FAR & WIDE: United States, Tonga, Fiji, Canada, Spain, Serbia, Ireland, Czech Republic

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

THE 2016 Ohana Cup at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium has been run and won, with organisers hailing the ever-expanding festival as a success.
Samoa enjoyed a big 40-6 win over Tonga while Fiji beat newcomers Canada 26-12. That was a pretty good debut for the Wolverines, considering half their side was back in Toronto playing the touring North-east England side.
In the curtain-raiser, NSW Police beat Hawaii Chiefs 26-20. Hawaiian league chief Steve Johnson is still trying to tempt NRL sides to the Islands.
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SPAIN and Serbia are to meet for the very first time on September 24, in the not-unpleasant locale of Valencia.
The Spanish have a big World Cup qualifier against Ireland at the same locale in October and will warm-up against the Serbians at Quatre Carreres. If you’re thinking of going, the game kicks off at the very Mediterranean time of 5pm.
The Serbians are looking for a new coach after Darren Higgins stood down.
“We regret Darren could not fit his professional and personal commitments together with the obligations needed for the Serbian national side,” said SRLF general secretary Slobodan Mank.
“We thank him for all he has done to raise the standard, he has put in some long lasting structures which we will benefit from.”
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CANADA are easily the most active international side at the moment, having fielded a “full international” side in two cities in two countries on the same day recently!
The Wolverines Under 17s side is currently on tour in Jamaica. The new British League One expansion side, Toronto Wolfpack, helped finance the Young Wolverines tour, which kicked off with a win in a Nines tournament.
Canada also fielded a military team against the full Czech Republic side recently, losing 64-0.
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AS we’ve said before, the rivalry between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Island puts NSW v Queensland in the shade.
But one similarity this year is the result, with Northern Ireland sealing the Origin series in game two, a 24-20 victory at Chambers Park, Portadown.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

World Cup fourth quarter-final: FIJI 22 SAMOA 4 at Halliwell Jones Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD
FIJIAN players are no longer star-struck by Australia and will come up with some trick shots for their World Cup semi-final at Wembley, the Bati’s coach and captain say.
It’s believed the rugby league team will be the first in any sport to represent the Pacific nation at arguably the world’s most famous sports arena after beating Samoa 22-4 in a final quarter final, at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium.
For decorated former Australia captain Petero Civoniceva, it’s a rich reward for playing on a year after his NRL retirement. He told Fairfax Media some of his team-mates were star-struck when they played out a creditable 34-2 loss to the tournament favourites on November 2.
“I think so, they were (in awe) and you can’t fault the boys for that,” said Civoniceva, 37.
“For years, they’ve grown up watching these guys on the TV and then they’re out there tackling them.
“We’re going to give it our best shot, no doubt. We’re not going to lie down. When we played Australia a couple of weeks ago, we got a lot of confidence out of that, knowing that for great parts of that match, we were in the contest.
“They took a lot of confidence knowing they can get out there and compete with them. There’s where our focus will be – turning up the notch a bit.
“It’s a great feeling to know my last game will be at one of two great venues. I feel blessed.”
Fiji have been playing a pragmatic, physical style at the tournament but coach Rick Stone, the Newcastle assistant, said there was a demand to produce some unorthodoxy at Wembley.
“I’ll have to have a think about surprises but hopefully we can pull a few things out for the Aussies because you’ve got to take them out of your comfort zone,” said Stone, who identified Cameron Smith as the man who would be targeted.
“If you play the way they think you’re going to play, they’ll generally handle most things pretty well. We might come up with a couple.”
Penanai Manumalealii, the Samoan five-eighth whose mother was killed in a Christchurch car accident a week and a half ago, lasted only a few minutes before being forced off with injury on Sunday.
Matt Parish’s Samoans struggled in attack as a result and the Fijians dominated the first half territorially and on the scoreboard.
Winger Akuila Uate’s break from near halfway put halfback Aaron Groom over after just four minutes, with Wes Naiqama converting and adding a 9th minute penalty goal.
A kick by man of the match Groom handed centre Wes Naiqama his 32nd minute try – he perilously jousted with the dead ball line trying to improve the position for his own conversion – and at 14-0 the Bati were well in control.
Samoa, whose support in Warrington had been cemented by a comeback there against New Zealand on day two of the tournament, gave themselves some hope with Antonio Winterstein’s 57th minute try, which went unconverted.
But on the back of some expansive but brutal football, Naiqama added a second penalty goal and replacement Vitale Roqica plunged over between the posts to secure the result with three left.
Stone said he wasn’t sure if, as a result of the win, the Bati had qualified for next year’s Four Nations in the southern hemisphere. He said foward Jayson Bukuya had an infected knee and Tariq Sims an unspecified injury needing a pain-killing injection but both would be fit for the semi.
“We’ve had injuries right from the start – but I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” said Parish.
FIJI 22 (Aaron Groom, Wes Naiqama, Vitale Junior Roqica tries; Wes Naiqama 5 goals) beat SAMOA 4 (Antonio Winterstein try) at Halliwell Jones Stadium. Referee: Richard Silverwood (England). Crowd: 12,766.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: AUSTRALIA 34 FIJI 2 at Langtree Park

By STEVE MASCORD

AUSTRALIA second rower Luke Lewis, one of rugby league’s most durably and decorated forwards, suffered a dislocated shoulder colliding with an advertising hoarding as the World Cup favourites wore down Fiji.

Defenders showed immediate concern for the Cronulla Sharks star after he chased a kick with 15 minutes left in the 34-2 win at St Helens’ Langtree Park last nighrt and went down after using an arm to protect himself as he slid over the dead ball line.

amazonPlay was stopped for around three minutes; a stretcher was called but Lewis walked off the pitch with the aid of trainers. More information was expected today regarding his condition.

It says volumes for the confidence of Australia at this World Cup that while England refuses to guarantee every player a game, the green-and-golds can be magnanimous and devastating at the same time.

Tim Sheens’ side that took on Fiji in monsoon-like conditions t featured Daly Cherry Evans, understudy to Cooper Cronk, at scrum-half and Greg Inglis in his club position of fullback.

Fiji, playing muscular, pragmatic football rather than the ebilient style we have come to appreciate with their rugby teams, tested the tournament favourites amid the winds and icy rain.

But stand-off Johnathan Thurston made light of the contrast in conditions between St Helens and Townsville with a puppeteer-like performance as the Australians gradually wore down a side made up largely of fellow NRL players.

Centre Josh Morris had an early try disallowed and the Bati attracted a hearty cheer by managing to be first on the scoresheet, with Alipate Noilea’s penalty goal at seven minutes.

Manly’s Cherry-Evans had played a key role in that near-miss and he laid on debutante Josh Papalii’s 14th-minute touchdown.

donate2South Sydney’s Inglis did his best King Kong impersonation seven minutes later, swatting defenders near the Fiji lin before flicking to Luke Lewis who in turn served up winger Darius Boyd with Australia’s second try.

Centre Michael Jennings was no slowed by the sodden pitch as he accelerated away after leadup from Inglis on the half hour and the Australians led by a comfortable – but from the Bati’s persepective, respectable – 16-2 margin at the break.

After halftime, Australia ploughed relentlessly through the bleak Merseyside night while Fiji did go close to scoring once or twice.

Cherry Evans finished off a long-range movement to cross between the posts at 56 minutea and second rower Lewis stepped neatly past the cover to dot down himself with 15 minutes left.

But Fiji showed enough to indicate that if conditions are similarly cynclonic in Hull on Saturday night – and why wouldn’t they be – they have the structure and power to worry England.


Filed for: THE OBSERVER

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THE JOY OF SIX: International season week two 2014

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

PLAY LEAGUE, SEE THE WORLD

TOP players would be hired as ambassadors and sent to promote the game around the world as part of one proposal if the new Rugby League International Federation office is based in Sydney. In a move which could address the loss of stars to rival codes, the scheme would provide legitimate additional earnings for elite players and also match the opportunities for travel offered by other sports, Set Of Six has learned. The scheme would be financed by assembling a portfolio of current NRL sponsors who are headquartered overseas and interested in broadening their involvement in the code. But at the moment it seems likely the RLIF will be based on the northern hemisphere and minimise its engagement with the NRL and NRL players, with its first fulltime CEO to have had no history in the game. In that case, the ambassador scheme would not get past first base.

HAKA HULLABALOO

THANKS to the Junior Kangaroos and Junior Kiwis for reminding us all about one of the perennial yarns of the Four Nations and Tri-Nations – the haka. Remember Willie Mason and David Kidwell? The young Aussies linked arms and advanced on the haka at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday before the junior international, actually touching heads in some cases – pretty remarkable scenes. Some of the forehead-lunges may have brought a penalty or worse after kick-off and the match officials got between the players as things got testy. Could we see Tim Sheens’ men do something similar at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday? And we are already salivating at the prospect of pre-match formalities when the Kiwis take on the Samoans at Whangerei.

NO MORE AWARD DRAMA

donate2ORGANISERS of the RLIF player of the year award have sidestepped the controversy surrounding Ben Hunt and Daly Cherry Evans at the Dally Ms by doing away with positional award voting. Manly’s Cherry-Evans made the Dally M NRL team of the year at halfback even though Brisbane’s Hunt polled more votes. The RLIF Award will be presented at a Brisbane luncheon on Thursday. Instead of judges being asked to vote for players in each position, they were simply given a shortlist and asked to provide a three-two-one on their top three candidates. Sonny Bill Williams got the gong in 2013; there must be a fair chance it will go to another departing star in 2014 with Sam Burgess and Jarryd Hayne among a group of nominees that also include Greg Inglis, James Graham and Johnathan Thurston. Teams for the double-header on Saturday will be named on Tuesday – tournament rules stipulate starting sides must be announced, not just squads as at the World Cup.

PHANTOM SIREN GOES GLOBAL

JARRYD Hayne isn’t the only NRL institution thinking global at the weekend. The Phantom Siren made his international debut when Fiji played Lebanon at Remondis Stadium on Sunday, doing his thing as Fiji made a break while ahead 22-12 a few seconds from halftime. “It’s one of the drummers,” radio sideline eye Daniel Pettigrew reported, in reference to the musicians on the Lebanon bench. Fiji didn’t flinch but also didn’t score before the proper bell rang out. By fulltime, they had run out 40-28 victors in the Hayne-Mannah Cup. “On behalf of all the Fijian-Australian boys, we wish Jarryd luck overseas,” Bati captain Wes Naiqama told a crowd of around 1000 as he accepted the trophy, the name of which seems unlikely to be affected by the Parramatta star’s flirtations with the NFL.

FARAH EYES CEDARS SEND-OFF

ROBBIE Farah is eying a 2017 World Cup send-off – by representing Lebanon alongside new Australia team-mate Josh Mansour. Under new World Cup qualification rules, Africa and the Middle East are guaranteed one spot in the tournament, to be held in Australia, New Zealand and possibly Papua New Guinea. That makes the Cedars odds-on to qualify after missing the last two tournaments by the barest of margins. “Hopefully one day I can get back there and help them out,” Farah told Set Of Six. “The World Cup in 2017 … I’ll be 33 so I’m not sure if I’ll still be picked by Australia or not. The Commission would be very happy if Lebanon qualifies, in terms of the crowd they will generate. I think they’ll get there this time and if we do, we’ll have a pretty good side – myself, Tim Mannah, the Robinson brothers (Reece and Travis), Mitchell Moses and Josh Mansour who is here with me.”

INTERNATIONAL MEN OF HISTORY

amazonONCE upon a time, you could comfortably make it to every rugby league international played in a given year. Now, it’s difficult to even keep up with the scores. Aside from events at Remondis Stadium on Sunday, Latin America beat Portugal 40-6 at Woolhara and in Lae, PNG beat Tonga 32-18/ Earlier in the weekend, the Junior Kiwis edged out the Junior Kangaroos 15-14 in Auckland, Ireland upset France 22-12 in Dublin, Greece beat Bosnia-Herzigovina 58-4 and Serbia flogged Hungary 50-0, both in Belgrade, while Scotland returned to happy hunting grounds in Workington to outclass Wales 44-18. The games in Serbia were part of a new competition, the Balkans Cup.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

FAR & WIDE: Number 47

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
THE details are finally through for the mid-year international which will determine who becomes the fourth side in this year’s Four Nations.
Samoa will play Fiji in at Centrebet Stadium on Saturday May 3 in a clash certain to rock the foundations of the venue. Both sides are looking to call in players who may not have been available for last year’s World Cup, including the likes of John Sutton and Jarryd Hayne for the Bati.
The countries were initially told that the highest finisher of the Pacific Nations at the World Cup would qualify for the Four Nations. But then officials thought out that scenario, realising that two Pacific nations could easily be eliminated at the same stage of the tournament.
Had the original edict stood, F‍iji would have qualified; but now they have to overcome another hurdle.
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THE Rugby League European Federation has announced a new competition structure.
All three tiers of competition will come under the banner European Championship, which is the norm in other sports. The Cup, Shield and Bowl will become the European Championship, Championship B and Championship C respectively.
The winners of the Championship will join Australia, England and New Zealand in the 2016 Four Nations. The draw for Championship B has been released. It is:
SERBIA V UKRAINE – 17 May, Belgrade
UKRAINE V RUSSIA – 24 May, Kharkov
RUSSSIA V SERBIA – 21 June, Naro Fominsk
UKRAINE V ITALY 5 – July, Kharkov
ITALY V RUSSIA 26 – July, Gemona
SERBIA V ITALY 20 – September, Belgrade
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SCOTLAND have retained the same coaching team of Steve McCormack and his assistants Dave Rotheram and John Duffy for the upcoming Commonwealth Nines to be played as an exhibition sport at the Glasgow games.
But Italy coach Carlo Napolitano has stood down following the strong showing at the World Cup, earning praise from a wide range of people who worked with him in the capacity.
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Alot of our pre-season news seems to be coming from America, where the USARL are planning a development tour to Jamaica.
The tour is open to all; it’s not going to be a representative team as such. There’s a game against Duhaney Park Red Sharks on April 3and Jamaica Hurricanes on April 5.
If you’re in America right now and interested, contact Ryan McGough at rmcgough@usarl.com.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

World Cup: FIJI 32 IRELAND 14 at Spotland Stadium, Rochdale

By STEVE MASCORD

FIJI’s rugby league side which plays Australia this weekend is prone to emotional outbursts because it contains two sets of brothers, according to North Queensland’s Tariq Sims.

Sims was joined by siblings Ashton and Korbin plus Wes and Kevin Naiqama in the Bati outfit that outclassed Ireland 32-14 at Rochdale’s Spotland Stadium on Monday night, with Aquila Uate celebrating his return to the side with a hat-trick.

But a period in the first half, when Bati players rushed out of the line in an attempt to smash their opponents following a dust-up, concerned coach Rick Stone and senior players.

Decorated former Australia prop Petero Civoniceva described Saturday’s Langtree Park clash with the green and golds as “just another game” but Tariq Sims admitted playing with your own flesh and blood presented unique problems

“It’s unreal but sometimes it’s a bad thing,” he told Fairfax Media.

“You see one of them get tackled and you just want to race in there and help your brother out.

“Well, everyone in the team’s a brother but you want to help your blood out. We’ll make sure we can curb our passion next week.”

The Bati’s little burst of attempted vengeance resulted in a try conceded to Irishman Tyrone McCarthy and, later, interchange man Eloni Vunakece being sent to the sin bin. Stone said “we defended, at times, with too much emotion. That’s something I’ve got to control in the future.”

“Stoney’s right. We need to tone that down a bit; a few of the boys haven’t played for Fiji before,” said Newcastle’s Uate, who has played for Australia since representing Fiji in the 2008 World Cup.

Cheered on by the strong local Fijiann community, the Bati raced to a 10-0 lead after 12 minutes on the back of tries to Uate and man of the match Kevin Naiqama.

But McCarthy sneaking over in the corner after a period when the sides used each other as target practice interrupted their momentum. It was only regained when Tariq Sims reached over his head to score in the 51st minute.

There was a humorous moment when video referee Henry Perenara said “Oh Jesus, I can’t see much there, I can’t tell” when asked to adjudicate on a Korbin Sims touchdown. “I’ll go benefit of the doubt”.

At 77 minutes, it was 32-4. Catalans winger Damien Blanch and Manly forward James Hassan crossed for late Wolfhounds touchdowns to make the scoreline more palatable.

“It’s another game,” 37-year-old Civoniceva said of the clash with his former Test team-mates. “I haven’t really thought about too much.”

Ireland play England on Saturday. Captain Liam Finn said some of the players may have been trying to impress their new team-mates rather than displaying patience.

Coach Mark Aston added: “Brett White was the best player on the field, he was immense.

“I’m sure we can challenge England. Hey, England haven’t been great of late, have they?”

FIJI 32 (Akuila Uate 3, Kevin Naiqama, Tariq Sims, Korbin Sims tries; Wes Naiqama 4 goals) beat IRELAND 14 (Tyrone McCarthy, Damien Blanch, James Hassan tries; Pat Richards goal) at Spotland Stadium, Rochdale. Referee: Phil Bentham (England). Crowd: 8872.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

TRAVELS: XXVI

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
AS you might imagine, after five weeks attending matches, dinners and media events in Britain, one gains a few extra pounds – and a better understanding of the challenges facing rugby league here.
What I am about to offer are a bunch of assumptions based on conversations with all manner of people involved in the game in the UK. If I could quote or name these people, I would have. I can’t.
What I have learned is that the situation is markedly different to the way it appears from the outside, from just reading the trade press. And it’s not as dire as it appears, either.
We are all wondering what the competition structure will be the year after next, and whether London will be involved next season. Here’s what seems, to me, to be the case:
1) EVEN THE ‘REBEL’ CLUBS SUPPORT THE NEW STRUCTURE. The clubs who have walked out of meetings aren’t necessarily against splitting Super League into three divisions mid-season – they just want to use the situation to gain more power. They will eventually agree to the proposal – as long as they get something out of it for themselves;
2) MOST SUPER LEAGUE CLUBS ARE SICK OF LOSING PLAYERS TO AUSTRALIA. Ian Lenagan says it’s a compliment to Super League that players are succeeding in the NRL and Super League – but not many of his counterparts at other clubs agree. There is a push for two marquee players per club – one overseas and one local, to help prevent the brawn drain;
3) THE GAME IS GOING TO LEVERAGE THE ADVENT OF BT SPORT AS MUCH AS IT CAN. Another way to compete with the Aussies is to get a shedload of money from broadcasters, as they have. The arrival of BT Sports gives Sky some competition and the British game plans to use that to get a significant increase in the rights, promising a better product in return. Negotiations won’t wait two years to commence – the proverbial iron is red hot;
4) LONDON ARE LIKELY TO BE BAILED OUT BY A RIVAL CLUB: It seems an established Super League club is preparing to lend the Broncos money and players. NRL CEO David Smith met Gus Mackay and Tony Rea this week to see if there was anything he could do to help.
You may have been broadly aware of some or all of these senarios but since this is my last column for the year, I thought it worthwhile to spell them out.
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SINCE last week, I’ve changed my view somewhat on the requirement that Fiji play Samoa mid-year 2014 for the right to be included in next year’s Four Nations.
As the NRL’s Andrew Hill points out, it was entirely possible that two Pacific countries would be eliminated at the same stage of the tournament, which would have left officials in a bind.
And going into a Four Nations with a 64-0 defeat to one of the other teams in it as your last result doesn’t seem very “box office”.
The real problem is that none of these deliberations were reported, so Fiji thought they had been gyped.
There is enormous interest in the international game today and the flow of information from the RLIF is, frankly, appalling.
This is one of many factors that make it impossible to accurately predict what the legacy of this World Cup will be.
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AS I said, this will be my last column for the year so I’d like to thank Paul Cunliffe and Paul Coward for giving me the opportunity.
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