FAR & WIDE: Number 45

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

THE AMNRL is preparing to announce its program for the year following confirmation there will again be two competitions in the United States.
The AMNRL, which runs the Tomahawks national team, and rival USARL had been involved in peace talks for much of last year and a framework for a merger was drawn up.
But after an Independent Commission to run the sport in America was picked, the USARL clubs got cold feet and called the whole thing off.
Two AMNRL-aligned New York clubs, the Raiders and Knights, have distanced themselves from the peace deal and the existing administration in a media release and leaked email respectively.
But new AMNRL chairman, and Connecticut Wildcats owner, Curtis Cunz, says the establishment competition will fight on.
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EDGARD Taturyan has been involved in Russian rugby league since 1989, filling a host of roles including that of national coach.
But after turning 75 last year, Tarturyan has decided to stand down. Despite the challenge presented by rugby union sevens being accepted into the Olympics, Edgard is confident our sport has a positive future in the former Soviet Union.
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ALL the news on the TV from the Ukraine seems bad – but for rugby league, these are positive times.
The country has 45 sports schools and an agreement has been struck for all of them to include rugby league this year. Officials hope to soon boast some 2000 junior players.
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RUGBY league’s 55-year tenure at Darwin’s Richardson Park is over.
Spiralling costs have been given for the reason to vacate the venue, which was said to once be home to a giant crocodile who patrolled the hill.
“Gone are the heady days of hosting 2000-3000 league fans for a home-and-away round and now, so are we,” was the pithy comment of NTRL general manager John Mitchell.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: Number 43

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

BUMMED out because you’re not going to the World Cup? Never fear: there is a big day of international footy coming up in Sydney, with seven games at the same venue on the same day!

Lebanon will take on a Fijian combination made up of non-RLWC players at Club Italia, Lansvale, on October 19. The countries will also meet at under 18s, Under 16s and Under 20 levels and we’ll also have Malta playing Italy in an age group yet to be determined.

The remaining game will involve NSW junior representative teams and complete pretty much the longest day of football Far & Wide can remember.

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JACKSON Hastings, son of Kevin who Sydney Roosters recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan chased so hard, will be halfback for the Australian Schoolboys when the play New Zealand Under 18 Residents in Auckland this Saturday.

The game, to be played at 12.45pm (local time) at Bert Henham Park Mount Wellington, is an attempt to reward Kiwi kids who stay at home rather than join Australian clubs.

The sides played an earlier Test on Monday in Whangerei.

Australia’s Sione Matautia is the third brother from that family to represent the schoolboys, emulating the efforts of Shane, Ben and Chris Walker.

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TIME to get around the various state grand finals in Australia.

In South Australia, Centrals are the Division One winners after beating Norths 28-16 in the decider earlier this month. Well done boys.

In Western Australia, it was the North Beach Sea Eagles who lifted the trophy. They beat minor premiers Freemantle 16-8 in the wet a couple of weeks ago.

Onto Darwin an the NTRL, where Palmerston beat Brothers 36-22. It was the sixth premiership for Palmerston, who had to come back from 12-0 down.

And in Victoria, Sunbury lifted its first premiership, downing Altona 36-16 in a game that was televised on community television.

And it was a cliff-hanger in the ACT, where the Queanbeyan Kangaroos beat the Queanbeyan Blues 17-16,

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

@RLWfarandwide

Darwinian Evolution In The Top End

By STEVE MASCORD

THERE used to be a crocodile that lived on the hill at the home base of Darwin rugby league, Richardson Park. The local competition has been suspended because of a cyclone and a Japanese bombing.

But this is still rugby league, and some things are just part of the culture. So the fact officials were at war to such an extent two years ago that the ARL stepped in and disbanded the Darwin Rugby League should surprise no-one reading this magazine. It’s what we do.

When Sydney Roosters switched their match against North Queensland last month to TIO Stadium – an oval that has also hosted AFL matches – part of the appeal was to raise some money for the Northern Territory rugby league, which now runs the local competition. That aspect worked.

“The NTRL were over the moon with things, they’ve had some trouble recently and we raised a lot of money with the Carbine Club function that Brad Fittler, Johnathan Thurston and myself spoke at,” Roosters CEO Steve Noyce said.

Darwin doesn’t feel like part of Australia. With the searing heat, main street lined with open-air bars and wall-to-wall backpackers, it’s more like south-east Asia. There is a strong Indonesian influence, with Bali just a couple of hours away by plane and more than a few characters who seem as though they’ve just opted to drop out of society. The food is decidedly Asian too, the faces in the street range from the blackest black to the whitest white.

It’s a place people come to for a few weeks and never leave.

Rugby league was played here during the war and was revived in 1950. Forty-20 saw North Queensland train with some kids at a school on the outskirts of town, after a $50 taxi right through a landscape of red dirt and scrub. “It’s great to get out here and do this,” said Johnathan Thurston, after helping kids catch and tacke.

“No doubt, I won’t be able to do this forever.”

And on game-day – this was a Saturday night game – the crowd was good too; 10,008 who enjoyed a curtain-raiser between NT City and Country featuring a brother of Ben Barba.

But that’s about where the feel-good aspect of the first premiership game in Darwin for 17 years ended. Because the Roosters moved a home game 3980 km for the exalted honour of being flogged 50-12. Long before the game was over, tricolours frans were tweeting about the folly of the decision, which was obviously made on financial grounds given the Northern Territory government offered incentives to attract the event.

Although the margin was 38 points, Roosters coach Brian Smith and captain Braith Anasta would not admit they would have lost the game if it had been held at the Sydney Football Stadium, now called Allianz Stadium.

“There’s an old thing that farmers say: if a bull had tits, it would be a cow,” said Smith, not intending to make any Cowboy puns. “You can talk about that until the cows come home. We just didn’t adapt. We had some guys who really, really struggled tonight who don’t usually struggle, whether it’s the humidity or whatever.

“The decision to come here and play the game is based on finance and also a bit of it is about promoting the game. Tough titties for us, we didn’t handle it well enough. There’s no blame game going on. We knew what we were in for.”

Noyce, one of the game’s nicest men, immediately stuck his hand up. “We’ve received quite a number of emails from fans and members suggesting I made the wrong decision there,” he said.

“I have to accept responsibility for that. We are in a professional sport and we’re in the business of winning games and we were completely out-played.”

Asked if he would be admitting an error or arguing in favour of the fixture, Noyce said: “A bit of both. You saw the looks on the faces of the players and Smithy (coach Brian Smith) – they were shattered.

“You can bullshit your way through things but those are the facts.”

One of the long-term expansion options for the NRL is to have a joint venture between Papua New Guinea and Darwin, with players living in the Northern Territory but playing every second home game in Port Moresby. A new pipeline in Darwin harbour will, locals say, result in a population explosion that will make the plan viable.

Rugby league has had plenty of them – but that’s literally a pipedream.

Filed for: FORTY20 

Noyce Takes Responsibility For Darwin Game

By STEVE MASCORD

SYDNEY Roosters chief executive Steve Noyce has accepted responsibility for the ill-fated decision to move a home game against North Queensland to Darwin – but has stopped just short of describing it as a mistake.

The tricolours’ bright start to the year came to a shuddering halt at TIO Stadium when they were lapped 50-12 in a game that kicked off in 32 degree heat. It was a one-year deal with the Northern Territory government which is extremely unlikely to be renewed.

“We’ve received quite a numer of emails from fans and members suggesting I made the wrong decision there,” Noyce tells Rugby League Week.

“I have to accept responsibility for that.

“We are in a professional sport and we’re in the business of winning games and we were completely out-played.”

Asked if he would be admitting an error or arguing in favour of the fixture, Noyce said: “A bit of both.

“You saw the looks on the faces of the players and Smithy (coach Brian Smith) – they were shattered.

“You can bullshit your way through things but those are the facts.

“I don’t know if you just say it was a mistake. The NTRL were over the moon with things, they’ve had some trouble recently and we raised a lot of money with the Carbine Club function that Brad Fittler, Johnathan Thurston and myself spoke at.

“But I accept all that pales in comparison to the result.”

The Cowboys’ own partnership with the Northern Territory government expires this year too but coach Neil Henry says the club wants a renewal.

North Queensland is likely to look around for another Sydney club willing to shift a match to the Top End next year.

“There’s scope for it (continuing) here but I think if you move it to maybe a month later, the temperature’s going to drop,” said Henry.

“The dry season will be here. There’s a bit of humidity (now). You take that out of it and it’s not much difference to us playing our early season games up in Townsville.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

League’s Back In Bow River Again

By HAMISH NEAL

PREMIERSHIP rugby league will be played in the Northern Territory for the first time since 1995 when Sydney Roosters take on North Queensland this Saturday

While the Cowboys are looking to bounce back from a Sunday night loss to Melbourne and the Roosters will look to secure their fifth win of the season, more importantly the event will give those in the top end a much-needed dose of live NRL action.

This will be fourth competition game in the city. It will also be the Roosters’ second trip to Darwin, where in the guise of Sydney City they were soundly beaten 44-16 by a Tommy Raudonikis-coached Western Suburbs in at Richardson Park 17 years ago.

Saturday night’s match will be played at TIO Stadium, which has hosted AFL fixtures in the past. Brisbane beat the Cowboys last year in a trial, 26-4, in front of 4,500 fans  at Traeger Park in Alice Springs.

But it is not all about the games coming to the Northern Territory. The region has plenty to shout about regarding players currently in the NRL.

NT News sports journalist Gregor Mactaggart speaks proudly of the local NT products now playing their trade in the top flight of the NRL.

“Will Chambers is originally from Gove he has just come back to the Storm from rugby union and Joel  Romelo played for the Bulldogs against Newcastle (in round 4) – probably one of his strongest games,” said MacTaggart.

“Joel  is still trying to make his way in first grade, he was a very talented junior and spent a little bit of time at Penrith when he first came to the NRL but has had made some strides at the Bulldogs.”

Chambers and Romelo are joined in this elite group of Territorians in the NRL by probably their most well-known product Scottish-born Knights winger James McManus.  Mactaggart points out “even though he’s born in Scotland he’s a Territorian.”

While his Newcastle team-mate Akuila Uate seems a lock for Origin 1 in Melbourne MacTaggart notes “Most of the talk for us up here is whether he (McManus) can get back into that sky blue jersey because he’s back playing well for the Knights.”

McManus’ sole State of  Origin appearance ended in injury as the Blues were beaten 28-18 by Queensland at Ehitad Stadium in Melbourne in 2009.

McManus shares something with one-time NRL player Duncan Macgillivray, who is now the Northern Territory Institute of Sport rugby reague head coach. Both are eligilble to play for Scotland, McManus via birth and Macgillivray via parentage.

Macgillivray, former Panthers and South Sydney player, has actually played for Scotland and took up the current NTIS role after his return from Wakefield . McManus broke Macgillivray’s record for most NRL game by a Territorian in round 11 last season.

In addition to McManus, Chambers and Romelo,  Luke Kelly is a member of the Storm’s top squad. Kelly has had little opportunity in the halves due to Messrs Widdop and Cronk.

However, Kelly has been in impressive form when he has taken the field for Easts Tigers in the Intrust Super Cup in Queensland this season. Gold Coast hooker Sam Irwin (a product of the Nightcliff Dragons in Darwin) has also been solid in the NYC team with his work-rate reminiscent of former Titan Nathan Friend.

On the local front the competition has been going in one form or another for over 50 years. Currently the Northern Territory Rugby League has six teams and in Alice Springs the Central Australian League has a four-team competition.

In Darwin the six-team competition has gotten underway for the 2012 season having started on March 24. If the 2011 decider is anything to go by where Palmerston (the former club of McManus) won the grand final 7-6 against Nightcliff,then local rugby league fans are in for some good viewing even long after the NRL match this weekend.

Mactaggart’s top six predictions for the NTRL in 2012 is as follows:

Premiers: Nightcliff 2nd: Palmerston 3rd: Brothers 4th: Litchfiled 5th: University 6th: South Darwin

Gregor Mactaggart was speaking on RSN- Racing and Sport’s Sports Overnight program