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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Manly ‘Not Worried’ By Deepening Investigation

Manly - Geoff TooveyBy STEVE MASCORD

MANLY coach Geoff Toovey and captain Jamie Lyon last night each said they were “not worried” about the sudden escalation in the impact of ASADA’s investigation into NRL drug use.
The Sea Eagles, one of six clubs mentioned the landmark report compiled by the Australian Crime Commission, beat Brisbane 22-14 in the hours immediately after Cronulla suspended or sacked five staff members in a draconian reaction to the controversy.
“There seems to be a fair bit of talk but we’re not too worried about it,” said centre Lyon after the only Friday night game of round one, which saw Steve Matai post two tries.
“We’ve got a job to do and we’re just going to worry about what we’ve got to do. Big game next week and we’ll just concentrate on that.”
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Speaking on radio Triple M late last night, Toovey also said he was “not worried” about “speculation of allegations”. “The sooner it is all sorted out, the better,” he said.
Earlier, the coach told the post-match media conference: “Obviously we don’t stick our heads in the sand. We knew about it.
“I think all football players are happy the season has kicked off so we can get on to concentrating on the good things.
“The players want to get on with it and they want whatever dramas there are off the field to be resolved as quickly as possible. That’s all we can hope.”
It was a disappointing commemoration of Brisbane’s first premiership match, also against Manly, 25 years ago.
Visibly upset Broncos coach Anthony Griffin accused his men of “rolling over early in that second half” as the Eagles won their fifth game against Brisbane at Suncorp from the last five.
“We were very slow and they jumped us,” he said. “Three tries, we gifted them that last one, and that was it.”
Griffin said his men paid a “psychological price” when they “(gave) up that 14-6 lead so easily in the second half. That was the ball game.”
Captain Sam Thaiday reckoned “we were pretty bad” and “we were too soft on ourselves”. Griffin said “it’s hard to be happy about anything”.
Manly’s Anthony Watmough again aggravated a rib injury and had an injection topped up in the second half. “The painkiller wore off … there was no more damage and he was right to go back on,” his coach said.
“It’s going to take a while to repair but he had an outstanding game.”
Toovey said the battle between centres Matai and Justin Hodges “ended up about even.
“But I thought our whole left edge was good. I think they were stacking our right side to come at the bloke next to me (Lyon).
“That did open up a bit of space for Steve Matai and Keiran Foran.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

BONDI BEAT: March 2013

Rugby League World March 2013By STEVE MASCORD

THIS is March, which means Bondi Beat again has to make a fool of itself with a bunch of predictions for the forthcoming National Rugby League season.

Last year we listed Five Things That Could Go Wrong in 2012. Did the Independent Commission isolate Australia internationally? Well, the green-and-golds refused to play at the end of the year but, on balance, no.

“England are forced to play a home series in October and November against minnow nations. No-one shows up, the national media ignore the games and England are even beaten in one of the matches”. Two out of three ain’t bad.

“New Zealand are comprehensively flogged in their only two Tests, both against Australia. The green and golds go into the World Cup next year as unbackable favourites”. The Kiwis were beaten, but not flogged;

“Rugby league writers continue to be laid off on national newspapers and budget cuts at the BBC lead to the sport largely disappearing from your radio dials.” One out of two again.

“More Super League clubs go bust and are deducted competition points while Manchester Magic fails to attract any more people than the last round of magic”. One out of two there.

Here’s five more predictions:

· Sonny Bill Williams’ return to rugby league to be messy, an ultimately unsuccessful. He won’t play in the World Cup and his biceps injury will severely interrupt his season;

· Parramatta to be the biggest improvers of the year, Manly the biggest sliders;

· Israel Folau to return to rugby league at the end of the season, with South Sydney;

· Canterbury to win the competition;

· New Zealand to win a successful World Cup.

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I HAD the pleasure recently of interviewing United States forward Curtis Cunz on the 40th floor or his Park Avenue office building.

That night, David Niu, Marcus Vassilakopoulos and the rest of the AMNRL heavies were to meet in the same office to discuss American Rugby League business.

No, I still don’t know what happened to their website. More of that in a sec.

But I do know, thanks to Curtis, that US will be playing Samoa in a World Cup warm-up match in Hawaii some time in October. How cool does that sound?

From a travel point of view, the warm-ups are almost as exciting as the tournament itself. Before the 2000 World Cup, I remember seeing South Africa host Wales in Pretoria one day, and England take on the US in Orlando the next!

Mind you, it is to be hoped that the countries who have qualified for RLWC2013 don’t just play each other but rather give the other nations an opportunity to earn some coin and exposure during early October.

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NICE fellow that Curtis is, a few months before the World Cup bow of the Tomahawks it is difficult to conceive of a more confusing situation that that confronting the AMNRL right now.

I fancy myself as a follower of these affairs and even I had missed a report from last May confirming the sale of the governing body to Grand Prix Sports, the organisation that wants to play the World Club Challenge in Las Vegas.

On the US business site marketwatch.com, Grand Prix Sports’ Neal Pilson explained the company’s interest in investing in both codes by saying: “While maintaining the independent integrity of the rugby union and rugby league operations, yet folding them under one production umbrella, we at Grand Prix felt from a broadcast perspective this transaction was a smart move to avoid unnecessary confusion in a US media market at a very critical time in rugby’s growth.”

That sounds very much like buying out a competitor, from a rugby union point of view, doesn’t it?

Grand Prix were supposed to put on the Tomahawks v Melbourne Storm game. It never happened, due to lack of funds. The AMNRL website has disappeared, with questions about its absence on Facebook going unanswered.

Meanwhile, Grand Prix Sports is promoting a rugby union sevens tournament in mid-year with ONE MILLION DOLLARS as the first prize!

It would appear the AMNRL and its new owner are not on fantastic terms. Meanwhile, the rival USARL struggles on, with its players still expecting to be locked out of World Cup selection.

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THE worth of contracts in the NRL has never been more in question.

Penrith and Australia centre Michael Jennings was not appreciated at the foot of the mountains, even though he had three years left on his contract there.

Gold Coast, South Sydney and Sydney Roosters all showed interest. When he ended up at the Roosters, it set in train a chain reaction which illustrates just how weird the player market down under has become.

Souths instead signed Beau Champion back from the Titans. And the Titans then attempted to snare Jamie Lyon – Manly’s CAPTAIN – immediately, with less than two months remaining until the end of the season!

Lyon, who in 2004 was roundly criticised for walking out on Parramatta mid season, en route to St Helens, issued a statement denying that he wanted out of the Sea Eagles.

But when new Titans CEO David May approached Manly rival David Perry to ask about Lyon’s availability, he was reportedly “left with the impression” that the door was open.

Add to this the fact that clubs regularly contribute to the wages of players who have left, to relieve salary cap pressure, and you have a confusing situation for fans.

We used to look at the Brits and their custom of “loaning” players to rival clubs and scratch our heads. But in retrospect it’s a whole lot cleaner and more sensible than some of the things going on in the NRL right now.

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IF YOU are a regular reader of this column, you’d be aware I am not a big fan of taxpayers’ money in PNG being spent on a bid for NRL inclusion.

On the other hand, inclusion in the Queensland Cup seems infinitely less expensive and more practical.

To that end, South Sydney are linking their premiership game in Cairns on June 16 with the pre-season game against the Kumuls at Redfern Oval on February 9.

The Cairns league has a strong relationship with PNG – for obvious geographic reasons – and the Kumuls candidacy for Q Cup inclusion will be promoted during at the June game.

Souths could even end up shifting a home game to Port Moresby at some stage in the future.

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ONE of the more startling stories written in recent weeks suggested that if Craig Bellamy was to leave Melbourne, captain Cameron Smith could take over as player-coach!

Bondi Beat would have thought captain-coaches went out with contested scrums.

Has anyone seen what coaches do these days? And Craig Bellamy spends more time coaching than most.

Although ‘Bellyache’ does manage to stay as fit as the players. So I supposed the least they can do is be as smart as him.

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WE all have our ideas on what issues the ARL Commission should address, particularly when it comes to things we believe have been overlooked until now.

For me, it’s taking responsibility for Australia’s leadership of the international game.

For historians and journalists like Ian Heads, David Middleton, Sean Fagan, Gary Lester and Geoff Armstrong, it’s determining which was the first rugby league club in Australia.

Newtown have long laid claim to this distinction but the pointy-heads say Glebe held a meeting on January 9, 1908, which committed them to the new code.

Newtown stand accused of adding “January 8, 1908” to their minutes of their first meeting “at a later date” to give them bragging rights.

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GREAT to see Super League spending some money to show the ‘League Of The Extraordinary’ advert to a wider audience.

We’re yet to hear much about the NRL’s advertising strategy for 2013 at this stage. But give the trouble our players are capable of getting into, it’s unlikely it will focus on just one or two of them.

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YOU’D expect me to say something here about Jon Mannah, the 23-year-old former Parramatta and Cronulla forward who passed away from cancer during the last month, and I want to.

Much has been made of the Christian faith observed by Jon and his brother Tim.

But regardless of faith, the bravery which Jon showed in the face of a terrible, painful illness should be a lesson to us all.

The end is what gives the beginning and middle of life meaning, I guess. But this end came way too soon.

Vail Jon Mannah.

Follow @BondiBeat on Twitter.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

DISCORD 2013: Edition Three

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

NORMALLY in Discord, we throw up some strident opinion or another and offer you the opportunity to agree or disagree.

But this week, I’m going to give you a topic rather than an opinion and simply open the floor to you.

Michael Jennings swapping clubs two months before the start of the season. Jamie Lyon – the captain of Manly – being approached to quit the club immediately.

Do you care?

I remember, in the primeval past, writing stories about clubs accusing others of “inducing players to breach their contracts”. But those stories don’t seem to be written anymore.

It seems to be the modus operandi of clubs that players will be unhappy at rival joints and even though they are under contract, we can actually have them now.

And their current club will pay them to play for us! I never quite got my head around that…..

Discord never cared if a star signed with a rival club for next season and was paraded at a mid-season media conference in that club’s colours. But you did – and the practice was unofficially outlawed.

But you don’t seem to care about a player starting pre-season training – or even a season – with one club and finishing it with another. You don’t seem to mind the fact a contract is worth nada these days.

Or maybe you do. Tell me at the bottom of this column.

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BY now you’ve read a number of tributes to Jon Mannah. I probably had less to do with him than many other reporters.

But when I heard of his passing, I had to ask myself the questions: does death teach us more about the nature and value of life, or is it just something we say to make ourselves feel better?

Certainly, Jon’s friends and family are beyond such esoteric considerations right now – and understandably so.

But I think many people will look at Jon Mannah’s bravery and make better choices in their lives as a result. The realisation that it can all end at any time is something that dawns on most of us later in life and hopefully encourages us to make better use of the time we have.

At 23, Jon Mannah shouldn’t have had to worry about that.

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IT’S interesting that Wigan coach Shaun Wane has admitted fullback Sam Tomkins will not be spending his entire career with the club.

Wane is already trialling other fullbacks in the pre-season, even though England’s best player will be at DW Stadium at least until the end of next year.

It’s hard to see Tomkins joining another Super League club. The leaves the NRL at rugby union.

Let’s hope it’s the NRL.

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THANKS for all the comments last week. Long Xuyen wanted to bring replacements down to three with no-one who comes off being allowed back on the field. It sounds a bit radical but even the great Darren Lockyer believes we may one day have to have fewer than 13 players on the field.

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