The A-List: KEVIN PROCTOR (Melbourne, New Zealand Maori, New Zealand)

2013 Melbourne Storm HeadshotsBy STEVE MASCORD

 ON May 27, 2014, the Canberra times breathlessly reported that the Raiders “sign James Tedesco and miss out on Kevin Proctor”.

Subsequently, of course, the Wests Tigers and Italy fullback reneged on that contract with the Green Machine – thereby guaranteeing himself a lifetime’s worth of jeers every time the road gets smoother as he crosses into the ACT.

Many, many kilometres from Bruce – Liverpool, England to be exact – we learn exactly what a bad month May, 2014, was for Ricky Stuart.

How close did 26-year-old Kevin Proctor come to signing with Canberra?

“It was pretty close. I think we’d shaken hands and everything,” says the corkscrew-curled back-rower, across the table in the hotel coffee shop

“Something just didn’t feel right, when I woke up the next day. I told them the truth. You don’t really want someone going to your club if they aren’t 100 per cent committed.

“I just told them the truth and he was sweet with that.”

“He”, of course, being coach Stuart. Not someone I’d like to face in such circumstances. Wasn’t young Kev just a little intimidated?

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“I was but you don’t really want to go there half-hearted. You want to go there and put your full commitment behind it. I just told them how I felt.

“Especially because I’ve got a daughter to worry about now and I’ve got a partner as well. That all came into account as well”

During our chat, Proctor admits he “hated” Melbourne at first. But after sleeping on his verbal agreement, he found his view had changed so much that he just couldn’t leave.

“It’s just the lifestyle there. It’s so cruisy for a city, anyway. You’re not fully under the spotlight like Sydney is and Queensland and Canberra I suppose, north Queensland.

“It’s all AFL down there so you fly under the radar and do your own thing and my partner and daughter love living there too. That all came into account as well and Storm, they’re the ones who have given me my opportunity to start so I guess it’s a little bit of payback there.”

Perhaps because of the reduced scrutiny on Melbourne players, Kevin Proctor is probably one of those players you know little about outside the weekly green rectangle. He played three codes of football in four cities before he was 21, only picking up league because there was no local rugby union sides when he resided on the Gold Coast.

That’s where his second bombshell comes from. When his current Storm contract expires in three years, he’d like to go back to the 15-man game.

He says: “I loved my rugby union growing up. I played that pretty much my whole life, until I was 16, 17 and then made the transition. It was really good and I’d probably like that to be my second option.

“I wouldn’t mind giving it a crack, eh? Just because I grew up with it so much and I know the game so well.

“I don’t know, I suppose you could leave that to my manager to try and help me find a club somewhere maybe. I wouldn’t mind having a go at something like that.”

Born in Te Kuiti, Proctor is an unaffected sort of chap. He travelled from New Zealand to Perth to the Gold Coast, playing whatever was going before being unearthed by the Storm.

Suddenly, everything changed for him.

“Moving down to Melbourne, the culture they have down there and the professional side of things made me grow up a lot quicker,” he reasons.

“Because I was moving away from my family and didn’t really know anyone down in Melbourne, you kind of have to…

“.I really hated it the first week I went there but … I was only 18 and the first one (in my family) to move away from home and I suppose I just didn’t really like the lifestyle down there at the time.

“Now I love it. I think I’ve been there eight years now. It was the culture down in Melbourne that really got me to where I am now.. They teach you all the good traits and I suppose I take that onto the field with me. I Craig (Bellamy) has been a big help for me too. He’s such a good coach. He gives you things to work on and … oh, mate I can’t really explain it too much.

“He turns you into one of those players and if he doesn’t like you, you’re pretty much … if you can’t keep up with the Melbourne training and the workload and all that stuff I suppose you’re in and you’re out. He’s taught me most things I know with my rugby league today and … I wouldn’t have got too far without him and the Melbourne Storm.”

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Another beneficiary of that tutelage is Proctor’s New Zealand team-mate, Tohu Harris.

The recent Kiwis tour of Britain, of course, should have been Harris’ second…

 “It was kind of … it was weird how they did that, when they picked him and then Sonny Bill made himself available and they didn’t pick him,” says Proctor, happy to discuss one of the touchiest recent subjects surrounding the black jumper.

“It would have been good to have him … he would have been one of the young guys like Sio Sia (Taukeiaho) now and Curtis Rona and all those boys getting the experience. He could have had it back then and it probably would have made him a better player.

“He’s doing really well now anyway. I’m happy he’s playing some good footy.”

Like his club-mate, Proctor was approached mid-season by the NZRL about the tour – which saw the Kiwis just fail to snatch a draw in the final Test at Wigan.

“They told us what was happening and we probably weren’t going to get as much pay but it doesn’t matter. Once you get the opportunity to play for your country, I don’t think anyone’s stupid enough to turn that down.”

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And there’s an upside. Because Australian players cried off playing last Spring, the likes of Tohu and Kevin had their feet up for a few weeks with The Big Three sweated it out.

“We’ve had a fair bit of a clean-out actually. We’ve got a new conditioning coach, we’ve got a couple of new physios, a couple of new coaches. I’m actually excited to see what we’ve got when we get back to training.”

Maybe the next visit to Canberra, however, won’t be so exciting…

 Kevin Proctor’s Kiwi Tour Highlights.

One: Liverpool FC. “It was schmick, all their fields. It was probably the best ground I’ve trained on.  Their facilities, their pools, their spas, their gym, they had chefs there and the quality of food they had there as well … they had lamb shanks and all that stuff for dinner. It was probably one of the best feeds we’ve had for the whole trip as well.”

Two: South Of France & Barcelona. “Perpignan was a cool change and Barcelona, we went down there for a couple of days. I’ve never seen a city so big before. We went down that street (La Rambla), we got scooters to go around the city, we got to see … it’s a pity we didn’t stay there for as long as we would have liked. We had four or five hours there, we had a feed there.”

Three: London. “London was cool. It’s just so busy there. I don’t think I could ever live there. It’s just way too busy for me. That was probably the three things that stood out to me.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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The A-List: JEREMY SMITH (Newcastle & New Zealand)

smith-jeremyBy STEVE MASCORD
IT’S the most obvious question to ask any retiring player, a clichéd query that invites a clichéd response, asked more out of obligation than anything else.
And it’s usually saved until last: “what was your career highlight?”.
Jeremy Smith, 36, has more than a few clichés from which to choose: the 2008 World Cup with New Zealand, St George Illawarra’s first premiership in 2010, a grand final success (to which there is no longer a title attached) in 2007 for Melbourne.
Adding to the odds of a response something like “that one!” is the fact that in 13 years of first grade, Jeremy Smith has not been known for outrageous utterances.
“Obviously winning comps and World Cups and Four Nations….” he begins, as he sigs on a concrete partition with A-List outside Wests Mayfield days before his final game.
“But I just think when you’re in the trenches with your mates, defending your line for set after set, the other team not scoring and then….”
He looks off into the distance, like he can actually see battles past.
“You get the ball back and you’ve gone 100 metres and scored a try. I think you take more out of those games than you do out of winning competitions.
“It’s just one of those things. You can look at your mate and your arse is hanging out and you can look at one another and give him a nod and know he was going to turn up for you.
“In tough games – that’s when you get the most joy. It might not be fun at the time, but….”
It’s a prescient metaphor for the entire 200-plus game career of Smith, which ends this weekend. It wasn’t much fun at the time – certainly not for his opponents – but it was pretty damn impressive.
It began in Melbourne – but not at the Storm. They knew nothing about him until he went to Queensland, a curiosity which will amuse cynics.
Smith recalls: “My parents up and moved us from Christchurch to Melbourne and I ended up playing for Altona Roosters down there. I was about 13 or 14.
“It wasn’t the strongest comp. I played there for a couple of years and we up and moved to the Gold Coast to play football and school as well.” There was an ill-fated stint with the Northern Eagles in there somewhere. In 2005, Smith made his debut for Melbourne.
And for a year after that … nothing.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy made it clear that this career might be over at one game, too. “I was playing reserve grade and getting suspended and (had) injuries and what-not.
“Bellyache called me into his office for one of those meetings and he said ‘you’ve got one year left on your contract and if you want to make the most of it, you’d better knuckle down’ and that’s what I did.
“I hit the ground running in the pre-season and the rest is history.”
History includes 22 Tests for New Zealand a fearsome visage at Melbourne, St George Illawarra Cronulla and Newcastle. Like Parramatta’s Beau Scott, he had a reputation as being on-field “security” for the most talented men in the game.
“I wouldn’t say look after them, as such. That’s a tough question, actually. I wouldn’t say I’m a bodyguard but I look after my mates, that’s for sure.
“If they were good enough to play first grade, they’re all equal that’s for sure.
“I definitely relied on my defence …. to be aggressive. Back then, 2006 … it was a pretty tough comp and you could be a bit more physical than what the game is now.”
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At times Smith was painted as a villain for the niggle but he’ll retire with an overwhelmingly positive legacy in the minds of most, to the thinking of this reporter. There’s no escaping, however, his proximity to two of the biggest controversies we’ve had in recent times – the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal and the Cronulla peptides affair.
“They were fairly big deals at the time,” he nods. “Darkest day in rugby league, it got touted at one time. I wasn’t at the frontline with the boys at Cronulla, that’s for sure. I was up here in Newcastle, we didn’t really get much and Wayne protected me from the media.
“(Current Sharks players) were right there and in the thick of it and I tried to keep in touch with the boys and make sure everyone everyone was going alright, what was getting said and what was going to happen.
“With the Melbourne one, I wasn’t there either. I’d moved on. Copping a bit of backlash from it, it’s part and parcel, isn’t it? I couldn’t really do anything about it. It had already been done.
“I’m not really one to worry about too much, I’m a pretty easy going, happy-go-lucky person. Whatever is meant to be is meant to be and whatever happens will happen. It didn’t really bother me.
“… with the Cronulla … they said that we were going to have the back-dated (suspension), a little three-month stint out … we didn’t really have a leg to stand on there at one stage.
“I’m pretty comfortable with it. It’s all done and dusted now.”
Surprisingly for such a fit man, Smith detests the gym and reckons he may never set foot in one again. The game itself was hard enough and he’s suffered enough for several lifetimes. “You get out of bed and you limp around and you come to training … I’ve got a sore knee, I’ve got a sore shoulder. I probably haven’t been 100 per cent fit since the start of the year. But that’s not only me.
“It is hard, but that’s what makes you who you are, isn’t it? You want to be a tough competitor, you’ve got to put up with bumps and bruises.”
We conclude with me asking if he still actually enjoys playing rugby league. There’s a cheekiness in his answer, but more than a modicum of truth, too.
“I still enjoy playing – you just don’t get away with any more high shots.
“It is still physical. It’s just not as grubby as it used to be….
“You’re not allowed to put your hand on people’s faces for some reason … “

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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The Biggest Season-to-season Form Reversals In Premiership History

rlwBy STEVE MASCORD (with research by David Middleton)

THE salary cap is often given credit for the fact we have had 10 different premiers since 1998 – but you can’t thank the salary cap for what Cronulla have done this year.

Maybe you can blame ASADA.

From wooden spooners in 2014 to eliminating the reigning champions in the first week of the finals in 2015, it’s a feat that has perhaps not really sunk in yet. We’re all taking it ‘one game at a time’, right? How will it be remembered? We love giving things context here at RLW.

In these days of fulltime professionalism, we perhaps expect things to go more or less according to plan. In the 1930s, when the premiership was played for beer money and there were only a handful of teams, we’ll believe such feats were possible.

But not now.

In the AFL (then VFL), Fitzroy actually finished last AND won the competition in the SAME year. It was 1916, and all but four clubs had withdrawn from competition due to the Great War.

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So the same four teams played the regular season, and all of them made the finals. That’s how Fitzroy performed a feat we are never likely to see again, even if it does sound better as a trivia question than a real achievement.

In rugby league, we have only ever had a team go from last to lifting the trophy the next year on one occasion – Western Suburbs in 1933-34.

But there’ve been some pretty big form reversals over-all – very few of which we can fairly attribute to the salary cap. Where would you slot the Sharkies into this list?

1. 1. NEWTOWN 1928-29

THE 1928 had no official minor premier but that didn’t matter to Newtown, who were last, . with just one win from 12 matches. This was the year where an administrative dispute led to the League deserting the Sydney Cricket Ground for Sydney Sports Ground (now Allianz Stadium, although the field ran east-west). And there, the first-ever night match was staged post-season, nine-a-side, without the approval of the administration. But anyway … the 1929 Kangaroos left halfway through that season and it could be argued this game the Bluebags something of a leg-up. The Bluebags finished clear fourth, beat St George b a point in the major semi-final and went down 30-10 to South Sydney in the decider. The outhouse to the presidential suite, if not the actual penthouse.

2. WESTERN SUBURBS 1933-34

KANGAROO Tours were actually an early version of the salary cap! Back in the 1930s, there was no question that international football was more important than the club scene and the Test side could hardly just hop on QF 1 to London. So, up until the time the Roos left in July, Wests had won four of their six games and had drawn another. After the team left, they did not win again. Gone were backline stars Frank McMillan, Cliff Pearce, Alan Ridley, Les Mead and Vic Hey. When they returned the following year, the Magpies made up for lost time. In a year which saw University begin a run of 42 consecutive losses (and the league ban radio broadcasts because they believed it was affecting crowds), Eastern Suburbs and Wests each finished on 24 competition points, with the black-and-whites taking out the premiership final against the Roosters, 15-12. That’s the feat the boys from the Shire were trying to match this month and next.

3. SOUTH SYDNEY 1955

LIKE Fitzroy above, South s squeezed their highs and lows into a single season. After nine rounds they were equal last, having won just three matches. They did not lose another for the rest of the regular season, finishing fourth to slip into the finals. It was a magnificent run – they actually could not have afforded to drop a game during that nine-week run. It is immortalised (pun intended) in the second-last game of the home-and-away rounds when Clive Churchill broke his arm against Manly but still kicked the winning conversion on the bell. In the grand final, the bunnies played the minor premiers and defending champions Newtown and they were without Churchill and Greg Hawick. The 12-11 win made it five GF triumphs for captain Jack Rayner.

advertise here4. PARRAMATTA 1962

WHAT would happen today if a side collected SIX consecutive wooden spoons? Perhaps that’s where the salary cap does even up the competition! That was Parramatta’s dismal run from 1956. But in 1962, they didn’t just get off the goot of the table – they made the finals! The man behind it was Ken Kearney, a 1947-48 Wallaby who had switched codes with Leeds and returned to play for St George in 1954. It was a classic early case of a coach remodelling a club, like Wayne Bennett at the Dragons years later. Parramatta coaxed him away from Saints for just three years, with ’62 being the first, and he changed things for the better. But in a reminder of how slowly the wheel turns in sport, they would have to wait until ’81 for their first premiership.

5. EASTERN SUBURBS 1966-67

SYDNEY Roosters proudly celebrate the fact they’re the only side to have competed every year since 1908. There’s a new book about their glory years, The House That Jack Built, that has tricolour pride pouring from its pages. But if the Roosters could miss one of those seasons, then they would no doubt choose 1966. Eastern Suburbs lost 18 from 18 that year. Then Gibson started as coach, and they finished in the top four, before being eliminated by Canterbury in front of 47,186 fans at the SCG. This was the first year for Penrith and Cronulla in the premiership and the first year of limited tackle football (four). Gibson welcomed innovation and dealt with these changes better than most.

6. CANTERBURY 2008-09

In 2008, Canterbury finished a round inside the top eight on only three occasions out of 26. They ended up last, with five wins and 19 losses in the year Sonny Bill Williams walked out for France.. Coach Steve Folkes did not survive to see the following year, with injuries and high profile departures given as the contributing factors. They led Sydney Roosters 20-0 at halftime and lost. Brett, Kimmorley, Josh Morris, David Stagg, Michael Ennis, Greg Eastwood and Ben Hannant joined the club the following year, Kevin Moore took over as coach and the Doggies finished second before being eliminated 22-12 by Parramatta.

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7. MELBOURNE 2010-2011

SLUGGED a wad of cash, two premierships and all their competition points in 2010 for their infamous salary cap breach, the Storm showed what they were made of the following year. The loss of Greg Inglis, Ryan Hoffman, Brett Finch, Aiden Tolman, Jeff Lima and Brett White prompted many to predict they would struggle but Craig Bellamy’s men won the minor premiership with 19 wins from a possible 24. In the play-offs they beat Newcastle before losing to the Warriors in a preliminary final, 20-12. It’s a season that set the tone for everything that came afterwards for the Storm, and perhaps made a statement about the bona fides of what had happened before. A year later they would win a premiership which no-one has since taken off them

8. SOUTH SYDNEY 2014

RUGBY league’s greatest comeback story – ever. Kicked out of the competition in 2000 and 2001 in an episode that because a cause celebre for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, the team named after depression street hawkers selling rabbit carcasses returned in 2002 and stumbled around for a few mediocre seasons (three straight wooden spoons) before actor Russell Crowe and businessman Peter Holmes a Court bought the joint in 2006. The Rabbits returned to the finals almost immediately and last October, Sam Burgess became the first South Sydney player to accept the medal named after one of its greatest, Clive Chruchill, when he led Souths to break a 44-year premiership drought despite a broken cheekbone. Sharkies, that is going to take some beating.

Malcolm Andrews writes:

“My first daily column for the Telegraph in 1983 was an interview with Wests winger Alan Ridley (of the early 1930s) urging the NSWRL not to kick Wests Magpies out of the Premiership. And interesting bloke. I wish I had accepted his offer to take away the diary he kept on the 1933-34 Kangaroo tour.

I have a feeling I read somewhere about Frank ‘Skinny’ McMillan that he ended up broke and used to cadge a few pennies for a beer at the Ashfield Hotel, just around the corner from Pratten Park, the Magpies home ground.

I lived 100 yards from Pratten Park and that’s why I always followed them. My first match was in 1953. That was the year when they won the wooden spoon, 12 months after winning the premiership.

The premiership win is unique in that they were coached by the former Test referee Tom McMahon – it was his first and only year as a coach. A perfect record. It was also the year that referee George Bishop is said to have backed Wests against the red-hot favourites Souths.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Six Highlights Of The 2014 NRL Regular Season

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

THERE Is something unnatural – even mean-spirited – about the finals.

For 26 weeks, rugby league is just THERE. Some weekends, there aren’t eight NRL games but no matter how well or otherwise your team plays, there’ll be a match to watch again in a minimum of a fortnight

That’s 24 matches in all – pain, sweat, ecstacy, danger, drama and heartbreak. Leave aside the commercial aspect and look at it as a football competition – 1920 minutes are played purely for the right to make the finals.

Once there, the maximum number of minutes of football you will be afforded is 320. The mathematics, therefore, answer the most basic of questions: how much more important is a final than a regular season match?

Six times more important. Every minute in a final is worth six during the home and away rounds. Put another way, the NRL season is the equivalent of running six times around a track to decide whether you make the final one-lap sprint, and what your handicap will be.

But it’s those six laps that often give us our best stories and our memories. Those six laps are what makes a season for most of us, not the hare-like sprint at the end.

From a logic standpoint, the play-offs are clearly an artifice – a construct intended to add excitement and therefore profitability to the back end of a sporting competition. We are often told performances under the pressure of sudden death are “the true test” of a team.

Who says? Why? Surely how many tries and goals you score, and how few you concede, are more impartial barometers. That’s why Manly coach Geoff Toovey said the minor premiers were not given enough credit.

Here at League Week, we’ve tried to redress the balance this week by recording and honouring the players and teams who passed the post first in 2014.

A football season is often described as “a journey” but for your correspondent, it has been many. At the time of writing, I have travelled 162,922 km this year, mostly in pursuit of rugby league.

A season for me is a blur of airports, insane taxi-drivers, rental car desks, wifi passwords and hotel loyalty programmes. What do you ask Greg Inglis after he scores the try of the century? How do you report Alex McKinnon’s injury when no-one will talk about it? How do you get Steve Matai and Anthony Watmough to comment on reports they’ve just asked for a release?

Here are my moments of the season – from the point of view of a travelling hack trying to cover them for radio, newspapers and the great Rugby League Week. They are feats which weren’t only observed, they were lived (your favourite memory may have missed the cut for a simple reason – I wasn’t there).

April 14: MELBOURNE SCORES AFTER THE BELL TO BEAT ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA

THE NRL would later confirm fulltime should have prevented the Storm scoring the winning try in a 28-24 win. Working for Triple M, your reporter grabbed the winning scorer – Young Tonumaipea – right on fulltime. Unfortunately, we were on the same frequency as another outlet, meaning Young sounded like he was broadcasting from Venus. The mobile phone was quickly produced, and interviews were submitted by email. The trouble with the clock was not immediately obvious but Dragons coach Steve Price told us on air: “When I thought it was zero, he still hadn’t played the ball. We were truly the better team tonight – by far.”

April 20: BIG PAUL VAUGHAN BAGS A TRY ON THE DEATH TO BEAT MELBOURNE’

WE were on the scene within seconds of the Italian International danced nimbly between defenders to score the try of his life. “I just picked up the ball, I don’t know what happened, it happened so fast,” said Vaughan after the 24-22 victory.. “I think there was a loose ball, I saw a couple of lazy defenders and skipped across and gap opened up and I went for it. I thought it might have been a possible obstruction.” It was the Raiders’ third win of the year – they would find them harder to come by over the balance of the camptain.

April 25: GREG INGLIS SCORES LENGTH OF THE FIELD SOLO TRY BEATING SIX DEFENDERS

THERE was a collective withholding of breath in the Suncorp Stadium media box as Inglis set off on this run for the ages. Surely, he won’t get there – will he? Even gnarled hacks applauded when he did. Coming to the South Sydney dressingroom doors later in the evening, Inglis said: “I think anyone can score one of them. You’ve got Benny Barba …you see a try like that from (Michael) Jennings over the years at Penrith. You just see all these naturally gifted players. It’s a bit unfortunate in our game that you don’t see enough of it.” He came close with another beauty in the return encounter.
June 7: CRONULLA WINS FROM 22-0 DOWN

CRONULLA’S season has been bleak by any measure. The ASADA controversy and suspension of coach Shane Flanagan meant 2014 was a write-off from the start. When they arrived at Suncorp Stadium in late Jun,e captain Paul Gallen had publically questioned whether caretaker Peter Sharp was giving 100 per cent. No-one expected them to win and they duly trailed 22-0 after 27 minutes. What followed seemed impossible; the Sharks started their comeback just before halftime and won 24-22. “I think it’s a turning point for the club – it doesn’t matter where we finish this year, and in my career – where we’ll remember when everything turned around,” he said. Days later, Carney would be sacked over the bubbling incident.

June 15: CRONULLA WINS FROM 24-0 DOWN

GENERALLY speaking, I don’t cover Sydney games for the newspaper. There are enough rugby league reporters in Sydney. But when they Sun-Herald gave me one, it was a doozy. Eight days after the biggest comeback in the Sharks’ 47 year history, they broke the record again – by beating the reigning premiers and world champions. Not only that, they did it without Sharp, Carney and captain Paul Gallen. Jeff Robson scored the winner with three minutes remaining, and the Roosters crossed with 11 seconds on the clock but the try was disallowed because the referees were unsighted. “I thought I got it down,” Mitch Aubusson said. Cronulla’s round 25 display in Townsville almost got the wooden spooners three mentions here.

JULY 20: RISE FOR ALEX

NEVER mind that Newcastle lost their home game to Gold Coast, 28, on the Rise For Alex weekend. McKinnon’s injury was the saddest event in the careers of most of us. I covered the match and will never forget that night and what I witnessed and heard from the sidelines. But the Rise For Alex round was a testament to the compassion of the rugby league community and a platform for a brave, stoic young man who has already made a difference n the lives of so many and will continue to be beacon. The character, bravery and hard work of Alex McKinnon and those around him was best thing about 2014, and will remain so no matter what happens over the next four weekends.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

NRL round six: MELBOURNE 28 ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 24 at AAMI Park

By STEVE MASCORD

VICTORIAN junior Young Tonumapea called it dream-like experience while St George Illawarra coach Steve Price immediately started asking why his own nightmare was allowed to happen.
Melbourne Storm produced the season’s greatest escape when Tonumaipea scored after the siren, with the ball swept from sideline to sideline, to beat the Dragons 28-24 at AAMI Park.
With 22 minutes left, the joint venture held what seemed to be a match-winning 24-10 lead.
“It’s something I’ve only dreamed of,” said Tonumaipea, 21. “To do it in real life, it’s awesome.
“This is my first winning try. It’s a great feeling, especially in my home town. I love it.”
But a shattered Price questioned whether play should have been allowed to continue when the siren sounded as the ball was played – by Toniumaipea.
“The siren was a bit later than what I was looking at on the scoreboard,” Price told radio Triple M. “When I thought it was zero, he still hadn’t played the ball. Stuffed if I know,
“Gut wrenching, totally gut-wrenching.”
There were other controversies, not least St George Illawarra finishing the game with 12 men with Joel Thompson off the field because of the concussion rule.
That should spur debate about adding an extra replacement in those circumstances. The Dragons also lost centre Dylan Farrell to a pectoral muscle tear just before halftime.
Price also claimed sterner action should have been taken over a Will Chambers shoulder charge on Josh Dugan. “He got him right in the head,” the coach said.
There was the suggestion of a shepherd in Cooper Cronk’s 71st minute try and, on the others side of the ledger, fullback Dugan appeared offside when Trent Merrin scored for the Dragons in the 53rd minute.
And the decision to deny Melbourne second rower Kevin Proctor a try for a forward pass seemed dubious.
But it all came down to club football’s answer to the State of Origin try from hell.
As the bell rang out, Tonumaipea played the ball, Cronk bombed to the right, Willl Chambers punched the ball down to Kenny Bromwich who flicked it to Sisa Waqa.
Waqa flung it to Tohu Harris, who straightened up in midfield before finding Cronk, who created space for Ryan Hoffman.
“Pass it Hoffy, pass it,” said Tonumaipea when asked what he was thinking during these frantic moments.
Hoffman passed it, the winger touched down and the crowd erupted. Hoffman said of the match winner: “We had to teach him to stop running at defenders and start running a space.”
Storm captain Cameron Smith said it was important his charges remembered how poorly they played in the opening hour.
“i think there’s only one other game that compares to that one – a few years ago when we beat the Bulldogs down here when Sisa put Will Chambers over in the corner,”said hooker Smith.
“This one probably beats that one as far as finishes go.
“I don’t want to take anything away from our win but, you know, I wish we could play like that early in the game rather than late.
“Tonight we had some simple errors – blokes trying to offload when they had three blokes on top of them, dropped balls where you’d like to think our blokes at the back would take them.
“That just puts so much pressure on our defence,”
Coach Craig Bellamy said: “If we’d finished at 24-22 or whatever it was, I would have been quite satisfied by that last 20 minutes.”

MELBOURNE 28 (W Chambers 2 J Bromwich C Cronk Y Tonumaipea tries; C Smith 4 goals) beat ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 24 (D Farrell B Morris G Beale T Merrin tries G Widdop 4 goals) at AAMI Park. Referee: M Cecchin/G Atkins. Crowd: 13,130.

Filed for: THE AUSTRALIAN

THE JOY OF SIX: NRL Round One 2014

The Joy Of Six1. REMEMBER THIS
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….

2. IT’S EVOLUTION, BABY
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.”

3. MORE MAGIC REQUIRED
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.

4.EARL FEELING LESS GREY
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

5. BY GEORGE….
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!”

6. GAGGING FOR IT
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?

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

 

NRL round one: MELBOURNE 23 MANLY 22 in golden point time at Brookvale Oval

By STEVE MASCORD
MELBOURNE coach Craig Bellamy revealed he would have given the job of kicking the winning field goal in an amazing comeback win over Manly to someone else if he’d known captain Cameron Smith had not booted one in his NRL career.
The Storm trailed 20-0 eight minutes before halftime, levelled the scores 15 minutes into the second half, hit the from with 13 left in regulation time and secured an historic when when captain Smith – playing a club record equaling 262nd game – booted a 22-metre field goal four minutes into overtime.
It was Manly’s worst capitulation at home and Melbourne’s equal-second biggest comeback, although hooker Smith described it as the best in which he had been involved.
“It’s the first field goal I’ve kicked since under 16s, actually – back at Logan Brothers,” Smith said. “The best I have is a couple of pot shots at the end of the week from 40 out, as a lot of footballers do … I don’t do any practice at all.”
The admission surprised Bellamy, who commented: “We sent out the message for Cameron to do it … I hadn’t realised he hadn’t kicked one before, I wouldn’t have made that decision if I’d known. We probably would have gone (Benny Roberts) on Benny Hampton”
The Sea Eagles were cruising at 20-0 when fullback Brett Stewart sought attention for a sore hamstring 10 minutes before halftime. Stewart did not return for the second half and in his absence, Australia captain Smith took firm control of proceedings.
The 29-year-old’s bomb to the north-eastern corner gave winger Sisa Waqa his first try seven minutes short of halftime and the long road back continued six after the resumption of play when the Fijian completed his brace off the pass of Billy Slater.
Again it was the no.9’s scheming which gave five-eighth Ben Hampton a 52nd-minute try – converted by Smith – that narrowed the gap to six.
The spirits of the 14,000 crowd, dampened by a rain shower, were completely drowned when Kenny Bromwich crossed between the posts after Hampton fielded a kick and Jesse Bromwich almost knocked on at 55 minutes.
The penalty which allowed Smith to boot his side ahead for the first time also landed Manly tryscorer Justin Horo on report for a high tackle. A penalty at the other end gave Lyon the chance to square things up and magnificent defence from Ryan Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hoffman precent a Cheyse Blair try shortly after the start of golden point time. Ben Roberts missed a field goal attempt before Smith’s successful pot-shot.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey admitted the loss of Stewart – who hopes to play against South Sydney on Friday – had been a turning point “but when you’re up by 20 points at Brookvale Oval, you don’t lose from there.
“There was a massive change in posession. It will be interesting to watch the video and see what happened.”
Bellamy said: “The score could have been more in the first half, we made some bad decisions in defence.
“We’ve got a few young guys in our side who it probably would have been easy for them to be shellshocked by that score. They made a couple of errors as well but they didn’t go away, they kept doing their job.”
According to Lyon, former Eagle George Rose knocked on while playing the ball, shortly before the end of regulation time. “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,” Lyon said.
Lyon approached referee Gerard Sutton about the alleged fumble but Rose countered: “It didn’t happen. Killer always goes up to the ref. That’s why they changed the rule!”

MELBOURNE 23 (S Waqa 2 B Hampton K Bromwich tries C Smith 3 goals field goal) bt MANLY 22 (S Matai 2 C Blair J Horo tries J Lyon 3 goals) in golden point time at Brookvale Oval. Referees: G Sutton/G Reynolds. Crowd: 14,200.

Filed for: SUN-HERALD