FAR & WIDE: Greece, United States, World Cup,

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

IN the aftermath of our story last week about the chaos engulfing Greek rugby league, the country has been kicked out of the European Federation.
The Greeks were earlier suspended for failing to meet fixture commitments and other irregularities.
Now the RLEF has announced: “The RLEF Board has formally expelled the Hellenic Federation of Rugby League from its membership after a four-month suspension period.
“During that time the HFRL was asked to establish its membership and youth programme, comply with financial audit requirements, and answer allegations of misappropriation of funds and maladministration of the sport.
“On 2 August the RLEF, invoking Article 18 of its constitution, wrote to the Hellenic Federation informing them of their expulsion and requested HFRL’s withdrawal from the membership by 9 August, which the Greek body confirmed in writing yesterday.
“In April 2016, the RLEF membership voted 33-1 in favour of the resolution to suspend the Hellenic Federation, for wilfully acting in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the overall governing body and international rugby league.”
The truth of the matter is that the sanctions are really aimed at one official: Tasos Pantazidis. Far and Wide does not suggest Pantazidis misappropriated funds but clubs have rebelled against his administration and the RLEF has effectively sided with those clubs by expelling Greece.
The RLEF now wants to run its own Greek competitions and is advertising for players.
Pantazidis has affiliated with the Modern Pentathlon authorities in Greece and, as far as we know, plans to continue running rugby league as well.
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SINCE last week we’ve has a long-ish chat with Jason Moore, the Australian promoter who wants to take the 2021 World Cup to the US, and came away impressed.
World Cup ebay
We’ll share some of the key elements of what he had to say in a future feature but I asked him whether it would be such a bad thing if they were passed over this time and got the 2025 tournament.
“It’s almost like ‘shut the gate, the horse has bolted’,” he argued. “This is a golden opportunity for rugby league.
“It may be a once in a generation/lifetime scenario.”
The rugby union World Cup basically can’t come here before 2023. It would be a great piece of rugby league global marketing to get in ahead of that.
“But also it has to be the dominant rugby code in the United States because of the hosting of the World Cup.
“And it’s also the RLIF should consider as a bold statement.”
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DANISH winger Mads Hansen scored a hat-trick as Denmark took out the Nordic Cup match against Sweden 50-18. The trophy had already been secured by Norway.
That Tri-Series we told you about last week has also kicked off, with Belgium downing Germany 26-12 at Mendesportanlage.

THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week One 2014

The Joy Of SixSANDOW SIN BIN

WHEN we went to Parramatta with claims Chris Sandow had played in an aboriginal knockout and been sent off for a shoulder charge followed by an elbow, Eels CEO Scott Seward told us: “He had permission to play. He passed a medical and the coach gave him his blessing. Chrissy has told us he was sent to the sin bin for a shoulder charge on a childhood friend. It was a bit of a joke between them.” But bootleg video on YouTube above appears to show a dismissal – with the elbow chiefly to blame. When Seward put this to Sandow, he insisted he wasn’t aware he had been sent off, only sin binned. We can’t find any record of a judiciary hearing. The title for the Murri Carnival at Redcliffe two weeks ago changed hands when it was discovered the winners, Murri Dingoes Blue, fielded a player who mistakenly believed his drugs suspension had expired. Parra’ refused permission for Joseph Paulo and Bereta Faraimo to play for the US in the Mitchelton Nines on Saturday.

PUNCHING ON 1

WE have often heard this year that “little guys wouldn’t be pushing big guys if they could still be punched”. It was just a theory until the Super League grand final, when little Lance Hohaia pushed big Ben Flower, then lunged at him with a raised forearm. As we know, Hohaia punched Flower twice, the second time when he was on his back, possibly unconscious. They both missed the rest of the game, leaving St Helens to limp to victory as they have all year. Had Flower – who left Old Trafford before fulltime – not opted out of Wales duty, he could at least have counted the upcoming European internationals against what will no doubt be a mammoth suspension. Condemnation of Flower has been widespread and almost unanimous. Soccer star Joe Barton Tweeted he had “little sympathy” for Hohaia because of the provocation, but later stressed he did not intend to defend the Welshman.

PUNCHING ON 2

LIKE Wigan’s Super League campaign, the proud 15-year-plus history of the United States Tomahawks may have come to an end with a punch at the weekend. The USARL is taking over running the game in the US and is likely to dispense with the old AMNRL trademark, meaning it was all on the line when the Americans trailed invitational side Iron Brothers 8-4 with three minutes left in a Nines quarter-final in Brisbane. The Tomahawks got the ball back but sometime-cage fighter Tui Samoa took umbrage to something a rival said and punched him. Water carrier Paulo – banned, as we said, by Parramatta from playing – helped separate them, Samoa was sent to the bin and Brothers scored again to eliminate the US 14-4.

GRACIOUSNESS AND GAFFES

AND what a mixed bag we had for rugby league public speaking at the weekend. On the plus side, congrats to departing Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin, the club’s player of the year Ben Hunt and CEO Paul White for their oratory at the club presentation. “Ben Hunt was entitled to test his value on the open market but he didn’t,” White told around 500 guests. “Although at a backyard barbecue I was at, he did get his message across to me by changing the words of the Status Quo song to ‘down, down, prices are down”. Griffin said: “Whatever I do now, I’ll be a competitor. But I’ll never be a critic of this club or the people in it.” On the negative, St Helens’ Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, at fulltime on live TV: “I’m absolutely buzzing. I could fucking swear”. Yes, he said those words – in that order.

WORLDWIDE LIVE

SOUTHS chief executive Shane Richardson has savaged the running of the international game in Britain’s The Observer. “I look at the state of international rugby league and it just makes me angry,” Richardson – citing the departure of Sam Burgess as a symptom of the problem – said. “I know from the years I’ve spent in the game, and the contacts I’ve made in business, and the places I’ve been around the world, that there’s a potential to do so much more.” Nevertheless, Greece played their first home international at the weekend, beating the Czechs 68-16 in Athens, the Philippines defeated Vanuatu 32-16 on remote Santo and Norway were preparing to meet Thailand in Bangkok. Next weekend, Latin America faces Portugal and Fiji takes on Lebanon, both in Sydney while Tonga take on PNG in Lae and the European Championships commence.

RETIRING ON A HIGH

REPORTS of veteran rugby league photographer Col Whelan’s retirement were greatly exaggerated last year. The NRL weren’t quite ready to take over Col’s operation and he went around in 2014 for one last season – wearing a South Sydney cap to every game. NRL rules prohibit media from wearing club merchandise but the media areas are full of uniformed club staff posting on social media, an inconsistency the irascible snapper sought to highlight. At fulltime on grand final day in the bunnies rooms, players became concerned Col had stopped shooting. He was crying with happiness. At the Red and Green ball, Whelan presented every player with a disc containing 120 photos of their life-defining triumph. What a way to go out – enjoy your retirement, Col.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: International Season week one

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

1. WHAT IN THE WORLD?

ACCORDING to the Rugby League International Federation constitution, the gates of all Tests are to be levied with the money going into central funds. The levy is supposed to apply, as a percentage, the same to Saturday’s Vanuatu-Niue game in Port Vila as April’s Australia-New Zealand match in Canberra. But is it being applied at all? The 2008 World Cup made a reported $4 million profit. How was this spent? If we are all to get behind the 2013 tournament with our cash and enthusiasm, surely a little transparency shouldn’t be too much to ask in return? The fact is, domestic leagues don’t want the RLIF taking sponsors and other financial opportunities off them and that’s been holding back international footy for years.

2. INS AND OUTS

ANOTHER player who could have shone in the World Cup is out. Hooker James Segeyaro’s shoulder injury forced him to withdraw from the Papua New Guinea side over the weekend. Italy have lost both first choice halves, Terry Campese and Craig Gower, but Tonga’s Brent Kite is playing on despite hand and wrist injuries. Samoa coach Matt Parish has not had a good time of it. Frank Pritchard, Krisnan Inu and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck were nabbed by the Kiwis while Jeff Lima, Steve Matai and Carlos Tuimavave were ruled out injured. It appears Matai played in the NRL grand final with a serious hand injury. He ran straight up the tunnel at fulltime against South Sydney the previous week – perhaps he suffered it then. He’s been named as a technical advisor for the Samoans.

3. PACIFIC PRINCES

IT used to be that you could comfortably make it to every rugby league international played in a given year. Yet on one of the quietest weekends of the year, NSW Country beat South African Clubs Selection 50-0 in Silverton, Vanuatu beat Niue 22-20 in Port Vila and Greece downed Thailand 90-0 in Bangkok. The Port Vila game was a great spectacle, with players from both teams forming a circle for a prayer at fulltime and celebrating long into the night – with the referee! Self-starting countries like these need all the help they can get from the RLIF. But it’s a double-edged sword – the Federation probably wouldn’t let them use players who qualify through great grandparents (and there were plenty of them), or allow five reserves!

4. THAIS HAVE LEGS

ON the surface, there wasn’t much for the Thais to be happy about when they were beaten 90-0 by Greece at Technology Stadium, Bangkok, on Saturday. But in the stands for the game run by Shannon Crane’s Thai Rugby League was the boss of the rival organisation, Andrew Charles. Charles’ Thailand Stars play the Philippines away next week and several of those players – including Queensland-based Charlie Jones – turned out in Crane’s team. Charles was also invited to a sponsor’s function. The result of the game is compelling proof a country that has so far hosted just two rugby league games cannot continue with the folly of two governing bodies. Despite the thrashing, everyone also seemed to have a good time afterwards.

5. SMALL WORLD

STROLLING along Port Vila waterfront on Sunday night, Joy Of Six was stunned to run into Gold Coast Titans hooker Matt Srama and his girlfriend. With a trip to the Philippines on hold because of a shoulder injury, Srama decided to head to Vanuatu completely oblivious to the fact a rugby league international was being played there. Titans official Matt Francis – who spoke to several promising local players – must have missed Srama at the airport by a matter of hours on Sunday. Honourable mention, too, to the local French film-makers who shot the Vanuatu players walking towards the camera, Melbourne Storm style, at training two days before the Niue game and turned it into a slick promo video at lightning speed. One suspects they were not paid anything like what our game shells out for similar clips in England, New Zealand and Australia.

6. AMERICAN CIVIL WAR CONTINUES

JACKSONVILLE Axemen owner Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland continues to rail against the number of foreign-based players in the United States World Cup team. Now comes a claim the team might actually be, in some regards, illegal. Howland has cited the Ted Stevens Act, which impacts on amateur sports in the US and their relationship with the US Olympic Committee. However, given that other sides at the World Cup have fewer, and even no, domestic players, it’s hard to see anything changing with regard to the Tomahawks. In more positive news for Spinner, the Axemen have launched their own beer.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

FAR & WIDE: Number 39

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

CONGRATULATIONS to everyone involved in Greek Rugby League on the news the national federation has been officially recognised by the government.

The Hellenic Rugby League has, as a result, been given ‘observer’ status by the RLEF.

“Now that the Hellenic Federation of Rugby League is recognised by the Greek justice system we can put the sport on the map here,” said official Tasos Pantazidis.

Elections will be held shortly. Far & Wide witnessed a great presentation on social media by another Greek official, George Stilianos, at the recent RLEF AGM.

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AS is often the case with international rugby league, some of the things we announce in this column just don’t come to fruition.

So it is with the Malta-Italy international which was set down for later this month. Some financial guarantees weren’t forthcoming and the game is off.

There was going to be a cap on the number of professional players in each team so it would have been a nice boost for local players from the Mediterranean countries.

Alas, our game isn’t exactly flushed with funds, so these things happen. Far & Wide is hearing the Mediterranean Cup, on the other hand, could be revived after a few years in recess.

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A LITTLE piece of history for the game a couple of Saturdays back when the USARL ‘Championship game”, or grand final, was played as part of a double-header with the international between the United States and Canada at Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.

And you could argue it was a double victory for rugby league in the United States.

The US Tomahawks squad is slowly starting to absorb players from the ‘rebel’ USARL and the side to be coached by Brian Smith at the World Cup scored a 44-16 win to level the series with the Wolverines.

And in the USARL decider, locals the Philadelphia Fight beat the Jacksonville Axemen 28-22 to capture their second title in three years.

The crowd for the double-header was reported to be around 1000.

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MORE details about the upcoming tour of South Africa by NSW Country have been announced.

The game against Gauteng Combined Clubs Select will take place at Bosman Stadium in Brakpan on Ocrober 12, with the same venue to pit the bush boys against the full South African side six days later.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

DISCORD 2013: Edition 33

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

NRL chief executive David Smith hasn’t just been vindicated by the deal signed with Touch Football Australia – he’s been vindicated by the reaction to it.

If Smith has made his name for anything in his short time in charge of the game in this country, it’s been for ignoring criticism.

Multiplying rugby league’s participant numbers four or five-fold in one fell swoop is not just his first really big triumph but it’s rugby league’s biggest success since peace broke out in the Super League War.

Yet there are those who either see the development as of no significance or of actually being bad. I wonder if these are the same sections of the game’s community who have previously been criticising his management style?

The fact people can still find fault with such a staggering achievement proves David Smith has been right to ignore us all along.

Some of the criticism I have seen on social media has been along the lines of the merger being “a numbers game” and “window dressing”, along with the contention that the merger will somehow make the game at the top level “softer”.

That, or that it is part of an overall strategy to make the game softer.

Discord’s core belief about the way forward for any sport is that it’ objectivs must be to expose itself to more participants and more spectators. Without that aim, there is no reason for administrators to get out of bed in the morning.

It is to be hoped more women, for a start, have a go at full contact rugby league as a result of the new link between the sports. This is a potential boon for the women’s game.

Touch football can also provide us with more spectators, particularly in the “heathen” states, if we market our sport to them intelligently. We can win back a few people we have lost over the years. We can perhaps find more Shaun Johnsons and Matt Moylans and stop them going to rugby union.

But the most significant statement came from the boss of TFA, Colm Maguire, who said: “Touch Football in Australia was born out of Rugby League”.

That’s right, touch was a reaction to the popularity of rugby league so the NRL has every right to bring it BACK under its umbrella.

Of course, rugby union denizens would no doubt have similar argument about annexing league – but in this country, combined, the rugby codes would still be dwarfed by Touch Football!

To compare touch football with “brandings”, “British Bulldog” and “Kiss and catch” is highly amusing but ignores the historical links. If rugby league was not popular in Australia, touch football would not be popular.

But most importantly, as a rugby league fan, I hope David Smith is not reading this. And if he is, I hope he gives it scant regard. I don’t want a leader of my game that cares what some hack thinks.

I want a leader who does what he thinks is right until he doesn’t have a job anymore.

Also, I think we can see why the NRL needs 140 staff when you are doing broad-brush things such as merging sports. Making the most of a decision affecting more than a million participants, can’t be done with two people a couple of mobile phones. It’s a mind-bogglingly complex task.

Discord is hearing that the International Rugby League Federation may soon have a handful of fulltime employees, too, and a physical address!

Give me a second while I get up off the floor.

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DISCORD got a phone call this week from Shannon Crane, the man behind the ‘other’ rugby league body in Thailand.

For those who have been following this, you’ll be aware there has only been one game of note in the Kingdom, last year’s “international” between Thailand and the Philippines in Bangkok.

I used quotation marks there because Crane says he registered “Thai Rugby League” as a trademark in mid 2011 and the team fielded against the Tamaraws included players who were not eligible to represent the country under RLIF rules.

Crane, a former Penrith development squad coach who moved to Thailand to pursue business interests in 2004, always intended to start a domestic comp first and was happy to let the other group, led by South Sydney Juniors identity Andrew Charles, do as they wished.

That’s as long as they didn’t infringe on his copyright, which he says they did. This resulted in legal action. Crane hopes to have a six-team domestic competition up and running next year with some big name sponsors.

The RLIF appears to have made no call yet on which group it supports. Crane’s team plays Greece in Bangkok on October 12 with a big domestic pop star Dome Pakorn Lum to perform at halftime.

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COMMENTS time and let’s start with last week’s Discord, which concerned itself chiefly with Anthony Milford.

read on

FAR & WIDE: Number 29

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

OK, we think we’ve got to the bottom of what happened to the Samoans who were stranded in Hawaii for almost a week after their clash with the United States after failing to board their plane.

AMNRL officials Steve Johnson has corroborated what he was told by the Samoan Rugby League with Hawaiian Airlines.

Apparently all 23 players checked in but only 13 took off. The rest wandered around the airport and missed their flight. Because the first landfall was within US territory, the airline was able to give their seats to standby passengers.

New flights home were arranged several days later. We aren’t sure of the expense but there was minimal consular embarrassment, which is good for future events in the islands.

The good news is that 7000 people showed up for the game and rugby league is gaining a real foothold in Hawaii.

“We had two US congresspersons, the mayor and head of Hawaiian Tourism at the game,” says Johnson.

“It’s seriously exciting after a few years of hard work. We’re bringing another two Hawaiian lads to Ipswich to play for rest of the year.

“We have built some high level connections in Hawaii including government and TV”.

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MORE exotic fixtures continue to pop up at the end of the year.

Greece are going on a big adventure, fielding an ‘A’ team against Thailand in Bangkok on October 12 and playing a full international against Hungry in Budapest on October 26.

Australian –based players in the squad will also get the chance to play in the Greek domestic competition.

On July 12 at the Grand Roxy in Brighton Le Sands, the Greeks will be holding a fundraising dinner. It sounds like a top night and most drinks are included in the cover price. If you’re interested, contact Terry on 02 95348015.

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WE have a date and venue for the historic World Cup warm-up game between France and the US, the first game between the countries.

It’s going to be held on October 18 in Toulouse. More news on RLWC warm-ups as they come to hand.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

DISCORD 2012: Edition 31

By STEVE MASCORD
HOT on the heels of colleague Brad Walter’s excellent column about Australia picking its rugby team from all codes for the next Olympics comes the news that our game is finally going to take Nines seriously.
Super League, you’ll remember, kicked off with Nines tournaments – twice. Once in 1996, before the whole comp was banned, and again in 1997. Since then, a few dimly-lit tournaments in England with mainly reserve graders has been about the extent of it.
As Brad wrote, nines rugby league is set to be introduced to the Commonwealth Games in 2018. But Discord can reveal that a nines tournament to kick off the 2014 NRL season at Eden Park is just about nailed on, with huge prize money meaning teams will be at full strength.
Some clubs are even planning to spend extended pre-seasons in New Zealand to tie in with the tournament, forming partnerships with local councils around the country. If the tournament is held every year thenceforth, it will be a perfect lead-in to the selection of teams for the Comm’ Games on the Gold Coast and could give rise to a serious international circuit to challenge (OK, eventually….) union’s sevens.
In the meantime, if you think Australia’s Olympic “rugby” team, should be made up of more than just rahrahs, you could always tell the Australian Olympic Committee… Not that I am waging a campaign, you understand. Just sayin’…..
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IS this new captain’s challenge idea just a thinly-veiled recruitment tool for the refereeing fraternity?
Already a little light on for depth, the refs are reported to be losing a few more of their number to retirement at the end of the season. Who these are, we do not know.
But if a Toyota Cup captain keeps getting his challenges right and doesn’t make it in first grade – voila! We have a new referee. It’s like one big, sneaky job interview!
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DISCORD has been told that the October 20 game between the United States and Melbourne Storm in Philadelphia was almost  called off.
The ructions in the American game continue with would-be backer premier sports and the AMNRL falling out. A independent operator is now underwriting the venture and the game is back on.