Patrons first: White Line Fever Kicks! Episode 22: David Moffett (former NRL CEO)

Former NRL CEO David Moffett outlines his bid to take on World Rugby with a new version of the sport before going into previously unaired detail about South Sydney’s omission from the NRL and his own departure from the 13-man game. Essential listening.

LISTEN HERE

Hoffman Interview Cut Short

Brisbane - Josh HoffmanBy STEVE MASCORD

MAN of the match Josh Hoffman was stopped by a club official from answering a question about the club’s links with rival fullback Ben Barba in a dramatic aftermath to Brisbane’s win over Parramatta.

On a day which started with Fairfax reporting Barba’s request for a release had become formalised, Hoffman the one shining light in a mediocre clash at Suncorp Stadium that saw the Broncos keep their campaign alive with a 22-12 victory.

But television reporters said Hoffman was dragged away by a club official after being asked about the Barba situation, although the timing of the intervention could have been co-incidental.

“Massive issues post match in @brisbanebroncos dressing room,” Channel Seven reporter Ben Davis Tweeted.

“Club officials pull Man-o-match Josh Hoffman mid intv”

Nine and Seven are expected to on Saturday show footage of media manager James Hinchey grabbing Hoffman by the shoulder and leading him away in the middle of the media opportunity.

Hoffman has spent most of the season on the wing and the club has reportedly courted fullbacks Josh Dugan, Barba and Milford in recent times. Coach Anthony Griffin said he could understand fans wondering why the club needed another fullback.

“I understand that – it would be the same as … I’m the same as everyone else, we ain’t signed anyone,” Griffin told radio Triple M.

“He’s done a great job for us. He’s scored 14 tries on the left wing. He had a great game tonight at fullback, he did a great job for us tonight.”

When asked what the answer was to that question which fans were asking, Griffin answered: “I don’t know. I’m not in the media. People have got to write something. You’re asking the wrong bloke.”

Earlier at the media conference, Griffin said none of the players were under pressure – despite halves Scott Prince and Peter Wallace being told they would likely be in reserve grade if they stayed at the club.

“I don’t know if any of them are under pressure,” he said. “Within our four walls, we’re all content. It’s you guys that aren’t.

“You’re seeing the way they’re playing. Everyone’s playing for each other.”

Asked if he could provide a comment about Barba, Griffin said: “No, I can’t. He’s under contract from Canterbury. You’ll have to ask Des (Hasler).”

One of Hoffman’s heroics was to stop Parramatta superstar in his tracks when he was headed to the line during the second half.

The Eels did not believe Hayne had been seriously injured, despite jarring a knee. Broncos Ben Hunt (cork) and Josh McGuire (knee) were other casualties, albeit minor.

Broncos captain Sam Thaiday said “a better team would have rolled over the top of us” at stages of the match while Griffin was disappointed at the flow of penalties.

“it turns into a game of basketball for the fans, too,” said Griffin. “Everyone is in with a shot.

“Two weeks ago in Newcastle, the penalty count was 2-all. We played about 44 sets against each other.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

COMMENT: What’s Wrong With NRL Radio Coverage

By HAMISH NEAL

DURING round 20 I was placed in a situation which has been rare for my recent rugby league viewing and it confirmed to me one area where the NRL is failing to reach it’s potential – radio coverage.

This piece is not a comment on the abilities or presentation of the key networks, 2GB/Macquarie, ABC and Triple M who all do a terrific job headlined by their chief commentators of Ray Hadley, David Morrow and Dan Ginnane.

If anything it’s about expanding their listener base to enhance the reach of the game.

Due to personal circumstances (ie the birth of my first child- since you asked a boy, Lucas. 4.04 kilos possible NSW centre of the future but dad is a Kiwis that’s a story for another post) my ability to consume rugby league became limited.

So with the in-room Foxtel in the hospital (sound on mute) and the trusty TuneIn radio app on my smart-phone it was with those two pieces of technology I set myself up for a Saturday night’s viewing/listening. After the Warrioirs blew their 18-0 lead at home to Newcastle it came to 7:30pm and it’s where the issue struck me.

I was without access to any live coverage  of the Parramatta versus Melbourne clash which was arguably the most anticipated match of the round given the circumstances of both clubs. In the case of Eels it was how would they react to coach Stephen Kearney leaving and for the Storm the heat was on for a win.

The Foxtel default game was South Sydney’s match-up with St George Illawarra and both radio broadcasters went with that game… Thus began my Twitter embargo until I had seen the replay of the Eels’ 16-10 upset triumph which followed the Rabbitohs win.

As a new parent I am starting to learn my time will become increasingly scarce and being able to access matches live and at a reasonable time (not ones that finish at 11:15pm for two nights running,taking into account often a Friday night game) becomes more important.

I was able to watch the game on replay, no problems, but a person without access to Foxtel/Austar and perhaps with a new baby who is trying to relax on a Saturday evening should be able to hear, as a minimum, a live radio description of the game.

Round 20 was by no means the first time this has happened during the season.

The Melbourne-Souths contest on Sunday night in round two created the same dilemma and from what I remember elicited a lot of talk along this line. Particularly as it was the only game on in that timeslot.

I guess the situation I was in recently amplified to me the point about the market which is been missed.

So as a great man once said, don’t come to me with problem’s come to me with a solution:

* Use the talent pool. Many local radio stations of the current radio rights holders and their associated networks have teams for local matches (eg Canberra, North Queensland and Newcastle) so it’s not as if there are not enough callers for the matches. Although travelling can be an issue but maybe it’s time to explore using those already experienced more often.

* Think laterally. In the case of Melbourne the most knowledgeable rugby league person connected to a local radio station is actually Rob Gilbert (brother of Channel 9’s Tim Gilbert). Rob works in the sales department of 3AW and would be a fine sideline eye. The depth of rugby league folk connected to key radio stations in Melbourne is probably part of the problem I am seeking to address.

* Simulcast game commentary from Fox Sports/Sky Sports on-line. I see no reason why a simulcast from Fox Sports (or Sky in New Zealand) can’t be utilised with an extra fee paid to Fox Sports to cover this. The style would not be the same as a radio commentary but it provides an alternative to nothing.

I concede radio broadcast rights do not bring in anywhere near the revenue of television. However, it still plays an important apart of the media mix of rugby league in Australia.

Leading sports leagues over the world have access to a strong vibrant radio coverage. The NFL in the USA has often two radio calls (home and away team) each week. The Football League in the UK (the three divisions below the premier league) have the same but they also charge sometimes up to 30 pounds a year so you can access your team’s radio call for each match.

This is often linked to other exclusive web content and things like a text message with the team one hour before kick-off etc. I’m not saying the NRL should go down the latter road but it’s always good to compare similar situations.

The NRL deserves comprehensive broadcast coverage (radio included.) Technology, expansion of digital radio and record TV figures for the game means we now have the technology and market which proves the current radio coverage should be expanded.

 

BONDI BEAT: January 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

HERR ‘ead ‘itter has given Bondi Beat an assignment this month: how should international rugby league be organised?
Easy for him to say! Things have never been so fluid in that particular part of our game, with the International Federation re-constituted over the past six months and registered as a company in Australia, the Asia-Pacific Federation about to be launched and the Independent Commission to (finally) be floated in Australia.
Middle East and Atlantic Federations are also in the starting blocks, I’m told. So we have to be careful to not suggest remedies which are already in the process of being applied.
Let’s identify our problems.

One, only three teams can win the next World Cup – and we are being extremely generous to include a side that has not beaten one of the others in any series for 39 years.
This is not a problem that can be solved in the short term and is tangled up with other issues we will list later.
But the way domestic sporting competitions address lack of competitiveness and predictability of results is to introduce drafts and salary caps. Drafts and salary caps don’t work at international level but surely we should do for our developing countries what Super League once did for London and what the AFL is about to do for Western Sydney and Gold Coast.
That is: give them as big a leg up as we can.
OK, we don’t have money (more of that later) but the RLIF should be aiming to lay out fixture lists four years in advance, with an objective of giving the other countries as many games each year as Australia, New Zealand and England. No developing country should have fewer fixtures in a year than any one of those three.
This would encourage players to commit to other countries. I feel sorry for Frank Pritchard, who took the leap from New Zealand to Samoa only for their tour to be cancelled.
The development will come. As one influential figure said to me, England can live with Australia for 65 minutes, New Zealand can live with them for 75 and Wales are up to about 15 – on the back of home-nourished players, not rugby union converts.
Maybe in RLWC13, the Welsh will be up to 30 minutes, then 50 – which should be more than enough to make the semis of the 2017 World Cup.
Our next problem is lack of funds.
I cannot believe no-one picked up the phone and called Gatorade or Coca-Cola last year and said “How would you like to sponsor the corner posts in Philadelphia, Rarotonga (oops), Belgrade, Avignon and London over the next two months?”
Is this property worth something? Yes! Did anyone try to sell it? No! Look at some of the other things that get sponsored in rugby league – lower division clubs’ training gear, for instance!
Again, I have had private conversations with movers and shakers about this issue. They say there are domestic agreements, red tape. Objective two is to cut that red tape and sell just one  – one – global sponsorship in the next 12 months.

Let’s put it bluntly: rugby league is such a small sport globally that it is a cartel when it comes to sponsors. Domestic officials don’t want to cost themselves sponsors by handing too much independence to international bodies. Only when they are fighting each other, as well as other sports, for cash will both areas of our game realise their potential.

Cartels allow people to take it easy, get complacent and – as a result – the consumers and the industry itself eventually suffer.
The IRB’s beer sponsor rings the Serbian rugby union and DEMANDS to give them 10,000 euros every year! “Please come and get it!”
OK, so we have every country playing four internationals a year and a coterie of global sponsors funding a modest office. What next?

Eligibility.

This is one of those issues where you just can’t please everyone. Again, an insider described to be a “philosophical divide between those who want the best players in the World Cup and those who want the best players who are eligible”.

The RLIF’s announcement recently that players would not be able to represent one country in qualifiers and another in the tournament proper was largely hollow since we have 12 automatic qualifiers for RLWC13 anyway! Players from those 12 countries can wait right up until the team is picked to choose their loyalty!

Bondi Beat would like to see the residential qualification pushed out from three to five years. We are tempted to call for the one permitted change of election within each World Cup cycle abolished but – again – without proper annual international programmes there is a danger developing countries would field badly depleted teams in the World Cup.

One policy of the RLEF deserves praise.

The body will not pay to fly in pros from Australia or elsewhere. In the recently-completed World Cup qualifiers, the most the Federation gave any team for travel was Stg4000. The RLEF’s aim is to give countries programmes they can afford to complete – which means a nation might be demoted to a lower level of competition because of its ability to get there as much as its competitiveness.

In the end, it is down to whether Anthony Minichiello is willing to sleep in barracks or whether Lebanon can afford Jai Ayoub’s airfare as to whether they play. It is also a matter for the individual countries whether they dump players who got them to the World Cup in favour of stars who can win games when they get there.

In the end, eligibility rules should be tightened when we have the fixture list that allows players to compare oranges with oranges in choosing which country to play for.

I don’t see refereeing as a problem. It is cosmetic to appoint Thierry Alibert or Henry Perenara to a “neutral” test just because of where they were raised. They live in Leeds and Sydney furchrisakes. If it is right that all NRL referees must live in Sydney then it’s OK that Matt Cecchin can control Australia.

What about programming?

Is it too hard to have the Anzac Test and the Exiles game on the same weekend and let all professional players go home and represent their countries mid-season? Is it? Really? Certainly, under the new TV deal in Australia, it shouldn’t be.

Our final problem, then, is club v country.

With the advent of the Independent Commission, NRL clubs think they are going to have more power and appear to have actually forced England to stay home at the end of this season. But that comes down to the late planning of everything.

When the NRL agreed with clubs – verbally, not in writing – three years ago that October and November would be “quiet” internationally, we should have already known there would be one test between Australia and New Zealand, on exactly what date, and that’s it. No argument – or have it then instead of now.

Let me know what you think international rugby league’s other problems are by going on the totalrl.com forums or coming to whitelinefever.ning.com, joining up, and posting in the forum there.

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WHEN a New Zealand official abused referee Matt Cecchin at halftime in the Hull Test, he got more than he bargained for.

At home Cecchin would have filed a report and shut up. At Hull, he gave it back to the Kiwi in spades – perhaps even using a cuss word or two. The touch judges and match commissioner were apparently left speechless by the Chech’s tirade!

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

The End Of The Lockyer Era

By STEVE MASCORD

THERE’S  a difference between concentration and focus. Darren Lockyer is focused.

This is the sort of focus that makes you reconfirm appointments when you leave the field still gasping for breath. The kind of focus that has you sending text messages from the shower. These are the simple feats Darren Lockyer performed in the organisation of this interview.

As much as we try to make them all seem special in these pages, sportsmen – even great ones – come and go. We build them up and tear them down and then, if they survive what we and their opponents throw at them, we eulogise them at the end.

Then we move onto someone else.

If there’s any observation about Australia’s Test captain in his final year as a player that transcends that same old scenario, it’s that he possesses the wisdom to realise he can’t transcend it. He has reached the point in his career where he knows he just needs to make the most of it.

At 34, Darren Lockyer has the perspective of a retiree and – for a few more precious weeks – the limitless potential of a superstar. And the awareness to make the most of what is in front of him, all day, every day.

“I guess when I made my announcement about retiring, I knew I would have to do some planning ahead about how I was going to cope with it all,” Lockyer says when RLW observes he seems to be unusually driven right now, even for him.

“There’s a fair bit happening this year, obviously, with the book (biography) coming out, Origin and what-not. So, I am pretty focused on trying to finish on the best note I can, really. And that’s on the field and off the field. To do that, I’ve got to give it my 100 per cent commitment.”

We often judge our best athletes, artists and business giants by what they do at their peak. That is, so the cliché goes, “how they’d want to be remembered“.

But in leading a team of, well, kids into the finals for Brisbane before taking Australia to the Four Nations, Lockyer is almost daring us to remember him by his last tackle, his last pass, his final in-goal sermon.

And daring us to remember a time when he was better. The fans that line up four deep at stadia across the country, holding up the Broncos bus night after night, aren’t chasing a photo with who Lockyer was. They want to touch who he still is.

“I’ve never experienced that … signing autographs and photos, it’s never been so much as it is right now,” he say, having booked Rugby League Week a few moments in a busy day, week, month and year.

“And I mean, that’s for obvious reasons. My career’s coming to an end. In your mind, you know whether you’re going to training or to a game, you know there’s going to be fans there that have supported me for a number of years and that’s their last chance to say farewell. Giving them a bit of time, autographs and photos, is … you just accept it. That’s part of what the process of retiring is about.”

Lockyer told us all on March 28 that he was giving the game away at the end of 2011. He needn’t have. He could have saved himself writers’ cramp from the autographs, momentary blindness from the camera flashes, thousands of column inches from the publicity by just dropping it all on us much later than that.

It’s not the first time someone has suggested this to him.

“I announced it because … there were a couple of reasons,” he responds. “The main two were probably: I wanted to give the Broncos an idea about when I was finishing so they could plan ahead. The other one was, I didn’t want to go through the season – if I hadn’t signed a contract – (with) everyone speculating about what I was going to do. I look at it this way: it is an opportunity for all those people at the different grounds, Origin or whatever, to say farewell and for me to say farewell.

“While it’s a busy time for me, I don’t have any regrets about the way I’ve done it. I think it’s worked out well.”

The announcement that the premiership’s most capped player would be calling it quits came in the same month that Brisbane sacked Ivan Henjak and appointed Anthony Griffin as his replacement. The odds of Lockyer’s club career going far past August nose-dived accordingly.

“My mindset has always been ‘get on with the job, you have to work with what you’ve got’ but, yeah, it was a bit unsettling,” he says now.

“And I was  a little concerned because of how young the playing group was and at the same time I was confident that with the talent we had in the squad, we’d be very competitive this year. It was just a matter of having a smooth transition and moving forward. Anthony’s done a really good job right from the start. He’s kept things pretty simple and the boys are responding really well to him.”

The odds of a fairytale exit from interstate football were better – but after an 18-8 defeat in Sydney on June 15 in Origin II, that was looking shaky as well.

The biggest difference in Origin this year, Lockyer says, was “obviously, Ricky Stuart really.

“In recent years it’s been building up to this real Us-Against-Them in the media. I think Ricky just added another dimension to the game.

“They were talking about the fact that Queensland have dominated the Origin series for the last five years and it was dying. Yet, we sold out all three games. People are saying Origin’s dead because Queensland dominated but I thought Origin took another step forward in terms of its popularity. The pressure and the hype around it was like no other series I’ve been involved in, which is great for the game. Even going into next year’s series, it’s going to be just as popular.”

Of course, Lockyer’s absence will sell tickets in NSW and Victoria without affecting the marketability of Origin in Queensland one iota. But that must be the most frustrating thing for one of rugby league’s deepest thinkers: being sidelined in an era that will bring us the Independent Commission and a fierce battle with the Australian Football League.

In a strange sort of way, though, Lockyer seems to think the game’s broad new horizon is better approached with a briefcase than a football anyway.

“My hope is that I do have some sort of role within the NRL,” he says. “My passion has always been for this game to be the best it can be. We have competition out there and I just want this game to reach its potential. If I’m not on the field, I’d like to be helping the NRL out of it. I’m not saying I can solve all problems but if they’re willing to include me in some of the decision-making going forward, well I’d like to be involved. What I’ve learnt from on the field and off the field over the past 17 years as a player, I can use that experience to help better the game.

“I guess, the thing that’s kept it so popular is the product. That’s what we’ve got going for the game. The stuff around the product can probably be run a bit better and that’s why the commission is an important part of that process. I just think if the code’s got six gears, we’re in fourth at the moment. The product will always be a popular thing to watch. It’s just a matter of getting the system and the processes around it working really efficiently and I think the results and the rewards will be there.”

It’s already been flagged that Darren will become an ambassador for international football. “I can’t go into too much detail yet because I haven’t signed any sort of agreement but part of my career was – I never took an Australian jersey for granted,” he says.

“There were some tours (for which) I probably found it a little bit hard to get motivated to get on the plane but the Australian jersey was the highest honour in the game and I always found a way to get myself up so I could go away and represent my country as best I could. That passion I’ve got for the jersey, it’s trying to translate that from my playing days to keep the prestige about the jersey. International rugby league has a fair way to go and if I can help in the process of that reaching its potential, then I’m keen to be involved.”

Lockyer agrees with Canberra’s Alan Tongue, who reckons the money about to come into the game is going to present more obstacles for the competition’s young players who are wonting in life skills.

“Alan Tongue’s got a good point,” he says. “Kids just come into our system now without working, knowing the concept of what work really is. It’s about having the right systems within the clubs to teach them their responsibilities, teach them discipline and also the senior playing group in those clubs’ importance in structuring that culture. I think, as time progresses and more scrutiny comes on player behaviour, the more kids that are starting to come through the system without working a day, we’re going to have to invest more money into player welfare and coaching kids on how to conduct themselves.”

Darren knows enough about rugby league history and mythology to be aware what he’s doing right now will be remembered for a long time. But his approach has always been to attack circumstances and shape them, not sit back and wait for things to happen.

So far, Brisbane and Queensland-wise, so good.

Mal Meninga won a premiership, an Ashes series and scored a try in his final Test back in 1994. Graeme Langlands threw his white boots over a goalpost crossbar in France.

Lockyer’s career has been one worthy of some symbolic gesture, some resounding triumph.

“It’s one of those things: you cross that bridge, you know?” he comments. “You make decisions on the spot. All going well, my last game of footy will be in England. I’ve actually played a lot of footy over there but in terms of quirky little things like hanging the boots over the crossbar or stuff like that that, I haven’t really given that any thought.

“But, again, the fans who’ve supported me, it’s an opportunity for me to say farewell to them and vice versa. The thing I want to take from it all is the memories.

“And hopefully give them some as well.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK