NRL grand final match programme to be published simultaneously in Sydney and London

DESPITE the economic pressures of Covid-19 and the dramatic downturn in print media production, this year’s NRL grand final match programme will be published – for the first time – in Sydney and London simultaneously.

With the traditional Australian match guide, Big League, placed in mothballs in March, have been producing an on-line substitute.

And merchandiser Mascord Brownz have in recent months been publishing the magazine, making custom changes for Northern and Southern Hemisphere print editions.

The two organisations now find themselves as the figurative last men standing as the NRL grand final between Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm approaches at ANZ Stadium this Sunday.

Editor Tim Costello’s gold-themed cover for the historic publication – featuring Cameron Smith (Storm) and Nathan Cleary (Panthers) – has now been unveiled and the magazine is on sale in Australia and the UK.

In the UK, Mascord Brownz is halfway through a crowd-funded run of 10 weeks publishing The Front Row. The editions in future weeks will feature all three State Of Origin matches as well as the run home to the Super League grand final.

Programs printed in Australia can be purchased HERE

Programmes printed in England can be purchased HERE

The A-List: Josh Mansour (Penrith, Lebanon & Australia)


IT works like this: never open with your best question.

To some people, the journalistic practice of softening up an interview subject with some ‘Dorothy Dixers’ is just plain sneaky. Lull the person into a false sense of security, wait until their guard is down, then hit them with a curly one.

But to most journalists, the procedure is just plain good manners. Would you bowl straight into a conversation, at work or socially, with the most adversarial question you can think of?

With Penrith’s 24-year-old Australian and Lebanese international Josh Mansour, it’s not hard to make polite conversation. Sitting out the back of the main grandstand at Pepper Stadium, he’s a polite guy, asking almost as many questions as he answers.

But eventually, A-List has to man up and ask about the big issue others don’t dare discuss … THAT beard. We’ve been staring at it for 15 minutes, after all.

“Ha – It started with a bet between me and Wes Naiqama last year,” says Josh.  “Wes, he stuck solid. I don’t think anyone thought I was going to stick solid as well.

“Last year I just let it go and it was bad, it was terrible. I looked like one of the cast from Lost. This year, I’ve put some time into it.

“I went just to the hair dressers. I comb it every day. A bit of Moroccan oil to get it set when you go out. “

Sadly for the man coach Ivan Cleary once described as being “built like a Chippendale”, he’s got plenty of time to focus on grooming right now. The Kingsgrove Colts junior a knee injury that ruled him out of Test selection and is not expected to allow him to return before Origin I.

Nonetheless, four Test appearances last year is not to be sneezed at. Things have happened so fast for mansour, it might be a blessing to just take stock.

“I came to training over the summer with the same attitude I had that got me there,” says the chirpy son of a Lebanese father and Portugese mother.

“I didn’t change anything. That experience last year was probably the best experience of my whole NRL career. I’d love to do it again with all those blokes.”

His form piqued the interest of the Canberra Raiders.

“Canberra were sniffing around, yes,” he nods, glancing down at the brace on his injured knee.

advertise here“For lifestyle reasons and family reasons …  I think that was the main thing that kept me here. I also believe in this club and where it’s going. I’ve been at this club for three years no and I’ve just seen it rise every year. We’re setting the standards more with every passing year.

“We’ve got an outstanding coaching staff. We’ve got Gus (Phil Gould) who’s been outstanding behind the scenes for us as well and the recruitment has been outstanding.  We’ve been hit by a lot of injuries, we like facing adversity and we’ve been getting the results as well without our main players.”

All of which is great – but as it turns out, we could easily have lost J Mansour to the round-ball game.

“As a kid, I started with soccer,” he recalls. “I aspired to play in the top league in soccer … anywhere, preferably overseas because I grew up watching overseas soccer. But I used to live in an apartment block and all my close mates used to play rugby league, same as all my school friends. One day out of the blue, I went to my parents and said ‘look, I want to play rugby league’. They were very upset with me, I can tell you that. They were devastated.

“I think they really believed I was going to go places in soccer, which is fair enough. But I lost the passion for the game.

“I was a striker. I was going really well. I stopped playing around 10 and then I was playing both codes because I couldn’t make up my mind around 13, 14, 15. After the age of 15, I called it quits on soccer and I was going to put my whole attention on rugby league.”

Mansour insists he wasn’t a natural – but he worked harder than everyone else.

“I always knew it was going to be tough,” he says. “I was lucky to have good coaches in the juniors. I always believed in myself. I felt that if I was keeping up then, I’d always be able to keep up in the top grade.
Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 09.24.13
“I didn’t make any junior rep footy but I think I had the passion and the drive that helped me. I was enthusiastic to get better. Even going to the gym on my days off, just to get better. Whatever it took. I look back and I thank God for pushing me and doing all those things that got me here. When I first experienced rep footy in under 20s, I was surprised I was keeping up. My first year of NRL was really tough but as the years went on I started getting used to it.”

There’ve been some interesting detours along the way: Papua New Guinea with the Prime Minister’s XIII, Europe with the Lebanese team on an unsuccessful World Cup qualification bid in 2009. He played Junior Kangaroos too.

“We played in Tripoli. It was a bit rough. I think the stadium was more of an army base than football stadium.

“I also played in Scotland … I think it was the worst conditions I’ve ever played in. The field was drenched, flooded, freezing weather. It was so windy, I’ll never forget.

“I met my family (in Lebanon) that I haven’t seen in my whole entire life, my uncles and aunties. That was really touching. I saw what my dad went through in his village. It was eye-opening, what he grew up in, how he grew up. It really meant a lot to me. I’m glad I had an opportunity to go.”

This is a common experience for young rugby league players who represent the country of their heritage – something that deeply affects many of them and an aspect of our sport’s international set-up that is often overlooked.

But Josh’s first loyalty is to Australia, where he was born.

And it’s here that he has been pioneering research into how to score tries from impossible situations – a very popular field amongst today’s wingers.

“I think you learn more from the actual games than you do from training,” he reasons.

“It’s putting your body in the right place at the right time. It’s little things. If it’s a kick chase of a ball, catching a high ball in defence, those things matter heaps to the team. Wingers don’t get enough (credit), I think. I might be biased but we’ve got to make important reads and if we make the wrong one, we look silly. It’s all a matter of seconds. You come in too early, they put a kick behind you. If you come in too late, they throw the pass past you. Scoring tries, it comes with instinct, knowing how to put your body in the right position.”

And pretty soon, ‘Sauce” will be pouring over the tryline again. Penrith have had a rough trot but with a full-strength side, there’s little doubt they can make an impact in September if they get there.

amazonThe bet with Naiqama is long finished, but the beard will be in play this year as long as Penrith is. Mansour says he doesn’t look in the mirror too much before games, sprucing it up for the TV – despite what you may imagine

.”I know the first tackle, it’s just going to get messy again so there’s just no point,” he laughs.

“I think it’s my trademark since last year. When I shaved it, no-one knew who I was. It was weird. When I grew it again.

“I love it now.”

Then there’s this line, offered with a straight face: “it’s just grown on me now”


JOY OF SIX: round one 2015


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?
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.
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.
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.’
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.


Jamal Idris: “I Need A Break”

Canterbury - Jamal IdrisBy STEVE MASCORD
PENRITH centre Jamal Idris has declared his return to Sydney a qualified success but admits he needs a break to decompress and prevent himself going ‘walkabout’ in games.
Idris joined Penrith from Gold Coast nine games ago and although his form has started to nudge in the direction of the year he played his only Test for Australia, 2011, he says the Panthers’ round 11 bye can’t come soon enough.
“It’s been awesome being back in Sydney, especially with my family and stuff,” Idris tells League Week after Sunday’s 26-20 win over Canberra.
“I’ve kept my head down a bit. For me, I need this break. I’m not your typical football player. Most of them live and breath football. If I think about too much football, I get a little bit too flustered, then I go walkabout.
“Yeah, I’ll be better for the break.”
Idris says he wants to be at his best when he returns to the State of Origin era but won’t go as far as admitting he’s not ready. “‘If I’m going to play, I’ve got to be ready in my own head,” he said.
Discussing the fiery GIO Stadium clash in which Raiders captain Terry Campese accused an un-named Raider of a head-butt, Irdis said: “Everyone was pretty amped. I went in to settle Campo down. You can’t stay mad at him.
“I heard ‘headbutt’. I came in from the centres. I was out there looking at the crowd.
“It would be stressful for them, coming off two defeats like that. They came out there and performed. To pull out a game like that, when all odds were against them … a lot of teams would have rolled over.
“That’s probably why it was fiery – they wanted to win.”
Penrith go into the bye in third place with six wins and four lossts.
“I think we’re good at the moment.” the centre reckons. “We haven’t had back-to-back wins and a lot of critics have been on our backs about it as well.
“For us to come down to Canberra and pull out a victory heading into a bye – that’s a 10 day turn-around.
“That’s major for us.”

Note: Since this story appeared, Jamal Idris has been granted indefinite leave by Penrith




EXILED footballer Sandor Earl was not best pleased to read on the Sun-Herald that controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank has a job with the women’s Indian Premier League Twenty20 Cricket Competition. “Unbelieveable – I can’t even play park footy. Flanno (suspended Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan) can’t watch footy and Dank gets a new job,” Earl Tweeted, presumably from Thailand. Flanagan, of course, is under investigation for attending a Cronulla trial while banned for his involvement in the club’s supplements programme. Earl, 24, remains the only player yet issued with an infraction notice. ASADA revealed last week it had concluded its investigations into the supplements issue. Dank, who denies any wrongdoing, insists he is yet to be interviewed. If he is still on staff at Hull KR, it isn’t helping much; Rovers were lapped 30-10 by Castleford on Friday night.

THE truth is out: Sam Burgess WAS inspired by Sonny Bill Williams in his decision to change codes. Burgess has steadfastly refused to talk about the motivation behind his switch; although despite suggestions he has been affronted by the coverage of the news, he is talking football with journalists and TV inquisitors again. His supporters reckoned the suggestion his decision he was influenced by the man he will face next Thursday at ANZ Stadium is nothing but scurillous gossip. But here’s what the Bath rugby union coach (and former South Queensland Crushers half) Mike Ford said on BBC Radio Manchester’s Rugby League Extra programme. “I think he’s seen what Sonny Bill Williams has done, switching from one code to the other and how successful he was, playing in New Zealand in the World Cup in 2011. He boxed as well, Sonny Bill. That’s the challenge he wants. Sam, once he makes his mind up he wants something, he more or less gets it every time.” Burgess has every opportunity to reject the associated speculation he wants to fight Sonny Bill. Over to you, Sam.

THE latest weapon being prepared to fight the financial might of the NRL was first devised by Roald Dahl half a century ago. Feisty racing magnate and Salford owner Marwan Koukash has called for Super League clubs to each be given a “golden ticket”, ala Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, to sign players outside the salary cap. “If a club does not want to use its golden ticket, I will buy it off them for 200,000 pounds,” Koukash told Sky before watching his Reds humbled 38-0 by St Helens on Thursday night. The marquee player concept was voted down last week but will probably return to the agenda of Super League clubs. Koukash is causing such a stir in England that it’s understood RFL chiefs are conducting an exhaustive search for an Everlasting Gobstopper. (photo: Dr Kockrash Twitter)

PAPUA New Guinea’s new team in Queensland’s InTrust Super Cup has a message for NRL scouts: please steal our players. And Manly may be about to take the advice; Joy Of Six‘s sources at Dolphin Oval during the historic 24-18 win over Redcliffe yesterday tell us forward Mark Mexico is on the verge of signing with the Sea Eagles. Another World Cup Kumul, Wellington Albert, is already on Penrith’s books. “That’s why we have entered a team in this competition,” PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka said. “NRL scouts don’t come to PNG, we wanted to put our players in a competition where they will be seen. If one player leaves, we have 15,000 kids who will want to take his place.” Stand-outs for the Hunters included lock Sebastian Pandia and lock Wartovo Puara.

A FEW weeks after the video referees was heard explaining his decisions on television coverage of the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, the NRL introduced a version of the system for the finals. Instead of appearing live as they deliberated (as happens in England), however, our officials got the decision out of the way and then gave a short explanation. Since then, the English have lifted the bar again for the local boys by showing the video referees on camera as they toggle the vision before ruling yey or nay. This necessitates spiffy suits and turtlenecks for the likes of Ian Smith and Phil Bentham. It didn’t stop St Helens winger Mark Percival being denied a fair try in the 38-0 win over Salford on Thursday. Will the NRL follow …. suit?

HAVING got off to a winning start on Sunday, PNG Hunters coach Michael Marum says Australian teams are set for a culturally enriching experience when they visit Kopoko for their away matches. “Back at home, there will probably be a few gas guns outside chasing people away who are trying to get in,” he said enthusiastically. “That’s the way we play the game up there; people are passionate about the game.” Hunters players have spent 11 weeks in a police camp preparing for the Intrust Cup; many have not seen their families in this time. Mal Meninga is Kumuls nationa coach elect; Tsaka says he is trying to organise a Test against the winner of the Samoa-Fiji Test at Penrith in May and another against one of the teams warming up for the Four Nations.

WILL we soon have a 24-hour-a-day rugby league radio station? The emerging internet radio industry is awash with speciallist stations and Sydneysider Alby Talarico -the man behind the Coogee Dolphins – has spent a pretty penny setting up a footy frequency at his Steele Sports site. He already broadcasts for six hours on a Saturday afternoon during the season (he’ll be at Belmore Sports Ground next week for NSWRL fixtures), boasts decent audiences and has plans to further expland, offering airtime to the many league podcasts already being churned out by independent broadcasters. He reckons a full day of footy isn’t far away. Full disclosure time: he has even offered to air my hokey production when I get around to doing one.




HOW quickly they forget.

By the time you read this, the campaigns of eight NRL teams is are already fading memories. It’s worth pondering how arbitrary and brutal an industry rugby league, and professional sport in general, is.

You train like a dog all summer, you get locked into a weekly grind which is painful, repetitive and unforgiving. And just like that, sometimes at the whim of a match official, injury or suspension, it ends with a shrill siren in round 26.

Bang, you’re not competing anymore. It doesn’t happen so suddenly in too many other areas of human endeavour, except perhaps life itself.

The play-offs are, objectively, even weirder. You train and play for 10 months just to get into one of these things. If it’s a sudden death game, you have effectively put four days into each minute of that contest.

And if you lose – just one game off football – the entire 10 months is gone. The who 10 months is wasted for 575 out of 600 footballers, who have to start again or will never get another chance. Brutal odds.

GOLD COAST: An admirable rear guard action, desperately short on troops. If the comp was a month longer, they may have made the grand final.

PENRITH: Over-achieved due to own hard work. Ivan Cleary has some claim to coach-of-the-year voting, so impressive were the Panthers at times. Luke Walsh, in particular, will be missed.

WARRIORS: Same number of competition points as Penrith but a completely different performance in relation to expectations. Finding the ark of the covenant or King Solomon’s mines easy compared to making themconsistent.

BRISBANE: No-one seems to think they should be subject to the same cycles as other clubs, chiefly because they’re in the capital of the rugby league world. They still have to comply with the salary cap.

CANBERRA: If you can do a “drama and atrocity” graph and overlay it with a “Raiders results” graph, the lines would track each other pretty closely. Dugan, Ferguson, Furner, Earl just does not happen to the same club in the same year.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA: Still in the midst of a massive downswing post-2010 premiership. The system is designed to inflict such misfortune – but it shouldn’t last this long.

WESTS TIGERS: A woeful years which you could charitably put down to a new coach who had little influence over the shortcomings of the roster he inherited. Must improve.

PARRAMATTA: Not only is there no light at the end of the playing roster tunnel but the coaching and political tunnels each look pitch black as well.


Simmons Says Roosters Are The Best Penrith Have Played

Penrith - David SimmonsBy STEVE MASCORD

HE says he was unfairly denied a try on Friday but Penrith winger David Simmons has no doubt he came up against the best opposition of the year when the Panthers were heavily beaten by Sydney Roosters.

Simmons thought he had posted his 17th touchdown of the year when he chased centre Dean Whare’s kick into the in-goal in the 46th minute at Centrebet Stadium, with his side trailing 18-6.

But video referees Steve Clark and Luke Patten thought otherwise.

“You tell me. The ref called a try, I thought it was a try and the video ref over-ruled it. I don’t know what happened,” Simmons tells RLW.

“I knew I’d got it but I didn’t know if I was over the line when I grounded it. I watched the replay. I was over the line. I’ll have to watch it again or hear why the ref thought it wasn’t a try but I thought it was.”

But the decision wasn’t going to change the result of a match which saw the tricolours surge past neighbours South Sydney into the premiership lead.

“We played Souths earlier in the yea r but I think they’re the best team we’ve played for sure,” said Simmons.

“They’ve got a lot of big units in their side, they’ve got good halves, they’re confident. That goes a long way in this league. When you’re on a roll … they’re just rolling. That’s what you need this time of year.

“They’re playing well, same team every week bar Sonny Bill.

“I guess with the better teams, you’ve got to be more clinical and do everything right. The last few weeks we’ve come up again good teams and we haven’t played to our standards. You can’t win if you’re not doing that.”

But one consolation for the former Cronulla winger is his place near the top of the tryscoring charts.

phonto (1)“This is the best I’ve gone,” he says.

“Playing with Dean Whare, Luke Walsh this year, they’ve been going fairly well attack wise and that’s made it easy for me. I think it’s going to be OK. We’ve got some quality players coming next year and we’ll pretty much have the same team plus a few guys coming back from injury.

“It’s going to be stronger. If I can make the team, it should hopefully continue.

“One hundred per cent things are on the way up. We know how to play, we know how to win. It’s just putting it together. That’s getting better every week. Our knowledge of the game is improving.”