THE JOY OF SIX: Round 14

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

CANDID CAMERON

CAMERON Smith might be as influential as any active premiership player since the days of Dally Messenger. The decision to use the sin bin for those who throw punches, presumably from now on in all club and representative games, was largely influenced by the Australia captain’s comment on NRL 360 last Wednesday. Hooker Smith said the Gallen-Myles incident was “not a good look” and referees boss Daniel Anderson twice made reference to this comment on ABC Radio yesterday. Anderson said the tough stance was not an edict from NRL CEO David Smith but rather a reaction to changing community standards. He said the game had to preserve its ability to attract young players. There was a sign at Barlow Park yesterday that read “Bring Back The Biff” but Joy of Six reckons if that’s still what you want from State of Origin, your choice is simple – don’t watch. Cameron, meanwhile, reportedly asked for three journalists’ accreditation to be revoked over Jon Mannah story recently.

A LIBRARY FULL OF RULE BOOKS

THE decision by Anderson may turn out to be a milestone. If it is, then it will be because we have finally made a decision that the sport played at Suncorp Stadium next week is the same one played on Saturday morning in parks across the country. These pumped up supermen are not just there to sell whatever product is on their jerseys along with the stuff on the perimeter advertising and TV commercials – every one of them is a recruiter, trying to entice children to play the game. The only problem with that is that it’s not the same game. We have international rules, NRL rules, Super League rules and multiple interpretations of those rules. If we are really going to use players as recruiters effectively, we have to make sure they are playing the same sport they are trying to sell to kids. At the moment, they’re not.

HUNKERING IN THE BUNKER

A VIDEO refereeing ‘bunker’ is being pushed as the answer to all our officiating problems. One video ref could do five games in a weekend, giving us greater consistency of decisions. But is there any guarantee that video referee wouldn’t make mistakes of the same kind we are now seeing? Of course not. In fact, the only guaranteed benefit for the NRL would be to save money on travel and accommodation. As someone who works at rugby league grounds with electronic communications equipment every weekend, this writer is acutely aware of the myriad things that can go awry. But if Daniel Anderson remains keen to press on with the concept, he may be able to save the money being spent on his trip to the NHL bunker next off-season. These days, plenty of rugby league games are broadcast on radio not from stadia but from studios, where very similar facilities with direct v ideo feeds and HD screens have been set up. Daniel could easily check one of them out for a fraction of the cost of going to North America.

RAISING THE ROOF

WE’VE had some pretty handy mid-season recruits over the years – Krisnan Inu at the Bulldogs is one who couldn’t get a game at the Warriors and completely reinvigorated Canterbury. But Josh Dugan may be viewed at the end of the year as the best in recent memory. He was an exciting player in a team of will o’wisps at Canberra. In a more tradesmanlike, programmed outfit like St George Illawarra, he’s simply electrifying. Dugan handles as often as he can in every set of six and tries to create as well as finish. At times, in terms of sheer ability, he seems head and shoulders above every other player on the field – a rare commodity in modern professional sport. Realising the difference he is making at the Dragons could give him the confidence to make one at Origin level.

TROPIC THUNDER

CAIRNS hosted two of the worst rugby league games your correspondent ever had the misfortune to witness – North Queensland v Northern Eagles in and the Cowboys against Penrith in 2001. But yesterday’s South Sydney-Gold Coast game at Barlow Park was a delight, even if referee Matt Cecchin commented early that there didn’t seem to be much of an atmosphere. It built – and a 16,118 crowd at a provincial venue is a success in any language. Souths fans, drawn from wide geographical origins, are becoming a financial powerhouse and pumped an estimated $1 million into the local economy. The city was awash with cardinal and myrtle on match eve. Cairns is a major battlefront with the AFL and yesterday’s game marked a victory for rugby league. Our game needs more pilgrimage- type events and this is a welcome addition.

ENGLAND ARE THE REAL EXILES

FROM time to time this year, we’ve had a whinge about poor attendances. But what do you say about the English national team attracting just 7926 on home soil in a World Cup year? The crowd at Halliwell Jones Stadium for the 30-10 win over the Exiles came despite months of promotion and must be a concern for RLWC organisers. With more English players coming to the NRL every year and the standard of those going in the other direction eroding, the Exiles concept has probably run its course. How to give England a mid-season run? The answer is simple: that Super League be paused for the NRL’s representative weekend and all countries – including England – play proper internationals with full strength sides as happens in soccer.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

The A-List: BRETT HODGSON (Warrington, City & New South Wales)

By STEVE MASCORD

IT’S August 25 2012, three minutes into the second half of the Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium.

Warrington’s veteran Australian fullback Brett Hodgson has just been smashed by Leeds prop Kylie Leuluai and 79,180 fans are hushed as he receives treatment.

The 34-year-old eventually gets to his feet, moves around a little gingerly, and continues. Thirty minutes later, he is named Lance Todd Trophy medalist as man of the match in his side’s 35-18 victory, after setting up two tries and scoring one himself.

History may end up recording Hodgson as rugby league’s last concussed hero in a big game, as our medical professionals increasingly get their way in cracking down on players continuing on with head knocks.

But Hodgson is not railing against the medicos. He may have achieved one of his greatest moments as sportsman while fuzzy-headed but the 78kg fullback reckons that … maybe he should not have been allowed to.

Every now and then, he reveals to A-List after training at the University of Chester Warrington Campus, he gets little reminders of the possible long-term cost of such heroics.

“I’ve had my fair share of concussions and probably don’t remember things as well as I’d like to sometimes,” he says, sipping a coffee.

“Potentially, if someone’s been cleaned up plenty of times, there’re going to be issues there. There’s no doubt about that.

“It’s not that obvious but there might be things I try to remember (from) 1o years back which you may that I may struggle to picture. You know, it’s not a thing that I’m concerned about by any means but whether that’s down to getting concussed, who knows?”

Warrington - Brett HodgsonHodgson isn’t worried enough about the issue to follow the reports from the US, where athletes’ brains are being examined to ascertain the long-term effects of such head-knocks. But he says if someone had told him he could not have returned to the field and won the Challenge Cup for Warrington, that would have been fair enough.

“To be honest, I agree with it … we want to keep going and get up and show how tough we are when we’re playing,” the former Western Suburbs, Parramatta and Wests Tigers custodian says.

“But the fact is, it can do damage to you long-term.

“It’s not always going to be met with positive feedback and I’m sure I’m against the majority of players in the competition.

“What level of concussion justifies a doctor coming in and saying ‘get off’?”

But would it have been a good thing if he had been prevented from continuing at Wembley? “Well … yeah. I think if that’s the rule that’s set in place, whether or not it is going to be to that extent is yet to be determined. But … you’d have to just – whether you agree with it or not – just say ‘that’s the way it is’. “

It takes one of our bravest warriors to admit that bravery may indeed be foolhardy. Ever since he 1997, when Wests coach Tom Raudonikis had his Magpies team carrying logs up Chilis Hill in Leumeah, Hodgson hasn’t shirked work or danger.

But the game he will leave this year or next has changed.

“I’ve never felt that I’ve been unjustly treated in terms of being looked after,” he stresses. “ You see kickers being protected and yet we stand at the back and are able to be absolutely poleaxed as soon as the ball touches our arms.

“(But) there’s nothing wrong in my eyes. Whether you’re 120 kg or 70 kilos, you’re playing a contact sport and you’re going to get hit.”

While most of his fellow Super League players are in uproar about the death of the shoulder charge, Hodgson thinks it’s the right move. He’s never been afraid to swim against the tide.

While Wests and Balmain players lined up to sign with the new joint venture in 2000, Hodgson took less to link up with Parramatta.

“It was a little bit of a loyalty thing with Tommy,” he recalls. “As players, we were told that the job option was still open and Tommy was telling us that he was a good chance of getting it.

“And I got a phone call from someone at Balmain saying that’s not an option, ‘I’ve got the job and Tommy hasn’t’ (Wayne Pearce was the first coach of the club).”

Wests Tigers finally got their man in 2004. A year later, they won the premiership – before the team disintegrated.

Hodgson says now: “There’s no doubt that Scotty Prince, losing him, was big for the club because it was nothing to do with finances – he just wanted to get back to Queensland.

“That then put more pressure on (Robbie) Farah, Benji (Marshall) and myself as playmakers.”

He says Wests Tigers made a decision to cut him after an injury –affected 2007 and there wasn’t much interest from other NRL clubs, bar one other which he won’t name.

“I’ve missed the boat on everything,” he chuckles. “Super League was before I made my debut – I got an ARL loyalty payment back then – and then I came over here when the pound dropped and the NRL salary cap’s gone up!”

The move to England has brought a Man of Steel Award in 2009, repeated Dream Team selections and success at Wembley. It is not supposed to end until the conclusion of next season but he reveals: “even at the end of this, I’ll see how the body’s holding up, how I’m playing and whether the club still sees fit that next year’s a playing (season).”

He and his family are deeply involved in village life in Yorkshire but Hodgson wants to return home and coach when his boots have been placed on the hook for the last time.

But many will remember him for one incident and one only – Gorden Tallis flinging him over the sideline like his jersey was being removed from the clothes line without him in it, at Homebush in 2002.

The rise of YouTube has only perpetuated the fascination with Tallis’ King Kong impersonation that night.

Hodgson insists: “I’m alright with it. I get ribbed about it, which is good fun. The fact is, I made him famous because no-one knew who he was before that.

“It’s not like he was a reserve grade player. He was one of the most intimidating players when it came State Of Origin football. He just got a hold of me and flung me, didn’t he?

“There are certain things that happen in your career that are great, and there are certain things you have to just cop on the chin and go ‘oh well, probably not idea that that happened but it did happen so get on with it’.”

The Tallis incident has been good for one thing, Hodgson concedes as our chat draws to a close. Queensland have not lost an Origin series since he left Australia – with Darren Lockyer’s last-ditch intercept of a pass out of dummy half in game three, 2006, putting a dynasty in place.

When I ask Hodgson what he remembers of the game, of the start of the Maroon epoch, he offers a wry grin.

“I remember being at dummy half when I passed the ball. That’s the best thing about the Tallis thing – no-one remembers that – until you bring it up.”

BRETT HODGSON ON….

SUPER LEAGUE
“I’ve had several young kids speak to me about ‘what’s it like over there’ and potentially going “I wouldn’t be surprised if the next four or five years saw an influx.

“There still be some imports who come over here at the end of their careers or young kids who aren’t going to make it in Australia who come over and still do well over here. But the quality of Australian players coming over here will diminish.”

TOMMY RAUDONIKIS AND WESTS

“You knew, turning up, you weren’t going to compete against the better sides in the competition. That’s what I attribute to being able to get up all the time and some of the mental toughness to be still playing.”

EXILES

“Probably it’s five years too late. The Exiles concept would have got to the stage where it was a real hit on the calendar. I think it’s a work in progress and it remains to be seen if it hits the heights it’s supposed to.”

HIS CAREER

“Everything to me happens for a reason. I didn’t want to leave the Tigers but I did and came over here and got some great successes both individually and with teams. I’m very grateful to still be playing.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

DISCORD 2012: Edition 30

By STEVE MASCORD

EVER since Great Britain played its last Test – a 28-22 win over New Zealand at Wigan in 2007 – there has been a growing push for a return to Lions tours. And from what Discord has been told over the last couple of days, someone is finally listening.

Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood touched down in Sydney on Monday afternoon and went straight to Campbelltown Stadium to see Gareth Ellis and Chris Heighington in action for Wests Tigers. On Tuesday, he attended a meeting at Rugby League Central to discuss the direction of international football.

Nigel declined to be interviewed when Discord ran into him at Campbelltown but we hear he is over the Four Nations concept and wants a tour at the end of 2014, with eight games including Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific All Stars.

Unfortunately, the clubs want to play the expanded World Club Challenge in Qatar, Dubai, Las Vegas or where-ever at the same time.

The big issue, as we see it, is the fact the proposed tour would still be in the name of England and not Great Britain. “Dividing up the home nations” since 2007 has not been dividing at all – it’s been a case of chasing Sport England funding by calling one team England, and that team plundering Scotland, Ireland and Wales for talent.

“England” has been bad for international rugby league, robbing Scotland, Ireland and Wales of players like Danny Brough, Michael McIllorum and Rhys Evans. It’s a similar situation to Origin and what it has done to the Pacific nations including New Zealand.

The NRL clubs are already telling Super League how to distribute their own WCC prizemoney if they want the expanded concept to happen. They should tell Nigel to bring out Great Britain – not England – in 2014 or stay home.

We also have it on very good authority the RFL has seriously discussed our suggestion (well, not in this column but two others written by the same hack) that one of the England-Exiles games be played in London, on Anzac Day. Next year there is likely to be only one England-Exiles match – the “away” game against a stadium full of drunken antipodeans may have to wait until 2014.

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COLUMNS like this frequently bag rugby league officials for not showing leadership but the NRL deserves credit this week for standing up to the super coaches, Wayne Bennett and Des Hasler.

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DISCORD 2012: Edition 27

By STEVE MASCORD

YOU know what smacked me in the face last night? State of Origin’s unfulfilled potential.

This is an event that stops the nation and has all sorts of weird corners of the globe glued to the television set, yet we play it in the same two or three places each year and throw it out there without the sort of promotional push it needs.

There are people like rugby union great Gareth Thomas and soccer players Rio Ferdinand and Joe Barton who sing its praises for free. We should be doing more to harness them.

I want to have a bigger think about this before I doing any “throwing out there” of our own but it’s no use having a golden egg if you leave it in the nest.

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AS for the Justin Hodges try, people who know more about the laws of the game and their current interpretations have already had their say.

But from where I sat (second row of press box, couldn’t see western touchline), commonsense dictated this was a try but current interpretations meant it should not have been.

If you run behind a defender with the ball, unless the depth is enormous, it’s an obstruction under current rule interpretations. Several similar tries have been disallowed in recent years.

Ricky Stuart was very sporting indeed not to blow up.

———-

MY colleague Andy Wilson joked after the first England-Exiles game that there was “poor travelling support from Exile-land” at Langtree Park.

Having left Suncorp Stadium at 1.30am this morning, I simply could not face getting up at 5am to watch the second game.

But you know what? When I heard the result today I was involuntarily quite happy. To have Steve Menzies back in representative football and shining was a great thing – as was hearing that Brett Hodgson excelled.

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BONDI BEAT: June 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

IF the Rugby Football League is looking for ways to give the Exiles fixture traction, then the path forward was laid out before them on April 25, Anzac Day.

Bondi Beat knows the link will not be all that obvious to many, aside from the fact that ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps and the Exiles are full of Australians and New Zealanders.

For those of you who have never been in Australia on Anzac Day, I’ll try and paint a picture. People get up early and go to the Dawn Service, commemorating fallen countrymen in war. Each town, from Sydney and Melbourne down to Broken Hill and Broome, has an Anzac Parade, with children and grandchildren wearing their forefathers’ medals.

Generally speaking, then it’s onto the pub for a game that was played in WWI, is illegal in every Australian state, but is permissible on this one day of the year: two-up.

Then – and this is where we come in – it’s onto a sporting event. The St George Illawarra-Sydney Roosters game at Allianz Stadium (the SFS) drew 40,163 this year and the Melbourne-Warriors game 20,333. The AFL game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground attracted a smidgeon under 90,000.

Now that you’re up to speed, here’s my idea: one of the England-Exiles games should be played in London, on Anzac Day.

See, Aussies and Kiwis in London, after the dawn service, only have the pub to go to. You saw the sort of interest that can be revved up when Australia player New Zealand at The Stoop four years ago in the Four Nations.

This is Australia combining with New Zealand to take on the Old Enemy, England! Which thirsty backpacker would not want to be there on Anzac Day?

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AS previously foreshadowed, the Melbourne Storm is to play the United States in New York on or about October 13.

There are two interesting aspects of this. One, weren’t England forced to stay home this autumn because of “player burnout” on the part of Aussie players? And now clubs are conducting tours? If ever there was evidence of the increasing power of clubs in the NRL, it’s this.

Secondly – and these things are linked – Bondi Beat is reliably informed the NRL is concerned about the trip being a junket designed to get around the salary cap by giving players a free trip. They are strictly limiting the number of players who can go and placing other restrictions on the club.

I know this sounds confusing but while one of our concerns is that the Storm are even going, it’s an even bigger concern that the sport’s governing body is throwing up roadblocks to try to stop them going!

Imagine if we had NRL and Super League clubs flying around the globe playing developing nations all the time – as long as it did not take the place of proper internationals, which this game is sort of doing.

In fact, I would have thought the NRL should be saying: “You can go on an all expenses paid junket at the end of each season – as long as you go somewhere that rugby league is present and play a game!”

We aren’t against the Melbourne Storm playing the Tomahawks. But we are against this year’s England tour of the southern hemisphere being called off for reasons which are looking increasingly bogus.

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THE Independent Commission continues to be a somewhat shadowy and unpredictable body.

A couple of their early decisions were nicely direct and strong. They changed the finals system, just like that. They suspended Robert Lui and Issac Gordon after they were found guilty of domestic violence.

But, given that none of the commissioners had previously been rugby league officials, they were always bound to make some mistakes. Given that they are in charge of a competition that includes the Warriors, showing up to the Anzac Test in green and gold ties wasn’t a great look in the eyes of this column.

That sort of stuff started a war – the Super League War.

But in the face of concerns expressed above, the other day on ABC Radio we quizzed ARLC chairman John Grant just how concerned or otherwise his body was when it came to international rugby league.

“You get a much stronger argument along those lines from other countries aside from Australia and New Zealand,” he said. “You go and talk to the Brits, they’d be (arguing in favour) in a more strenuous way.

“What form of oxygen can be given to that competition, that remains a responsibility of the International Federation. I go to my first meeting of the International Federation (soon) and I’ll able to understand it and understand what their priorities are and start injecting our priorities into that as well.

“We should make the international game very important.”

Grant has hinted the mid-season, trans-Tasman Test may be after the State Of Origin series in future. Bondi Beat took it upon ourselves to remind Grant why that configuration was scrapped in the first place: that it prepared Australia too well for the international.

Does 64-10 ring a bell, anyone?

Grant said a pause in club competitions worldwide for a proper international weekend “could be the ideal situation”.

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I RECENTLY had the pleasure of a long chat with England’s next long-term stand-off, Gareth Widdop.

Gareth can come across as a little bit staid in structured interview situations such as fulltime in a game or standing in front of a backdrop. But he’s a thoroughly nice chap in more relaxed circumstances.

Here’s what he had to say about the possibility of returning to play in Super League: “I’d love to stay in Melbourne but, look, I’ve always wanted to go back home. Growing up as a kid, I’ve always wanted to play Super League, I’ve always followed it, so I definitely wouldn’t mind going back and playing there. When? Who knows? I’m really happy in Melbourne for now.”

And on playing with Danny Brough this autumn: “I think he’s a fair few years older than me. I saw him playing when I was over there growing up and stuff. To be honest, I don’t get to watch many of their games. All you do is just hear from other people how people are going.

“The key positions are in the halves, it pretty much controls your team. You need to have good halves for your team to be playing well.”

Widdop says he and his family were to move to the Sunshine Coast but his mother was ordered by immigration authorities to go to Melbourne because there was a shortage of teachers there. He concedes he may have found it much harder to make progress in an area where rugby league is strong and junior talent plentiful.

And on being stuck on the bench during last year’s Four Nations: “Obviously it would have been nice to go over there and start every game.

“But, the coach has decided to go the way they did and that’s fair enough. I was disappointed I didn’t get to start but at least I was still there playing.

“It’s all part of growing up and learning. You just have to deal with these things.There’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to keep training hard and hope next time it comes around, I will get a crack. “

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD