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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DISCORD 2013: Edition 50

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
IT’S not so much the number of zeros on Cronulla’s $1 million doping fine, but how long the Sharks have to pay it.
That’s why the club’s supporters should be welcoming reports Cronulla ‘only’ have to shell out $200,000 a year over the next half-decade.
We’ve already said here that it would immoral for Cronulla to be forced into relocating by the financial penalty from the supplements scandal. Endangering the health of players is too serious a matter for it to play any role in a competition’s decentralisation and expansion strategies.
It’s in everyone’s interests to keep the matters completely separate. If Cronulla or anyone else have to move, then sobeit – but not because they have been financially crippled by a sanction from headquarters.
If reports of the Sharks being given five years to pay their fine are correct, the NRL Commission has done the right thing in this regard.
Some will say it’s just tough luck if a financial penalty sends a franchise broke and relocation is its only help of survival. But for a start, we don’t know if the NRL has an incentives at all on the table any more for relocation.
And is the end of a club that entered the premiership in 1967 a fair punishment for a doping offence committed over a comparitively short period in 2011?
Only a harsh bastard would say ‘yes’.
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GREAT result to see the New Zealand-England World Cup semi-final named the greatest moment at Wembley Stadium this year, beating the FA Cup final and Bruce Springsteen.
The Kiwis’ last-ditch victory was the best game I’ve seen this year and plenty agree. With a bit of a nudge from Red Hall, the event won by popular vote.
“The drama of the Rugby League World Cup semi-final certainly befitted the occasion, so it is right to commemorate the match with a Wembley Way stone,” said stadium managing director Roger Maslin.
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THERE are those who steadfastly refuse to believe that the salary cap has anything to do with the even-ness of a competition that has given us nine premiers in 15 years.
But the departure of salary cap commissioner Ian Schubert, the sudden rise in the cap and looming relaxation of rules around the payment ceiling will give us an almost scentific analysis of its importance.
It should be pretty easy to tell if the league is more or less even now than it was before. Schubert was given absolute discretion in a less well-resourced era of the NRL and in the opinion of this column did an exceptional job – even if clubs didn’t like many of his decisions.
You can put an appeal process in place and throw more people at the job but if we get lopsided competition tables in the years ahead, then ‘Schuey’ will be missed.
Ian Schubert’s legacy as salary cap commissioner will be crystal clear in another 15 years.
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COMMENTS now and there was some discussion on the sense, or lack thereof, of the NRL attempting to extend its influence into London.

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DISCORD 2013: Edition 39

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

THE Cronulla-to-Queensland story raises a couple of pressing questions for the NRL.

One: is relocation a viable model to satisfy expansion ambitions? Two: is it morally defensible to take with one hand, in the form of drugs sanctions, and then give back with the other, in the form of relocation allowances, if a club does what it’s told?

Let’s start with number one. Our game has never done relocation in a fully fledged American way, adopted here in Australian football with the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Lions (although still not quite as cleanly).

North Sydney were going to move to Gosford, but then got duck-shoved into a merger with Manly. We’ll never know how that would have gone.

So while most fans reject the idea of relocation out-of-hand, who are we to say it won’t work? It’s hard to see the people of Brisbane embracing a relocated Cronulla but in Central Queensland, where they appear behind the eight ball despite impressive infrastructure and support, it might work.

Similarly, while the WARL have done a lot of work marketing the West Coast Pirates, the Wests Coast Sharks would only grate during the summer months when those words appear all too regularly in local headlines.

Please note Discord is restricting its comments here to the two questions in the second paragraph. Plenty of other people are talking about whether it SHOULD happen.

The second issue is somewhat more vexed.

Personally, I don’t think people would swallow the administration knocking out the Sharks with one fist, and then using the other hand to pick them up, dust them off and send them wherever.

If the two processes could be separated – if ASADA could somehow be blamed for rendering Cronulla bankrupt and the NRL could portray itself as the saviour – then some fans might buy it.

But drugs penalties have to be handed down by the governing body and the NRL exploiting a terrible situation to its own ends would not play well to anyone. I don’t think this administration is that gung ho.

I have no doubt Wednesday’s story is based on some solid information. The NRL may well be tossing it around – but I can’t see it happening.

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IS Sam Tomkins signing for New Zealand Warriors the beginning of the end for Super League?

There are plenty of people in England who think so. He’s without doubt the biggest star in that competition and featured in the memorable advert with Bradley Wiggins at the start of the season.

But the NRL has been losing players to rugby union – and AFL – for years and has survived just fine. Wendell Sailor, Israel Folau, Sonny Bill Williams, Willie Mason … the list goes on.

The exchange rate is improving, Marwan Koukash at Salford seems to have a wad of cash and this new competition structure might even work.

And Matt Bowen is a sensational player.

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IN that column on Saturday, it said I didn’t want to become a “bitter, angry, aging crusader”.

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TRAVELS: XVII

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD

LONDON’S heavy loss on Saturday led to a reader contacting me about one of my favourite hobby horses – an English team in the NRL.
But this reader, whose given name was Leigh of Dallas (?) came at the idea from an interesting angle. What are the drawbacks of an NRL franchises based in Leeds or Manchester? That it would completely overshadow Super League and effectively relegate it to what the Brisbane comp has become.
But what if the franchise was based in London, and aimed not at league-loving northerners but Aussie and Kiwi expats in the capital?
Let’s get some of the obvious reservations you might have about the idea out of the way immediately. The travel time in Super rugby union between Dunedin and Durban is roughly similar, as is the time difference, and they manage just fine.
There is now a flight that leaves Sydney at 6am and arrives in London the same day, meaning a team could have plenty of time to acclimatise – as much or more as successful World Club Club Challenge sides have had
Of course, London Exiles (or whatever) would not be away every second week. They’d go “on tour”, playing two, three or four away games at once. Visiting teams would play the previous Friday and the following Sunday or Monday.
They would not steal every player from Super League because they would be subject to the NRL salary cap. They would not detract from Super League because they are geographically distant from most of the teams. They would earn the NRL a shedload in TV rights but not detract from the value of the existing SL rights.
I can’t see too many negatives. It’s time to get the ball rolling.
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GEORGE and Tom Burgess have just re-signed with South Sydney.
George and Sam are now pretty much the first choice props for the bunnies, ahead of Warrington signing Roy Asotasi, and this Saturday phonto (1)night they come up against the Australian pairing of James Tamou and Matt Scott when Souths take on North Queensland.
Australia coach Tim Sheens will be watching. Even at this early stage, I am told Sheens is considering picking a bigger side to take on England in the World Cup opener than the side that will eventually play New Zealand.
He believes the Kiwis’ dummy-half running will make the big fellows vulnerable against the Kiwis.
The big loser out of the rise of the Burgesses is set to be Cronulla back-rower Chris Heighington. It’s hard to see him getting a starting berth with all the talent at Steve McNamara’s disposal.
Meanwhile, the return from a pectoral muscle tear of Wests Tigers prop Keith Galloway on Monday is a big boost for Scotland. I spoke to him at training yesterday and he’s very keen to play for the Bravehearts.

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Goodwin Says It’s Time To Go West Again

South Sydney - Bryson GoodwinBy STEVE MASCORD

BYSON Goodwin is old enough to remember the death of the Perth Reds and young enough to hope for some involvement when the West Coast Pirates finally get admission to the NRL.

The South Sydney centre enjoyed redemption on a couple of levels during the 30-13 win over the Warriors at nib Stadium on Sunday.

Opposite number Konrad Hurrell treated him like roadkill during a brutal run to the tryline in the first half, but Goodwin bounced back to score two late tries, the first of which put the Rabbitohs ahead for the final time.

But it was also a triumphant homecoming for a 27-year-old who used to be the Western Reds’ ballboy.

When the Reds were wound up in 1998, “I was still in Perth. I was here til I was 16, i was here for a while after the Reds were finished.

“I played league here my whole life. I never wanted to give it up. I never wanted to play AFL, I played two games in highschool and that was it. I just love league.”

NRL officials hope to have three premiership matches in Perth next year but expansion has been put on hold until the end of next season.

NRL chief executive David Smith was in the West Australian capital last week but missed the fantastic atmosphere among 20,221 fans on match day because he had already moved on to England for the Festival of World Cups.

Goodwin says a return to the premiership “would be fantastic. The crowd and the support here was awesome.

“League would have a lot of support if they put a team back here. Hopefully they do.

“You never say never but maybe by the time they get a team here, I’ll be finished up.”

Souths were confident at halftime they had the Warriors’ measure, Goodwin said, despite being 13-6 down. “Our confidence is good but our feet are on the ground,” he commented.

“We’re not getting carried away.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

A Quarter Century Of Spreading The League Gospel

Leyland BrothersBy STEVE MASCORD

TONY Chalmers, now a fixture on the sideline at NRL games as Channel Nine’s floor manager but once a flying winger, remembers the coach’s speech the first time a premiership side touched down in Perth to play a rugby league game.

“Times have changed,” says Chalmers, who scored the first try of the historic Parramatta-Balmain Panasonic Cup match at the WACA.

“Warren Ryan was the coach. We went over there three days before the game and he said to us “if you blokes don’t get out on the sauce tonight, you’re not having a crack’. Hahaha.”

Playing against his former Parramatta team-mates for the first time, Chalmers was stunned by the ferocity of their defence. He scored off a Ben Elias pass, was soon concussed and the Tigers went down 22-12 to an Eels side wearing jerseys purchased from a local sports store because their own sponsored jumpers had been lost en route.

Peter Sterling was man of the match.

This Sunday, 24 years later at the plush, rectangular, nib Stadium, the South Sydney will play the Warriors. Premiership matches in Perth aren’t exactly a dime a dozen these days but the Perth Reds have come and gone and clubs know exactly how much they can charge for tickets and how many fans are likely to show up.

It’s a big weekend for the league outside its NSW and Queensland heartlands. The blue ribbon Melbourne-Brisbane clash is on at AAMI Park on Friday, TIO Stadium in Darwin hosts Gold Coast v Penrith on Saturday and on Sunday – as well as the clash in the wild west – Canterbury plays Newcastle in Mackay.

Why are all these games on the same weekend? Actually, it’s just co-incidence. Queensland and the Northern Territory governments approached the NRL and were put in contact with the clubs involved.

In the case of South Sydney – who have been taking home games to WA for five years now – the deals have been stitched up with the WARL and then presented to the NRL for assistance.

The NRL agreed and has come to the party with marketing assistance, travel and accommodation. Promotions for the game were shown during the Origin coverage on Perth TV.

Nib Stadium say their biggest drawing Western Force home game is Canterbury Crusaders because of the expat Kiwis in the city and a full house is anticipated.

But in future, “co-incidences” like the one that makes this a bit of a Leyland Brothers round will not occur. The NRL will negotiate with venues and state governments and allocate games the expansion areas themselves.

“There are games that will jump out of the draw as ones that are suitable to be moved,” explains South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson said.

“They are matches that, for whatever reason, would not be huge draws at the home ground of the home team but would be very attractive somewhere else.

“For instance, there are many New Zealand provinces interested in hosting Warriors ‘away’ games.

“In the past we’ve all done our own deals, hid our cards, and thought to ourselves ‘we negotiated the best conditions’ but we didn’t actually know. In future, it will be all up front because the NRL will be negotiating, not us.”

And how is this done without alienating members? With reciprocal deals.

“If we welcome members of, say, Parramatta, the Roosters, the Bulldogs and the Dragons to our home games and they let our members in for free, you still get the same number of games as part of your season ticket,” Richardson explains.

“So we can take that number of games away to places like Cairns and Perth.”

The result is likely to be a greater number of matches played over the entire season at non-heartland venues next season.

The reasons are altruistic – spreading the gospel, etc – and pragmatic. The recent South Sydney-Gold Coast game in Cairns injected a reported $1.7 million into the local economy , justifying the money spent by local authorities to attract the event.

Richardson said Nine did not want to cover the game because of the expense, “and it was clearly the best game of the afternoon”.

And while George Burgess might disagree, the change of scenery is also welcome for players in the middle of a long season.

“For us, Perth was like another country,” Chalmers recalls. “On the way over, I admit I was thinking ‘why are we going there’ but when I saw the support, I could see the benefit of it.

“But I didn’t understand why my mates who I’d played with just the year before were hitting me so hard. They just gave it to me.

“However, after the game we all went to the casino and had a few beers together and everything was fine.”

This weekend rugby league, just like the Tigers of ’89, his “having a crack”.

Premiership Matches in Perth, Darwin and Mackay 1989-2012* (from League Information Services)

 Perth

Canberra defeated Canterbury 18-14 at WACA, August 11, 1989

Canberra defeated Manly 29-12 at WACA, May 18, 1990

Parramatta defeated Cronulla 22-12 at WACA, May 17, 1991

Parramatta defeated Canterbury 18-12 at WACA, May 8, 1992

Canberra defeated Easts 15-10 at WACA, May 7, 1993

Manly defeated Cronulla 26-6 at WACA, July 9, 1993

Penrith defeated Balmain 24-0 at WACA, April 15, 1994

Norths defeated Easts 28-8 at WACA, July 22, 1994

Melbourne defeated Wests 62-6 at Lathlain Oval, May 8, 1999

Cronulla defeated Warriors 28-24 at Perth Oval, May 7, 2005

Melbourne defeated Souths 28-22 at Members Equity Stadium, June 13, 2009

Souths defeated Melbourne 16-14 at ME Stadium, June 26, 2010

Souths defeated Brisbane 16-12 at NIB Stadium, June 24, 2011

Brisbane defeated Souths 20-12 at nib Stadium, March 23, 2012

Manly defeated Warriors 24-22 at Patersons Stadium, July 28, 2012

Darwin

Penrith defeated Balmain 14-0 at Richardson Park, April 19, 1991

Penrith defeated Souths 24-20 at Richardson Park, July 11, 1992

Wests defeated Sydney City 44-16 at Richardson Park, April 8, 1995

North Queensland defeated Sydney Roosters 50-12 at TIO Stadium, April 14, 2012

 Mackay

Canterbury defeated Melbourne 20-4 at Virgin Australia Stadium, June 24, 2012

* Does not include Western Reds matches in Perth 1995-97

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE BIG ISSUE: #50

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD
IT’S coincidental but instructive that we are going to Darwin, Mackay and Perth with NRL games the weekend after matches in Sydney attracted 11,167, 5288 and 6,271.
Yes, it was wet and hostile at ANZ Stadium, Leichhardt Oval and Centrebet Stadium – but they were still poor attendance figures which will be easily eclipsed at the three ‘on the road’ venues this weekend.
On page 30 of this week’s RLW, you’ll read how fixtures will in future “jump out” of the draw as ones which invite relocation, and how the NRL will make the arrangements rather than the individual clubs.
Two of the poor-drawing games above – South Sydney-Canberra and Wests Tigers-Melbourne – fit the bill as potentially average crowd-pullers, although Leichhardt Oval is imbued with such romance people would go there to watch almost anyone play.
Make no mistake, we will get the same outcry about shifting games away from traditional home grounds as we got about the death of the shoulder charge and Origin violence.
But when you hear the bleating about robbing the people of their local team, try to remember how few people there were at times.
When Rupert Murdoch swept into our game in 1995, he – or his people – determined there were too many teams in Sydney. At first, they wanted one or two mega-Sydney teams but when they proved too hard, they recruited a few and left the rest to rot.
If another media mogul was looking to invest in rugby league and checked out last weekend’s games, he would have come to the same conclusion: too many teams in Sydney.
We, of course, now realise it’s not that simple. The popularity, history, brands and emotional connections inspired by the Sydney clubs are just not accurately represented by those who show up each week.
We can have our cake and eat it too – especially with $1.025 billion in the bank.
We can keep the Sydney clubs we cherished as kids and still expand the game and this weekend is showing us how – by taking those clubs to people who appreciate the opportunity to see them in the flesh.
If those people show enough interest, then one day they get a team of their own. That’s how it should work and that’s how it will work under the new stadia policy.
And if American baseball and English premier league soccer want to bring their events to us, then the lesson is clear. To stay afloat in this shrinking world, we also have to take ours’ to them.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK