Long before Cronulla players were reportedly visiting him at home to find out what he had been telling ASADA, Parramatta trainer Trent Elkin had already written himself into the rugby league lexicon with the expression “How’s Trent?” Elkin used to be the referees’ conditioner and the phrase was code for “what’s the penalty count?”. Canterbury coach Des Hasler revived memories of “How’s Trent” by strongly suggesting the match officials were aware of the count at halftime in the 44-8 loss to Newcastle – and then spelt it out a little more plainly on Triple M. “It’s almost comical,” he said. “It’s 8-3, come in, check it out, all of a sudden it’s 8-7.” The Bulldogs acknowledged they were beaten by a better side but reckoned a slew of penalties in the Knights’ favour shortly after halftime, when they trailed by just four, was extremely damaging. The answer to “How’s Trent?” these days is a bit more complicated than a number, we suspect.
2. BEAU RYAN, UNDERPANTS AND WILLIE
NOT everything Willie Mason said on the field was invective aimed at Ben Barba. When a scrum was packing down early in the contest, apropos of nothing, he asked the opposition pack of forwards: “did you see Beau Ryan on the back of Rugby League Week? He was in his undies.” At first Set Of Six thought he was having a shot at someone in the Canterbury camp for not playing in City-Country. Mason and Ryan were Country squad members and Bulldogs half Josh Morris withdraw from the City side. But then Mason said “I’m not talking about rep footy”. As it turns out, Mason had no ulterior motive in raising the issue. He just thought it was funny. As 1200 kg of rugby league beef collided in front of 18,982 fans, Mason was making idle conversation with his opponents.
3. NEW ZEALAND WORRIERS
WESTS Tigers’ poor form does not hurt rugby league in any great sense. South Sydney’s good season so far probably does more good thaN the joint venture side’s shocker does bad because it wins back a few fans who lapsed during the Super League War. But the Warriors being beaten 62-6 is disastrous for the game because they are rugby league’s flagship in an entire country. Crowds at Mt Smart Stadium have always been fickle and while some recession-proofing has gone on over the past 10 years, an unsuccessful Warriors gives rugby union a leg-up and has the potential to cause damage right down to the game’s grassroots in the Shaky Isles. The attendance figure this Sunday against Newcastle will be very interesting indeed.
4. DUGAN (UN)CHAINED
ON balance, Peter Sterling’s idea of banning Josh Dugan from turning out against Canberra this year is a sound one. It’s hard to legislate a rule that fits all situations when players are axed for disciplinary reason but this simple measure would be a constant reminder that you can’t stuff up, have a break, and then carry on as if nothing happened. Parramatta signing Gareth Hock pushed Wigan into loaning him to Widnes but it was a condition of his loan he could not play against the cherry and whites. It would be fair to impose a similar restriction on Dugan. I still think the NRL would have to approve such each one of these conditional bans on its merits though, just to make sure a club is not exploiting the rules unfairly.
5. HAVES, HAVENOTS AND NOT SURES
ANY debate about the inequalities of this year’s competition should have become clearer on Friday night when first played last. Sure enough, first won by 44 points. But clearly there is an emerging middle-class too, teams who have either a) illusions or b) potential for grandeur. Each weekend, these teams take polite turns giving their fans reason to suspect upward mobility by waltzing around with top company before slumming it again, nursing a figurative bottle of plonk in a paper bag, the very next weekend. Gold Coast, Canberra, Brisbane, Penrith and St George Illawarra are in this group. You might be able to add Canterbury now too. Cronulla’s improvement seems more reliable and North Queensland are playing well without getting the results. They have to win on Friday against Wests Tigers though, and do it well.
6. DON’T TRIP OVER YOUR LIP
THERE is something wrong with our society when you can’t show so much as a nipple on television but Matt Srama’s bone sticking out of his finger and James Maloney’s lip sliced in two are objects of mirth and instagram frenzies. Both injuries were truly hideous and had the capacity to instantly transform any witness into a vegetarian. Maloney’s gash was so deep it actually affected his speech as I interviewed him on the field at fulltime on Saturday night at 1300SMILES Stadium. Srama apparently caught his injured finger in an opponent’s jumper on Friday night, aggravating the horrible gash which somehow did not involved a fracture. David Mead played half an hour with a broken jaw in the loss to the Broncos. Tough, tough men – but I’d rather just read about their feats than see things in living colour on social media. When did surgery become light entertainment?
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
Matthew Elliott became the latest coach to blast referees before admitting the Warriors would have to win 11 of their remaining 17 games to make the finals.
Speaking after his side’s thrilling 28-18 loss to Melbourne at AAMI Park, Elliott said the NRL referees department had admitted to three crucial errors in the round six loss to Canberra and predicted they would be forced to admit to two further gaffes on Anzac night.
Elliott said the Aucklanders, who have just one win so far this season, were wrongly denied a 40-20 kick late in the contest and there was a forward pass in the lead-up to Will Chambers’ epic 72nd minute clincher.
“The similarity between that game and Canberra will be that refs will have to put their hands up for making errors,” said Elliott after a sprawling contest in front of 25,480 fans.
“They did it at the back end of the Canberra game, in their report, where there were three calls that went against us that were incorrect.
“In their second last try (tonight), from where I was sitting, it looked like it was not a little bit forward but a long way forward
“I’ve seen the 40-20 call made on whether the kicker was behind or in front of the line – I haven’t seen the 40-20 call made about where the ball went out. They moved where the touch judge signalled it.
”How often have you heard me whinging about refs?
“We’ll be over the ditch, it won’t matter.”
Asked if the refereeing difficulties were peculiar to the Warriors, Elliott answered: “Ask the referees boss (Daniel Anderson) . He’s an ex-Warriors coach. Ask him how he felt about it.
“The formula for us is that there’s 17 games to go and I think we’ve got to win 11 of them. It’s a big ask in the NRL but I know this group of people are capable of it.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy – who said there “could have been” a forward pass before Chambers’ second try – was unhappy with his charges at halftime.
“There’s been better sprays,” he said of his halftime address, “but I just thought we needed to get back to what we do best.
“There were a couple of things we just had to get better at. They were strong words but they needed saying.”
Captain Cameron Smith agreed, saying: “That first half, it was unlike us”
While Elliott backed the decision for Shaun Johnson to boot a 68th minute penalty goal for an 18-16 lead, Smith said his men often decided not to do so in similar situations.
“Thankfully, in the end, they took the two because if it had been six it would have been a totally different ball game,” said Smith.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
VETERAN coach Warren Ryan called it “a try for the ages” – and it kept alive Melbourne Storm’s bid to complete an unbeaten run which will be remembered for ages.
The Storm’s bid for their 15th consecutive win, and edge closer to the record of 19 by the 1975 Eastern Suburbs side, looked doomed when they trailed the Warriors at AAMI Park last night 18-16 with nine minutes left.
But centre Will Chambers made a break deep in his own half and finished if off himself after a pass near halfway by Cooper Cronk after before Cameron Smith goaled from the sideline to edge the premiers back in front.
“I just saw a bit of space down there and thought I’d try my luck. I actually thought it was Billy inside but it was Cooper,” Chambers said.
Billy Slater then scored a sizzling try from a scrum to make sure of it in front of a 25,480 Anzac day crowd
A thrilling first half concluded with Warriors winger Bill Tupou crossing in the corner within seconds of the siren sounding, the conversion waved away to leave the scores at 10-10.
Each side made late changes for the Anzac Day clash, Justin O’Neill coming into the centres for Melbourne’s Junior Sau and the Warriors also omitting a participant in last Saturday’s Tonga-Samoa Test, Glen Fisiahii.
Melbourne were the first to breach the opposition defensive line, with Slater slicing through but the Warriors big contingent in the capacity crowd roared its approval when the Aucklanders scored first.
Video referees Steve Clark and Justin Morgan had to make sure there had not been a knock-on in the air before back rower Ben Henry claimed a bomb to plunge over, with halfback Shaun Johnson adding the extras.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy would have been pleased Chambers hit back at 11 minutes but less impressed that the dual-code star ignored supports inside and out before touching down off a Cronk cutout pass.
Captain Cameron Smith converted for 6-6 and Matthew Elliott’s men went on to blow chances on each side of the field when Ngani Laumape and Tupou were unable to take passes when faced with clear air.
A hit from Kevin Locke jolted the ball from Mahe Fonua’s grasp just as he was about to score in the corner at 30 minutes but he soon made good on his mistake by following up his double for Tonga the previous week with another touchdown.
After Laumape spilled a Gareth Widdop bomb on one side, Fonua scrambled over on the other for 10-6.
Five-eighth Widdop executed a magnificent ankle-tap of a flying Johnson just before halftime but it was to no avail as Tupou negotiated a narrow corridor for a touchdown which could not be converted.
The deadlock was broken 13 minutes into the second half, visiting fans cheering home Johnson on a 60 metre run to the line which finished with a converted try between the posts.
Melbourne had managed just five wins from their last 11 starts against the Warriors, who had fallen to a second half collapse in their previous start against Canberra.
The Warriors’ chests were briefly puffed out – but the lead was short-lived, however.
A couple of minutes later, Cronk kicked into the right corner and the Warriors defence seemed to have the bouncing Steeden well-covered.
But the kick bisected the two scrambling Aucklanders and bounced almost miraculously into the arms of Storm winger Sisa Waqa, who bagged his second try of the year.
The conversion tied the scores in an epic struggle, 16-16
Johnson’s 77th minute penalty goal kicked from around 15 metres to the left of the souther posts, edged the Aucklanders in front once more.
After another superb display, Cronk gave credit to the decisive tryscorer, “We’ve got some speed out there and Will played fantastic tonight”
“It just comes [down] to the intensity of our training”.
Warriors captain Sam Rapira remained positive despite the loss, saying “it’s there for us but we keep bringing ourselves undone with silly errors”.
MELBOURNE 28 (W Chambers 2 M Fonua B Slater S Waqa tries C Smith 4 goals) bt WARRIORS 18 (B Henry S Johnson B Tupou tries S Johnson 3 goals) at AAMI Park. Referees: M Cecchin/H Perenara. Crowd: 25,480.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
MANU Vatuvei has spoken of how close he came to pulling out of Saturday night’s clash with Canberra, saying he ignored a knee injury to take the field because of the Warriors terrible injury toll.
And it’s just as well ‘The Beast’ did play as he scored two tries to give the Aucklanders a 16-4 lead before the Raiders fought back to score a late victory.
“I had a few knee injuries – my knees started playing up,” says Vatuvei.
“I was close to pulling out but with those injuries that were there I just had to run with it. After I warmed up, it was sweet.”
The warm-up was less kind to utility Pita Godinet, who withdrew at 7.27pm – eight minutes before kick-off – after aggravating a back injury.
Vatuvei played down his effort in scoring a double despite injury. “I was pretty lucky, I didn’t have to do much in scoring those tries,” he said.
“They just got the overlap for me and I just ran and put it down.”
Warriors coach Matthew Elliott was scathing in his assessment of how his men threw away Saturday night’s game. He describe two passing movements late in the game as “rubbish”.
“Individual errors and decision making at the back end of the game cost us the two points,” he said.
“The word spewing comes to mind. We have five individual errors in the second half that were completely down to the individual and two shift plays that were just rubbish, really.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
COACH Matthew Elliott has accused some senior players of not pulling their weight as the Warriors head into round four still searching for their first win of the season.
Elliott defiantly told journalists “you won’t quell my optimism” after Sunday’s 28-4 defeat to Cronulla but he later said some of the efforts from his charges just weren’t good enough.
“We’ve got some key players in our team who need to do more,” said Elliott.
“We’ve got a guy like Todd Lowrie and others like Simon Mannering who are getting ridiculously high numbers.
“And we’ve got other people who need to do more for us.
“What you’ve got to do is relish the opportunity under tough times to stand up and hopefully those young guys who are being exposed and those other players are learning that they’ve got to contribute more in these times.
“Take the lesson.”
Elliott said the Warriors’ plight was not helped by the fact that 13 players were currently in the rehab group. Glen Fisiahi withdrew because of the death of his sister, Jerome Ropati flew back to New Zealand on Sunday morning because his wife was about to give birth and prop Sam Rapira (hand ligament) withdrew.
And the Aucklanders lost prop Steve Rapira to a badly lacerated ear in the first half. “He basically got his ear ripped totally off,” said Elliott.
“It looks like we’ll be without him next week. It’s a surgical procedure needed, not a stitching procedure.”
Captain Mannering said the team was playing as individuals. “We’re not working collectively, as a group, very well and it’s showing on the field,” he said.
“We’re trying to do individual plays and not sticking to what we’re working on at training during the week.
“We’re going to have to get it right soon or else it’s going to be a long year.”
Elliott said his side was “not as far into the process as I’d like us to be.” “Our unity over the 80 minutes is highly questionable,” he added.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
UNSUCCESSFUL Warriors coaching applicant Tony Iro has responded to a brutal assessment of the culture in the club from back-rower Elijah Taylor by admitting coaches “changed too much” this season after a 2011 grand final appearance.
Speaking to a group of print journalists in Townsville yesterday, 22-year-old Taylor said some players had a bad attitude and “cruised” this season and that pre-season training was not hard enough, meaning the Warriors faded badly at the back end of games.
Taylor was also openly critical of his club for taking too long to appoint a coach and spoke out in favour of Iro as reports emerged that Matthew Elliott had been handed the post on a two year deal.
“Some players’ attitudes weren’t up to standard,” said Taylor. “I can’t name names but there were a lot of players just coasting and not on their toes and not working hard on defence. It showed in the way we played, just the attitude thing from a lot of the players.
“Our pre-season wasn’t as hard as the one prior. I think the training wasn’t too hard and we paid the price at the back end of games. Teams blew us off the park.
“That is not going to happen this pre-season. We’re going to get touched up every session.”
After losing to Manly in the 2011 grand final, the Warriors finished 14th with eight wins and 16 losses. Taylor’s comments are the most damning from any player at an unsuccessful club this season.
Told of the criticism late yesterday, Iro told the Herald: “I don’t think it’s one or two things.
“There’s probably something to what he said. We had injuries to senior blokes as well. We probably changed a bit too much from the previous year.”.
Iro said he had not been advised of Elliott’s appointment. Underlining the disquiet at Mt Smart, Taylor joint clubmatre Feleti Mateo in making it clear the players wanted Iro in the top job and were unhappy with the delays in making an appointment.
Taylor said: “Personally, (I think) it’s taken too long. I feel sorry for Tony Iro. He’s in limbo just like the players and he’s got family and stuff like that.
“The Wests Tigers are in the same boat. I was talking to Benji (Marshall) and they don’t know what’s going on either. That’s the NRL. We’re in a business.
“As a player, you just want to get the coach and say ‘let’s go’. Our pre-season is two weeks away, three weeks away. It’s better knowing now.
“I don’t know what’s going on but I’m a footy player. That’s my job, I just have to do my job.
“Players all want Tony to be coach. He’s been there for seven years now. The majority of our team are Toyota Cup players now and Tony’s brought us all through. I don’t understand why he doesn’t get a shot. He’s been assistant coach for the Kiwis, assistant coach of the NRL side for the last four years, including last year which was a grand final year.
“The year before, he was the attack coach and Ivan (Cleary) was the defensive coach.
“He’s a tough coach and he would do it really well
“(This year) he was chucked in the deep end, that was his job interview I suppose and it’s not very fair. He needs a proper shot.
“I’m always hitting up Simon (Mannering) every day. I’m, like, ‘have you heard anything, have you heard anything?’ He’s like ‘I haven’t talked to them since awards, since presso night’. We’re getting nothing at all.”
Iro said he was appreciative of the players’ backing. “(The players) have been publically supportive of me – that doesn’t get you the job,” he said.
THIS is what it’s like to miss the finals. During the year, media managers and PR men have run interference between the likes of Ben Teo, Scott Prince, Beau Ryan, Feleti Mateo and pressmen. The figurative line to speak to them has snaked out the figurative door.
Today, they stand around during a medical at Allianz Stadium for the Prime Minister’s XIII side to play Papua New Guinea at and no-one wants to talk to them. Including A-List, the number of journalists present is exactly three.
Feleti Mateo sits alone in the adjoining cafeteria waiting for his coffee. He flew in last night from Auckland and goes back there in a few hours. Last year he was Tongan player of the year at the RLIF Awards – his selection in the PM’s side underlines that that’s one award he is no longer eligible for.
Mateo, 27, probably wouldn’t like the word “enigma” being put in the same sentence as him. In many ways he is consistent in what he brings to a team – raw, rampant creativity.
But more than once this season, the now-sacked Warriors coach Brian McClennan said he wasn’t “an 80 minute player”.
“He did his best in his role and he tried to manage me as best as he thought … I think he was sort of getting it right towards the end of the year,” says Feleti, standing in the tunnel as he speaks, away from his new team-mates.
“I was playing longer. I think I was averaging about 70 minutes. I’d like to play 80. I probably didn’t give myself the chance to play 80. At times I probably let myself down. It’s something I can work through in the pre-season. Hopefully I can knock out some 80 minutes games next year.
“Obviously my attacking game is known and obviously my second phase is what I pride myself on. My defence is going to be scrutinised a bit more but I’m happy with that. If that’s the case, let it be. I just have to man up and work hard at that.”
If you’re expecting some grand insight into what went wrong at Mt Smart this season, Feletic doesn’t have them.
“There were a lot of questions to be answered … it wasn’t the best season but there were a lot of positives to come out of it,” he insists. “We tested our depth. The guys that have come through did a really good job. There’re some positive signs for the future.
“Most games, we were positive all the way up until the end, even in games where we were getting pumped. That’s the thing about the club and the team – everyone has a positive outlook on things and if we get down in the dumps, we’re never going to get out of it. We just found ourselves in that sort of headspace a few times during the year and we just couldn’t get out of it.”
Where the real meat on the bones of this interview comes is in the discussion about who should replace McClennan.
“It was sad to see him go but one door closes and another opens,” the City Origin star says. “Tony Iro coming in, I love the guy. I’d love for him to take over as head coach. It’s obviously out of our hands but I think all the players have voiced their opinion on the situation. We’re just sitting around waiting to see what happens.
“We’ve done some season reviews and that with the CEO and the coaches and stuff … I think they know who we want and what we want. It’s good because most clubs don’t really give you that opportunity to voice what you want. To their credit, they’re listening to the players and I hope they can come to a decision that will make everyone happy.”
So you want Tony Iro, Feleti … and so do your team-mates?
“Oh, 100 per cent. I think he’s a guy that all the boys would play for. He knows the game really well. He’s an ex-player so he knows how to get the boys up emotionally too. I’ve said it lots of times – as far as coaching’s concerned I think he ticks all the boxes so it will be nice to see him get the job.”
That’s player power for you. Anyone else who comes in will do so on the understanding they do so against the wishes of the players.
The Warriors were fairing reasonably well at the start of the State Of Origin series this year – Mateo cannot blame his club for his failure to break into the NSW team after changing his allegiance from Tonga.
He says his performance for City didn’t help.
“I guess I was a bit quiet in that game and probably didn’t give myself the best opportunity to show what I can do but I tried to do what was required of me … and I didn’t go any further,” he says. ”It was a good experience, I met some good guys.”
This time next year, we have a World Cup. “As things stand, I can’t play for Tonga. I still have to wait two years. Hopefully I’ll be in green and gold by that time.”
But Mateo believes the current international rules are unfair. While many support him in that they believe players who miss out on selection for Australia, New Zealand and England should be allowed to go back to a second tier nation, Mateo has been linked to all three of our game’s leading nations.
He has one English parent and will soon qualify for New Zealand on residency grounds.
“I’ve never had anyone approach me from England but I’d never say no to anything, to any jersey either,” he says. “I think it would be an honour to play for them, to play for anyone really. If it’s international footy, you just want to be in anything. It would be nice but I guess it’s a long way away.”
I suggest to Mateo that quotes such as these have traditionalists shaking their heads. It wasn’t like that in the old days –players only aspired to represent one country.
“Everyone has their own opinion but at the end of the day, you want to play and I think the fans want to see the best players play,” he argues. “If you’re sitting on the sideline and not eligible for a team because you have to sit out for two years, I don’t think it’s fair. If you’re eligible to play, let them play. If it’s unfortunate that you can’t make one team, why can’t you play for another one? If you’ve got that heritage in you and that culture, why not?”
PNG is one place rugby league has taken Mateo before – with different teams.
“In the Junior Kangaroos, I went up their eight years ago,”he recalls. “It feels like a lifetime ago now. There were some big names in that team. I think I was in the halves with Toddy Carney. Toddy was playing seven and I was playing six. Sammy Thaiday, Keithy Galloway, Tommy Learoyd. There were some big boys.
“I’ve been up there with the Tongan team a couple of times too. A lot of people put a lot of stress on how dangerous it can be up there but once you mix and mingle with the locals, they’re pretty cool. I’ve always had good times up there.
“We played in the Pacific Cup … three years ago. We didn’t have security escorts anywhere. Everyone was pretty cool and welcomed us with open arms.”
As this reporter has witnessed, throwing one sock out of a team bus can cause a riot. “Anything …and if you don’t you know about it too!”our subject agrees.
“They’re crazy. It’s funny to see how big rugby league is up there. Sometimes you take it for granted but those guys don’t.”
Parramatta fans see Mateo’s departure at the end of 2010 as controversial. He doesn’t. “I’m happy, mate,” he smiles.
“I’m as happy as can be. I owe the Warriors a lot. They’ve looked after me, I’ve played every game since I’ve gone there and I’ve had a ball doing it. They’re great blokes over there, I love Auckland.
“I’m here doing this interview because I’ve been playing there so … I’m ecstatic.”
Not bad for a man who didn’t make the finals, who no-one but me wants to interview. I ask Mateo if he can see himself being like David Solomona, playing well into his 30s as a bench specialist with magic hands. Of course, he wants to prove first that he can start – and finish.
“I’d definitely like to see myself playing a bit longer. Hopefully I can mature with age and I think I have. I’ll learn the game more, learn to pick my times … I don’t think I can ever not learn. We’ll see how we go and see where I’m needed.
“I hope I don’t get pushed up to that front row!
“I think, even if I do get pushed up, it doesn’t matter what number I’ve got on my back, I’m always going to play the same.
“I’m pretty sure the coaches know that too.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
WARRIORS caretaker coach Tony Iro has made the startling claim that some of his players “turned it up” during Sunday’s horrible capitulation to Canberra.
The Aucklanders, finishing a bitterly disappointing season, led the Raiders 22-6 at halftime and then conceded six unanswered second half tries to lose 42-22.
“I thought a few of them turned it up, to be honest,” Iro tells Rugby League Week. “That performance was the sort of thing that’s been happening to us all year.”
Asked to expand on his suggestion that the Warriors gave up – a clear implication of the phrase “turned it up” – Iro said: “Look, there was effort there in the first half but in the second, we lacked a hard edge there.”
Iro says resilience will have to be “bashed” into his men in the off-season.
“This season, for one reason or another, we haven’t been able to compete physically or mentally,” Iro said. “There’s definitely a soft edge to the side.
“We’ve just got to let them go away and come back with a harder edge in October.
“Those nightmares from games past came back to haunt us. If there’s any consolation, there’s some real hard lessons learned from some young boys in the team.”
Asked how to get the hard edge required for 2013, Iro answered: “Training, being accountable to each other. This side’s got the potential to be a really good footy team but as I said, we have got a soft edge to us at the moment
“I don’t know, usually you just bash some hardness into them. I’m pretty sure that regardless of what happens next season, they’re in for a tough pre-season.”
Captain Simon Mannering did not think fitness was a problem. “A lot of it is attitude – you can do all the training you like, it’s whether you want to put it into practice on the field,” he said.
“I think it just feels, of late, we’ve got in the habit of defending very poorly.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK