Young Dragon Unconcerned By Coaching Uncertainty

Runciman, CharlyBy STEVE MASCORD
CENTRE Charly Runciman has no regrets about re-signing with St George Illawarra before the current coaching ructions.
Runciman agreed to a two-year extension before Steve Price was sacked and now faces uncertainty over whether caretaker Paul McGregor will retain the role or a more experienced mentor is brought in for 2015.
“I re-signed before everything happened but it doesn’t really have an impact,” Runciman, 20, tells League Week.
“I was pretty keen to stay. I’ve got mates down there now. It was easy just to stick around. All my mates were here at the Dragons.
“It’s a bit more stable. I can finish Uni. I’m studying civil engineering at Wollongong Uni. You need something after footy.
“At the moment, I’m just trying to cement my spot in this team. If I do that, I can work and build in the years to come. Whatever the team needs, I’m here to do.”
The Dubbo-raised Runciman was the joint venture’s 2012 NYC player of the year and made his first grade debut in round 16 last year against Penrith.
Currently shunted out to the win with the move of Josh Dugan to the centres and injury to Brett Morris, Runciman says having a former Australia centre in McGregor as coach has been a bonus.
“Mary’s been really good, especially being a centre,” he says. “It’s a help to me when I need someone to talk to about attack and defence.
“If I’ve got any questions I can go straight up and ask him and he’s more than helpful.
“Duges, he’s a great player and no matter where he’s playing he’s going to do a job for the team. Because he’s such a great ball carrier … in the centres, that’s something you really need.
“Duges has always had that. It was just a matter of where the coaches wanted him to play. He’s found himself in the centres and he’s doing a great job.”
The Dragons are hopeful of making a late run to the finals. McGregor says when he took over, he knew he needed to win eight of the remaining 14 games.
“For myself, this year has been a bit stop-start,” says Runciman. “I found myself in NSW Cup and had to fix a few things. I’m taking the opportunity while I’ve got it in first grade.
“For the team, it’s a little bit similar. We’re building each week and we’re getting better and better. It’s starting to show on the paddock, I think.
“We got a win (against Gold Coast), we went close against Penrith and I’m sure we can back it up against Melbourne on Monday.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

DISCORD 2013: Edition 26

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

LET’S start this item about the $15,000 fine meted out to Ricky Stuart on Monday by saying we understand what the NRL is trying to achieve.

Yes, respect for referees is paramount and yes, there is culture of criticism – some would say attempted manipulation – in our competition which is probably unhealthy.

But the thing about the rule as it stood until about 5pm on Monday was that you could defend it as an apparatus that kept rugby league out of the courts.

Generally speaking, aside from a couple of times when coaches have used swear words in their criticism, the comments which have attracted fines could conceivably have led to defamation proceedings.

No-one wants referees suing coaches for libel.

But on Monday, the goalposts moved – or more precisely, they got wider and higher, so much so that they now cover most of the tryline and the uprights go up to the back row of ANZ Stadium.

Here are the comments that could vaguely be described as questioning the integrity of officials

“We cannot be so different every week to the opposition in regards to – not penalty counts but – what we’re getting penalised for”

“The same actions aren’t being penalised for the opposition team”

Now, every weekend captains make comments like that to referees out on the field. Those comments are broadcast, via SportsEars, to television and radio audiences nationally and internationally.

Are we going to start fining captains for bringing the game into disrepute?

Or was Stuart fined for questioning the “competency” of Daniel Anderson? Our whole game was born out of questioning the “competency” of authority, back at The George in 1895.

Without rabble-rousing and rebellion, there would be no rugby league. Do the current inhabitants of League Central understand that? It’s the purpose of rugby league, it’s in every strand of our DNA.

You can say that coaches should not be allowed to intimidate referees – that’s right, referees shouldn’t allow themselves to be influenced and I don’t think they do.

The precedent set by Monday’s breach notice is that if someone says “David Smith is hopeless” or “the commission are doing a crap job”, they can now be fined for bringing the game into disrepute by questioning “competency”.

I don’t think anyone would stand for such oppressive censorship. Not only is it Orwellian and even somewhat fascist, it’s against what rugby league has always been about.

PS: And if Stuart is being picked on as a repeat offender – isn’t that what he was accusing referees of doing to his team in the first place? It suggests he might be right.

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OK it’s comments time, going back to last week’s column, and there have been lots of them.

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Dugan Is The First Mid-Season Transfer To Play Origin

Canberra - Josh DuganBy STEVE MASCORD

HE’S only three games into his career as a St George Illawarra Dragon but NSW fullback Josh Dugan could end up the most significant mid-season signing of the NRL era.

Dugan has run the ball a staggering 48 times in his last two matches and currently has as many tries as appearances for the joint venture side.

Rugby League Week commissioned League Information Services and NRL Stats to compare Dugan with other players who have switched clubs mid-season since 1998.

“A number of other players have changed club mid-season and won grand finals,” Middleton says, “but Dugan will be the first to change clubs and play Origin.

“Of course, most transfers occur a bit later in the year and also players tend to change clubs when they’re not doing so well at their current club, which lengthens the odds of them making a representative team.”

Of course, Dugan’s heavy involvement failed to save the Dragons from a 22-16 defeat to North Queensland last Friday.

“It’s discipline and lost ball,” lamented prop Dan Hunt.

The club’s decision to refuse Jamie Soward a release for the rest of the year was justified when he kicking game was missed with the wind at St George Illawarra’s back in the second half.

“Fiensy (Nathan Fien) i s more of short, precise kicker and Jamie’s got that long kick,” said Hunt.

“Yeah, we probably missed that again tonight but the wind was a factor – a few balls went over the sideline on the full.

“If you can get back-to-back wins, you jump three or four spots. This back end of the year, we need to get more consistent, not going from win to loss, win to loss.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 16

The Joy Of SixDUGAN UNCHAINED, PART 57

DESPITE the complications alcohol and social media have each caused him, NSW and St George Illawarra fullback Josh Dugan still seems to really like both. After reports emerged on Sunday that police were called after he was seen sitting in a boat parked outside a Sutherland Shire house and rowdily pretending to fish, Dugan posted on Instagram a meme (which now means a picture with a slogan superimposed on it) that read “A Lion Doesn’t  Concern Himself With The Opinions Of Sheep” following by the hashtag #anythingtosellastory . Within a few hours, the posting had more than 1000 likes. Most respondents, predictably, agreed with Dugan and criticised the story but some pleaded with him to, in the words of one follower, “pull your head in”.

RICKY’S LOST DANIELS NUMBER

RICKY Stuart deftly walked the line between getting his message across and not questioning anyone’s integrity with his post-match comments after the South Sydney loss. The Parramatta coach has said before that he doesn’t speak to referees boss Daniel Anderson and did not repeat his earlier contention that referees treat sides down the bottom of the table are treated differently than those at the top. That accusation carries an implication of prejudice and will make you $10,000 poorer in an instant. And while that was still the clear hint on Sunday, the majority of players in the NRL agree anyway. In the Rugby League Week Player Poll, when asked “do lesser clubs cop a rough deal from refs?”, 54 per cent of respondents answered ‘yes’. The NRL recently beefed up its rules to take in criticism which is considered excessive, even if no integrity is questioned. In the view of Joy Of Six, this is blatant censorship.

OUT WITH INNUENDO

THE speculation on Thursday and Friday that Sonny Bill Williams was about to pull out of the Sydney Roosters-Canterbury match because he did not want to put money in his former club’s coffers did no-one any favours. Sure, the fact that Williams played should have put the innuendo to bed but in truth a professional sports should not have to endure the whispering in the first place. In the NFL, all clubs have to maintain an injury list outlining who trained, who didn’t and why – which is available to the public. And betting on American football in most US states is illegal. Hiding or lying about injuries is punishable by Draconian fines. Rugby league may have scaled back its involvement with bookmakers but it arguably owes the public more transparency than the NFL because it still benefits from punting. When the Integrity Unit is done with misbehaving players, it should get to work on making clubs completely transparent over injuries and team changes.

DUGAN UNCHAINED, PART 58

ANOTHER job for the Integrity Unit, then. People still seem angry at Josh Dugan, even though he apparently did nothing wrong on his night out with Blake Ferguson and fishing on dry land is not – at this stage – a crime in NSW. It is central to their disquiet that Dugan did “the wrong thing” in Canberra and was “rewarded” with a St George Illawarra contract, and then “rewarded” again with NSW selection. That being the case, surely Jim Doyle’s Integrity Unit should assess each case where a player is sacked for disciplinary reasons and make a ruling on whether he should be able to join a rival club immediately, after a set period or at all. There’s no integrity in deliberately getting yourself sacked by not showing up to work, and then joining a rival employer after a few weeks’ purgatory. The NRL should be involved.

THE GAME THEY PLAY ON SEVEN

CHANNEL Seven’s signing of an agreement to cover the World Cup is tremendous news and follows a similar deal in the UK, where regular league broadcaster Sky Sports lost out to upstart Premier Sports in rights negotiations. While International Management Group, who negotiated both deals, are motivated by profit and not the welfare of the sport, rugby league has often lacked the confidence to share TV broadcasting rights around. International Rugby League is essential for the sport to go to the next level commercially and in the case of the broadcasters we already have, familiarity has bred contempt. You could argue it is in the interests of our domestic broadcasters for rugby league to remain a local, affordable commodity. They don’t care about international football and in that circumstance, we can either dance to their tune or go out and find someone who does care. Thankfully, we’ve done the latter. It could be a milestone decision.

WARRIOR TO … WARRIOR

THE negligible space afforded to Sam Tomkins’ likely signing with the New Zealand Warriors (from Wigan Warriors) in the Australian press is a sad indictment on the perceived strength of Super League. Tomkins is a once-in-a-generation English rugby league player whose evasive skills on kick returns have to be seen to be believed. While Australians decry the denuding of Super League, most English fans have never had illusions of grandeur about their competition. England coach Steve McNamara, speaking to Set Of Six in the South Sydney dressingrooms late on Sunday, spoke for many of them when he said fans would far rather see Tomkins stay in rugby league on the other side of the world than defect to rugby union at home. “It’s almost like the lesser of two evils, if you get my meaning,” McNamara said. Compare that to Australian fans, who view Super League and rugby union more or less equally as predators. Some of them would prefer a league player represent the Wallabies than Wigan, no doubt – a position that would be considered utter treason in the north of England.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

DISCORD 2013: Edition 25

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

LAST week Discord was rightly criticised for posting yet another column on the Origin I biff, a couple of readers pointing out that they’d already read much more than enough on the subject.

Fair cop.

But sometimes, when the current debate on a footy-relate issue seems to be missing something, Discord feels a duty to point out the elephants in the room. So we’ll do that regarding recent events and move straight on to something else.

The first elephant is not in any way highlighted as an excuse for some of the boorish behaviour we have seen over the last week… but it is a major contributing facotr and has been completely overlooked for some mystifying reason.

It’s hormones. While columns like this love to point out that players have limited careers and should learn to stay indoors and out of trouble, to the players the limited time span is a reason to go out. They’ll only be this fit, this famous, this single and this good looking – all at once – for less than a decade and there are plenty of wild oats to sow in that time.

To a 23-year-old, there is a fear that if you don’t take advantage of these unique circumstances, you’ll regret it in your old age. The jealousy of your contemporaries can be over-powering. Of course, getting in trouble creates even bigger regrets … but that may not happen … so it seems worth the gamble.

To Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan, NOT going out on Sunday night would have seemed a terrible, tragic waste of an opportunity.

Secondly – and I will use this as an excuse for the Mal Meninga ‘incident’ – how easy is it to be refused service or even entry to a pub these days? I’m sure many readers have been refused entry in Sydney when they have not had a single drink, just because the guys on the door don’t like the look of their eyes as a result of some training course they did.

I have been refused service, or entry, in licensed establishments at least 20 times. I probably deserved it on more than half those occasions but I have never done anything more anti social than drop a glass on the floor.

It’s easy to understand why Mal would feel aggrieved that every daily newspaper saw fit to put his transgression on the back page today. But footballers (and their coaches) are really just reality TV stars these days. Without television, they’d be amateur or part time.

Bluntly, the media machine sees them as merely being there for our amusement, offering us two-dimensional pulp morality tales with everything they do.

So they get treated the same as reality TV stars. If Joel Madden was in town to promote a record, his little dope stash would get less space than if he was judging a massive talent show, publicity for which has been deliberately whipped up by a television network.

Same with Mal. If he is asked to leave the local pub in Redcliffe in November, it would be lucky to rate a paragraph in a gossip column. But Origin is the best rating piece of reality television in Australia.

If the players thought of it more like The Voice, they might understand a little better the way the gossip-obsessed mainstream media treats it.

OK, onto something else.

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FOR the record, your correspondent was only joking on Monday when he described Daniel Anderson’s trip to the NHL “bunker” as a junket.

Of course, it’s a good idea for the NRL referees’ boss to drop in on the way back from the World Cup. We were just making the point that commercial radio stations have already set up similar facilities in this country which would be worth checking out.

Of course, commercial radio stations don’t need to communicate with referees and touch judges. And they often have communication breakdowns with their people at the ground which would be disastrous for match officials.

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COMMENTS now, and I’ll go through everything written on the bottom of a story on leaguehq.com.au or stevemascord.com for the last week.

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THE WRAP: NRL Round 14

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
“As scandals go, it certainly has the potential to be the worst in Origin’s tumultuous 33 years – and that’s saying something”
It’s the view of the doyen of State of Origin reporters in the wake of news NSW winger Blake Ferguson has been charged with indecent assault and kicked out of the team to play Queensland next Wednesday.
When reporters sat down to cover the Monday Night Football match between Brisbane and Wests Tigers, the extreme right seat in the Suncorp Stadium press box was left vacant as a mark of respect for veteran AAP reporter Wayne Heming.
After almost forty years covering rugby league, 62-year-old Heming was made redundant following Origin I in Sydney. He wrote the news agency’s preview of the very first State of Origin game in 1980 and began covering games in the iconic series the next year.
Heming, who will be employed next Wednesday by the Courier Mail for one night only at Origin II, has seen players, coaches, administrators and scandals come and go but says Ferguson’s arrest for indecent assault takes the cake.
“Ferguson going out on the drink with his former Canberra Raiders teammate Josh Dugan the night before both were to enter NSW Origin camp ranks as one of the dumbest things I’ve heard of,” Heming tells NRL.com
“Back when I first started covering rugby league in Sydney in the mid 1970s players got away with things because there were no mobile phones and they often had ‘contacts’ who fixed things up.
“But those days are well and truly gone and the intense scrutiny on players is such that they can’t step out of line or they get dobbed in.
“What on earth were they thinking?
“The last time they got out on the drink together it ended in Dugan being sacked by the Raiders and Ferguson being stood down for six weeks after they Instagramed a picture of themselves on a Canberra rooftop drinking.
“The fact the NRL has acted so swiftly against Ferguson would suggest they have seen some pretty damning evidence.
“In the current climate of change they could throw him to the lions to show they are serious about finally cracking down on unacceptable behaviour by players who tarnish rugby league’s image.”
Next Wednesday will be an emotional one for ‘Ticker’ Heming who has been probably the longest surviving fixture at Origin games since ’81.
His favourite memories include Wally Lewis announcing his retirement at halftime in the deciding game of the 1991 series. “Lewis, who’d only learned before the game his young daughter Jamie-Lee had been diagnosed a profoundly deaf, walked off Lang Park a winner for the last time,” he recalls.
His best game and gutsiest win was the Origin II 1989, when Queensland won in Sydney despite a slew of injuries.
Tries by Mark Coyne and Mark McGaw were his favourite and the Maroons’ 1995 success was the most remarkable series victory he saw.
“While I have to confess I was born in Manly – that’s in Queensland isn’t it – I have always loved the attacking never-say-die style with which Queensland play and the way they compete,” says Ticker.

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THE JOY OF SIX: Round 14

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

CANDID CAMERON

CAMERON Smith might be as influential as any active premiership player since the days of Dally Messenger. The decision to use the sin bin for those who throw punches, presumably from now on in all club and representative games, was largely influenced by the Australia captain’s comment on NRL 360 last Wednesday. Hooker Smith said the Gallen-Myles incident was “not a good look” and referees boss Daniel Anderson twice made reference to this comment on ABC Radio yesterday. Anderson said the tough stance was not an edict from NRL CEO David Smith but rather a reaction to changing community standards. He said the game had to preserve its ability to attract young players. There was a sign at Barlow Park yesterday that read “Bring Back The Biff” but Joy of Six reckons if that’s still what you want from State of Origin, your choice is simple – don’t watch. Cameron, meanwhile, reportedly asked for three journalists’ accreditation to be revoked over Jon Mannah story recently.

A LIBRARY FULL OF RULE BOOKS

THE decision by Anderson may turn out to be a milestone. If it is, then it will be because we have finally made a decision that the sport played at Suncorp Stadium next week is the same one played on Saturday morning in parks across the country. These pumped up supermen are not just there to sell whatever product is on their jerseys along with the stuff on the perimeter advertising and TV commercials – every one of them is a recruiter, trying to entice children to play the game. The only problem with that is that it’s not the same game. We have international rules, NRL rules, Super League rules and multiple interpretations of those rules. If we are really going to use players as recruiters effectively, we have to make sure they are playing the same sport they are trying to sell to kids. At the moment, they’re not.

HUNKERING IN THE BUNKER

A VIDEO refereeing ‘bunker’ is being pushed as the answer to all our officiating problems. One video ref could do five games in a weekend, giving us greater consistency of decisions. But is there any guarantee that video referee wouldn’t make mistakes of the same kind we are now seeing? Of course not. In fact, the only guaranteed benefit for the NRL would be to save money on travel and accommodation. As someone who works at rugby league grounds with electronic communications equipment every weekend, this writer is acutely aware of the myriad things that can go awry. But if Daniel Anderson remains keen to press on with the concept, he may be able to save the money being spent on his trip to the NHL bunker next off-season. These days, plenty of rugby league games are broadcast on radio not from stadia but from studios, where very similar facilities with direct v ideo feeds and HD screens have been set up. Daniel could easily check one of them out for a fraction of the cost of going to North America.

RAISING THE ROOF

WE’VE had some pretty handy mid-season recruits over the years – Krisnan Inu at the Bulldogs is one who couldn’t get a game at the Warriors and completely reinvigorated Canterbury. But Josh Dugan may be viewed at the end of the year as the best in recent memory. He was an exciting player in a team of will o’wisps at Canberra. In a more tradesmanlike, programmed outfit like St George Illawarra, he’s simply electrifying. Dugan handles as often as he can in every set of six and tries to create as well as finish. At times, in terms of sheer ability, he seems head and shoulders above every other player on the field – a rare commodity in modern professional sport. Realising the difference he is making at the Dragons could give him the confidence to make one at Origin level.

TROPIC THUNDER

CAIRNS hosted two of the worst rugby league games your correspondent ever had the misfortune to witness – North Queensland v Northern Eagles in and the Cowboys against Penrith in 2001. But yesterday’s South Sydney-Gold Coast game at Barlow Park was a delight, even if referee Matt Cecchin commented early that there didn’t seem to be much of an atmosphere. It built – and a 16,118 crowd at a provincial venue is a success in any language. Souths fans, drawn from wide geographical origins, are becoming a financial powerhouse and pumped an estimated $1 million into the local economy. The city was awash with cardinal and myrtle on match eve. Cairns is a major battlefront with the AFL and yesterday’s game marked a victory for rugby league. Our game needs more pilgrimage- type events and this is a welcome addition.

ENGLAND ARE THE REAL EXILES

FROM time to time this year, we’ve had a whinge about poor attendances. But what do you say about the English national team attracting just 7926 on home soil in a World Cup year? The crowd at Halliwell Jones Stadium for the 30-10 win over the Exiles came despite months of promotion and must be a concern for RLWC organisers. With more English players coming to the NRL every year and the standard of those going in the other direction eroding, the Exiles concept has probably run its course. How to give England a mid-season run? The answer is simple: that Super League be paused for the NRL’s representative weekend and all countries – including England – play proper internationals with full strength sides as happens in soccer.

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

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 10

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

1.HOW’S TRENT?
Long before Cronulla players were reportedly visiting him at home to find out what he had been telling ASADA, Parramatta trainer Trent Elkin had already written himself into the rugby league lexicon with the expression “How’s Trent?” Elkin used to be the referees’ conditioner and the phrase was code for “what’s the penalty count?”. Canterbury coach Des Hasler revived memories of “How’s Trent” by strongly suggesting the match officials were aware of the count at halftime in the 44-8 loss to Newcastle – and then spelt it out a little more plainly on Triple M. “It’s almost comical,” he said. “It’s 8-3, come in, check it out, all of a sudden it’s 8-7.” The Bulldogs acknowledged they were beaten by a better side but reckoned a slew of penalties in the Knights’ favour shortly after halftime, when they trailed by just four, was extremely damaging. The answer to “How’s Trent?” these days is a bit more complicated than a number, we suspect.
2. BEAU RYAN, UNDERPANTS AND WILLIE
NOT everything Willie Mason said on the field was invective aimed at Ben Barba. When a scrum was packing down early in the contest, apropos of nothing, he asked the opposition pack of forwards: “did you see Beau Ryan on the back of Rugby League Week? He was in his undies.” At first Set Of Six thought he was having a shot at someone in the Canterbury camp for not playing in City-Country. Mason and Ryan were Country squad members and Bulldogs half Josh Morris withdraw from the City side. But then Mason said “I’m not talking about rep footy”. As it turns out, Mason had no ulterior motive in raising the issue. He just thought it was funny. As 1200 kg of rugby league beef collided in front of 18,982 fans, Mason was making idle conversation with his opponents.
3. NEW ZEALAND WORRIERS
WESTS Tigers’ poor form does not hurt rugby league in any great sense. South Sydney’s good season so far probably does more good thaN the joint venture side’s shocker does bad because it wins back a few fans who lapsed during the Super League War. But the Warriors being beaten 62-6 is disastrous for the game because they are rugby league’s flagship in an entire country. Crowds at Mt Smart Stadium have always been fickle and while some recession-proofing has gone on over the past 10 years, an unsuccessful Warriors gives rugby union a leg-up and has the potential to cause damage right down to the game’s grassroots in the Shaky Isles. The attendance figure this Sunday against Newcastle will be very interesting indeed.
4. DUGAN (UN)CHAINED
ON balance, Peter Sterling’s idea of banning Josh Dugan from turning out against Canberra this year is a sound one. It’s hard to legislate a rule that fits all situations when players are axed for disciplinary reason but this simple measure would be a constant reminder that you can’t stuff up, have a break, and then carry on as if nothing happened. Parramatta signing Gareth Hock pushed Wigan into loaning him to Widnes but it was a condition of his loan he could not play against the cherry and whites. It would be fair to impose a similar restriction on Dugan. I still think the NRL would have to approve such each one of these conditional bans on its merits though, just to make sure a club is not exploiting the rules unfairly.
5. HAVES, HAVENOTS AND NOT SURES
ANY debate about the inequalities of this year’s competition should have become clearer on Friday night when first played last. Sure enough, first won by 44 points. But clearly there is an emerging middle-class too, teams who have either a) illusions or b) potential for grandeur. Each weekend, these teams take polite turns giving their fans reason to suspect upward mobility by waltzing around with top company before slumming it again, nursing a figurative bottle of plonk in a paper bag, the very next weekend. Gold Coast, Canberra, Brisbane, Penrith and St George Illawarra are in this group. You might be able to add Canterbury now too. Cronulla’s improvement seems more reliable and North Queensland are playing well without getting the results. They have to win on Friday against Wests Tigers though, and do it well.
6. DON’T TRIP OVER YOUR LIP
THERE is something wrong with our society when you can’t show so much as a nipple on television but Matt Srama’s bone sticking out of his finger and James Maloney’s lip sliced in two are objects of mirth and instagram frenzies. Both injuries were truly hideous and had the capacity to instantly transform any witness into a vegetarian. Maloney’s gash was so deep it actually affected his speech as I interviewed him on the field at fulltime on Saturday night at 1300SMILES Stadium. Srama apparently caught his injured finger in an opponent’s jumper on Friday night, aggravating the horrible gash which somehow did not involved a fracture. David Mead played half an hour with a broken jaw in the loss to the Broncos. Tough, tough men – but I’d rather just read about their feats than see things in living colour on social media. When did surgery become light entertainment?

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD