Castle: Is Origin A Defacto Salary Cap?

Canterbury - Raelene CastleBy STEVE MASCORD

 CANTERBURY chief executive Raelene Castle has blasted the 11th hour call-up of Josh Morris as “not very reasonable” and suggested split rounds now operate as a de facto salary cap.

Nineteen-year-old Reimis Smith – with an entire match the day before under his belt – had to drive to Canberra to make his debut on Sunday when Blues centre Josh Dugan pulled himself out of last night’s opening interstate match due to an elbow complaint.

 “The etiquette in place at the moment is we just have to release our players for Kangaroos and Origin,” Castle tells League Week.

“But in reality, when you’re running a professional competition, to expect us to do that on the morning of a game when we’re 300 km away and our NSW Cup team has played yesterday is not very reasonable.

“If we played (Saturday), they would still have called J Moz up (Sunday).

“The rules need to be documented, they need to be looked at and thought about … the impacts for all parts of the competition, not just Origin.”

Smith may now go doing in league history as the man who ended an era when the game punished clubs in order to keep Origin in a commercial advantageous television time slot.

“The three teams who have lost the most players all lost this weekend,” Castle said.

“The Broncos, the Cowboys and the Bulldogs – five, five and three (players), four for us on the morning, have all lost.

“So you’ve got to question: is this another form of salary capping? The teams that don’t have many players involved in Origin end up with points they may not have otherwise got.

“You’ve got to question the impact for the credibility of the NRL.

“Origin’s amazing. Everyone knows that. Commercially it’s really beneficial. We all know that. But when you look at the actually integrity and credibility of the NRL competition over 26 weeks, you have to question whether this is the right outcome.”

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Interstate football was put in midweek some 45 years ago to minimise impact on clubs. With the advent of Origin, it was discovered to be a ratings bonanza.

By the late eighties, players were being stood down from the previous weekend’s club round – defeating the entire purpose of the games being played on Wednesdays in the first place.

“Maybe we have (re-examined it) but not enough,” said Castle. “The fact is we’ve tried to under the new TV deal in 2018.

“But I think we’ve got to ask the question again.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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Fittler Endorses Maloney For NSW Job

Maloney, JamesBy STEVE MASCORD

JAMES Maloney says the endorsement of Brad Fittler as NSW Origin I five-eighth is no consolation for Country’s poor showing in what will probably be the second-last match ever against City.

Fittler, who represented the Blues 31 times, reckons Cronulla’s Maloney is the stand-out candidate to wear the six jersey on June 1 at ANZ Stadium.

But Maloney, 29, tells RLW: “I supposed it’s a nice endorsement to have but I said it leading into this game: my whole focus was to get a win.

“And I’m pretty down at the moment because it wasn’t the case. That’s what this week was all about.

“It was getting a win for Country and we didn’t do it.”

Speaking on radio Triple M at fulltime, Fittler – coach of victors City – said: “Right now at the present time, we’d have to say James Maloney at five-eighth.

“Early on, he had us in all sorts.

“The game got away and he most probably … I’m not sure how urgent he got personally but … the game got away and that wasn’t due to his fault.

“He’s most probably in the best form out of all of them.”

Fittler said halfback was a more vexed position because of the lack of in-form candidates. “I think Adam Reynolds is a fantastic player but the last couple of games, the kicking game, the backbone of his game, has been a bit down,” he said.

Because of a change in the NRL TV deal in 2018, City-Country has only one game to go for the foreseeable future and Country needed to win both remaining matches to draw level on the all-time ledger since the concept went Origin.

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Maloney said: “We couldn’t shut down that free-flowing, off-loading style of football they played.

“I would have loved the (City-Country) game to stay. Hopefully there’s still room for it on some form.

“It means a lot to the country. I think the turnout here showed that and a lot of the boys enjoyed playing in the week. I know our boys had a ball this week.

“They had a lot of pride in the jumper and that’s why we’re all hurting now because we couldn’t get the result.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
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THE JOY OF SIX: NRL Round 17 2015

The Joy Of SixTHE BEAST IS COMING FOR YOU

SO David Klemmer accidentally knocked out a NSW staffer who was holding a tackling bag? If he is on the field for a kick-off on Wednesday, Maroons players are best advised to stay out of his sight. The Beast Of Belmore has revealed he spots an opposition player from 30 or more metres away and tries to cause as much damage as possible by running over the top of him in such situations. “Whoever I see, I try to spot someone and run as hard as I can at them,” Klemmer told Triple M in the aftermath of the Belmore triumph last Monday. “I’ve probably got someone lined up to run at before the kick-off. As soon as I get it, I’m going straight for him.”

DOING THE RIGHT THING

THE silence flawlessly observed for Phil Walsh before the weekend’s three NRL games made your correspondent proud to be involved in rugby league. Such unity, such empathy. Now, if I add a ‘but’ to that, someone is bound to take it the wrong way. I’ll just say this: Danny Jones, James Ackerman and Zane Purcell died playing rugby league this year. Ackerman was honoured at two NRL games. I would like to have seen the whole comp observe a minute’s silence for each of them. Sometimes NRL clubs seem culturally isolated from the rest of rugby league – particularly overseas – while identifying themselves more closely with big time leagues in other sports. To reiterate, I fully support the solidarity shown regarding Walsh – maybe we can honour the three we lost on grand final day.

RISE FOR ALEX

IN a manner of speaking, I have a small inkling of how Cameron Smith feels after Sunday night’s 60 Minutes program. I covered the game in which Alex McKinnon was injured, for radio and for the newspaper. Like Cameron, I misread the situation completely. When people told me Alex’ treatment was “just precautionary” and that he reacted the way he did because he “got a fright”, I foolishly believed them. Fox’s Andy Raymond showed himself to be, frankly, a better journalist in the way he reported on the injury. Like Smith, I focused too much on the short term – in my case, trying to get a quote in the paper. I did that – but the quote was another well-intentioned smother. I am sorry for my performance and my decisions that night, which do not stand up to scrutiny. I wish I could change them. I’m sure Cameron feels the same.

IT’S LATE O’CLOCK

TEAMS are fined if they are late onto the field for a match but what if the game starts late? Who gets fined then? This was the dichotomy highlighted by St George Illawarra officials when they were told by the TV floor manager  to stay in the sheds an extra five minutes at WIN Stadium on Saturday night.  No-one could argue with the point made, either. Still at Wollongong, while the commentators sought to honour the days of the Steelers, it was a boy from the local suburb of Windang – North Queensland centre Kane Linnett – who was the hero for the visitors. Asked if Linnett was feeling the cold as much as his tropical team-mates, NQ captain Gavin Cooper said:  “He can wear a singlet because he’s got that much hair over his back.”

AS AN EXAMPLE….

I AM indebted to reader “Pete” for this example of why the idea of restricting representative suspensions to representative games is an intellectual miscarriage. “So Justin Hodges could go out on Wednesday night in his last origin game before retirement and cause absolute mayhem and cop six million demerit points and be suspended for next year’s origin series that he won’t be playing in anyway yet not miss any club games?” A million demerit points? I told you a trillion times not to exaggerate, Pete. Expect the Ennis loophole to be closed as soon as 9am Thursday. Suspensions will expire at the start of the following round.

MATE AGAINST STATE

ORIGIN shmorigin. The real rugby league grudge match was played over the weekend – and get ready with you “red zone” puns. Russia defeated the Ukraine 34-20 in neutral Belgrade to move a step closer to qualifying for the 2017 World Cup. “Russia was a really tough opponent,” said Ukraine coach Gennardy Veprik, no doubt echoing the thoughts of millions of his countrymen. Present at the game was RLIF chairman Nigel Wood, who will take part in something called the Founders Walk from July 19 to 24. Participants will walk 193km from St Helens to Hull, taking in the grounds of all the original Northern Union clubs from 1895.

Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

The A-List: JARRYD HAYNE (Parramatta, NSW, NRL All Stars & Australia)

Jarryd HayneBy STEVE MASCORD

IN the middle of this interview, Jarryd Hayne’s answers get shorter. It seems like he’s had enough.

Your correspondent has to spell it out: ‘this story has to run to about 1500 words, that’s why I’m asking lots of questions’. There’s a brief nod, and the answers get longer again.

It’s a neat encapsulation of what some people say makes the 21-year-old Parramatta flier tick. There’s a story they tell around South Sydney, about how Hayne’s father Manoa Thompson was worried he would sleep through his alarm and miss a early training session at Redfern.

So he drove to the oval the night before, pulled up in the carpark – and went to sleep there, knowing someone would wake him up as they walked past his car. An apocryphal story, perhaps, but like father, like son. Jarryd Hayne marches to the beat of his own drum and the route he takes to success on the football field is rarely the conventional one.

But he doesn’t leave success waiting. The two of them, Hayne and success, almost always meet at the appointed place and time and get on famously. In fact, Hayne’s best friend in most teams is success.

A-List won’t bore you with stories of pet dogs, banter with team-mates, shopping malls and nearby AFL stars this week. We got Hayne at a NSW media opportunity – a bit before most of the fourth estate descended – and the details make for tedious reading.

The Fiji fullback is sat in one of those cubbyholes they have in the home dressingrooms at Sydney Football Stadium, wearing regulation NSW training gear, and talked into a digital voice recorder.

So after experimenting with Rolling Stone-style profiles and sub-headings, this week we’ll utilise another old journalistic favourite – the Q&A:

A-List: You’ve come into Origin camp on the back of Parramatta’s 23-6 loss to Wests Tigers. How do you reflect on that game?

Hayne: “We were a bit rusty, I was a bit rusty myself. It was probably our worst performance all year so I was a bit disappointed but I had a bit of a virus, a stomach bug at the end of the week and that didn’t help. I got it on Friday. We trained pretty late and then we had a sauna session after. We were out in the cold, when I was pretty sweaty. Then Saturday, Sunday I was a bit rusty and I wasn’t sure if I was going to play or not.’’

A-List: How would you sum up the year at Parra? And also your own year?

Hayne: “It’s been tough. It wouldn’t help any club to go through what we’ve been through. To not be coming last is a pretty good effort. To lose our halfback, to lose Feleti (Mateo). To lose one halfback, get a good combination going, and the lose another from the halves combination … it was very tough, it’s really taken it’s toll on the team. The state we’re in now, we’ve pretty much got to play our best every week to be competitive.’’

A-List: You’ve had a new coach coming in and changing things over the summer, there’s blokes off contract who do don’t know what they’re doing next year. Does that have an impact out on the field?

Hayne: “Yeah, it’s tough – especially when you’ve got guys who have been here for a while and they’re not sure if they’re going to be there next year or not. That’s what the coach is there to do. He wants players that he wants there. At the end of the day, it is what it is. There’s always fors and against. Obviously I’m going to lose some mates over the summer because they’re going to move on. I think he’s bought really well with (Shane) Shackleton and (Justin) Poore. I don’t know if he’s looking for anyone else….’’

A-List: You’re probably playing the best footy of your career right now. Is that how you thought 2009 would pan out? How would you describe the year for you personally and what’s changed?

Hayne: “I don’t know, just attitude. I’ve taken it upon myself to do a bit more and I’m a bit more confident in the team and I’m sort of take a bit more control of the team.’’

A-List: And being fullback must be a big boost to you as well…

Hayne: “Yeah, I’m rapt, I’m loving it. I hope to stay there, yeah.’’

A-List: For people why have never done it, tell us what it’s like to run out in an Origin game. What was it like running down that tunnel for the first time? Did anything surprise you?

Hayne: “Yeah, (it’s great) just being able to do it. You know it’s going to be fast, you know it’s going to be intense. Just being out there and in the moment, it’s good, it’s an awesome buzz. It’s one of the best feelings you can get, running out in the Blues jersey. You’re playing against the best players. The main thing is that everyone’s on the same level. From the intensity in training to just the little things, you don’t see the same things at club level you see at Origin level.’’

A-List: Are you more worried about making a mistake in Origin than you are in club football?

Hayne: “Oh, 100 per cent. It’s Origin footy. You can’t make mistakes, pretty much. A mistake, it takes something little to change a game.’’

A-List: But you are a creative player, you take risks. Does that affect your mindset going into an Origin game, if you are more worried about making a mistake?

Hayne: “No, not really.”

A-List: But in your first year of Origin, you tapped the ball infield and Queensland scored. How hard is it not to dwell on things like that?

Hayne: “Not that pass. I thought I was doing good for the team. I thought it was a 40-20, they’d scored two tries, we were on the back foot and I knew when it went out it really would have rattled us. It wasn’t like I was trying to do a magic play or I was trying to do something arsey or silly. That’s not why I did it.‘’

A-List: Everyone else is talking about four series in a row for Queensland. Are you fellas thinking about it a lot?

Hayne: “Yeah, of course. We don’t want want to play in the team that has been beaten four series in a row so it’s a major factor. I think the team we have now should be up for the task.’’

A-List: Tell us about how the side lifted in Melbourne after a poor period in the first half?

Hayne: “I think we were playing like that the whole game but sort of just weren’t getting the lucky chances we were getting in the second half. ‘’

A-List: Have you watched your no-try back on many occasions since then?

Hayne: “Yes’’.

A-List: And what are your thoughts when you watch it back?

Hayne: “What everyone else says. It’s a try.’’

A-List: What can we do to prevent those sort of mistakes happening again.

Hayne: “If there’s a touch judge there, what’s the point of going to the video ref? He didn’t put his flag up. So if he doesn’t put his flag up, why are we going to the video ref, you know what I mean?’’

A-List: So they should show more faith in the officials on the field?

Hayne: “Yeah’’.

A-List: You’ve played just one Test for Australia. At the end of the year there’s a Four Nations and a Pacific Cup? Would you like to play for Fiji again?

Hayne: “No, I think I’ll just stay with Australia this year. The World Cup was something special but I think you can only change a certain number of times in a certain amount of years. I’ll probably stick with Australia and if I don’t get selected I’ll go on a bit of a holiday.’’

A-List: When you say your attitude is different this year, what do you mean?

Hayne: “Before, I used to eat rubbish the day before the game. Now I’m eating right seven days a week and looking after my body a bit more, not going out as much. Just a bit more focus on footy. When I first came into first grade I was a bit young and got a bit sidetracked with the partying.’’

A-List: Was there a single thing that changed your outlook?

Hayne: “Just the World Cup. I really appreciate what I have and how many people wish they were in my shoes so that’s something that really drove me. Seeing the Fijian boys, how proud they were just to play for Fiji. To see them, puting the effort in and the enthusiasm they had really made me feel I should be doing more for myself.’’

A-List: And I suppose you were thrust into a leadership role there whether you wanted one or not.

Hayne: “I think that really helped me because I brought it back to Parra. The thinks I was doing in the Fijian team I was puting it upon myself to do with Parra. It’s obviously affected me in Parra as well.’’

A-List: And before that, you just considered yourself another footy player?

Hayne: “Oh, being young you don’t really want to be really stepping up and taking charge of a team. You had a whole lot of people there who had been around for a while and you just sit back and let them do their thing and you just finish it off at the end of it – which in ’06 I did. We had good halves and a good centre in Luke o’Dwyer who just looked after me. They all sort of left so I had to step up.

A-List: You will forever be known as the man who was shot at in Kings Cross. Is it still fun being a footy player or has scrutiny made it just a business?

Hayne: “Of course. I wouldn’t swap it for the world. It’s just a bit different now compared with back in the day, what the older players used to get away with. It’s a bit hard when you hear all these stories about what they used to get up to. Now, it’s like if you do anything near that you pretty much wouldn’t have a contract. It’s tough. It’s a new generation, a time when things are changing. We’ve just got to get used to it.’’

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Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

The A-List: JAMAL IDRIS (Gold Coast, NSW, Indigenous Allstars & Australia)

Canterbury - Jamal IdrisBy STEVE MASCORD

“The first few swings missed me, I ducked back and it went across my face. The next time it got me…”

Jamal Idris is talking about September 2010 in Forster, where – at a family gathering – he was attacked with a samurai sword.

“The sword sat there for a while so it got fair rusty. Thank God. It was a fair big sword too, it was about the size of my arm or so.

“… it bounced off my neck. What can you do?

“(The assailant) put himself in two days later, he was in for a while, got back out, and he was in again for a while. Obviously, he’s my cousin. He got out again, then he went back in again. I think he’s been in, maybe, two or three times since then.”

That is, in jail. In almost any other area of journalism, this would be an extraordinary and disturbing conversation. But Idris, 192cm and seemingly still growing, just sits there and smiles as he tells it.

We are in the foyer of what used to be the Titans’ Centre of Excellence, one Thursday afternoon. Idris is still recovering from the leg injury which prematurely ended his season. Training has finished for the day and he says he hasn’t got anything better to do than chat to A-List.

No subject is off-limits. For all the brutality of his profession, Idris is an ingénue, a man unable or unwilling to be as cold and dispassionate as his contemporaries. The topics veer from his litany of injuries, moving to the second row, African rugby league and his new academic pursuit, journalism.

But the most moving subjects are family, racism and bigotry. Jamal’s childhood on the NSW mid-north coast looms large for him, and he seems to harbour a deep sense of having being wronged since he walked through a set of gates that led to the outside world.

“I did grow up with a strong sense of family but I grew up in an aboriginal mission,” he explains. “You go outside them gates … when I was younger I did walk into a shop and they kicked me out because they thought I was stealing. I sat there and I looked at them and I was, like, ‘are you serious?’, and they were ‘get the eff out of my shop, you’re stealing you effing black, yada yada yada’. I was maybe 13, 14 years old.

“You don’t understand racism as a kid but as you get older you start to see it and you see your cousins getting arrested, you see people in your family being stopped by cop cars as they walk down the street, and you sit there and you start saying ‘what’s going on?’ You start thinking the world’s against you.”

To illustrate his viewpoint, Idris describes a schoolyard fight in which he punched a kid three years his senior for a racist slur.

“As a kid, you don’t understand. I looked at it, like, he can say anything he wants and I can’t do anything about it. I felt helpless. He (principal) said ‘I’m going to ring your mum’. I stood up, I was in year three so I was seven or eight or so, and I said ‘fine, effing call my mum” and I walked out.

“It all falls back on the parents, that kind of racism. Kids don’t walk around saying those kind of things. Where have they heard it?”

The 23-year-old Australian international recently spoke out against a parent who described a 13-year-old Mudgeeraba Redbacks player as a “fucking nigger” from the sidelines and finds suggestions that racism is fading laughable.

“It’s not in the past, it does happen, that’s stupid,” he says. “The people who believe that aren’t opening their eyes. That annoys me when they say it doesn’t happen anymore. Are you kidding me? Australia’s a young country, of course it’s still happening. It’s frustrating, man.

“That little kid .. he’s a grown man, this is a kid on the field. Who does he think he is?”

Like Jamie Soward and Scott Prince, Idris is taking an interest in journalism and media as a career after football. Like both of them, he has had his run-in with the fourth estate. Those baby-fat photos from a couple of years ago have left much more of a scar than the samurai sword.

“I was 17 or 18 years old and for a bloke to come out and write something like that …. why doesn’t he look at the people in his family, why doesn’t he look at the people in his life. What’s he doing?

“You’re walking down the street and someone’s saying something. You pick up the paper and someone’s saying something. All I do is read the person’s name who wrote that and the next time they try to talk to me – good luck!

“There’s a lot of criticism that’s constructive. If they’re criticising something that I didn’t realise, I’ll look at it and go ‘fair enough, what can you say?’.”

Likewise, Idris was shaken by criticism of his form last year when he was battling the effects of a congenital hip problem, which required surgery. “All of a sudden, round five this year, people say ‘what’s the difference, what’s the difference?’.

“The difference is: I’m not injured. I can run. I can play. The people that who were bagging me are all of a sudden sitting there sucking up to me.

“People look in from the outside and say ‘he must be disappointed, he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that’. I’m happy and blessed every time I run onto a field. When I’m most upset is when I am injured.”

Playing for Canterbury in Sydney between 2008 and 2011, Idris found these two issues – race and celebrity – forming a poisonous combination.

“I got real flustered in Sydney,” Idris says. “In Sydney, you walk down the street and people go for Parramatta. Just because you play for Bulldogs, they want to fight you. There’s so many teams in one area, they think it’s their right to say whatever they want.

“I used to be a fan when I was a kid. I used to love supporting it. But, you know, if you don’t support someone and their team, it doesn’t give you the right to go beyond that and start insulting their family, insulting their race. Insult the team, say what you want, whatever. But for me personally, that’s going too far.’

But, as detailed at the start of this story, Jamal found that even Forster stopped being a refuge after he had become a big star in the city.

“Some of my family members, if I don’t go back to Forster for a year, because I’m playing football, I come back at Christmas time and they say ‘what, you think you’re too good for us because you play football?’ Simple little comments like that and it gets exaggerated when they drink alcohol, you know what I mean?

“You’d go out in the Cross and someone would try start a fight with you, argue with you, and you’d see his mate filming it. Sure enough, you look at the paper the next day and they say ‘so and so was out at this time having a fight’ They don’t say what led into it.

“When they were talking about Choccy Watmough and Matai, when they got bashed and jumped by five or six blokes at, I think, Stevie Matai’s house, and they turned it so negative on him. I thought, ‘they’re victims. They’re at home. They got jumped. What’s going on? Should they not breathe?’

“At the end of the day, why so negative on us? For trying to live a normal life? They go ‘oh, you’re a role model’. We are role models, we go out and do the right thing. They don’t put in the paper every time we go to children’s events or a hospital but they’ll put it in every time they see us out or they see someone blowing up at us or there’s a scrap.

“You know why? Because it sells papers.”

Idris says he’d like to try coaching as well as media work upon retirement. He’s been paying his own way to away matches to cheer on the Titans. He’s anxious to move into the forwards, saying it probably suits his game more. And over the next two months, he will travel to Nigeria and meet pioneers trying to start rugby league there.

“Africans as a race: fast twitch muscles, we’ve got all the skills,” he says enthusiastically. “In saying that, we’ve got to get our hands right.”

Hang on, isn’t that racial stereotyping? “I am African,” he responds. “I said ‘we’, I didn’t say ‘they’.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

The A-List: KEITH GALLOWAY (City, NSW, Australia & Scotland)

Wests Tigers - Keith GallowayBy STEVE MASCORD

THIS is kind of like interviewing a Wests Tigers fan. Keith Galloway wasn’t sighted from round two to round 20 this year due to a pectoral muscle tear.

He’s been sitting in the stands with us.

If a week is a long time in rugby league, 18 weeks is an eternity. In that period, Wests Tigers have floundered and dropped from finals contention and star player Benji Marshall has decided to depart for rugby union.

“It was out of my hands. I was in the rehab squad,” the 27-year-old Galloway says more than once during our chat at Concord Oval, about what he has seen unfold in 2013.

The club’s fans know how Keith feels. The arrival of new coach Michael Potter was supposed to tighten up Wests Tigers’ defence, give their attack more structure, end the days of playing off the cuff.

But the transition has proven harder, and more complicated, than perhaps even Potter expected.

“Obviously we had those two really good years in 2010, 2011 when we had the team to win the grand final – or very close – on both occasions,’’ says Galloway, all 107kg of him.

“There’ve been other years when we’ve been up there and down. This year’s been tough – I think everyone knows that. Our injury toll’s been massive. There are probably some guys who’ve played … not before they’re ready but they’ve got their chances through injury. They’re going to benefit from that.

“They’ve really stepped up and proven themselves. It’s a young squad but I think it’s going to be a strong squad.  There’ll be a lot of first grade experience at such a young age and hopefully that holds us in good stead for next year and beyond.

“I came into first grade when I was 17 and I felt like the young guy for years but now I really feel like an old guy with all these youngsters around.”

Despite the disappointments, the former Cronulla prop had no hesitation in re-signing for three more years during his convalescence. The reason for this, he says, was simple. Given that he has in that rehab  group, he was flattered just  to be asked.

“I wasn’t able to play footy and put my best foot forward to sign a contract,” he explains. “That was what I’ve done in previous years to get a contract.  The Tigers were really keen to sign me.

“When they showed that much interest and desire to keep me, it was a pretty easy decision to stay loyal to the club. I’ve been here seven years now. It feels like home.”

Big Keith is a nice fellow, although you get the impression he doesn’t feel like he’s earned the right to say much yet this year. His unannounced comeback came a couple of weeks ago in Monday Night Football against Manly and with no finals on the horizon, his aims are necessarily short term.

A NSW and Australia rep in 2011, he at least has a Scotland Bravehearts World Cup jersey to aspire to over the next couple of months.

“They’ve enquired and I’ve told them it’s definitely an option,” Galloway reveals. “I just wanted to get back on the field with the Tigers and play a few games before I made any sort of decision.

“I’m definitely proud of my Scottish heritage. If I went down that path, it would be great to represent them.  Dad was born over there. His side of the family is all from there.

“The last World Cup, I was in their 40-man squad and I had to have surgery as soon as the World Cup was over. I was excited to play for them but obviously if you’ve got to have surgery, you’ve got to have it. “

The Wests Tigers he returns to in 2014 after his industrial award- stipulated post-World Cup break will be very different. For a start, there’ll be no Marshall.

“It was a pretty big shock, eh?” he says of Marshall’s decision to accept the terms of a contract extension.

“To be honest, anyone who knows the Tigers, they know Benji …. but as a good mate I respect his decision and wish him all the best in rugby union. At the end of the day, he’ll still be a good mate and I’m proud to call him a mate. “

Losing mates used to tear at the heart of Wests Tigers.  Most of them went in the opposite direction to Keith – from Concord to Cronulla. But now it’s just a fact of life.

“I probably spoke the Heighno (Chris Heighington), Gibbsy (Bryce Gibbs) , Beau Ryan in the past week,” Galloway says when asked about the unusual links between the clubs.

“When you play footy with guys for a certain number of years, you become good mates. Regardless of the team they play for or the jersey they wear, you’re not going to get rid of the friendship just because they play for another club. There’re a lot of good guys over there.

“It was a bit of a shock, some of them going. You play with good mates, you wish you could play with the same guys forever but it’s a business. We all know that. We’re trying to make a living out of it and clubs are trying to do the best. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. That’s the way the business world works. I get paid to play footy for this club and I love this club so I’ll do the best I can for it.”

On one hand “it’s a business” but on the other, Galloway “loves” Wests Tigers. That’s a glass-half-full approach if ever there was one….

In any case, it’s likely the devil-may-care attack Wests Tigers are famous for will leave with their most famous player.

“These days,” says Galloway, “if you make a mistake, teams are going to capitalise on it. If you play off the cuff and it doesn’t work, then you’re under the pump the whole game.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t played for 80 minutes in a lot of the games. For patches in games, we’ve looked good but these top four sides, they’re another league above. They play for the whole 80 minutes. Until we get to that standard, we’re not going to be able to compete with these sides.”

As a junior, Galloway made all the representative sides. I’ve always wondered if players like him feel undue pressure to keep making those teams as an adult, and whether they judge themselves more harshly than others.

“I think when you’re making those sides as a kid, there’s a bit of an expectation that you’ll probably make the grade, that you’ll play first grade,” he answers.

“Just to play first grade, you’ve done really well. There’re a lot of good footy players I played with growing up who didn’t progress to first grade for one reason or another.

“You’ve got to be a really special talent to make these senior representative sides.

“Unfortunately I’ve had some bad injuries at bad times of the season and what-not but I’ve been lucky enough, in 2011, to get a game for the Blues and play for Australia overseas. Hopefully I can try and replicate that in the next few years but I think it helps when your team’s going well.”

Ah yes, when the team’s going well. He says it like it’s going to happen, like it’s just a matter of time. And unlike you and me. Keith Galloway is now in a position to make it happen…..

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

The A-List: ANDREW FIFITA (Cronulla, City, NSW, Indigenous All Stars & Tonga)

Fifita,Andrew%202013NRLHBy STEVE MASCORD

WHEN Andrew Fifita talks about “the coal train”, he’s not making a reference to Dave Taylor. He’s talking about an actual coal train.

“It’s when we were down in Griffith that I found it,” the NSW prop says, recalling a vivid childhood memory. “Not walking around but jumping on the trains … there was that one big coal train and it would only go five K’s an hour.

“Instead of walking, it would have been a good 2 km into town, you’d just sit on the back of the train. It would have been going about walking pace.

“We jumped the fence. All the boys would run over and jump on it.”

I’m not quite sure how we got onto the coal train. I think it may have been a question about how the 194cm prop managed to keep the weight on after years of struggling to maintain his bulk.

He admits a previous interview in which he said beer was a great assistance in this area was “not good for the kids”. Jumping a safety fence in a determined pursuit of laziness? Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.

In any case, it’s entirely likely that Fifita doesn’t even know that Gold Coast forward Taylor is called “the Coal Train”. He hadn’t even heard of at least one of his team-mates in the Origin decider a couple of weeks ago, he admits.

“I wasn’t a big fan of the footy growing up,” says Fifita, who passed up a promising rugby union career (and riding coal trains) to join Wests Tigers in 2010.

“I wasn’t the type to sit there and watch a footy game. It was tough to match the faces to the names. Even McManus , I just met him (before Origin III) and I didn’t know who he was.

“I was asking ‘who’s James McManus?’ I know a few from playing against them and that but to be honest I didn’t know who he was. Everyone’s saying he’s top tryscorer….

“I follow basketball a bit, I’m not a big fan of it. NFL… a bit of everything. Aside from that, I just like watching movies and chilling out.”

As A-List moves into its fifth year, we’re noticing a discernible trend among players in interview situations.

When the Johns Brothers were at their peak, they finished a game with a message in mind. They were canny enough to realise they weren’t speaking to journalists but to fans and the sort of leadership and influence they exercised in a team environment could also be applied to the general public.

Then, with the Super League War, we had the age of the soundbite, with players trained to use the question as part of their answer for the sake of TV and their comments sounding impressive but completely lacking any substance.

Then we had the era of scandals and gossip, when our players shut up shop completely.

Almost 20 years later, there are signs that the philosophy of our stars has come the full circle. Men like Fifita and last week’s featured player, Josh Reynolds, have stopped being scared of us and are instead trying hard to offer considered insights into themselves and their motivations, believing that being viewed positively by readers, listeners and viewers will be to their personal benefit.

phonto (1)“I’m still learning the game,” Andrew says at one point. “I got a lot of pressure from family and friends, saying ‘get your fend out, go do that, I want to see the x-factor back’. Flanno (Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan) has always said to me ‘when we’re coming out of our own end, go dead straight. Who cares? Don’t worry about the fancy stuff. But when we’re inside the 40 and going towards the tryline and in our good ball, do whatever you want’.

That’s right, whatever he wants. “Do a runaround, “ Fifita laughs. Or maybe a chip and chase? “I’ll give one a go. I’ve had a few in my time.”

Fifita remains wide-eyed about the Origin experience – and ambitious about what it can deliver.

“I walk past the rooms and I see some of the guys like Mitchell Pearce doing extras, Jarryd Hayne was stretching … doing the little things like icing up and for me, as an inexperienced person, I was going ‘wow, this guy’s really professional’.

“Now I know why Flanno’s always saying to prepare like a professional. I’ve never ever done that stuff. I guess, coming into Origin, it’s a big thing for me and I’ll learn a lot. I didn’t care if I was in the 17, as long as I got 18th man or something like that. Just to be close to Origin, I would learn something.

“I used to be professional but I wasn’t that professional. It’s a whole other step. I think I still have a long way to go. I’ll stretch in my room now, if I get a little niggle I’ll ice up.”

How many Origin players have memorised the pools at the 2013 World Cup? Fifita believes he should be allowed to represent Tonga if he misses out on Tim Sheens’ side.

“I really pushed to play for Tonga this year (mid-season) but they wouldn’t allow it. They’re in … I wouldn’t say the hardest pool. They’re in a good pool. If you wanted to be in any pool playing for Tonga, you want to be in that pool. I really feel they’ve got a really strong chance of getting in the semi-finals. They’re going to have a tough time with Scotland and Italy but…”

Why did his twin brother David sign with Cronulla instead of Melbourne? Just ask and you’ll get a straight answer.

“Melbourne were offering him a two-year deal but they wanted to train him up this year and give him a go next year,” Andrew responds.

“I really wanted to help him and show him the way I’ve learned and I really wanted him to be with me and his family and all the family back here. I couldn’t see him going down there on his own. He just got back from France. I said ‘give it a year, you can always do that next year. If they really want you bad, they can grab you’.

“I’m real proud of him. He’s been training by himself when he gets up, does his extras and things like that. “

And on why he is determined to make the most of every opportunity: “Football can end at any time. I realised that when I was playing with Simon Dwyer. That was shocking, that’s when I realised football could be over like that. I could be gone in a flash.

“It was a bad way to go out of the game. He’s still trying to get back into the game. He’s only 24 this year. You never know. My thoughts are with him and I think he could make it back if he really tried.”

So, to finish up: what transformed Andrew Fifita from train-hopping hobo to barnstorming Blue? We glean two things here, one straightforward, another not-so-much…

“I guess the family has come into the scenario and knowing you’ve got to take every opportunity you can,” he says. “… when it came down to it, I just put my head down and I wanted to achieve much more than first grade. I had a dream of playing first grade and I got it. Then I saw an opportunity there for more than first grade. I’ve knocked two of them off and I wish I could get the third one … and Australian jersey.”

The second? Actually, appendicitis which resulted in Fifita being rushed to hospital for surgery just over a year ago. In fact, Cronulla doctor Dave Givney organised the surgery from the sideline during a State of Origin match in which he was acting as NSW medico.

Givney wasn’t in the Blues camp this year but Fifita says it’s a direct result of the ailment that he was. “When I got my appendix out, I was watching the game. I think I was watching Warriors and I was watching the way they played. It was good to sit out from a game …

“The following week we went up to Brisbane and I went as 18th man. I knew I wasn’t going to play because I just got my appendix out but I sat in the coaches box and I watched again and I came back from that week off and I started … doing my job.”

Andrew Fifita is still on that coal train, figuratively anyway. And it’s going a lot faster than 5 KPH.

“I still feel young and if I could stay in those rep teams for years to come, I would. That would be the best thing. It’s everyone’s goal. Once you’re up the top, you don’t want to come back down.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK