Far & Wide: July 27 2015

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

OFFICIALS are hailing this year’s Ohana Cup at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium as the best yet, with Samoa thrilling around 8000 fans in their 20-4 win over Tonga.

The Hawaiian Rugby League are still trying to lure Penrith and Brisbane to the holiday isle, despite the reservations of the NRL, and plan to use next year’s event as a precursor to a state competition for domestic players.

“We’ll shoot for four month competition starting next July,” says organiser Steve Johnson.

The Western Corridor NRL bid boss also revealed he wanted this year’s game to be a double-header, with the United States taking on Fiji in the earlier game. But the newly rebranded USA Hawks weren’t interested.

LeagueWeek Back IssuesHe said ESPN Radio and Western Union were two American companies hugely impress with what they saw just over a week ago and keen to be involved again in future.

“Samoa is one of the big places Western Union does transfers to from Hawaii and we spoke to them about putting something back,” he said.

“American sports aren’t involved in the community like rugby league is. That impresses a lot of companies in Hawaii.

“ESPN Sport were blown away by rugby league. They’d never seen it before and they want to cover whatever we do.”

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ON the mainland, the US has named a 35-man train-on squad for the upcoming internationals against Canada.

And, as is consistent with the change of administration for the game in America, there are 28 potential international newcomers.

A number of training camps are to be held. The USARL National Championship Final will be held on rugby league’s 120th birthday, August 29.

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A PNG minister made headlines last week with some colourful quotes regarding the re-emergence of the Kumuls

State enterprise minister Ben Micah told parliament: “”We are going to hunt them down, we’ll kill them and we’ll eat them.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

World Cup: SAMOA 38 PAPUA NEW GUINEA 4 at Craven Park

By STEVE MASCORD
ANTHONY Milford is playing fullback – a position likely closed off to him if he succeeds in joining Brisbane next year – at the World Cup simply because he wants to, coach Matt Parish has revealed.
The 19-year-old, centre of a tug-o-war between Canberra and Brisbane for his services in 2014, was named man of the match as Samoa claimed their first win of the tournament, 38-4 over a disappointing Papua New Guinea at Hull’s Craven Park.
While Milford insists his bid for a compassionate release from the Raiders is wholly in the hands of his managers, Parish gave a surprising answer when asked if he considered switching the rookie into the halves following a first-up loss to New Zealand.
amazon“He can play where-ever he wants, that kid,” Parish said. “He’s certainly a great talent. I personally think he’s suited to fullback. If he wants to play fullback, I’m happy to play him there.
“But again, he could play halfback really well.”
The signing of Ben Barba means Milford would probably not be able to play the custodian role at Suncorp Stadium – particularly since the club also boasts the current New Zealand no.1, Josh Hoffman.
Asked if he was suggesting Milford was allowed to play where-ever he wanted for Samoa, Parish responded: “Why not?”
Beng given the run of an international side while still a teenager works well, according to Milford. “If it’s too far for me to come across, I just play that first receiver role,” he told Fairfax Media.
“They boys don’t mind playing at the back as well, which is good. I can pick and choose.”
Milford is saying little about his 2014 plans. “I’m not too sure. I’ve got a four week break when I go back. Everything’s up to my management team. Hopefully when I go back, I’ll have something sorted out,” he said.
Samoa led 22-0 after 24 minutes, effectively anaesthetising the hardy 6782 fans who braved the cold at East Hull. The Kumuls remained he local favourites, however, and responded with a more spirited display after trailing 28-0 at the break.
The Samoans were deadly at times on the edges, with Pita Godinet’s 14th-minute try the result of a mesmerising interchange of passes on the right side.
But Samoa are running low on troops, with Reni Maitua (groin), Harrison Hansen (leg) and Frank Winterstein (pectoral muscle) to miss the rest of the tournament.
A call to bring in re-inforcements, which would have incuded St Helens’ Tony Puletua, has fallen in deaf ears.
PNG coach Adrian Lam, meanwhile, was battening down the hatches for a wave of criticism. Coaching director Mal Meninga has moved to write a lettet to the country’s public after the one-point loss to France which opened the campaign.
“Although we wanted to do well here, the priority is that next (World Cup),” Lam said.
“At the last World Cup, we had 15 international players and eight locals. At this World Cup, it’s swapped around, it’s the opposite.”
donate2Lam said his message to league-mad Papuans was “just to be patient with the process”.
“We’ve got seven million people who were probably up watching this morning.They judge the boys pretty harsh on performance. I know everyone at home will be pretty disappointed. Probably, we’ll see our critics over the next couple of days and the next week or two. That’s cool. Off the back of that performancetonight, it wasn’t too cool.
“We’ve still got New Zealand to go. All is not lost. We might win that to go through to the quarter-finals.”
Lam offered a wry smile as he uttered that last sentence.
SAMOA 38 (Antonio Winterstein 3, Suaia Matagi, Pita Godinet, Ben Roberts Suasu Sue tries; Anthony Milford 5 goals) beat PAPUA NEW GUINEA 4 (Jesse Joe Nandye try) at Craven Park. Referee: Shayne Hayne (Australia). Crowd: 6,782.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD 

THE JOY OF SIX: International Season week one

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

1. WHAT IN THE WORLD?

ACCORDING to the Rugby League International Federation constitution, the gates of all Tests are to be levied with the money going into central funds. The levy is supposed to apply, as a percentage, the same to Saturday’s Vanuatu-Niue game in Port Vila as April’s Australia-New Zealand match in Canberra. But is it being applied at all? The 2008 World Cup made a reported $4 million profit. How was this spent? If we are all to get behind the 2013 tournament with our cash and enthusiasm, surely a little transparency shouldn’t be too much to ask in return? The fact is, domestic leagues don’t want the RLIF taking sponsors and other financial opportunities off them and that’s been holding back international footy for years.

2. INS AND OUTS

ANOTHER player who could have shone in the World Cup is out. Hooker James Segeyaro’s shoulder injury forced him to withdraw from the Papua New Guinea side over the weekend. Italy have lost both first choice halves, Terry Campese and Craig Gower, but Tonga’s Brent Kite is playing on despite hand and wrist injuries. Samoa coach Matt Parish has not had a good time of it. Frank Pritchard, Krisnan Inu and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck were nabbed by the Kiwis while Jeff Lima, Steve Matai and Carlos Tuimavave were ruled out injured. It appears Matai played in the NRL grand final with a serious hand injury. He ran straight up the tunnel at fulltime against South Sydney the previous week – perhaps he suffered it then. He’s been named as a technical advisor for the Samoans.

3. PACIFIC PRINCES

IT used to be that you could comfortably make it to every rugby league international played in a given year. Yet on one of the quietest weekends of the year, NSW Country beat South African Clubs Selection 50-0 in Silverton, Vanuatu beat Niue 22-20 in Port Vila and Greece downed Thailand 90-0 in Bangkok. The Port Vila game was a great spectacle, with players from both teams forming a circle for a prayer at fulltime and celebrating long into the night – with the referee! Self-starting countries like these need all the help they can get from the RLIF. But it’s a double-edged sword – the Federation probably wouldn’t let them use players who qualify through great grandparents (and there were plenty of them), or allow five reserves!

4. THAIS HAVE LEGS

ON the surface, there wasn’t much for the Thais to be happy about when they were beaten 90-0 by Greece at Technology Stadium, Bangkok, on Saturday. But in the stands for the game run by Shannon Crane’s Thai Rugby League was the boss of the rival organisation, Andrew Charles. Charles’ Thailand Stars play the Philippines away next week and several of those players – including Queensland-based Charlie Jones – turned out in Crane’s team. Charles was also invited to a sponsor’s function. The result of the game is compelling proof a country that has so far hosted just two rugby league games cannot continue with the folly of two governing bodies. Despite the thrashing, everyone also seemed to have a good time afterwards.

5. SMALL WORLD

STROLLING along Port Vila waterfront on Sunday night, Joy Of Six was stunned to run into Gold Coast Titans hooker Matt Srama and his girlfriend. With a trip to the Philippines on hold because of a shoulder injury, Srama decided to head to Vanuatu completely oblivious to the fact a rugby league international was being played there. Titans official Matt Francis – who spoke to several promising local players – must have missed Srama at the airport by a matter of hours on Sunday. Honourable mention, too, to the local French film-makers who shot the Vanuatu players walking towards the camera, Melbourne Storm style, at training two days before the Niue game and turned it into a slick promo video at lightning speed. One suspects they were not paid anything like what our game shells out for similar clips in England, New Zealand and Australia.

6. AMERICAN CIVIL WAR CONTINUES

JACKSONVILLE Axemen owner Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland continues to rail against the number of foreign-based players in the United States World Cup team. Now comes a claim the team might actually be, in some regards, illegal. Howland has cited the Ted Stevens Act, which impacts on amateur sports in the US and their relationship with the US Olympic Committee. However, given that other sides at the World Cup have fewer, and even no, domestic players, it’s hard to see anything changing with regard to the Tomahawks. In more positive news for Spinner, the Axemen have launched their own beer.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: NEW ZEALAND 56 PAPUA NEW GUINEA 10 at Headingley

By STEVE MASCORD
NEW Zealand haven’t ruled out using a treatment deemed illegal by the UK Anti-Doping Authority to save halfback Thomas Leuluai’s World Cup campaign.
The Kiwis romped to a 56-10 win over Papua New Guinea before a rapturous Headingley crowd on Friday, with second rower Sonny Bill Williams posting a hat-trick but fullback Josh Hoffman (shoulder) and winger Manu Vatuvei (calf) picking up injuries.
However, it was Leuluai who was the most disconsolate figure afterwards. He suffered a groin injury during his first training session in the UK and his debut appearance in the tournament, as a halftime replacement, lasted just five minutes.
Before the game, which saw the World Cup holders top their pool, it was revealed the Kiwis wanted to give Leuluai prednisone. After being turned down by the UK Doping Authority, they had turned to Drug Free Sport NZ to circumvent the ruling.
“We’ll have a sit down with the medical staff and just assess everything and see where we’re at with that,” coach Stephen Kearney told Fairfax Media.
“The stakes are pretty high now. If Tommy had a chance, we needed to see tonight whether he’d be OK and it didn’t work out so well.
“He was the one who approached us and spoke about the possibility of playing tonight. He thought it would be best if he did that to get a bit of confidence.”
Leuluai, however, seemed resigned to missing the rest of the tournament and Kearney is concerned that carrying a potential passenger in a sudden death game could harm the entire campaign.
Asked if he had played his last game for the year, Leuluai, 28, said: “I think so … it went straight away.
“There was obviously a lot of pain. I knew that was going to be there but there was no power. I couldn’t run.
“It’s important I don’t let my disappointment affect the squad. They’re playing good football and I am very mindful I have to stay upbeat, I don’t want it to rub off on the guys.”
For the second consecutive week, the Kiwis faced badly beaten opposition which the crowd, nonetheless, took to its heart.
Last Friday it was France given a standing ovation at 42-0 down in Avignon. This week it was the Kumuls encouraged by singing and chanting after a game they lost by 46 points.
On both occasions, the Kiwis visited their opponents’ dressingrooms at fulltime.
The Kiwi managed better than a point a minute for most of the first half, with Williams’ hat-trick coming despite dancing dangerously with the dead-ball line in the 26th minute.
He his claim 70th minute touchdown not been ignored by video referee Richard Silverwood, Williams would have become only the fifth player to score four in a World Cup match.
But the biggest cheers were reserved for PNG halfback Dion Aiye (42nd minute) and interchange player Wellington Albert with two to go. The Kiwis outcored their opponents just 16-10 in the second half.
New Zealand prop Ben Matulino was booked for a cannonball tackle. Kearney said he did not believe the injuries to Hoffman and Vatuvei were serious.

NEW ZEALAND 56 (Sonny Bill Williams 3, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2, Dean Whare 2, Bryson Goodwin, Elijah Taylor tries; Shaun Johnson 8 goals) bt PAPUA NEW GUINEA 10 (Dion Aye, Wellington Albert tries; Francis Paniu goal) at Headingley. Crowd: 18,180. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia).

Filed for: SUN-HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Finals Week Three

The Joy Of SixRUFFLED FEATHERS

SYDNEY Roosters coach Trent Robinson accepts blood test results which are not under investigation will still be remembered by some fans long after Sunday’s grand final. “How do you take that back?” he said on ABC yesterday. “The way the media works now, the way all those things are kept on the internet, it’s hard to take it back. I was amazed at how those guys played under that pressure. You can see their conscience isn’t weighing them down, they played freely. They knew they were in right.” Robinson has been pretty straight-up with the media and fans for most of the season but when it comes to grand final team selections and the comeback of Boyd Cordner, “that’s something I haven’t really talked about all year, whether I’m going to play someone or not, before we get to the game. He’ll be in the selection. We’ve probably got about 21 guys who we’ll select from. Every grand final team has a motto, for the Roosters it seems to be this quote from the coach: “It’s not about being in one, it’s about winning one – we were really clear about that”

SPIRIT OF ‘78

IF THAT’S the Roosters’ call to arms, what’s Manly/’s? Knowing them, they won’t tell us. But plenty of people are comparing the current side to the storied 1978 premiers, who had to play six games in 21 days – two replays including the grand final – to lift the trophy. Not only that, they repeatedly came from behind. After losing their first finals series match, the Sea Eagles snatched a 13-13 draw with Parramatta, forcing a midweek replay. When the grand final was drawn 11-11, there was another replay ending in a 16-0 win over Cronulla.  Warwick Bulmer, a staffer at Manly who has been involved since the 60s, said there were “more needles than players” in the dressingroom back then and rated Friday’s win over South Sydney as the best since. Interviewed on radio on Sunday, he said Geoff Toovey’s side couldn’t eclipse that team but they had matched their toughness.

 DEMERITUS MINOR      

YOUR correspondent has been covering rugby league for almost three decades and the idea that grand finals and major games should somehow be worth more before the judiciary than other matches has been around almost as long. It popped up again when Glenn Stewart was booked; no-one has ever been able to come up with a workable formula. Players would stretch the envelope in a preliminary final knowing they could get away with more. Every member of a senior squad would have to get, say, two games sliced off an existing suspension if their team made the grand final, to avoid exploitation of the rule through team selections. And finally, victims of foul play would still be sidelined for the same time while the assailant gets a discount because he committed the offence at the ‘right’ time of year. Great idea; doesn’t work.

THUNDER, LIGHTNING, NRL BID IS FRIGHTENING

AUSTRALIAN players were stunned that a game which kicked off in bright sunshine was suddenly hit with thunder and lightning when the Prime Minister’s XIII beat Papua New Guinea 50-10 at Kopoko’s Kalabond Oval yesterday. Of particular concern was the young children perched on electricity pylons at the packed venue. The fact that two tweeters, listening on the radio in Port Moresby, were the only links between the 50-10 win and the outside world is evidence there won’t be a PNG side in the NRL in our lifetimes. Do  Peuto Rico or Haiti have Major League Baseball teams? The only hope would be to base the team in Darwin and fly in for ‘home’ games. PNG’s James Segeyaro (shoulder) was forced off at halftime and is in a little bit of World Cup doubt. It was the first big game in the Rabaul area since the volcano eruption of 1994.

FESTIVAL OF THE BOOT

ACCORDING to the NRL’s Paul Kind, people who seek to resell their grand final tickets at face value are not in any real danger of having them cancelled by the League or Ticketek. Some 14,000 more seats are to be released on Monday morning and with all the South Sydney fans trying to off-load theirs’, plenty of scalpers seem certain to do their dough. But why do rugby league care so much more about who is in the GF, when deciding whether to go, than their AFL counterparts? Do you really think  of this Sunday’s match as a celebration of rugby league, or just a game to decide who wins the comp? And if it’s the latter, why? Does this go to the heart of the cultural differences between Sydney and Melbourne, right back to convicts v free settlers?

ANORAKS ARE US

THIS one’s for the trainspotters, geeks and anoraks. And if you’ve read this far, that’s most of you. Manly, it has been argued on Facebook (where else?), did not score 30 unanswered points on Friday night. Yes, they were down 14-0 and the scoreline turned into 30-14 in their favour, But, their 30 point – at the very least – was ‘answered’ by a late South Sydney try. So ‘unanswered’ is often misused when ‘uninterrupted’ or ‘consecutive’ is more accurate. We deal with the game’s biggest issues here. Next week: what time each weekend does the the team with the bye actually get those two competition points? Should you count them when you go through the competition table before kick-off on Friday? Are they sent out registered post? Should they be?

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Ray Thompson: I’m A Hooker Now

North Queensland - Ray ThompsonBy STEVE MASCORD
NORTH Queensland star Ray Thompson is resigned to being a hooker for the rest of his career.
After a spluttering opening two-thirds of the season, the Cowboys have not lost a game since coach Neil Henry’s sacking and will move a step closer to an unlikely finals appearance with a win over Newcastle at 1300smiles Stadium on Saturday.
Senior players say a key reason for the resurgence is the return of Matt Bowen at fullback along with the seven and nine jerseys being settled, with Robert Lui in the former and ex-halfback Thompson in the latter.
“I thought it might happen, that I’d go to hooker – especially with the boys we’ve got here,” said Thompson, 23.
“…Robby Lui, Mick Morgan, obviously Johnno (Johnathan Thurston) has sealed one spot. We’ve got some good young halves coming through the ranks as well.
“I think (hooker) played in my favour as well, to stay in first grade. Hopefully I can do a job and stay there for the rest of my career.”
The Cowboys lost two rakes last off-season when Aaron Payne retired and James Segeyaro joined Penrith – a factor overlooked by tipsters who reckoned they would be serious premiership contenders.
“And the hookers we did have, were coming off injuries,” Thompson adds.
“Coming into the start of the year, I didn’t really have an off-season with the injuries I had and then I wasn’t sure if I was a halfback, a hooker or a back-up to both.
“But I’m starting to find my feet at hooker. I’ve definitely got some work to do but I’d like to make a home there
“My job’s simple.”
Thompson said “the shackles are off” since Henry was told he would not be required next year – but like most of his team-mates, can’t explain why.
“Everyone is just playing footy,” he said. “Our structures haven’t changed. Our defensive rules haven’t changed. We’re just playing a bit of carefree footy and really working for each other and working for the club.
“We look back at a few of the games, we lost them by two points and it was just silly little errors that were costing us.
“I think the boys just got sick of it and started to play some footy and started to chance their arm. Boys like Mango (Bowen) and Johnno are starting to really find some form and our two front rowers are going great.
“Across the park, we’re just chipping in and working really hard for each other.”
However far the Cowboys go this season, Thompson’s campaign won’t be over as he is expected to be part of Papua New Guinea’s World Cup tilt.
“I’ve had a brief talk with Lammy (coach Adrian Lam) and a couple of players there so, that’s the plan,” he said.

NB: Since this story appeared, Ray Thompson has suffered a broken jaw and will likely miss the rest of the season
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

MEN OF THE WORLD Two: DAVID MEAD (Papua New Guinea & Australia)

Gold Coast - David MeadBy STEVE MASCORD

JAMAL Idris is towering over David Mead as he recalls a childhood of “fishing, growing the garden, growing bananas, yams and taros” in Papua New Guinea

We are in the wide passageway behind the dressing rooms at Skilled Park on Australia’s Gold Coast, and the Kumuls flanker is explaining how he came to move to Australia, play in the World Cup, change his name, withdraw from the Kumuls programme and then rejoin it.

Idris is trying to put his Titans team-mate off – amusing if you are a player but a little annoying after a while f you’re a reporter. But Mead – who laughs nervously at first – has too much pride in his journey to clam up.

“I was born in PNG and spent my first 12 years in the village, Tubusereia,”says the man who scored 16 NRL tries in 2011.

“If you Google it .. it’s about 30 minutes from Port Moresby.

“I went to school there until grade five and then moved to Lismore (in northern New South Wales) with my mum’s elder sister, my auntie.

“She helped me through school until I was 18 and I got to move up to the Titans and had my opportunity.

“It was a big change for me, coming from PNG – from the village, especially. I enjoyed it, growing up in PNG. You don’t get all the luxuries that you get here but I’m glad I did it.

“You get a different perspective on things and now I appreciate all the things I get now in Australia.”

Last year his foster father Stephen died and he also returned to PNG for the death of a cousin – a tough period for a 23-year-old.

But he has started 2013 well for a resurgent Gold Coast, deciding the round three game against Manly by putting a foot in touch and rendering Daly Cherry-Evans line-dropout dead – giving team-mate Aiden Sezer a penalty goal from in front.

“Anyone would have done it,” he said modestly.

If you’re struggling to remember Mead in the 2008 World Cup, there’s a reason. He was listed in matches against England, New Zealand and Australia as “David Moore”.

Here’s the story with the name change – and it’s a heart-warming one.

“My mum looked after me when I was young (in PNG),” he explains. “She was married and the marriage didn’t work out.

“My biological dad moved back to Australia, he was Australian. My mum looked after me with her and her brothers and sisters and my grandparents.”

(Here’s where Idris shows up, standing behind me and grinning at his team-mate).

“I lived with them in the village and my grandparents were doing (sees Idris, laughs nerviously) subsistence farming – I got to experience a lot of fishing, growing the garden, growing bananas, yams and taros.

“I had to wait until I was 18 to be able to change (my name) myself and my mum’s dad’s name, that’s part of my middle name.

“Mead is the name of the family who looked after me here in Lismore. I thought they gave me a big opportunity coming here so I thought I’d show a bit of respect that way.”

Stephen Mead, 63, died last year after a two year battle with cancer. Not long before, he attended a cousin’s funeral in PNG. At the time, Mead decided he was fed up with the Kumuls set up and had announced instead he was throwing his lot in with Queensland.

It’s a decision that surprised many close to him, who knew how dearly he loved the colourful PNG jersey.

“It was how disorganised it was,” he explains to Rugby League World. “I guess it wasn’t as professional as I’m used to at the Titans. That put me off a bit.”

The rule of Don Fox as chairman and Adrian Lam as coach has changed Mead’s mind, though. Mal Meninga’s recruitment hasn’t hurt either.

“They’re getting the old crew together for the World Cup, the successful crew from 2009,” he explained.

“I think they’re putting a good system in place and obviously Mal Meninga’a signed up to help out PNG as well so I think it’s all looking positive. I’m very happy to be part of it – if I get picked.

“I’ve spoken to a few players – Neville Costigan and Pauly Aiton – and they reckon some good things are being put back in place. Everything from PNG looks positive, we’ve just got to get those systems put in place and hope to develop as a country.”

For Aiton, the last World Cup was a life-changing experience. Like many players in rugby league, getting in touch with his ethnicity after a period overseas changed his outlook profoundly.

It’s something that will happen for dozens this October and November – regardless of results. The Kumuls famously led England 16-12 at halftime in Townsville before losing 32-22, and were beaten 48-6 by New Zealand on the Gold Coast and 46-6 by Australia back in Townsville.

“All three games, I still remember them like it was yesterday,” he says with a glint in his eye.

Asked to narrow it down, he adds: “Maybe the England game. It was my first live TV game against men. I’d never played against men before.

“That game gave me a lot of confidence. I believed I could play NRL from that game.”

It’s safe to say the match had the opposite effect on the men in red and white. But five years later, there’ll be youngsters from PNG villages who will always remember the days and nights they got to play with David Mead.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD