World Cup: ITALY 16 TONGA 0 at The New Shay

By STEVE MASCORD
IT’s likely the first time in any World Cup, in any sport, that players from one nation’s team donned the uniform of another, presented jerseys before kick-off and cheered a “rival” country from the dugout.
Fresh off the plane from Ireland after their final pool match, Australia’s Michael Jennings and Andrew Fifita were photographed at The New Shay before Tonga’s stirring 16-0 win over Italy wearing the Mate Ma’a striking red training gear.
While the gesture may appear bizarre to outsiders, Tonga coach Charles Tonga and captain Brent Kite described it as a symbol of a new era in which NRL players will each pledge allegiance to two countries: Australia, New Zealand or England and someone else.
The changes was reported by Fairfax Media a fortnight ago and Tonga said he had been advised by his national federation that they would be in force. Kite, who has also played for Australia, acknowledged the loosened qualification laws would be mocked – and not just by those outside the game.
“Even people in the game … in rugby league it’s a cultural thing,” he told Fairfax Media. “You pick sides and you stick with your side. You don’t go from NSW to Queensland.
“I would just say as someone who is half Tongan and half Australian: it’s as hard as picking between your mum and your dad. My dad’s Aussie, my mum’s Tongan.
donate2“Australia and New Zealand are spoiled for talent. You have a look over there and Michael Jenningsa isn’t realy getting a run for Australia. He would have been a massive asset to an emerging nation like Tonga.
“If we are serious about getting international fixtures that people want to watch and can raise revenue for the game, instead of just being a basket case as they have been….
“For those guys to take time out of their campaign to come and support us when we had been knocked out of the comp was a really touching gesture and Charlie rewarded them by (them) being able to hand out the jerseys.
“Playing for Aussies and Kiwis and even NSW – it’s very lucrative for a young giuy We don’t ask them to come and play and pass up that cash. We want everyone to do well.”
The brutal contest allowed Scotland to qualify for a quarter-final against New Zealand. Tonga went into the Halifax game with their World Cup already over; Italy needed to win and threw everything at their opponents.
Given that it was a match which the Tongans led just 2-0 at halftime, and which they iced by scoring with two minutes remaining, their coach reckoned it should have forever buried a prejudice they have faced repeatedly.
“People say we are only good for 20 minutes, that we’re big but we run out of steam,” Tonga said.
“We were just known as big and physical. Today we showed we can go for the 80 minutes. People shouldn’t say that anymore..”
The first try of the contest did not come until the 46th minute, when Willie Manu beat three defenders and carried three across the line with him in an Herculean effort.
Italy followed with their best period of the match; a crunching Konrad Hurrell tackle which jolted the ball loose was probably the turning point of the whole contest as the Azzurri dominated posession.
Halfback Daniel Foster’s 63rd minute try was also a testiment to raw determination; he was stopped well short but carried two men as he drove the final metre to the line, flinging an arm out to plant the Steeden on the chalk.
Peni Terepo’s late score was rare beast; given after an illegal strip in the Italian in-goal. When Italy coach Carlo Napolitano was going through, post-match, the factors that conspired against them, captain Anthoy Minichiello added: “refereeing”.
In particular, the Italians believed video referee Phil Bentham had wrongly denied centre James Tedesco a fair try. He was ruled to have been held up – and was later taken out chasing a kick. “It was maybe thew Scottish Gods looking down on the referee,” said coach Carlo Napolitano
To top of a dramatic evening, man of the match FuiFui MoiMoi answered an English television interviewer at fulltime entirely in Tongan.
Minichiello, meanwhile, hinted he would re-sign with Sydney Roosters in roughly a fortnight.
“It’s been a success for Italy,” said Minichiello. “First World Cup and we’ve only lost one game. We beat England (in a warm-up) too.”
Napolitano said he was unsure if he would continue in the head coach’s roleech role.
TONGA 16 (Willie Manu, Daniel Foster, Peni Terepo tries; Samsoni Langi 2 goals) beat ITALY 0 at New Shay, Halifax. Referee: Ben Thaler (England). Crowd: 10,266.

Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

FAR & WIDE: Number 47

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

THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week Three

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

SLIPPERY WHEN … DRY

A slippery surface and strangely mute crowd – those were the minor negatives on an otherwise positive and encouraging opening day at the World Cup. Despite claims the crowd of 45,052 was a day one record, the Australia-Great Britain game to kick off the 1968 tournament attracted 62,256 at the SCG. Saturday’s attendance was certainly a triumph but England fans seemed scared of investing emotionally in a team that has let them down so often over the years. The match was not boring but it was slow. Players believe this was a result of the surface, which tends to suffer from condensation when the roof is closed – they were watching their footing and playing conservatively. Anthony Minichiello called the pitch “gluggy”. Oh, and Sam Burgess’ discipline problems are becoming a real issue.

A STROKE OF GENIUS

THE World Cup format was widely derided when announced before the 2008 tournament. Effectively, all the good teams are concentrated in one or two pools and they get the majority of places in the latter stages.  Pools containing “development countries” have to progress through play-offs and repercharges. This matches like with like and gives the illusion of a competitive tournament while maximising the possibility of money-making clashes of the titans throughout. Your correspondent was one who dismissed this as cynical and even deceitful but is now happy to admit it is a stroke of genius. In fact, the principle could be applied to lopsided leagues in many sports – including Super League. Wigan, Leeds, Warrington and the rest could play each other and get most play-off spots, while those directly below them competing with the best of the rest for the remaining couple of berths. The beauty of it? You don’t even have to admit there’s two divisions – you dress it up as one.

NOT FAKIN’ IT

FEIGNING injury is a growing problem in rugby league but Canberra and Italy prop Paul Vaughan was involved in a bizarre strain of the practice at Millennium Stadium on Saturday. He was being helped off with what appeared a serious knee injury in the 48th minute – before waving away the medicos and breaking into a jog on the way to the bench. When  Vaughan was jeered by the crowd, he put one hand up to an ear and then signaled with the other that they should give him more. Why was it so strange? Because this all happened with the Welsh preparing for a line dropout – it was they who needed a spell! “I got a bit of a hit in the knee and I thought the worst,” said Vaughan. “The boys had a bit of a roll-on. I probably put a halt to that. As soon as I had a bit of a jog, I was alright.”

GORDON BRAY EAT YOUR HEART OUT

IT was wonderful hearing the ground announcer at Cardiff use perfect continental pronunciations for the names of Italy’s largely Australian squad– but stuff up the England side. The England halfback was “Ran-jee” Chase and the hooker was “James Robbi”. Question of the day came from the BBC’s Robbie (not Roby) Paul, who posited to Billy Slater in one of those new fangled halftime interviews that the game so far had been “a half of two halves”. Veteran BBC caller Ray French was fascinated that one of the Italians played for “Maroon Bar Miners’ – Moranbah. Italy coach Carlo Napolitano was asked about the split in the game there and insisted winning games internationally with the best available team was the best way to promote the sport and that the Azzurri had garnered domestic publicity already.

NEWBE BLACKOUT

IF a team makes its World Cup debut and no-one sees it, has it really made its World Cup debut? On-selling the television rights to International Management Group may have made commercial sense to the RLIF but it has resulted in the disappointing situation of the games being shown nowhere but the internet in the United States and Italy, who are in the World Cup for the first time. IMG’s concern is making its money back, not promoting rugby league. And as for England coach Steve McNamara refusing to discuss why James Graham was not picked, how can one expect the passion and support of a public without feeling any accountability to that same public? The whole thing was poorly managed.

 

WIDE WORLD OF LEAGUE

HAVING watched rugby league over the past three weekends in Port Vila, Johannesburg and Cardiff, it is probably incumbent upon this writer to pass comment on the general state of the not-union. Despite the civil war in Super League and growing pains in the NRL, the amount of activity is quite remarkable. After a century stuck in the starting blocks, rugby league is starting to spread its wings somewhat; who would have though Welsh bootleggers would one day be flogging fake Italian rugby league merchandise in the streets? The World Cup opening ceremony was professional and classy but the best pictures of the weekend were the Greek team teaching Hungry how to pack a league scrum – directly before they played each other.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: ITALY 32 WALES 16 at Millennium Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

SYDNEY Roosters grand final hero Aiden Guerra admitted after scoring two tries in Italy’s World Cup victory over Wales he had not inhabited the same world as the rest of us for quite some time.

Guerra, a scorer in the Roosters’ 26-18 GF win over Manly just under a month ago, made Millennium Stadium his own with tries in the eighth and 22nd minutes and setting up the match-sealer in the 32-16 victory.

Anthony Minichiello, his captain at club and international level, said the premiership had done wonders for Guerra’s confidence while the 25-year-old’s admitted the World Cup debutantes had set their sights on a quarter-final appointment with New Zealand.

“I don’t think reality is going to set in until I have to show up to Roosters training sometime in December – and hopefully not too early,” said Guerra, who played in the centres against the home nation.

“I don’t think the grand final’s really sunk in yet and I don’t know if the magnitude of a World Cup will really sink in for a while yet either.

“We’re definitely aiming to meet New Zealand in the first quarter-final. If we can get there, that would be a good achievement and if we can go further, that would be even better..”

The sides traded tries in the first half before the NRL experience and class of the Italians kicked in during the second session, with Wests Tigers’ James Tedesco also outstanding.

Guerra’s effort in pirouetting before putting winger Chris Centrone over in the 70th minute sent the locals heading for the exits.

“That was the best thing I’ve been involved in,” said Italy prop Cameron Ciraldo. “When you walked out, with the anthems and that, I was in wonderland.

“It was better than I imagined. It was on another level.”

Wales coach Iestyn Harris conceded the NRL experience in the Italian side, and particularly the flair of the Italian centres, was decisive.

“If we’re at our best, we can trouble anyone; unfortunately we weren’t at our best,” he said.

“We’ve still got a good change to go through. We’ve just got to win our next two games. If we could afford to lose any game, this was it.”

ITALY 32 (Aiden Guerra 2, Josh Mantellato, James Tedesco, Chris Centrone, Mark Minichiello tries; Mantellato 4 goals) bt WALES 16 (Will Evans, Rhodri Lloyd, Elliot Kear tries; Lloyd White 2 goals) at Millennium Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 45,052.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: ITALY 32 WALES 16 at Millennium Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

SYDNEY Roosters grand final hero Aiden Guerra admitted after scoring two tries in Italy’s World Cup victory over Wales he had not inhabited the same world as the rest of us for quite some time.

Guerra, a scorer in the Roosters’ 26-18 GF win over Manly just under a month ago, made Millennium Stadium his own with tries in the eighth and 22nd minutes and setting up the match-sealer in the 32-16 victory.

Anthony Minichiello, his captain at club and international level, said the premiership had done wonders for Guerra’s confidence while the 25-year-old’s admitted the World Cup debutantes had set their sights on a quarter-final appointment with New Zealand.

“I don’t think reality is going to set in until I have to show up to Roosters training sometime in December – and hopefully not too early,” said Guerra, who played in the centres against the home nation.

“I don’t think the grand final’s really sunk in yet and I don’t know if the magnitude of a World Cup will really sink in for a while yet either.

“We’re definitely aiming to meet New Zealand in the first quarter-final. If we can get there, that would be a good achievement and if we can go further, that would be even better..”

The sides traded tries in the first half before the NRL experience and class of the Italians kicked in during the second session, with Wests Tigers’ James Tedesco also outstanding.

Guerra’s effort in pirouetting before putting winger Chris Centrone over in the 70th minute sent the locals heading for the exits.

“That was the best thing I’ve been involved in,” said Italy prop Cameron Ciraldo. “When you walked out, with the anthems and that, I was in wonderland.

“It was better than I imagined. It was on another level.”

Wales coach Iestyn Harris conceded the NRL experience in the Italian side, and particularly the flair of the Italian centres, was decisive.

“If we’re at our best, we can trouble anyone; unfortunately we weren’t at our best,” he said.

“We’ve still got a good change to go through. We’ve just got to win our next two games. If we could afford to lose any game, this was it.”

ITALY 32 (Aiden Guerra 2, Josh Mantellato, James Tedesco, Chris Centrone, Mark Minichiello tries; Mantellato 4 goals) bt WALES 16 (Will Evans, Rhodri Lloyd, Elliot Kear tries; Lloyd White 2 goals) at Millennium Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 45,052.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Guerra Ready For Biggest Month Of His Life

Sydney Roosters - Aiden GuerraBy STEVE MASCORD

GIAN Antonio Guerra’s took the slow boat from Italy when he was just 13, in the first half of the last century. Now, grandson Aiden has him to thank for the biggest month of his life.

Three weeks after lining up for Sydney Roosters in the NRL grand final before 82,000 spectators, the back rower will honour his heritage by taking to the 72,500-capacity Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for Italy against Wales on the opening day of the World Cup.

“My grandfather was born in Italy and migrated over here. He was 13 years old, he came over with his mum and his sister,” Guerra tells RLW.

“Being picked in the Italian side, I’ve got more in touch with the heritage and the story behind it. It’s quite a story. He’s passed on now but I’ve got massive amounts of respect for what he did.

“It’s going to be good to go and represent his family name.

“It will be a good month. I’m just focused on the grand final now, whatever happens after that…. “

Guerra told an interviewer earlier this year “I was shitting myself” when Sonny Bill Williams joined the club but he has found a home in the Roosters’ top 17 by altering his role in the team somewhat.

He still remembers just how bruising the 4-0 win over Manly was on the opening weekend of the finals series.

“We were still sore on the Thursday,” he said. Asked if the tricolours would have won the following week, he answered: “It’s speculation but I’d like to say we would have. We pride ourselves on consistency throughout the season and getting up for the big games. Now that’s what we’ve got to do this week.

“They’re a team that has shown over the years that they’ve just got that mental grit and they put how they’re feeling physically in another mind and they’re just out there to win footy games. We’ve got to expect that they’re fresh minded and they’re going to come out and batter us.

“We’ve known all year they’re capable of that. They’re always going to be Manly. You know when you go out against a Manly side, they’re going to be tough. We’ve got a lot of respect for a lot of their players but we just have to go out there and do what we do and hope for the best.

“We’ve been training for this game for 10 months now and it’s no secret that if you put in the hard work, all the little secrets along the way aren’t going to matter.”

NB: Since this story appeared, Sydney Roosters beat Manly 26-18 in the NRL grand final, with Guerra scoring a try.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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 37

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

WE’RE pleased to confirm that Malta will be taking on Italy at Livorno on September 6!*

The international, which we foreshadowed in a previous column, has just been confirmed and means the Azzurri will have a better World Cup preparation than most of their rivals.

Livorno is near Pisa. The countries are negotiating a deal which would involve them fielding no more than seven overseas-based players, to promote domestic activity.

Well done. Would love to be there.

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WE received a call last week from Shannon Crane, the man behind what was previously described as the “rebel” league in Thailand.

In fact, says Crane, his organisation pre-dates by several months the one that fielded a team against the Philippines last October.

Crane, a former Penrith junior coach who moved the Bangkok in 2004 to pursue business interests, actually attended that game but disapproved of the number of expats in the Thailand Stars team.

“We didn’t even think of staging internationals – our focus was on getting a domestic competition up and running first,” said Crane.

While the RLIF is yet to take sides in Thailand, Crane’s group owns most of the trademarks associated with Thai Rugby League and will be getting serious in the next few months.

Doug Keen will be coaching referees later this year, a six team competition (four in Bangkok and two in Pattaya) is due to kick off next year and his side plays Greece at a major stadium on October 12.

He says he has big name companies lined up as sponsors and insists to put down solid roots in the Kingdom, you need to live there.

“I have nothing against Andrew Charles and the people who put together the Thailand Stars,” he said.

“I have had a meeting with him and offered to work with him, share everything. So far, they’ve insisted on doing their thing and we are pressing on with ours’.

“The Thailand Stars are not the national rugby league team, though.”

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OK, NOW we have got to the bottom of THAT, how about this?

What’s worse than two warring governing bodies in a country where there is very little actual rugby league? How about one of those warring governing bodies having two warring websites?

The establishment AMNRL, which is sending the United States team to the World Cup, used to have a site called AMNRL.com, which disappeared and then came back and didn’t appear to have been updated for some time.

Now AMNRL.com is back, with a recently-written story about the World Cup. But it has a rival called AMNRL.org, which redirects to club pages.

Anyways … at least there rival leagues are hosting a joint event this weekend. Let’s hope they settle their differences over a few beers.

* NB: Since this story appeared, the Malta-Italy international has been cancelled.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK