigenous, Mediteranean, Africa, Malta, Samoa and Maori.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK