BONDI BEAT: April 2016

By STEVE MASCORDRLW April 2016

THE clubs may not like it but do we now have enough English players in the NRL to revive a mid-season Test?

There is absolutely no reason why the Kiwis should not play while Origin is on, aside from the fact clubs would declare war if they had to stand down their New Zealanders along with their Maroons and Blues.

Even without the stand-down, though, the Test could be played on a Friday in the May split round.

The problem in the past has been opposition. But there is now enough Englishmen to need only a handful of others to take the long flight Down Under.

Of course, there is ideological issue of handing out England shirts to people who may not have earned it yet.

But as colleague Brad Walter pointed out to me after we watched Sam Burgess’ competitive return in round one, you could have a Great Britain selection that includes Ireland’s Tyrone McCarthy and any number of Scotland ‘heritage players’ such as Kane Linnett and Lachlan Coote.

What do you think?

WHAT about ‘The Bunker’, then?

Firstly, it looks like nothing so much as Mission Control at Cape Canaveral. It’s a real shame Chris Houston has left for Super League as I’d love to hear them say “we have a problem, Houston”.

I am someone who is extremely cynical about adding more apparatuses to officiating when you are always going to get human error.

But having said all that, I like what I’ve seen so far. It’s an improvement. And it puts the NRL even further ahead of Super League.

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MANY readers will be of the opinion that sport’s borders are set in stone and expansionary efforts by rugby league are bound to fail.

Upon my return to Oz, I saw a convincing rebuttal of that argument in the UFC. Walking to Allianz Stadum for South Sydney-Sydney Roosters, I overheard a lad being told he was looking forward to having a few friends around for a fight from Las Vegas.

No mention of the 108-year-old derby taking place up the road.

In the UK, darts provide us with an example of a sport that can grow its market share and cultural relevance.

Sadly we don’t seem to have a united strategy at all – or if we do, we don’t have the resources to even consider putting it into practice.

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IN Australia there is a thing in television sports coverage called “fair use provisions”.

This means that any website or television station can post highlights from any sporting event, whether on not they have the rights.

So while the BBC, for instance, will have still photos of soccer matches they do not have rights to, in Oz they would be allowed by law to show video from those games.

That’s why Australian newspapers declined accreditation for the last rugby union World Cup – because the IRB wanted them to sign away those rights. So the reporters just bought tickets and interviewed players at their hotels.

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What it means in a practical sense for rugby league is that when Chris Sandow kicked that amazing drop goal against Salford, the footage was all over Aussie sites within hours.

One suspects Super League would prefer the fair use provisions were introduced in the UK – the one-pointer on the hooter was a great advert for our game.

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It’s probably the best rugby league story in the world and it’s going unwritten.

Belgian officials brought some Brussels City Council officials to the World Club Challenge on February 21 and they were so impressed with the sport that are going to sink further resources into promoting it.

Where?

In Molenbeek, a hive of extremist activity and a place where police centred their manhunt after the Paris attacks.

Rugby league has a wonderful record in underprivileged areas of channelling aggression more positively.

I’m hoping to visit Brussels this year to chase up this story.

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THE round one NRL clash between Wests Tigers and the Warriors was dubbed the Ivan Cleary Cup by one cynic – because he’d be coaching whoever lost.

True to their form in recent seasons, it was the Aucklanders who fell a long way behind. Fought back, but still lost.

Cleary may not have a steady coaching income at the moment but he’s holding the whip hand when it comes to his future employment prospects.

It wouldn’t surprise if Hull KR sounded him out after sacking Chris Chester; even if Cleary went back to the NRL next year he could probably do some good things in East Hull in 2016.

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WHILE Super League continues with one referee, Down Under we have two in a competition which is planned to be scrapped!

Two referees are in use for televised Under 20s matches and all finals. In round one, because there was only one of these, they threw two whistlers at the Sydney Roosters-South Sydney Holden Cup match, just for practice.

amazonYet this is the last year of the National Youth Competition, which revert to state-based league next year. The NRL still has enough referees to field two in the matches.

Now when we compare this to England … well, lets start with televised under 20s matches and work backwards from there.

And the editor had the hide to ask for 500 words on the biggest differences between rugby league in Australia and in the UK. I could have written 50,000.

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GREG Inglis walked out of the dressing room at Allianz Stadium in round one with his eye on the prize – the fading sunlight at the end of the tunnel.

GI had already done a media conference and studiously avoided meeting the eyes of any of the waiting media.

Then a young Channel Nine reporter stopped him and directly requested a chat. He stopped, considered the request and eventually agreed.

donate2During those moments when he was giving serious thought to denying the cub reporter, I’d like to think he was considering his Queensland and Australian team-mate Jonathan Thurston.

Thurston has set such a high standard of accessibility over the past 12 months that he has almost shamed his colleagues into arresting the sad decline in co-operation with the media throughout the NRL.

He’s even allowed himself to be photographed at home and while in the UK recently did everything of which he was asked – and more.

JT knows that being in Townsville doesn’t help him when it comes to maintaining his profile and that he needs to go an extra yard to ensure his maximises his post-career employment prospects.

Throw in his game-day interaction with kids and he’s setting a high standard for everyone else.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

Eden Park ‘Just Another Stadium’, Says Leuluai

Leuluai, ThomasBy STEVE MASCORD
THEY now have the sacking of a coach to deal with as well as their winless record at Eden Park – but the Warriors insist the second of these issues is not really an issue at all.

“I’ve played there a couple of times and I don’t think it’s any different,” halfback Thomas Leuluai tells League Week ahead of Sunday’s game against Canterbury at the rugby union citadel.

“It’s something you guys like to talk about a bit too much, I reckon. It’s just a football field but it’s just something we haven’t really done yet. Last time we played there, there was a tornado so there were about six people in the stands so it wasn’t too good then!

“But other times, there’s been good support.

“We need a response. Our errors need to be knocked on the head straight away and we need the same sort of effort.

“Some guys, they really busted their backsides for the team (on Saturday). When you’re making less than 50 per cent completion rate, it’s just too hard.”

Speaking before Matthew Elliott’s departure, Leuluai said of the season: “It’s been a slow start. I thought we were better than we showed in the last two weeks. You’ve got to do it on the weekend and we were poor there.

“We had a couple of good results and got our confidence back. (Against the Sharks) I couldn’t question to effort but I suppose it’s fundamental errors. You can’t make those kind of errors in this competition.”

Departed coach Elliott claimed the only problem in Saturday’s 37-6 loss to Cronulla was mistakes – and Leuluai insists he was right.

“We had to stop making errors and try to get into the grind but we couldn’t stop making errors,” he said.

“We made basic, fundamental errors which aren’t good enough.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Mateo: Don’t Blame SSS

Feleti_MateoBy STEVE MASCORD
WARRIORS star Feleti Mateo says the club’s Slow Start Syndrome is not to blame for a dismal opening fortnight to 2014.
“To me it feels completely different,” Mateo tells RLW.
“We’re working a lot harder. Our systems in place shouldn’t be allowing this sort of play and we’re letting ourselves down.
“I’m sure it won’t take long and we’ll click into gear.”
Like coach Matthew Elliott, Mateo believes the Aucklanders aren’t sufficiently imposing themselves on opponents.
“I think we’re thereabouts – we’re just not going hard enough. We’re not challenging who we’re playing, physically, enough.
“With the team we’ve got, it shouldn’t be an issue but the last two weeks, we’ve let ourselves down.”
Mateo says the loss to St George Illawarra was an improvement on the previous week’s defeat to his former club Parramatta.
“It felt better out there, even in the second half. The defence was a lot better but there’s always room for improvement.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

The A-List: MANU VATUVEI (Warriors & New Zealand)

Warriors - Manu vatuveiBy STEVE MASCORD
MANU Vatuvei seems like a man who rugby league played a big role in creating.
Raised on what the cliches always describe as the “rough streets of South Auckland”, the 27-year-old has been transformed on the field from a rookie described famously as a “clumbsy klutz” to a fearsome Test regular, and off it from a shy monosylabist to a well-spoken ambassador.
But as it turns out, Vatuvei is actually very clear on what he’d be doing today if he wasn’t “The Beast”.
“I think, if I wasn’t in league, I would have pursued my dream of becoming a police officer,” Vatuvei, sitting on the touchline at Warriors training, says with an easy smile. “That’s something I always looked forward to when I was young. Growing up I was always wanting to be a super hero.
“Superman was always my super hero.”
On Sunday week, Manu confronts his own kryponite equivalent when returns to Parramatta Stadium – the scene of his career nadir in 2007 when he made more mistakes than any player in any one game in living premiership memory. He has not played during the 2014 pre-season due to a thigh injury and admits that knee problems will haunt him for the rest of his life.
But that night seven years ago was the making of Vatuvei as a person and a professional, he reckons. It was so gut-wrenching to watch that it summmed up for many of us the very essence of confidence and the role it plays in just about everything we do.
“I just do what I have to do and hopefully I inspire people to never give up on their dreams,” says Vatuvei now. “There’re a lot of obstacles that you’ll go through in your career and that was one big one for myself and one massive hurdle I had to overcome. I wouldn’t have done that without the people around me – my family, and especially the club, all the guys who have been through it. Hopefully I showed them that if I can get through it, everyone else can.
“I had to learn the hard way. If it happened to me now, I would have dealt with it way, way easier and quicker but then I was still learning the game and everything just came to me and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
“I had to try and hide away from the media and I was getting punished from them and I just had to deal with it. But with the help of the club and everything they taught me, I could overcome it. I still get asked about it to this day and I’m happy to talk about it and show them how I overcame the obstacle and if I can do that, like I said, anyone else can.”
That is a sense of perspective you may not have anticipated from a man who stands at 192cm and weighs in at 112kg and who crashes into people for a living. Perhaps it’s one he would have attained as a policeman, perhaps it’s not.
Born in Auckland of Tongan parents (“my heritage is Tongan and I’d love to play for Tonga … it’s something that one day I’ll do”), he has learnt that his profile allows him to help those around him. Insiders say Vatuvei is a fixture at charity events around South Auckland but says little about it.
“When people approach me to go and do stuff, I try hard to attend what they want me to,” he explains. “I’m the type of guy who likes to give back to the community because I know how hard it is growing up and stuff around South Auckland – or anywhere. Sometimes you don’t have everything that other people have so sometimes I like to give back to them. I appear at events. I don’t have to speak, just show myself and have fun with the kids or whoever is there. I like to do that.”
Not that speaking is now a problem, as you can see. “(I’ve gaimed) a lot of confidence in speaking to other people, approaching people and all that,” he admits.
“Just doing my interviews now … from ‘yeah’ and ‘nuh’ to saying a little bit more. The game’s helped me a lot and I can pass that on to kids and people I can help out.”
Vatuvei does provide one confusing answer during our chat in the warm Auckland sunshine, while coach Matthew Elliott conducts a media opportunity a few feet away. I ask, in light of the success of the NRL Nines, whether rugby league might soon overtake rugby union for popularity in the City Of Sails.
“I think after the nines and if it continues, it will be,” he says at first, before adding: “But rugby is always the dominant sport here, like AFL back in Australia (readers, your thoughts?). It will always be second to them but hopefully we can get the game out there and have more support.
“The nines were something perfect for Auckland. To have all these players come here, 16 teams, was just a high for everyone. We even performed on the field too … even though we only made it to the semis … everyone supported every team and it was a good event.
“It’s always rugby. It’s a good comp, the rugby sevens, and for us to come out on top was really good. We need it in Auckland and we need it for the game to build in New Zealand.”
The Warriors seemed to freeze in their Nines semi-final defeat to North Queensland. There has been a pattern during their 13-a-side seasons too, to give other teams a head start and then rally for the finals. Manu has some thoughts on why it happens, and why depth in the 2014 squad may prevent the trend continuing.
“It’s always different things each year,” he says.  “The main thing, normally, is injuries. Some guys – usually our main guys – get injured and it takes a toll on the team. But we’ve got a variety of guys now who, no matter what, can fit in the spot. We’re confident there.
“I think it’s how we start the season. We normally start slow and build away, make it hard for us to get there. Then we lose energy when it comes to (the finals). It’s something that I think we’ve got this season.
“I’ve got this year and next year (under contract). I’d definitely love to play my whole career here, I started when I was young in 2004 and it’s something I was just blessed.”
But The Beast is making no guarantees that at some stage, he won’t be part of that annual litany of the wounded.
“My fitness is not too bad,” he said. “I’ve got a few niggles I’ve got to get over again. It’s something I’ve got to look after and the coaching staff is doing their best to try and make sure I do everything I’ve got to do to get it right.
“I’ve always got my knee problems, that’s always been there. Every game, I play off my knees. It’s something I get used to. I know what I have to do to feel great before the game and what doesn’t work. I’ve just got to talk to the coaching staff about that and work my way through training every time.
“I’ll definitely have problems with my knee when I retire. In 10 years or a few years after my retirement, I’ll probably be on crutches or a wheelchair! Not serious about that … everything I’ve got now is little cartilage and stuff in my knee. Nothing too serious. I’ll pay for it in the long run but everything’s worth it and I’m enjoying my time in the game and my family’s having a better life.”
OK, time to hit up Manu about some newsy issues before we go. What about the investigation into Kiwis abusing sleeping pills at the World Cup? The answer here is short but telling. “I think it’s a good thing that they’re trying to crack down on it,” he said.
Russell Crowe reckons Sam Burgess may have stayed in the NRL if he could play Origin. Vatuvei was once filmed going ballistic watching his beloved Maroons beat the Blues on TV. Should foreigners be allowed to take part?
“If you were at the nines and saw how the crowd was, you should know how big (Orgin) would be (in Auckland),” he said. “It would be bigger than the nines. They would have a sell-out crowd every time if they play it over here.
“No, I think it’s fair. It’s for Aussies. It’s a game that they started and something that’s a tradition in Aussie. I’d love to play in it but I’m not too worried about trying to change the rules. We’re happy to support it and I’ll always be a Queensland supporter no matter what. Gorden Tallis was a player I loved to watch. I love his aggression.”
These are characteristics of Manu Vatuvei’s new favourite superhero. Maturity has prompted him to ditch the two-dimensional, almost emotionless, man in tights for  a character more nuanced and flawed, one who is “getting angry, and quiet at some stage” – just like himself.
“I was always into my cartoons,” he says. “Now, it’s The Hulk.”

Wane: I Want NRL Job

Wane, ShaunBy STEVE MASCORD
WIGAN coach Shaun Wane wants a head coaching position in the NRL and believes a win over Sydney Roosters this Saturday can help him get one.
Wane was linked to the New Zealand Warriors last year before extending at DW Stadium and tells Rugby League Week he remains open to offers – but not for an assistant’s post.
“I want to come here, I want to come to the NRL, absolutely, 100 per cent,”says Wane.
“It’s a great competition, it’s high level and the way the game is thought of .. .it’s the biggest game in Sydney and in Brisbane and it’s kicking off over here (in New Zealand) as well.
“I find it really exciting. It’s a real good challenge and I know I could improve a team. I’ve got no question on my own ability on that and hopefully one day I’ll get a chance to do it.
Wane says a win on Saturday at Allianz Stadium “won’t do me any harm.
“But I’m really passionate about the fact no-one has given us a chance and I want to show people we can play and we can defend.
“And I want prove a few people wrong because I know what our players are capable of. That’s the main thing for me.”
Sydney Roosters Trent Robinson and Wests Tigers Michael Potter recently used Super League as a stepping stone to NRL positions while England coach Steve McNamara this year joins Robinson’s staff and is helping plot Wigan’s downfall on Saturday at Allianz Stadium.
Asked if he would come to the NRL as an assistant, Wane answers: “No.”
Wane insists, however, that he was never a chance of joining Matthew Elliott’s backroom staff in 2014.
“I weren’t talking to them,” he said. “I can only assume it was my friendship with Dean (Bell that led to the speculation). There was nothing in it.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Matulino Tips Brutal WCC

Vodafone Warriors Headshots, 21 November 2012By STEVE MASCORD
NEW Zealand prop Ben Matulino has warned Sydney Roosters to be on the lookout for some thunderous hits in next Saturday’s World Club Challenge.
While the conventional wisdom is that Wigan have little hope of toppling the NRL premiers at Allianz Stadiun, Matulinogives them a good chance after facing up to Shaun Wane’s men on Wednesday night in Hamilton, a game the Lancashire side won 46-22.
“The Wigan team, they shot out of the line heaps and they were really good and I think they’ll give the Roosters a run,” Matulino tells Fairfax Media.
“I thought the way they played, with guys shooting out of the line, they’ll give the Roosters a good little rattle. The Roosters have some x-factor as well … Sean (O’Loughlin returning) will steady the ship for Wigan.
“The Roosters will try to match them. That’s their game, going through the middle and bullying teams. I’m looking forward to the game and I’m sure there’s going to be some heavy collisions.”
Centre Anthony Gelling says shutting down the Roosters’ plays early is a big part of the Wigan gameplan.
“I think the Roosters are similar to the Warriors with the size of their pack.” the Cook Islander says. “They’ve got a few Kiwi boys too.
“I think when we showed a bit of aggression with our line speed, that’s when we started getting on top of them.”
But according to coach Wane, the plan was not properly executed at Waikato Stadium.\
“To be honest, I don’t think we did that well enough,” he said. “In patches in the second half, we did. But in large parts of the first half we didn’t.
“We were a little bit tight, there’s lots of areas we need to work on. There’s no question of that. If we want to beat a really impressive Roosters team, we’ve got to improve.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

DISCORD 2014: Edition Six

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

WIGAN coach Shaun Wane says he still doesn’t know what rules next week’s World Club Challenge will be played under.
The Super League and Challenge Cup champions went on a tryscoring spree in the second half last night to flog a depleted New Zealand Warriors 46-22 in a trial played under NRL regulations – but with unlimited interchanges – at Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium.
While it has previously been reported that the WCC against Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Saturday week will be played under international rules with just one referee, Wayne tells Discord he has still received no confirmation of this.
“I’m going to find out in a few days,” said Wane. “I’ve not found out a final decision yet, believe it or not.
“We did everything the NRL way (against the Warriors) but I’m not sure how next Saturday’s going to go.”
Wane has also received no confirmation on who next Saturday’s referee will be. “They haven’t made the final decision on substitutes and the new rules coming in and two refs.
“Unbelievably, I’m still waiting to find out.”
A decision on whether youngster Sam Powell makes the Wigan 17 could rely on how many interchanges are permitted.
One feature of the new NRL interpretations which stuck out on Wednesday night was the pace of play with captains no longer permitted to question referees’ decisions when they are given.
“I don’t think (Wednesday’s captain) Sam Rapira was going to get in anyone’s face too much,” said Warriors coach Matthew Elliott. “Maybe he had to. There were a couple of decisions there that I thought were head-scratchers but they’re (match officials) in a trial process as well.
“But I like (the rule).”

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SALFORD owner Dr Marwan Koukash is, of course, wrong in saying that Super League would benefit from the salary cap being completely abolished.
Comparisons with soccer are spurious; it is harder to score in soccer so sides spending widely varying amounts of money on their squads can remain on an even par during the course of a game. That’s what makes their World Cup so compelling; the sport gives underdogs a better chance than rugby league does.
But if Koukash wants to spend more than the RFL wants him to at this point, the answer is simple: enter a team in the NRL.
The idea of an English side in the Australasian competition has been around for a while but never has it been likely to receive a more sympathetic hearing than now, with the NRL already considering a variety of ways to exploit the English market.
Dr Koukash has deep pockets and the prospect of playing home games in large arenas around the UK against the world’s best should be particularly seductive to him. He could corner a market completely.
As we’ve said before, the English NRL team could play a month of away games followed by a month of home games. Visitors would play the previous Friday and the following Monday. Travel time is similar to that between Dunedin and, say, Durbin in Super Rugby.
And Wigan proved last night you can cross the world, play two days later, and still perform at a pretty reasonable level. Over to you, good doctor.

THANKS for the comments last week. Oethesaint said the Sky offer for Super League should have been rejected. You’re going to get criticism either way, aren’t you?

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