Super League round one: HUDDERSFIELD 24 WIGAN 8 at DW Stadium


By STEVE MASCORD

MATT Bowen says he’s mystified by his own actions in an incident that could rub him out of the World Club Challenge.
An hour into the fullback’s debut for Wigan, the 31-year-old took out opposite number Scott Grix without the ball after he had kicked ahead. It’s likely Wigan will be in the air, heading to the clash with Sydney Roosters on February 22, when charges are meted out.
“I just stuck my hand out – I don’t know what I was thinking there,” Bowen said after the shock 24-6 defeat to last year’s Super League minor premiers, Huddersfield.
“I’ll just have to sit and wait now. There wasn’t much in it, I didn’t intend to get him around the chops.”
Wigan coach Shaun Wane said he couldn’t recall Bowen being involved in a similar incident but rival Paul Anderson commented: “It didn’t look good”.
The Hope Vale icon has been around the world preparing for the WCC, travelling to England to setting into a new home, then to Florida for a training camp, back to England and then back to Australia in a matter of weeks. “Fingers crossed, hopefully no games (suspended),” he said.
If the English champs were already long odds to beat the Roosters, the bookies would have been reassured by a game which Wigan never led. There was evidence of a revival after halftime when wingers Ian Thornley and Joe Burgess crossed.
But Huddersfield flanker Jermaine McGillvary completed his hat-trick with a horribly soft touchdown in the 53rd minute and before long local fans were performing the famous Wigan walk. “Massive” was how import Eddie Pettybourne described the necessary improvemnent over the next two weeks.
Wane compared the performance to one before last year’s Challenge Cup final but when asked if his side had been distracted by its looming trip down under, responded: “Absolutely not”.
O’Loughlin said he would be back for Wednesday’s clash with the New Zealand Warriors at Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium while winger Josh Charnley is expected to return from a hernia operation.
Wane said all players in his 27-man travelling squad would get a run before he chose his side to take on the Roosters.
He said: “It’s just tough to swallow this one. I wanted a good performance and a nice flight, but there’s going to be no sleep and a sh*t flight.”

HUDDERSFIELD 24 (J McGillvary 3 B Ferres S Grix tries D Brough 2 goals) bt WIGAN 8 (I Thornley J Burgess tries) at DW Stadium. Referee: R Silverwood. Crowd: 16,240.

Filed for: SUN-HERALD
Final team lists:
WIGAN: Matt Bowen; Joe Burgess, Darrell Goulding, Dan Sarginson, Iain Thornley, Blake Green, Matty Smith; Ben Flower, Liam Farrell, Tony Clubb, Eddy Pettybourne, Sam Powell, Scott Taylor. Res: Michael McIlorum, Jack Hughes, Dom Crosby, Gil Dudson.
HUDDERSFIELD: Scott Grix; Jermaine McGillivray, Leroy Cudjoe, Joe Wardle, Aaron Murphy; Danny Brough (c), Luke Robinson; Chris Bailey, Larne Patrick, Brett Ferres, Antonio Kaufusi, Shaun Lunt, Eorl Crabtree. Res: Craig Kopczak, Michael Lawrence, Ukuma Ta’ai, Kyle Wood.
Referee: Richard Silverwood. Halftime: Huddersfield 12-0

No Soft Centre For This Mango

Matt Bowen/photo: Wigan Observer

Matt Bowen/photo: Wigan Observer

By STEVE MASCORD

MATT Bowen probably hasn’t made a controversial statement in his life. But, shielding his eyes against the Florida sun, today he is no mood for mincing words.
“What better game than to go play in the World Club Challenge in Sydney? I want to go back and prove a few people wrong,” the 31-year-old, who has played his entire 13-year career at North Queensland, tells the Sun-Herald.
“I always wanted to play on. I would have played at the Cowboys another year and that would have been me. But I got told I wasn’t wanted and then I wanted to prove people wrong – that I still had something in the tank.
“I always wanted to finish my playing back at the club.”
We are sitting on a pool bench at the National Training Center in Chermont, Florida. The town water tower is not far away in the distance; the manicured hedges, wide open spaces, field with rugby posts and single story gym are reminiscent of 1300smiles Stadium, where Bowen has been at this time every year of his adult life.
But it’s not Townsville. Bowen, maybe the most popular player in NRL history, has travelled to the other side of the world to get his Wigan house keys, then to Florida for this training camp. He’ll have two pre-season games in the UK, then one in New Zealand and the WCC against Sydney Roosters on February 22.
He ignores prompts to go into great detail about who told him his tenure at the club was over, and what their exact words were. But he does not disguise his pain.
“It’s the Cowboys telling me I wasn’t needed this year,” he says as his new team-mates wander from the pool to mini-buses which will take them to the nearby bungalows where they are staying.
“They just told me they had other plans. They gave me a job there but in saying that, I wasn’t done playing.
“I’ve spent a long time there and I’m leaving all my mates behind. It was a bit hard at the start.”
“Mango” believes perception – all those stories about his knee cartilage being grown in a petri dish – played a role his demise at the Cowboys. “I think so, I got sick of getting asked about it and I’m sure the papers got sick of writing about it.
“At the end of the day, I’m back playing and enjoying it.” Bowen may have become a contortionist in the off-season, adding: “The knee’s behind me”.
When he got the news he had been dreading – and reading about – for months, Bowen says he didn’t seriously consider retiring; not for a second. Raw stats suggest his game is not what it once was, but more than once he was the Cowboys’ best player in 2013 matches.
If he had been judged against the standards of others, and not his own from a decade ago, he would probably still be in the NRL.
There were reports Hopevale’s favourite son did not want to play against the Cowboys, but in fact joining another NRL team was something he seriously considered. “I did but that sort of fell through,” he explains. “I’m just happy now where I am.”
The Cowboys job offer is still open, but Bowen has not ruled out a triumphant (and even vengeful?) return to the NRL in 2015 if his form with Wigan warrants it. “A few people were saying that, that crossed my mind,” he said, “but I’m committed to Wigan now. If that got tossed up and I’m feeling good and I want to go back, I’m sure that will be one of the things to do.”
Wigan return to Britain today after 10 days in Florida, which saw them train under MMA fighter Seth Petruzelli.. Bowen’s family will catch him on his second lap of the globe and move to Wigan after the WCC.
While it wasn’t his first choice, playing for Wigan is not something the fullback takes for granted. He’s walking in the shadows of giants like Kenny, Ferguson and Miles and replacing Sam Tomkins.
“I’ve always wanted to play in the Super League,” he says. “I went for a tour in the DW Stadium the other day … if I can play a game in the Wigan jersey I’ll put my name down in history with all the names that have played for Wigan.”

Filed for: SUN-HERALD

DISCORD 2013: Edition 39

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

THE Cronulla-to-Queensland story raises a couple of pressing questions for the NRL.

One: is relocation a viable model to satisfy expansion ambitions? Two: is it morally defensible to take with one hand, in the form of drugs sanctions, and then give back with the other, in the form of relocation allowances, if a club does what it’s told?

Let’s start with number one. Our game has never done relocation in a fully fledged American way, adopted here in Australian football with the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Lions (although still not quite as cleanly).

North Sydney were going to move to Gosford, but then got duck-shoved into a merger with Manly. We’ll never know how that would have gone.

So while most fans reject the idea of relocation out-of-hand, who are we to say it won’t work? It’s hard to see the people of Brisbane embracing a relocated Cronulla but in Central Queensland, where they appear behind the eight ball despite impressive infrastructure and support, it might work.

Similarly, while the WARL have done a lot of work marketing the West Coast Pirates, the Wests Coast Sharks would only grate during the summer months when those words appear all too regularly in local headlines.

Please note Discord is restricting its comments here to the two questions in the second paragraph. Plenty of other people are talking about whether it SHOULD happen.

The second issue is somewhat more vexed.

Personally, I don’t think people would swallow the administration knocking out the Sharks with one fist, and then using the other hand to pick them up, dust them off and send them wherever.

If the two processes could be separated – if ASADA could somehow be blamed for rendering Cronulla bankrupt and the NRL could portray itself as the saviour – then some fans might buy it.

But drugs penalties have to be handed down by the governing body and the NRL exploiting a terrible situation to its own ends would not play well to anyone. I don’t think this administration is that gung ho.

I have no doubt Wednesday’s story is based on some solid information. The NRL may well be tossing it around – but I can’t see it happening.

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IS Sam Tomkins signing for New Zealand Warriors the beginning of the end for Super League?

There are plenty of people in England who think so. He’s without doubt the biggest star in that competition and featured in the memorable advert with Bradley Wiggins at the start of the season.

But the NRL has been losing players to rugby union – and AFL – for years and has survived just fine. Wendell Sailor, Israel Folau, Sonny Bill Williams, Willie Mason … the list goes on.

The exchange rate is improving, Marwan Koukash at Salford seems to have a wad of cash and this new competition structure might even work.

And Matt Bowen is a sensational player.

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IN that column on Saturday, it said I didn’t want to become a “bitter, angry, aging crusader”.

read on

TRAVELS: XX

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
THE news out of Wigan the other day prompted media reactions on either side of the globe which were, Travels believe, out of step with reality.
In Australia, Sam Tomkins’ signing with the New Zealand Warriors was downpage brief in even the most enthusiastic rugby league paper, the Daily Telegraph.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact the signing has been the worst-kept secret in the game for months, and that Tomkins is not going to a Sydney club, but we are predicting his performances will render it a much bigger story than that.
The second media reaction which we reckon will be proven as a gross under-playing is that of the signing of Matt Bowen as Tomkins’ replacement at the DW.
I watched both Super Leaguer Fulltime and Backchat and they each described Bowen as “a stopgap” who was there primarily to mentor younger custodians at the club.
I think Bowen has the potential to be a sensation at Wigan and to make the sort of impact John Ferguson did. Have you seen his last couple of games for North Queensland? He almost won that controversial, seven-tackle, game against Cronulla.
“Mango” (so called because the north Queensland town of Bowen is a mango-producing hub) is an electrifying returner of the football and has evasive skills to match those of the man he is replacing.
He looks to be over his knee problems. He is the best Super League signing in years – on name alone, the best since Luke O’Donnell or Danny Buderus.
Wigan fans and Super League pundits, don’t be so maudlin.
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CLUB Call is just fascinating.
Logic suggests that getting to choose your opponents in a final should be an enormous advantage. And Warrington’s record against Huddersfield suggests it will be.
But coaches rate psychology, and motivating rivals, so highly that they deem it worthy of distancing themselves from this advantage that has been offered to them, and which they have taken.
If you’ve ever wondered why coaches are so careful about what they say, and what their players say, and why they pin seemingly inane newspaper articles to dressing room walls, here’s your answer.
Warrington’s Tony Smith is a smart man. He knows that he can have his cake and eat it too by distancing himself and the players from their club call choice.
Barrie McDermott recently said being picked in club call did give teams an extra edge – something mere mortals like us find hard to understand because we think you’d be heavily motivated for a sudden death game anyway.
But something drives a team when they are on their last legs, like Manly was last weekend. If it’s being called out as a desirable opponent, sobeit.
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A LITTLE bit of World Cup broadcast news that has reached my ears.
read on

THE WRAP: NRL round 18

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

ICONIC North Queensland fullback Matt Bowen’s career is in his own hands over the next seven weeks, his coach Neil Henry has admitted.

Bowen, 31, returned from a knee injury in the Cowboys’ 34-14 Monday Night Football defeat to Manly, scoring a sizzling try with one of his first touches. He is off contract at the end of the season.

He admitted at fulltime last night he was considering retirement even though he didn’t want to. Speaking to this correspondent on the field, he said: “Hopefully soon … I want to put things to bed .

“If it means calling it quits, I’ll call it quits. But I want to play on. We’ll see what happens. I want to play some good footy first.”

But Henry says Bowen might have to wait a while to find out what he’s doing next year. The club remains unsure of whether to offer him a new contract.

In an interview for Triple M which did not air because their MNF program finished, Henry told my iphone: “The fact is, the club’s not going to resolve it until we see him playing footy, I’d imagine.

“It’s a bit of a wait and see. We’re not actively recruiting other fullbacks either at the moment. He wants to play and we want to see him play.

“There’d be nothing better than for him to regain form and get confidence from playing good footy and I’m sure the club would look at extending him by one year because he’s a wonderful player.

“It would be a real shame for him to leave this club.  I don’t think he wants to leave this club so hopefully we can resolve it one way or another.”

Henry pulled no punches in his assessment of Mango’s form before he opted for knee surgery this year.

“It’s up to the club, we need to talk about it and really, his body has to be able to sustain the rigours of the game,” he said.

“We’d all agree he’s not playing the football he played last year, when he was runner-up for the Dally M. So I think that’s fairly obvious for everyone to see.

“If he can regain that form, then that’s the form you need to have to be in that top half dozen fullbacks in the competition…  and you need to sustain that.

“Time will tell whether you can get back to that form and running the ball like he was before and making the tackle breaks he was doing because he’s an immensely talented footballer.

“But we all get older and he’s had some chronic knee problems. We’ll see. I was buoyed tonight by his effort. I thought, first game back after a long lay-off …. we’ll see how he pulls up.

read on

Matt Bowen Forced To Contemplate Retirement

North Queensland - Matt BowenBy STEVE MASCORD

ICONIC North Queensland fullback Matt Bowen says he wants to make a decision on his future soon, admitting he is contemplating retirement even though it’s something he doesn’t want to do,

Bowen was a late inclusion in the Cowboys side for the 34-14 Monday Night Football loss to Manly, scoring a typically dashing try as the depleted NQ took the game to the Sea Eagles for 55 minutes before being over-run.

“Hopefully soon – I want to put things to bed ,” Bowen said on radio Triple M when asked when he would be deciding his future.

“If it means calling it quits, I’ll call it quits. But I want to play on. We’ll see what happens. I want to play some good footy first.”

The victory, Manly’s first away from home since round eight, leaves the Sea Eagles back in the top four while the Cowboys face a mountainous task qualifying for the play-offs. They can probably afford only one more loss.

North Queensland coach Neil Henry said he hoped Bowen, 31, was back for good.

“Mixed bag (from him) – nice dummy for a try and a couple of good kick returns,” he said.

“The last two sessions, we had the GPS on him and he was getting up to his speed and more importantly, he felt good about loading up his knee

“He was able to do a running session and back it up the next day and feel he was OK.”

Rival captain Jamie Lyon said it was good to see the mercurial international back on the park. “He’s good for the game … Geoff (Toovey) had a little bit of mail that he might play,” said Lyon

Henry was critical of his halves, Michael Morgan and Robert Lui.

“I thought we lacked an ability to run the ball in the halves tonight, on the back of some momentum at times, and even the ability to shift the ball at times,” he said.

“We need to be creative, we need to play footy, and you need your halves and fullback to do that.”

Coach Toovey said: “It’s very important to stay in the top four. There’re a lot of teams sniffing at our heals. I think there’ll be some challenges in the next four weeks of football.

“They were 95 per cent, completions, the first half. In the second half, we went roughly 95 per cent.”

Prop George Rose would probably be back from an ankle injury in a fortnight, while Tom Symonds (thumb) remained a long-term casualty.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE BIG ISSUE: #41

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

BY the time you read this, the first interviews involving NRL players and ASADA should have taken place.

The uproar over Friday’s Jon Mannah story is irrefutable evidence that this has gone on far too long. People with “inside knowledge” are saying the evidence gathered by the Australian Crime Commission is damning and the outcome will be every bit as bad as was forecast at that famous press conference all those months ago.

On balance, I would say that is probably correct. But what if it isn’t?

What if ASADA and the ACC don’t have enough evidence to prove more than a couple of cases of doping?

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has openly admitted the distraction of the investigation has impacted on his team’s results this season.

Surely the very same legal team and other advisors who are now annoying Sharks and rugby league fans with their internal reports and sackings would then turn their attentions to taking action against the authorities who have ruined Cronulla’s season.

The stakes are high for Cronulla and rugby league over the next month or two. But they are also high for ASADA and the ACC, who the federal opposition say should be focusing on “real crime.”

At least something is actually happening now. But if ‘the blackest day’ turns out to be a blue, someone should pay for the red ink.

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ELSEWHERE in these pages, you’ll read that Warrington are dropping off the idea of signing Matt Bowen, perhaps because of his age and some persistent injuries.

I think the Wolves are making a mistake.

After being ordered to sit out the round six game against Brisbane, Bowen showed us more than a glimpse of what he’s still capable of on Saturday night against Canberra.

Warrington have a history of outstanding Australian imports that goes back to Brian Bevan, Harry Bath and beyond. They’re the only English club that Andrew Johns ever played for.

And I firmly believe the men who still stand around talking about ‘Bev’ in Warrington today might one day be replaced by those swapping yarns about ‘Mango’ if Simon Moran and Tony Smith give him a go.

Look at this year’s Exiles side, to play England (co-incidentally, in Warrington) in mid-June. Don’t tell me Matt Bowen wouldn’t walk into that side.

Give him 12 months to start with and see how his injuries hold up. You won’t regret it.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Bowen ‘Definitely’ Does Not Want To Retire

North Queensland - Matt BowenBy STEVE MASCORD

NORTH Queensland icon Matt Bowen says he does not want to retire at the end of the season, lending weight to speculation linking him with Warrington.

The 31-year-old fullback, off contract at the end of the season, bounced back to something approaching his best on Saturday night against Canberra after he was rested due to knee soreness from the round six encounter with Brisbane.

While Bowen has been touted as a candidate for retirement at the end of the season, he tells RLW: “Definitely, I want to keep playing.

“I don’t want to hang them up just yet but I’ve just got to keep an eye on different things.”

But when asked if he might play somewhere else next year, Bowen answered: “I don’t think so. It hasn’t really crossed my mind.

“It’s all up in the air at the moment. I obviously want to stay here and finish my career here but we’ll see what happens. That’s what we pay our managers for.”

Warrington majority shareholder Simon Moran is said to be keen on signing Bowen as a replacement for Exiles captain Brett Hodgson, who is considering retirement.

North Queensland recruitment manager Peter Parr said the club had not even discussed the possibility of signing Wigan’s Sam Tomkins but added the club would give Bowen all the time he needed to make a decision on his future.

Bowen added: “It’s been the slowest start for me in a couple of seasons but I’ve just got to keep going with it.
“I had a shoulder injury and the knee’s been playing up. It’s good now, I’ve just got to put that behind me.

“We’ve got Morgo (Michael Morgan) and Johnno (Jonathan Thurston) going well. If they stay together for a while now, it should be a good combination.”

Bowen was the subject of speculation last week that he could have played against Brisbane but was, effectively, dropped.

He does not deny he could have taken the field in a pinch – and disagreed with the decision to rest him at the time. But he insists his knee was injured.

“Sitting out for the Bronc’s game was a good idea,” he says. “Obviously I didn’t like it at the start but, thinking back, it was the best thing I ever did.

“It was hard sitting watching it from the sideline but they’re they choices you’ve got to make.

“It was a bit sore the day before the game and I had to make a late call before lunch. That game and then the week off, back training last week … it was good.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE WRAP: NRL finals 2012 Week One

By STEVE MASCORD

IT’S a tired old cliche that the finals are “another competition” – but there was ample evidence at the weekend that the first weekend of the play-offs comprised two completely separate leagues as well.
On the one hand there were the two qualifying finals, where attendances were solid if not dazzling and the focus was on injuries and players placed on report. On the other were the elimination finals, where tickets and hotel rooms were at a premium, crowds were boisterous and even the language of the participants afterwards was more visceral and desperate.
Matt Bowen, the star of North Queensland’s 33-16 win over Brisbane on Saturday at Dairy Farmers Stadium, found out first-hand how hard it is to get a bed when the Broncos are in Townsville.
“Every second week, mum and dad come down,” Bowen said after 21,307 saw the Cowboys progress to Friday’s Allianz Stadium appointment with Manly. “This time there was a truckload (of family).”I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping tonight. We’ll be all dogging up on the floor somewhere.”
While a mobile Telstra mast allowed excited, vocal fans at Dairy Farmers Stadium to update social media with news of North Queensland’s triumph, Canberra Stadium was a blackout zone with 24,450 inside for yesterday’s tumultuous 34-16 elimination of Cronulla, which set up a clash with South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
There were lines over the grass hill in front of the Mal Meninga stand and back to the Australian Institute Of Sport when the gates opened just after 1pm. By kick-off it was hard to even get a text out of Bruce.
The secret for Raiders CEO Don Furner is to get those people coming back regularly next year.”Winning,” is his one-word solutution. “That’s what they play for, that’s what we work for. Our office was buzzed up during the week, we’d love to have them back here next week.
“From where we were eight weeks ago to where we are now … if someone had have said that, I wouldn’t have believe it but we’ve won sudden death now six weeks in a row.”
The comments of the losers, their seasons over, also reflected the finality of this “third competition”.
Cronulla captain Paul Gallen said of his younger rival Josh Papalii: “I really don’t care about Papalii. He hit me with a dog shot with a swinging arm and once in the back without the ball.”
Beaten Broncos captain Sam Thaiday was equally emotional in discussing the end of esteemed team-mate Petero Civoniceva’s career. “It’s all done and dusted for him now,” said Thaiday. “It’s a disappointing way to … send him out but … it’s a bit heart-breaking, eh?