SIN BIN: October 12 2013

sinbinsign1By STEVE MASCORD

SOMEHOW most rugby league fans outside the UK remain oblivious to it but British rugby league is experiencing an open rebellion right on the eve of its hosting of the World Cup.

When we say ‘open rebellion’, we are talking Australia, 1995. We’re talking – potentially – that significant.

The spark has been a plan to restructure the professional game by having two divisions for part of the season and then – innovatively or crazily, depending on your perspective – rearranging it into three competitions mid-stream.

There was supposed to be an extraordinary general meeting of clubs last week to finalise the plan but it was postponed indefinitely, the Rugby Football League saying everyone wanted to concentrate on the World Cup.

What it didn’t say was that all the Super League clubs bar Leeds were organising their own meeting to discuss the next move. Not a friendly development. Wigan’s Ian Lenagan is leading the protest.

Leeds CEO Gary Hetherington is seen as exerting the most influence over Red Hall, and Sin Bin understands he is not backing the threatened breakaway.

But one of the new bosses at Wakefield – who are – is Kath Hetherington, his wife!

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“TREAT the sideline as a precipice” is one of rugby league’s hoariest clichés – but at Port Vila’s Kormand Stadium, it really is the end of the known universe.

If you’re a crab.

To prevent land crabs invading the field of play, the venue for this weekend’s Vanuatu-Niue Islands international is ringed by a buried concrete barrier which stops the critters in their tracks.

Some, however, seem to find their way over the top of them because there are numerous holes over the field nonetheless.

The white concrete strips would serve as functional ground markings but proper paint will be laid down before knick-off by a man who will also do some tidying up around the place – and acts as deputy speaker in the Vanuatu Parliament.

For the second consecutive year (Vanuatu played Greece in 2012), there were concerns about access to the venue. Soccer claimed to be using it and an official said on radio during the week that the “rugby” would have to miss out.

But Queensland-based organiser Dane Campbell – who set up rugby league in foreign countries as a hobby while halfback understudy to Andrew Johns at Newcastle – made sure a deal was done with the government well in advance and it is the soccer administrators who have to find a new venue.

In case you are wondering, Melbourne’s Justin O’Neill still hasn’t represented his homeland. He was in Mackay helping out last week, though, when Vanuatu beat the Solomon Islands 48-30.

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YOUR correspondent has just started reading No Helmets Required, Gavin Willacy’s meticulously-researched story of the 1953 American All Stars.

While the United States are finally going to the World Cup this month, Willacy reveals they were actually invited to the first one in ;54 – even though the game was not played there at any level when the invitation was issued and promoter Mike Dmitro hadn’t recruited a single player!

But there is just as much rancour over the 2013 Tomahawks, with domestic players and officials outraged at the number of “heritage” players who’ve got a start.

It’s worth remembering, though, that there are more domestic players in the squad than in those of Italy, the Cook Islands, Ireland, Scotland and others.

We were first alerted to the situation when big prop Curtis Cunz revealed on Facebook he had been overlooked.

Unlike Tohu Harris, Cunz has not turned down the chance to tour as an “ambassador” and seemed as thrilled to confirm his involvement as he was depressed at missing the cut.

But the drama and debate will no doubt continue.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

WORLD RUGBY LEAGUE POWER LIST: Year Two

Power ListBy STEVE MASCORD
WE certainly picked the right time to kick off our World Rugby League Power List in 2012 – if only because it bore little resemblance to rankings we now present to you 12 months later.
Last June, the game had just lost NRL chief executive David Gallop, who went to the FFA, and Rugby Football League executive chairman Richard Lewis, who is now back in tennis.
But at the time, the NRL didn’t have a CEO while no-one has really replaced Lewis at Red Hall, although former Football League CEO Brian Barwick is now the chairman and Maurice Watkins is on board a senior non-executive director.
But it’s at League Central in Sydney that the biggest shakeup has taken place. Since Gallop’s departure, Welshman David Smith has taken over as chief executive and he has designed and instituted a detailed administrative structure.
Todd Greenberg is head of football, Jim Doyle is chief operating officer, Shane Mattiske is head of strategy and Paul Kind runs commercial with three positions to be added.
The old guard is largely either gone, or going.
Last year we summed up the aim of this list thus: – if rugby league has a “direction” as such, who is behind the thing, pushing the hardest? These aren’t necessarily people who throw their weight around most often – but equally we have not favoured wallflowers who could action enormous change for the sport with their wealth and influence but who have so far done nought.
In achieving this aim, we looked at appointing a panel of judges. In future years, that might happen but for now we are sticking to the informal process observed by most journalists gathering information most days – ringing people and talking to them.
The buck for this list stops with the name at the top of the page.
1. John Grant
ARLC chairman: Grant has receded into the background somewhat but is still David Smith’s boss. He attends marquee events, presses the flesh, does interviews and recently presided over the decision to prioritise 30 tasks that the ARLC wanted to achieve over the coming months. He’s the most active and influential member of the commission and still spends a great deal of time at League Central – although much less than before Smith’s appointment. Because of his personal interest in international football, the game’s progress in that area will be significantly influenced by him.
2. Dave Smith
ARLC chief executive: For months last year, the only rugby league official we seemed to see on television was the Commission’s chairman, John Grant. He was everywhere – but has virtually become invisible since he found his man in Welsh banker David (now ‘Dave’) Smith. The name change is eerily reminiscent of predecessor David Moffett, who used to ring open line radio programs posing as ‘David From Hornsby’. Despite being labelled a ‘dunce’, Smith completely remodelled the NRL administration and was at pains to point out the changes were all his. By this time next year, he should go up a place on this list.
3. Gary Pemberton
ARL Commissioner. It seems strange to have three ARLC types at the top of the list and then no more. But Pemberton, Grant and Smith are seen as the men who run rugby league in Australia while the others six commissioners work behind the scenes. We called him a “head kicker” last year but he has been less obtrusive since then. However, clubs hear from Pemberton regularly. Pemberton has experience in TV rights negotiations but unlike others in that area of expertise, has held his spot in the top 20. The likes of Ian Frykberg and Lachlan Murdoch will next be heard from here in four years.
4. Cameron Smith
Melbourne player. Cameron Smith’s influence was best exemplified by David Smith telling the assembled club CEOs earlier this year the hooker wanted the accreditation of three journalists revoked overthe Jon Mannah story. If an Australia captain has ever been so politically active, we haven’t known about it. Smith regularly talks to players around the competition and reportedly would like to be Queensland coach one day. His steady demeanour means he inspires trust in others. As influential as any player has even been off the field.
5. David Gyngell
Television executive. With the NRL’s TV deal signed since our last power rankings, the executives of the stations that got the rights have held their places and those who missed out have disappeared completely. Channel Nine remains central to the way most Australians consume rugby league. People who tweet scores from games they are showing on delay are regularly abused and Nine’s commentators are arguably more famous than most players. Nine succeeded in convincing the NRL to allow them to delay Sunday games and keep grand finals in the evening by throwing truckloads of money at the new administration.
6. Todd Greenberg
NRL official. Despite his high profile, Greenberg didn’t make our list last year because we were told he was not a wheeler-and-deaer, preparing to focus on what was in front of him at the Bulldogs. But having handled the Ben Barba episode at the club earlier this year, Greenberg has been appointed as David Smith’s frontman at Moore Park. He’s the man who knows it’s Ben Barba, not Benji Barba, and will speak on football-related matters in future. Presumably, given Dave Smith’s pre-occupation with the corporate side of the business, Greenberg will increasingly seem like the boss of the NRL to average fans.
7. Patrick Delany
Television executive. Our first new entry, the Fox Sports CEO has been very proactive this year as his pay television channel completely overhauled its rugby league coverage, cutting a talent-sharing deal with Nine. A former Commonwealth Games swimming trialist, Delaney is known to be in constant contact with clubs about innovations such as the Fox Kopter and cornerpost-cam. A great corporate link with News Limited and a big move into tablets and mobile technology increases Fox’s – and Delany’s – influence.
8. Phil Gould
Penrith general manager. Gould was David Gallop’s no.1 nemesis and saw him off. No other club official commentates on games and writes columns in newspapers. He has the ear of David Smith and the respect of most, putting in long hours and leading the fight against the GWS AFL franchise. Gould appears to be a fan of the ARLC but history shows he will be a formidable adversary if they get him offside. He talks about politics, football and personalities and shapes public opinion in each these areas. And he almost prised Johnathan Thurston away from North Queensland.
9. Ray Dibb
Canterbury chairman. The rise of NRL club chairman has been a key development since our most recent power rankings. The group succeeded in getting an advance on the TV rights income which has been estimated at some $7 million per franchise. Initially, there were fears they would block the introduction of the commission completely if they didn’t get their way. Dib is in constant contact with other club bosses, recently appointed the first female chief executive of the NRL era, Raelene Castle and played a key role in the recent restructure of the NSWRL.
10. Gary Hetherington
Leeds chief executive. Our highest ranking English power broker, Hetherington runs the dual code Leeds Rugby conglomerate and is the man behind bids to expand the World Club Challenge which now look like being successful. Hetherington is always thinking outside the box, be it taking games to places like Dubai and Hong Kong or tinkering with the domestic season, and has more influence than anyone at Red Hall given the recent financial problems at Bradford and the near-collapse of Salford.
11. Dave Trodden
Wests Tigers official. The Balmain solicitor stepped down as Wests Tigers chairman at the end of his term last year but by then he had already played a key role in establishing the NRL chairmans’ group and won significant funding from the Commission, creating a new power group in the game. At the end of 2011, he was quoted in RLW saying the clubs were refusing to sign licence agreements with the NRL, which could have freed them to form their own competition. Despite no longer being a club chairman, Trodden remains active. Also a huge influence over NSWRL restructure.
12. Graham Annesley
NSW Sports Minister. The next big revolution in the NRL is going to concern the stadiums policy, and attempts to match venues to events more sensibly.. That will mean a painful departure from suburban grounds and better deals for clubs and fans at the super stadia. As NSW sports minister, former international referee Graham Annesley will be at the centre of the paradigm shift. He’s rocketed up eight spots in our world rugby league power rankings as a result.
13. Wayne Beavis
Player agent. With the television deal done and the competition structure settled, player agents such as Beavis come into their own once more. When it was reported recently that Neil Henry had two weeks to save his job as coach of North Queensland, it was a meeting Beavis held in Townsville which sparked the rumour. Beavis manages Trent Barrett, who has been linked to a coaching job at the Cowboys. He also represented the players in talks with the RLPA about representative payments and is also deeply involved in the Agent Accreditation scheme.
14. Wayne Bennett
Newcastle coach. The supercoach has dropped a few spots because he has had enough on his plate at Newcastle, restricting the time available to influence the sport as a whole. Nathan Tinkler has gone from the top 20 completely for similar reasons. But when Bennett has something to say, like recently regarding cannonball tackles, people listen. Having brought back the Tri- (now Four) Nations, he has reportedly moved his focus to Australian sport as a whole. Bennett knows how to use his influence and is anecdotally close to ARLC chairman John Grant.
15. Jim Doyle
NRL chief operating officer. Already influential in his role as the chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby League, the Navman millionaire has crossed the Tasman and is helping run the NRL. Doyle turned Kiwi league around in the wake of the SPARC report, winning many admirers, and could even be regarded as over-qualified for his NRL gig. His oversight includes the new NRL integrity unit and he gave an early indication he won’t be a wallflower by speaking out against the practice of sweeping off-field incidents under the carpet.
16. Shane Richardson
South Sydney chief executive. Richardson has a finger in plenty of pies. As one of the longest-surviving club CEOs, he has plenty to say at CEOs conferences. As a former Super League club boss, he is on the committee that liases over the future of the World Club Challenge. And as the boss of the competition’s form team, he has a big input on competition-wide policies, such as media procedures. Richardson is also not afraid to make a public statement, meaning he can use the media to apply pressure where necessary – a lost art among most NRL CEOs
17. Isaac Moses
Player agent. A new entry by unlucky to miss out last year. Moses is the man who manages Cameron Smith, the current Australian captain, and the recruit the game most covets, Israel Folau. As part of Titan management, which also handles Karmichael Hunt, he has been involved in some of the most seismic transfers in recent rugby league history – ones which affect the overall health of the game by shifting athletes from one sport to another. Moses was banned from operating by the Agent Accreditation Scheme over his involvement in the Storm salary cap drama but the suspension seemed to have little or no impact on his operation
18. Simon Moran
Warrington majority shareholder. The English “pop impresario” rarely gives interviews but is too polite to decline them, simply going missing at the appointed time. He’s the man behind some of the biggest bands, festivals and venues in the UK but his big passion is rugby league and, more specifically, Warrington Wolves. He has single-handedly turned them into a Super League force and is part of a powerful group that is negotiating over the future of the World Club Challenge. A man with enough money to make things happen.
19. Paul Gallen
Cronulla captain. Gallen has become increasingly outspoken in recent years and the ASADA investigation at the Sharks has brought his leadership qualities into shark focus. Cronulla’s decision to stone-wall the drugs agency has forced it to change tack and probably prolonged the investigation. On the field, he took the law into his own hands in Origin I as NSW skipper and probably went a long way towards determining the result. Number 19 with a bullet.
20 Owen Glenn
Warriors shareholder. Probably holds the fortunes of rugby league in New Zealand in his hands. The billionaire took a share in the Warriors last year, with an announcement he and Eric Watson would share the ownership on a 50-50 basis. Without the club as a flagship, rugby league in New Zealand would not be able to keep its head above water in comparison with the dominant rival code. The owners last year announced they wanted to make the club the biggest sporting franchise in Australasia. That’s got off to a shaky start.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: April 2013

By Rugby League World April 2013STEVE MASCORD

WAS that the last stand-alone World Club Challenge we’ll see in the UK for some time? Was that a sentence that has been written before half a dozen times and will be written again this time next year?

This hack is proud of his record of having covered every WCC decider since 1994, bringing him to England every year since 2000 at some stage of February to enjoy your “summer” sport.

And many of those years, I have written a story – usually quoting one G Hetherington – about how the concept is about to take off again after the disaster of 1997.

And nothing every happened.

When South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson travelled to Britain in the middle of last year, his friends joked that he would announce “after long and productive talks, we are proud to announce that next year’s World Club Challenge will be played in England again”.

And that’s what he came back and did!

But in meetings with Leeds’ Hetherington, Warrington’s Simon Moran and Wigan’s Ian Lenagan, he made it clear that Aussie clubs were serious about turning the WCC into a moneyspinner.

Sydney teams are currently doing deals with stadia under the state government’s new policy which aims to put the right games at the right venues rather than tying teams to draconian lease agreements. The WCC is already being used as a bargaining chip in those talks.

I am led to believe the UK members of the WCC working group recently asked their NRL counterparts how serious they were about all this. The Aussies delayed answering so they could consult their fellow clubs and offer an united response.

I also know of one middle eastern venue that is serious about taking the game off Sydney next year.

The 2015 World Club Challenge, with the top three teams in each hemisphere playing each other, has more detractors than the plan for 2014.

Hetherington’s idea is to make it like a Test series, NRL v Super League, over one weekend – with the domestic competition paused. The world title would always be decided on the Monday but if, say, the NRL side won it, and the Super League teams won the other two, then the northern hemisphere could still claim a “series victory”.

Many people aren’t sold on that.

Melbourne football manager Frank Ponissi has a more radical plan bring over both NRL grand finalists. Play the WCC and a trial match one week, and then stage a full NRL match in England as part of a double-header the following week.

The next year, do the same in Australia with both Super League grand finalists playing the competition’s first-ever game staged down under as part of a double-header with an NRL match.

That might sound a tad fanciful to you – but there was going to be a game between Manly and Canberra in China this year.

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THE World Cup opening double-header at Milennium Stadium in Cardiff on October 26 has been “flipped” so that the Wales-Italy match is on after England-Australia.

Welsh Rugby League officials are hopeful the stadium doesn’t empty. But the reason for the schedule change is Australian television – a sure sign that an announcement is near on broadcast rights.

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BACK on October 23, 2006, colleague Roy Masters wrote an amusing piece about the “Fat Controllers” running the Tri-Nations.

He was referring to New Zealand’s Andrew Chalmers, Australia’s Ed Farish and Britain’s Nigel Wood. Roy explained: “(they) are the money managers of the Tri-Nations series. They are known as the Fat Controllers because they are… well … fat, and their official title is ‘financial controller’.”

Seven years later, the ‘Fat Controllers’ (who have all lost a few pounds, I think) are reunited. Farish, formerly the money man at the NRL and Gold Coast (arriving after the kerfuffle there, by the way), is part of the new regime at Salford, along with Chalmers.

And Wood, now CEO of the RFL, played a key role in saving the Reds and attracting racing multi-millionaire Marwan Koukash.

If Salford end up a successful as Koukash says they will be, the trio should be redubbed “the phat controllers”.

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THERE were only 1880 people at The Stoop on February 17 to see London play Wakefield – but there are a number of crowd-related happenings for which I will remember the afternoon.

The first is the repertoire of chants from the Wakefield fans, mainly directed at the Broncos mascots. “Tesco, Tesco, you’re in our burgers, you’re in our burgers” is a step up in class from anything you’ll hear from fans in Australia.

And “are you cows in disguise” was also quite pithy.

Unfortunately, the Wakefield fans blotted their copybook somewhat by chanting “your support is f**king shit”, which was uncalledfor, nasty and – worst of all – true.

The other unusual scene in the grandstand opposite the press box, from where I watched the unedifying spectacle of Wakefield’s 28-0 win – was the middle-aged man sat behind me who went by the name of Brian Smith.

I’m sure he was in the country – having arrived that very morning- to help out Steve McNamara with World Cup preparations and not to take a Super League job off someone.

But that won’t prevent Smith getting calls from tetchy club chairmen, I’m tipping.

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ANOTHER Smith, now: new NRL CEO David, the Welsh banker (no, that’s not rhyming slang).

While the ARLC has put expansion on the backburner, Smith (like his namesake, Cameron) has revealed himself to be something of an expansionist.

Speaking at a conference of volunteers in Queensland, Smith said the game needed to expand if it was match and outstrip its rivals.

The NRL got $1.025 billion without adding teams, fuelling the arguments of those who regard returning to Perth and Adelaide as folly.

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IT is not pleasant to have to pay tribute in consecutive columns to those no longer with us.

I first met David Oates on the 1996 Great Britain tour of the South Pacific. Actually, I didn’t go to the “South Pacific”, just to New Zealand, and it was a trip which cemented life-long friendships with the likes of fellow print journalist Andy Wilson, photographer Vicky Matthers, commentator David Woods and his off-sider, Oatsy.

It was hard to believe (in fact I did not know, until Woodsy’s wedding last year), that David was some six years older than me. I would have guessed six years younger, with a liver capacity of someone around two decades more youthful.

I found it difficult to write or talk about David in the past tense for some time after his passing on the first Sunday of the Super League season. For someone so healthy and enthusiastic to be there – virtually – one day and gone the next is a difficult concept to digest.

But after a wake attended by just about every rugby league media person in the UK and a touching – and believe it or not, entertaining – funeral at Ealing, I guess I now accept he’s gone.

It’s tempting to write something here which attempts to make sense of the randomness of life and death. But you can’t – because it makes no sense at all.

@BondiBeat

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

Future Of World Club Challenge Hangs In The Balance

2013 World Club Challenge - Leeds Rhinos v Melbourne StormBy STEVE MASCORD

IT’S quite possible that Gary Hetherington beat the Melbourne Storm to Australia at the weekend.

While the ultra-professional Storm shipped off home after their solid and entertaining 18-14 win over Leeds on Friday, the Rhinos chief executive also headed to the airport for the 24-hour flight.

Melbourne’s mission is to defend their premiership. Hetherington’s is to breathe new life into the World Club Challenge concept.

Friday night’s contest, in front of a sold-out 20,400 crowd, was the 13th in a row to be played in England. The 1997 22-team WCC was such an embarrassment that the fixture was put on ice until 2000, when the Storm played St Helens.

Since then, it’s been in holding pattern. You could convincingly argue it has in fact regressed, moving from large soccer stadia like Elland Road and the Reebok at Bolton back to the home grounds of the Super League clubs involved.

Aside from badges and bootlegged scarves being sold on street corners, there’s been no real WCC merchandise produced for years. Planning has taken place on a year to year basis between the teams involved and St George Illawarra negotiated so many guarantees in 2011 that the prizemoney became an RFL secret because it was so small.

This year’s match sponsor, PRObiz, signed on just two days before the match!

Hetherington’s journey to meet NRL club bosses could well determine whether the WCC realises its potential or withers and dies.

Before leaving England, Hetherington said: “I think the time is right to look to expand the concept. Rugby league needs to embrace the demand for global, international sporting events and this offers an ideal opportunity.

“We have seen in recent years the success that the American NFL and NBA have enjoyed by bringing fixtures to London and a concept such as this, further down the road, could prove very attractive to a number of cities around the globe, which will obviously improve the global reach of our game.”

While the working group including South Sydney’s Shane Richardson and St George Illawarra’s Peter Doust has agreed to move the game to Australia and include six teams in the UK in 2015, the decision is yet to be ratified by the NRL.

When Warrington majority shareholder Simon Moran last week wrote to a host of clubs asking if they supported the six-team concept, they didn’t answer.

That’s because they wanted to get the opinion of all clubs before responding. As you’ll read on page ??, even the Storm have doubts over the viability of pitting third versus third and second versus second on a Friday and Saturday in February 2014.

The Australian clubs also want the profits shared equally between all franchises in both competitions, not between the competing teams.

In England, SKY claims to already own the rights to the WCC. So selling the rights in Australia – perhaps meaning some rather unusual kick-off times in 2015 – to generate new income appears to be the key.

According to victorious Storm coach Craig Bellamy, ”It’s well known that some clubs don’t take this seriously”.

But the obsessive mentor and his staff were determined that would not be an issue for their travelling party, which arrived 10 days before the Leeds game and was denied a lead-up game against London by politics.

“To these guys’ credit … this is the third time I’ve been over with this group and this is probably the best preparation we’ve had,” said Bellamy.

“They just had a really good attitude to training, they had a really good attitude to doing the little things they need to do away from training. We went out last Friday night and had a few beers but aside from that the boys haven’t drunk at all.

“They’ve been tremendous with their attitude.”

On-field, the story of the night was 21-year-old back rower Tohu Harris. The debutant was presented with his jersey by father Paul and scored the try of the match just after halftime – the one that put Melbourne ahead 18-8.

“He lasted a lot longer than we thought,” said Bellamy. “We thought we might have to replace him in the first half but he got out 65 minutes. It was 65 good minutes. He worked really hard and came up with a couple of really nice touches and defended pretty well.”

Fullback Billy Slater also impressed in his first full game after a pre-season ankle injury.

Bellamy is close to finalising his team for the March 10 clash with St George Illawarra. Brett Finch missed the cut on Friday but remains in contention, while Bellamy was unhappy with a couple of errors from winger Sisa Waqa.

“Kevin Proctor, he won’t be available for a couple of months,” he said. “Matt Duffie, he might be available again.

“I’d imagine the 17 will come out of the 18 or 19 that were named for (this game).”

According to try-scoring prop Jesse Bromwich, a holiday approach just wasn’t an option for the players.

“I don’t think Craig takes it easy,’ said the Kiwi, “so why should we?”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

DISCORD 2012: Edition Seven

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

EVERY year Leeds play in the World Club Challenge, their CEO Gary Hetherington offers to play it in Australia and calls for the concept to be expanded.

Every year, nothing of the sort happens.

But things are different this time. In the middle of last season, South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson flew to England for talks with Hetherington, Warrington ‘pop impresario’ Simon Moran and Wigan’s Ian Lenagan.

They agreed to play the WCC in the opposite hemisphere to internationals in each season for the next five, and to trial an expanded competition every second year.

The six-team comp in 2015 does not mean six teams have a chance of being crowned world champions. It means  the game will be played as part of a Super League v NRL ‘Test’ series.

On a single weekend in February, 2015, Super League will be paused and on Friday night the third-finishing teams in each comp will meet, followed by the second-finishing on Saturday – with the WCC on Sunday.

This concept has the backing of NRL clubs – but they key is selling it as a separate television produce and building it up to the point that states and cities bid to host it.

Playing the WCC in Australia next year will have no impact at all on the All Stars or the planned Auckland Nines – instead the pre-season will start to generate some real momentum (throw in the Charity Shield as well).

Although the clubs support these ideas, they still need to be signed off on by the ARLC and the RFL.

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THE Australian Crime Commission report was tabled at a media conference just as the last Discord was being posted.

That was unfortunate timing for readers of this column but my initial thoughts on what does seem to be somewhat of a mess right now appear in Wednesday’s Rugby League Week.

Colleague Richard Hinds has cautioned officials against shooting the messenger but a few league officials – North Queensland coach Neil Henry and South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson come to mind – have broken ranks and lashed out at the process so far.

If we break things down into how the various parties acted and how we think they should have acted, the difficulties involved become clearer.

Richardson’s argument that the report should have been tabled in parliament instead of at a press conference appear sound – although knowing how the media works, the chaos surrounding “named names” would have dwarfed what we have already seen.

Can you imagine player X showing up for training after his name was mentioned in parliament? Even though he has tested positive to nothing, he would have become a victim in his own house.

Should the NRL have sought permission from the ACC to contact individuals instead of clubs, even if such permission had been longer coming? I think so. That way clubs would not have been slighted, as they clearly believe they have.

But individuals would not put out press releases saying they had been contacted, would they? And this is the key – the imperative that progress SEEMS to be being made, as opposed to it actually occurring.

If the NRL had said “we contacted 24 individuals who have been mentioned in the report” and then none of them said boo, it would not have gone close to  feed the hungry media beast and criticism would have rained down on League Central.

The clubs, in the main, have reacted well. Cronulla, in particular, should be congratulated for going into some detail about the allegations concerning them.

But saying “no-one at our club has tested positive” is just PR spin – if they had, we’d have heard about it by now!

What people in rugby league perhaps don’t realise is that they are seen as mere cogs in a massive government operation. The government isn’t worried about hurting our feelings.

It’s going to go on all year. At this stage, it may look like a grandstanding over-reaction. God forbid we one day look back at it all as an under-reaction to what was really taking place below the surface in our game.

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MELBOURNE’s WCC jaunt didn’t start off so well.

read on

WCC Moves To Australia, Expands

World Club Challenge 2013By STEVE MASCORD

NRL and Super League clubs have agreed to play next year’s World Club Challenge in Australia and expand the competition to six teams in 2015.

As his Rhinos prepare to take on Melbourne next Friday, Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington said he hoped the agreement – nutted out by a working group involving franchises from both competitions – would be formalised shortly.

Next February’s clash between the Super League and NRL premiers would be the first WCC decider played in Australia since 1994.

“That’s where we’ve got to and we would hope it would move a step further and become formalised,” Hetherington told The Herald.

“It’s all meant to integrate with the international calendar. If there’s an international tournament in one hemisphere, then the World Club Challenge will be in the other.”

Expanding the competition to six teams in 2015 – in the UK –will make it 18 years for the concept to have recovered from the disastrously lopsided 1997 competition.

Explaining the structure, Hetherington said: “There’ll be one versus one – that’s to decide the world champions. But in alternate years –and maybe going to every year ultimately – it will be the World Club plus and NRL v Super League series.

“And that would include two v two and three v three.

“Ideally, it would be Friday, Saturday and Sunday and there would be no Super League games that weekend.”

He said a schedule for five to six seasons had been agreed upon, flip-flopping between hemispheres and between two- and six-team formats.

While Hetherington has been pushing for an expanded WCC for some years, it’s understood that this time the Australasian clubs are on the same page. Other members of the WCC working group included St George Illawarra’s Peter Doust, Wigan’s Ian Lenagan and South Sydney’s Shane Richardson.

“There is no guarantee next year’s game will be in Sydney –like the All Stars game, it could go up for tender and end up a new market like Perth,” Hetherington said.

“Down the track, we see this becoming a valuable TV commodity and hopefully a vehicle for promoting rugby league in new markets, such as Dubai or Hong Kong.”

The expansion is likely to be welcomed by players. “I’ve played in a few of these,” said Melbourne utility Brett Finch, “and they probably don’t get the recognition they deserve.

“From a player’s point of view, it’s a big game.”

After a disrupted start to their stay in England when a bus driver slept in and they had to take a fleet of cabs to their Richmond Hotel, Melbourne’s preparations for the Headingley showpiece kicked off in earnest late last night when they were due to train at the exclusive Eton school.

Utility Finch has just returned from a stint with Wigan but says coach Craig Bellamy is so hard working that he is unlikely to be asked to help with tactics.

“How much work Craig does … I’m sure he’s got video on them,” said Finch. “Obviously I’ve played them a few times and know how good they are.

“If he asks my advice I’ll be happy to give it but you know how hard he works and prepares. He’s probably got as much knowledge as I do.”

Finch is expected to fill in at hooker off the bench.

“With a lot of the first graders missing for the trials, I’ve played in the halves,” he said. “But those guys are back for this game so I’m not sure what (Bellamy) has got planned.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

WORLD RUGBY LEAGUE POWER LIST: Year One

By STEVE MASCORD

FIRST it was the Davis Cup tennis player. Then the Sydney first grade cricketer.

In the space of just under two months, rugby league lost two of its biggest administrative names in Rugby Football League executive chairman Richard Lewis and NRL CEO David Gallop. From a leadership point of view, it was without doubt our biggest shakeup since the Super League war.

Sure, they leave the sport in very different circumstances on opposite sides of the world.

In Australia, Gallop’s departure is linked in no small part to a boom. The next television rights deal is expected to bring a windfall which the new Independent Commission needs to manage by balancing a myriad of competing interests. Gallop was one of the final vestiges of News Limited’s half ownership of the National Rugby League.

In England, Bradford has been to death’s door and back this season and the Red Hall administration has been criticised for the poor financial state of the game after giving away competition naming rights in exchange for free advertising on the side of trucks. The collapse of Crusaders put Richard Lewis’ franchise licensing under the spotlight and club bosses are beginning to grumble about the parlous financial state of the game.

But in their own ways, Gallop and Lewis leave big holes – which is why this is an ideal time for Rugby League Week to publish our first annual Power List of the most influential league people in the world.

You’ve seen similar lists elsewhere but to our knowledge it’s the first specific to rugby league but still wide enough to include the game on a global scale.

There’s no beating around the bush – lists like this are terribly subjective. The buck stops with me this year – in future we might get more democratic and scientific. The writer took advice from people but in the end this list is based on my own observations.

The criteria here is simple – if rugby league has a “direction” as such, who is behind the thing, pushing the hardest? These aren’t necessarily people who throw their weight around most often – but equally we have not favoured wallflowers who could action enormous change for the sport with their wealth and influence but who have so far done nought.

Let us know what you think

1.        John Grant

ARLC chairman: The former Australian international and IT tycoon comes across as a genial chap but he left no doubt about his ruthlessness with a tap on the shoulder that was felt around the rugby league world last Tuesday. The Independent Commission could have been as convoluted and impotent as a government department but Grant has made sure this is not the case by driving a steak into the heart of the old establishment from the outset. The challenge for Grant now is to find a CEO dynamic enough to be an effective frontman but pliable enough to work with the Commission more smoothly than Gallop did.

2.        Gary Pemberton

ARL Commissioner. The former head of Billabong, Qantas and TAB boss has a reputation as a head-kicker but Pemberton reportedly played a key role in keeping Michael Searle in charge of the Gold Coast Titans when Gallop wanted more decisive action. Pemberton’s power remains pretty much in reserve. Unless the commission becomes more open about its inner machinations, most of his head-kicking or job-saving will remain the preserve of rumours and unsourced reports. But rest assured, he’ll be close to the action.

3.        Wayne Bennett

Newcastle coach. No-one in rugby league – or indeed Australian sport – knows how to use his profile and status more effectively than the Knights mentor coach. Bennett keeps his public utterances scarce so they have maximum impact and much has already been made of his footballing friendship with Grant. As well as being employed by a millionaire in Nathan Tinkler, the winner of seven premierships has strong, long-lasting relationships with many other members of our top 20. Thus his influence is twofold – public and private.

4.        Rupert Murdoch

Media mogul. It’s only been four months since the Commission took over in Australia but already Rupert Murdoch’s influence over rugby league is far more significant in the United Kingdom. If Sky was to stop showing the game, it would be the equivalent of bombing us back to the dark ages – certainly, fulltime professional rugby league would probably disappear. But News owns half of premier sports which owns half of Fox Sports in Australia – meaning there’s still plenty of influence in the southern hemisphere when you include Sky Sports NZ as well

5.        David Gyngell

Television executive. When ranking television executives its unwise to underestimate the power of the current free-to-air rights holder in Australia. Nine has the rights to make the final offer in the current negotiations and its influence over the National Rugby League is all-pervasive. The reason one game kicks off at 2pm every Sunday is that it is over before Nine’s delayed telecast of the other match. Radio stations are banned from calling Friday night matches that are not live on Nine. And the network’s contract-defying refusal to show matches at a reasonable time in the sport’s developing states has been responsible for many a letter to the editor.

6.        Phil Gould

Penrith general manager. Gould’s outspoken war on the AFL incursion into western Sydney has had an impact on the independent commission and his criticism of Gallop clearly also found influential ears. Gould has played the role of contrarian for a decade now, criticising the NRL at every turn and turning up the heat on the administration over most issues. After a period in the media, the former premiership coach was coaxed back to clubland and has asked the League for cap concessions to help keep the Panthers strong in the face of the GWS menace.

7.        Ian Frykberg

Television executive. The manager of International Sports Television is an imposing and important figure expected to represent the interests of Fox Sports in the NRL’s continuing TV rights negotiations. Insiders tell us he is omnipresent at talks despite his low public profile. Even though there is now an independent consultancy working for the NRL during talks, all sides respect ‘Frykers’ opinions when it comes to the value of rights and how best to handle them when they are secured. Renowned for getting things done when negotiations reach a stalemate.

8.        Russell Crowe

Actor. It may not make sense immediately but Russell Crowe is our biggest powerbroker outside the traditional league hotbeds of Australia, New Zealand and England. Yes, he owns South Sydney. But fears he would be brash and push the NRL around have proven baseless. It’s in places like the United States that Crowe has made a difference for the game, getting our game on national talk shows and attracting a six figure crowd to a pre-season game in Jacksonville. He considered investing in the AMNRL and supports taking the World Club Challenge to Las Vegas.

9.        Nigel Wood

RFL chief executive. With Richard Lewis’ departure, Nigel’s is the undisputed seat of power in British rugby league. The former Halifax officials has risen through the ranks of Red Hall, which is now turning a profit instead of the losses that followed the disastrous 2000 World Cup. Wood is also the tournament director for the 2013 World Cup and the longer the search for a chairman continues, the more his influence deepens. But the fact Stg500,000 had to be raised by fans to save Bradford, and the collapse of Crusaders, are black marks against his administration.

10.     Nick Politis

Sydney Roosters chairman. The collapse of the NRL partnership committee was expected to erode the influence of the City Ford millionaire. But then came the rise of the chairman’s group and the downfall of David Gallop, with whom Politis reportedly fell out. At one point last year, the chairmen demanded guarantees the commission would be put in place and asked for what amounted to an advance on the next television deal. Those close to the game say Politis is still as active politically as ever, even if his direct and obvious influence isn’t what it was.  Reacting last week to David Gallop’s departure, his predecessor David Moffett commented: “You also have to question what influence Nick Politis is having behind the scenes. It’s all very much ARL.”

11.     Gary Hetherington

Leeds chief executive. A self-made mover and shaker who started out as a rugby league missionary at Sheffield and ended up running a dual code club in Leeds that has given us our current world champions. Hetherington is on most committees that matter in England, has been pushing for an expanded World Club Challenge for years and this year gave his players more than the total prizemoney for beating Manly. His power comes from years of putting in the hard yards.

12.     David Leckie

Television executive. The former Nine heavy hitter is now at Seven, a serious challenger for NRL and State of Origin rights. Leckie is the CEO of Seven West media, which owns the network, and it was he who paid $1.25 billion for the AFL rights last time they were up. He was recently included in The Australian’s top 50 most influential people in Australian sport. The newspaper noted Leckie was “the only man to take two television networks to number one”. Even if seven gets no rights, its involvement will push the price up considerably.

13.     Lachlan Murdoch

Television executive. The son of Rupert, like Leckie, is in a good position to cause current rights holders Nine a lot of heartache. Aside from his obvious connections as a member of arguably the most powerful media family in the world, Murdoch was reportedly good friends with Gallop, goes back a long way with Bennett and is a passionate Brisbane Broncos supporter. Gallop met Murdoch on April 11 to kick off talks with non-incumbent bidders for the TV rights.

14.     Petero Civoniceva

Brisbane player. With all the wheeling a dealing going on between the ARL Commission and television networks, players are feeling a little left out. RLPA chief David Garnsey recently complained the NRL had announced next year’s representative format without consulting his organisation. Petro will be directly involved in the Collective Bargaining Agreement and has widespread respect from a cross section of the game’s players. He’s made it clear he believes they deserve a better deal. Only last week, Civoniceva reacted to David Gallop’s departure by saying: “The playing group must be consulted about the replacement. The playing group will obviously be heavily affected by the decision.”

15.     Cameron Smith

Melbourne player. Australia’s captain showed he was an independent thinker before the State Of Origin series when he signed an endorsement deal with Victoria Bitter, the sponsor of the Blues. Occasionally outspoken on political issues, Smith has been through the Storm salary cap drama and has the even temprement to deal with players, media and officialdom. It would not surprise to see him move into administration upon retirement.

16.     Ian Lenagan

Wigan chairman. The former Wigan fan who got rich and ended up chairman, with Harlequins RL his stepping stone. Lenagan has restored the fortunes of arguably our most famous club to something resembling former glories in the age of the salary cap – no mean feat. Notoriously frugal and running an extremely lean operation at DW Stadium, Lenagan has quickly risen through the ranks of influential British rugby league men on the back of his beloved Warriors.

17.     Shane Richardson

South Sydney chief executive. Like Hetherington, Richardson’s biggest strength is his longevity. His connection with Crowe and experience in England with Gateshead and Hull also help him connect the dots. When it comes to getting the numbers to effect change at CEOs conferences, Peter Doust and Steve Noyce are sometimes his equals but no-one is better. Comes from a fan-boy background like Lenagan and Hetherington but arguably more hard-nosed than either of them. Probably the number one draft pick if they had one for CEOs.

18.     Nathan Tinkler

Newcastle owner. It could be argued this is a man with great potential power but we haven’t had the chance to see it in action yet. But he has already attracted Wayne Bennett, Kade Snowden and Danny Buderus to the Knights and his capacity to wreak havoc with sport was grimly illustrated by his decision to surrender the Newcastle Jets licence after a clash with soccer administrators. A similar stand against the ARL Commission would be catastrophic – let’s not forget the Super League war looked to have been won by News Limited until Paul Harragon paid for a mini-bus and drove his team-mates to Phillip Street.

19.     Wayne Beavis

Player agent. Others such as George Mimis may have big names. David Riolo may have moved the goalposts by taking clients to AFL. But old stager Beavis has arguably the biggest stable and the most influential contacts in the game. It’s Beavis who has been representing the players in talks with the RLPA over representative payments. He is also a driving force behind the Agent Accreditation Scheme which recently suspended Issac Moses and George Mimis over the Melbourne Storm salary cap drama.

20.     Graham Annesley

NSW Sports Minister. It’s not every day that a former referee and leading NRL official gets such a senior government position and Annesley is our top ranking polly for that reason. As sports minister in the state where the NRL is headquartered, Annesley makes decisions that have a direct impact on the sport. It’s understood several of his decisions have paved the way for the stadia policy which will come into force in Sydney next year. A fellow the game considers itself lucky to have in its corner.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK