Bondi Beat: December 2015

RLW DecemberAFTER the snorefest that doubled as the Second Test in London, maybe it’s time to rethink our approach to tinkering with the rules of rugby league.
Instead of asking ourselves how we can make our game more exciting, maybe we really need to look at how we can make it less boring.
The NRL is our peak club competition and many of the rule changes and interpretation adjustments come from that part of the world.
But the NRL has supreme athletes who can rise above the mundanity of a pre-programmed style of play to entertain us. Without them, we just get the pre-programmed style of play.
I am not trying to be disrespectful to the Kiwis who took the field at Stratford when I say it may have actually been possible to fit them into an NRL team salary cap.
Without Waerea-Hargreaves, Foran, Johnson, Mannering and Vatuvei they lacked the sort of players I spoke about – those who can rise above sheer athleticism with their skill and flair.
Should we be tailoring our whole sport for these few players who transcend what can often be monotony?
Or should we be making games that do not boast these stars better to watch, and leave the NRL to do what it wants? Should we be rewarding tries scored through the hands by awarding bonus points according to the number of passes in the movement?
God forbid, should we ban hit-ups or drives in junior matches?
At the start of the series, Steve McNamara said England and New Zealand would play with more flair than an NRL game. Clearly, that only applies when the series is not on the line.
To see them both play like Australian club teams, minus the superstars, was very disappointing indeed.
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WE finally have a strategic plan for the game worldwide and, as always, the interesting stuff is in the fine print.

The document released after an RLIF meeting in Paris was big on ideas and short on detail but here’s a few things that stood out to me (both within the document and whispers around the edges):

1. The expression “Rugby World Cup Nines” appeared several times, Are we about fight for the use of the word “rugby”? That would be great;

2. Target two G20 nations. These must surely be the United States and South Africa, although Canada will be fighting hard to be included;

3. The new tournaments, to be known variously as Federation Cups, Intercontinental Cups, Continental Cups and Confederation Cups, are unlikely to involve Australia UNLESS they are nines;

4. By 2025 the RLIF wants half the teams in the World Cup to be capable of making the final. You can bet that they won’t be repeating only half the teams can make the final when the 2025 tournament kicks off;

5. Somehow, 30 more rugby league-playing countries have appeared on the map overnight, including Burundi.
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Of course events on the field in London paled by comparison with the shock we all felt regarding the attack on our colleague Gary Carter.

I was not aware of what had happened until I arrived at the Olympic Stadium on match eve for the respective captain’s runs.

Gary was supposed to be there. The Press Association’s Ian Laybourn broke the news to me and it was hours before I could properly process it.

In these situations you always read about what a nice person someone is but Gary is possibly the most generous man in our trade on either side of the world.

I have lost count of the number of times he has dropped me at my hotel after matches, going miles out of his way.

amazonBefore I did my most recent NRL 360 appearance, I called him for some background and he ended up giving me about three stories!

In some ways it’s still difficult to process. I’m looking forward to visiting him when the series is over and I’ve got some time in London.

I’m sure I speak for everyone reading this when I say I’d do anything necessary to help Gary and his brave wife Gemma during his recovery.

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ONE thing that has really stood out during the Anglo-New Zealand series has been the quality of the pre-match entertainment.

Sure, one wag had a point when he said using choirs of local schoolkids in London cost little or nothing and sold a shedload of tickets to their parents.

But the use of fireworks, marching bands, anthem singers and the mic’ing up of the haka have all been first rate. Understated and classy.

A FEW days before the Third Test, England back rower Brett Ferres sat down with at few of us for what is known in the biz as an “All-in”.

No punches were thrown.

donate2Phil Thomas of The Sun, filling in for our stricken Gaz, asked if there was a sense of a missed opportunity with the loss in London in the wake of the poor performance of the England rugby union team.

“I’ve no interest in rugby union,” he replied, “especially after recent events”

When I pressed him if he was talking about that sport’s treatment of Sam Burgess, he replied: “You can read into that what you want”.

I’m with Brett. I honestly don’t care who is to blame for what when Sam Burgess was playing rugby union.

I’ve no interest in the sport. He’s a league player again so I’m interested in him again.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD 

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If You Could Change One Rule In Rugby League, What Would It Be?

By STEVE MASCORD

“THAT’s a REALLY good question,” says James Graham, late one Friday night after Canterbury match at Homebush.

“It’s a tough one. What have people been saying? Um, yeah, I don’t want to waste this. What about ‘no rules’? Huh! Just go out and play. Do whatever. No rules at all.

“Nah, I’ll thinking of something. Get back to me.”

Rule changes are the issue du jour in rugby league, with many people up in arms – no pun intended – about the recent shoulder charge ban.

Should any rule interpretations change mid-season? Should the players have a say? We asked a host of NRL and Super League stars what rules they hated, and what changes they would make if they could.

We never did get the British Bulldog’s answer. Ask hif if you see him around.

Please note that most of this survey was done before the shoulder charge blitz. Tell us which rule you’d change by Tweeting and including @Leagueweek and #myrulechange.

Now, over to the stars….

TERRY CAMPESE (Hull KR)

Campo reckons just touching the ball in a tackle does not make the Campese, Terrydefender guilty of being a dirty stripper.

“The strip,” he answered quickly when we put our query to him. “Some of them, you’re in contact where you’re trying to wrap it up and you touch it and they call it a strip. They’ve got to put more onus on the guy carrying the ball. “

This was an issue when David Shillington was recently sent off for a headbutt in his 200th game. He had dropped the ball. Rival Robbie Farah admitted he had a hand on it the tackle, arguing that Shillington is “a compulsive offloadeer” and should expect nothing less.

JARROD CROKER (Canberra)

Ball stealing and consistency

What gives “Toots” the poo-poos during a football game? “Most Jarrod Crokerthings give me the shits, mate. Ball stripping … I’ve seen them go to the scrum, looking at the big screen and blow a penalty. So, there’s a bit of inconsistency there. That’s only me saying that as well, because it cost us some momentum. I don’t watch a heap of footy. Just a bit of consistency all-round. There’s been a bit of talk of the captain’s challenge. I’ll admit I’m probably not a fan of that. It just slows the game down too much I reckon. The obstruction one still gets thrown around a lot. It’s not so much the rules, it’s consistency.” We hear you, brother.

Halatau, DeneDENE HALATAU (Wests Tigers)

Diving

The NRL were backed into a corner earlier this season by a spate of players staying on the ground, bringing in the video referee and giving their team-mates a spell. Now, the video referee can only intervene over a high tackle if the incident is likely to result in a judiciary charge. Diving has taken a dive but old hand Dene Halatau reckons it’s still an issue.

“Staying on the ground, yeah,” he says. “You don’t want it to turn into soccer, eh? You don’t like seeing someone get hit illegally but if they bounce back up you also feel like they’re doing something tough by getting up. They’re not trying to milk a penalty. But if someone is injured, you don’t want them to getup unnecessarily.”

ETHAN LOWE (North Queensland)

Number of referees

ONE referee was a big hit with NRL fans during the representative Lowe, Etthanweekend this year – but that doesn’t mean it’s coming back. Some players, however, would like it to.

“I get a bit annoyed with the two referee thing. One is telling you to move, the other one is telling you you’ve got more time. That’s a bit frustrating. You don’t know who to listen to. But it’s up to people above me to make those sorts of decisions. “

It certainly is – and they’re sticking with two.

EORL CRABTREE (Huddersfield)

Crabtree, EorlInconsistency

It’s pretty clear what ticks off Big Eorl during a rugby league game – refs in general.

“Interpretation is a weird word, isn’t it, in terms of it all being up the referee. Sometimes they make decisions that are unbelievable, mind-boggling. I don’t think those decisions are … it’s just a case of consistency. I don’t know how you can get (inconsistency) out of the game. It’s human nature. Humans make mistakes. It’s just the way it is.”

advertise hereGARETH ELLIS (Hull)

Ellis, GarethThe play-the ball

Gaz Ellis is an old school rugby league man. His pet peeve is based on principles and etiquette.

“You know what really gripes me? People not playing the ball properly. That’s what defines our game, between rugby league and rugby union – the play-the-ball. So it’s a skill we should learn properly. I don’t mind if there’s an attempt but if it’s just thrown back, it gets on my nerves a little bit.”

MICHAEL LICHAA (Canterbury)

Seven tackles

LIchha, MichaelOher players are less idealistic in the rules they would change. They want live to be made a little easier for them – and having to tackle for longer after kicking the ball dead is not, in any way, Michael Lichaa’s cup of tea.

“Seven tackles – it’s a killer – when the ball goes dead. Sometimes it just goes dead and they get seven. I think the people who made that rule up aren’t out there playing it because it’s already fast enough. When you’ve got the ball and you get the seven tackles, it’s nice. But … the rule’s gonna be there but it sucks when you’ve got to run back there and D up.”

JAKE MARKETO (St George Illawarra)

Play-the-ball and offside

Marketo, JakeAnd then there are the men who would use their magic wand to stop the refs penalising them. Just their team, do what you like to the rest….

“The play-the-ball is the most annoying. People do that every game., If you pinged on one of those things, it’s a bit rare. I mean, I hate when we get penalised for off-side, late in in a set. You’ve busted your backside for four or five tackles and then that happens coming out of yardage. That’s hard to cop. You can’t change that one. You’ve just got to play by the rules I suppose.”

JASON NIGHTINGALE (St George Illawarra)

Captain’s Call

Likewise, the Dragons winger wants a captain’s challenge – but only

St George Illawarra - Jason Nightingale 2

when he is captain.

“When I’m captain, I’d like a captain’s challenge. When I see the 20s do it, I get jealous. I always thing I’m right! I would have got Dylan Farrell a try when we played the Roosters. I’d put in a captain’s challenge … just for selfish reasons. It’s me thinking I know everything and wanting to try and change the ref’s decision. I try and argue but I don’t have power in that area yet.”

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

JOY OF SIX: round one 2015

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

SEEING RED OVER MOSES
WHAT if Dallas Donnelly pulled up outside an NRL ground in his time travelling Delorian and went inside for a gander? What would he make of a competition where you are sent to the sin bin for punching someone but stay on the field for a deadset coat-hanger? How can we be SOFTER on an offence now than we were in the seventies? It defies logic. The ban on referee comments stifled the debate on Saturday night surrounding Mitchell Moses’ shot on William Zillman. Set of Six will debate it; Moses should have been sent off. Flailing fists deter parents from letting their kids play rugby league – do we think mum wants little Johnny to do his best rag doll impersonation every weekend?
BATTLE AHEAD
WELL may Phil Gould and Penrith oppose an external draft – they have more juniors than most other clubs. But one donatechange in the game that has gone un-noticed over the summer has been the rebranding of the state leagues, aside from NSW and Queensland. The South Australian Rugby League is now NRL South Australia – and so on. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Moore Park HQ. No doubt, the aim is to do the same with the NSWRL, the QRL and the CRL. The NRL wants to be to rugby league what the NBA is to basketball – that is, just about everything. It will take care of all development and clubs will be shells focused only on winning first grade matches and attracting fans. Set of Six likes the idea.
COCKY FOWLS NOT SCARED OF FOULS
LOTS of things have changed this season by according to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, one thing hasn’t. “It’s a little bit faster, sides are trying to find their feet. Sides don’t want to give away too many penalties away – bar the Roosters. They were quite happy to give penalties away and then defend ‘em.” The Roosters do not like accusations they deliberately give away penalties. Flanagan nominated Trent Robinson’s team, South Sydney and Parramatta as sides who had “put their hand up” over the weekend. The Sharks boss wasn’t sure how he’d feel going to Remondis Stadium last night for his first game back from suspension. “Surprisingly, I’m pretty calm about the whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’ve got a job here to do and I’ve just got to get on with it.”
HELLO 2015
SOME random observations about our first taste of premiership football for the year. One, the game IS faster and there IS amazonless wrestling, and the crowds like it. Friday night at Pirtek Stadium, particularly in the first half, was a revelation; the word “fickle” just isn’t in the dictionaries of western Sydney. Your correspondent was at Headingley, where they sing all night, eight days previously and the local Blue and Gold Army outdid their British cousins easily. A bulked-up Anthony Milford in the halves is a gamble. We won’t get reliable forward pass rulings until there are chips in the balls. Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua could be the centre pairing of the year. Pat Richards could easily realise his ambition of playing in the 2017 World Cup. Live free-to-air TV coverage on a Sunday should have happened years ago.
THE SHAFT FOR SHILLO AND SHANNON
TRENT Merrin was only “dropped” for Monday Night Football if you don’t count the game against Warrington, which he also started from the bench. He was in the starting side for round 26 last year, though – we checked. Two men who WERE dropped, by any definition, are big Canberra forwards David Shillington and Shannon Boyd. They were named in Canberra’s first grade side on Sunday – Shillington in the starting front row – but played NSW Cup. Coach Ricky Stuart admitted the hot conditions were in his mind but “there’s a few other reasons – nothing untoward in regards to the two boys. We made the decision earlier in the week.” Stuart reckons the quicker rucks this year mean “dropped balls and penalties are making a big difference between winning and losing.’
CARNAGE IN FRANCE
Dwrq4E1421835700EVEN a broken rib for Todd Carney took a back seat to the scoreline in the Catalans-Salford Super League game over the weekend. The match finished in a 40-40 draw – which in the Australian premiership would make it the highest scoring drawn game ever, beat three matches which finished 34-34.. In England, there’ve been higher scores in draws – and there almost certainly have been in France, too. After a tackle by Lama Tasi, Carney – who missed the opening two rounds through injury – tweeted: “Just got home from the hospital, Broken Ribs Fingers crossed I won’t be out for long.” Dragons coach Laurent Frayssinous said the tackle was illegal. “It is not acceptable that there is a late tackle on Todd Carney that has left him in the hospital with a broken rib,” he told reporters. Oh, and the penalty which gave Salford a late draw was a tad controversial, too.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

BONDI BEAT: January 2015

December 2014By STEVE MASCORD

ROB Peter to pay Paul. Give with the left hand and take with the right. Better the devil you know.

Rugby league has always loved clichés and as the Australian authorities belatedly look at rationalising their fixture list and recognising the importance of international football, Bondi Beat is put in mind of these three in particular.

The NRL believes it can attract more than A$2 billion for its next television deal, if it offers networks the same thing it currently peddles.

One problem though: it wants to change what it is flogging. Six weeks of the club season are wrecked by State of Origin, with clubs not having access to their own players and the great flowing rapids of NRL interest slowing to a trickling stream which is not easily replenished when it’s all over. Attendances are a worry.

Players are so concerned about burnout they told Great Britain to stay home in 2015, as any reader of this column would be all too aware.

On the other hand, the Auckland Nines make a fortune and the Rugby League International Federation wants to set up its own equivalent to make money between World Cups.

The World Club Challenge has become the World Club Series. The Four Nations were an unexpected success, with the highest aggregate attendance despite there being no games in Sydney or Auckland.

Samoa have emerged to such an extent that the “Pacific Test” on the representative weekend next year is likely to be a double-header.

State of Origin continues to be a universe unto itself, smashing television, sponsorship and attendance records. In 2015, it returns to Melbourne.

But the club season, and the endless churn of programming over 30 weeks, pays the bills. Rugby league is art; broadcasting is commerce. And if the season is going to be shortened to make space for new offshoots of our game to grow, then it won’t be worth A$4 billion anymore.

amazonSo the NRL needs to make what games are on offer more lucrative. They have a very specific formula for how much the rights are worth – and these figures are based on audience size and the asking price of advertising.

Some of the ideas for making the existing NRL matches more valuable, so we can make as much money from fewer of them, have been around for a while.

One has been to insert a 30 second pause before line dropouts are taken, giving us another advert. Another is to revert to the mid-week cup format of four-quarter football (Ian Heads’ excellent new book The Night The Music Died outlines how the 1974 Western Division side made the most of the extra two breaks).

These ideas have been around for a while.

Colleague Phil Rothfield of the Daily Telegraph recently uncovered a couple of other kites flow inside the Competitions Committee room. One was making each quarter go for 25 minutes, lengthening the entire TV programme as well as the opportunity to insert commercials.

Another would be the use of eight interchange players.

Most rugby league fans want the Australians to take international football seriously, and to expand their competition.

But is fiddling with the rules a) at all or b) to the extent detailed above a price worth paying? Tell me on Twitter at @BondiBeat what your choice would be if it was between the NRL remaining isolated and a more progressive outlook, but with big rule changes.

American Football tailored itself for television and the NFL became the biggest club competition the world has ever seen. Personally, I think four quarters is a no-brainer. It gives us more revenue, it has been successfully trialled before and its impact on the fabric of the game is, while significant, still acceptable.

A 30 second break at every break in play eliminates one of the biggest advantages we have over our rivals – continuity. A 30 second break at line dropouts gives tiring defences too much time to regroup and meddles too much.

Extra interchanges make us too much like basketball and the NFL and further erodes the element of fatigue and therefore bravery. I’m against it.

But I’m willing to accept that maybe the NRL can take a constructive leadership role in the evolution of our rules. It’s quite possible they can’t, and their actions will be mainly destructive, but I still have an open mind.

Tell me what you think.

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THE Rugby League International Federation search for a CEO is becoming a little farcical.

After being turned down by former IRB chief Mike Miller, it’s my understanding they’ve also failed in a bid for premiership-winning South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson.

Richardson may be looking for a new challenge after being the first club chief in Premiership history to win titles at two clubs but the RLIF could not get their act together in time to convince him it was a good idea to take up the post.

Bondi Beat is hearing mutterings of financial complications in the bid to set up a fulltime office. It’s all very sad – and the NRL has clearly decided to do its own thing in the Pacific by pairing development programmes with foreign aid from the Australian government.

The RLIF has lost its tax-exempt status and wants it back

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AS usual, it’s been a poor off-season for the game when it comes to player misbehaviour.

South Sydney’s Kirisome Auva’a was banned for nine months after the court finally dealt with his domestic abuse allegations, Greg Bird was charged with urinating on a police car (which he denies) on the first day of his honeymoon, and John Hopoate’s son Jamil was jailed for a serious assault.

That’s just off the top of my head.

The NRL continues to be criticised for inconsistently dealing with the these offences – but they are all different. I’m not sure what the answer is.

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TERRY Campese is one of my favourite players and I’ll be cheering him to make a big impression at the KC Lightstream Stadium.

donateYou know what’s sad? That he missed last year’s World Cup for Italy, for whom he could have made a massive impression, to prepare for a season which finished in him being nudged towards the door in Canberra.

Last year I predicted Matt Bowen to be a sensation in Super League and it took a while for him to warm up – so I’ll be more circumspect in my predictions regarding Campo.

But he will be one of the most talented handful of players in the competition in 2015. The only question is whether injury allows him to show it.

Please check out my podcast, White Line Fever, by searching that title on itunes.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD