JOY OF SIX: round one 2015

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

SEEING RED OVER MOSES
WHAT if Dallas Donnelly pulled up outside an NRL ground in his time travelling Delorian and went inside for a gander? What would he make of a competition where you are sent to the sin bin for punching someone but stay on the field for a deadset coat-hanger? How can we be SOFTER on an offence now than we were in the seventies? It defies logic. The ban on referee comments stifled the debate on Saturday night surrounding Mitchell Moses’ shot on William Zillman. Set of Six will debate it; Moses should have been sent off. Flailing fists deter parents from letting their kids play rugby league – do we think mum wants little Johnny to do his best rag doll impersonation every weekend?
BATTLE AHEAD
WELL may Phil Gould and Penrith oppose an external draft – they have more juniors than most other clubs. But one donatechange in the game that has gone un-noticed over the summer has been the rebranding of the state leagues, aside from NSW and Queensland. The South Australian Rugby League is now NRL South Australia – and so on. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Moore Park HQ. No doubt, the aim is to do the same with the NSWRL, the QRL and the CRL. The NRL wants to be to rugby league what the NBA is to basketball – that is, just about everything. It will take care of all development and clubs will be shells focused only on winning first grade matches and attracting fans. Set of Six likes the idea.
COCKY FOWLS NOT SCARED OF FOULS
LOTS of things have changed this season by according to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, one thing hasn’t. “It’s a little bit faster, sides are trying to find their feet. Sides don’t want to give away too many penalties away – bar the Roosters. They were quite happy to give penalties away and then defend ‘em.” The Roosters do not like accusations they deliberately give away penalties. Flanagan nominated Trent Robinson’s team, South Sydney and Parramatta as sides who had “put their hand up” over the weekend. The Sharks boss wasn’t sure how he’d feel going to Remondis Stadium last night for his first game back from suspension. “Surprisingly, I’m pretty calm about the whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’ve got a job here to do and I’ve just got to get on with it.”
HELLO 2015
SOME random observations about our first taste of premiership football for the year. One, the game IS faster and there IS amazonless wrestling, and the crowds like it. Friday night at Pirtek Stadium, particularly in the first half, was a revelation; the word “fickle” just isn’t in the dictionaries of western Sydney. Your correspondent was at Headingley, where they sing all night, eight days previously and the local Blue and Gold Army outdid their British cousins easily. A bulked-up Anthony Milford in the halves is a gamble. We won’t get reliable forward pass rulings until there are chips in the balls. Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua could be the centre pairing of the year. Pat Richards could easily realise his ambition of playing in the 2017 World Cup. Live free-to-air TV coverage on a Sunday should have happened years ago.
THE SHAFT FOR SHILLO AND SHANNON
TRENT Merrin was only “dropped” for Monday Night Football if you don’t count the game against Warrington, which he also started from the bench. He was in the starting side for round 26 last year, though – we checked. Two men who WERE dropped, by any definition, are big Canberra forwards David Shillington and Shannon Boyd. They were named in Canberra’s first grade side on Sunday – Shillington in the starting front row – but played NSW Cup. Coach Ricky Stuart admitted the hot conditions were in his mind but “there’s a few other reasons – nothing untoward in regards to the two boys. We made the decision earlier in the week.” Stuart reckons the quicker rucks this year mean “dropped balls and penalties are making a big difference between winning and losing.’
CARNAGE IN FRANCE
Dwrq4E1421835700EVEN a broken rib for Todd Carney took a back seat to the scoreline in the Catalans-Salford Super League game over the weekend. The match finished in a 40-40 draw – which in the Australian premiership would make it the highest scoring drawn game ever, beat three matches which finished 34-34.. In England, there’ve been higher scores in draws – and there almost certainly have been in France, too. After a tackle by Lama Tasi, Carney – who missed the opening two rounds through injury – tweeted: “Just got home from the hospital, Broken Ribs Fingers crossed I won’t be out for long.” Dragons coach Laurent Frayssinous said the tackle was illegal. “It is not acceptable that there is a late tackle on Todd Carney that has left him in the hospital with a broken rib,” he told reporters. Oh, and the penalty which gave Salford a late draw was a tad controversial, too.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Meet Joe Burgess

Burgess, JoeBy STEVE MASCORD
RUGBY league often boasts that it can replace the stars it loses with a rookie of comparable talent, almost instantaneously.
But this Saturday at Alianz Stadium, the maxim will be taken to its extreme when an 19-year-old Englishman called Burgess plays against the Sydney Roosters.
Joe Burgess – no relation to rugby union-bound Sam – started the season third choice winger at Wigan behind Ian Thornley and Josh Charnley and got a start a fornight ago because of an injury to Charnley.
He scored a try – and when he was given the nod ahead of Thornley in the World Club Challenge warm-up against the Warriors half a week later, promptly scored four.
“Pat Richards left, which gave me a good opportunity to work hard and get that permanent spot,” the local Wigan junior tells Fairfax Media.
“I played amateur for 11 years, moved onto Wigan when I was 16 and went fulltime when I was 17.”
Young Joe has been to the southern hemisphere once before, on a schoolboys tour, but said playing 48 hours after crossing the world in the 46-22 win over the Warriors was a completely new experience.
“It was tough, he said. “After the first 20, 25 minutes, I started really feeling it in my legs. But it was good to get it out of the way and move onto next week.” One experience the youngers liked was playing under two referees.
“I think it makes the game better – they’re more precise in their decisions. It was good.
“(We have to be) more aggressive, Getting up off our line and really getting in their (Roosters’) faces.”
The latest Burgess has made coach Shaun Wane’s 19-man squad for the WCC; Thornley has not.
“I can’t picture it. It’s been a dream, I can’t imagine the goosebumps. When we do find out the team and if I do get the chance to play, I’ll make sure I’m better than my opposition.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

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The A List: PAT RICHARDS (Wigan & Ireland)

Wigan - Pat RichardsBy STEVE MASCORD

“GO on,” a man in his 50s tells his young son, wearing a Warrington jersey, who has just posed for a photo with Pat Richards on King Street in Wigan.

The youngster, maybe 11, looks nervous has he faces the Australian-come-Irish winger who had two days before kicked four goals from as many attempts in front of 78,000 people at Wembley Stadium.

Mustering his best Neighbours accent, the kid says “no worries, mate!” to the lanky flanker who has turned back toward him.

Richards smiles kindly. “Good on you, mate,” he responds.

Even for A-List, this is a pinch-me moment. For almost three decades I’ve been sitting up until 2am watching Challenge Cup finals and reading about open-top bus homecomings for the winning (and even losing) teams.

Now, here I am, with one of the Cup winners’ star players, walking the streets of Wigan after one such parade attracted up to 20,000 fans. There are still the remnants of streamers and banners lying around and Jumpin’ Jaks bar – where this interview was conducted with music pulsing in the background – is busier than it out to be on a Bank Holiday Monday.

These rituals, like most of rugby league’s, happen completely out of sight from the national press in the UK. They are almost direct interactions between fans and teams, and as a result you feel like you’ve stepped into a timewarp on afternoons such as this.

There are no minders around the celebrating players. There is no-one telling Richards he shouldn’t be in a bar at 4.30 in the afternoon. I contact the player directly, chat to him for as long as I have to, and he walks me back to the train station.

This is what rugby league would still be like in Australia if the media didn’t care about it.

“It’s been crazy,” 31-year-old Richards says, tired by sober, leaning on a stand-up bar table inside Jumping Jaks.

“It’s like you say, when you’re a kid you see these games on tele and then you’re involved in them and the stuff that goes with them.

“We came back today and there’s a parade with probably 20,000 people in Wigan. It doesn’t really sink in just yet. It’s a bit of a crazy sort of time but I’ve loved every minute of it.

“The rugby league towns – Wigan’s one of them – have a history of being involved in this and that Challenge Cup is massive for them. To be involved in it has been amazing.”

Since scoring that unforgettable try off Benji Marshall’s flick pass in the 2005 grand final, Richards has written his name into the history books of rugby league in the country that invented it.

He is the first Australian to score 1000 points at Wigan, the club’s highest points scorer in a single match during the Super League era, the competition’s leading pointscorer multiple times, the former Man of Steel as its best player,

“I thought I’d be here two years,” he admits. “I had a third year option but that was in my favour. After two years, I thought ‘it’s pretty good here’ so I extended one more year and thought I’d probably go home. Then I signed around three years and another two years on top of that!

“I just kept extending, I thought ‘why not, I’m enjoying it’. I’m in another part of the world, I can always go back to Australia. It’s worked out great for me.

“I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been to Italy loads of times, that’s probably my favourite place. Just everything’s on your doorstep, you know? Flights are so cheap. In an hour, you can be in Paris or somewhere like that. As Aussies, it takes us 24 hours to get anywhere.

“The game’s not in the newspapers at all, the major ones. In Sydney, you get the paper and you can go eight pages back and it’s still rugby league. In the major papers here, you’re 10 pages in and it’s one little paragraph. I think that’s a good thing as well, the boys love that it’s not in there.”

The decision to sign with Wests Tigers for the next two years was just as easy as all those contract extensions at DW Stadium. Pat wants to settle his family back home.

“If I didn’t go now, I’d never get the chance to go back and when the Tigers came in, it’s a perfect fit really,” he reflects. “Obviously I’ve been there before and to go back and finish my career in the NRL, it’s too good to refuse.

“If another club would have come in, I would have probably looked at it. When they came in, it just felt right.”

When Richards signed,a reunion with Marshall was a tantalising prospect. “Originally, at the time, I did (think it would happen) because he was still signed but he’s decided to move on and I wish him well,” he says.

But things change. Richards was at his peak when he signed for Wigan. Today, a player in his position would probably try to wriggle out of the deal.

“It’s a weird one, that. I don’t know how people can do that, you know? You sign a contract, that’s what you do. I don’t really know which way you want to go with me on this one.

“ I’ve got no real regrets at all about what I’ve done. I’ve loved my time here, I loved my time back there. I’m going to miss the place here. I’ve made some good friends here as well.”

Similarly, things have not exactly soared at Wests Tigers since Pat’s homecoming was announced. The joint venture partners are at loggerheads over funding and coach Michael Potter’s side is second last on the table.

Richards says:  “I’m still in touch with the boys there – Robbie Farah, Dene Halatau is going back now as well.

“They’re a side I look out for because I’ve got a lot of mates there as well and I suppose it’s unfortunate they’ve had a pretty bad run with injuries this year and obviously the pressure back there, it’s been quite tough.

“But they’ve got a very promising future with a lot of these young kids. Luke Brooks had a great game the other day and that’s where the future lies for them – those young fellas coming through.

“I see it as a challenge, yeah. Because of my age, people are going to say ‘too old’ and whatever. Everything’s a challenge. I’ve been involved in a club like Wigan where we’re expected to win every week so that’s a challenge in itself.”

But Pat, who’ll again suit up for Ireland in the World Cup, has never been the sort to let pressure weigh him down. He stayed in England because it felt right – and recently booted a field goal from the wing, near halfway, in the derby against St Helens for the same reason.

The one-pointer is truly a modern wonder of the game and has become a YouTube sensation.

“It’s gone a bit crazy. I don’t even know why I had a crack at it, to be honest. I just had a ball thrown to me on the last and just thought ‘oh well, I might as well have a shot. It happened so quick. It would have been better if won the game. Oh well, it wasn’t to be.

“I wasn’t goal-kicking when I was in the NRL. I played soccer when I was a kid. I always loved kicking a ball. I enjoy that part of it, goal-kicking as well.”

Richards would like to get involved in coaching when he retires. He isn’t sure if he’ll be playing against Wigan fullback Sam Tomkins in the NRL next season “Sam, he says he hasn’t signed a contract. That’s what everyone believes.”

After the final photo of Wigan’s Challenge Cup celebrations, with the “no worries, mate” lad, we walk back to Wigan North Western Station with Pat’s brother-in-law, who is going home next week … “unless that job in London comes up”.

Pat Richards isn’t much different. He’s been on a helluva working holiday for the last eight years, breaking records and playing before massive crowds.

Now he’s going home, like thousands of other expats in myriad lines of work.

“The Challenge Cup on Saturday, it was the 19th time the club’s won it,” he says proudly.

“We’ve got great history in this club and to be involved in this is something I’ll always remember. It’s a privilege to play for the club.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Super League round 16: WIGAN 20 LEEDS 16 at Etihad Stadium, Manchester

By SOPHIE ARNOLD

LEEDS coach Brian McDermott labelled replacement video referee Ian Smith “anal” as the curtain came down on the Magic Weekend in suitably controversial style.

Referees boss Steve Ganson was to have been the eye in the sky for the final game of the carnival weekend at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium but he sensationally stood himself down after getting wrong a crucial call in the Hull-Hull KR derby.

And so it was Smith who disallowed a 72nd minute Danny McGuire try that would have tied the scores between Wigan and Leeds with eight minutes remaining.

“I don’t want to use that as a reason why we lost the game, numerically it stops us getting points on the board so it had a bearing. It was an anal decision I thought, a very anal decision,” McDermott said.

“Nobody was obstructed, it didn’t have an effect on the play. So whoever pressed the button there understands the rules, probably doesn’t understand the game.”

Wests Tigers-bound Wigan flanker Pat Richards played a crucial role in securing the 20-16 win by scoring a try, sending four goals over and suffering a nasty cut to the head. He needed 20 stitches to a cheek wound but was on hand to make a crucial tackle at the death.

The first try of the game came from fullback Sam Tomkins after just eight minutes and Richards’ conversion saw Wigan gain the lead they would only lose once.

leeds - Brian McDermottA late tackle from Michael McIlorum gave Leeds a penalty that captain Kevin Sinfield opted to kick and safely put their first points on the board.

Sinfield weighed-in with a try in 20th minute, fed by Zak Hardaker’s break, and an easy conversion gave Leeds the upper hand for the first time.

But this didn’t last for long as two minutes later Richards capitalised on a spill from Ryan Bailey and converted to give Wigan the lead they would precariously maintain for the remainder of the game.

Richards then extended the lead to 14-6 from another penalty before Kallum Watkins closed the gap with a gutsy effort in the 35th minute as the video official confirmed he just found the corner under close scrutiny from several Wigan defenders.

Josh Charnley scored a dazzling four-pointer on the bell for halftime as Matty Smith scooped up a kick which had smashed into Chris Tuson to send the winger clear.

In the early second half stages, Sam Powell almost managed to put the Warriors into a comfortable lead with a dainty run over the line but the video was used to make the first controversial call and it was disallowed for a Liam Farrell obstruction.

Yet another Wigan penalty was awarded and Richards opted to kick again, keeping Wigan in front by four.

In the 52nd minute winger Joe Vickery made the most of some quick Leeds passing to nip round the Wigan defence and make the score a dangerously close 20-16 after Sinfield pushed the conversion wide.

The score would remain the same for the last half an hour but it was not without drama.

The disallowed  McGuire try sent an audible sigh of relief round the Wigan camp.

“I was relieved obviously,” said Wigan coach Shaun Wane. “I’d rather them not score but I was more concerned with how it happened and the build up to it.

“The referee dealt with it correctly and we move on but I’m still pleased with our attitude, we stayed in with them and even though our attack was nowhere near as crisp as it had been.

“Leeds are a team that can score, they’ve got that much quality in their team. You can never write them off but I still thought we could pull something out of the bag.

“Sam (Tomkins) is playing with the energy. I thought Matty Smith could do something. I was confident we would get over, ourselves.”

Richards, meanwhile, was typically modest from the Warriors changing room. Straight from the doctor’s table and the last to get changed after taking the bang to the head with 15 minutes of the game to go, Richards explained his tactics.

“Leeds were doing the same thing – with games like this you have to take the two points when you can get them and we did that tonight and it worked out well for us,” said Richards.

“I think we ground it really and we did well to shut them out near the end. With a quality side like Leeds we are pretty happy with our defence.”

Wane admitted: “At times we were trying to go round them instead of through them. I thought our middles played really well but when we did put our plays we just weren’t at our best.

“I think we have come a long way from the defeat at Leeds in March and that was my big challenge for this year.

“I wanted to make sure our second string players like Sam Powell, I wanted them to be ready to play and that’s where we fell short last year.”

With just six minutes to go, the clock was not stopped while Richards was treated for the bloodied head wound that would later receive more than 20 stitches.

Yet the 2010 Man of Steel carried on to make the match winning tackle on Vickery with 56 seconds to go.

“It was alright – there are plenty of other tougher blokes in the side than me,” said a modest Richards.

“I was just doing my job out there and everyone has played their role today. It was just good to get the win.”

Wane said: “It was a real arm wrestle for many periods of the game and that was the most satisfying thing. I thought it was a quality game for spectators.”

WIGAN 20 (S Tomkins P Richards J Charnley tries P Richards 4 goals) bt LEEDS 16 (K Sinfield K Watkins J Vickery tries K Sinfield 2 goals) at Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Referee: R Silverwood.

Final team lists:

LEEDS: Zak Hardaker; Joe Vickery, Kallum Watkins,  Joel Moon, Ryan Hall; Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield; Liam Sutcliffe. Chris Clarkson, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Ryan Bailey, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai. Res: Paul McShane, Ian Kirke, Mitch Achurch, Brad Singleton.

WIGAN: Sam Tomkins; Josh Charnley, Darrell Goulding, Iain Thornley, Pat Richards; Sam Powell, Matty Smith; Sean O’Loughlin, Liam Farrell, Harrison Hansen, Lee Mossop, Michael McIlorum, Ben Flower. Res: Epalahame Lauaki, Chris Tuson, Logan Tomkins, Dom Crosby.