BONDI BEAT: May 2014

Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash
Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash

By STEVE MASCORD

LIKE your clubs in England, the NRL is considering ways to hold onto players and to recruit new stars,
Bondi Beat‘s spies tell us that the issue was raised in Auckland before the NRL Nines. The CEO of the league, David Smith, suggested that if one club wanted to sign a rugby union star, for instance, it could apply for central funding.
But every club would have the opportunity to match or exceed the amount of money the recruiting club was willing to pay. If Souths wanted to sign England rahrah George North, for instance, North Queensland could offer to pay a larger part of his wage package. This would leave the league paying less.
North would still have the opportunity to go to the club of his choice, not the highest bidder.
But another idea should be a concern to most readers. The plan is to make transfer fees salary cap-free if the incoming player is not from the NRL.
In other words, a leave pass to raid the Super League if you have enough money to pay the transfer fees.
I am told it was South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson who pointed this implication out. “They play the same sport as us over there, you know,” was the crux of his argument.
If you go through the current NRL club CEOS, few have much experience in the international game.

THE debate over the marquee player proposal in England is a fascinating one.
I heard on the BBC recently that the NRL has a marquee player allowance of $600,000 per club. That is wrong. There is no marquee player system in the NRL that is even remotely similar to what Dr Marwan Koukash is proposing in Super League.

What is allowed in the NRL are third part agreements – club sponsors paying players up to a limit. It is not the same as allowing clubs to spend their own money on imported talent, regardless of whether it sends them broke.
Instead of offering Stg200,000 for rival clubs’ “golden tickets”, perhaps Dr Koukash should guarantee to under-write the rest of the comp so every club can spend up to the cap as it exists now.
I am a bit of a sociallist when it comes to sporting competitions. I believe our game needs to be outwardly capitalist but inwardly communist.
Until every club in the Super League is spending up to the cap, there is no point giving them more rope to hang themselves. Maybe if every club in the new division of eight is spending up to the cap and is on a sound financialfooting, it can be considered again.
The recent Widnes-Salford epic was a clash of cultures – between licencing and throwing raw cash at something. And who won that?
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THIS column probably features a few too many items which paint my Australian compatriots as being a little ignorant of the realities of rugby league outside their own bubble. It’s a point that gets laboured here too much.
But it was curious the other day to hear Penrith coach Ivan Cleary say this: “I think, personally, we shouldn’t have representative tournaments every year at the end of the year,” Cleary said. ”Maybe a one-off game with Australia and New Zealand straight after the grand final pretty much. Basically, if you are going to have one it needs to finish a lot earlier.”
Cleary, you’ll remember, is the New Zealand assistant coach!
Now, George Gregan played 139 Tests in that other code. Darren Lockyer had played 59 when he retired. But WE’RE playing too many Tests? Clearly, were playing too many club games…
One man who agreed with Cleary was Greg Alexander, who is on the board at Penrith. When I appeared with Andrew Voss and Brandy on 2UE to argue against Cleary’s contention, one of their responses was that if we needed international football so much then perhaps there should be a World Cup every two years!
From the sublime to the ridiculous…..
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IN the wake of the sort of ignorance described above, you’ve got to hand it to the Sydney Roosters and former Catalan coach Trent Robinson.
He has hired the England coach as his assistant and in Remy Casty has a man who is likely to be only the fourth French born player to turn out in the top flight down under, after Jerome Guisset, Jacques Molinet and Jason Baitieri.
And when his team completely outclassed Wigan in the World Club Challenge, Robinson argued that the concept should be expanded. Even in the face of the increasing disparity in the salary caps of the two competitions, he argued an expanded WCC would narrow the gap, not accentuate it.

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ANOTHER great story in this neck of the woods this year has been the debut in Queensland’s Untrust Super Cup (the Q Cup to you) of the Kopoko-based PNG Hunters.
After the disappointments of the World Cup, the PNGRL signed players from rural areas to contracts, took them away from their families for 11 weeks and put them in a police barracks.
The result was a 24-18 win on debut against Redcliffe in Brisbane. “Back at home, after the World Cup when everyone got back into the country, the guys that played in
the World Cup never went out in public places because a lot of the media and the people around the country were pissed off,” said coach Michael Marum.
PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka says Mal Meninga is now the coach of the Kumuls. They hope to play the winner of the mid-year Samoa-Fiji Test before the Four Nations and a warm-up game against another 4N team – perhaps England.
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TYRONE McCarthy and his partner, Helen Lomax, are settling in nicely in Cairns.
The Ireland vice-captain and ex-Warrington star scored two tries on debut for Q Cup side Northern Pride. “I was probably getting stagnant at Warrington, being in and out of the side,” he said.
“It’s pretty different to home here, very hot and humid, but I’m used to it now and the club have been great. Two tries is more than I scored all last year.”
Tyrone is hoping to get his charity project, the FullBloods, going in Oz. It helps kids in disadvantaged areas using rugby league to connect with them. Support Tyrone by visiting thefullbloodproject.org.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 16

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES
TIME for a history lesson. In rugby league we used to have no replacements and men would play on with horrendous injuries. Then we had two replacements, then four, and it happened less often. Then we had interchange. We used to have nothing between a sending-off and a penalty. There used to be no sin bin, no video review. Dirty and violent play decreased when they were introduced. You used to be able to play on with blood pouring out of a wound. Then we had the blood bin. Until two years ago, most players who were concussed continued on as a sign of courage. Until a year ago, there were shoulder charges. And until last Wednesday, there was bare-knuckle punching and brawls in rugby league. Save your breath, don’t fight the future. To quote Pearl Jam, it’s evolution, baby.
HALF A CHANCE?
WHILE most observers would regard replacing both NSW’s halves for Origin III as not so much hitting the panic button as pulverising it, Queensland great Gorden Tallis says the one combination he doesn’t want to see in blue is the South Sydney pairing of John Sutton and Adam Reynolds. “Would they be out of place in a sky blue jersey?” Tallis said on Triple M. “I’m going to be biased, I don’t want to see them in a sky blue jersey.” The pair’s coach, Michael Maguire, is usually reluctant to push his charges for representative selection but said: “It’s good for Souths (they’re not there) but they’d definitely be able to handle that arena. They just get better and better. Johnny Sutton just kicks the team around the park and Reyno kicks them around the park. I’m glad we’ve got both of them.”
RESERVES DRAGON THE CHAIN
WHAT’S wrong with the Dragons? You can point to the absence of a long kicking game, lack of creativity, injuries and more. But according to coach Steve Price – on Saturday night in the 25-10 loss to Penrith at least – it was their bench. “As a coach, I’m really looking for a lot more from my interchange bench,” said Price. “There were too many errors and penalties to come out of our interchange bench. That first eight minutes after halftime, we were bogged down defending our goal line for the first eight sets. That should not happen after halftime.” Amid reports that St George Illawarra had gone cold on Canberra halfback Sam Williams, Price said he was “not sure” if the Country Origin rep would join them next year. And although Penrith were briefly in the top eight at the weekend, their coach Ivan Cleary still says: “We are in a rebuilding year …”
BREAKING POINT FOR TITANS
THE departure of Jamali Idris with a broken ankle turned yesterday’s Newcastle-Gold Coast game irrevocably, with Newcastle providing the most ruthless exploitation in recent memory of a missing defensive player. But it could also have altered Gold Coast’s 2013 campaign just as decisively. Brad Takairangi is out until round 19 with a rib injury and yesterday PNG winger David Mead was forced to fill in as a centre. Luke O’Dwyer will be one centre. Marmin Barba, brother of Ben, could be ready for a call-up with William Zillman switching to the threequarterline. It’s been a good season so far for coach John Cartwright; tougher times are ahead. By the way, stats whiz David Middleton can’t ever recall a penalty try and a (possible) eight-point try occurring before.
A HULL OF A TIME
LAST year, Brett Finch gave up being a starting half for arguably the most famous rugby league club in the world, Wigan, to be back-up at Melbourne Storm and play NSW Cup. Craig Gower started this season as club captain at London Broncos and walked out to play off the bench on a modest wage in Newcastle. And now Michael Dobson has handed in the captain’s role at Newcastle to potentially be behind Gower in the pecking order at New Lambton. Super League’s stocks are sinking by the day and if the Rugby Football League are going to introduce an A-League-style marquee players system, as has been discussed, they had better fast-track it or there’ll be no marquee players left. It’s got to the point that RFL is considering another Socceroos measure – playing internationals on the other side of the world because that’s where the players are.
WHAT’S NEW? NOT QUEENSLAND WINNING
LATE on Wednesday night, some of my radio colleagues criticised the print media for zeroing in on the mass sin bin dismissals at the post-match media conference. According to them, “negative stories sell papers”. But that’s not the rationale at all. The word “news” comes from the same place as “comics” and “funnies”. The news is, literally, “stuff that’s new”. Queensland winning an Origin game is NOT new – it’s happened 49 times. Eleven players facing 11 in an Origin game, on the other hand, was rightly described by Ray Warren as “an historic period”. It IS new! Couple that with the fact just about everyone buying a paper in NSW and Queensland the next day would have seen the game, and getting reaction to the use of the sin bin was the biggest no brainer of the season for any trained journalist, none of whom would have had “selling papers” on their minds as they raced to meet deadlines.

Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

BONDI BEAT: July 2013

RLW July 2013By STEVE MASCORD
NEXT year’s World Club Challenge in Perth? Someone should hurry up and tell Perth about it.
Normally reliable Bondi Beat sources have informed us the most isolated city in the world outside of Siberia is just about nailed on for the first WCC in Australia since 1994.
But John Sackson, the CEO of the WARL, tells us: “If an event of that magnitude was going to take place in Perth next year, I would say negotiations would be well under way.
“And aside from Gary Hetherington throwing up Perth at some stage, I haven’t heard a whisper.
“They’d need to be talking the West Australian Events Corporation, they’d need to be talking to nib Stadium and maybe other venues and I hope they’d be talking to us.
“I haven’t heard a whisper. WCC in Perth? Very doubtful if you ask me.”
All of which suggests two possibilities. One, we’re going to have a one off in the north of England for the fifteenth consecutive year or two, we’re doing things by the seat of our pants as usual.
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“I’M Welsh. Does that make me a pom?”
With that, former Harlequins and Saracens chief executive Mark Evans introduced himself to the Melbourne media as the new boss of the world champion Storm – and the World Cup lost a consultant.
Evans has been appointed by Bart Campbell, a London-based New Zealander who will be the new majority shareholder of our greatest club side.
But amid all the business related questions at the media conference on May 21, there were others like “do you feel the Purple Pride?” – a good sign I guess from reporters who usually cover religion (ie: AFL).
Are you just bringing outsiders, they wanted to know – conveniently overlooking the fact that only one Victorian has ever played for the Storm.
Hence Evans’ question back to a reporter. “Well, it makes you British,” she responded.
“Right, I’m British. I’m the only Brit. Everybody else is Australasian including Melbournians. Is that how you say it?”
Having watched a live feed of the press conference on my Ustream channel (sorry about the plug!), one fan commented that Evans needed to learn how to say Melbourne.
It’s not “Mell born”, it’s “Melbin”
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IT was gratifying to see the Rugby Football League’s Blake Solly reveal that what we suggested in last week’s column – a marquee player system for Super League – is under consideration.
The question now is: who would these marquee players be and which clubs would sign them?
I am sure Salford, whose owner has already vowed to cheat the cap, would be one. Although perhaps he means a “marquee player” in the Melbourne Storm sense, where funds for the hire of a tent are funnelled into players’ bank accounts.
Wigan could afford one, Leeds could afford one, Warrington, maybe Saints … who else?
Personally, I hope the system is introduced in time for North Queensland’s mercurial Matt Bowen to be a beneficiary. Why Warrington went cold on him, I’m not too sure.
But I reckon he’d be a hit in a town famous for outstanding Australian imports.
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OK, I have a little bit of info about some warm up games that are due to be held the week before the World Cup kicks off in October.
Expect France to host the United States, England to take on Italy, Wales to tussle with Tonga and Fiji to clash with one of rugby league’s top countries, Rochdale.
Australia don’t believe they need a warm up. The Kiwis do, but there’s still no news on an opponent.
The World Cup remains a niche event among rugby league fans but I know plenty who are going or are trying to arrange the journey.
Aaron Wallace, the stats man who so superbly briefs the Fox Spots commentators, has never been the UK and is hiring a campervan to ferry himself and his girlfriend from match to match.
He might have a passenger at times….
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BENJI Marshall is such a big name in Sydney that his wife has a Sunday newspaper column.
So you can imagine the uproar back in round 10 when he was dropped to the bench for the match against South Sydney.
Add that to the fact he has a column in the Sydney broadsheet the Herald and doesn’t say much to the tabloid Telegraph and you have an idea of the level of interest in his dramatic fall from grace
But the whole thing could be played out again come October and November.
Marshall was relieved of the Kiwis captaincy during the pre-season and it’s not impossible to imagine Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson keeping him out of the New Zealand side at some stage of the tournament.
Such a scenario would put Bondi Beat in mind of the 199five World Cup, when Gary Freeman was dropped and sulked on a bus at training.
One of Sydney’s favourite soap operas, coming to a field near you.
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THIS is not a joke, people have suggested it as a serious promotion.
There are those who want the Burgess brothers – Sam, Tom, Luke and George, to engage in what is known colloquially as a game of “backyard footy” with the Sims boys – Ashton, Tariq and Corbin.
In fact, it was North Queensland back rower Tariq who came up with the idea.
“Dead-set, if we can get that to happen, I would love it. We could do it for charity – it would be awesome,” Tariq said in the lead-up to the City-Country game.
Of course, the Englishmen would have a numerical advantage – something that could be remedied by adding Ruan Sims, who plays for the Australian womens’ team.
She recalled on a recent television appearance that one night a week, the four of them were allowed to wrestle in the loungeroom.
It was no holds barred but once someone cried, the bell rang.
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MORE and more NRL types are seeing the error of their ways when it comes to golden point time.
Another chip in the foundations of the controversial rule came in round 10, when Manly played a 10-10 draw with Melbourne in Melbourne. That was the score in regulation time and it was also the score after overtime but only following seven unsuccessful drop goal attempts.
According Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey, it’s all gone too far.
After 80 minutes, if it’s a draw, it’s only my personal opinion but it should be a draw,” he said. “When we’re having field goal shootouts, it’s just crazy.
“There’re 26 rounds in the competition. There’s enough football played. You want to see the guys busted and bleeding. It’s a gladiatorial sport, I know, but we’ve got to look after our players as well.”
Commentator Phill Gould agreed, writing the next day: “I was always a fan of the golden point and believed it added to the excitement of the close finish.
“However, when you witness a gladiatorial classic from two teams such as Melbourne and Manly this week, a draw and a competition point each is a fair result.”
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A FUNNY moment from the same game.
Storm winger Sisa Waqa (you’ll see him in action for Fiji in a few short months” was called inside the 10 chasing a kick and started walking off the pitch, asking a touch judge why he had been sent to the sin bin!

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

BONDI BEAT: June 2013

Rugby League World June 2013By STEVE MASCORD

AS a rugby league fan – probably in Britain – reading this, it’s entirely possible you can’t completely avoid soccer.

You may have a soft spot for your home town club or for a Premier League outfit. And while Rugby League is your passion, you’ll have more than a passing interest in the results each weekend.

In NSW and Queensland it is completely possible and quite easy to ignore the fact soccer exists. But fans of the round ball game in those states would find it almost impossible to have no idea who Wally Lewis or Andrew Johns is.

The reason I raise this is to draw a comparison between British rugby league and Australian soccer –the latter of which I am sure you can and do go about your daily lives not contemplating.

Both competitions, the A-League and Super League, have moved to summer to escape their overbearing competitors. Each sport has snared an administrator from the other, in David Gallop and Maurice Watkins.

And each has a poor record of failed expansion and financially ruined clubs.

But it’s in the area of recruitment that I want to make this comparison relevant. Super League is becoming a little like Australian soccer in that the best stars – the Tim Cahills and Harry Kewells – would not even consider staying at home due to the riches, glamour and profile on offer overseas.

Just a couple of weeks back, Gareth Hock and Lee Mossop inked deals with Parramatta. Many more are apparently on the way, with Mike Cooper linked to St George Illawarra.

The way Australian soccer attracts stars like Alessandro Del Piero despite having a salary cap of just $2.48 million (Stg1.66 million) is a marquee player scheme. There’s one at each club and their payments are completely exempt from the salary cap.

Similarly, Super League could stay in the hunt for some of the best players in the world by employing a similar system. Perhaps they would each go into the cap at a nominal amount, rather than nothing. The danger, of course, is that clubs who can’t afford marquee players (everyone but Leeds, Warrington, St Helens and Wigan) would send themselves broke by buying one anyway.

But with the cap unlikely to go up next year due to financial pressure and players lining up at Manchester Airport for direct flights to the NRL, it looks like the best short-term solution.

Who knows? Maybe someone’s already thought of it.

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UNTIL now, we got a vague idea that the new Australian Rugby League Commission cared a bit more about international football than the previous administration (which, to be fair, probably cared more than the one before it.

But now we have proof.

The commission has identified 30 tasks that it values above all others in the months ahead. One of them is the development of the international game.

In case you were hoping for ARLC chairman John Grant to just go ahead and list the other 29, well … er … he won’t.

But here’s what he had to say to us recently on the ABC.

“We just carried out a work prioritisation. If I go back, we put a strategic plan out there that was very clear on where we plan to put our focus and our attention over the next five years.

“We’ve devolved that laid it out into what turns out to be 30 priorities we plan to time-schedule and run through. It’s turning the intent of the strategic plan into actions and into measurements.
“We’ve got each of those 30 projects, each of which has multiple sub-projects.

“One of the things we have in our charter that fits onto this priority of international rugby league and making the Pacific Island nations stronger.

“That requires funding, and the commission funded the Tonga-Samoa international.”

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AND that’s a nice segueway into the game held at Penrith’s Centrebet Stadium on April 20, a big 36-4 win to a Tongan team full of NRL stars over a Samoan side full of NRL stars.

As you may be aware now, there were two large-scale pitch invasions late in the match. The second prevented Tongan five-eighth Samsoni Langi from converting winger Mahe Fonua’s second try.

One of the most bizarre – and disturbing – scenes during the evening was a security guard high-fiving a pitch invader.

The common story after the game was that half the security was sent home at 3pm because they didn’t think the crowd would be very big in light of heavy rain at that stage.

The event organiser, Frank Puletua, repeated this allegation to me in a story. Penrith Panthers angrily denied it, saying no such thing happened.

Even Chinese Whispers start somewhere.

But the fact remains that a fully sanctioned Test match was abandoned with 45 seconds left because of a pitch invasion – an even which would prompt countless unsavoury headlines if it happened in another sport.

International rugby league often wants to have a bet each way – “please take us seriously” until something goes wrong, then it’s down to “passion” and “grassroots”.

This definitely won’t wash at the World Cup. If we get the mainstream media engaged, we have to accept they won’t just report the good stuff.

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IT’S hard to know what to make of the make-over at NRL headquarters at Moore Park.

The former banker now running the show, David Smith, copped a bit of a battering the other day when only 4635 fans showed up to City-Country.

Central to the complaints is that he doesn’t return reporters’ phone calls. Although it went national – and international – in 1995, the premiership is still quite a Sydney-centric beast and the Sydney media feels it pretty much owns it.

Actually, until a year ago, it did!

No doubt the daily press had considerably less interest in what David Smith did each day when he sat at a desk and crunched numbers.

Now, traditional media everywhere is growing steadily less influential (you’re reading this on our ipad app, aren’t you?) but in the case of the Sydney dailies, they’re not going down without a fight.

Radio commentator Ray Hadley calling Smith a “dunce” was headline news in the Daily Telegraph.

The next day, the changes were announced. Chief amongst these were the appointments of Canterbury chief executive Todd Greenberg as head of football and former NZRL CEO Jim Doyle as chief operating officer.

Smith is putting an enormous bureaucracy around him, having hired people with a background as political lobbyists early in the piece.

He has created new divisions at the NRL: Finance, Marketing Digital & Content, Corporate Affairs And Community, Football, Strategy, Commercial and Operations.

Four heads of these departments have been appointed, three have not. Drop Dave an email if you are interested!

While the Sydney press treated these developments with the seriousness it would afford a new New South Wales state cabinet – and afforded them more space – it all seems like empty rhetoric to Bondi Beat.

The first big success the ARLC can claim is the $1.025 billion Tv deal. Since then, there have been small triumphs but we’re still waiting for the second big one.

Smith seems capable and I have heard from at least one club that his address to its board was “staggeringly impressive”.

“He knows where he wants the game to go and can tell you exactly how we can get it there,” the insider said.

The make-up of the team is only of so much interest. It’s the game that counts.

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AS previously reported, the United States and Samoa are hoping to play a World Cup warm-up game in Hawaii.

I can report that Australia coach Tim Sheens is not planning any warm-up games while New Zealand’s Stephen Kearney is looking for an opponent in Europe.

@BondiBeat

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD