TRAVELS: XXV

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
THE great thing about the NRL’s enquiries into playing matches in England is that it gives the Commission an excuse to help the British game.
In case you missed it, colleague Brad Walter wrote this week in the Sydney Morning Herald that NRL officials are considering playing a State of Origin game at Wembley, or club games there and elsewhere in Britain.
Before this news emerged, domestic events in the UK were none of the NRL’s business – which was unfortunate given their A$1.025 billion TV deal. Now, they have an excuse to meddle constructively. NRL officials recently met what’s left of the London Broncos, for instance.
Unfortunately, I think there are a couple of miscalculations currently at work. One is to have dismissed the impact of five weeks of World Cup play on selling 74,000 seats at Old Trafford last Saturday. Those 74,000 people didn’t sign up for “an all-NRL contest” – they signed up to hopefully see England play in a World Cup final and went anyway when they missed out!
Secondly, the NFL flooded television for years before playing games at Wembley. They had a long-term strategy. The NRL has a long-term deal on a station most Londoners have never heard of.
The Origin and even Kangaroos brands are almost unknown in London and years of marketing are necessary before such a game can be a success. You invented rugby league here but in London, when it comes to sexiness the NFL is Naomi Campbell and rugby league is Acker Bilk.
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AS you might imagine, after five weeks attending matches, dinners and media events in Britain, one gains a better understanding of the challenges facing rugby league here.
What I am about to offer are a bunch of assumptions based on conversations with all manner of people involved in the game in the UK. If I could quote or name these people, I would have. I can’t.
What I have learned is that the situation is markedly different to the way it appears from the outside, from just reading the trade press. And it’s not as dire as it appears, either.
We are all wondering what the competition structure will be the year after next, and whether London will be involved next season. Here’s what seems, to me, to be the case:
1) EVEN THE ‘REBEL’ CLUBS SUPPORT THE NEW STRUCTURE. The clubs who have walked out of meetings aren’t necessarily against splitting Super League into three divisions mid-season – they just want to use the situation to gain more power. They will eventually agree to the proposal – as long as they get something out of it for themselves;
2) MOST SUPER LEAGUE CLUBS ARE SICK OF LOSING PLAYERS TO AUSTRALIA. Ian Lenagan says it’s a compliment to Super League that players are succeeding in the NRL and Super League – but not many of his counterparts at other clubs agree. There is a push for two marquee players per club – one overseas and one local, to help prevent the brawn drain;
3) THE GAME IS GOING TO LEVERAGE THE ADVENT OF BT SPORT AS MUCH AS IT CAN. Another way to compete with the Aussies is to get a shedload of money from broadcasters, as they have. The arrival of BT Sports gives Sky some competition and the British game plans to use that to get a significant increase in the rights, promising a better product in return. Negotiations won’t wait three years to commence – the proverbial iron is red hot. If Sky loses soccer, the stakes will be still higher;
4) LONDON MAY BE BAILED OUT BY A RIVAL CLUB: It seems an established Super League club is preparing to lend the Broncos money and players. NRL officials met Gus Mackay and Tony Rea last week to see if there was anything he could do to help.
You may have been broadly aware of some or all of these senarios but since this is my last column for the year, I thought it worthwhile to spell them out.
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SINCE last week, I’ve changed my view somewhat on the requirement that Fiji play Samoa mid-year 2014 for the right to be included in next year’s Four Nations.
As the NRL’s Andrew Hill points out, it was entirely possible that two Pacific countries would be eliminated at the same stage of the tournament, which would have left officials in a bind.
The real problem is that none of these deliberations were reported, so Fiji thought they had been gyped.
There is enormous interest in the international game today and the flow of information from the RLIF is, frankly, appalling.
This is one of many factors that make it impossible to accurately predict what the legacy of this World Cup will be.
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THIS will be my last column for the year so I’d like to thank Paul Cunliffe and Paul Coward for giving me the opportunity.
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Jamie’s Slim London Pickings

P1030071By STEVE MASCORD

FROM here, Jamie Soward could throw the ball over the crossbar.

We are sitting on the rock hard surface of the Richardson Evans Memorial Ground, training headquarters of the London Broncos, just over 20 metres out and to the right of the posts.

Of course, Penrith recruit Soward would not attempt to throw it over. Instead, he’d step back at right angles to the ball, extend his fingers like a sprinter, jog on the spot, and move in to strike the pigskin before replacing his headgear.

Squinting in the sunshine, he says one such goal attempt – missed – brought about the premature end of his St George Illawarra career.

“I guess I was disappointed I was dropped the week after I missed a penalty goal against Canterbury,” says the 28-year-old,

“Tough game, they’re a great team and we were in the game for only the last 10 minutes, really. So we didn’t really deserve to win.

“(But) It’s never one thing that breaks up a relationship.”

Soward was criticised for cutting his losses and not playing out the season with the Illawarra Cutters. The joint venture’s results since suggest he would have got another chance in first grade, where his long kicking game has been missed.

“I think that was a bit of loyalty from Dousty (chief executive Peter Doust),” the man himself says. ”He didn’t want to see me playing reserve grade for the rest of the year and having to answer questions week-in and week-out and I didn’t want to do that either.

“The results back home for the Dragons have probably stayed the same.

“Obviously the circumstances of a player signing for a rival club for the rest of the year is not ideal but in saying that, I’m a business, myself, and I need to look after my family going forward.

“Some people understood that. Some people weren’t happy with it. If I ask you the same question: if I give you security for the next four years, five years, are you going to take it or are you going to roll the dice?

“The relationship between myself and Dragons had been great while we had been winning. It was just a tough start to the year. All that sort of combined with me signing.”

The man with the Dragon tattoo – a 2010 premiership tattoo on an inside biceps – played off the bench a few hours after landing in London and endured a 70-0 Challenge Cup semi-final flogging at the hands of Wigan.

The Broncos play before tiny crowds – their entire season home attendance equals roughly one game at Suncorp Stadium by their Brisbane namesakes – and there is intense speculation their owner David Hughes will withdraw support and they won’t be in Super League next year.

“This experience has taught me about patience,” says Soward, about halfway through a wide-ranging chat conducted at the end of training.

“Sometimes I guess I’ve said the wrong thing or it’s came out the wrong way. I’ve had to really sit back and take it all in whilst losing and I’m learning quickly because I’m only here for a short time.

“I feel a lot more relaxed than I was back home. I guess the fishbowl effect gets to you and slowly, I think – keeping an eye on the game back home – some of the media’s starting to understand that.

“It is 24-7, your job. You get paid well and we do understand we’re role models but we need to work together to grow our game. You need to work on your game and I need to work on my game.”

Soward is a magnet for criticism, perhaps because – as a general sports nut who wants to work in the media upon retirement – he is acutely aware of it and all too happy to engage his detractors.

When he quotes Wally Lewis on the subject of dealing with critics, those critics think he is comparing himself to the The King as a player.

Even in the Challenge Cup semi, there were reports of him jousting with fans, who chanted ‘taxi for Soward“

“It said that I spat at the crowd but I just turned around riled them up a little bit – just a little bit of fun,” he explains.

“I think most media people that sit down and talk to me one-on-one realise that I’m not the prickly guy that (I am when I) get 10 people in front of him, asking why we keep losing.

“I couldn’t understand their chants so the one I did understand, I just turned around and … taxi’s universal, isn’t it?

“Back home, there’s a lot more fans. Being at St George, you might go to a function and there’s 2000 fans who want to talk to you after you’ve played.

“Sometimes, I’ve probably not been in the mood and I haven’t wanted to talk to every single person but they keep the game going.

“I’m just human. I’m not in a good mood every day and I don’t say the right things every day. I’m seeing a lot more support for the players, especially since the new TV deal’s come in.

“The media want more access but they have to realise that we’ve got careers we’ve got to protect and if we’re getting bagged every day then it’s not going to help either of us, really.”

Soward says he speaks to some Dragons players daily and that he’s looking forward to learning the names of his new Penrith team-mates (“like the first day at school”), although in truth he probably already knows their weights, heights and nicknames.

He’s tried shutting footy culture out, he says, but it doesn’t work for him

“When I come up against the Dragons, I guess I’ll get booed. But what’s the difference? I get booed everywhere I go.

“I’m not a big head by any stretch. If I say it, I say it how it is. If I get booed, I get booed. I was happy they even knew who I was, over here. It’s all good fun, mate.

“I need to be more relaxed and the media probably need to take me less seriously.”

Filed for: SUN-HERALD

TRAVELS: XVII

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD

LONDON’S heavy loss on Saturday led to a reader contacting me about one of my favourite hobby horses – an English team in the NRL.
But this reader, whose given name was Leigh of Dallas (?) came at the idea from an interesting angle. What are the drawbacks of an NRL franchises based in Leeds or Manchester? That it would completely overshadow Super League and effectively relegate it to what the Brisbane comp has become.
But what if the franchise was based in London, and aimed not at league-loving northerners but Aussie and Kiwi expats in the capital?
Let’s get some of the obvious reservations you might have about the idea out of the way immediately. The travel time in Super rugby union between Dunedin and Durban is roughly similar, as is the time difference, and they manage just fine.
There is now a flight that leaves Sydney at 6am and arrives in London the same day, meaning a team could have plenty of time to acclimatise – as much or more as successful World Club Club Challenge sides have had
Of course, London Exiles (or whatever) would not be away every second week. They’d go “on tour”, playing two, three or four away games at once. Visiting teams would play the previous Friday and the following Sunday or Monday.
They would not steal every player from Super League because they would be subject to the NRL salary cap. They would not detract from Super League because they are geographically distant from most of the teams. They would earn the NRL a shedload in TV rights but not detract from the value of the existing SL rights.
I can’t see too many negatives. It’s time to get the ball rolling.
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GEORGE and Tom Burgess have just re-signed with South Sydney.
George and Sam are now pretty much the first choice props for the bunnies, ahead of Warrington signing Roy Asotasi, and this Saturday phonto (1)night they come up against the Australian pairing of James Tamou and Matt Scott when Souths take on North Queensland.
Australia coach Tim Sheens will be watching. Even at this early stage, I am told Sheens is considering picking a bigger side to take on England in the World Cup opener than the side that will eventually play New Zealand.
He believes the Kiwis’ dummy-half running will make the big fellows vulnerable against the Kiwis.
The big loser out of the rise of the Burgesses is set to be Cronulla back-rower Chris Heighington. It’s hard to see him getting a starting berth with all the talent at Steve McNamara’s disposal.
Meanwhile, the return from a pectoral muscle tear of Wests Tigers prop Keith Galloway on Monday is a big boost for Scotland. I spoke to him at training yesterday and he’s very keen to play for the Bravehearts.

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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

MEN OF THE WORLD Three: ANTHONY SEIBOLD (Australia, France, England, Wales & Germany)

Melbourne - Anthony SeiboldBy STEVE MASCORD

“Pfffft!” You can almost picture Anthony Seibold, the current Melbourne Storm Under 20s coach, rolling his eyes as he read our first Men Of The World feature a couple of months back.

If you’ll remember, Dustin Cooper told us how he started out in Australia before rugby league took him to France and to the United States. Cooper spoke passionately about the opportunities the game can give young men to see the world – an aspect of a playing career in our game that is not often highlighted.

This monthly feature is not intended to be a contest – but if it was, we could hand over the gold medal right now to A Seibold. He’s got everyone I’ve ever met covered.

“I was an elite junior in both cricket and rugby league,” Anthony tells us the day after a Storm home game recently.

“I chose rugby league, I was recruited by the great Cyril Connell and I left St Brendan’s Yeppoon to join the Brisbane Broncos.

“This was up 1992 to 1995. I captained the Under 21s, played reserve grade, never played first grade but that was a great era for the Broncos. I’d look around my reserve grade team and there were fellows like Paul Hauff and Gavin Allen and Mark Hohn out there.”

Then his wanderlust kicked in. The call came from St Esteve in France and he took it. “I was right out of my comfort zone in France but it was a great life experience,” he recalls.

Injury intervened, Anthony returned to Australia and joined Brisbane Wests in a stint that included a clash at Port Moresby’s famous Robson Oval. His association with Gary Grienke would soon lead to another odyssey – in Canberra for 1997 and 1998.

“I had been a promising kid who couldn’t make first grade in Brisbane while they were winning all those comps,” he said.

“After going to France, coming back, playing in the Q Cup – I finally made first grade and played a fair bit of it down there in Canberra alongside some great players .”

Our hero met his wife in Australia’s national capital and could easily have pulled up stumps when it came to his rugby league escapades. Some people form attachments to familiar smells, sights and sounds and eschew opportunities elsewhere out of fear.

It’s fair to say Anthony Seibold is not one of those people.

“London Broncos had suffered a few injuries and the call came to go and have a go at Super League under Dan Stains,” he recalls with relish.

“I was Cup-tied and couldn’t play at Wembley in the Challenge Cup final, which was disappointing, but there were some good times.

“Richard Branson gave us all a present of mobile phones with months worth of credit on them. Another time, five of us opened the Brit Awards on drums with Queen and Five!

“And there was also the time we stripped off to pose as centrefolds in the gay magazine Campaign. They were always interesting times when Richard owned the club.

“At the end of the 2000 Super League season, in a win over Leeds at Headingley, I did my ACL (knee ligament and most of the next year.”

Again, Seibold returned to Brisbane, combining some university lecturing with footy for the Ipswich Jets. Next stop? C’mon – guess!

“Hull,” he says. “Hull KR were trying to get promoted to Super League, they heard I was available.

“Mal Reilly was the coach and I used to get him to tell me stories about the old days at Manly. I loved playing under him. I ended up captaining the team at the end of 2003 and into 2004.

“I’d just turned 30 and didn’t think anyone would be interested in signing me again. Then I got a call from Pete Nolan and John Dixon at the Brisbane Broncos.

“They wanted and older player/mentor type for the Toowoomba Clydesdales, who were their feeder team. Adrian vowles had done the job before. That was a great team – Sam Thaiday, Greg Eastwood, Nick Kenny….”

But by now, Seibold had his eyes permanently on the horizon. “John Dixon was going over to start the Celtic Crusaders in Wales and he kept asking me what it was like over there.

“I got to thinking and I said ‘if you can find a job for me, I’ll go with you’. I went and in three years, we got up into Super League.”

When the Crusaders moved from Bridgend to Wrexham, Seibold was torn. His wife Holly had a job teaching in the south of Wales. So, eventually, he stayed behind and helped set up the South Wales Scorpions.’

“We had Brian Noble and John Sharp there and I don’t mind saying I learned plenty then about how not to treat people,” he says. “I don’t mind having a go at them because I don’t agree with some of the things they did.”

In 2010, Seibold was named RFL coach of the year for his work at the Scorpions.

“I was in Portugal at the holiday home of one of the owners of the Crusaders and I went to check my email,” he recalls.

“It was from the Mackay Cutters. They were looking for a coach. And so there was another chapter.”

But wait, there’s more! “My grandfather is German and the German rugby league asked if I’d like to come and help coach and play in an international in Estonia.

“So on a bye weekend in Wales, I did. I went and played a rugby league international in Estonia.”

After two years coaching the Queensland Cup side based in north Queensland, Seibold was head-hunted by arguably our greatest current coach, Craig Bellamy.

His youngest daughter Isabella is 10 and has already lived in four countries. “I hate it when people say rugby league is just two states and the north of England,” he says.

“I have seen the passion of fans in France. I have experienced how crazy it is to play in Port Moresby. I have played in a Hull derby where 16,000 sounded like 50,000.

“I played at Canberra when Mal Meninga was there and he was a hero of mine. I played with Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley.

“And when I went to London, I played with Martin Offiah and Shaun Edwards. I’ve been lucky.

“You can have great life experiences in rugby league. You can go away having ‘not made it’ and come back and play first grade.

“Most of the kids I coach wouldn’t even know they play rugby league in France, which is an indictment against our code.

“So when people say rugby league is just a local game, it really shits me.”

Ends

ANTHONY SEIBOLD’S GUIDE TO AN AFTERNOON OFF IN…

BRISBANE

“We always used to go to Sizzler in Toowong for a feed. I don’t know if it’s still there. I used to live with Wendell Sailor – we were groomsmen at each others’ weddings – and sometimes we went down to the park for a kicking contest”.

PERPIGNAN

“A sleep! Everything closes between 12.30 and 2.30pm so we would go for a siesta. Aside from that, we’d play cards because we couldn’t understand the television.”

LONDON

“Catch the tube to Leicester Square or Covent Garden and watch the world go by.”

HULL

“Ha! People say there’s not much to do there! When I was at Hull KR, we’d be out in the schools in the afternoon, spreading the message of healthy living”.

BRIDGEND

“Dive 20 minutes to Cardiff Bay. It’s beautiful – in summer, not so much in winter. There used to be a coffee shop in the Bridgend town square we liked but I can’t remember what it’s called.”

TOOWOOMBA

“Great parks, not to be missed. Take the kids there and let them run around.”

MACKAY

“Canetown Shopping Centre is one of the biggest malls in regional Australia. Go check that out.”

CANBERRA

“My wife Holly is from Canberra, she’s Lincoln Withers’ sister, and she hates the fact l love to sit in on a session of parliament whenever I am in town.”

MELBOURNE

“I like to take the family down to St Kilda pier and just walk along it and hang out.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

TRAVELS: V

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD

THE old ‘Aussie take on the British game” routine has been done to death over the years – but I’m sure it’s what you’re expecting from me this week.

Since about 1970, Australian media types have been talking down their noses at British players, administrators and supporters about what has to be done to “fix’ the game here.

The fact is, it’s become such a cliché that it no longer seems to carry much weight. You just shrug and go watch your team this weekend like you always have.

Last weekend, I went to three games: Leeds-Hull, St Helens-Hudderfield and London-Widnes. I thought the middle one was compelling, the others had different flaws as spectacles.

Let me say off the bat that I love Super League. I sit up and listen to commentaries online on a Sunday night at home and tweet scores –that’s how much I love it.

I love the ball movement, I love the sense of adventure and the risk taking and I love the crowds who make the audiences at home seem like they are painted onto their seats.

No-one has sent me here for the first month of the season. Sure I pick up some work doing the World Club Challenge but I cannot think of a better place in the world to be right now than here, watching three games a week.

So if I must do the old “Aussie preaching to poms” routine, let it be known that I am not approaching the issue from a perspective of arrogant distance.

Leeds remains a true hotbed for rugby league, up there with Brisbane and Wigan. Game night is compelling and uplifting and the Rhinos are a great team to watch, with Ryan Bailey the perfect pantomime villain.

Now Hull, to me, do not look the part at all – and Gareth Ellis’ presence would have made no difference to the result on Friday.

They seem to lack penetration and play off the top of their heads. It’s hard to see them joining the top echelon of Super League sides this season.

Huddersfield on Saturday played like an NRL side – an NRL side with a point to prove. Please, don’t tell me playing against a coach who left you for “greener pastures” the previous year is not a motivator.

This is the sort of situation I see time and again as a rugby league writer. Players deny being motivated by factors that are as plain as the nose on Laurie Daley’s face and mock us as cynics for suggesting such a thing – and years later in their biographies admit we were 100 per cent right.

Whereas Friday night’s floggings were bad for rugby league, this one was good for the comp (sorry Saints fans) and injected much interest in this weekend’s Widnes-Saints game.

Which brings us to Sunday’s events at The Stoop.

I found it to be a rather depressing afternoon all round. The main reason, perhaps, is outlined in the item below but the 2800-odd crowd and dismal performance of the Broncos made it a particularly downbeat occasion.

On one hand, we want London to spend up the salary cap and be competitive. On the other, we seen tiny crowds like this come through the turnstiles. You don’t need to be a genius to work out that one of these things will continue at the expense of the other.

You can talk all you like about them playing at the wrong venue. London are like Melbourne – they are in hostile/apathetic markets and must ALWAYS be competitive (challenging for titles) to be a success.

In Australia, the AFL signed Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau and then just gave them to expansion clubs. I know it would never be tolerated in the north but maybe the only answer for London is for the RFL to adopt a similar policy with the Broncos.

I know Red Hall has had its funding cut and is laying off people but at some stage they have to revisit central contracting and take dramatic, unusual measures to help London – as the AFL did for its missionary franchises. Yes, I know the culture is different here and you are still getting your heads around salary caps and play-offs but we have to do SOMETHING.

As an  outsider, it is obvious to me that rugby league needs a team in London. But what we have IS not is not working. Another Aussie example (sorry) – the A-league soccer body founding itself running some of the teams in its own league to prevent them collaPsing.

OK, end of arrogant, ignorant sermon. I hope you found my thoughts interesting, even if you didn’t agree with any of them. I just figured I had to write about the first round of Super League this week.

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I was having a beer with my friend Howard Scott in the main grandstand at The Stoop on Sunday when I received one of the worst phone calls of my life.

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Super League round one: WIDNES 28 LONDON 14 at The Stoop

By STEVE MASCORD

LONDON started the Super League season disastrously when centre David Howell broke an arm and captain Craig Gower suffered a worrying groin injury in a heavy home loss to Widnes.

In front of just 2856 fans at the Stoop, the Broncos found themselves down 18-0 by halftime to a Widnes side which still has several key players – including star signing Gareth Hock – to be added. A second-half revival by Tony Rea’s men came far too late.

Making matters worse are injuries to Howell, halfback Gower – who missed most of the second half – and five-eighth Michael Witt (also groin).

“We didn’t handle the emotion of the day well,” said coach Tony Rea, referring to expectations the club would be more competitive this season.

“By that I mean  there is expectation. We want expectation to do do well. They (Widnes) played like they had nothing to lose. We want people to expect things from us.”
Rea said the seriousness of Gower and Witt’s injuries would be known in the next 48 hours. “We’re a squad, we’re not just one player,” he said in reference to Gower.

For rival Denis Betts, who saw his side defend grimly to deny several Broncos scoring chances at the death, next weekend’s clash with local rivals St Helens will not be made easier by the victory in the capital or Saints’s dismal 40-4 defeat the previous evening to Hudderfield.

“I can’t remember watching St Helens play that badly – ever, in 10 years of Super League,” said Betts. “I think they’ll be a completely different side next week.

“That was an anomaly that threw itself up last night. It was one of those things. I don’t think we’ll be watching the tape and hoping they play that badly again. I just can’t see it.

“They’ve got too many good players, they’re too well coached, I think the response next week will be massive.”

Widnes’ Danny Craven suffered a broken collarbone.

WIDNES 28 (S Marsh 2 J Clarke D Allen F Winterstein tries R Hanbury 4 goals) bt LONDON 14 (K Dixon 2 tries, goal) at The Stoop. Referee: T Roby. Crowd: 2856.

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Final team lists:

LONDON: Luke Dorn; Kiean Dixon, David Howell, Alex Hurst, Jamie O’Callaghan; Michael Witt, Craig Gower; Chris Bailey, Shane Rodney, Will Lovell, Scott Wheeldon, Chad Randall, Antonio Kaufusi. Res: Mark Bryant, Olsi Krasniqi, Thomas Lee, Chris Melling.

WIDNES: Rhys Hanbury; Willie Isa, Stefan Marsh, Chris Dean, Paddy Flynn; Joe Melling, Danny Craven; Hep Cahill, Macgraff Leuluai, Dave Allen, Eamon O’Carroll, John Clarke, Ben Cross. Res: Lloyd White, Alex Gerard, Frank Winterstein, Phil Joseph.

Halftime: Widnes 18-0