Barba Now The ‘Complete Footballer’ Says Ennis

Barba, BenBy STEVE MASCORD

THE star of the 2012 season who crashed and burned is now back as a “complete footballer”, according to a man who’s had a front row seat all along

Cronulla fullback Ben Barba was Dally M medallist as Canterbury fullback that year, only for off-field dramas to see him leave the club the following year.

A foray into the halves and a double change of clubs followed for Barba, who seemed to have permanently lost his way in the ruthless world of professional sports.

But in a 62-0 belting of Newcastle on Sunday, no-one was left in any doubt of the triple B headine – Ben Barba is Back.

“Benny’s been super slick since the start of the year,” said his team-mate then and now, Michael Ennis.

“He’s in a great space. Everyone will always look at 2012 in terms of that run that he had. But in terms of being the complete footballer, he’s taken massive leaps this year.

“He was brilliant back then too. That was as good as any fullback I’ve ever played with, what he did in 2012. But what he’s doing with our side both with the ball and more importantly without it, he’s evolved. He’s developed heaps in the last three years

“He’s in a good place and he’s playing some enormous footy for us.”

Ennis says it trying to recapture his attacking brilliance was the easy route for Barba, now 26.

“When you have a year like he did in 2012, everyone spoke about his attack and his line-breaks and his tries and the highlights reels,” the rake said.

World Cup ebay“When he went through those hard periods at the Broncos and the early part of last year with the five-eighth trial, you always try to attack well to get your confidence back.

“It’s what he’s done off the ball … you see his attack start to flow and his confidence start to come again. He’s a good player.”

Despite scoring 11 tries on Sunday, Ennis revealed: “It wasn’t until (Saturday) when we even worked on our attack.

“It’s been all about our defence this week because Flanno (coach Shane Flanagan) thought after a week and a half away from each other it’s an area where we could have taken our foot off the pedal.

“You look at the Broncos and the Cowboys and and their last 18 months that they’ve had and then the Storm have been doing this for quite some time– we’re just behind them.

“We’re just doing our thing and keeping it low key.”

As a veteran of 20 first grade games for the Knights, Ennis felt desperately sorry for his opposition.

“In those games, you sometimes get away from the opposition,” he said.

“I felt a bit sorry for them in the sense that it goes from 16, 18 to 50 really quick sometimes when the momentum’s not with you.

“As painful as it will be, they’ll get some real good experience from it.

“It’s hard to pull back. They’ve got some real good players up here, real good young kids who are going to be players of the future.

“I like what Browny (coach Nathan Brown) is doing up here. I think in the coming years they’re going to be a good side. It’s just hard at the moment.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
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Fittler Endorses Maloney For NSW Job

Maloney, JamesBy STEVE MASCORD

JAMES Maloney says the endorsement of Brad Fittler as NSW Origin I five-eighth is no consolation for Country’s poor showing in what will probably be the second-last match ever against City.

Fittler, who represented the Blues 31 times, reckons Cronulla’s Maloney is the stand-out candidate to wear the six jersey on June 1 at ANZ Stadium.

But Maloney, 29, tells RLW: “I supposed it’s a nice endorsement to have but I said it leading into this game: my whole focus was to get a win.

“And I’m pretty down at the moment because it wasn’t the case. That’s what this week was all about.

“It was getting a win for Country and we didn’t do it.”

Speaking on radio Triple M at fulltime, Fittler – coach of victors City – said: “Right now at the present time, we’d have to say James Maloney at five-eighth.

“Early on, he had us in all sorts.

“The game got away and he most probably … I’m not sure how urgent he got personally but … the game got away and that wasn’t due to his fault.

“He’s most probably in the best form out of all of them.”

Fittler said halfback was a more vexed position because of the lack of in-form candidates. “I think Adam Reynolds is a fantastic player but the last couple of games, the kicking game, the backbone of his game, has been a bit down,” he said.

Because of a change in the NRL TV deal in 2018, City-Country has only one game to go for the foreseeable future and Country needed to win both remaining matches to draw level on the all-time ledger since the concept went Origin.

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Maloney said: “We couldn’t shut down that free-flowing, off-loading style of football they played.

“I would have loved the (City-Country) game to stay. Hopefully there’s still room for it on some form.

“It means a lot to the country. I think the turnout here showed that and a lot of the boys enjoyed playing in the week. I know our boys had a ball this week.

“They had a lot of pride in the jumper and that’s why we’re all hurting now because we couldn’t get the result.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
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How Cronulla’s Jack Bird Smashed A Footy Taboo

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By STEVE MASCORD

AS if we needed further proof rugby league culture is changing quickly, Cronulla star Jack Bird has sparked stunned looks from team-mates by inviting his girlfriend into the sheds for the victory song.

Just eight days after the NRL entered a float in the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, 20-year-old Bird was so thrilled with the 30-2 win over St George Illawarra he decided to share it with his partner Mirea.

“Say something about me!” Bird shouted to suspended team-mate Chris Heighington when he was chatting to Rugby League Week after the derby triumph.

Heighington complied, telling us: “Pretty funny, I’ve never seen it in my time, he had his missus in here after the game!

“…for the team song, he had his missus in here! I’ve never seen anyone’s girlfriend or wife in here after a game.

“I made a point of it, saying something. I’ve never seen it!”

Bird cheekily hit back at the former England second rower, saying: “Heighno had better watch out – I’ll be getting him back.

“If you watch the video of the team song, Heingho gives me three cheers after bringing her in!”

While Mirea is out of shot in this  video, Heighington’s exhortation is clearly audible near the end.

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A partner entering the dressingroom for the team song – which rugby league is trying to push via digital media to be as big as it is in the AFL – is something of a watershed for footy culture and rituals.

In any other time since 1908 – with the possible exception of grand final day – it would have been unthinkable. For years rugby league was seen as a boys club where women were there to wash the jumpers and waie pompoms.

But the NRL has got involved in women’s rugby league over the past two years, resulting in an improvement for Australia’s on-field fortunes.

Sundays Southern Cross Stadium game was controlled by openly gay referee Matt Cecchin. Other formerly taboo subjects like depression and the long-term effects of concussion are being dealt with seriously.

On Sunday, players mingled with hundreds of fans who invaded the pitch at fulltime.

Will the team song – a sacred rite of Australian sport – soon become a family event? Heighington couldn’t see it happening immediately.

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Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

The Eight Most Intriguing Players In The NRL

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

GREG INGLIS

South Sydney - Greg InglisFOR 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

Marshall, BenjiBENJI 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.”

ANTHONY WATMOUGH

EVEN when ‘Choc’ wasn’t doing interviews – back when Manly were under intense media scrutiny – he would be cracking jokes with us.

Manly - Anthony Watmough

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.”
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JAMES GRAHAM

Graham, JamesJAMES 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.”

MICHAEL ENNIS

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

Canterbury - Michael Ennisprimo 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.”

JARED WEAREA-HARGREAVES

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 Waerea Hargreaves, Jaredplayer 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!”

GLENN STEWART

‘GIFTY’ Stewart has a bit of his brother Brett – the ‘wronged’ bit – and Stewart, Glennsome 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”.

DARUS BOYD

 

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

St George Illawarra - Darius Boyd

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

The Biggest Season-to-season Form Reversals In Premiership History

rlwBy 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.

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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.

advertise here4. PARRAMATTA 1962

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.

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7. MELBOURNE 2010-2011

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

JOY OF SIX: round one 2015

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

SEEING RED OVER MOSES
WHAT if Dallas Donnelly pulled up outside an NRL ground in his time travelling Delorian and went inside for a gander? What would he make of a competition where you are sent to the sin bin for punching someone but stay on the field for a deadset coat-hanger? How can we be SOFTER on an offence now than we were in the seventies? It defies logic. The ban on referee comments stifled the debate on Saturday night surrounding Mitchell Moses’ shot on William Zillman. Set of Six will debate it; Moses should have been sent off. Flailing fists deter parents from letting their kids play rugby league – do we think mum wants little Johnny to do his best rag doll impersonation every weekend?
BATTLE AHEAD
WELL may Phil Gould and Penrith oppose an external draft – they have more juniors than most other clubs. But one donatechange in the game that has gone un-noticed over the summer has been the rebranding of the state leagues, aside from NSW and Queensland. The South Australian Rugby League is now NRL South Australia – and so on. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Moore Park HQ. No doubt, the aim is to do the same with the NSWRL, the QRL and the CRL. The NRL wants to be to rugby league what the NBA is to basketball – that is, just about everything. It will take care of all development and clubs will be shells focused only on winning first grade matches and attracting fans. Set of Six likes the idea.
COCKY FOWLS NOT SCARED OF FOULS
LOTS of things have changed this season by according to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, one thing hasn’t. “It’s a little bit faster, sides are trying to find their feet. Sides don’t want to give away too many penalties away – bar the Roosters. They were quite happy to give penalties away and then defend ‘em.” The Roosters do not like accusations they deliberately give away penalties. Flanagan nominated Trent Robinson’s team, South Sydney and Parramatta as sides who had “put their hand up” over the weekend. The Sharks boss wasn’t sure how he’d feel going to Remondis Stadium last night for his first game back from suspension. “Surprisingly, I’m pretty calm about the whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’ve got a job here to do and I’ve just got to get on with it.”
HELLO 2015
SOME random observations about our first taste of premiership football for the year. One, the game IS faster and there IS amazonless wrestling, and the crowds like it. Friday night at Pirtek Stadium, particularly in the first half, was a revelation; the word “fickle” just isn’t in the dictionaries of western Sydney. Your correspondent was at Headingley, where they sing all night, eight days previously and the local Blue and Gold Army outdid their British cousins easily. A bulked-up Anthony Milford in the halves is a gamble. We won’t get reliable forward pass rulings until there are chips in the balls. Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua could be the centre pairing of the year. Pat Richards could easily realise his ambition of playing in the 2017 World Cup. Live free-to-air TV coverage on a Sunday should have happened years ago.
THE SHAFT FOR SHILLO AND SHANNON
TRENT Merrin was only “dropped” for Monday Night Football if you don’t count the game against Warrington, which he also started from the bench. He was in the starting side for round 26 last year, though – we checked. Two men who WERE dropped, by any definition, are big Canberra forwards David Shillington and Shannon Boyd. They were named in Canberra’s first grade side on Sunday – Shillington in the starting front row – but played NSW Cup. Coach Ricky Stuart admitted the hot conditions were in his mind but “there’s a few other reasons – nothing untoward in regards to the two boys. We made the decision earlier in the week.” Stuart reckons the quicker rucks this year mean “dropped balls and penalties are making a big difference between winning and losing.’
CARNAGE IN FRANCE
Dwrq4E1421835700EVEN a broken rib for Todd Carney took a back seat to the scoreline in the Catalans-Salford Super League game over the weekend. The match finished in a 40-40 draw – which in the Australian premiership would make it the highest scoring drawn game ever, beat three matches which finished 34-34.. In England, there’ve been higher scores in draws – and there almost certainly have been in France, too. After a tackle by Lama Tasi, Carney – who missed the opening two rounds through injury – tweeted: “Just got home from the hospital, Broken Ribs Fingers crossed I won’t be out for long.” Dragons coach Laurent Frayssinous said the tackle was illegal. “It is not acceptable that there is a late tackle on Todd Carney that has left him in the hospital with a broken rib,” he told reporters. Oh, and the penalty which gave Salford a late draw was a tad controversial, too.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Five Things We Learned: 2015 NRL Nines

dick-smith-nrl-auckland-ninesBy STEVE MASCORD

SOUTH SYDNEY CAN SURVIVE THE DEPARTURE OF SAM BURGESS

IT’S hazardous to make judgments on premiership candidacy in February and bordering on delusional to do so after a nines tournament. But it wasn’t so much South Sydney’s 18-14 win over Cronulla in a wonderfully offbeat final as little pieces of body language that foreshadowed a robust title defence. Dylan Walker approached defenders with an arrogance in his gait that indicated he knew he could beat them – then did. Adam Reynolds did the same kick over and over again, knowing it would eventually work. Issac Luke lifted a trophy after missing the grand final through suspension and simultaneously declared his elation and downplayed the reason for it. Is there a better way to transition from a championship to its defence than by winning three trophies in the intervening pre-season? Glory, Glory, Glory and finally, Glory.

RUGBY LEAGUE’S STAR REMAINS ALOFT IN AUCKLAND

RUGBY league would no more lose face in New Zealand because of misbehaving players and absent stars than the same reasons would damage the Premier League’s or NFL’s IP in Australia. More than a quarter-century after the Winfield Cup first burst onto Kiwi TV screens, the competition has a sheen of glamour on this side of the Tasman that has too often been tarnished in its birthplace. Local fans supported all teams but reserved their most cacophonous reception for the Warriors and the Kiwi Ferns women’s side, who won a three-match nines series against Australia. The tournament is locked in for five years; reading between the lines, the NRL wants to add teams and the organisers would rather not.

SOME THINGS HAVE CHANGED AT CRONULLA, OTHERS HAVEN’T

COACH Shane Flanagan walked out of a close-season media opportunity when he was repeatedly asked about the ASADA controversy and many doubts have been expressed about whether anything has really changed in the Shire. The words and deeds of the Sharks at Eden Park strongly suggest they have. The “new culture” mentioned by Tinarau Arona in one interview was well represented by the likes of Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes, among others. But the Sharks are still luckless, cruelly denied in the final despite some defensive heroics and losing Nu Brown for possibly the season with a knee injury. He’ll have surgery on Monday.

THERE were enough stuff-ups in the absence of the video ref to for him not to be worrying about his future employment prospects. Jarrod Mullen succeeded in dispossessing an opponent in-goal but the try was given, Bodene Thompson was denied a touchdown for a team-mate’s knock-on-that-wasn’t and there were more. But the old Super League rule of giving the man (or men, or women) upstairs limited time to do their thang might have merit. The lack of stoppages was refreshing. Another bonus: players interviewed about officiating errors at the Nines did not know they had been dudded because they had not had time to watch the replays themselves!

NINES RUGBY LEAGUE IS NOT ABOUT THE FOOTBALL – AND THAT’S OK

MORE than 16 hours of rugby league will test even the most voracious treiziste and virtually no-one who passes through the gates at the NRL Nines watches every minute of every game. It’s de rigueur for league fans to pontificate about how superior a spectacle their sport is but even caviar and champagne get tedious if they are shoved down your throat every two minutes for an entire weekend. That’s OK. Dress up as a naughty nun, buy a pre-mixed bourbon and coke and punch that inflatable ball back up into the air. The Nines is about the party more than it’s about the football and is definitely best served with a beverage.

Filed for: THE GUARDIAN