Listen to the podcast HERE
By STEVE MASCORD
“WHEN he walked into training, the session stopped,” Hull coach Lee Radford says. “That doesn’t happen for me, I can’t do that.”
It’s early in the season. The wind howls in off the North Sea. It’s pretty much dark by 5.30pm. Not far from the front door of Hull FC’s striking KC Stadium, past a chippy more battered than anything it sells, boarded up shops and convenience stores with reinforced glass, there are what’s known in England as Estate housing.
Outsiders use words like “bleak” and “grim” to describe Hull. But for Frank Pritchard, posing for photos with a few lingering fans in the cold, it’s not foreign. Not at all.
“We were brought up in housing commission, out west in Campbelltown, everyone waiting for hand-me-downs,” ‘Frank The Tank’ tells A-list, in a corridor outside the KC’s media room.
It wasn’t just the Airlie Birds players who took an instant shine to Pritchard, as Radford recounted. Fans immediately recognised him as one of their own. “Super Frank, Super Frank. Super Frankie Pritchard” they chanted during a pre-season derby against reviled Hull KR, in which he set up a try with his first touch.
Frank is now 32. While the road from humble beginnings to success is what rugby league is made of, the former New Zealand and Samoa international hasn’t taken the most direct route.
Along with being blessed with size and speed and power and delicate hands, Frank has always had something which coaches increasingly see as a liability – a personality.
In 2006 alone, this correspondent can remember quoting him, while at Penrith, as saying he was sick of playing for peanuts, that Karmichael Hunt would be made to regret choosing Australia over New Zealand (Hunt was smashed in the first tackle of the Anzac Test) and that Melbourne’s Ian Donnelly had eye gouged him.
The move to Canterbury in 2011 seems to have made Frank more circumspect. It’s easy to imagine him being gagged by a famously inward-looking club. He argues not.
“It was just growing as a player,” he says, giggling a little at his early utterances. “I was a bit immature then, I didn’t know how to handle the media and all that stuff. I could have been a bit more mature with my words, thought before I spoke. I could have chosen better words to use at the time.
“At the time, I was 21 and coming off contract and I had all the clubs chasing me. It’s overwhelming but you’ve got to just keep your feet on the ground.”
On the field, there have always been suggestions Pritchard could have done more, become more. Now, he played well over 200 first grade games and 30 Tests, but….
“On the field, early in my career, I could have been a lot more dominant instead of just sitting back, waiting for something to happen, waiting for the other player to do something.
“I got to the Bulldogs matured a lot, let the game grow a bit. It was good to play around those guys – Mick Ennis, James Graham and that who are dominant blokes in their own right.”
But can some coaches get more “out” of Frankie than others, as commentators have suggested? Yes, he admits. And Des Hasler is one of those men.
“There’re some coaches that you learn to go that extra mile for,” he answers
“Just a lot of belief in myself … I was out at Penrith there, had a few good games here and there at Canterbury it was c confidence builder. I got to a club that had a winning culture and it just rubs off on you when everyone is willing to win.
“Dessy’s a mastermind, he’s a magician. During his time there, he’ll get one. I wish I could have won a premiership in my time there, with Mick Ennis and the rest of the boys.”
And of all Pritchard’s seasons at Canterbury, 2013 was the most problematic. Perhaps one day, a book will be written about how the protracted departure of the previous year’s Dally M medallist, Ben Barba, tore the club apart.
“We had a lot of in-house drama there with the Benny Barba saga and stuff like that,” he says, as fellow reporters grow impatient waiting for us to finish.
“Things like that were out of our control. There was stuff like that that shouldn’t affect a team, which it did.
“We made the eight and then we lost the first game of the finals series. It was a bit of a shock and Des blew us up at the Leagues Club, after that game. He blew us up. So he should. He said not enough of the boys wanted to bleed for their brothers. Thirteen wasn’t a good year.”
It was at the end of 2014, during the Four Nations, that Pritchard first heard that Canterbury might be willing to release him early. First it was Catalans, then Salford, and the Warriors posted an 11th hour bid after he had agreed to terms at Hull.
“I gave the club my word …,” he explains, when asked if it was an offer he considered. “I’ve come over here to do a job so the moment I get comfortable, I need someone to kick me in the arse.”
He likes Hull and Hull likes him. “Rough streets” aren’t just a cliché for Frank. In 2007, his brother Tom was stabbed in the heart as they each tried to protect their sister in Penrith.
“I almost lost my brother and two of my relos,” he says. “I come from a family that are big believers in Christ and faith had its role. My brother got another life.”
And so the circle is about to be completed. Football is many things but amid the gossip and adulation we often forget it is a way out for many families, a way to make things better from one generation to the next.
“Rugby league has helped my family financially, it’s given them a better start in life,” Frank reflects. “I was able to help my family get ahead.
“To every kid out there looking to play footy, it’s a great job. You get to travel and if you’re smart with your money, you can invest it and buy a couple of houses.
“Football’s been great to me.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
BOOM Wests Tigers winger Jordan Rankin says he could have been washed up barely into his 20s if not for a career-saving two-year stint with Hull.
In 2008, Rankin became the third youngest debutant in Australian first class rugby league history when he made his debut for Gold Coast at the age of 16 years and 238 days.
But he tells League Week he couldn’t handle the resultant pressure and was facing the possibility his NRL career was over before it began.
“It was a double-edged sword,” says Rankin, now 24.
“There was a lot of expectation on a kid. I was still in year 11 at school when I debuted and … mate, I didn’t live up to it. I didn’t live up to those standards people had set for me.
“I had a lot of growing up to do, maturity wise, with the way I played rugby league.
“To thrust a kid in at that age, there’s only a select few who will be able to handle it. I have no doubt that 18 is a good age now for kids (to make their debut).
“It’s not so much physically ready. It’s the mental side of the game that people have lacked in the past and it’s something I lacked as well, just having to deal with the media and how to shut that out.”
The call from Humberside came when he was at his lowest.
“Hull definitely saved my career,” he said. “They instilled so much confidence in what I can do.
“It was a decision I had to make pretty quickly while I was at the Titans. It’s a place I wasn’t getting a run, playing first grade and it was messing with my confidence a bit, playing Queensland Cup and messing with my confidence.
“I just thought it was a good opportunity to go over there and start afresh where no-one knew who I was. Hull … hadn’t even seen me play in person, they’d only seen me play on tape.”
“The two years I had in England matured me as a kid and all the media I had as a young kid, I learned to deal with that a little nit better as well.”Rankin, who scored two tries in the 30-22 win over South Sydney on Thursday, reckons the lessons he learned as an over-hyped rookie have helped him deal with the scorn heaped upon Wests Tigers during a six-match losing streak.
“You have the people close to you whose opinions mean more to you and people who don’t know you from a bar of soap and the people who judge you from the grandstands are the ones you don’t really need to listen to,” he says.
“You try to stay away from the people who are negative about how you play and what you bring to a team.”
And while he’s making a go of it on the flanks, Rankin doesn’t want coach Jason Taylor to forget it’s not the only string to his bow.
“I’d never say never to playing in the halves again or playing fullback again,” he said. “It’s definitely the two positions I feel more comfortable in.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
EARLY in a recent Super League game, commentator Paul Cullen remarked: “We’ve been going for 10 minutes and there’s not a blade of grass that’s not been stood on”.
Leaving aside the double negative, you can picture the sort of game Cullen was describing – touchline to touchline attack, from the outset.
Now, I’ve already said that I could not remember a better weekend of football, given the comebacks and razor-edged finishes of the two preliminary semi-finals we had in the NRL.
But plenty of blades of grass went undisturbed.
The structured nature of NRL football could be one reason why the game is better to watch on television than live, in the view of all the people who also left seats at Allianz Stadium undisturbed.
The physical nature of the sport, which is harder to detect from the stands, is highlighted by tight camera shots while the ball movement – a feature of Australian football – is rather limited.
Result: you’re better off watching it at home.
Step right up, Ben and Shane Walker.
The brothers, both former first graders at a number of clubs, have turned back the clock almost a century and have employed at Ipswich Jets a style of football favoured by Duncan Thompson, who captained North Sydney to their only two premierships in 1921 and 1922.
It’s called “contract football” and it works like this: you have a ‘contract’ to pass the ball to your team mate if he is in a better position to me.
“If you played structured football, the way they do in the NRL these days, you make it easier for the defence to get three men into the tackle to do all that stuff I don’t like – wrestling,” Walker told Discord.
“The way we play, we test the defensive like three or four times on a single tackle. The defence can’t get enough numbers in to wrestle and we play off the back of it.”
Thompson, who died in 1980, once said: “Contract football is flowing football – it has no relation to bash-and-barge stuff – it is what rugby league is all about, or is supposed to be.”
Ben Walker says he learned about it growing up in Thompson’s home down, Toowoomba, where it was passed down from generation to generation.
He also says t works.
“It would work better in the NRL, where you can train fulltime,” he said. “You need players who can catch and pass under pressure – but mostly just catch and pass.
“That actually takes a lot of work these days. I have had our players say to me after watching an NRL game on TV ‘we would have towelled them up playing our style of football’.”
The Jets fielded seven rookies in their final 17 man squad of the year; they made the finals this year and next year they will employ their free-flowing style even more.
“I won’t say which NRL game I am talking about but one of those at the weekend, they played block play, block play, block play, kick.
“You could have defended it with your eyes closed.”
MY MEMORY tells me Greg Mackey was a player who pre-dated my career as a journalist; someone from whom I sought an autograph but never a quote.
The facts tell a different story; he was at Illawarra for three years that I was covering the game, albeit all of them as a casual reporter at AAP while still in highschool.
“Bluey” was such a good player, I must have interviewed him many times.
But I prefer to think of him as an untouchable footy hero, a flame-haired five-eighth who won a match with an intercept fresh off the plane for the Chatillon club in Paris – not before momentarily stopping when an “idiot” in the crowd blew a whistle.
These were days, for me, when football players and administrators could do no wrong. If I knew about off-field “atrocities” and official incompetence, a rarely paid it any mind.
I just lived for Sunday afternoon at 3pm when men like Bluey would take to Wollongong Showground and throw outrageous cutout passes, chip and chase from their own quarter and upend much bigger men.
These, days, the fact that they lost most weeks seems inconsequential.
Steelers legend Michael Bolt says he last saw Blue on Thursday, and he had “a cheeky grin”. That’s good to know, because it’s the way I remember him too.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
RUGBY league is beginning to engage in what high school economics taught us to call “vertical integration”.
We have bought out a participant sport that provides us with players and fans, and gives our own participants somewhere to go when the bones creak too much: touch football.
The NRL no longer just provides content for broadcasters, it has become one itself via its ipad app. The Rugby Football League in England effectively has its own television station on YouTube. The NRL plans to break stories itself on its own website when the new media unit gets up and running.
Vertical integrations is buying up the raw materials – the mines and farms – and also the points of sale – shops and markets.
But it’s also about buying the means of transport in between and this reporter’s annual trip to the Challenge Cup final at Wembley has convinced him that rugby league should get involved in the travel business.
Because when you’re renewing your vows, when you’re visiting Mecca, then the church should be in on the deal.
“It’s unbelievable.,” says Wigan’s former Parramatta, Cronulla and Canterbury halfback Blake Green, standing in the mixed zone media area at Wembley after his side’s 16-0 win over fumbling Hull.
“The crowds over here are so loud. There’s lots of singing, they’re very passionate. Obviously the national anthem is not my anthem but the crowd were right into it.
“It’s such a special trophy, this Challenge Cup. It’s well documented about the famous players who have played in the game and we were made aware of that by some of the old Wigan players during the week.”
But the real attraction of Wembley is not the game. The venue has something to do with it but is only part of the magic.
The real thing that should attract at least a small group of Australian fans each year is the part the Challenge Cup final plays in the identity of northern England, the culture that gave us rugby league and therefore defines what we are as a sport.
Imagine if Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra did not exist and Melbourne was the undisputed political and cultural capital of Australia. But rugby league was still enormously popular in NSW and Queensland.
In this parallel universe, when a major rugby league event was staged in Melbourne, we would behave differently. It would perhaps be the only time many of us went there each year.
As a group under-represented on the national stage, it would be more than a football game to us. It would be like a pride parade for the provincial hoards from north of the Murray, a show of strength and vitality. We would go even if our team was not playing, we would feel a camaraderie with the fans of rival clubs that we don’t currently experience in the NRL.
Once a year, we would celebrate our “otherness”, the way minorities across society do.
If you’re looking to sum up what Wembley is, it’s someone raised in Warrington, living in Boston Massachusetts and wearing a 1980s vintage Brisbane Norths jersey to the Challenge Cup final, where he sits in roughly the same seats every year with his uncle and Londoner mate.
That fellow happens to be my best friend.
You don’t get much more northern, Wigan and rugby league than the coach of the cherry and whites, Shaun Wane. He played prop in the 1987 World Club Challenge win over Manly and was the first British coach to win the Cup since 2005.
“I woke up this morning and thought ‘to win this would be an absolute dream’,” he said. “We won nothing last year – we won the League Leaders’ (minor premiership) – and got hammered for it.
“I was very keen that all the players knew we are the most famous club in the world and I wanted them to write their name into the history of the Wigan Warriors – and they’ve done that.”
For Wigan, climbing into the royal box to collect winners’ medals is almost an entitlement. They’ve now done it 19 times. But that doesn’t mean it happens by itself.
“(Sean O’Loughin), who’s not played for many, many weeks – his Achilles tendon was sore and for him to come out and play like that was outstanding,” said Wane.
“Sam Tomkins is another one. Ben Flower is another one who was all jabbed up to play.”
For Hull, the only saving grace was their defence. They kept pushing the ball to the edges in slippery conditions and paid the price – repeatedly.
Coach Peter Gentle, the former Wests Tigers assistant, has also had to contend with speculation over his future. He said the thrill of being at Wembley will be something he doesn’t appreciate for “years ahead.
“Look, it’s a great occasion,” said Gentle. “But we’re just extremely disappointed we didn’t give ourselves a chance with what we did with the ball.”
Down the track, even Peter will be grateful he was there. But don’t believe me – make the trip yourself next year.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
TOMKINS GOING NOWHERE
WE long ago just started assuming that Sam Tomkins is joining the New Zealand Warriors next year. But at one point, his coach at Wigan Shaun Wane was supposed to be going as well. Wane has now extended his tenure at DW Stadium – and had it extended by another year as a result of Sunday morning’s Challenge Cup final victory. And according to Wane, his fullback is going nowhere. “He’s a contracted player with us,” Wane told Joy Of Six. “I’m hoping he’s going to be here next year and I don’t see that changing”. Team-mate Blake Green said he had a gut feeling on Tomkins’ intentions but didn’t say what it was while Parramatta-bound Lee Mossop reckoned Tomkins was “a closed book”. What did the man himself say? Nothing. Media were kicked out of Wembley before he emerged from the dressingrooms.
SOME THINGS DON’T CHANGE
MELBOURNE’S 60-point mauling of Parramatta only fuels the perception that we have a lopsided competition. This has led to a number of proposals for change, including the Eels coach Ricky Stuart calling for the return of reserve grade. But stats guru David Middleton recently conducted a study of average margins in premiership games going back to 1908. He also tried to assess the evenness of competitions in the salary cap era by looking at the number of teams who won 50 per cent or more of their games. The results, published in the current edition of Rugby League Week, show very little change over the years. The average margin in 1908 was 14 points, this season it’s 15.4. In 1925., the average margin was 6.7 points but Souths won the minor premiership by such a stretch, mandatory finals were introduced the following year!
THE North Queensland-Newcastle game was a microcosm for the debate over the shoulder charge rule and allegations of diving. Referees say the deterrent to players staying on the ground is that the video referee can only intervene if the offending player deserves being reported. The tackle on Brent Tate, which stunned the Cowboys centre, was worthy of a penalty only. Tate didn’t take a dive but the way in which it was dealt should have discouraged others from doing so, even though the lack of a penalty was somewhat unjust. On the other hand, Kade Snowden’s challenge on Ray Thompson would have brought stern action in any era, regardless of whether shoulder charges were banned. He clearly made contact with the head – Thompson suffered a broken jaw.
IF THERE is one inequality in the way we use the video referee in rugby league, it was summed up when Gold Coast’s Albert Kelly took an intercept defending his own line – something that is generally physically impossible – and streaked away from the Warriors defence. Nearing the tryline, it was as if he was looking for someone to tackle him. Why? Because if he had been pulled up short and the Titans scored on the next tackle, the video referee would not have the power to go back and check if he was onside. The old cliché, ‘what if this decides a grand final’, comes to mind. Video referees should be able to tip to referees in this circumstance. On the BBC on Sunday morning, we had the video referee mic-ed up and his discussions with the on-field officials broadcast. What do you think?
COLLEAGUE Peter Fitzsimons touched a raw nerve by going over the records of South Sydney coach Michael Maguire and prop Jeff Lima with wrestling and extreme tactics. Some would say if you go into a game with an injury, you have to expect it to be targeted. But most would argue that targeting a specific injury with an illegal tactic or manoeuvre is different than just running at someone and is beyond the pale. That being the case, should we take intent into account in handing down charges and suspensions? Is illegally attacking someone with a known injury a case of bringing the game into disrepute? We will only find out the level of premeditation years after players retire, when they start spilling the beans. If there are beans, media men and judiciary members will look back with a good deal of regret at have gone easy on the nastiness.
JA, THE WORLD CUP
IT may seem like the longest shot in sport but South Africa are serious about staging the 2017 World Cup. Your correspondent witnessed a detailed presentation from the SARL in London Friday night, to countries attending the European Federation AGM. I’m not sure how much I can repeat but suffice to say the Africans are bullish and intend to use major stadia, 13 of which hold more than 40,000 people. Even with 60 per cent ticket sales, they are confident of turning a massive profit. And each country would get a fairly significant grant from the organising committee, which includes key members of the syndicate that attracted the FIFA World Cup. But in a country where the Olympic Committee still refuses to recognise that there is more than one rugby code, would anything like 60 per cent of tickets be sold? We can’t keep holding World Cups in England and Australia but 2017 is probably too soon to take a leap of faith like this.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
FORMER Wests Tigers assistant Peter Gentle referred to a reporter as a “boofhead” for suggesting he was about to be sacked after seeing his Hull side pummelled in the Challenge Cup final.
Coaching intrigue at the joint venture extends even to former employees, with Gentle – who was scathing in his assessment of his team’s performance in the rain-marred 16-0 shutout – saying the club’s owner Adam Pearson had assured him his job was safe.
New Zealand Warriors target Sam Tomkins scored a wily 79th minute try in one of few highlights of an error-strewn encounter, with Wests Tigers signing Pat Richards booting four from four in front of 78,137 fans.
Asked whether he expected speculation over his position to resurface, Gentle – Tim Sheens’ long-term assistant at Concord – told the post match media conference: “Some boofhead writes something in the paper, it gives you blokes a bad name.
“You should ring him and ask him where he gets it from.
England coach Steve McNamara, veteran Aussie Brian Smith and former Hull import Craig Fitzgibbon have been linked to the post. Gentle later told Fairfax: “The owner’s come and seen me, he says he doesn’t know where it’s come from. I’ve got two years to go and he expects me to see them out.
“It’s funny that it came out the week of the (Hull) derby and a fortnight before the Challenge Cup final. I think someone’s playing some silly buggers.”
Persistent rain in London, which washed out play in the Ashes Test, provided one of the most mistake-ridden big games in either hemisphere for years.
Ian Thornley crossed for Wigan after a scrum win on 20 minutes and the score remained at 6-0 for the break.
Shortly after the resumption of play, Richards kicked a penalty goal and he added another on the hour, before Tomkins underscored the victory with a ducking, weaving touchdown from close range at the end.
Media were asked to leave the stadium before Tomkins emerged from the shower, meaning he was not grilled on his plans for 2013 and suggestions he has already signed for the Warriors.
Other highlights included Tomkins cartwheeling spectacularly in the air in a collision with Danny Tickle and Wigan’s Josh Charley running down Hull fullback Jamie Shaul when he looked certain to score.
“The most disappointing thing is we didn’t fire a shot,” said Gentle. “We were guilty of panicking.
“We can probably use the same gameplan (next time against Wigan) because we didn’t get to use it today.
“I didn’t think we could be worse in the second half but the boys proved me wrong.”
Wigan centre Darrell Goulding was carried off on a stretcher but was later reported to have suffered nothing more serious than concussion. Wigan coach Shaun Wane said five or six of his charges “would not have played if it was a Super League game” due to injury, but gave little detail.
Wane has also been linked to an NRL move but his one year contract extension was itself extended by club owner Ian Lenegan after the victory to include 2015.
Wane and his captain, Sean O’Loughlin, said criticism of the club’s squad’s after losing Brett Finch and Jeff Lima last year had galvanised the players.
WIGAN 16 (Ian Thornley, Sam Tomkins tries; Pat Richards 4 goals) beat HULL 0 at Wembley Stadium. Referee: P Bentham. Crowd: 78,137.
Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SHOULD a player who gains compassionate leave profit financially from it? According to NRL head of football operations Todd Greenberg, capping payments made to a player released on compassionate grounds – perhaps for the term of the original contract he escaped – will be discussed as part of the salary cap review. Another suggestion was to hand the difference in any contract back to the player’s former club, as compensation. This might work if, say, Ben Barba or Anthony Milford go into the Brisbane’s cap by NRL decree at a higher price than Canterbury or Canberra would be paying them next year. In that case, the difference between that figure and the cap amount could be paid by Brisbane to the Bulldogs and Raiders. “Compassionate grounds, if that (release) is awarded by clubs, they may well make the decision that the commercial terms don’t change,” Greenberg said on the ABC
2. WHAT HAPPENS IN BRISVEGAS
BRISBANE coach Anthony Griffin and his media manager, James Hinchey, are friendly, down-to-earth, likeable fellows. But their approach to talking about the – very necessary – recruitment going on at the club right now is curious. Even after signings have taken place, such as that of Sydney Rooster Martin Kennedy, there is no announcement. Peter Wallace and Scott Prince being told they are in reserve grade, or the club’s interest in Ben Barba and Anthony Milford, are treated as if they are figments of the media’s imagination – but never denied. And on Friday, Josh Hoffman was stopped almost mid-sentence while talking to television cameras . Fans have a right to know who a club is talking to and letting go. If you can’t comment because talks are at a delicate stage, why not say “I can’t comment right now because talks are at a delicate stage”? Melbourne’s squeamishness about anything concerning their departing assistant coaches is equally mystifying.
3. BRENT TATE: ORIGIN MADE ME
BRENT Tate won’t be retiring from State of Origin and wants Australia’s World Cup selectors to know it. Tate has heard coach Tim Sheens will be picked a team with a view to the future; his future will still including playing for Queensland. “I’m very mindful of where I am with my body but at the same time, I think Origin makes me a better player,” said Tate after the 22-10 win over Gold Coast. “Being around that environment, it takes me to another level. It would be really hard for me to to say ‘no’ to it. I feel as if I’m not quite ready (to quit). On the World Cup, he said: “I’d love to go, although I know Tim has said there’s a bit of an eye on the future. I was part of the last World Cup and it would be nice to be able to go there and right a few wrongs. If I get a chance there, I’ll be the first one with my bags packed.”
4. NATIONAL INFORMATION MINISTRY
THE NRL’s ill-advised crackdown on what is arbitrarily deemed “excessive” criticism by coaches of referees will be put to the test today when Geoff Toovey’s post match media conference from Friday is examined. It used to be that you had to question the integrity of a match official to cop a fine; now you pretty much only have to upset the NRL. How can reporters rely on the NRL to enforce media regulations and free speech at clubs when the administration itself indulges in censorship? On a more positive note, the ARLC will attempted to make the link with touch football an international association by encouraging the RLIF to make contact with touch’s international governing body, FIT. We’ve rapped the NRL over the touch footy deal but here’s another brickbat: officials travelling around Sydney in chauffeured cars isn’t a great look.
5. BEING JOHNATHAN THURSTON
YOU may have wondered exactly when Johnathan Thurston turned from a footballer to a role model and ambassador; the sort of fellow who spots kids in the crowd during games and tells the ballboy to hand them a signed kicking tee. The Closing The Gap round, of which he is a frontman, seemed an opportune time to ask him. “When I had that misdemeanour of getting locked up in Brisbane (in 2010),” he said on ABC when I asked. “It didn’t only just affect myself. It affected my fiancé Samantha, my parents, my brothers, my sisters, my family. That’s when I really had a good, hard look at myself and the legacy I wanted to see when I leave football. I’ve got a four-year deal and I want to make the most of these four years because after that, you know, I’ll be in the real world.”
6. MELBOURNE BALLS TAMPERED WITH AGAIN
And a bonus ‘zero tackle’
7. GREEN GRASS OF WEMBLEY
NEXT weeks’ Set Of Six will come to you from Wembley Stadium, where Wigan and Hull are preparing to take part in a rematch of one of the top two matches I’ve ever seen, the 1985 Challenge Cup final that pitted Peter Sterling (black and white irregular hoops) against Brett Kenny (cherry and white). Playing half for Wigan will be former Parramatta and Cronulla man Blake Green and NRL talent scouts should be glued to Eurosport to check his form. Just about every Australian who signs with a Super League club these days has a get-out clause and experienced halves aren’t really thick on the ground. Blake’s agent Isaac Moses is flying to London for the game but no doubt in a different part of the plane to your correspondent. We’re cheering for Hull though, on account of Mark ‘Ogre’ O’Meley having an opportunity to win something special in his last season.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
THE old ‘Aussie take on the British game” routine has been done to death over the years – but I’m sure it’s what you’re expecting from me this week.
Since about 1970, Australian media types have been talking down their noses at British players, administrators and supporters about what has to be done to “fix’ the game here.
The fact is, it’s become such a cliché that it no longer seems to carry much weight. You just shrug and go watch your team this weekend like you always have.
Last weekend, I went to three games: Leeds-Hull, St Helens-Hudderfield and London-Widnes. I thought the middle one was compelling, the others had different flaws as spectacles.
Let me say off the bat that I love Super League. I sit up and listen to commentaries online on a Sunday night at home and tweet scores –that’s how much I love it.
I love the ball movement, I love the sense of adventure and the risk taking and I love the crowds who make the audiences at home seem like they are painted onto their seats.
No-one has sent me here for the first month of the season. Sure I pick up some work doing the World Club Challenge but I cannot think of a better place in the world to be right now than here, watching three games a week.
So if I must do the old “Aussie preaching to poms” routine, let it be known that I am not approaching the issue from a perspective of arrogant distance.
Leeds remains a true hotbed for rugby league, up there with Brisbane and Wigan. Game night is compelling and uplifting and the Rhinos are a great team to watch, with Ryan Bailey the perfect pantomime villain.
Now Hull, to me, do not look the part at all – and Gareth Ellis’ presence would have made no difference to the result on Friday.
They seem to lack penetration and play off the top of their heads. It’s hard to see them joining the top echelon of Super League sides this season.
Huddersfield on Saturday played like an NRL side – an NRL side with a point to prove. Please, don’t tell me playing against a coach who left you for “greener pastures” the previous year is not a motivator.
This is the sort of situation I see time and again as a rugby league writer. Players deny being motivated by factors that are as plain as the nose on Laurie Daley’s face and mock us as cynics for suggesting such a thing – and years later in their biographies admit we were 100 per cent right.
Whereas Friday night’s floggings were bad for rugby league, this one was good for the comp (sorry Saints fans) and injected much interest in this weekend’s Widnes-Saints game.
Which brings us to Sunday’s events at The Stoop.
I found it to be a rather depressing afternoon all round. The main reason, perhaps, is outlined in the item below but the 2800-odd crowd and dismal performance of the Broncos made it a particularly downbeat occasion.
On one hand, we want London to spend up the salary cap and be competitive. On the other, we seen tiny crowds like this come through the turnstiles. You don’t need to be a genius to work out that one of these things will continue at the expense of the other.
You can talk all you like about them playing at the wrong venue. London are like Melbourne – they are in hostile/apathetic markets and must ALWAYS be competitive (challenging for titles) to be a success.
In Australia, the AFL signed Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau and then just gave them to expansion clubs. I know it would never be tolerated in the north but maybe the only answer for London is for the RFL to adopt a similar policy with the Broncos.
I know Red Hall has had its funding cut and is laying off people but at some stage they have to revisit central contracting and take dramatic, unusual measures to help London – as the AFL did for its missionary franchises. Yes, I know the culture is different here and you are still getting your heads around salary caps and play-offs but we have to do SOMETHING.
As an outsider, it is obvious to me that rugby league needs a team in London. But what we have IS not is not working. Another Aussie example (sorry) – the A-league soccer body founding itself running some of the teams in its own league to prevent them collaPsing.
OK, end of arrogant, ignorant sermon. I hope you found my thoughts interesting, even if you didn’t agree with any of them. I just figured I had to write about the first round of Super League this week.
I was having a beer with my friend Howard Scott in the main grandstand at The Stoop on Sunday when I received one of the worst phone calls of my life.