DISCORD 2013: Edition 46

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
WE don’t normally write much about the other code of rugby here but it was fascinating to see one of Ireland’s greatest-ever union players (and good mate of the Johns boys) Brian O’Driscoll sidelined by a doctor on Sunday.
At the time O’Driscoll was told he could not return to the field because he was showing signs of cocussion, Ireland was on the way to an historic win over New Zealand. Perhaps if he had returned, they may have held on.
Now, rugby union has been accused of not doing enough to protect itself against the sort of legal action over concussion that has happened in the US – but it’s still doing a helluva lot more than we are with its five-minute pitchside assessment policy.
In our World Cup, players have continued on after being assessed on the field, on the run, or seemingly not assessed at all.
Not one fine has been issued to an NRL club under the League concussion rules. The NRL’s chief medical officer, Ron Muratore, has to make an appointment if he wants to meet with … the NRL.
It looks suspiciously like our game has found itself in a legal bind – officially acknowlege any concussion and you can be sued down the track, so let’s pretend there’s none and talk our way through it.
But it won’t be long before someone with a record of being knocked around – and I am plucking Brett Hodgson’s name out of thin air here, as an example – brings the sport to account.
And the current head in the sand attitude is just going to ensure rugby league’s backside is kicked even harder.
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DISCORD had the pleasure attending a Wigan supporters evening on Tuesday, when the guests included Andy Gregory, Bill Ashurst, David Furner, Michael Jennings and Boyd Cordner.
Jennings and Cordner were of particular interest to the throng because they will, of course, playing for Sydney Roosters against Wigan at Allianz Stadium on February 22.
Things started well for Cordner when he was asked about Wigan and he said they must be a good side to win both Super League and the Challenge Cup.
But things went downhill when he added that the loss of Sam Tomkins and Pat Richards would leave Shaun Wane’s side “under strength”. Boo!
And the locals became even more feisty when Michael Jennings was asked how much Super League he watched on TV and answered he made a point of seeing “mainly St Helens”. Boo!
“I told the boys on the way in that all they had to say was they hated St Helens,” Furner, the Australian assistant coach, joked.
Speaking of the World Club Challenge, we’re hearing that the proposed game against the New Zealand Warriors is back on, possibly on the Wednesday preceding the NRL Nines.
The proposed Papua New Guinea game was to be played in Cairns, not Port Moresby, and isn’t completely out of the question, either.
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WE are reliably informed that Scotland’s Australian-based players – Luke Douglas, Kane Linnett and Peter Wallace – are the Bravehearts who gave back their expenses because of the SRL’s financial woes.
At the moment, Scotland can’t afford to fly them in for internationals next spring. Douglas, in particular, had an emotional journey this year in a campaign he dedicated to his late mum and wants to come back.
It certainly flies in the face of the idea that NRL players are self-centred and narrow minded, doesn’t it?
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OK, let’s address some comments\

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Minichiello Wants To Avoid Jennings In World Cup

Sydney Roosters - Anthony MinichielloANTHONY Minichichiello says Michael Jennings can force his way into the Australian side for the World Cup – but he has an ulterior motive in pushing the claims of his Sydney Roosters team-mate.

Minichiello’s Italy is the in the same World Cup group as Tonga, for whom Jennings is expected to play if he misses out on green-and-gold selection.

The clash between the pair at Halifax’s The Shay on November 10 is seen by many as the game which will decide who gets the final semis berth behind Australia, New Zealand and England.

“We’ve said a little bit about it but he’s playing his cards close to his chest, he’s not saying who he’s playing for yet,” Minichiello tells RLW.

“There’s a few Tongan boys at the Roosters and a bit of banter going on.

“He could make the Australian side yet, the way he’s playing. I’d be happy with that – let him play for Australia and not against me!”

Jennings starred with two tries in the Roosters’ 30-6 in over his former club, Penrith, on Sunday. Jennings has played three times for Tonga and once for the green-and-golds.

Elsewhere in this week’s RLW, we reveal the star-studded Italian side is lining up a World Cup warm up with host nation England.

– STEVE MASCORD

THE WRAP: NRL Round Eight

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

AS Jamie Lyon trudged off WIN Jubilee Oval around 9pm last night, he was faced with the usual abuse visiting players cop. “Go home, you whinger” said one St George Illawarra zealot.

“Booo!” said another.

Then, exploiting a brief lull in the vitriol, a faceless spectator above the cage that covers the players race at Kogarah shouted – no, implored – “play for the Blues Jamie, please. We need you.”

The Manly captain, who had led the Sea Eagles to a 24-18 win – the club’s first at the ground since 1997 – had already zoned out.

But a month away from Origin, the incident was a testament to the desperation of NSW fans as Queensland prepares for what it fully expects to be an eighth consecutive series victory.

Fans south of the border already salivating over the series, which doesn’t start for a month, got an early taste of Origin despair during an absorbing MNF battle which saw the Dragons storm back from 18-4 down at halftime to level the contest with 17 minutes left.

First, Dragons winger and experienced Blue Brett Morris suffered a sprain to the back of the left knee in the 15th minute. At first, details of the injury were sketchy and Souths fan barraged social media with the contention it was not great loss because their man Nathan Merritt was a certainty anyway.

Then, in the final play of the first half, Manly and NSW fullback Brett Stewart copped a knee in the back. It wasn’t until he cooled down during the break that he realised how serious the problem was. He was in agony.

Neither returned last night. Neither is likely to miss Origin I at ANZ Stadium on June 5. Nor is the Blues skipper, Paul Gallen, who suffered a knee injury very early in Cronulla’s 21-20 overtime win over Newcastle at Hunter Stadium on Sunday.

But it just adds to the sense of agitation and nervousness the Blues feel. When 15 of the 17 players have already been picked – as is reportedly the case – it’s easier to count the men who drop like flies from injury and suspension.

“I don’t think so,” Manly coach Geoff Toovey said when asked if Lyon would be recanting on his representative retirement.

“I think he’s hung up his representative boots.

“He’ll win you a series, though.”

In leiu of Lyon – off contract at the end of the season – the candidacy of Sydney Roosters’ Michael Jennings grows. Jennings scored two tries against former club Penrith on Sunday.

“He might play for Australia in the World Cup,” says his skipper, Anthony Minichiello. “Let him play for them, then I don’t have to play against him.”

Minichiello’s Italy is in the same World Cup pool as Tonga, for whom Jennings will almost certainly turn out if he doesn’t make Tim Sheens’ Australian squad.

Then there’s Canberra’s Blake Ferguson, whose season has taken him from an ACT rooftop to a hospital bed with a broken cheekbone to scoring as many points as the entire Melbourne Storm team in half a game of football.

After posting 18 in the 24-20 win over the Storm that ended their 15-match winning run, Ferguson said Origin was at the back of his mind but declined the chance to talk up his chances.

All that would probably change if Jamie Lyon changed his mind. Origin has a proud history of players coming out of representative retirement to be heroes, from Allan Langer to Brad Fittler.

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DISCORD 2013: Edition Three

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

NORMALLY in Discord, we throw up some strident opinion or another and offer you the opportunity to agree or disagree.

But this week, I’m going to give you a topic rather than an opinion and simply open the floor to you.

Michael Jennings swapping clubs two months before the start of the season. Jamie Lyon – the captain of Manly – being approached to quit the club immediately.

Do you care?

I remember, in the primeval past, writing stories about clubs accusing others of “inducing players to breach their contracts”. But those stories don’t seem to be written anymore.

It seems to be the modus operandi of clubs that players will be unhappy at rival joints and even though they are under contract, we can actually have them now.

And their current club will pay them to play for us! I never quite got my head around that…..

Discord never cared if a star signed with a rival club for next season and was paraded at a mid-season media conference in that club’s colours. But you did – and the practice was unofficially outlawed.

But you don’t seem to care about a player starting pre-season training – or even a season – with one club and finishing it with another. You don’t seem to mind the fact a contract is worth nada these days.

Or maybe you do. Tell me at the bottom of this column.

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BY now you’ve read a number of tributes to Jon Mannah. I probably had less to do with him than many other reporters.

But when I heard of his passing, I had to ask myself the questions: does death teach us more about the nature and value of life, or is it just something we say to make ourselves feel better?

Certainly, Jon’s friends and family are beyond such esoteric considerations right now – and understandably so.

But I think many people will look at Jon Mannah’s bravery and make better choices in their lives as a result. The realisation that it can all end at any time is something that dawns on most of us later in life and hopefully encourages us to make better use of the time we have.

At 23, Jon Mannah shouldn’t have had to worry about that.

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IT’S interesting that Wigan coach Shaun Wane has admitted fullback Sam Tomkins will not be spending his entire career with the club.

Wane is already trialling other fullbacks in the pre-season, even though England’s best player will be at DW Stadium at least until the end of next year.

It’s hard to see Tomkins joining another Super League club. The leaves the NRL at rugby union.

Let’s hope it’s the NRL.

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THANKS for all the comments last week. Long Xuyen wanted to bring replacements down to three with no-one who comes off being allowed back on the field. It sounds a bit radical but even the great Darren Lockyer believes we may one day have to have fewer than 13 players on the field.

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TRAVELS: III

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD

SOMETHING weird is happening here in America

This week’s column comes to you from Beantown – Boston. The temperature here is the same as Sydney, except here it’s Fahrenheit. You already knew weird stuff happens in this country, right? But I am referring to the great game of rugby league. There are two governing bodies here, the AMNRL and the USARL.

The AMNRL is the official body, responsible for fielding the US team in the World Cup this year. The USARL is the breakaway – and it happened for the reason it has always happened, because the clubs didn’t feel they were getting a say in what was going on.

But now the AMNRL website has disappeared and a question regarding its fate on the organisation’s Facebook page has gone unanswered.

A key figure in the breakaway, Mikhael Shammas, has meanwhile moved back to Beirut from Boston after starting the Boston 13s club.

Could we soon see a reconciliation of the warring parties? By the time you read this, I will be down in New York, sniffing around for information…

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INTERESTING movements in the NRL in the past 48 hours, with Michael Jennings reportedly about to sign with Sydney Roosters after gaining a release from Penrith.

Gold Coast, though, have joined the race for Jennings.

Souths had been linked to him but have now dropped off, getting Beau Champion back from the Titans instead.

Souths have been chasing centres for some months, with Kallum Watkins and Israel Folau mentioned in dispatches. There’s no reason to think they’ve given up on those two for future seasons, either.

MY Australian compatriots were not best-pleased by the anointing of Sir Kevin Sinfield as the Golden Boot recipient for 2012.

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NRL round 15: GOLD COAST 36 PENRITH 18 at Skilled Park

By STEVE MASCORD

MICHAEL Jennings last night summed up the predicament Penrith finds itself in very simple terms. “We’ve got to win every game from now on,” he said as he left Skilled Park.

The NSW centre had just played in a 36-18 loss to Gold Coast which came despite the Titans losing three players – including NSW star Greg Bird – to injury in the first 45 minutes.

Under new coach Ivan Cleary, the Panthers have won just four times this year and play Parramatta in a possible wooden spoon duel next Saturday.

Before yesterday’s defeat they lost Luke Lewis (groin), Josh Mansour (back), Travis Burns (eye) and Sam McKendry (calf) from their nominated team and underwent a reshuffle so dramatic some players even changed their jersey numbers, a rarity in the modern game.

But the upheavals at Penrith, well documented in recent weeks, go much deeper and were exemplified by fullback Lachlan Coote being dropped, getting a late reprieve for Mansour yesterday and then presenting Gold Coast with two gift tries on a forgettable afternoon.

“It’s not the best season – we’re doing it tough,” Jennings told the Herald as he made his way to the team bus, “but … we’ve got to come back from this. We’ve got to move past everything.

“Obviously it is tough with new coaches and all that and all their new systems and structures but we’ve trained all off-season for it so we’ve got to build, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for our performances. It’s us boys out there.

“(It) doesn’t help with a couple of boys out. It wasn’t the best prep but you’ve got to come back strong from that.

“We’ve just got to stick together. Then we’ve just got to come to Parramatta, worry about that game and build from that.”
Despite his walking wounded – Burns seems to have played half of Monday Night Football with a fractured eye socket – Cleary left the door ajar for more changes.

“It’s a balance, it’s always the same,” he said after the six tries-to-three defeat.. “You’ve just got to work at getting the best combination you can and this week will be no different.

“We’ll get the best team that we can muster together and go from there.”

When Gold Coast led 6-0 after 11 minutes yesterday, things actually looked pretty good for the Panthers.

Titans five-eighth Aidan Sezer had come up with the ball after a Prince bomb had been passed from Kevin Gordon to Steve Michaels but Beau Champion (ankle) was gone and Matt Srama (shoulder) was on his way.

Jennings burst into the clear at 15 minutes and was run down by Prince and Gordon.

Not long afterwards, captain Prince intercepted a wayward Coote pass and 20 metres from the Titans line and off-loaded to a flying Gordon who singed the grass on the way to Gold Coast’s second try.

Coote was consoled by team-mates but his fumble was snapped up by Steve Michaels for Gold Coast’s next try, and in the second half the former City Origin custodian was unceremoniously hooked by Cleary.

“You saw the game,” the coach said. “It was a bit of an opportunity, at that stage of the game, to see Arana at fullback and give Harry (Seijka) some more time.”

So by the time Greg Bird departed with his pectoral muscle problem, Penrith was 24-0 in a hole following Sezer’s second.

The loss of three players did not dent Gold Coast’s confidence, according to Prince, because “you don’t really realise it when you’re out there.”

The twinkle-toed effort of South Australian junior Brenton Lawrence to run 40 metres on the way to his 50th minute try was the Titans’ summit yesterday. Penrith finished with a three-try flourish, Arona Taumata grounding Luke Walsh’s kick, Cameron Ciraldo crashing over and Ryan Simpkins taking four points back off his old club.

During this final 21 minutes, Gold Coast also managed a final try, to Luke O’Dwyer who had come on as Champion’s replacement.

“I didn’t expect that,” said Cleary. “Yeah, we could probably reach out for some excuses and we did have some disruptions, but it was an exercise in self-mutilation for us.

“We directly handed them two tries in the first half and then we couldn’t build any pressure at all.”

GOLD COAST 36 (A Sezer 2 D Mead S Michaels B Lawrence L O’Dwyer tries S prince 6 goals) bt PENRITH 18 (A Taumata C Ciraldo R Simpkins tries L Walsh 3 goals) at Skilled Park. Referees: G Sutton/P Haines. Crowd: 11,591

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

LIVE BLOG:

Fulltime: NSW back rower Greg Bird has been injured as Gold Coast ran up a big score over sorry Penrith. The Titans, who have been relieved of some financial pressure by a rescue package last week, led 36-6 with 15 minutes to go in bright sunshine before taking their foot off the gas somewhat to allow two late Panthers tries. Bird came off early in the second half with a sternum injury. Matt Srama and Beau Champion were hurt earlier, leaving John Cartwright’s men down to one reserve. Penrith went into the game without Luke Lewis, Travis Burns, Sam McKendry and Josh Mansour who were all injured. Lachlan Coote got a reprieve after being dropped during the week but had a forgettable game, gifting two tries before he was replaced.

66 min; Penalty count is 7-2 against Gold Coast but it doesn’t seem to be hurting them. The biggest excitement of the last 10 minutes was what would happen with Mark Minichiello was stripped crossing the tryline. It wasn’t a penalty try. Crowd: 11,591. Lachlan Coote has been hooked. 30-6.

57 min: If you want to know why some players sit on the bench for 80 minutes, this should be a good pointer. Fourteen fit men are flogging 17 30-6! Penrith finally scored through Arana Taumata. “Rotten Taumata” was one of the best headlines in rugby league history. 30-6.

48 min: More points and more injuries for Gold Coast. William Zillman butchered a certain try with Luke O’Dwyer unmarked but it didn’t matter after 4000 restarted tackle counts in the Penrith red zone. Missed tackle to referee Gerard Sutton. Should definitely have tackled Aidan Sezer before he scored his second try between the posts. Brenton Lawrence just got another one. 30-0.

Halftime: GOLD COAST 18 PENRITH 0: When Gold Coast led 6-0 but lost Beau Champion and Matt Srama to injury, it looked like they were in trouble. Penrith were stringing passes together and causing them headaches, despite being badly under-manned. But Lachlan Coote, who had been dropped during the week only to gain a reprieve due to injury, did the Titans a couple of favours. His pass was intercepted by Scott Prince who put David Mead away and then Steve Michaels took the ball out of Coote’s hands to run away near halftime. More good GC news – Srama will be back.

31 min: The only man who could have caught David Mead then was fellow Gold Coast winger Kevin Gordon. Luckily, he didn’t try. Prince snatched the Coote pass out of the air and offloaded to the Kumul, who did the rest. It’s 12-0 and Kevin Kingston was offside from the kick-off, leaving the Titans on the attack again. 12-0.

25 min: Beau Champion (ankle) won’t be back. Matt Srama has a shoulder problem. Titans down to 15 men. I don’t like bookmakers and betting but the idea of Earle, Prince and Sezer being a “royal special” ticket is funny. Nate Myles to referee Phil Haines, pointing at Tim Grant – “he’s bleeding on me” 6-0.

12 min: Aidan Sezer scores, Scott Prince converts. Sezer has a great name for headline writers but personally I like saying “Harry Psycho”. Not sure why. AAP’s Daniel Pace points out it’s pronounced “saker”, as it “FoFux Seijka” Good point. Michael Jennings makes a long run before being run down. Why did one of the refs just say ‘magnetic resonance”, apropos of nothing? Matt Srama is off injured. Penrith putting together some nice attacking play but fumbles getting in the way. 6-0.

6 min: Quick early touch. Beau Champion is off after four minutes with an ankle injury and has been replaced by Luke O’Dwyer. As you can see below, plenty of Panthers changes but no more intrigue, apparently.Luke Lewis, Travis Burns, Luke Lewis and Sam McKendry are all injured, we are told. No indication what those injuries are. Lovely day. 0-0.

Final team lists: 

TITANS: William Zillman; Kevin Gordon, Steve Michaels, Beau Champion, David Mead; Aidan Sezer, Scott Prince (c); Ashley Harrison, Mark Minichiello, Greg Bird, Matt White, Matt Srama, Luke Douglas. Res: Nate Myles, Brenton Lawrence, Ben Ridge, Luke O’Dwyer.

PENRITH: Lachlan Coote; Etu Uaisele, Michael Jennings, Brad Tighe, Sandor Earl; Harry Siejka, Luke Walsh; Ryan Simpkins, Cameron Ciraldo, Clint Newton, Tim Grant, Kevin Kingston (c), Dayne Weston. Res: Nigel Plum, Danny Galea, Arana Taumata, Chris Armit.

Fulltime Toyota Cup: Penrith 52 Gold Coast 12