THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week Two

The Joy Of SixBREAKTHROUGH FOR LEAGUE

RUGBY league is set to belatedly achieve government recognition in South Africa as soon as this week – as direct result of the country’s ambitious bid to host the 2017 World Cup. SARL official Chris Botes tells Joy of Six: “Up until two days ago, rugby league was almost in the doldrums. SARU was doing a good job of keeping it squashed down. (But) the World Cup doesn’t just involve the Department of Sport. It involves the Department of Tourism, the Department of Public Enterprise…  it’s a 500 million rand event. People are saying ‘here’s a chance for South Africa to have this major event and the only reason we can’t have it is one piece of paper’. SASCOG can’t tell us why they can’t recognise (us) … having the World Cup on the table, we have forced the decision to go to parliament, to cabinet. I’m sitting down next week again with the Department of Sport. The minister for sport, I met with his deputy on Thursday. They are saying ‘yes, we want to support you’”

UPSETS: VERY, VERY UPSET

THE historical significance of wins by Italy over England and the United States over France cannot be over-stated. The first American rugby league teams was the 1953 All Stars. They played France at Parc de Princes that year, losing 31-0. The countries had not met since. The Italian team played its first match two years earlier; it had never played an international against England until the weekend. The interesting aspects of the shock results are that each victor is making its World Cup debut, each has rebel competitions at home and the selection of so many “heritage players” caused controversy in each country. But nothing succeeds like success.  Even the New Zealand team that won the last World Cup including men who could be termed as “heritage players”, such as Nathan Fien and Nathan Cayless.

HAVE STEEDEN, WILL TRAVEL

WHO says you can’t see the world playing rugby league? Matt Shipway is a 29-year-old who has played for Port Macquarie, The Entrance, Macquarie Scorpions and South Newcastle. He picked up a spot in the NSW Country side that concluded a two match tour of South Africa on Friday night. But Shipway wasn’t in Brakpan with his team-mates for their 58-18 win. After playing in the 50-0 win over South African Clubs Selection on October 12, he was called up by the United States (he qualifies via his grandparents). The already well-travelled Shipway flew out of Johannesburg for Toulouse and scored a try in the boilover 22-18 win over France at Stade des Minimes, played around the same time as Country were running in 11 tries against the Rhinos.

PARISH PRESSED

MATT Parish has probably had better weekends. Fairfax Media revealed on Sunday he did not have a job at Parramatta next year and on Saturday his Samoan side was lapped 52-16 by England Knights, a second string England side, in the curtain raiser to the Italy game at Salford. With Roy Asotasi having missed the plane to England and subsequently withdrawing from the tournament due to family commitments and injury, the Samoans seem to be up against it. Steve Matai and Jeff Lima head the list of injury withdrawals while Roger Tuivasasa-Sheck, Frank Pritchard, Thomas Leuluai and Sonny Bill Williams are playing for the Kiwis and Josh Papalii is with Australia. Reni Maitua could end up at five-eighth. The Samoans received significant government funding before leaving for England – justifying it on the field is now the challenge.

MAMA MIA

THE venue for Saturday’s Italy win – describe by one onlie bookie as “the biggest rugby league upset ever” – couldn’t have been more fitting for the Azzurri’s coach, Carlo Napolitano. When the Italian side was revived after four decades in 1999, Napolitano was the only English-based player in the squad that played World Cup qualifiers in France. Soon after, he followed a good mate called Adrian Morley to Australia to live. How did they know each other? They were both from rough streets of Salford, where the Saturday’s game was played. A member of that 1999 side was a young Sydney Roosters winger by the name of Anthony Minichiello, Napolitano’s captain for their World Cup debut 14 years later.

CONSOLATION PRIZE?

COUNTRY coach David Barnhill says South Africa should be awarded the World Club Challenge as a kind of consolation prize if, as expected, they miss out on the 2017 World Cup. The Country side has been a little underwhelmed by the profile of the game here (this week’s column comes to you from Jo’burg) but overwhelmed by the facilities and hospitality. Amazingly, every member of the SA national team starting side is from the same club – Tuks – which is based at the University of Pretoria. That means the same 13 can play in their local comp, the Student World Cup and Tests! Friday’s crowd was smaller than 500. “They should give them a chance to show what they can do in organising events by playing the World Club Challenge here,” says Barnhill. “The facilities are great, it’s halfway for the teams, it’s worth a try.”

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

FAR & WIDE: Number 32

By Far & WideSTEVE MASCORD

HERE’S one from the ‘It Can Only Happen In Rugby League’ department.

Keen readers will be aware that Thailand made their international bow last October, taking on the Philippines in Bangkok, and assembled a national team from scratch without having a club competition.

Since then they’ve been trying to get club teams off the ground. Well guess what’s happened? C’mon, think about it, what would be the most ridiculous but predictable development to occur in a country where there is almost no rugby league.

That’s right, THERE IS NOW A REBEL THAI RUGBY LEAGUE.

National coach Andrew Charles wrote to Far and Wide when we recently reported plans for a game in Bangkok between Thailand and Greece A. Basically, he said ‘that’s not us, it’s the rebels’.

Say wha? Charles said the man behind it is one Shannon Crane.

A few excerpts from his response: “They seem to be selling franchises for a domestic comp … they had our Facebook page disabled claiming for copyright infringement but we are registered …. Super League Thai Style … we are all sad about it but pressing on.”

I mean, seriously. This equals the stand-off in the 1990s between Super League Japan and the East Japan Rugby League when there was no actual rugby league being played in Japan.

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ON a much more serious and insidious note, the antics of the Moroccan Rugby Union in trying to wreck a tour by the Great Britain Pioneers students team is nothing short of a disgrace.

In case you missed it, police marched journalists out of one game and theats by the rugby union resulted in a ground withdrawing permission to host another match while even the bus company was prevented from carrying the team around!

As in South Africa, rugby league is not recognised as a separate sport to rugby union in Morocco and the rahrahs have done their best to keep it that way.

Surely we need a more active RLIF to stand up to this sort of prejudice. We really need an Ambassador For Rugby League. Who would you appoint?

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RUSSIA could have lifted the European Shield with a win over Italy in Este two weekends ago but instead were soundly beaten.

Warming up for the World Cup, Italy raced to a 32-0 halftime lead and then coasted home. The Russians need to beat Germany in August to secure the title, which is played for over two years.

Meanwhile, Vanuatu will announce its post-season program this week.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 12

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

1. STATE OF CHAOS

THE ARLC probably doesn’t appreciate what a challenge it faces as it prepares to take control of its first State Of Origin series. We use the term “take control” advisedly – because for 33 years, Origin has been uncontrollable. It’s been run by the teams in it. We’ve had ‘TBA’ picked on the wing, players snuck back into the country from England, eligibility rules stretched to breaking point and until recently, the competing teams pick the referees. Last week NSW took a player away from his club for two days only to tell him he wasn’t required. Expect Queensland to do it for game two. It used to be said State teams could not be fined because it was just the ARL fining itself. Hopefully that’s changed and Origin will cease being a law unto itself.

2. KING IN NO HURRY TO ABDICATE

KUDOS to North Queensland coach Neil Henry for agreeing to do pre-match interviews and happily fielding questions regarding his job being in jeopardy. Henry told the ABC and Triple M yesterday he did not believe his position was as precarious as presented. From experience, periods like two weeks “to prove yourself” are not plucked from thin air. Henry is an impressive operator and is showing plenty of grace in a difficult situation. Punting someone a matter of weeks after granting them a contract extension is an extraordinary measure. The Cowboys should be absolutely sure whoever they get to replace Henry is better – and I’m not sure there’s anyone out there right now who fits that description.

3. ORIGINAL SINS

THERE’S nothing like a flu scare to tell us Origin is here. Yesterday Johnathan Thurston missed training with the dreaded lurgy and reporters around NSW and Queensland relaxed in the knowledge everything is right with the universe. Here’s some other things we need to feel completely at ease: 1. A meeting with the referees, preferably to which only one team was invited; 2. Someone being “targeted”. Surely that can’t be far away. 3. An eligibility row. Maybe Josh Reynolds is actually Somalian? One year I struggled so much for a preview angle I had to reluctantly settle for the flu angle to lead the back page. When I woke up on game day with a terrible hangover and the poor blighter had been ruled out, it was as if I had won lotto.

4. THE SILENT … MAJORITY?

I’M willing to wager (not with you, Tom) there is a large body of readers out there today which feels completely disenfranchised by some recent developments in rugby league. There are those who would regard the kerfuffle over alleged racism at a Manly board meeting, the suspension of radio caller David Morrow and even the carefully on-message commentary about Raelene Castle’s appointment at Canterbury as “political correctness gone mad”. But they say that at the bottom of this column online, they’ll be shouted down. These people are right to argue what you think and do count at least as much as what you say. But sexist and racist language has to be weeded out of rugby league because even if those who use it aren’t sexist or racist, it encourages others to be – and in football clubs, 17-year-olds slavishly model themselves on men 15 years their senior, perpetuating attitudes which die more quickly in other workplaces.

5. VALE SOPHIA GALLICO

IT was touching to see the South Sydney Rabbitohs form a guard of honour for their mascot, Charlie Gallico, on Saturday night. Charlie lost his wife Sofia to a heart attack last Monday. At fulltime in the win over Newcastle, Charlie was chaired from the field by some players and he later celebrated in the sheds by singing the team song with the boys. But they put a towel over the dressingroom camera though – so the kiddies didn’t see Reggie The Rabbit with his head off! The condolences of everyone in the rugby league media are with you Charlie. Players, officials and coaches come and go in football clubs – it’s people like Charlie and Sofia that really give a place its culture. That word has been cheapened recently actually – much better to refer to it as Jack Gibson did – “the woodwork”.

6. MEN OF THE WORLD

IT was a big weekend for two of the game’s developing countries. Josh Mantellato, 26, has played four games for Italy and helped them qualify for the World Cup. But he had not played first grade until Newcastle’s clash with South Sydney. So when suffered a suspected broken rib with 10 minutes remaining, he stayed out there. Shane Gray served a Clenbuterol drugs suspension between 2009 and 2011. He made his debut for Gold Coast yesterday and in October hopes to join Matt Srama, Kevin Gordon and Andrew Everingham in the Philippines side that will host a triangular tournament with Japan and Thailand.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Minichiello Wants To Avoid Jennings In World Cup

Sydney Roosters - Anthony MinichielloANTHONY Minichichiello says Michael Jennings can force his way into the Australian side for the World Cup – but he has an ulterior motive in pushing the claims of his Sydney Roosters team-mate.

Minichiello’s Italy is the in the same World Cup group as Tonga, for whom Jennings is expected to play if he misses out on green-and-gold selection.

The clash between the pair at Halifax’s The Shay on November 10 is seen by many as the game which will decide who gets the final semis berth behind Australia, New Zealand and England.

“We’ve said a little bit about it but he’s playing his cards close to his chest, he’s not saying who he’s playing for yet,” Minichiello tells RLW.

“There’s a few Tongan boys at the Roosters and a bit of banter going on.

“He could make the Australian side yet, the way he’s playing. I’d be happy with that – let him play for Australia and not against me!”

Jennings starred with two tries in the Roosters’ 30-6 in over his former club, Penrith, on Sunday. Jennings has played three times for Tonga and once for the green-and-golds.

Elsewhere in this week’s RLW, we reveal the star-studded Italian side is lining up a World Cup warm up with host nation England.

– STEVE MASCORD

DISCORD 2013: Edition 18

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

HERE’S what happened at Tuesday’s National Rugby League chief executives’ conference.

NRL chief executive David Smith told the club bosses that a players representative had told him he wanted the three journalists involved in last week’s John Mannah story banned for a period.

After some discussion, it was determined that this would be unprofessional and petty. Instead, a media release condemning elements of the story was drafted.

South Sydney had a feature lined up to run in Thursday’s Daily Telegraph about a new membership mark which had been reached. It involved Greg Inglis being interviewed and posing for a photo today, Wednesday.

“We were disappointed when we were told by the Telegraph that they weren’t running the story because of the press release,” said Souths CEO Shane Richardson.

The story will now appear in the Sydney Morning Herald tomorrow. Daily Telegraph sports editor Alex Brown chose not to make an on-the-record comment when he spoke to Discord.

There were concerns late on Tuesday that the dispute would escalate significantly, but it has not.

Clearly this is an important development in that it illustrates the extent of the breakdown in relations between the NRL and its former half-owner, News Limited. It is difficult to imagine one arm of the media empire issuing a media release criticising the other, obviously.

I firmly believe in keeping news and comment separate so if you want to know my views on this imbroglio, please check out Discord’s sister column, Travels, on the RLfans.com website.

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IT’S all well and good for the NRL and its clubs to say they are “supporting” the players involved in the ASADA investigation and “reminding them of their legal rights”.

But we should remember that in doing so NRL and clubs might – might – be helping shelter genuine offenders who knowingly doped.

How should this impact on how the clubs and League behave? Should they change anything? I’m not really sure. But let’s take the moral compass out of the pocket every now and then instead of slipping into militant wagon-circling mode.

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IF anyone speaks Italian to the country’s World Cup team later this year, expect all heads to turn to one man – captain Anthony Minichiello.

According to lock Joel Riethmuller, the Sydney Roosters veteran is taking lessons in the family tongue so he can fulfil official duties at the end-of-season tournament in England, Wales, Ireland and France.

North Queensland’s Riethmuller said: “I don’t speak Italian and not many of the boys do.

“Mini’s learning it for the World Cup, he’s taking lessons I’m told..

“My grandparents were born there and my mum’s older brother was born there. There’s a link there that I’m taking full advantage of.”

We texted Anthony and asked how the lessons were going. “Ha! I haven’t had any sessions yet”.

Italy play Wales first up at the famous Millennium stadium and are in a tough group that also includes Pacific heavyweights Tonga.

Mark Minichiello told us Italian was not spoken in the boys’ childhood home but he didn’t know Anthony was taking lessons.

The Azzuri had a boost on the weekend when frontline prop contender Paul Vaughn made his debut for Canberra, in the 30-12 loss to North Queensland at 1300SMILES Stadium.

“It will be nice to go on a trip with the boys and hopefully give the comp a good shake,” said Vaughan, 22.

“It’s my grandmother – my Italian blood is on my mother’s side.

“I played a couple of games for them last year. I played against Fiji and another game. I played pretty strongly there and made it into the World Cup squad.”

COMMENTS time and we had the obligatory stirrer, Jak, last week who geed us up about even having a World Cup. These people know how to push the buttons of anoraks like us. OK, here’s the obligatory response: ours is the second oldest World Cup win sport – why should we STOP having one?

read on

FAR & WIDE: Number 22

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA’S Steve Price has been confirmed as coach of the Samoan side to play Tonga on Saturday week at Centrebet Stadium.

Steve Matai has also chosen Samoa over New Zealand, but Sonny Bill Williams has gone the other way. The squads will be named on April 14.

Others to commit to the Samoans are Jeff Lima, Roy Asotasi, Junior Sa’u and David Fa’alogo

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FORMER South Sydney official and Philippines Rugby League director Tom Simpson has started rugby league in his new home, the Zambales province north of Manila.

Tom started coaching the game on the beaches of San Narciso and has squad of around 30 children and young adults.

He is now moving into the nearby Maritime Academy, where coaching will start in July. There are 700 cadets at the Academy and the wider plan of the PRFL is to introduce the game via the maritime industry.

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MORE movements in Italy, where former international Pierluigi Gentile has been appointed general director at Gladiators Roma, a Serie B rugby union club.
Gentile plans to introduce some 450 juniors to rugby league at training, saying there is no reason for the codes to be at war.
The breakaway FIRL will also be able to use Stadio del Rugby di Cocciano, in Frascati, Rome, as its base.
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THE new season in Serbia has kicked off with a three-division senior league, an under-18 league and a student competition.

The six clubs making up the first division are: Podbara, Radnicki, Dorcol, Red Star, Novi Beograd and Nis.
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THERE’S plenty of good young talent in France if the recent under 16s Test series against England is anything to go by.
The French took out the First Test 34-26 a couple of weeks ago, meaning the English had to win by eight points or more last week in Wakefield to clinch the series.
That they did – 42-16 – but now there’s a challenge for the French game to keep and develop the youngsters on show.

NB: Steve Matai subsequently failed to make himself available for Samoa.
@RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK