Jason Becomes A Devil

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

JASON Ryles is going home.

Back when the Melbourne Storm prop was playing juniors at the Illawarra Steelers around the end of the last century, the era of premiership players going back to play in the bush was already almost over.

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was common. Some genuine stars spent most of their careers in the bush. Hell, Rex Wright and Phil Duke were picked straight from the country by NSW (not to mention the likes of Rohan Hancock in Queensland) in our lifetimes.

But since the Super League War, pro rugby league players have earned so much, and country clubs have struggled to such an extent, that the practice just about died out.

It just wasn’t worth it for anyone concerned.

“But it’s sort of coming back in the Illawarra comp,” Ryles, 34, tells League Week. “There’s Nathan Fien going to Thirroul, fellas like Chris Leikvoll and Reece Simmonds playing as well.”

In 2014, Ryles will join them – at Illawarra Wests, the club where his journey to 15 Test appearances for Australia began. You thought Ryles was retiring but really, he’s just reeling in the years.

“I started off talking to Collies (Collegians) about going there and getting a job as well,” says the 194 cm, 116 kg front rower.

“Then my junior club got involved and it just seemed a perfect fit. For the first year I’ll be captain coach, and then just coach.

“Yes, it looks like I’m going to have to sack myself! I’ll do it kindly. There’s certainly no job security in coaching!”

Ryles’ motivations are not just to keep the football party going another year or two. He believes he can become a top level coach and is willing to start at the very bottom, rather than raise his hand for an NRL assistant’s post.

“I did have a talk with (Melbourne football manager) Frank Ponissi about taking a job at the Storm,” he reveals.

“But we’ve had a little girl and there’s another on the way and Melbourne is a bit far away from our support network in Wollongong.

“We’ve got a house in Towradgi but it’s in such disrepair it might blow over at any minute! But at least we can go back there.”

You don’t captain-coach Illawarra Wests fulltime, of course. Ryles is talking to True Blue Chemicals about a “real job”. “I’ve been pretty lucky, I haven’t really had to do what I would call work,” he says.

“We have days off, time off, and now I’m going to have to get used to going to work in the morning and coming home at night and being exhausted but I’ll manage.

“I think being down here Melbourne has given me a real grounding for a work ethic.”

It’s a matter of starting at the bottom, the former NSW prop says. “I’m finished a player now,” he explains.

“If I want to be a coach, I have to go back and pay my dues and worth my way up. I gotta get a real job because I’ve got a wife and kids. I’m looking forward to all that and to working with young players.”

In the meantime, Ryles hopes that other NRL players will be encouraged to put something back into lower tiers of rugby league when their time is up.

It needn’t be a case of NRL, Super League or oblivion.

“I don’t know why more people don’t do it,” he said. “It’s not for the money – but I hope it does become more common.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

End Of The Road For Ryles Or Buderus

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

FORMER Test and Origin team-mates Jason Ryles and Danny Buderus admit the threat of football oblivion hangs heavily over them going into the second preliminary semi-final at AAMI Park.

One of the pair will walk off late Saturday with his NRL career over following the sudden death clash. Another retiring star whose career dates back to the Super League War, Storm five-eighth Brett Finch, has been declared fit but may not play.

“I was training out there today, thinking it could be my last session,” Buderus, 35, told reporters on match eve.

“But I don’t want to think that way. I’m just very happy to be part of September. It’s a bit of a bonus.”

The hands of time are also moving for Knights veterans Willie Mason and Craig Gower. Utility Gower did not make the trip south after having neck surgery only two weeks ago, while Mason will clock up 250 games. Both plan to play on, however.

“You never know now. It’s sudden death. The Knights are a quality team and if we’re not on our game then it could well be our last game,” said Ryles, 34.

“It’s always in the back of your mind.

“I’ve been thinking of it since my early 20s because you never know when it’s going to end. I’ve been lucky to do something I haven’t called a job, personally.

“It’s something I would have done every week, even if I did have a real job.”

Having missed the 2012 grand final through injury, that spectre is every bit as menacing as retirement for Ryles, who played 12 Tests for Australia

“That’s footy and part of footy is you get injuries and the timing of the injuries is not always ideal,” he said.

Storm head trainer Tony Ayoub told Fairfax Media that Finch, who has battled shoulder and sternum injuries for the past fortnight, had done everything asked of him this week and was available for selection.

But England international Widdop, who last week returned from a dislocated hip, is regarded as favourite to take on the Knights.

Ryles said: “They’ve both trained. They’ve both swapped in and trained with the first team.

“Gaz brings the youth and he’s won a premiership last year. Finchy’s got a lot of experience and he adds another dimension to the team.”

Melbourne are shooting for an eighth consecutive win over Newcastle, who have not made it as far as week three of the finals for 12 years. The Storm have only lost nine of 49 games at AAMI Park.

Buderus, however, spoke glowingly about the input of veteran coach Wayne Bennett to the club’s finals campaign.

“Wayne’s been great in September,” Buderus said. “He’s a completely different coach this time of year. He’s been building towards this. For 18 months he’s been in Newcastle now, instilling a bit of faith and routine into this group. He’s getting the fruits of that now.

“He loves the game, loves the challenge and the competition. We’re feeding off that. He’s our leader and he’s Wayne Bennett, he’s won a lot of premierships. He knows what he’s doing.

“Last year wasn’t a good year for us and it got built up that it probably wasn’t going to be a good year and we fell a bit flat.”

Buderus dismissed suggestions of enmity arising from the last clash between the clubs, after which Bennett accused the Storm of deliberately conceding penalties when under pressure.

“They’re just the ultimate competitors and they just play the game at a level we want to get to,” he said. “I think every team aspires to get as competitive as Melbourne.”

Ryles described his opponents as “battle-hardened footballers”.

Filed for: THE AGE

Ryles To Lock Horns With ‘Bull’ For The Last Time

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

WHEN Jason Ryles and Luke Bailey played junior football together, they thought they’d spend their entire careers in the same front row.

On Saturday evening at AAMI Park, a career that has taken Ryles from Wollongong to Perpignan, Sydney and Melbourne will take it’ penultimate step – and Bailey will be packing down against him.

“When you’re young, you think you’ll always be at the one club,” Ryles, who came through the Illawarra Steelers junior ranks with Bailey, tells Fairfax Media.

“But all these years later, it’s funny how I’m not playing my last regular season comp game and Bails is going to be there in the opposition.

“He was always younger than me so I guess I always thought he’d last a little longer. He was always a bit fitter than me, too!”

Bailey plans to play on at Gold Coast next year while Ryles will return to where it all started when he joins Wollongong Wests as captain-coach.

“I sent him a text of a picture off the TV recently, of a bloke who looked like him,” Ryles, 34, said. “He mustn’t have been impressed – this bloke was bald – but Matt Cooper thought it was hilarious.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Bails at fulltime.”

The Titans have given prop Nate Myles “until kick-off” to prove he has overcome an ankle injury.

“He’s a lot better today,” said John Cartwright.

“He still hasn’t had a run. He’s very honest Nate and if he doesn’t think he can get through the game, then he won’t play. But we will leave that up until kick-off tomorrow. He’s that important to the team, we’ll give him that long.”

And Storm fullback Billy Slater said defence had been a priority at training after last week’s loss to Manly.

“You’d like to be winning this time of year but performing well is probably more important and that, we didn’t do last week,” Slater told reporters.

“We’ve been focusing on defence. Leaking 28 points is obviously not very good, although Manly, they were very good.

“Obviously he’s going through a tough period in his life. It’s up to him and the people around him to get him back on track. I’m sure he would have been enjoying playing football last night.”

NB: Since this story appeared, Melbourne beat Gold Coast 23-22 in golden point time.,

Filed for: THE AGE

The Props Department

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

SOMEWHERE in the bowels of AAMI Park, beyond the carpeted players’ race and below the state-of-the-art gym and plush recovery pools, is a fountain of youth.
You could wander around  down there for hours and not find it. But it’s there – just ask Jason Ryles, Bryan Norrie, Jaiman Lowe and Adam Woolnough.
All of them were ready for retirement when the Storm showed an interest in them – and all of them extended their careers not just as first graders but as leading forwards.
So Rugby League Week sought  to find out what’s so special about the Melbourne Storm, the NRL’s unofficial props department.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a prop at the Melbourne Storm,” says Robbie Kearns, who played, who held up the club’s front row from 1998 to 2005, by way of explanation.
Kearns himself was a fringe first grader when he left Cronulla for the Perth Reds in 1997. He became an international in Perth and a State of Origin regular in Melbourne.
It’s a career trajectory he has not just observed from close quarters since, but helped in his role as props’ coach at the club.
“At some clubs, being a front rower can be complicated,” he says.
“There are a lot of ruck plays. Let’s be fair, there aren’t many front rowers who can go out there and set up plays and do things like that.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy simplifies the role of a prop – but then expects every detail of the job description to be met, or else.
“The job is simple,” says Kearns. “Run as hard as you can with the ball without any sense of self-preservation and win the ruck, get up and play it quickly.
“If you can offload, that’s a bonus. Craig will tell you exactly where and when you should try to do that and where and when you shouldn’t.”
Bellamy also makes it easy – if that’s the word for it – for front rowers in defence. “Because you’re defending at A, B or – at the very widest – C defender, there’s not a lot of space.
“There’re not a lot of decisions to be made. But in defence, your job is to win the tackle, it’s to have good line-speed and it’s to get back into position quickly.
“There are things he wants you to do off the ball as well but, as I said, it’s not rocket science.”
Woolnough retired from rugby league at the end of the 2009 season but made an unlikely comeback with the Storm in 2011.
“I was looking at the stats for a Storm game the other night – for Brisbane, Ben Hannant got well over 100 metres and some Storm players ran for less than 100,” Woolnough says.
“Craig Bellamy wouldn’t be concerned. It’s not about you at the Melbourne Storm. It’s about doing your job for the team. He’s not worried about your stats, how many metres you run,
“It’s the little things that concern him.”
The other factor in why props thrive in Melbourne is summed up by two words: “Cameron” and “Smith”. The Storm, Queensland and Australian captain engages defences from hooker in a way very few others can.
“I was happy to retire at the end of 2011,” says Ryles, “but when the opportunity to come down here came up, it was the chance to play with some of these guys that was the attraction.
“I’ve been lucky, I’ve been well-coached before. I wouldn’t say I was ever confused about my role.
“But someone like Cameron, he seems a good player from a distance but up close he’s even better.”
Kearns stresses that forwards coach David Kidwell is more involved than him, the club’s corporate ambassador compiles a report card on each prop each week and sits through video of games with Ryles, Jesse Bromwich, Siosia Vave, Junior Moors and Bryan Norrie.
“Craig is the most thorough coach I’ve had,” Ryles continues. “He is on top of everything you do, with and without the ball, and doesn’t let you get into bad habits.”
The third reason the fountain of youth is at AAMI Park and not elsewhere? “The pre-season is just ridiculous!” says Woolnough.
Kearns: “We always say: no-one trains harder in the pre-season than the Melbourne Storm
“You look at someone like Bryan Norrie. He was going to play park footy, his NRL career was over. I think he would agree he had not reached his potential at the other clubs he had been to.
“He had trouble with his knees. He had not been able to finish pre-season training at other clubs and had gone into seasons underdone.
“In Melbourne, there was a specialised training program for him. He was able to get the best out of himself and start a season full of beans.
“We don’t just do rehab, we do pre-hab – treating injuries before you have them. Me, I’d rather wait til I get them but I’m old school.”
Some of the props who have left the Storm have struggled to maintain their standards. But the rise of Jesse Bromwich to Test status is proof that it’s not just the old and partially infirm who can benefit from bathing in that hidden fountain.
“You can learn a lot from the game from Craig Bellamy,” says Woolnough. “Not just about running into brick walls all the time.
“Even though, unfortunately, that is what he wants you to do.”

Storm Wary Of Mental Letdown

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE stars have spoken of their fear that that a mental let down after Thursday’s grand final rematch will undo all the good work of their amazing start to the season.

Faced with playing in Leeds, Melbourne (twice) and Townsville in the space of five weeks, the premiers have been in outstanding form with  a hard-fought World Club Challenge win followed by 20-points-plus successes over St George Illawarra and North Queensland.

The tough assignment concludes against Canterbury this Thursday at AAMI Park before a comparatively luxurious eight-day break ahead of the Suncorp Stadium appointment with Brisbane.

“Now’s the easy bit – now’s the time you don’t think about it,” said veteran prop Jason Ryles.

“We’ve got to get to next Thursday night and then we’ve got to be careful – which the sports science department will be and have been.

“It’s a couple of weeks after (that matters). You don’t want to be flat. You’ve got to make sure you rest up.

“That’s the case every week but especially after the Bulldogs game. We’ve had such a tough time with travel and everything.

“It’s an eight-day turnaround so we’ll probably bet a couple of days off to recharge the batteries. It’s both mental and physical.”

Ryles said the absorbing battle on Saturday night between Storm halfback Cooper Cronk and Cowboys five-eighth Johnathan Thurston represented “the two best players in the game going at it.

“It was good that Cooper came out on top because that pretty much means we win.”

Cronk said: “We’re not where we want to be but we’ve got that tough mentality to get us through games.

“We can execute our plays after that. At least the foundation is there. Our defensive game is probably close to where it needs to be.”

Meanwhile, prop Bryan Norrie has played down the club’s suggestions he was unable to play in round one because he had not adjusted from the trip to England sufficiently.

“The medical staff wouldn’t let me play,” he says. “I had a couple of bumps and bruises. I told them I was sweet to play but they had my interests at heart.”

Filed for: LEAGUE WEEK

Don’t Call It A Slump, Says Ryles

Jason Ryles/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE weren’t going as well as we all thought before and aren’t in a slump now, according to veteran prop Jason Ryles

The Storm were out in front of the field by three clear wins after 15 rounds but now find themselves sharing the top rung of the ladder with Canterbury heading into the home straight, facing a dogfight for the minor premiership.

“When we won all those games in a row, it didn’t feel like we’d won a few games in a row,”Ryles, a father for the first time last week, tells RLW.

“We just showed up each week knowing the challenge was going to going to be bigger. We always knew side would lift for us.

“And now people say we’re in slump – I don’t believe there’s a slump. We certainly played a lot better against the Cowboys than we did against the Raiders.

“It’s no excuse but it is a big factor when you have players away on Origin duty and they are the guys who play in your key positions. You can’t train properly without your hooker, halfback and fullback.

“Down here, we don’t really hear what people are saying about us unless we get on the internet. So while what people say about us might change, our approach doesn’t.”

Coach Craig Bellamy said Saturday night’s performance marked “an improvement in our attitude and an improvement in our attack – we were still a little bit rusty with our defence.

“It was a lot better than we’ve played the last three or four weeks.

“While everyone is saying we’re in a slump or whatever, I don’t know if you’d call it a slump. We’re certainly not playing as well as we can.

“Three weeks ago or three months ago (we didn’t think of) the minor premiership. It’s a nice thing if you can get it but at the end of the day you’re just trying to position yourself as best you can for the semi-finals.

“We certainly don’t have that leeway now but if we didn’t have that leeway back then, we’d be struggling now to stay in touch with the top eight.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK