FAR & WIDE: Number 43

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

BUMMED out because you’re not going to the World Cup? Never fear: there is a big day of international footy coming up in Sydney, with seven games at the same venue on the same day!

Lebanon will take on a Fijian combination made up of non-RLWC players at Club Italia, Lansvale, on October 19. The countries will also meet at under 18s, Under 16s and Under 20 levels and we’ll also have Malta playing Italy in an age group yet to be determined.

The remaining game will involve NSW junior representative teams and complete pretty much the longest day of football Far & Wide can remember.

.

JACKSON Hastings, son of Kevin who Sydney Roosters recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan chased so hard, will be halfback for the Australian Schoolboys when the play New Zealand Under 18 Residents in Auckland this Saturday.

The game, to be played at 12.45pm (local time) at Bert Henham Park Mount Wellington, is an attempt to reward Kiwi kids who stay at home rather than join Australian clubs.

The sides played an earlier Test on Monday in Whangerei.

Australia’s Sione Matautia is the third brother from that family to represent the schoolboys, emulating the efforts of Shane, Ben and Chris Walker.

.

TIME to get around the various state grand finals in Australia.

In South Australia, Centrals are the Division One winners after beating Norths 28-16 in the decider earlier this month. Well done boys.

In Western Australia, it was the North Beach Sea Eagles who lifted the trophy. They beat minor premiers Freemantle 16-8 in the wet a couple of weeks ago.

Onto Darwin an the NTRL, where Palmerston beat Brothers 36-22. It was the sixth premiership for Palmerston, who had to come back from 12-0 down.

And in Victoria, Sunbury lifted its first premiership, downing Altona 36-16 in a game that was televised on community television.

And it was a cliff-hanger in the ACT, where the Queanbeyan Kangaroos beat the Queanbeyan Blues 17-16,

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

@RLWfarandwide

FAR & WIDE: Number 40

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
SYDNEY Roosters utility Daniel Mortimer has pulled out of the Welsh World Cup squad for a very straightforward reason – he doesn’t qualify.
“(My grandmother) always told me she was Welsh but she was born in England and moved there when she was six months old,” Mortimer tells Far & Wide.
“She was there until she was 20, she always considered herself Welsh but I couldn’t get the documentation to get it across the line, unfortunately.”
Details like that didn’t stop Chris Morley, brother of Adrian, from having a long and distinguished career with the Dragons. As Morely reveals in his biography, Chris merely told coaches he was Welsh, they believed him, and that was that!.
.
WE can reveal here that ABC radio has secured the rights to the semi-finals and final of the World Cup.
After negotiations with IMG, which owns the broadcast rights to the tournament, the national broadcaster agreed to cover ‘The Big Hit’ semi-final double-header at Wembley on November 23 and the final at Old Trafford a week later.
So far, no deal has been done regarding the pool matches.
.
MORE embarassment for the European game recently with Norway docked to European Shield points for fielding five ineligible players (good move, Daniel Mortimer!) against the Czech Republic and Ukraine.
Omar Baghdadi, Sean Casey, Timothy Hackney, Tim Rowan and Isaac Schmidt have been suspended until such time as they can prove they aren’t ring-ins. Norway have also pulled out of a planned trip to Canada.
The European Shield will be determined on September 28 when the Ukrainians play the Czechs.
.
PHILIPPINES captain Luke Srama – brother of Gold Coast hooker Matt – has opened a recruitment agency aiming to show players you can see the world playing rugby league.
Srama aims to put clubs in touch with players, and vice versa, through his facebook page Srama League Recruitment. He already has more than 1000 ‘likes’!
.
BUSY week this week with the Jacksonville Axemen announcing plans to explore the possibility of expanding the game in the south-eastern United States.
“One of the clear goals of SERL has always been to expand and grow the game of Rugby League in our region”, said Axemen founder Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland.
“It is now time to see if we can help other cities start their own team to compete in the USA Rugby League. The Axemen and our minor league teams are proof that this game can be viable enough to be self supporting, providing the right people come together to form the core of the operation.
“This (September 8) meeting will be about sharing our knowledge, the good, bad and ugly of the past eight years, and to gauge the interest in the cities we have earmarked as potential expansion markets.

“In addition to Daytona, Orlando and Tampa, delegations from Atlanta and South Carolina will attend the meeting to share thoughts, ideas, potential challenges and opportunities in each city.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: Number 28

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

AN interesting and mysterious yarn popped up in the wake of the United States-Samoa Test in Hawaii a couple of weekends back.

Ten members of the Samoan side, all picked from the domestic competition, failed to board the plane home. Initially, there were fears they had deliberately gone AWOL in America but a Samoan newspaper report said they checked in for the flight but were “turned away at the gate”.

Another report said one player was missing so 10 refused to leave Hawaii without him.

The Samoans won the game 34-10. We’ll try to get to the bottom of things in the coming weeks.

“It was hard work getting the visas and I’d hate to think anything had happened to endanger future teams travelling to Hawaii for matches,” said the RLIF’s Tas Baitieri.

.

EXCITING news from the Philippines with the Asia Cup confirmed for a venue 80 kilometres outside Manila in October.

The Filipinos welcomed another player to NRL first grade two weeks ago – Gold Coast’s Shane Gray.

The tournament kicks off on October 19 with the Philippines taking on Japan at Clark Airforce Base. After that, Japan plays Thailand on the 21st and the Philippines play Thailand in a rematch of last year’s historic match in Bangkok, on the 23rd.

The Filipino boys arrive in Manila three days before the comp starts and will spend time coaching naval cadets who have been learning the game under former South Sydney official Tom Simpson for the last 12 months.

It is possible to see both NSW Country games on tour in South Africa and still make it to Clark for the opening Asia Cup game. We checked.

.

THE latest European Shield game has seen Russia visit Belgrade and come away with a win against the Serbians.

Russia will win the Sheild if they beat Italy at the end of the month. Prop Sergey Konstantinov was the star, scoring two tries before a broken arm ruled him out of the clash with the Italians.

@RLWfarandwide http://www.facebook.com/RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 12

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

1. STATE OF CHAOS

THE ARLC probably doesn’t appreciate what a challenge it faces as it prepares to take control of its first State Of Origin series. We use the term “take control” advisedly – because for 33 years, Origin has been uncontrollable. It’s been run by the teams in it. We’ve had ‘TBA’ picked on the wing, players snuck back into the country from England, eligibility rules stretched to breaking point and until recently, the competing teams pick the referees. Last week NSW took a player away from his club for two days only to tell him he wasn’t required. Expect Queensland to do it for game two. It used to be said State teams could not be fined because it was just the ARL fining itself. Hopefully that’s changed and Origin will cease being a law unto itself.

2. KING IN NO HURRY TO ABDICATE

KUDOS to North Queensland coach Neil Henry for agreeing to do pre-match interviews and happily fielding questions regarding his job being in jeopardy. Henry told the ABC and Triple M yesterday he did not believe his position was as precarious as presented. From experience, periods like two weeks “to prove yourself” are not plucked from thin air. Henry is an impressive operator and is showing plenty of grace in a difficult situation. Punting someone a matter of weeks after granting them a contract extension is an extraordinary measure. The Cowboys should be absolutely sure whoever they get to replace Henry is better – and I’m not sure there’s anyone out there right now who fits that description.

3. ORIGINAL SINS

THERE’S nothing like a flu scare to tell us Origin is here. Yesterday Johnathan Thurston missed training with the dreaded lurgy and reporters around NSW and Queensland relaxed in the knowledge everything is right with the universe. Here’s some other things we need to feel completely at ease: 1. A meeting with the referees, preferably to which only one team was invited; 2. Someone being “targeted”. Surely that can’t be far away. 3. An eligibility row. Maybe Josh Reynolds is actually Somalian? One year I struggled so much for a preview angle I had to reluctantly settle for the flu angle to lead the back page. When I woke up on game day with a terrible hangover and the poor blighter had been ruled out, it was as if I had won lotto.

4. THE SILENT … MAJORITY?

I’M willing to wager (not with you, Tom) there is a large body of readers out there today which feels completely disenfranchised by some recent developments in rugby league. There are those who would regard the kerfuffle over alleged racism at a Manly board meeting, the suspension of radio caller David Morrow and even the carefully on-message commentary about Raelene Castle’s appointment at Canterbury as “political correctness gone mad”. But they say that at the bottom of this column online, they’ll be shouted down. These people are right to argue what you think and do count at least as much as what you say. But sexist and racist language has to be weeded out of rugby league because even if those who use it aren’t sexist or racist, it encourages others to be – and in football clubs, 17-year-olds slavishly model themselves on men 15 years their senior, perpetuating attitudes which die more quickly in other workplaces.

5. VALE SOPHIA GALLICO

IT was touching to see the South Sydney Rabbitohs form a guard of honour for their mascot, Charlie Gallico, on Saturday night. Charlie lost his wife Sofia to a heart attack last Monday. At fulltime in the win over Newcastle, Charlie was chaired from the field by some players and he later celebrated in the sheds by singing the team song with the boys. But they put a towel over the dressingroom camera though – so the kiddies didn’t see Reggie The Rabbit with his head off! The condolences of everyone in the rugby league media are with you Charlie. Players, officials and coaches come and go in football clubs – it’s people like Charlie and Sofia that really give a place its culture. That word has been cheapened recently actually – much better to refer to it as Jack Gibson did – “the woodwork”.

6. MEN OF THE WORLD

IT was a big weekend for two of the game’s developing countries. Josh Mantellato, 26, has played four games for Italy and helped them qualify for the World Cup. But he had not played first grade until Newcastle’s clash with South Sydney. So when suffered a suspected broken rib with 10 minutes remaining, he stayed out there. Shane Gray served a Clenbuterol drugs suspension between 2009 and 2011. He made his debut for Gold Coast yesterday and in October hopes to join Matt Srama, Kevin Gordon and Andrew Everingham in the Philippines side that will host a triangular tournament with Japan and Thailand.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

FAR & WIDE: Number 22

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA’S Steve Price has been confirmed as coach of the Samoan side to play Tonga on Saturday week at Centrebet Stadium.

Steve Matai has also chosen Samoa over New Zealand, but Sonny Bill Williams has gone the other way. The squads will be named on April 14.

Others to commit to the Samoans are Jeff Lima, Roy Asotasi, Junior Sa’u and David Fa’alogo

.

FORMER South Sydney official and Philippines Rugby League director Tom Simpson has started rugby league in his new home, the Zambales province north of Manila.

Tom started coaching the game on the beaches of San Narciso and has squad of around 30 children and young adults.

He is now moving into the nearby Maritime Academy, where coaching will start in July. There are 700 cadets at the Academy and the wider plan of the PRFL is to introduce the game via the maritime industry.

.

MORE movements in Italy, where former international Pierluigi Gentile has been appointed general director at Gladiators Roma, a Serie B rugby union club.
Gentile plans to introduce some 450 juniors to rugby league at training, saying there is no reason for the codes to be at war.
The breakaway FIRL will also be able to use Stadio del Rugby di Cocciano, in Frascati, Rome, as its base.
.
THE new season in Serbia has kicked off with a three-division senior league, an under-18 league and a student competition.

The six clubs making up the first division are: Podbara, Radnicki, Dorcol, Red Star, Novi Beograd and Nis.
.
THERE’S plenty of good young talent in France if the recent under 16s Test series against England is anything to go by.
The French took out the First Test 34-26 a couple of weeks ago, meaning the English had to win by eight points or more last week in Wakefield to clinch the series.
That they did – 42-16 – but now there’s a challenge for the French game to keep and develop the youngsters on show.

NB: Steve Matai subsequently failed to make himself available for Samoa.
@RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

“Rugby Is Not Something You Sniff”

P1020185By STEVE MASCORD

“LOOK at him – he’s barely said ‘boo’ the whole tour and now he’s got a big smile on his face and you can’t shut him up.”

A member of the Philippines team management is pointing at Sam Bernstrom, Sydney Roosters’ 198cm back rower. We are at the Nayon ng Kabataan Welfareville Compound – a Manila orphanage – on a scorching Wednesday afternoon.

Bernstrom is directing kids, hauled in off the streets by welfare officers, in passing drills. Soon, he will be buried under a pile of young boys so big that he looks like he’s genuinely concerned. Then he’ll put one tiny tot on his shoulders and they will wade through a group playing basketball and execute a cheeky slam dunk.

Three days before, the Philippines rugby league team – made up almost entirely of Australian-based players with a couple of Aussies playing rugby union in Asia thrown in for good measure – had brought our game to Asia for the first time with a 86-0 flogging of Thailand at Bangkok’s Royal Thai Police Stadium.

The crowd had been only about 150 – with any lasting benefit of the fixture in Thailand down to the local rugby union players who copped a pasting but who must now be relied upon to spread the word in the popular holiday destination.

For the Philippines boys, the real mission lay in a two hour plane ride the next day – to a place that in most cases one of their parents had come from but to which many of them had never been. Even if not one person in Manila, population 10,444,000, picks up rugby league as a result of their visit, the benefits to the young men in the touring party (who mostly funded the trip themselves) will be incalculable.

They are told about a garbage tip where fossickers dig out rancid food scraps and cook and sell them. Sitting in cabs going to the casino at Resort City each night, they see towering commercial buildings give way to abject poverty. They drink coke from plastic bags so the shops can keep the bottles and claim the refund.

Sam Berstrom buried under a pile of orphans - and looking worried
Sam Berstrom buried under a pile of orphans – and looking worried

But today, at the orphanage, is the most dumbfoundingly moving experience. The superintendent, Kumi Kobayashi, is a cousin of Gold Coast Titans hooker Matt Srama – who went straight home from Bangkok – and his brother Luke, who plays for Coventry Bears in the Conference League.

When she explained to about 40 orphans that the men in front of them did not represent “the rugby you know”, she wasn’t referring to the 15-man game. “Rugby is a drug that they sniff,” she tells me. “It’s like a glue. It’s unfortunately very popular on the streets. We have to explain to them that these boys have nothing to do with that. ”

The orphans here were either abused or abandoned. They are street kids, picked up by social security services and brought here. “We try to get them training to get a job, and at 17 they go back out there,” says Kobayashi.

The children were presented with Philippines Tamaraws (dwarf buffaloes, the mascot of the team) t-shirts and tiny stuffed koalas. They are not unusued to being visited by sports stars, as it turns out.

“We had David Beckham here late last year,” she said “There was him and about 12 members of his entourage. There was a five-minute photo opportunity and he did pose with the (orphanage) soccer team but then he was gone.

“Some of the kids were disappointed. They wanted his autograph but you couldn’t get near him.

“When Matt (Srama) came the next month, he stayed until every kid had his photo taken with him or he signed something. Today, with all these boys here, the kids will remember for a long time.”

Another Titans star, Kevin Gordon, finished the visit by dancing for the kids while his part-time DJ brother, Dennis, spun some tunes on the tannoy. Later, Kevin got an early start to pre-season training by pushing a food cart up a gravelly road outside the orphanage.

If rugby league does make an impression in Asia, those who support it can expect a wealth of new sights, sounds, smells and experiences.

Has a referee ever been serenaded (in this case, with Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’) by a national team after an international, as was Kasey Badger in Bangkok? Badger’s part in the first husband and wife refereeing team in the history of world sport was, of course, featured in the Observer (costing this writer a fortune in overseas roaming phone calls and leaving him cursing the thoroughness of Andy Wilson).

Aussie Andrew Charles did an unbelievable job origanising the game in Bangkok, attracting sponsors. Next year, it is hoped there’ll be a four-team domestic competition in Thailand with a sports bar in the holiday town of Pattaya particularly keen to get involved.

orphanage“The local rugby union, they don’t do much and they say no to a lot of ideas,” said 14-year-old Jonathan Boley, a player from an expat family, who watched the game in near-awe, said.

“With rugby league coming to Thailand, they don’t have to go through the TRU. They can do what they want to.”

Pattaya may also host a Nines tournament, with Pacific countries keen to reward those who missed out on World Cup selection by sending them to an exotic far east event, next year.

The Phillipines players, meanwhile, pressed flesh with the great and the good during their busy week in Manila, organising a nines tournament (touch rules) the Saturday after their international.

They have plans for a tri-series involving Japan and Thailand on a decomissioned airforce base around the same time next year. And there is a good chance the crowd will be bigger than 150. Kumi Kobayashi says the kids are always keen on an excursion…

Filed for: FORTY-20 MAGAZINE

WHITE LINE FEVER Column: Three

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By STEVE MASCORD
WHEN children at a Manila orphanage were told yesterday that the men in front of them did not represent “the rugby you know about”, it seemed par for the course.
Outside of Australia, New Zealand and Britain, it’s an achievement if people know there is just one form the game, let alone two.
“No,” explained the facility’s administrator, Ms Kumi Kobayashi, “rugby is a drug that they sniff. It’s like a glue. We have to explain to them that these boys have nothing to do with that.
“The orphans here were either abused or abandoned. They are street kids, picked up by social security services and brought here. We try to get them training to get a job, and at 17 they go back out there.”
Kumi is the cousin of Gold Coast hooker Matt Srama, whose exploits in the NRL she has read about from clippings sent by her auntie. Matt had already returned to Australia by the time the Philippines rugby league team visited the Nayon ng Kabataan Welfareville Compound in Mandaluyong City yesterday.
His brother, England-based hooker Luke, took charge of the two hour session with around 30 energetic kids, who were put through catching, passing and kicking drills before being handed t-shirts and tiny koala bears.
“We had David Beckham here late last year,” Kobayashi told NRL.com as children swerved and stepped in the distance and hiphop music played over a PA system in a covered courtyard, protected by armed guards.
“There was him and about 12 members of his entourage. There was a five minute photo opportunity and he did pose with the (orphanage) soccer team but then he was gone.
“Some of the kids were disappointed. They wanted his autograph but you couldn’t get near him.
“When Matt came the next month, he stayed until every kid had his photo taken with him or he signed something. Today, with all these boys here, the kids will remember for a long time.”
Sydney Roosters forward Sam Bernstom, one of the quietest men in the squad which beat Thailand 86-0 on the weekend in the first rugby league international played in Asia, couldn’t contain his smile throughout the visit.
At one stage, the lanky 197cm back rower hoisted a youngster onto his shoulders and they waded through a group playing basketball to execute a slam dunk. On another occasion, he was buried under a pile of children so big he – and by extension, new tricolours chief executive Brian Canavan – had cause for genuine concern.
“It’s anything but sad,” said Bernstrom.
“The kids here, they’re all so excited to see us and it’s a great honour to be here.
“Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces, it’s really enlightening. It’s my first time to the Philippines as well. It’s an awesome experience and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Not only were the orphans enthusiastic but may showed a natural affinity with the game, taking up full-bodied tacklking without being asked to and displaying the sort of evasive skills that impressed the Philippines (knowns as Tamaraws, or bulls) coach, Clayton Watene.
All players paid their own way to Thailand and Manila – although having Philippines Airlines as a sponsor helped – and for their own off-field kit. Coaches and managers each put in several thousand dollars from their own pockets.
While the crowd in Bangkok was tiny, they are convinced they are making headway in the Philippines. This Saturday, there’ll be a nines tournament on a decomissioned airforce base.
As the players, drawn from all levels of competition in Australia and the UK, walked through the dusty streets outside the orphanage to hail cabs, they stopped for coke drunk from a plastic bag so the shop could claim the bottle refund. And NRL star Kevin Gordon put his Centre Of Excellence training to good use by helping push a food cart up a hill.
But for young Australians whose parents had left the Philippines for a better life, the impact of the experience only then started to sink in, with expressions like “that’s really brought me down a level” heard in taxis on the way back to well-to-do Makati.