THE JOY OF SIX: 2015 NRL Nines



COUNTING their dollars after a second wildly successful NRL Nines, the promoters have set their sites on a “Magic Weekend”, with an entire round of matches played at Eden Park. St George Illawarra hooker Heath L’Estrange, who has played in the British equivalent, pushed the idea to Set Of Six early Sunday and Duco Events’ David Higgins responded: “That’s a great idea and one about which I have already spoken to (business partner) Dean Lonergan. It would be a big success for the game. We have a good relationship with the NRL now and something I’m sure will be raised.” While Higgins said he had an open mind about adding teams to the Nines in future season, he didn’t sound keen. “If it’s not broke, why fix it?” he mused. “There is great purity to what we have now.”


THERE are those who are cynical about the extent of any changes that have occurred at Cronulla since the ADASA controversy. But according to forward Tinarau Arona, the strong showing at the Nines was a testament, not to a distraction-free preparation as the popular narrative ran, but to the extent of how much things have been rebuilt. “It was more for us to play (in response to) the changes at the club, the change of culture,” he said. “We’ve worked hard in the off-season in cleaning up things on and off the field.” Asked to expand he said: “We’ve gone through a lot, obviously, last season and worked at being professional on and off the field.”


GOT an embarrassing middle name no-one knows about? Just as well you didn’t play in the Nines. The online link for official team lists seemed to include names straight of the passports of NRL stars. Jason Taumalolo is actually Vaai Taumalolo, the real first name of Young Tonumaipea is Yee-Huang., Chanel and Peter Mata’utia are really Chanel and Peter Mata’utia—Leifi and Isaah Yeo is Issah Ferguson-Yeo, amusing team-mate and radio commentator Jamie Soward. Wait, there’s more. “Nene” may be an unusual first name but the winger’s real Christian name is Bosam. And we’re guessing that aside from the tournament organisers, the only person who calls Josh Dugan “Joshua” is his mum.


WOMEN’S sport played a bigger role in events over the weekend than it would appear at first glance. The girls involved in the three womens’ nine-a-side games at Eden Park thrilled the crowds but the Australian women’s rugby union sevens team also contributed to Sydney Roosters getting to the penultimate round. “One of the staff at the Roosters, her partner is Tim Walsh who coaches the women’s sevens,” said Roosters boss Trent Robinson. “He came in for a day and gave us some tips and told us how he would play the nines.” The Roosters concentrated last year on the World Club Challenge but earned more from getting to the finals at the weekend. “The players get a fair share, I think they keep thinking about the dollar signs at the end of each game.”


PARRAMATTA’S Tepai Moeroa was born in the Cook Islands, raised in New Zealand and lives in Australia. According to the way of the rugby league world, that would be – in reverse order – the countries he would want to play for. But not this hombre. Asked after a blockbusting try against Newcastle on Saturday to which nation he intended to pledge his loyalty, the giant 19-year-old said: “Cook Islands”. He’d chose the Cooks ahead of the big two, if they came knocking? “Yeah. That’s where I’m from so I’d represent the home country.” Good man Tepai – we need more like you.


IT wasn’t quite the University Of Phoenix Stadium but Canberra’s Jack Ahearn bought a piece of the NFL to Eden Park at the weekend – two pieces, actually. The 22-year-old was wearing a pair of flash silver and blue boots as he scored the try that stunned the Warriors on Saturday afternoon. “They’re NFL boots, actually,” he said. “I got them from the US when I was over there. The boys bagged me about them but I think they were good luck today. I think I’m the only one, I haven’t seen anyone else wearing them.” Immortal Andrew Johns and new NRL official Shane Richardson spend the weekend at the real Super Bowl.


THE JOY OF SIX: NRL Round One 2014

A CONCUSSION expert from Melbourne spoke to NRL chief executives in Auckland last month and spelt out the cold, hard facts of legal action from former players over concussion. The cost to the game, he warned, would be $3 billion. This would close the doors of Rugby League Central indefinitely. Sunday’s comments from former Australia international Ian Roberts, in which he said his memory had been affected by years of collisions, represented the first hole in the wall of a damn that could wash away Australian rugby league as we know it. By changing concussion rules, the NRL has stuck its finger in that hole. But it’s only a matter of time….

THROUGHOUT the modern history of rugby league, coaches have schemed to stymie the sport in interminable tackling and kicking, which extends their influence over on-field events, and administrators have sought to encourage passing and sprawling attack, which brings spectators through the gates and pays their wages. Like the eternal battle between good and evil, kinda. It’s clear from the weekend, particularly St George Illawarra’s 44-24 win over Wests Tigers yesterday, that administrators are on top right now. How long will the coaches take to nullify the changes to the rules this year? “I don’t think you’ll see too many 2-0 scorelines this year,” said Dragons coach Steve Price. “It’ll be fast for the first few weeks and then when the refs stop giving so many so-called penalties, it will slow down a little.”

TWO weeks ago we discussed the dubious benefits of having a Magic Weekend – the entire round at one venue – in the NRL. But after disappointing attendances for three games at ANZ Stadium, a new benefit may have been uncovered. Why employ ushers and cleaners and pay three nights’ rent when you could stage all three matches on the same day and attract a bumper crowd? Obviously there are business-related hurdles but the Homebush venue received a shedload of bad publicity out of the poor turnouts; that would be instantly transformed by a festival day reminiscent of the Nines. The price of moving out of suburbia and into enormadomes may be playing more than one match on the same day, like rock bands who prefer to play together at festivals rather than separately at theatres.

SANDOR Earl says he would be “personally … devastated” if he was the only rugby league or AFL player suspended as a result of the ASADA investigation. “But in the fairness of it all, it wouldn’t bother me … if all the players got a fair warning and this never happened again, that would be a fair outcome … it would really annoy me, but….” he told Triple M. Earl believes he will soon know his fate and remains hopeful of playing again in August. “It’s been indicated I might be a week or two away from hearing a decision on what’s going on. I don’t know how the process will go down. I guess I’ll get my suspension and it’s just down to whether all parties are happy with it.The way I was told things would go down hasn’t happened. The lack of communication has made it really hard. Six months has flown

DID George Rose knock on playing the ball at the end of regulation time in Saturday night’s thriller? It would have beeen a match deciding gaffe if a) the referees had seen it and b) it happened. Manly captain Jamie Lyon complained to the referees about it and later said: “It’s a bit hard (for the ball) to get from your hands to your feed without dropping it when you’re on the ground. Rose, who clearly remains popular at Brookvale judging by the reaction he received from the crown, countered: “It didn’t happen.” Then, in reference to the changes to the regulations surrounding players approaching referee, he added: “Killer always goes up to the ref. That’s why they changed the rule!”

THIS is not another whinge about media access. It’s an open question to you, the potential spectator at ANZ Stadium on Thursday and Friday night. In the list of reasons you did not go, where does the paucity of meaty pre-match publicity rank? If Sam Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams had spoken widely about their coming clash, and their reasons for going to rugby union, would you have been more likely to go? If you had heard more from Canterbury players after Friday’s game, would you be more inclined to go next week? Traditional media will soon have no impact on attendance at sporting events. Are we there yet?



THE JOY OF SIX: Pre-season

The Joy Of Six

AT 24-4 at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, plans for a six-team World Club Challenge next year were looking somewhat dodgy. South Sydney and Brisbane have already told English officials they are interested in being the second and third teams in the mini-tournament next February if neither of them win the NRL this season. Whichever finishes higher will play the second-placed Super League team on a Saturday and the other will play the no.3 SL side on Friday, with the WCC proper on Sunday. Huge gate receipts are anticipated, although the games cannot yet be sold as a separate television property. The previous week, the plan is for Brisbane and Souths to meet in an exhibition game in London while the premiers play Catalan in Perpignan. Of course, a fixture squeeze involving the Allstars and Nines could ruin all these plans – but so would have 50-0 at the weekend.

ONE of the most noteable aspects of the WCC from the sidelines was the ill-tempered display of Sydney Roosters lock Frank Paul Nuuausala. FPN had plenty to say – he especially enjoyed riling Michael McIllorum – and at one stage was cautioned for by referee Gerard Sutton for abusing Wigan players as they stood in their own in-goal. Jared Waerea-Hargrweaves – who managed extreme aggression minus the compulsion to verbalise it, told MMM: “It’s not English, definitely not English. He’s got his own fresh language going. I don’t even think the Wigan boys understood what he was saying.” All jokes aside, the feistiness could be a chink in the Roosters’ armour as the season unfolds.

PREVIOUS NRL administrators have looked into the ideas of the Magic Weekend and deduced that few of the advantages it affords Super League apply in the southern hemisphere. The Magic Weekend gets an entire round on the television for the only time in the Super League season – not an issue in the NRL. The crowd attracted over the weekend is often more than the round would get at separate venues – not likely here. Far from being an unqualified success, the concept was on death’s door until it returned to the heartland of Manchester two years ago. For the NRL, a big fat cheque frome the host city and/or venue would seem to be the big advantage. Having said all that, Joy Of Six likes the idea.

IF the Rugby Football League and Australian Rugby Union continue to plot playing each other at Wembley, they are likely to unsettle quite a few NRL clubs. It goes without saying that the Burgess brothers, Gareth Widdop and James Graham won’t be released from their clubs. If they are then denied huge match payments, they’ll likely become disgruntled. This will encourage players to sign short-term contracts, which in turn will help entrepreneurs staging off-season events. As Discord wrote last week, the result could be the current governing bodies in both rugby codes being severely undermined.

TRENT Robinson’s broader point on Saturday night – aside from supporting the WCC expansion outlined above and criticising the NRL for not promoting this year’s match – was that the pre-season is being completely wasted commercially. Last week, Sonny Bill Williams played in front of a crowd on the Central Coast that got in for free. The fact is, someone would like to televise every one of these games, someone would like to sponsor them and someone would like to call them on radio. But there is so little groundwork being done on the pre-season that there wasn’t even a match programme printed for the WCC – unthinkable for British fans who even have programme collecting societies. Yes, I was once in one of them.

SAM Tomkins may not qualify for some rookie of the year awards – but he’ll win those he is eligible for based on the couple of glimpses we’ve already had of him. In fact, if you can still bet on the Dally Ms, he’d be worth a flutter to win the thing outright given what are no doubt generous odds right now. It’s safe to say he was feeling better about his weekend than Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin and St George Illawarra’s Steve Price, who were already said to be under pressure and whose sides were comprehensively beaten. Speaking of rookies, a group of listeners were last night allowed to call the Melbourne-Canterbury game on radio after winning a contest. Let’s hope the trend doesn’t spread to newspapers.


THE JOY OF SIX: Round 11

There is a debate over whether State Of Origin teams should be picked before Monday Night Football because some players will be distracted. But the real issue is State selectors playing us all for fools. Most stars over the entire weekend knew they had been picked, with Greg Bird, Jarryd Hayne and NSW assistant Matt Parish arranging to share a car to Sydney last night hours before the Parramatta-Gold Coast game in Mudgee kicked off. Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson said on ABC that “discretion” was a quality our representative institutions lacked when it came to representative teams. Clubs have to cop the consequences of distracted players; Queensland picks a team on a Monday and they are already there in the room. If the players are going to be told days before the public, it’s time for the media to stake out airports and report players coming and going. Stop treating us like idiots. Tidy this up please.
THE federal government’s decision to ban in-game betting odds was only a matter of when. It’s gratifying, in a way, that the same public which supports the gambling industry could recognise when things had gone too far. But rather than think of it as victory, perhaps those who united against a outrageous and exploitative practice should think about whether what we are left with is good enough.Y our kids, who are now spared live odds on Friday night, are still confronted with perimeter adverting at the footy, odds being spruiked in commercial breaks and partnerships with every NRL clubs. Surely this is harmful in the same way that the advertising that has just been banned was. In the view of Set Of Six, all gambling advertising should go the same way as cigarette advertising. The NRL has survived not being the Winfield Cup, after all. One product promotes cancer, the other IS a cancer.
HALF an hour after Manly beat Canberra 16-10 at Brookvale Oval, rival coaches Geoff Toovey and David Furner were seen in animated coversation behind the grandstand. No, there was no danger of the 80th minute fisticuffs between Anthony Watmough and Dane Tilse being repeated. Your correspondent couldn’t hear what the were talking about but judging by the hand signals, it had to do with rucks and defensive lines. Toovey later told Triple M it was “two frustrated coaches” and – after being pressed by former referee Bill Harrigan – conceded his successors were the source of the frustration. “My major concern, and I’ve had it for the last few weeks – I just think it’s become laughable,” said Toovey.
PARRAMATTA’s welfare officer and former iconic winger Luke Burt had the sort of husky voice at Glen Willow Sporting Complex yesterday that could get him work at a 1300 call centre. He guested as a Channel Nine commentator and appeared on the ABC beforehand. How did he come to sound so throaty? It depends where you listened. He told the ABC that he had “a sore throat” and that his wife and child had the same problem. “I must have got it kissing them goodbye,” he said. But on Nine, he said “I was wrestling with the young fella and he whacked me in the throat” Could both these stories be true? By sheer co-incidence, several people who reported a night on the town on Mudgee on Saturday had voices that sounded very much like Burty’s.
THE term ‘car crash’ gets thrown around too readily these days to described anything disastrous. Referee Gavin Reynolds planned a big weekend around the Parramatta-Gold Coast game in Mudgee with family following him over the mountains to watch him co-control a game on a ground curated by his brother, Brad. But he came unstuck by crashing his car en route on Saturday. Family members had to double back and get him and the car was towed to a nearby town. But the rest of the weekend went swimmingly, with the perfect surface a credit to Brad and Gavin plus Matt Cecchin getting it right by disallowing a try to Albert Kelly for deliberately propelling the ball forwards. Sadly for Gold Coast, the match officials only learned to get this right by getting it wrong when Shaun Johnson scored a try against the Titans on May 6. That’s right, a call has gone an opposite way on two occasions this month, and the same team has been the victim each time.
THE idea of importing the Magic Weekend deserves another look after a successful promotion at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium. An entire round of Super League is played at the same venue and after a nomadic existence for the concept, it seems to have found a home, close to the game’s heartland. OK, the day one crowd of 30,793 yesterday wasn’t great but we’d do much better; the argument against a similar weekend in the NRL is that all our games draw big attendances anyway. It’s fair to say that argument has been weakened this season. We need events, cities would love to bring all 16 NRL teams to town and it’s more likely to attract travelling fans than the Auckland Nines.


Super League round 16: HUDDERSFIELD 42 BRADFORD 6 at Etihad Stadium, Manchester


HUDDERSFIELD coach Paul Anderson asserted his desire to play tough as his side kept the pressure on Wigan at the top of the table.
The Giants gave Bradford a lesson in defending as they romped home with a more-than-convincing seven-try win.
Back rower Dale Ferguson opened the floodgates with a comfortable effort in the 10th minute with fullback Scott Grix crossing the line three minutes later.
“This group are working very hard at the moment – we want to go through teams not around them. I’d be lying if I said i didn’t tell the players we owed them one,” said Anderson, in reference to a big Bradford win over thew Giants earlier this year.
Bradford’s hopes were lifted by a possible Elliott Kear try four minutes after the Grix touchdown but they were dashed when it was disallowed for offside.
Huddersfield - Paul AndersonBut the die was well and truly cast in the 24th minute as replacement Larne Patrick ducked through several Bulls defenders to find the corner, making the score 18-0 at halftime.
“Our performance was workmanlike and we created a lot of chances,” said Anderson. “Every time we decided to be direct, we created havoc.”
Another opportunity for Bradford was granted when Grix failed to catch an easy kick, but it was thwarted as Giants defenders forced Chev Walker to drop the ball.
A spectacular 40-20 from Danny Brough in the 42nd minute was wasted as Giants failed to convert.
Ferguson scored his second at 54 minutes by breaking through the Bulls defence, leaving in his way only Jamie Foster,who was easily floored to stretch the gap to 24-0.
The Bulls finally made it onto the board in the 61st minute as winger Kear grabbed a well placed kick and sent fullback Foster over in the corner, flanked by two defenders.
The try failed to stem the flow with Patrick, prop Craig Kopczak, centre Brett Ferres and replacement Anthony Mullally all making it over the line in the last 15 minutes to confirm their superiority.
Bulls boss Francis Cummins was left disappointed with the missed opportunity to pull three points clear of St Helens in the table but conceded the result was fair.
Cummins said: “It was a bad day at the office, but they were the better team. We have people missing and there were some below par performances in there.”

HUDDERSFIELD 42 (D Ferguson 2 S Grix L Patrick S Lunt B Ferres A Mullally tries D Brough 7 goals) bt BRADFORD 6 (Foster try goal) at Etihad Stadium. Referee: J Child.

Final team lists:
BRADFORD: Jamie Foster; Elliot Kear, Matty Blyth, Keith Lulia, Adrian Purtell; Danny Addy, Jarrod Sammut; Chev Walker, Elliot Whitehead, Tom Olbison, Jamie Langley, Heath L’Estrange, Nick Scruton. Res: Matt Diskin, James Donaldson, Ben Evans. Jacob Fairbank

HUDDERSFIELD: Scott Grix; Jermaine McGillvary, Leroy Cudjoe, Brett Ferres, Aaron Murphy; Danny Brough, Luke Robinson; Dale Ferguson, Jason Chan, Ukuma Ta’ai, Craig Kopczak, Shaun Lunt, Eorl Crabtree. Res: Larne Patrick, Jamie Cording, Anthony Mullally, Brad Dwyer.

Super League round 16: SALFORD 28 WIDNES 22 at Etihad Stadium, Manchester


COACH Brian Noble wasn’t getting carried away with a dramatic Magic Weekend win over Widnes, hauling Salford from the bottom of the Super League pile.

Replacement Jordan James slipped through a clutch of exhausted Vikings defenders to score the match-winning try in Sunday’s opening game for a hard-fought victory.

A hat-trick from loose forward Joe Mellor helped the Vikings recover from an early 12-0 deficit but the efforts of the Cheshire set were in vain.

In a tight but clumsy game, Noble was pleased with the win which he hopes will be a turning point for the soon-to-be-renamed Red Devils.

“We’re in the business of getting better, we understand the circumstances and we’re trying to keep away from the win and loss mentality,” said Noble.

“We’ve improved massively in the last few weeks and we will keep improving. The players have been overburdened with the reality of the situation, the pressure cooker.”

Salford - Brian NobleMellor’s second for Widnes seven minutes into the second half required the kind of soccer skills Manchester’s Etihad Stadium is used to seeing as the Vikings fought to keep the result in doubt.

A draw looked likely when the video referee awarded Kevin Brown a try after he snuck over from a tap penalty but two minutes before the hooter James struck the fatal blow.

Lee Gaskell was the first to cross the line for the Reds 30 minutes in after intercepting a pass by Jon Clarke to run the length of the pitch.

This was closely followed by a try from James to give Salford a comfortable lead.

But two from Mellor either side of the half-time whistle saw Widnes almost catch-up and make the score 12-10.

A valiant Joe Broughton effort was disallowed by the video ref for obstruction with Gaskell appearing to pushing Handbury to the floor.

Salford centre Martin Gleeson found the line in the 62nd minute to extend the Reds’ lead but a missed conversion and Mellor’s third five minutes later saw the score equalised.

Salford half Theo Fages and Brown traded further tries but James’ late winner proved the Vikings efforts were for nought. The nature of the finish left Widnes boss Denis Betts despondent as he rued his side’s lack of creativity.

He conceded: “It was a tight game – nip and tuck and all those cliches – but we looked flat.

“Salford had a point to prove and we didn’t have anything to throw at them, we looked devoid of ideas at times.”

SALFORD 28 (J James 2 L Gaskell T Fages J Broughton tries M Sneyd 4 goals) bt WIDNES 22 (J Mellor 3 K Brown tries J Owens 3 goals) at Etihad Stadium. Referee: T Alibert

Final team lists:

SALFORD: Marc Sneyd; Jodie Broughton, Martin Gleeson, Lee Gaskell, Ashley Gibson; Ryan McGoldrick Theo Fages; Stephen Wild, Andrew Dixon, Matty Ashurst, Adam Walne, Wayne Godwin, Darrell Griffin. Res: Liam Foran Vic Mauro Jordan James Jake Emmitt.

WIDNES: Rhys Hanbury; Paddy Flynn, Stefan Marsh, Cameron Phelps, Jack Owens; Kevin Brown Joe Mellor; Macgraff Leuluai, Dave Allen, Chris Dean, Eamon O’Carroll, Jon Clarke, Steve Pickersgill Res: Phil Joseph, Ben Kavanagh, Lloyd White, Frank Winterstein.