American Civil War Wages On

US TomahawksBy STEVE MASCORD

YOU know how it was supposed to happen.
The United States Tomahawks would shrug off criticism that they were just a bunch of Aussies who went to a bucks weekend in Vegas, capture the hearts of everyone at the World Cup, make the quarter-finals and with the glow of their success still bright, we would have and end to the American Civil War.
And Apple Pope, Curtis Cunz, Spinner Howland and everyone else in our rich cast of colourful characters would live happily every after.
At this early juncture, it’s important to fill in those who have more going on their lives than the political situation in an amateur competition played on parks in the most powerful nation on earth.
There are two leagues, right? One is the AMNRL, established by former Australian first grader David Niu, which is the officially recognised body for the game in the United States. They sent the aforementioned Tomahawks to the World Cup, where they indeed made the quarter-finals and warmed the cockles of most hearts.
Niu has since left to promote arena (American) football in Vhina. Connecticut Wildcats owner – and prop – Curtis Cunz has replaced him as league chairman.
The other competition is the USARL, which broke away three years ago in response to what it described as the autocratic administration of the AMNRL. The rebellion was led by the champion club in the AMNRL, the Jacksonville Axemen.
Its chairman is Australian Peter Ilfield.
Now, back to our central narrative: there was a committee formed to negotiate a ceasefire, an independent commission was nominated and then …. nothing. Two months on, we still have two leagues and emails being leaked which suggest the AMNRL is falling apart.
Our mission here, which we have accepted, is to figure out what went wrong. There are two broad theories I heard during my time in the US in January. One: that the USARL lost faith in the democratic power of their AMNRL counterparts. The other is that the USARL clubs got cold feet in handing over power to the independent commission.
“I would say it leans 80-20 towards the first one you said,” Illfield tells Forty20 by phone from Philadelphia.
When negotiations were at a delicate stage, AMNRL team New York Raiders issued a media release declaring their “independence” from the negotiations and describing the AMNRL as “defunct”. Independence from an independent commission? It could only happen in rugby league.
“When you are talking unification, you are talking a merger, right? And when you merge with someone, you merge your assets with theirs’,” says Illfield. “During the course of negotiations, it became apparent there was a doubt over exactly what assets the AMNRL had.
“Two or three of their clubs came out distancing themselves from the negotiations. There seemed to be a degree of dysfunction there.
“We found themselves asking: what is the nature of this organisation? Is it an organisation at all?”
This no doubt contributed to the cold feet of the USARL clubs. They felt their fate was going to be guided for the next 12 months by an organisation in which a “dysfunctional” league had a big say. Support for the deal evaporated.
Instead, the USARL thought it best to strike while the iron was hot (the only think hot in North America this winter) and invite the quarrelling AMNRL clubs to join them. At the same time, fortuitously for the rebel competition, there was expansion in the south east with Tampa, Atlanta and central Florida joining the comp.
Atlanta have partnered with Leeds and be known as the Atlanta Rhinos.
The Invitation For Unification read: “The board of the USARL LLC has resolved to open the 2014 competition to all interested clubs in the eastern United States as well as announcing a Regional Conference in the southeast.
“Each club will become a member under the Constitution of the USARL and will have representation on the USARL board.
“The 2014 competition is expected to be based on a 10 week schedule between June and August including playoffs and a Championship Final. While the overall structure has yet to be finalized, the competition will be limited to the east coast in an effort to reduce both cost and travel with the establishment of smaller conferences within regions. The aim is for Conference schedules to operate with ALL regular season home and away games played in local regions culminating in cross-conference playoffs and and finals.”
Just last week, a leaked email from the New York Knights attacked the foreign influence in the AMNRL and the Tomahawks.
“No offense to our friends in Australia but we want the game in America to be run exclusively by people who can physically be present at every game,” said ‘G’ – who appears to be Knights coach Guillaume Cieutat.
That missive was clearly aimed at Steve Johnson, the Aussie who assembled the Tomahawks and who is also behind the Queensland western corridor NRL franchise bid. While it may appears the AMNRL is heading toward the bizarre position of running a national team but no clubs, Cunz tells Forty20 via facebook the establishment league is going nowhere.
“Why the merger fell through was totally not on us,” Cunz writes.
“All their representatives agreed with me and the AMNRL representatives to a structure on paper. Then it went sour for done reason when it went back to their clubs. I don’t know why.
“I don’t really want to focus on the past, I’m not going to get in this pointing-the-finger game like they are trying to do to us. It’s too childish
“Believe me when I say I’m personally not going to quit in trying to give what the players from both players want….and that’s a merge. We just want to play other teams like we did not to long ago.
“I have all my teams on board with my vision and what in doing here despite what the USARL tries to do to us by sending team owners emails, (making) phone calls, or by using blogs to make its look bad.”
The AMNRL will soon announce its competition structure for 2014. It continues to run the only recognised US national team. As things stand, it considers USARL players for selection after initially omitting them.
“The Rugby League International Federation has asked us to keep it updated with what we are doing,” says Illfield.
But like international rugby league elswhere, the Tomahawks don’t actually have any matches in their schedule for this year yet. And at the time of writing, neither does either competition.
Rugby league is, indeed, a funny game. So it’s probably best just to have a laugh.
Filed for: FORTY20 MAGAZINE

FAR & WIDE: Number 46

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

RUGBY League’s lucky number at the moment seems to be nine.
Following on from last week’s item about the AMNRL and USARL going their separate ways once more this year, the former has put out a media release saying it will play against teams in the latter in … a nines tournament.
“AMNRL clubs will participate in the Nines competition alongside clubs from the USARL on May 17,” said the media release.
“This is the first step in uniting the competitions into one league, which is a direction the AMNRL is seeking to head down.”
AMNRL chairman Curtis Cunz was quoted as saying: “”I can’t wait to put the politics aside and see all of the boys I used to go to battle against back in the day and then crack a few beers open afterwards
“The AGM re-enforced the democratic and transparent governance of the AMNRL and the shared vision of the member clubs.”
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THERE seems to be a lot of professional players coming through who are eligible for Malta.
The latest is Jonathan Wallace, who was due to make his debut for London last weekend against Salford. The giant forward was actually born in Malta.
Jake Mamo, who played for Newcastle in the NRL Nines, is also eligible for Malta.
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AFTER missing out on hosting the 2017 World Cup, South Africa have congratulated Australia and New Zealand and vowed to bid for the 2021 tournament.
“South Africa will now endeavour to work with the Rugby League International Federation to ensure the growth of the sport here and will look at establishing a strong team to qualify for the 2017 World Cup,” said SARL chairman Kobus Botha.
““All of the facilities and aspects unique to South Africa to ensure expansion of the game are still available to the RLIF”
Bid chief Ian Riley added: “Rugby league in South Africa now has a voice and the process of bidding has allowed SARL to start conversations with SASCOC, the SRSA and SARU towards recognition and support.
“It has also created dialogue between, and shown a willingness by, major rugby league countries to get involved and play a role in developing the sport. We are in discussions with the RLIF on creating a seven year roadmap for rugby league in South Africa and other territories to see how we can collectively grow the game.”
Twitter: @RLWfarandwide Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: Number 45

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

THE AMNRL is preparing to announce its program for the year following confirmation there will again be two competitions in the United States.
The AMNRL, which runs the Tomahawks national team, and rival USARL had been involved in peace talks for much of last year and a framework for a merger was drawn up.
But after an Independent Commission to run the sport in America was picked, the USARL clubs got cold feet and called the whole thing off.
Two AMNRL-aligned New York clubs, the Raiders and Knights, have distanced themselves from the peace deal and the existing administration in a media release and leaked email respectively.
But new AMNRL chairman, and Connecticut Wildcats owner, Curtis Cunz, says the establishment competition will fight on.
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EDGARD Taturyan has been involved in Russian rugby league since 1989, filling a host of roles including that of national coach.
But after turning 75 last year, Tarturyan has decided to stand down. Despite the challenge presented by rugby union sevens being accepted into the Olympics, Edgard is confident our sport has a positive future in the former Soviet Union.
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ALL the news on the TV from the Ukraine seems bad – but for rugby league, these are positive times.
The country has 45 sports schools and an agreement has been struck for all of them to include rugby league this year. Officials hope to soon boast some 2000 junior players.
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RUGBY league’s 55-year tenure at Darwin’s Richardson Park is over.
Spiralling costs have been given for the reason to vacate the venue, which was said to once be home to a giant crocodile who patrolled the hill.
“Gone are the heady days of hosting 2000-3000 league fans for a home-and-away round and now, so are we,” was the pithy comment of NTRL general manager John Mitchell.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: Number 44

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

THE United States came back from 1-0 down in the Colonial Cup against Canada to wrap up the series 3-1 with a 30-22 win – but it was the start of another major controversy Stateside.

The Tomahawks side that was subsequently chosen for the World Cup included just five players who took part in the Colonial Cup, with captain Apple Pope and long-serving forward Curtis Cunz omitted.

That’s still more domestic players than the likes of Ireland and Tonga (who threatened legal action over the domestic player quota before the last World Cup) but it caused a storm in America.

Central to the criticism was that unlike Italy – who also upset local players by picking ‘foreigners’ – the US was unable to source NRL first graders aside from Clint Newton, Junior and Joseph Paulo.

So the players come instead from clubs like Tuggeranong Vikings, Mangere East Hawks and Belrose.

Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland thought strongly enough about it to record a video, decrying the absence of long-serving internationals.

American rugby league founder David Niu responded on Twitter by saying Pope’s own club coach, had recommended he not be picked. Far & Wide was not able to independently verify this.

The issue with many denizens of American Rugby League – admittedly, mainly those from the breakaway USARL – was that four of the domestic players chosen had played only eight games in the country between them.

Former Tomahawk Kenny Britt said on Facebook that the AMNRL used national selection to ensure their loyalty to the establishment league, only to “turn their back on them” at the 11th hour.

While we see Howland’s point and admire his passion, picking players for the World Cup because sponsors and fans want them in is hard to justify.

Far & Wide reckons that sometimes it’s not who you leave out of these teams but who you replace them with. And because some of the overseas based Tomahawks are far from household names, there will be intense pressure on them to perform.

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JUST running an eye over all the World Cup squads, it appears Wales is the only one without at least one NRL player.

But while they’ll be underdogs against Italy, they probably won’t be the worst-performed side in the tournament.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

DISCORD 2013: Edition 17

By STEVE MASCORD

AT the weekend we saw plenty of evidence that we’re going to see some pretty compelling rugby league at the World Cup.

DiscordThere are claims that the first half of Tonga-Samoa went for 40 minutes but it seemed like five, so fast-paced and enthralling was the football.

And New Zealand’s first half against Australia was pretty impressive too, when you factor in three disallowed tries and a 6-6 scoreline before the green-and-golds shortened up their passing game and ran riot.

How will England fair against these teams, as a successful tournament usually means a relatively successful home nation?

Steve McNamara’s men simply have to beat the Exiles at Warrington on June 14 for us to have any confidence in them. The star-power of import in Super League has declined with the increase in the NRL salary cap over the past two years – and the age of the big names who are in England has obviously ticked over in the other direction.

Here’s the Exiles squad: Louis Anderson, Daryl Millard, Zeb Taia (all Catalan Dragons), Chris Bailey, Antonio Kaufusi (both London Broncos), Michael Dobson, Mickey Paea, Cory Paterson (all Hull KR), David Faiumu (Huddersfield), Blake Green, Pat Richards (both Wigan), Rhys Hanbury (Widnes), Brett Hodgson (capt), Joel Monaghan, Michael Monaghan, Trent Waterhouse (all Warrington), Lance Hohaia, Willie Manu, Tony Puletua, Iosia Soliola (all St Helens), Kylie Leuluai, Joel Moon (both Leeds), Heath L’Estrange, Manase Manuokafoa, Jarrod Sammut (all Bradford), Mark O’Meley (Hull), Justin Poore (Wakefield).

In the meantime, check out my video interview with US forward Curtis Cunz, conducted on the 42nd floor of a Manhattan skyscraper, above.

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SPEAKING of Tonga-Samoa, I feel like a bit of a goose today as it seems like I help perpetuate a Chinese whisper after the game – that half the security was sent home hours before kick-off.

The story was doing the rounds and evem the event organiser, Frank Puletua, heard and believed it. But it was sloppy on my part not to have dug a bit deeper.

Stories like this start somewhere. So if you know about exactly what happened regarding security arrangements on Saturday, comment below.

If you can’t get the story right, the next best thing is a factually accurate correction!

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YOU’RE probably expecting some analysis in this column about all the changes at League Central.

It’s typical of the mentality we apply to sport – we speculate on the make-up of the team and what impact it’s going to have out on the field.

But in the media, or the public, how much do we really know about how administrators are performing? As a fan, you might write to the NRL to complain about something. If you get a letter back, you might think someone is doing a good job and if you don’t, you believe they aren’t.

Similarly, in the media we deal with the NRL’s media department and – until this year (!) this CEO. If they help us, we tell people they’re doing a good job and if they don’t we go the other way.

Along the way, we might not like the season launch or the halftime entertainment so we have a go at the marketing man.

The referees’ boss? It’s mandatory to have an opinion on him!

But really, how well placed are we to judge the performance of the various departments of the NRL? How the hell would most of us know if Shane Mattiske or Nathan McGuirk were any good?

And if we’re not really that well placed to judge the old guard, why are we so strident in our opinions of the new blokes? Because David Smith has done something on a sweeping scale?

In the end, as it is with new signings at NRL clubs, results will be the only things that matter. How is the game going to stack up against its competitors for ratings, crowds, memberships, visibility and profile plus income?

Hire whoever you want – those are the things that matter.

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THE weekly Set Of Six feature (I call it The Joy Of Six on stevemascord.com) gives me a whole new raft of comments to respond to.

read on

BONDI BEAT: March 2013

Rugby League World March 2013By STEVE MASCORD

THIS is March, which means Bondi Beat again has to make a fool of itself with a bunch of predictions for the forthcoming National Rugby League season.

Last year we listed Five Things That Could Go Wrong in 2012. Did the Independent Commission isolate Australia internationally? Well, the green-and-golds refused to play at the end of the year but, on balance, no.

“England are forced to play a home series in October and November against minnow nations. No-one shows up, the national media ignore the games and England are even beaten in one of the matches”. Two out of three ain’t bad.

“New Zealand are comprehensively flogged in their only two Tests, both against Australia. The green and golds go into the World Cup next year as unbackable favourites”. The Kiwis were beaten, but not flogged;

“Rugby league writers continue to be laid off on national newspapers and budget cuts at the BBC lead to the sport largely disappearing from your radio dials.” One out of two again.

“More Super League clubs go bust and are deducted competition points while Manchester Magic fails to attract any more people than the last round of magic”. One out of two there.

Here’s five more predictions:

· Sonny Bill Williams’ return to rugby league to be messy, an ultimately unsuccessful. He won’t play in the World Cup and his biceps injury will severely interrupt his season;

· Parramatta to be the biggest improvers of the year, Manly the biggest sliders;

· Israel Folau to return to rugby league at the end of the season, with South Sydney;

· Canterbury to win the competition;

· New Zealand to win a successful World Cup.

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I HAD the pleasure recently of interviewing United States forward Curtis Cunz on the 40th floor or his Park Avenue office building.

That night, David Niu, Marcus Vassilakopoulos and the rest of the AMNRL heavies were to meet in the same office to discuss American Rugby League business.

No, I still don’t know what happened to their website. More of that in a sec.

But I do know, thanks to Curtis, that US will be playing Samoa in a World Cup warm-up match in Hawaii some time in October. How cool does that sound?

From a travel point of view, the warm-ups are almost as exciting as the tournament itself. Before the 2000 World Cup, I remember seeing South Africa host Wales in Pretoria one day, and England take on the US in Orlando the next!

Mind you, it is to be hoped that the countries who have qualified for RLWC2013 don’t just play each other but rather give the other nations an opportunity to earn some coin and exposure during early October.

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NICE fellow that Curtis is, a few months before the World Cup bow of the Tomahawks it is difficult to conceive of a more confusing situation that that confronting the AMNRL right now.

I fancy myself as a follower of these affairs and even I had missed a report from last May confirming the sale of the governing body to Grand Prix Sports, the organisation that wants to play the World Club Challenge in Las Vegas.

On the US business site marketwatch.com, Grand Prix Sports’ Neal Pilson explained the company’s interest in investing in both codes by saying: “While maintaining the independent integrity of the rugby union and rugby league operations, yet folding them under one production umbrella, we at Grand Prix felt from a broadcast perspective this transaction was a smart move to avoid unnecessary confusion in a US media market at a very critical time in rugby’s growth.”

That sounds very much like buying out a competitor, from a rugby union point of view, doesn’t it?

Grand Prix were supposed to put on the Tomahawks v Melbourne Storm game. It never happened, due to lack of funds. The AMNRL website has disappeared, with questions about its absence on Facebook going unanswered.

Meanwhile, Grand Prix Sports is promoting a rugby union sevens tournament in mid-year with ONE MILLION DOLLARS as the first prize!

It would appear the AMNRL and its new owner are not on fantastic terms. Meanwhile, the rival USARL struggles on, with its players still expecting to be locked out of World Cup selection.

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THE worth of contracts in the NRL has never been more in question.

Penrith and Australia centre Michael Jennings was not appreciated at the foot of the mountains, even though he had three years left on his contract there.

Gold Coast, South Sydney and Sydney Roosters all showed interest. When he ended up at the Roosters, it set in train a chain reaction which illustrates just how weird the player market down under has become.

Souths instead signed Beau Champion back from the Titans. And the Titans then attempted to snare Jamie Lyon – Manly’s CAPTAIN – immediately, with less than two months remaining until the end of the season!

Lyon, who in 2004 was roundly criticised for walking out on Parramatta mid season, en route to St Helens, issued a statement denying that he wanted out of the Sea Eagles.

But when new Titans CEO David May approached Manly rival David Perry to ask about Lyon’s availability, he was reportedly “left with the impression” that the door was open.

Add to this the fact that clubs regularly contribute to the wages of players who have left, to relieve salary cap pressure, and you have a confusing situation for fans.

We used to look at the Brits and their custom of “loaning” players to rival clubs and scratch our heads. But in retrospect it’s a whole lot cleaner and more sensible than some of the things going on in the NRL right now.

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IF YOU are a regular reader of this column, you’d be aware I am not a big fan of taxpayers’ money in PNG being spent on a bid for NRL inclusion.

On the other hand, inclusion in the Queensland Cup seems infinitely less expensive and more practical.

To that end, South Sydney are linking their premiership game in Cairns on June 16 with the pre-season game against the Kumuls at Redfern Oval on February 9.

The Cairns league has a strong relationship with PNG – for obvious geographic reasons – and the Kumuls candidacy for Q Cup inclusion will be promoted during at the June game.

Souths could even end up shifting a home game to Port Moresby at some stage in the future.

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ONE of the more startling stories written in recent weeks suggested that if Craig Bellamy was to leave Melbourne, captain Cameron Smith could take over as player-coach!

Bondi Beat would have thought captain-coaches went out with contested scrums.

Has anyone seen what coaches do these days? And Craig Bellamy spends more time coaching than most.

Although ‘Bellyache’ does manage to stay as fit as the players. So I supposed the least they can do is be as smart as him.

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WE all have our ideas on what issues the ARL Commission should address, particularly when it comes to things we believe have been overlooked until now.

For me, it’s taking responsibility for Australia’s leadership of the international game.

For historians and journalists like Ian Heads, David Middleton, Sean Fagan, Gary Lester and Geoff Armstrong, it’s determining which was the first rugby league club in Australia.

Newtown have long laid claim to this distinction but the pointy-heads say Glebe held a meeting on January 9, 1908, which committed them to the new code.

Newtown stand accused of adding “January 8, 1908” to their minutes of their first meeting “at a later date” to give them bragging rights.

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GREAT to see Super League spending some money to show the ‘League Of The Extraordinary’ advert to a wider audience.

We’re yet to hear much about the NRL’s advertising strategy for 2013 at this stage. But give the trouble our players are capable of getting into, it’s unlikely it will focus on just one or two of them.

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YOU’D expect me to say something here about Jon Mannah, the 23-year-old former Parramatta and Cronulla forward who passed away from cancer during the last month, and I want to.

Much has been made of the Christian faith observed by Jon and his brother Tim.

But regardless of faith, the bravery which Jon showed in the face of a terrible, painful illness should be a lesson to us all.

The end is what gives the beginning and middle of life meaning, I guess. But this end came way too soon.

Vail Jon Mannah.

Follow @BondiBeat on Twitter.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD