DISCORD 2013: Edition 47

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
YOUR correspondent has a tough decision to make before Christmas – how to vote in the Golden Boot poll.
The nominees for that gong that goes to the best player in the world have been released today: Johnathan Thurston, Sonny Bill Williams, Danny Brough, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Sam Burgess.

It seems like a pretty good list to me. Thurston was man of the match in the World Cup final, Williams was RLIF Player of the Year, Brough won Man of Steel, Cronk got the Dally M, Smith and Burgess were consistently outstanding.

I’d be interested – and maybe even swayed – by your comments over who should get it. I won’t say mine will be a “vote for the people” but I’ll listen. Personally, at this early stage, I’m leaning towards Thurston – even though he was on my bench in the Team Of The World Cup which was published in the final match programme.

Thurston was rested during the tournament while the United States Joseph Paulo played every game and played well. That is not a contention that Paulo is a better player. To me, the spirit of such teams is that you don’t take into account the quality of the opposition, you just look at performances.

In fact, that’s the spirit of the whole World Cup, why it’s not just about who won. Anyway, let me know who you think should win the Golden Boot.
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AUSTRALIA were unbelievably ruthless last Saturday but anyone labelling the performance the ‘most complete in memory’ has a short memory.
In the 2004 Tri-Nations final at Elland Road, Australia led 38-0 at halftime on the way to a 44-4 win. The Great Britain side they beat had been widely tipped to give them a run – they finished top of the competition table – and there had even been injury and illness concerns for the Australians before kick-off.

But the Aussies played football as close to perfect as any this reporter has ever seen in the opening 40 minutes.
We ran into Shane Webcke – who played in the game – on the way out of Old Trafford on Saturday and checked that our memories were not deceiving us. He said that while the Aussies had been great on Saturday, the 2004 performance was something else again.

“And I am the one who came closest to making a mistake in that first half,” he said.
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WIGAN coach Shaun Wane knows Super League clubs can’t compete with the NRL or rugby union financially – so he tries to reward them with life experiences.
That’s why the Super League champions are looking at playing PNG in Kopoko on February 15. The proposal to play the Warriors in Auckland is back on the table, I understand – just a couple of days before the Nines.

That would make for a fantastic week of rugby league in the City of Sails but the problem is that Matt Elliott’s side has pledged it will field its best side and the Nines and Wigan don’t want to play against second stringers.
If the game against PNG – which will be their last warm-up before joining the Queensland Cup – is played, I’ll be going to a little place called Kokopo, not Eden Park.
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OK, a few comments now.

read on

Rabbitohs Prepare For Aerial Storm

2013 Melbourne Storm HeadshotsBy STEVE MASCORD

SOUTH Sydney’s left side defence is bracing itself for a Cooper Cronk air raid in Friday night’s qualifying final, with Melbourne winger Justin O’Neill on the way to becoming rugby league’s most dangerous bomb chaser since Israel Folau.

Halfback Cronk kicking for O’Neill, with fullback Billy Slater racing through to capitalise, was a repeated tactic on Saturday night against Gold Coast and the Rabbitohs have taken note.

Facing up to the acrobatic, 186 cm O’Neill is 181 cm Nathan Merritt, who says: “Probably Israel would be (the best) – such soft hands and a great athletic jump He was awesome under the high ball and could snatch the ball out of the air.

“Cronk’s one of the best kickers in the competition.

“He’s got an accurate kick on him. He puts it in a perfect position for his outside men to catch so we’ve really got to work on our game, making sure we attack the football and get some numbers around the football.”

Joining Merritt in surface-to-air defence on the left will be centre Bryson Goodwin and back rower Chris McQueen.

“We’ve just got to be good in our kick defence – do your best, I guess,” said Goodwin. “They’re well known for their good catching ability down there and Cooper Cronk, his kick’s always on the spot.

“We’ll have a look at it on the video and see what we can do. You’ve got to be switched on all the time.”

Storm back rower Ryan Hinchcliffe says O’Neill, Cronk and Slater spend plenty of time rehearsing their triple-act.

“It’s something we work on each week,” he said. “I guess it comes down to how each team defends, whether their defender’s up in the line or whether he’s back. Cooper sees that. If the winger’s up, he kicks it over his head, if he’s back, they’ll just run it.

“He’s a great athlete, Juzzy, and when he’s got his game on, he’s very effective for us and it’s great to see he’s doing that well this time of year. It’s a big play in big games, especially the way teams defend up and in these days.”

There’s still been no decision on whether Gareth Widdop or Brett Finch will be fit to play on Friday, while Souths report no changes but some tactical alterations from coach Michael Maguire would not surprise.

Maguire told reporters on Wednesday he had spoken to firebrand forward Sam Burgess about tempering his tempestuous ways.

‘Everything that goes on in the game, you are always talking to your players about those incidences,’’ Maguire said at Redfern Oval on Wednesday.

‘‘He’s obviously disappointed, but the easiest way to fix that is make sure he goes out and plays the way he can and I’m sure he will this Friday.’

‘‘There’s many different ways he can focus his energies into what he does on the park and you see that every week.

“A lot of our conversations is about what he needs to do about playing for the team, as in the structures and the things we need to get ‘on’.

‘‘Our attack at times, particularly last weekend, wasn’t there to what we can do. Sam is a big part of that so a lot of that conversation is about him doing his part for the team.”

Filed for: THE AGE

THE WRAP: NRL Round 23

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

IF rugby league is good at anything, it’s internal fighting. But if it has a second forte, it’s slang and jargon.
Where else could you have the squirrel grip, the prowler tackle, the grapple tackle, the bomb and the chicken wing?
So when Wayne Bennett accused Melbourne and Sydney Roosters on Sunday of deliberately conceding penalties to buy time, it was instantly too much of a mouthful. It cried out for a slang term.
Your industrious correspondent immediately took to Twitter to find a snappier term for the (alleged) practice. The winner? “Tandying”.
A deliberately conceded penalty is therefore a tandy and someone who deliberately concedes a penalty is a tandier. The problem with the allegation is, of course, that we’ll never know if someone is  Tandying unless we have evidence the coach told him to.
In any case, the Roosters and Melbourne deny employing the practice.
“Wayne’s entitled to his opinion,” said Roosters coach Trent Robinson.
“I think our integrity’s intact as far as the way we play the game. We’ve been very strong in the way we’ve gone into each game. We weren’t happy with that. But it’s not a snapshot of the season.”
Likewise, Melbourne’s Cooper Cronk laughed off the allegation when he fronted the media at Newcastle Beach on Monday Morning.
“No, I’m not sure where that question’s coming from,” Cronk said when asked if his side deliberately conceded penalties. “Wayne’s entitled to his opinion.
“He’s a respected voice of the game but, look, I haven’t been a part of a side what wants to deliberately defend its line any more than we have to. “I think the game is hard enough as it is without making it harder for yourself.”
Cronk had his own criticism of the Knights regarding the illusive spirit of the game – an allegation that they wet the footballs before kick-off. “That may have happened,” he said with a smile

BEST OF ROUND 23: James Maloney’s 10 from 10 kicking performance in Monday Night Football. Doesn’t happen very often. WORST OF ROUND 23: Jeff Lima’s leg twist on Anthony Watmough. Ugly.
WEIRDEST OF ROUND 20: Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin’s claim that no-one is under any pressure inside the Broncos camp. Even though they’re linked with two fullbacks from other clubs and their halves have been told they’re in reserve grade?
WHAT I SAW: Melbourne winger Mahe Fonua arrive in Newcastle from Brisbane by plane just four hours before the game. He was in the programme – but clearly wasn’t playing.
QUOTE OF ROUND 20: “Is this an interview about the game, bro?” Sonny Bill Williams after being asked by Andrew Johns when he was going to make a decision on his future and whether he was going to the World Cup.

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 23

The Joy Of Six1. WHAT PRICE COMPASSION?

SHOULD a player who gains compassionate leave profit financially from it? According to NRL head of football operations Todd Greenberg, capping payments made to a player released on compassionate grounds – perhaps for the term of the original contract he escaped – will be discussed as part of the salary cap review. Another suggestion was to hand the difference in any contract back to the player’s former club, as compensation. This might work if, say, Ben Barba or Anthony Milford go into the Brisbane’s cap by NRL decree at a higher price than Canterbury or Canberra would be paying them next year. In that case, the difference between that figure and the cap amount could be paid by Brisbane to the Bulldogs and Raiders. “Compassionate grounds, if that (release) is awarded by clubs, they may well make the decision that the commercial terms don’t change,” Greenberg said on the ABC

2. WHAT HAPPENS IN BRISVEGAS

BRISBANE coach Anthony Griffin and his media manager, James Hinchey, are friendly, down-to-earth, likeable fellows. But their approach to talking about the – very necessary – recruitment going on at the club right now is curious. Even after signings have taken place, such as that of Sydney Rooster Martin Kennedy, there is no announcement. Peter Wallace and Scott Prince being told they are in reserve grade, or the club’s interest in Ben Barba and Anthony Milford, are treated as if they are figments of the media’s imagination – but never denied. And on Friday, Josh Hoffman was stopped almost mid-sentence while talking to television cameras . Fans have a right to know who a club is talking to and letting go. If you can’t comment because talks are at a delicate stage, why not say “I can’t comment right now because talks are at a delicate stage”? Melbourne’s squeamishness about anything concerning their departing assistant coaches is equally mystifying.

3. BRENT TATE: ORIGIN MADE ME

BRENT Tate won’t be retiring from State of Origin and wants Australia’s World Cup selectors to know it. Tate has heard coach Tim Sheens will be picked a team with a view to the future; his future will still including playing for Queensland. “I’m very mindful of where I am with my body but at the same time, I think Origin makes me a better player,” said Tate after the 22-10 win over Gold Coast. “Being around that environment, it takes me to another level. It would be really hard for me to to say ‘no’ to it. I feel as if I’m not quite ready (to quit). On the World Cup, he said: “I’d love to go, although I know Tim has said there’s a bit of an eye on the future. I was part of the last World Cup and it would be nice to be able to go there and right a few wrongs. If I get a chance there, I’ll be the first one with my bags packed.”

4. NATIONAL INFORMATION MINISTRY

THE NRL’s ill-advised crackdown on what is arbitrarily deemed “excessive” criticism by coaches of referees will be put to the test today when Geoff Toovey’s post match media conference from Friday is examined. It used to be that you had to question the integrity of a match official to cop a fine; now you pretty much only have to upset the NRL. How can reporters rely on the NRL to enforce media regulations and free speech at clubs when the administration itself indulges in censorship? On a more positive note, the ARLC will attempted to make the link with touch football an international association by encouraging the RLIF to make contact with touch’s international governing body, FIT. We’ve rapped the NRL over the touch footy deal but here’s another brickbat: officials travelling around Sydney in chauffeured cars isn’t a great look.

5. BEING JOHNATHAN THURSTON

YOU may have wondered exactly when Johnathan Thurston turned from a footballer to a role model and ambassador; the sort of fellow who spots kids in the crowd during games and tells the ballboy to hand them a signed kicking tee. The Closing The Gap round, of which he is a frontman, seemed an opportune time to ask him. “When I had that misdemeanour of getting locked up in Brisbane (in 2010),” he said on ABC when I asked. “It didn’t only just affect myself. It affected my fiancé Samantha, my parents, my brothers, my sisters, my family. That’s when I really had a good, hard look at myself and the legacy I wanted to see when I leave football. I’ve got a four-year deal and I want to make the most of these four years because after that, you know, I’ll be in the real world.”

6. MELBOURNE BALLS TAMPERED WITH AGAIN

MELBOURNE have become the victims of ball tampering for a second consecutive week, it is alleged. Last week it was Sam Burgess fiddling with Chambers’ willie, this week it was Knights officials lubricating the pigskin with water. Storm halfback Cooper Cronk complained to referees Jared Maxwell and Brett Suttor that the Steedens had been placed in water before kick-offs and this had lead to at least one knock-on. Melbourne officials did not want to add to the allegation when contacted late Sunday. Co-incidentally, while Sam Burgess is currently serving a two-week suspension for tampering with Chambers, the last known example of interfering with a ball in the NRL was perpetrated by his England team-mate, James Graham last year. Graham rubbed his legs in vaseline, primarily to make him harder to tackle but with the perhaps unintended incidental result of making balls harder to handle too. OK, enough.

And a bonus ‘zero tackle’

7. GREEN GRASS OF WEMBLEY

NEXT weeks’ Set Of Six will come to you from Wembley Stadium, where Wigan and Hull are preparing to take part in a rematch of one of the top two matches I’ve ever seen, the 1985 Challenge Cup final that pitted Peter Sterling (black and white irregular hoops) against Brett Kenny (cherry and white). Playing half for Wigan will be former Parramatta and Cronulla man Blake Green and NRL talent scouts should be glued to Eurosport to check his form. Just about every Australian who signs with a Super League club these days has a get-out clause and experienced halves aren’t really thick on the ground. Blake’s agent Isaac Moses is flying to London for the game but no doubt in a different part of the plane to your correspondent. We’re cheering for Hull though, on account of Mark ‘Ogre’ O’Meley having an opportunity to win something special in his last season.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Cooper Cronk’s Origin Advice To Daly Cherry-Evans

Cooper Cronk/wikipedia
Cooper Cronk/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD
QUEENSLAND halfback Cooper Cronk has made public the advice he will give Daly Cherry-Evans about filling the fraught interchange utility role in Origin II.
Melbourne’s Cronk started his Origin career as an interchange specialist behind Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston, only gaining a starting place upon Lockyer’s retirement.
Manly’s Cherry Evans comes into the Queensland squad for Wednesday’s Suncorp Stadium clash with NSW after coach Mal Meninga used four forwards on the bench in game one.
“You get the experience of Origin without the pressure cooker of starting,” Cronk tells Fairfax Media.
“The worst thing is you get to warm up, you get all the adrenalin, and then you have to sit down for a bit.
“I know Daly will want to have an impact and that’s a positive. You want to come out in the game when most players are tired and I’m sure he’ll have a contribution to this performance on Wednesday night.
“(The advice is) ‘don’t hesitate’.”
Cronk says filling the bench role helped prepare him for his current position as Australia’s first choice halfback.
“I was fortune enough to play that sort-of utility role in the early years,” Cronk says.
“I think it was really a benefit in terms of getting a feel for Origin. It’s helped me today and I know I’m more than happy to help Daly would in terms of any questions in terms of playing in the middle or playing in the halves or anything like that.”
Cronk was rested from last Sunday’s narrow win over Newcastle and says he is not longer stressed about missing club games at Origin time. Brett Finch deputised and will again do so in Monday Night Football against Gold Coast.
“We’ve got Brett Finch playing at an extraordinary level at Cronulla and hopefully we don’t lose five games at the end of Origin so there’s a plan in place,” he said,
“I was a little bit sore after the Sharks game so there was a decision made. The boys are playing this week without the Origin players so getting Brett Finch in a week early – the result made the decision a smart one.
“I’ve probably changed in my attitude in terms of watching football. I used to find it difficult but I’m comfortable with the decision.
“You try to stick to a plan and while it doesn’t guarantee you success, hopefully it’s the best thing for the club.”

Like his club, state and national captain Cameron Smith, Cronk was dismayed by the off-field controversies of recent weeks and is acutely aware of the damage done to the game’s image in virgin territories like Victoria.
“We as players have a responsibility greater than the scoreboard – to entice young people to play the game, mums and dads, I think that’s paramount whether you’re playing at the highest level or the lower levels,” he said.
But Cronk offered no philosophical musings such as his comments before the opening match of the series about villages made of hay and states of grace.
“I heard it caused a stir,” Cronk said when asked about the email interview in question, “but I’m comfortable with every single word that came out.
“I described it in a manner that’s probably not the norm but look, it is what it is.”

Filed for: SUNDAY AGE

NRL round 13: MELBOURNE 38 CRONULLA 6 at AAMI Park

By STEVE MASCORD

ON his own website, Cooper Cronk denies being Superman. But last night he even had an ‘S’ on his chest as he pummeled Cronulla during team-mate Cameron Smith’s 250th NRL game.

Cronk’s kicks and passes were responsible for every one of Melbourne’s five first half tries in a 38-6 win at AAMI Park that brought the Sharks’ run of four consecutive victories to a shuddering halt.

Melbourne were sponsored by an upcoming Superman movie for the night and it was if every time Cronk kicked the Steeden, it turned into a ball of Kryotonite. He was finally given a spell by coach Craig Bellamy with 20 minutes left.

Smith was joined by his family on the field at full-time after a wholehearted effort just four days after Origin I. A seagull that distracted him during a conversion attempt just before halftime seemed to be the only blot on the copybook of a memorable night.

“Jeez he put me off, he rattled me, the old seagull,” said Smith.

“But I couldn’t have asked for a better effort from the boys. The win’s a bonus. I was just just hoping for a good performance from the boys, building on what we did against the Roosters a couple of weeks ago.

“The boys looked fresh. They must have enjoyed their week off last week. I’m obviously very proud of the boys effort to get a win in my 250th.”

After leading 28-0 at halftime, the Storm added to their total when Gareth Widdop put in a last-second grubber kick for centre Justin O’Neill to score in the 57th minute.

Less than 60 seconds after the missed conversion attempt, Widdop and Maurice Blair combined to put Billy Slater over and into the top 10 all time premiership tryscorers. With his wife and children looking on on his big night, Smith made it 38-0.

Earlier, The Sharks fumbled and bumbled under Cronk’s kicking barrage on the way to the heavy halftime deficit.

Cronk’s 40-20 put Melbourne in position for the opening touchdown. It was almost a training run from the scrumbase as centre Maurice Blair charged over without and hand being laid on him, Smith converting for 6-0.

At 17 minutes, it was fullback Michael Gordon who spilt Cronk’s bomb. NSW Origin star Ryan Hoffman duly plunged over, video referees Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten confirming defender Andrew Fifita had not been obstructed by Ryan Hinchcliffe.

Smith goaled, the scoreboard ticked over to 12-0 but Cronulla should have scored next.

Sharks winger Sosaia Feki looked to be over for sure but the fast-adjusting Melbourne defence had other ideas, holding him out with some Herculean defence.

Almost according to script, it was Feki who provided the next fumble. The five-game rookie sWiuddpilt another Cronk bomb on his own tryline, with Kevin Proctor crossing for a try which the eyes in the sky again approved. Smith again ticked the scoreboard over, to 18-0.

It was Cronk once more when his grubber kick rebounded off the legs of Sharks captain Wade Graham in the 31st minute. The halfback scooped up his own kick and lobbed a flat pass into the arms of Tohu Harris who scored.

Cronk’s pass to fullback Billy Slater almost provided the fifth Melbourne Storm try. Instead, the home team had to wait a few seconds, five-eighth Gareth Widdop getting his share of the the spoils.

As the halftime break closed in, a seagull did what the Sharks had been unable to – stop Melbourne scoring points from a kick.

In attempting to convert Widdop’s try, Smith was distracted by the bird and ended up missing the shot.

Cronulla started NSW Origin stars Andew Fifita and Luke Lewis from the bench. Before kick-off, coach Shane Flanagan said he had an issue with the grading of suspended captain Paul Gallen’s striking charge from Origin I.

He also called for an inquiry into the impact of representative suspensions on clubs sides. Melbourne’s previous biggest win over the Sharks was 28-0 in 2008.

MELBOURNE 38 (M Blair R Hoffman K Proctor T Harris G Widdop J O’Neill B Slater tries C Smith 5 goals) bt CRONULLA 6 (B Ryan try, T Carney goal) at AAMI Park. Referees: A Klein/C James. Crowd: 16,231.


Filed for: THE AGE

How Australia Turned The Anzac Test

Cooper Cronk/wikipedia
Cooper Cronk/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

COOPER Cronk has revealed the tactical change that turned a 6-6 halftime deadlock into a handsome 20-point Australian ANZAC Test victory.

“We definitely readjusted our gameplan in that second half,” the Australia halfback tells League Week.

“The conditions play a part in terms of New Zealand playing field position and (being) camped on our line. We threw a few long passes in that first half which allowed the New Zealand rushing defence to shut us down.

“We shortened things up (in the second half), played down the middle third of the field and obviously used the wind behind us.”

Prop James Tamou says winning back the World Cup was not mentioned once by coach Tim Sheens or his players in the lead-up to the 32-12 victory at Canberra Stadium.

“Obviously, Sheensy wants to keep this team together, depending on form and injuries,” says North Queensland’s Tamou.

“We want to keep this team close-knit.

“It wasn’t really mentioned this whole week, how New Zealand hold the World Cup. I think, later on, it will be more mentioned and the hype will be huge.

“We just wanted to play this game first.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK