THE JOY OF SIX: Round 26

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
CHANGES COULD END IN TIERS
THREE games on the final day of the regular season exposed an unintended benefit of the second tier salary cap and an unforseen danger of changing it without careful consideration. With the finals spots assured, Cronulla and Manly fielded somewhat under strength sides but still put up a fight and provided fans and broadcasters with credible entertainment. Some 16,949 km away, Super League minor premiers Huddersfield rested almost their entire side and were lapped 58-6 by Bradfordon national television. The only thing stopping the same happening here is the second tier salary cap, which limits the number of players outside each club’s top 25 who can appear in first grade. “That’s right – I definitely thought about leaving out more,” Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan told Joy Of Six. “We don’t have a problem with our second tier cap but if there was none, you’d consider resting them all.”

DE JA VU, RUGBY A XIII
RUGBY league just can’t help but go around in circles. In 2005, when 41,260 saw St George Illawarra play Wests Tigers in a preliminary final the Sydney Football Stadium, the outcry over the number of fans locked out led to a policy change which introduced greater flexibility into the scheduling of play-offs. That flexibility was gradually extended to the point where the NRL now has complete control over which Sydney venues are used for which matches. The downside of that is that venues can’t be booked in advance. This opens the door to the AFL getting in first, and that has resulted in a double header at Allianz Stadium this Saturday, back where it all started. And what will be the main criticism of the double header? That fans are locked out. Will we then see a call for finals venues to be booked further in advance?

GOLDEN POINT TARNISHED
THE chattering opposition to golden point is becoming a roar with even Australia captain Cameron Smith joining in after Melbourne’s narrow escape against Gold Coast. “It’s got no rules, there’re no rules in golden point,” said Gold Coast coach John Cartwright. “It’s good for the crowd, the fans, they cheer. But one of the field goal attempts Aiden Sezer went for, Cameron Smith was five metres offside. I understand they don’t want to give a penalty because we were doing the same thing. But does that make it good for the game? ‘Cause it doesn’t. It comes down to a lottery”. As for the try Sezer had disallowed, Gird Bird yesterday put a screen grab on Instagram which showed Ben Ridge not touching the ball as he tackled Billy Slater. Cartwright mused: “They’ll find a way to say they got it right and pat themselves on the back but they got that one wrong.”

TAYLOR MADE TO DO MORE
GOLD Coast giant David Taylor has become such an enigma that friends and foes have discarded the standard diplomacy in describing the mind-blowing extent of his unrealised potential. “He could play like that every week if he wanted to but it comes down to him, whether he wants to do it,” said Cameron Smith after a fearsome DT outing on Saturday. “Hopefully he looks at that game that he played tonight and says ‘why don’t I do that every week?’ He’s a Queenslander, so hopefully he does.” John Cartwright said now that Taylor’s switch was in the ‘on’ position, the trick was to keep it there. “It is pretty simple – as long as Dave don’t complicate things … his last two weeks, he’s been unstoppable,” the coach said. “Where that’s been all year? We’re not the only club where he’s struggled for consistency. We think there’s a player there who can win us games of football. We won’t give up on him, we’ll keep working on him.”

KING ABDICATES

EVEN if North Queensland wins the comp, coach Neil Henry says there’s no hope of him sticking around. The Cowboys are undefeated in six games since Henry was sacked, with the calls for the club to reconsider growing steadily louder. “I think it’s off the table,” Henry said on the ABC yesterday. “I think they’ve canvassed a number of potential coaches … they’ve shortlisted it down for further interviews. I’m down the track with possibilities for me. We’re just getting on with the season. I’, pretty resigned to the fact. I’ve had a lot of support up here.” Henry says the Cowboys will find it difficult to omit prop Matt Scott (finger) next week.

JOINING THE FOURTH ESTATE
A REALLY interesting trend in rugby league is players who have had occasionally prickly relationships with the media seeking to become journalists. Jamie Soward wants to be involved in general sports broadcasting when he retires, Jamal Idris is studying journalism and retiring Scott Prince revealed on Thursday night he was about to commence a Sports PR course at university. All three eemed willing to foster good relationships with reporters early in their careers but somewhere along the line became aggrieved. With Soward it was criticism over his form, with Idris it was unflattering pictures in newspapers and with Prince it was the Titans salary cap scandal. Perhaps their personal interest in the media makes them more aware of criticism. Maybe they want to change the system from within.\

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

NRL round 26: MELBOURNE 23 GOLD COAST 22 at AAMI Park in golden point time

By STEVE MASCORD

COACH John Cartwright said a highly contentions video refereeing decision had cost Gold Coast their season as calls to scrap golden point time extended even to Australia captain Cameron Smith.

The 2013 NRL regular season concluded with officiating drama when Titans five-eighth Aiden Sezer snatched up a wayward Billy Slater pass to score what he though was a match-levelling try with eight minutes to go in what was a sudden death game for Cartwright’s side.

But even though on-field official Shayne Hayne thought it was a try, that view was overturned by video referees Justin Morgan and Chris Ward, who ruled defender Ben Ridge had touched the Steeden as he tackled Slater.

Replays cast significant doubt on that decision and Ridge told Fairfax Media: “I don’t think I (touched it), I didn’t feel it. I went for Billy and it popped out. That was a turning point, that one.”

Asked about the call, a distraught Cartwright said: “It just cost us our season, didn’t it?

“I’m not a wealthy man, I’m not going to sit here and …. How he came up with the decision, I don’t know, I really don’t know.

“The refs on the field were shocked, the whole crowd were shocked.

“I’m emotionally drained. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve never felt like this, I don’t think, ever.”

Captain Greg Bird said Ridge “blatantly didn’t touch the ball, you could see he didn’t touch the ball Melbourne players on the field at fulltime, they knew he didn’t touch the ball. There must have been a secret camera angle.”

While Cartwright was wary of being fined $10,000 for criticising referees, he didn’t hold back when asked about the entire concept of golden point time.

“Get rid of it, it’s a sham. The defence from both sides were offside for the last eight minutes, or whatever it went for. It’s a lottery.”

Sezer agreed, saying: “The rules should be changed, we’re just going for field goals. It’s probably not good for the crowd, not good for the players.”

And Smith, whose side is set to go into the finals without a recognised five-eighth after a shoulder injury to Brett Finch, said he wasn’t a fan.

“If you can’t get a result out of 80 minutes, you should be happy with a draw,” said Smith. “Before that rule was brought in, how many years were we playing the game where we had draws?

“That rule has been brought in for the fans, which is fair enough, but you have to look at it from a player’s point of view.”

Despite the disallowed try, Gold Coast still managed to send the game into overtime after an intriguing confrontation between Origin rivals Billy Slater (Melbourne) and Greg Bird (Gold Coast).

With his side leading by six and just three minutes remaining, Slater retaliated while his team was in possession after being tackled heavily by Bird while held by another Titan.

Dave Taylor, outstanding all night, put winger Anthony Don over and Sezer converted. The deadlock lasted well into the second period of overtime, when Cooper Cronk landed a one-pointer from about 30 metres out.

“It’s about time I kicked one – looks like I’ll have to do some practice,” said Cronk. “These big games, you have to land the chances. I’m pretty disappointed in myself that I didn’t get two or three or four before that.

“We weren’t Melbourne Storm-like for the 80 minutes. We’re only one good training session away from being back in form.”

Melbourne’s Kenny Bromwich was involved in a cannonball-style tackle on Mark Ioane in the final quarter of the match which could attract the interest of the match review committee.

Gold Coast led 16-12 at halftime with Taylor almost unstoppable after replacing the injured Nate Myles in Cartwright’s starting side.

“Dave Taylor can play like that every week,” said Smith, “it’s up to him.”

Slater’s try double brought his total in the last five matches against Gold Coast to nine.

Titans replacement hooker Matt Srama suffered a dislocated shoulder after only about four minutes on the field and is unlikely to play post-season internationals for the Philippines.

MELBOURNE 23 (B Slater 2 S Waqa W Chambers tries C Smith 3 goals C Cronk field goal) bt GOLD COAST 22 (D Taylor Takairangi A Don tries A Sezer 5 goals) at AAMI Park. Referees: S Hayne/G Morris. Crowd: 13,826.


Filed for: SUN-HERALD

Gareth Widdop’s 2013 Is Over

By STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE and England five-eighth Gareth Widdop is out for the rest of the NRL season and the World Cup.

“And that’s a best case scenario,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy said late Monday after the 24 year old suffered an horrific dislocated hip the 18-12 loss to Gold Coast at Skilled Park, the world champs’ third loss of the season.

“I’m shattered for him that that’s going to be the end of his career with the Melbourne Storm.

“I just spoke to the doctor … they are not really sure how long it will take him to recover.”

England coach Steve McNamara visited the Storm dressingroom at fulltime but by then Widdop was already at nearby Robina Hospital, where McNamara will visit him tomorrow.

The St George Illawarra-bound playmaker was pushing hard for a starting berth in the World Cup after playing a bench role in the 2011 Four Nations and missing the 2012 Autumn Internationals through injury.

He punched the ground in agony after being tackled by Ryan James and Albert Kelly. As he was carried off he was seen clutching at trainers for comfort and was attended to by both club doctors before being loaded onto an ambulance.

Bellamy said: “He’s in a lot of pain. Hopefully it’s a clean dislocation and no fractures. The boys are really feeling for him at the moment.”

Despite losing Widdop in the 51st minute and being without key men Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater through Origin duty, debutant Ben Hampton’s second try narrowed the margin to two with 17 minutes remaining.

Titan Luke O’Dwyer’s final try was marred by the muffed conversion attempt which ended a run of 28 consecutive goals. “I don’t know what happened there,” a frustrated Sezer said.

Titans centre Brad Takairangi was forced off with a rib injury around the time Widdop departed. “It’s a rib cartilage, it will take a couple of days to assess it,” said coach John Cartwright.

Bellamy paid tribute to the Hampton for his toughness as much as his flair in posting a brace.

“He’s only a small kid but he’s tough,” said Bellamy. “He could have stayed down there a couple of times. They got stuck into him.

“We probably expected that and he expected that, being a small guy and it being his first grade debut. Jamal (Idris) took a bit of a liking to him early and (Dave) Taylor got stuck into him once.

“He got a couple around the head but he didn’t lay down. We don’t want our players laying down to get penalties.

“I reckon, three or four times, he could have stayed down to get penalties but he got up and played the ball so I was real proud of his effort there tonight.”

Bellamy said his side should have been more organised in their kicking game and “should have been more dangerous”.

“But their effort out there was good – all of them,” he said.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Stuart Still Fuming Over Standard Of Refereeing

NSW - Ricky StuartBy STEVE MASCORD

DEFIANT Ricky Stuart says he hasn’t changed his mind on the standard of refereeing since being fined $10,000 for his famous Skilled Park rant a month ago.

The Parramatta coach was furious over a number of calls in Saturday night’s 19-18 win over Brisbane, not least the decision to send Eels replacement Mitchell Allgood to the sin bin after he copped two direct blows to the head by rival Josh McGuire.

Stuart says the frustration he expressed on April 14 is now widespread

“I’ve got to say, from what I said on the Gold Coast, my opinion has not changed,” Stuart tells Rugby League Week.

“I’ve got to be careful why I say but Daniel Anderson and his referees have not got any better.

“You get Mitchell Allgood who is punched twice in the head – I don’t know anyone who would cop that and wouldn’t defend themselves. How does he get sent to the sin bin?

“It’s not just me – many other coaches are getting very frustrated at things that are happening out there … frustrated and confused.

“They fined me but I haven’t changed my mind at all.”

Stuart’s use of the word “unfair” and contention that clubs lower down the competition table were treated differently resulted in a sanction for bringing the game into disrepute. It was found that he was accusing match officials of pre-judging teams, which is an attack on their integrity.

But the Rugby League Week poll found that most players agreed with Stuart. Asked “do lesser clubs cop a rough deal from refs?”, 54 per cent answered yes.

“What do we do about it? I’m stuffed if I know. It’s not my job,” Stuart said.

Another winning coach on the weekend, Gold Coast’s John Cartwright, was furious with the match officials.

While St George Illawarra coach Steve Price identified three distinct calls which went against his men in the 15-14 loss, Cartwright was so furious at a disallowed try to fullback William Zillman that the coaches box couldn’t contain his anger.

Cartwright roared: “We could have lost today’s game – and ‘the Titans are struggling again’. Bullshit!

”I was that ropeable, I couldn’t talk. I had to get out of that box I was ropeable – and I still am now, as you can probably tell.

”It would have been a tragedy if we lost that game, it just wouldn’t have been right.”

Like Stuart, Cartwright contended his team was from “a small club” and that refereeing errors are not highlighted as much as they are for glamour teams.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

NRL round nine: GOLD COAST 15 ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 14 at Skilled Park

By STEVE MASCORD

GOLD Coast coach John Cartwright, self-described as “ropable”, demanded a show of hands from reporters during a tumultuous aftermath to the one-point victory over St George Illawarra.

After a relatively positive opening to the season, NRL match officials find themselves firmly in the crosshairs this week with the Titans and Dragons each aggrieved over at least five incidents at Skilled Park.

At the scene of Ricky Stuart’s Rant For The Ages a month ago, Cartwright said he was so furious over the decision to deny fullback William Zillman a 59th minute try – because Greg Bird stopped in the defensive line – that he had to leave the coach’s box.

“Put your hand up here if you thought Zillman’s was a try,” Cartwright, hitting the table as he spoke, asked reporters in the same room that Parramatta’s Stuart earned a $10,000 fine.

“I’ve got no problem with referees making errors – they’re always going to do it. But when they sit there and watch it 10 times and still get it wrong – and you can see my blood boiling now – that’s when I get cranky.

“They’re supposed to be ex-footballers and they still get it wrong. Get it right.

“The try was scored because Tyson Frizell made a bad decision. Anyone who has watched a game of football will know that. ”

Cartwight said referees admitted a try to Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson last week should not have been awarded against the Titans.. “We’re the Gold Coast, we’re a low profile team. If it was South Sydney or someone else, it would be front page of the paper.

“It cost us the game, we got beaten by a point. We could have lost today’s game – and ‘the Titans are struggling again’. Bullshit!

“I was that ropeable, I couldn’t talk. I had to get out of that box I was that ropeable – and I still am now, as you can probably tell.

“It would have been a tragedy if we lost that game, it just wouldn’t have been right.”

After a match decided by an Aiden Sezer 67th minute field goal, Cartwright’s rival Steve Price was no less upset with officiating. Cartwright’s chief complaint was the Zillman decision and an earlier Sam Irwin try which was chalked off by eyes in the sky, Luke Phillips and Neil Warton.

Price’s complaints after a 12-6 penalty count against his side were:

· Five-eighth Nathan Fien penalised for diving into the ruck from marker in the 31st minute;

· Titan Dave Taylor taking an intercept from a seemingly off-side position while defending his own line, midway through the second half (“If you want to penalise someone for being offside on their tryline,” said Cartwright, “you’ll get one every single set of six”);

· Titans defenders harassing five-eighth Jamie Soward from an off-side position when he attempted to tie the scores with a field goal in the 80TH minute.

“It’s a tough, tough loss to take, that one,” said Price, who believed a refereeing error cost his side the Monday Night Football game against Manly last week

“We had them on the tryline, a pass goes 15 metres backwards and Dave Taylor intercepts.

“Nathan Fien … Johnathan Thurston does one of them on Friday night.

“We have a chance to draw the game there and I’ll leave it up to you guys to see if they were offside or not.

“You’ve got to ref at the end of the game the same as you do at the start. It’s something I’ll have to take up with Daniel (Anderson) and Russell Smith … they were clearly offside.”

With impressive debutant Adam Quinlan in for new recruit Josh Dugan, who was given another week to get some condition, the Dragons got off to a good start when the youngster put Daniel Vidot over.

Fullback Zillman backed up David Mead to score in the 17th minute and Jason Nightingale successfully chased Nathan Fien’s kick on the half-hour, with the scores 8-8 for the break.

Soward edged the joint venture ahead by kicking for Nightingale to dot down in the 51st minute, and after disallowed tries to Irwin (double movement) and Zillman (obstruction), the home side lifted visibly with Zillman rewarded with another try which Sezer converted to tie the scores.

Dragon Dan Hunt is on report for a 69th minute challenge on Greg Bird

GOLD COAST 15 (W Zillman 2 tries A Sezer 3 goals field goal) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 14 (J Nightingale 2 D Vidot tries J Soward goal) at Skilled Park. Referees: S Hayne/G Sutton. Crowd: 12,117.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE WRAP: NRL Round Four

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
THE day after he wrote an entire newspaper column about the subject, Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart admitted: “the obstruction rule will be probably be fixed before us”.
To be fair, Stuart was sporting a wry smile when he made the statement. But his side had just been lapped 50-0 by Sydney Roosters and, judging by comments from NRL referees coach Daniel Anderson, the rule interpretation everyone is talking about will be addressed after the representative weekend on April 19-21.
Chances are, the Eels will still be struggling then.
“I took the job on and I knew it was probably going to be a mountain of a job,” said Stuart, as part of his chat with radio station Triple M late on Monday.
“It’s going to be. It’s going take a number of seasons to get this right. I feel sorry for our supporters. We can all think we should be doing this and should be doing that and winning.
“But there’s evidence there tonight that we haven’t got a roster that’s up to a lot of the rosters. It’s going to be a tough year and I said that at the start of the year.”
Over the first month of the NRL season, there has also been evidence that some squads are simply much stronger than others. The overall salary cap increase from $4.4 million to $5.85 million (including a hike in the marquee player allowance) has allowed powerful clubs to hold onto big names and forced struggling teams to play “overs” for mid-range players.
St George Illawarra (25-12 over Cronulla on Saturday) and the Warriors (20-18 over North Queensland on Monday) secured their first wins in round four – which means we still have far fewer stragglers than most other professional sporting competitions worldwide.
“There’s a couple of standout sides and the rest are trying to chase them and catch them and stick with them,” says Gold Coast coach John Cartwright.
And there is little to suggest perceived inequalities had any detrimental effect on attendances, given the bumper Easter weekend with crowds of 51,686, 40,071 and 20130 after a somewhat sluggish opening month.
The resurgence in live interest is perfectly timed in that the Bulldogs take on Manly and Gold Coast hosts Brisbane this Friday – two fixtures bound to attract bumper crowds.
“It’s a genuine local derby and I think there is a dislike there between Brisbane and Gold Coast people,” says Cartwright.
Co-captain Greg Bird added: “I come from Cronulla and there was a big brother-little brother thing with St George. I think it’s the same thing.”
While success and entertainment are seen as the most important commodities being chased by spectators, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has identified a third: security.
Robinson, who followed Cronulla as a kid, believes fans want to be able to trust their team not to concede a try while they’re at the bar or toilet – and it’s something his men were able to give 18,014 raucous Rooster boosters on Monday.
“Fans want to see some exciting attack but they also want to be proud of their team and they want to see them defend well and feel safe with the way they defend and the pressure they put on teams,” Robinson says.

read on

NRL round 23: GOLD COAST 24 PARRAMATTA 16 at Skilled Park

By STEVE MASCORD

DEPARTING Parramatta caretaker coach Brad Arthur last night said the current rule interpretation on obstructions was wrong and warned the issue would cause major dramas during the finals.

Gold Coast was awarded the second contentious try of the weekend under the rule during a 24-16 win at Skilled Park, which also featured a disallowed touchdown which its would-be scorer, FuiFui MoiMoi, claimed was “100 per cent a try”.

The headline grabbing decision to give Canterbury’s Johnathan Wright a try against Wests Tigers after an apparent obstruction on Friday was seized upon when Titan Ashley Harrison ran behind team-mate Luke O’Dwyer in the 59th minute before putting over centre Steve Michaels.

“It’s the same try as Friday night!” Gold Coast captain Scott Prince shouted while video referee Rod Lawrence mulled over a decision. “I didn’t see Friday night,” on-field official Steve Lyons deadpanned, “who played?”

The touchdown was given and Arthur – unwanted by incoming Ricky Stuart next year – said little about the issue at the post-match media conference. But when asked later by the Herald if more teams would run plays that were once illegal as a result of the rulings, he said: “We will be.

“Look, I don’t know if anyone will go down that path but you would hate to see a semi-final decide by that. In a game like today, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make a difference for us.

“But it could make a difference to a semi-final team or a game in the semi-finals.

“Are you allowed to run behind your player and score a try? We definitely need to get an answer of what the ruling is. It’s not just today’s game, it’s every club, right across the game. There needs to be a rule we can all work off.”

Titans coach John Cartwright disagreed with his captain’s on-field statement that the Michaels and Wright tries were “the same”. “I think that one today was totally different … the one the other night was no try,” Cartwright said. “Commonsense says it was no try. I don’t think I’m being biased in saying today was a try.”

Prince said: “I had a view on what an obstruction rule was. The other night with the Doggies-Tigers game, it certainly changed my (opinion).

“It’s more confusing for the punters at home who watch. Now it’s even confusing for the players and coaches.”

There was actually confusion over two rules at the post-match media conference yesterday. Nathan Hindmarsh was unsure of the implications of new guidelines restricting comment about the performances of match officials.

“Does anyone know what the rule is these days …. can I say that?” said Hindmarsh, when asked about the obstruction furore. “I’m allowed to say that? I’m not going to get fined or anything?”

Just a few seconds after Parramatta’s Cheyse Blair went up for a kick that should have brought him a try – until he failed to take the ball cleanly – fullback William Zillman charged only a lovely pass from Matt Srama to score.

Titan Matt White dived on another ball lolling dangerously close to his own tryline in the 26th minute and soon afterwards, prop Nate Myles charged through a yawning gap for his side’s second touchdown. The scoreboard clicked over to 14-0 with a penalty goal and that looked like being the halftime ledger until quick hands put Luke Burt over in the final seconds of the period.

The Eels narrowed the margin to four with Chris Sandow’s try off a MoiMoi pass in the 54th minute – before Michaels touchdown dead-batted their revival. “We definitely had the momentum,” Arthur reflected, “but we made the error to hand them the ball.”

The Titans extended their lead via Kevin Gordon (64 mins) before MoiMoi was ruled to have lost the ball over the line. “The way I was carrying it, it looked like it came out,” MoimOi told the Herald. “But I got it down, it was 100 per cent a try.”

When the next Eels try came  – after great lead-up from Ken Sio to put Taniela Lasalo over – it was far too late.

There was a bizarre start to the second half with the Titans fielding only 12 men – without Ashley Harrison – and defying the referees’ instructions to kick off. “I think Harro was having a dump,” said Prince. “Nah, he  had a toe issue. He was getting his toe strapped.”

Hindmarsh repeated earlier comments about not caring if his career finished with a wooden spoon. Sandow was reported for a high tackle on Zillman.

GOLD COAST 24 (W Zillman N Myles S Michaels K Gordon tries S Prince 4 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 16 (L Burt C Sandow T Lasalo tries L Burt 2 goals) at Skilled Park. Referees: G Sutton/S Lyons. Crowd: 14,159.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Final team lists:

TITANS: William Zillman; Kevin Gordon, Jamal Idris, Steve Michaels, David Mead; Aiden Sezer, Scott Prince; Ashley Harrison, Ben Ridge, Greg Bird, Luke Douglas, Matt Srama, Nate Myles. Res: Matt White, Mark Minichiello, Luke O’Dwyer, Beau Falloon.

PARRAMATTA: Jake Mullaney; Luke Burt, Ryan Morgan, Cheyse Blair, Ken Sio; Ben Roberts, Chris Sandow; Reni Maitua, Justin Horo, Nathan Hindmarsh (c), FuiFui MoiMoi, Nathan Smith, Tim Mannah. Res: Joseph Paulo, Taulima Tautai, Justin Poore, Taniela Lasalo.

Referees: Gerard Sutton/Steve Lyons.

Toyota Cup: Gold Coast 34 Parramatta 32