IT’S a rather strange dichotomy: players in Australia have never been better paid yet nor have they ever been more militant.
Maybe Bruce can change their name to the St George Illawarra Steelers?
FURTHER to my earlier item about Gary Carter, as I write this I have just come back from visiting him in the Royal London Infirmary.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By 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
By STEVE MASCORD
THE battle for control of the game in Italy has heated up with the establishment Italian Rugby League holding a meeting with the national Olympic Committee, CONI.
As keen rugby league fans would be aware, the two countries making their World Cup bows later this year – Italy and the United States – both have rebel competitions.
Speaking on the European Federation website, FIRL vice-president Tiziano Franchini says: “The meeting was crucial for the future of rugby league in Italy.
“Our request for an interview was received by the secretary general in a very quick and positive manner.
“This first meeting was an opportunity to make formal contact with the national body that manages the sport in Italy, to carry forward the process of official recognition of rugby league here.”
As hard as it is for Australians to understand, rugby league struggles in some countries to get official recognition as a separate sport to rugby union. In South Africa, the league was told by the sports ministry to affiliate with the SARU!
But we are happy to say the Trinidad and Tobago Rugby League has just been handed official government recognition.
THE Russian national team may show up to the European championships without jerseys!
They are due to play Serbia on May 25 but are still desperately looking for a kit sponsor. It’s too cold in Europe this time of year to play naked.
As detailed above, the Russian Ministry of Sport doesn’t recognise rugby league. Russian deputy minister of sport Pavel Kolobkov is currently considering a new application for recognition.
In the meantime, if you can help the Russians with jerseys to compete on the international stage, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
IN case you missed it, Mal Meninga has joined the PNG Kumuls management team.
Mal, who formerly was an ambassador for the country’s NRL bid team, has the role of performance director.
Adrian Lam is back as coach and Gold Coast winger David Mead has re-committed himself to the cause after a falling out with the previous administration.
MAHE Fonua was not the only Victorian junior on the field when Melbourne took on Canterbury on Thursday night.
Bulldogs fullback Drury Low played his junior football at the Waverley-Oakleigh and Altona clubs in the VRL. He represented Victoria in Under 15s and under 18s, playing alongside Gareth Widdop in the latter team.
Don’t forget to follow @RLWfarandwide on Twitter.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S easy to call for the head of the head coach.
For 100 years, people have been trying to get coaches sacked for poorly performing years and right now, Bill Harrigan, Stuart Raper and – to a slightly lesser extent – Tim Sheens are in the firing line.
In many case, poor performances may not be the fault of the coach. But he’s the bloke in charge, so he has to cop the blame. Governments get ousted when times are tough – even if they are doing the best anyone could for the city, state or country they preside over.
But none of us – unless you work under these three fellas or are friends with those who do – really knows what happens behind closed doors and why their respective teams, Wests Tigers and the refs, are losing.
In the case of footy clubs, we’ve seen plenty of coaches get the flick in recent years only for their replacement to fair worse. The faction trying to get rid of Sheens should be convinced that won’t happen before they punt him.
We have a process now that works like this: losing team – coach sacked. But the process should really be: losing team, coach sacked, team still loses, board sacked.
Unfortunately there are mechanisms in place which save board from this fate. If our clubs were run in a truly democatic fashion, that’s what would happen.
In the case of the NRL, there is a full beaurocracy that should be able to get to the bottom of what is going wrong with the “merry whistle-blowers”, as Mike Stephenson calls them. They’re not so merry right now.
We already had a coup attempt against Harrigan earlier this year – so that should throw up all sort of information about what is going on in the match officials’ ranks. There should be people willing to talk. Maybe we need to appoint someone whose sole job it is to sort the mess out, like Brian Canavan did for the Blues.
The refereeing administration has tried having former refs in charge. They’ve tried having former coaches in charge. Now we’ve got one of each! Still, it’s been a poor year.
Fans simply won’t tolerate the status quo remaining over the offseason. We don’t know who is to blame but we are paying the wages of those at League Central whose job it is to find out.
By the way, there is going to be a fans symposium at Old Trafford to kick off the next Super League season. Would you go to one if it was held here?
TOMORROW night, the eighth Immortal is named. I’d almost forgotten that in one of the first Big Issues of the season, I promised to tell you who I thought should get the nod.
I wasn’t on the voting panel – I’ve really only been at League Week for five minutes in comparison to those who were and anyway, I really don’t like judging stuff anyway. Just doing the player ratings each week in this journal gives me heart palpitations.
To make this interesting, I thought I would count down the top four candidates in my mind – including those who didn’t even make the shortlist.
4. PETER STERLING: In my 25-years covering the game, I really only saw three players who could completely control the flow and outcome of a game. There were others who would inject themselves at the right time and change a result, sure. But there were three who had the air of a puppeteer, for the whole 80 minutes. One was Wally Lewis, who is already an Immortal. Another is Peter Sterling, who didn’t play as many Tests as he could have because of the number of other great halfbacks at the time;
3. MAL MENINGA: Mal will be an Immortal eventually, in my opinion. It’s just a case of when. He is the only player to go on four Kangaroo Tours, he retired with the most points and most appearances for Australia and was a colossus of State Of Origin. Again, to watch him play was to watch someone on a level above those around him – a fact records don’t accurately reflect;
2. BRIAN BEVAN: This fellow scored 796 tries between 1942 and 1964. Need I say more? On occasions he ran around entire teams – some players twice – to get them. Because Bevan played most of his career in England, he is often overlooked. He scored 100 hat-tricks and twice posted seven tries in a game! The whole Immortals concept would be richer for his inclusion;
1. ANDREW JOHNS: The reason the Immortals was conceived as a post-war concept is because they wanted the judges to have seen all the candidates play. Using that criteria, I have to go for Johns because he is the best player I ever saw. Here is someone who tackled big forwards head on, laide on tries for others, scored them himself, kicked goals, kicked tactically and saw things no-one else could. Johns admitted taking recreational drugs but he did not cheat. He took performance-reducing substances but trained long hours after his team-mates had gone home. I respect the older judges who disapprove of some of his actions. But he wasn’t Milli Vanilli. There was no miming involved for Joey. He did it all himself.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
HALF an hour on Tuesday night alone in the middle of Suncorp Stadium was the secret behind the biggest play of the season so far.
Cooper Cronk’s 40 metre field goal kept Queensland’s run of consecutive State of Origin series wins alive and his coach and captain insisted after the 21-20 win over NSW it was no fluke.
“It’s down to his training, his practice – he stayed back last night for about half an hour, slotting field goals,” Cronk’s Melbourne team-mate, Cameron Smith, said.
“We all knew it was going to be a tough, close game and luckily Coops slotted one for us there in the end.
“I was just telling Mal how he slotted one last year against Brisbane after the Anzac Test and I reckon it was almost on the same blade of grass.
“I’ve seen him slot a few (from) over halfway at training but a game situation’s a lot harder. You’re kicking under fatigue, you’re kicking under pressure.”
Coach Mal Meninga added “He practices that. He was hitting them sweet last night and he was hitting them sweet tonight.”
Smith and coach Mal Meninga were in an expansive mood after a seventh consecutive series win, the hooker saying this year’s series was the hardest of the seven to win and revealing the Maroons were unhappy with their aggression in games one and two.
“We were out-matched for aggression,” Smith said. “We weren’t going to come up here on our own ground in front of our own crowd and be pushed around.
“There were a few little flair ups but we’re about playing football, we’re not about trying to put players off their game.
“(it was) the toughest series by far, I think. The Blues have got a great side. They have had for a number of years but I think this year they had a lot more belief in themselves.”
Meninga said smiled when asked about Justin Hodges’ contentious try, saying: “I thought it was a great try.”
The coach revealed last night’s man of the match Johnathan Thurston had been unhappy with his performance in Origin II.
Both Meninga and Smith spoke glowingly about prop Petero Civoniceva, who they gave a winning farewell to.
“He’s like the father of the team,” Smith said, to which Meninga commented: “Does that make me the grandfather?”
Smith continued: “Last year we got a win in Darren Lockyer’s last game but I would mention Petero in the same breath.
“The people who payed $130 for their ticket tonight, they would have been happy with what they got.”
Meninga started the post-match media conference with an address.
“The first thing I want to say is: what a champion footy side,” he commented. “To win seven in a row, it takes something special.
“You’ve got to understand the enormity of the challenge. When you go ievenry series as favourites and they’re trying to knock you off, it takes a lot of fortitude and it takes a lot of effort.
“We had to be all that tonight to win that game. I’m proud of the boys and the way they went about the game tonight.
“Because of that effort, we’re in there celebrating.”
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD