FAR & WIDE: Europe, California, Women’s rugby league, Greece

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
EUROPEAN Countries are getting ready for the final stage of World Cup qualifiers, with the matches played in the coming weeks.
Pool A includes Wales, Italy and Serbia while Pool B comprises Ireland, Spain and Russia. The top two in each group automatically qualifies for Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with second in each playing off for the final berth.
The tournament kicks off on October 15 at Moscow’s Fili Stadium, when the host country takes on Spain.
Of the six teams involved, Spain and Russia would be regarded as the outsiders.
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THE United States Rugby League is again making a push towards the Wesr Coast.
Jacksonville Axemen founder and Floridian league pioneer Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland recently reached out to interested parties about getting a competition up and running.
He received quite a response.
It’s to be hoped those involved in California previously, such as Zane Hirtzell, Col Manners and Ben Everill can be involved.
We’ll keep you posted.
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SINCE our last column, we had the great announcement that the Women’s World Cup would be run concurrently with the men’s tournament next year.
And while Sydney controversially missed out on most of the men’s tournament, Wooloware’s Southern Cross Stadium will host the pool matches and finals.
The final itself will be played at Suncorp Stadium on December 2, the same day as the men’s final.
It’s a feather in the cap of RLWC CEO Andrew Hill that he was able to mend bridges between the tournament organising committee and the NSW government by attracting funding.
One can only assume the bridges were burned by former boss CEO, given that the government offered the men’s tournament no funding at all.
The US is playing Canada on October 1 at Wilmington, Delaware, and F&W will be there!
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THE RLEF is continuing to rebuild rugby league in Greece. It recently conducted match official training there, accrediting the country’s first female referee, Zoe Valassa.
@RLWfarandwide

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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.

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THE WRAP: NRL Round Eight

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

AS Jamie Lyon trudged off WIN Jubilee Oval around 9pm last night, he was faced with the usual abuse visiting players cop. “Go home, you whinger” said one St George Illawarra zealot.

“Booo!” said another.

Then, exploiting a brief lull in the vitriol, a faceless spectator above the cage that covers the players race at Kogarah shouted – no, implored – “play for the Blues Jamie, please. We need you.”

The Manly captain, who had led the Sea Eagles to a 24-18 win – the club’s first at the ground since 1997 – had already zoned out.

But a month away from Origin, the incident was a testament to the desperation of NSW fans as Queensland prepares for what it fully expects to be an eighth consecutive series victory.

Fans south of the border already salivating over the series, which doesn’t start for a month, got an early taste of Origin despair during an absorbing MNF battle which saw the Dragons storm back from 18-4 down at halftime to level the contest with 17 minutes left.

First, Dragons winger and experienced Blue Brett Morris suffered a sprain to the back of the left knee in the 15th minute. At first, details of the injury were sketchy and Souths fan barraged social media with the contention it was not great loss because their man Nathan Merritt was a certainty anyway.

Then, in the final play of the first half, Manly and NSW fullback Brett Stewart copped a knee in the back. It wasn’t until he cooled down during the break that he realised how serious the problem was. He was in agony.

Neither returned last night. Neither is likely to miss Origin I at ANZ Stadium on June 5. Nor is the Blues skipper, Paul Gallen, who suffered a knee injury very early in Cronulla’s 21-20 overtime win over Newcastle at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.

But it just adds to the sense of agitation and nervousness the Blues feel. When 15 of the 17 players have already been picked – as is reportedly the case – it’s easier to count the men who drop like flies from injury and suspension.

“I don’t think so,” Manly coach Geoff Toovey said when asked if Lyon would be recanting on his representative retirement.

“I think he’s hung up his representative boots.

“He’ll win you a series, though.”

In leiu of Lyon – off contract at the end of the season – the candidacy of Sydney Roosters’ Michael Jennings grows. Jennings scored two tries against former club Penrith on Sunday.

“He might play for Australia in the World Cup,” says his skipper, Anthony Minichiello. “Let him play for them, then I don’t have to play against him.”

Minichiello’s Italy is in the same World Cup pool as Tonga, for whom Jennings will almost certainly turn out if he doesn’t make Tim Sheens’ Australian squad.

Then there’s Canberra’s Blake Ferguson, whose season has taken him from an ACT rooftop to a hospital bed with a broken cheekbone to scoring as many points as the entire Melbourne Storm team in half a game of football.

After posting 18 in the 24-20 win over the Storm that ended their 15-match winning run, Ferguson said Origin was at the back of his mind but declined the chance to talk up his chances.

All that would probably change if Jamie Lyon changed his mind. Origin has a proud history of players coming out of representative retirement to be heroes, from Allan Langer to Brad Fittler.

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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?

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FAR & WIDE: Number Five

By STEVE MASCORD

NEXT year’s World Club Challenge will remain in the UK but Qatar is under consideration to host a six-team competition in 2014.

That’s the news that Far & Wide can report from recent talks in the UK between South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson and leading English officials Nigel Wood, Ian Lenagan and Gary Hetherington.

Richardson was representing a working party appointed by NRL clubs charged with looking into the potential to expand the WCC, which has been played in the UK with just two teams since 2000.

“We want to expand the competition to at least three teams from each hemisphere and we held talks to that end,” Richardson told Far & Wide.

“We also want to look into playing it in venues that are seeking such events, such as Hawaii, Las Vegas, Dubai and Qatar – as well as in Sydney.

“I haven’t had the chance to report back to the NRL clubs yet but I know the guys I spoke to have gone back to Super League clubs with a number of options.”

Richardson said it was too late to plan for 2013 and the competition would stay in its current format. It’s understood Australian clubs will split any profits 16 ways and have strongly suggested Super League teams do likewise – even though there is unlikely to be as many changes in European participants from one year to the next.

US company premier sports wants to take the WCC to Los Angeles.

Richardson also attended to club business while in the UK. Talks between Souths and Wigan halfback Brett Finch have led to nought.

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FORMER Sydney Roosters, Warriors and North Queensland halfback Grant Rovelli is set to be Craig Gower’s halves partner for Italy in next year’s World Cup.

Rovelli told Far And Wide in Mackay at the weekend – where he played for the Cutters in the curtain-raiser to the Canterbury-Melbourne game – he had been in talks with coach Carlo Napolitano and was keen as long as he could get away from work.

“I played one international against Greece a few years ago and really enjoyed it,” he said.

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THE British Amateur Under 23s have just returned from a pioneering tour of Jamaica and last week beat Jamaica A – featuring many members of the full national side – 56-28 in Spanish Town.

The previous clash between the sides saw the tourists win 54-10.

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