BONDI BEAT: April 2016

By STEVE MASCORDRLW April 2016

THE clubs may not like it but do we now have enough English players in the NRL to revive a mid-season Test?

There is absolutely no reason why the Kiwis should not play while Origin is on, aside from the fact clubs would declare war if they had to stand down their New Zealanders along with their Maroons and Blues.

Even without the stand-down, though, the Test could be played on a Friday in the May split round.

The problem in the past has been opposition. But there is now enough Englishmen to need only a handful of others to take the long flight Down Under.

Of course, there is ideological issue of handing out England shirts to people who may not have earned it yet.

But as colleague Brad Walter pointed out to me after we watched Sam Burgess’ competitive return in round one, you could have a Great Britain selection that includes Ireland’s Tyrone McCarthy and any number of Scotland ‘heritage players’ such as Kane Linnett and Lachlan Coote.

What do you think?

WHAT about ‘The Bunker’, then?

Firstly, it looks like nothing so much as Mission Control at Cape Canaveral. It’s a real shame Chris Houston has left for Super League as I’d love to hear them say “we have a problem, Houston”.

I am someone who is extremely cynical about adding more apparatuses to officiating when you are always going to get human error.

But having said all that, I like what I’ve seen so far. It’s an improvement. And it puts the NRL even further ahead of Super League.

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MANY readers will be of the opinion that sport’s borders are set in stone and expansionary efforts by rugby league are bound to fail.

Upon my return to Oz, I saw a convincing rebuttal of that argument in the UFC. Walking to Allianz Stadum for South Sydney-Sydney Roosters, I overheard a lad being told he was looking forward to having a few friends around for a fight from Las Vegas.

No mention of the 108-year-old derby taking place up the road.

In the UK, darts provide us with an example of a sport that can grow its market share and cultural relevance.

Sadly we don’t seem to have a united strategy at all – or if we do, we don’t have the resources to even consider putting it into practice.

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IN Australia there is a thing in television sports coverage called “fair use provisions”.

This means that any website or television station can post highlights from any sporting event, whether on not they have the rights.

So while the BBC, for instance, will have still photos of soccer matches they do not have rights to, in Oz they would be allowed by law to show video from those games.

That’s why Australian newspapers declined accreditation for the last rugby union World Cup – because the IRB wanted them to sign away those rights. So the reporters just bought tickets and interviewed players at their hotels.

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What it means in a practical sense for rugby league is that when Chris Sandow kicked that amazing drop goal against Salford, the footage was all over Aussie sites within hours.

One suspects Super League would prefer the fair use provisions were introduced in the UK – the one-pointer on the hooter was a great advert for our game.

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It’s probably the best rugby league story in the world and it’s going unwritten.

Belgian officials brought some Brussels City Council officials to the World Club Challenge on February 21 and they were so impressed with the sport that are going to sink further resources into promoting it.

Where?

In Molenbeek, a hive of extremist activity and a place where police centred their manhunt after the Paris attacks.

Rugby league has a wonderful record in underprivileged areas of channelling aggression more positively.

I’m hoping to visit Brussels this year to chase up this story.

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THE round one NRL clash between Wests Tigers and the Warriors was dubbed the Ivan Cleary Cup by one cynic – because he’d be coaching whoever lost.

True to their form in recent seasons, it was the Aucklanders who fell a long way behind. Fought back, but still lost.

Cleary may not have a steady coaching income at the moment but he’s holding the whip hand when it comes to his future employment prospects.

It wouldn’t surprise if Hull KR sounded him out after sacking Chris Chester; even if Cleary went back to the NRL next year he could probably do some good things in East Hull in 2016.

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WHILE Super League continues with one referee, Down Under we have two in a competition which is planned to be scrapped!

Two referees are in use for televised Under 20s matches and all finals. In round one, because there was only one of these, they threw two whistlers at the Sydney Roosters-South Sydney Holden Cup match, just for practice.

amazonYet this is the last year of the National Youth Competition, which revert to state-based league next year. The NRL still has enough referees to field two in the matches.

Now when we compare this to England … well, lets start with televised under 20s matches and work backwards from there.

And the editor had the hide to ask for 500 words on the biggest differences between rugby league in Australia and in the UK. I could have written 50,000.

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GREG Inglis walked out of the dressing room at Allianz Stadium in round one with his eye on the prize – the fading sunlight at the end of the tunnel.

GI had already done a media conference and studiously avoided meeting the eyes of any of the waiting media.

Then a young Channel Nine reporter stopped him and directly requested a chat. He stopped, considered the request and eventually agreed.

donate2During those moments when he was giving serious thought to denying the cub reporter, I’d like to think he was considering his Queensland and Australian team-mate Jonathan Thurston.

Thurston has set such a high standard of accessibility over the past 12 months that he has almost shamed his colleagues into arresting the sad decline in co-operation with the media throughout the NRL.

He’s even allowed himself to be photographed at home and while in the UK recently did everything of which he was asked – and more.

JT knows that being in Townsville doesn’t help him when it comes to maintaining his profile and that he needs to go an extra yard to ensure his maximises his post-career employment prospects.

Throw in his game-day interaction with kids and he’s setting a high standard for everyone else.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

DISCORD 2013: Edition 47

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
YOUR correspondent has a tough decision to make before Christmas – how to vote in the Golden Boot poll.
The nominees for that gong that goes to the best player in the world have been released today: Johnathan Thurston, Sonny Bill Williams, Danny Brough, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Sam Burgess.

It seems like a pretty good list to me. Thurston was man of the match in the World Cup final, Williams was RLIF Player of the Year, Brough won Man of Steel, Cronk got the Dally M, Smith and Burgess were consistently outstanding.

I’d be interested – and maybe even swayed – by your comments over who should get it. I won’t say mine will be a “vote for the people” but I’ll listen. Personally, at this early stage, I’m leaning towards Thurston – even though he was on my bench in the Team Of The World Cup which was published in the final match programme.

Thurston was rested during the tournament while the United States Joseph Paulo played every game and played well. That is not a contention that Paulo is a better player. To me, the spirit of such teams is that you don’t take into account the quality of the opposition, you just look at performances.

In fact, that’s the spirit of the whole World Cup, why it’s not just about who won. Anyway, let me know who you think should win the Golden Boot.
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AUSTRALIA were unbelievably ruthless last Saturday but anyone labelling the performance the ‘most complete in memory’ has a short memory.
In the 2004 Tri-Nations final at Elland Road, Australia led 38-0 at halftime on the way to a 44-4 win. The Great Britain side they beat had been widely tipped to give them a run – they finished top of the competition table – and there had even been injury and illness concerns for the Australians before kick-off.

But the Aussies played football as close to perfect as any this reporter has ever seen in the opening 40 minutes.
We ran into Shane Webcke – who played in the game – on the way out of Old Trafford on Saturday and checked that our memories were not deceiving us. He said that while the Aussies had been great on Saturday, the 2004 performance was something else again.

“And I am the one who came closest to making a mistake in that first half,” he said.
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WIGAN coach Shaun Wane knows Super League clubs can’t compete with the NRL or rugby union financially – so he tries to reward them with life experiences.
That’s why the Super League champions are looking at playing PNG in Kopoko on February 15. The proposal to play the Warriors in Auckland is back on the table, I understand – just a couple of days before the Nines.

That would make for a fantastic week of rugby league in the City of Sails but the problem is that Matt Elliott’s side has pledged it will field its best side and the Nines and Wigan don’t want to play against second stringers.
If the game against PNG – which will be their last warm-up before joining the Queensland Cup – is played, I’ll be going to a little place called Kokopo, not Eden Park.
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OK, a few comments now.

read on

THE JOY OF SIX: International Season week six

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
1. SIMPLY THE BEST?
FORMER NSW Origin forward and founding Brisbane Bronco Terry Matterson says the current Australian team could be the best in his quarter-century involvement in the game at the top level. Matterson, who made his first grade debut for he Roosters in 1986, was in awe of the green-and-golds’ firepower in dispatching his US Tomahawks 62-0 at the weekend. “I think this team’s got an opportunity to be the best, no doubt about that,” Matterson told Joy Of Six. “You have a look through the elite players, the players that may be called Immortals at the end of their career … to have someone like Daly Cherry Evans coming off the bench, he couldn’t get in the side, Josh Papalii – wow. I’m really looking forward to the next two games because that New Zealand side is pretty special too. The challenge from the opposition has never been greater than it is at the moment.”
2. BILLY, DO BE A HERO
AUSTRALIA coach Tim Sheens said he’ll give Billy Slater ‘until the last minute’ to prove his fitness for the World Cup final at Old Trafford on November 30. It may appear that the tournament favourites have the fullback position well covered with Greg Inglis moving there but Slater was named man of the tournament at the last World Cup and will be given due leeway if his knee injury is touch-and-go. “You’d always wait until the last minute, I think,” said Sheens. “How he recovers in the next few days will give us some sort of idea.” Brett Morris may prefer playing with brother Josh for sentimental reasons but with eight tries between him and centre Jarryd Hayne, nothing is changing on the right side. “I’ve always thought Jarryd could be a right centre,” Sheens said. Neither player knew that a fifth try would set a new Australian Test record, the coach revealed. “Where’s (stats whiz) David Middleton? I saw him here somewhere. He should have told us.”
3. RUBEN WIKILEAKS
THERE’S sports memorabilia and then there’s … a rugby league ball signed by Julian Assange. That was the curio being raffled outside the Racecourse Ground before the Australia-US semi-final by activists who were also brandishing banners that read “Free Bradley Manning”. The reasons the group travelled to Wrexham were manyfold – Manning has family connections in Wales, Assange is Australian and of course his would-be persecutors are American. But it gets weirder. Intermediaries are attempting to arrange a meeting at the Ecudorian Embassy in London between Assange and … wait for it …Johnathan Thurston. News of the bizarre overtures were carried in Rugby League Week. Thurston has been chosen as a representative of the indigenous community, Assange’s Iceland-based publicist has a contact number for the Australian camp but last time we heard, the call had not yet been made.
4. NICE TO THE KIWIS/THE KIWIS TO NICE
IF New Zealand successfully defend the World Cup, it will be Nice. That is, the glamorous French reviera city will be have played a large role in the result, according to players. Not only have the Kiwis spare no expense on their support team, transport and technology for the tournament but after their big win over France on November 1, they were treated to an all-expenses-paid holiday in Nice. “We got away from footy but I think the main part was getting together and bonding,” said winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who scored twice in the 40-4 win over Scotland on Friday. Tuivasa-Sheck was outstanding on Friday but reckoned he was “surprised” to be chosen ahead of Jason Nightingale. With Manu Vatuvei suffering a groin injury, Nightingale could be back this Saturday against England.
5. VETERANS DAY
TWO men with pretty decent NRL careers behind them hung up their boots on Saturday, with Matt Petersen playing his last game in the US’s loss to Australia and Clint Greenshields calling it a day following France’s defeat to England. “I spoke to the Cowboys about staying there and the option was there,” said Greenshields, 31. “In the end, I wanted to finish up while the body was still feeling good. I started a business with my partner and it’s started to kick off. It’s the ’82 babies, turning 31, the body starts to tell you.” He rates playing in the 2007 Challenge Cup final as a career highlight. As for next Saturday’s events at Wembley, and having seen New Zealand and England up close, Greenshields says: “I don’t think too many sides are going to get close to the Kiwis. They’re the biggest side I’ve ever seen.”
6. INTERNATIONAL RESCUE?
NOW there are only four sides left in the World Cup, the inevitable question arises for the rest: where to now? Details of international matches up to the 2017 tournament remain sketchy and there is a concern on the part of players – as much as fans and coaches – that many of the national teams will not assemble at all for another four years, leading amongst other ills to skewed world rankings affecting the draw for the next RLWC. There are, of course, rumours. Samoa or Fiji to compete in next year’s Four Nations. The United States to tour France next October. Fiji to play Cook Islands in Australia mid-season 2014. American players seem to think they have already qualified for the next World Cup by making the quarter-finals in this one, although it’s not clear why they think this.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

BONDI BEAT: September 2013

September 2013By STEVE MASCORD
THE big debate in Australia at the moment is on how the State of Origin juggernaut is completely overshadowing, and causing serious damage to, the NRL.
Attendance figures at club games have plummeted over the six weeks that the interstate series occupies and a week or two either side of it, when we have split rounds
Bondi Beat talks about scheduling far more than we should. You’ve already read here about we would like to have the Origin games played on weekends and internationals built around those weekends, with players returning to their homelands as happens in soccer.
The big stumbling block is that the Australian game has already accepted at total of $1.025 billion in television rights money from a free-to-air operation and a pay operator.
The pay operator, Fox Sports, wants club games each weekend. The free-to-air company, Channel Nine, wants to keep Origin on Wednesday night where it has a captive audience and can attract premium advertising dollars.
Bondi Beat has been told the current set-up was “driven” by the NRL, so they’re unlikely to push for a change. And the current TV deal doesn’t expire for four more years….
Now, one of the suggestions thrown up is to give Fox and Nine a DIFFERENT club competition during Origin. Sure, some players will be missing but it won’t interfere with the premiership and will hopefully attract fans with a novelty factor that is sorely missing at this point.
This week’s column comes to you from Jamaica, where I am enjoying a bit of a break after working every day bar one for five months.
You would imagine my reaction at turning on the TV to see my room has US network Fox Soccer Plus, which featured an enthralling Super League derby match between Saints and Wigan the other night. You would imagine I was horrified and threw something at the TV – but in fact I was enthralled.
Eddie Hemmings thought it was “boiling hot” at Langtree Park. He’d have received little sympathy from viewers in Negril.
Fox Soccer Plus also broadcast an NRL game between Sydney Roosters and Cronulla played in front of a huge crowd of empty plastic seats and ending in a less than enthralling 40-0 result.
Here’s what we are building up to: despite the disaster of 1997, is it time to bring back a variant of the mid-season World Club Championship?
Of course, we could never call it that. Never agaon. But what about the Champions’ League – the top two clubs from the previous season in England and Australia, plus the Warriors representing New Zealand and the Dragons representing France.
Meanwhile, the rest of the sides in Super League and the NRL could play ‘on the road’ games in a Cup competition. Some Challenge Cup games could be played in the northern hemisphere.
Maybe clubs completely unaffected by Origin could continue to play NRL matches in the southern hemisphere, but only in frontier areas. Or we could have a cup competition of our own.
Instead of being three weeks apart, the Origins could be separated by only a fortnight, which used to be the case.
Look, the key to all this is convincing Fox and Nine to accept something other than premiership NRL matches for four weekends. If that hurdle can be overcome, then a whole world of opportunities opens up for us with international club and Test fixtures.
I have my doubts they can be convinced. But I didn’t think an Australian TV network would ever ASK for a Tonga-Samoa game either. I hope I’m wrong again.
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MY ‘ead ‘itter here at RLW Towers thought a Burgess Brothers feature was somewhat overdue, focusing on the amazing rise of George.
He was right. But the reason you’ve not been reading many of those – anywhere – is that George Burgess is pretty much off limits to the media, save the occasional fulltime interview.
And that was before he was featured in a nude photo online and smashed a signpost through the window of a hapless Cairns car.
The NRL does have strict new media guidelines but they do not force given players to speak. There are minimum numbers of “media opps” over the course of a week but clubs think nothing of exploiting that situation by having their press sessions all at the same time, on the day of a State Of Origin decider.
Tony Smith prepared his team for the last World Cup by allowing media representatives into the sheds at lead-up games, because that’s how they did things in Australia.
But the practice was already on the way out by the time England arrived for the tournament and at most venues, with most teams, it is now firmly a thing of the past.
Oh for the American NFL system, when the media are allowed dressingrooms after games but at training sessions. Interestingly, Souths are one club who can see the benefit in that – but they aren’t going to do it while everyone else doesn’t.
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THE easy thing to do after the NRL grand final would be to jet out to London and take in some warm-up matches.
But since when was the easy thing the most fun?
Instead, Bondi Beat is contemplating a quick trip to Vanuatu to see the fledgling nation take on the Solomon Islands, then a dash to Pretoria, where NSW Country will play South Africa some time around the 19th, then to Angeles City in the Philippines.
The Tamaraws will host Thailand and Japan in a triangular tournament around that time. And there is still enough of a window there to be Cardiff for the kick-off of the World Cup.
Oh, and KISS are playing Tokyo’s famous Budokan Arena on October 23. Just saying….
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OK, a bit of a survey now: how many of you would like to be a professional rugby league player?
I don’t mean that question to be in any way esoteric. If you could wake up tomorrow a first grade rugby league player, would you take the option?
I would not. Here are the key reasons: short career span, high risk of injury, the inability to do what I do now, which I enjoy and …. drug testing.
Not that I am a pill popping party animal or a steroid freak. I just don’t want people watching me pee. I don’t want to be woken up in the middle of the night by someone asking for a blood sample or a vial of urine.
Johnathan Thurston and Gareth Widdop recently complained about, variously, a child being woken up and a dinner going cold because of unannounced visits by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency.
I have sympathy for them, I really do. Thurston’s agent, Sam Ayoub, has a good point about there being little difference between a 6am visit and a 9am visit.
But increasingly, being drug tested at all hours – and having people watch you pee – is part of being a professional athlete. If you don’t like heights, don’t be an airline pilot and if you don’t like that, do something else.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 23

The Joy Of Six1. WHAT PRICE COMPASSION?

SHOULD a player who gains compassionate leave profit financially from it? According to NRL head of football operations Todd Greenberg, capping payments made to a player released on compassionate grounds – perhaps for the term of the original contract he escaped – will be discussed as part of the salary cap review. Another suggestion was to hand the difference in any contract back to the player’s former club, as compensation. This might work if, say, Ben Barba or Anthony Milford go into the Brisbane’s cap by NRL decree at a higher price than Canterbury or Canberra would be paying them next year. In that case, the difference between that figure and the cap amount could be paid by Brisbane to the Bulldogs and Raiders. “Compassionate grounds, if that (release) is awarded by clubs, they may well make the decision that the commercial terms don’t change,” Greenberg said on the ABC

2. WHAT HAPPENS IN BRISVEGAS

BRISBANE coach Anthony Griffin and his media manager, James Hinchey, are friendly, down-to-earth, likeable fellows. But their approach to talking about the – very necessary – recruitment going on at the club right now is curious. Even after signings have taken place, such as that of Sydney Rooster Martin Kennedy, there is no announcement. Peter Wallace and Scott Prince being told they are in reserve grade, or the club’s interest in Ben Barba and Anthony Milford, are treated as if they are figments of the media’s imagination – but never denied. And on Friday, Josh Hoffman was stopped almost mid-sentence while talking to television cameras . Fans have a right to know who a club is talking to and letting go. If you can’t comment because talks are at a delicate stage, why not say “I can’t comment right now because talks are at a delicate stage”? Melbourne’s squeamishness about anything concerning their departing assistant coaches is equally mystifying.

3. BRENT TATE: ORIGIN MADE ME

BRENT Tate won’t be retiring from State of Origin and wants Australia’s World Cup selectors to know it. Tate has heard coach Tim Sheens will be picked a team with a view to the future; his future will still including playing for Queensland. “I’m very mindful of where I am with my body but at the same time, I think Origin makes me a better player,” said Tate after the 22-10 win over Gold Coast. “Being around that environment, it takes me to another level. It would be really hard for me to to say ‘no’ to it. I feel as if I’m not quite ready (to quit). On the World Cup, he said: “I’d love to go, although I know Tim has said there’s a bit of an eye on the future. I was part of the last World Cup and it would be nice to be able to go there and right a few wrongs. If I get a chance there, I’ll be the first one with my bags packed.”

4. NATIONAL INFORMATION MINISTRY

THE NRL’s ill-advised crackdown on what is arbitrarily deemed “excessive” criticism by coaches of referees will be put to the test today when Geoff Toovey’s post match media conference from Friday is examined. It used to be that you had to question the integrity of a match official to cop a fine; now you pretty much only have to upset the NRL. How can reporters rely on the NRL to enforce media regulations and free speech at clubs when the administration itself indulges in censorship? On a more positive note, the ARLC will attempted to make the link with touch football an international association by encouraging the RLIF to make contact with touch’s international governing body, FIT. We’ve rapped the NRL over the touch footy deal but here’s another brickbat: officials travelling around Sydney in chauffeured cars isn’t a great look.

5. BEING JOHNATHAN THURSTON

YOU may have wondered exactly when Johnathan Thurston turned from a footballer to a role model and ambassador; the sort of fellow who spots kids in the crowd during games and tells the ballboy to hand them a signed kicking tee. The Closing The Gap round, of which he is a frontman, seemed an opportune time to ask him. “When I had that misdemeanour of getting locked up in Brisbane (in 2010),” he said on ABC when I asked. “It didn’t only just affect myself. It affected my fiancé Samantha, my parents, my brothers, my sisters, my family. That’s when I really had a good, hard look at myself and the legacy I wanted to see when I leave football. I’ve got a four-year deal and I want to make the most of these four years because after that, you know, I’ll be in the real world.”

6. MELBOURNE BALLS TAMPERED WITH AGAIN

MELBOURNE have become the victims of ball tampering for a second consecutive week, it is alleged. Last week it was Sam Burgess fiddling with Chambers’ willie, this week it was Knights officials lubricating the pigskin with water. Storm halfback Cooper Cronk complained to referees Jared Maxwell and Brett Suttor that the Steedens had been placed in water before kick-offs and this had lead to at least one knock-on. Melbourne officials did not want to add to the allegation when contacted late Sunday. Co-incidentally, while Sam Burgess is currently serving a two-week suspension for tampering with Chambers, the last known example of interfering with a ball in the NRL was perpetrated by his England team-mate, James Graham last year. Graham rubbed his legs in vaseline, primarily to make him harder to tackle but with the perhaps unintended incidental result of making balls harder to handle too. OK, enough.

And a bonus ‘zero tackle’

7. GREEN GRASS OF WEMBLEY

NEXT weeks’ Set Of Six will come to you from Wembley Stadium, where Wigan and Hull are preparing to take part in a rematch of one of the top two matches I’ve ever seen, the 1985 Challenge Cup final that pitted Peter Sterling (black and white irregular hoops) against Brett Kenny (cherry and white). Playing half for Wigan will be former Parramatta and Cronulla man Blake Green and NRL talent scouts should be glued to Eurosport to check his form. Just about every Australian who signs with a Super League club these days has a get-out clause and experienced halves aren’t really thick on the ground. Blake’s agent Isaac Moses is flying to London for the game but no doubt in a different part of the plane to your correspondent. We’re cheering for Hull though, on account of Mark ‘Ogre’ O’Meley having an opportunity to win something special in his last season.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 13

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
1. NO VIOLINS OVER VIOLENCE
THERE are enough debates about violence and Origin to fill up this column at least twice over. But it was instructive that there was a mini-brawl in Parramatta-Sydney Roosters game just two days after Origin I and it went almost completely un-noticed – because only rugby league fans were watching. It’s important to separate the arguments about whether Origin should be played under more laissez faire rule interpretations from the one about whether rugby league itself is too tolerant of violence. It’s ridiculous to suggest State of Origin should go straight from being dirtier that club football to CLEANER just because more people are watching. First, bring club and Origin football into line, then examine what we’re left with and determine whether it’s worth sacrificing some aggression to keep attracting junior players.
2. UNCHAIN DUGAN FOR ORIGIN
JOSH Dugan’s two-try performance for St George Illawarra against Newcastle puts NSW coach Laurie Daley in a bind. Does he pick Jarryd Hayne despite his hamstring injury and nurse him through five or seven days, or does he cut his losses and select Dugan from the get-go? Hayne is a star in any company and player strongly in Origin I. Shadow players are not supposed to come into camp until after the previous weekend’s club round but the Dragons have a bye in round 15. That being the case, Dugan probably should be there from day one of camp and only allowed to go home once Hayne has run at pace and proven he can change direction at his normal level. Conventional wisdom says you don’t know if a hamstring injury has healed until it goes on you – or doesn’t – under duress.
3. DRIVELLIN’ GALLEN
IT’S taken a while but the tossing of brickbats across the NSW-Queensland border has begun in earnest. After Origin I, Queensland coach Mal Meninga thought Paul Gallen’s attack on Nate Myles would perhaps have deserved a sin binning in a club game. By the next morning at the airport, he had decided it was unjustifiable. By yesterday, Gallen’s excuses for the attack were “drivel”. That’s what Meninga wrote in his Sunday Mail column, the home of his infamous “rats and filth” attack in 2011. Meninga said of Gallen: “It would seem by his very comments a pre-meditated attack to settle old scores and, worryingly, the game’s officials seem happy to let it slide”. Meninga said the apparent pre-meditation had gone completely unpunished – and he has a point. Was attacking Myles part of a pre-match strategy, not a result of over-heated encounters on the field in one game?

4. WELCOME TO THE WORLD, ‘KIRSTEN THURSTON’
WHEN did the birth of a footballer’s baby become hard, earth-shattering news, and why wasn’t I told? The intrigue surrounding the birth of Johnathan Thurston’s first baby was completely baffling. On Saturday, the North Queensland club wouldn’t confirm whether or not the birth had taken place – which is fine, it’s a private matter – but also made it clear to reporters it was upset at reports which were clearly true. Huh? These days athletes sell their weddings and family additions to magazines. There is no indication of Johnathan and his fiancé Samantha doing this but it is certainly not the job of the day-to-day news media to help them keep secrets. Someone had a kid. He’s a footballer. Put it in the paper and be done with it. Why all the bloody fuss? PS: Apparently if you get the name of the kid, it’s the biggest yarn since Watergate.
5. OLD TRICKS
CANTERBURY didn’t make the grand final last year by playing well, they did it by winning close games. And now it’s happening again. That’s the view of prop Aiden Tolman after Saturday night’s 36-26 win over North Queensland. “We’ve won five out of our last six … we’ve got a bit of momentum,” said Tolman. “We’re not playing our best footy but we’re winning games. We probably weren’t playing our best last year either but we had that knack of winning games – and that’s all it can take. Especially towards the end of last year, we were just getting wins. That’s what we’re doing this year as well. We’re just getting over the line, last week by two points and this week against a committed Cowboys side who was up against the wall.”

6. PROOF YOU CAN GET LOWER WITH NO GOWER
LONDON Broncos last week questioned Newcastle’s decision to sign Craig Gower, on the basis that their club had won three from 17 with the the dual international as captain. For the same reason, they weren’t too worried about losing him. How worse could things get? On Saturday, the Broncos were beaten – at home – by Warrington 82-10. Gower is a fierce competitor whose contribution may only be seen in his absence. He attended Melbourne training at Harrow in February, not to catch up with old friends but to grill Craig Bellamy on how change a losing culture. This from a fellow could have just collected a fat pay cheque going around in front of 1800 people every second week. Gower will be aware of the Matt Orford comparisons – and be highly motivated to disprove them.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD