BONDI BEAT: May 2014

Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash

Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash

By STEVE MASCORD

LIKE your clubs in England, the NRL is considering ways to hold onto players and to recruit new stars,
Bondi Beat‘s spies tell us that the issue was raised in Auckland before the NRL Nines. The CEO of the league, David Smith, suggested that if one club wanted to sign a rugby union star, for instance, it could apply for central funding.
But every club would have the opportunity to match or exceed the amount of money the recruiting club was willing to pay. If Souths wanted to sign England rahrah George North, for instance, North Queensland could offer to pay a larger part of his wage package. This would leave the league paying less.
North would still have the opportunity to go to the club of his choice, not the highest bidder.
But another idea should be a concern to most readers. The plan is to make transfer fees salary cap-free if the incoming player is not from the NRL.
In other words, a leave pass to raid the Super League if you have enough money to pay the transfer fees.
I am told it was South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson who pointed this implication out. “They play the same sport as us over there, you know,” was the crux of his argument.
If you go through the current NRL club CEOS, few have much experience in the international game.

THE debate over the marquee player proposal in England is a fascinating one.
I heard on the BBC recently that the NRL has a marquee player allowance of $600,000 per club. That is wrong. There is no marquee player system in the NRL that is even remotely similar to what Dr Marwan Koukash is proposing in Super League.

What is allowed in the NRL are third part agreements – club sponsors paying players up to a limit. It is not the same as allowing clubs to spend their own money on imported talent, regardless of whether it sends them broke.
Instead of offering Stg200,000 for rival clubs’ “golden tickets”, perhaps Dr Koukash should guarantee to under-write the rest of the comp so every club can spend up to the cap as it exists now.
I am a bit of a sociallist when it comes to sporting competitions. I believe our game needs to be outwardly capitalist but inwardly communist.
Until every club in the Super League is spending up to the cap, there is no point giving them more rope to hang themselves. Maybe if every club in the new division of eight is spending up to the cap and is on a sound financialfooting, it can be considered again.
The recent Widnes-Salford epic was a clash of cultures – between licencing and throwing raw cash at something. And who won that?
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THIS column probably features a few too many items which paint my Australian compatriots as being a little ignorant of the realities of rugby league outside their own bubble. It’s a point that gets laboured here too much.
But it was curious the other day to hear Penrith coach Ivan Cleary say this: “I think, personally, we shouldn’t have representative tournaments every year at the end of the year,” Cleary said. ”Maybe a one-off game with Australia and New Zealand straight after the grand final pretty much. Basically, if you are going to have one it needs to finish a lot earlier.”
Cleary, you’ll remember, is the New Zealand assistant coach!
Now, George Gregan played 139 Tests in that other code. Darren Lockyer had played 59 when he retired. But WE’RE playing too many Tests? Clearly, were playing too many club games…
One man who agreed with Cleary was Greg Alexander, who is on the board at Penrith. When I appeared with Andrew Voss and Brandy on 2UE to argue against Cleary’s contention, one of their responses was that if we needed international football so much then perhaps there should be a World Cup every two years!
From the sublime to the ridiculous…..
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IN the wake of the sort of ignorance described above, you’ve got to hand it to the Sydney Roosters and former Catalan coach Trent Robinson.
He has hired the England coach as his assistant and in Remy Casty has a man who is likely to be only the fourth French born player to turn out in the top flight down under, after Jerome Guisset, Jacques Molinet and Jason Baitieri.
And when his team completely outclassed Wigan in the World Club Challenge, Robinson argued that the concept should be expanded. Even in the face of the increasing disparity in the salary caps of the two competitions, he argued an expanded WCC would narrow the gap, not accentuate it.

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ANOTHER great story in this neck of the woods this year has been the debut in Queensland’s Untrust Super Cup (the Q Cup to you) of the Kopoko-based PNG Hunters.
After the disappointments of the World Cup, the PNGRL signed players from rural areas to contracts, took them away from their families for 11 weeks and put them in a police barracks.
The result was a 24-18 win on debut against Redcliffe in Brisbane. “Back at home, after the World Cup when everyone got back into the country, the guys that played in
the World Cup never went out in public places because a lot of the media and the people around the country were pissed off,” said coach Michael Marum.
PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka says Mal Meninga is now the coach of the Kumuls. They hope to play the winner of the mid-year Samoa-Fiji Test before the Four Nations and a warm-up game against another 4N team – perhaps England.
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TYRONE McCarthy and his partner, Helen Lomax, are settling in nicely in Cairns.
The Ireland vice-captain and ex-Warrington star scored two tries on debut for Q Cup side Northern Pride. “I was probably getting stagnant at Warrington, being in and out of the side,” he said.
“It’s pretty different to home here, very hot and humid, but I’m used to it now and the club have been great. Two tries is more than I scored all last year.”
Tyrone is hoping to get his charity project, the FullBloods, going in Oz. It helps kids in disadvantaged areas using rugby league to connect with them. Support Tyrone by visiting thefullbloodproject.org.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 20

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
1. SHOOT THE (DALLY) MESSENGER
LAST week’s tiff between Wayne Bennett and Ivan Cleary over comments at a press conference highlighted a persistent cultural problem in rugby league which was further exemplified when Sonny Bill Williams took Willie Mason high at Hunter Stadium on Sunday. For all the progress the game has made with a gleaming new integrity unit, recognising the role of women and stamping out racism, there is still an obsession with what you can get away with rather than what you actually do. If Cleary’s comments led to Kade Snowden being suspended, then isn’t it the match review committee Bennett should be angry with, for allowing itself to be influenced by the media? And whether or not Mason should or could have jumped straight to his feet yesterday, isn’t the real issue whether or not Williams actually collected him in the head? It’s almost as if it’s OK to accuse people of bias as long as you paint that bias as a fact of life and direct your anger at the person who tried to influence them.

2. A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS AS A BIG TREE FALLS
“HEY, shoulder!” a lone Newcastle Knights voice shouted after Willie Mason took the ball up 15 minutes into yesterday’s match at Hunter Stadium, before being felled in a tackle which featured Sonny Bill Williams coming in over the top.The voice, from an unidentified player standing directly behind the collision, was summarily ignored by referees Jared Maxwell and Gavin Morris. It’s only when Mason failed to regain his feet that the whistlers asked video referees Steve Clark and Justin Morgan to check “possible contact from Williams”. There was definitely contact; Williams later questioned Mason’s motivation in staying on the turf. Whatever the case there, it was apparent to this reporter the incident would have been missed – until Monday morning at least – if Mason had simply got to his feet and played the ball. Maybe it would have been picked up on Monday morning. You’d hope so.
3. THE PRICE IS… APPROPRIATE?
DOES the NRL have a responsibility to make grand final tickets affordable for rank-and file supporters? Newspaper and magazine mailbags and social media pages are awash with complaints about the price hikes for tickets to this year’s showpiece. One fan complained that tickets which were $55 in 2006 are now $165. Gold seats are $225. Other blue ribbon sporting events charge similar prices and try getting into the Super Bowl or FA Cup final for anything like that. The grand final will sell out and generally speaking, the NRL is entitled to charge whatever the market supports. But everyone from FIFA to Bon Jovi knows it’s possible to avoid being painted as greedy by offering a limited number of low-cost seats through a ballot system. The League would do well to consider this option next year.
4. COMMENTATORS RUNNING THE ASYLUM
DARREN Lockyer had an interesting idea in his newspaper column at the weekend. He said video referees should turn up the television when deciding on possible tries to hear what the commentators think. At first glance, this may appear simple commonsense – but of course, it’s not. The test which is all too seldom applied to many of the ideas that get thrown around in rugby league is: if you didn’t know what the game was and who the people were, what would you think? If someone is making a major decision in another sport, or another walk of life, because a media person said it might be a good idea, how would that look? Imagine if boxing judges or AFL goal umpires listened to the transistor radio for inspiration, or police read the paper before laying charges. Always ask the question: how would it look from the outside – and can it be exploited?
5. VALE MUZZA
GRAHAM Murray should have outlived newspapers. He was only 58 when his life support was due to be turned off yesterday and the news is difficult to come to terms with. Many of the things one says in this situation – about him being ‘larger than life’, ‘a positive influence on people’ and ‘loving life and people’ – sound hollow because they are said too often. But there really wasn’t anyone like him in my 28 years of covering rugby league; he was a man who engaged with people one way or another, who was never apathetic. “He taught me the value of honesty,” former Great Britain forward Barrie McDermott Tweeted. Murray coached Illawarra (where he had success by making it compulsory to go to the pub after training), North Queensland and NSW but he did it all so recently that it should have been years before I had to write anything like this. All sympathy to his wife Amanda, his family and his army of friends. This is a terrible time.

6. RANKLING OUTSIDERS
THE contrast between in attitudes of rugby league fans towards casual sports followers couldn’t be more different in Australia and England. British leaguies were mortified and humiliated on Saturday when a Challenge Cup semi-final, shown live on national television, end in a 70-0 win by Wigan over London. Not only was the scoreline indicative of an ailing professional game, considering both teams are in Super League, but having a comparatively small northern town thrash the capital also embarrasses the game’s national pretentions in front of the very people it is trying to impress. Compare that with the Origin fighting ban, which hardcore NRL fans believe was prompted by the concerns of those who watch the sport only infrequently. Australian league supporters not only have no regard for what these people think but actively resent them for sanitised the game.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 17

The Joy Of Six1. MAKING A BIRD OF IT

FOR cynics who believe State of Origin players are tempted to sacrifice the interests of their clubs for the sake of the glory of interstate football – and the $30,000 match payments – Gold Coast’s Greg Bird provided a salutary lesson on Saturday night. Bird rolled his ankle with his very first run of the 40-18 loss to Penrith at Darwin’s TIO Stadium. He admits he thought coming off. “But I thought we needed as many leaders as we can out there in games like that so I decided to play on with it,” he said. ““We just sort of strapped it over the boot and played the rest of the half. It’s sort of in the joint so you can’t really get at it with a needle.” Bird remains hopeful and even somewhat confident of playing in Origin III at ANZ Stadium next Wednesday. “He’ll be in the boot and he’ll be on crutches, probably, which always looks bad but Birdy’s generally a quick healer,” said Coach John Cartwright. “It’s a little bit swollen but if I to predict early if he’ll be right, I’m pretty sure he’ll be right.”

2. CONSIDER YOURSELF REBUILT

PANTHERS coach Ivan Cleary has finally conceded this might end up being more than a rebuilding year. Penrith are this side’s “under the radar” outfit, which is not necessarily a side that is under-rated so much as one that wants to be. But the only problem is, they keep winning. “We are in a position where we can, I guess, feature in the end of the season,” Cleary said. “That’s undoubted. But we still have to win more games than we lose and we haven’t done that so far this year. Our last two months have been positive and we are definitely better than we were at the start of the year but the stakes go up each week. Each game gets more important. You’ve got to play better.” Rebuilding years mean little to the large chunk of Panthers who won’t be around in 2014. “That word, rebuilding, is for the people in management, not for the players,” said departing captain Kevin Kingston. “We’re here to win every week”

3. THIRTEEN-A-SIDE DIPLOMACY

THERE was a little piece of sporting history made late last week when our eternal nemesis, rugby union, apparently agreed to give us a big hand. The South African Olympic Committee refuses to recognise rugby league as a separate sport, cutting the 13-a-side game off from government funding and opening to door for victimisation. And two weekends ago in Morocco, a tour by a British students rugby league team reportedly descended into farce when the local rugby union succeed in having a game banned from grounds, a bus company refused to carry the tourists and two journalists were escorted out of a stadium by police. Danny Kazandjian, the boss of the Rugby League European Federation, told us in a series of texts that the International Rugby Board had agreed to write to intransigent unions instructing them to recognise rugby league and stop undermining the code. Will wonders never cease? Still, we reckon rugby league needs an ambassador to parachute into trouble spots and solve diplomatic rows. Who should it be?

4. A JINXING RUN

IT used to be that England coach Steve McNamara had to be in the same stadium as one of his NRL stars for that player or players to be injured. Last year, McNamara claimed Sam Burgess and Gareth Ellis in the same game, an outstanding effort for any Jonah. Whether any Englishmen in the crowd were hurt has not been confirmed. Since he has been back in the country, James Graham suffered a minor injury in his presence and Gareth Widdop dislocated a hip, probably ruling him out for the rest of the year. But McNamara’s powers have now extended exponentially, with Jack Reed sliding into an advertising hoarding to suffer a dislocated and possibly fractured collarbone with Steve Mac not even in Victoria. If NRL clubs all contribute, they may be able to bribe him into staying on his own side of the equator. Sydney Roosters officials asked him to go to more South Sydney games.

5. GO WEST!

NRL officials hope to stage three premiership games in Perth next year. ARLC chief executive David Smith continues to set a cracking pace, meeting sponsors, tourism officials, media contacts, the sports ministry and junior players in West Australian capital on Thursday before flying out to England to see the Australian women’s and wheelchair teams compete in their respective World Cups. The Warriors’ training session at South Perth in the lead-up to the game was attended by some 1500 people, outdrawing the Rabbitohs’ by a few hundred. From next year, the NRL rather than clubs will negotiate deals with venues in expansion areas. Clubs will compensate for the loss of home games in their membership packages by doing reciprocal deals with each other. For example, Souths members will get into home and away games against Parramatta for free, as a trade-off for home games being taken interstate.

6. ONE YEAR AT A TIME

JOY Of Six is a keen student of the rich rugby league lexicon and is enjoyed that under-rated strain of leaguespeak that comes when teams pretty much can’t make the finals but don’t want to admit it. If we had a dollar for every “we’ve just got to stick together” and “no-one can get us out of this position but us”, we’d be over our second tier salary cap. Of course, there’s not much more these coaches can say – particularly when their own jobs may be on the line as a result of their under-performing teams. St George Illawarra, Brisbane and North Queensland all fit this description. “We need to have a good look at ourselves,” the Dragons’ Steve Price said on Saturday night after the 36-0 defeat to Sydney Roosters. “It’s all about hanging tough now and supporting each other.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

NRL round five: NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 PENRITH 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

AUSTRALIA prop James Tamou does not believe he has done enough to keep his jersey for the April 19 Test against New Zealand and reckons only a five-star showing for North Queensland on Friday will save him.

Tamou offered the stinging self-assessment despite running 199 metres in last night’s 30-0 Cowboys win against Penrith at 1300SMILES Stadium.

Asked if he felt he had earned the right in the first five rounds of the NRL to keep his place in the national side for the trans-Tasman international at Canberra Stadium, Tamou said: “To be honest, not really.

“I wouldn’t be filthy or anything if I didn’t get picked. I’d put that on myself. I know I haven’t been performing (to) my standards.

“Hopefully, the game against the Broncos will really set it up for me. I don’t know about Thumper (fellow prop Matt Scott) but the form we were in, we had to definitely lift.

“We were still in first gear. You get front rowers who play one good game and then, the next game, they can shy away. Hopefully I can do the same thing against the Broncos.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world, rugby league. With the rep side of it, you’ve got to watch out for other front rowers. They are definitely out there to take your spot.

“I wouldn’t say I’m up there at the top but there’s always guys trying to pull you down and trying to better than you

“It’s up to me to step up.”

After the Cowboys’ win – they led 24-0 at halftime – the diagnosis for halfback Robert Lui was altered from ankle ligaments to a kneecap problem. He is likely to be missing for a fortnight.

“We all know what he’s been through to get here and we all feel sorry for him,” said centre Brent Tate, involved in the lead-up to Lui’s 16th-minute try.

“But he’ll get his chance.”

Lui’s departure marked a slowing of the scoring deluge; Neil Henry’s side was averaging better than a point a minute at the time he crossed for his try.

The 22-0 lead at 18 minutes became 24-0 right on halftime and 30-0 when centre Kane Linnett posted his second try a minute into the second half.

But the match then got bogged down somewhat, with Penrith second rower Clint Newton booked for a high tackle on NQ hooker Anthony Mitchell in the 61st minute in front of 12,431 fans.

In the final game whose kick-off time is affected by daylight saving this season, fans could have been forgiven for heading to the home for a few extra hours’ sleep when it was only one-quarter over.

North Queensland winger Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa scored after only three minutes, off a Matt Bowen bomb, and Linnett got his first three minutes later.

That touchdown would have been disallowed under the previous interpretation of the obstruction rule as NQ forward Tariq Sims appeared to make contact with a defender while running a decoy. Under the new interpretation, the green light came up.

Further tries to winger Antonio Winterstain and Lui left little doubt that the Cowboys would end a three-match losing streak after losses to Melbourne, Newcastle and the Warriors.

Henry could also not guarantee winger Ashley Graham would come back into the team for Friday’s clash with Brisbane, given the performances of Faifai Loa and Antonio Winterstein.

Whoever plays on Friday, Henry and co-captain Scott agreed, a significant improvement would be needed on last night’s effort.

“On the back of a good win against the Titans, no doubt there’ll be a massive crowd down and Suncorp and we’re going to have to be a lot better than we were tonight, that’s for sure,” said Scott.

“Opening the season (against Brisbane) is great but any time we come up against them is a game we look forward to.

“They’re tough games and they showed last night what a quality side they are.”

Henry agreed, saying: “I think anyone watching that game (tonight) would see that compared to last night’s Broncos game, we are going to need to improve considering we’re going down there.

“And we’re realists about that.”

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said his men tried hard but were “just bad”.

“I can’t fault the preparation, the effort’s there, but execution in so many areas was poor – the worst we’ve had all year,” he said.

“There’s a reality to us that we aren’t fancied and there’s a reason for that. There’s guys down on their confidence and that happens when you lose a few games as well.”

NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 (K Linnett 2 K Faifai Loa  A Winterstein R Lui tries J Thurston 5 goals) bt PENRITH 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium. Referees: A Devich/C James. Crowd:  12,431.

Filed for: SUN-HERALD