THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week One 2014

The Joy Of SixSANDOW SIN BIN

WHEN we went to Parramatta with claims Chris Sandow had played in an aboriginal knockout and been sent off for a shoulder charge followed by an elbow, Eels CEO Scott Seward told us: “He had permission to play. He passed a medical and the coach gave him his blessing. Chrissy has told us he was sent to the sin bin for a shoulder charge on a childhood friend. It was a bit of a joke between them.” But bootleg video on YouTube above appears to show a dismissal – with the elbow chiefly to blame. When Seward put this to Sandow, he insisted he wasn’t aware he had been sent off, only sin binned. We can’t find any record of a judiciary hearing. The title for the Murri Carnival at Redcliffe two weeks ago changed hands when it was discovered the winners, Murri Dingoes Blue, fielded a player who mistakenly believed his drugs suspension had expired. Parra’ refused permission for Joseph Paulo and Bereta Faraimo to play for the US in the Mitchelton Nines on Saturday.

PUNCHING ON 1

WE have often heard this year that “little guys wouldn’t be pushing big guys if they could still be punched”. It was just a theory until the Super League grand final, when little Lance Hohaia pushed big Ben Flower, then lunged at him with a raised forearm. As we know, Hohaia punched Flower twice, the second time when he was on his back, possibly unconscious. They both missed the rest of the game, leaving St Helens to limp to victory as they have all year. Had Flower – who left Old Trafford before fulltime – not opted out of Wales duty, he could at least have counted the upcoming European internationals against what will no doubt be a mammoth suspension. Condemnation of Flower has been widespread and almost unanimous. Soccer star Joe Barton Tweeted he had “little sympathy” for Hohaia because of the provocation, but later stressed he did not intend to defend the Welshman.

PUNCHING ON 2

LIKE Wigan’s Super League campaign, the proud 15-year-plus history of the United States Tomahawks may have come to an end with a punch at the weekend. The USARL is taking over running the game in the US and is likely to dispense with the old AMNRL trademark, meaning it was all on the line when the Americans trailed invitational side Iron Brothers 8-4 with three minutes left in a Nines quarter-final in Brisbane. The Tomahawks got the ball back but sometime-cage fighter Tui Samoa took umbrage to something a rival said and punched him. Water carrier Paulo – banned, as we said, by Parramatta from playing – helped separate them, Samoa was sent to the bin and Brothers scored again to eliminate the US 14-4.

GRACIOUSNESS AND GAFFES

AND what a mixed bag we had for rugby league public speaking at the weekend. On the plus side, congrats to departing Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin, the club’s player of the year Ben Hunt and CEO Paul White for their oratory at the club presentation. “Ben Hunt was entitled to test his value on the open market but he didn’t,” White told around 500 guests. “Although at a backyard barbecue I was at, he did get his message across to me by changing the words of the Status Quo song to ‘down, down, prices are down”. Griffin said: “Whatever I do now, I’ll be a competitor. But I’ll never be a critic of this club or the people in it.” On the negative, St Helens’ Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, at fulltime on live TV: “I’m absolutely buzzing. I could fucking swear”. Yes, he said those words – in that order.

WORLDWIDE LIVE

SOUTHS chief executive Shane Richardson has savaged the running of the international game in Britain’s The Observer. “I look at the state of international rugby league and it just makes me angry,” Richardson – citing the departure of Sam Burgess as a symptom of the problem – said. “I know from the years I’ve spent in the game, and the contacts I’ve made in business, and the places I’ve been around the world, that there’s a potential to do so much more.” Nevertheless, Greece played their first home international at the weekend, beating the Czechs 68-16 in Athens, the Philippines defeated Vanuatu 32-16 on remote Santo and Norway were preparing to meet Thailand in Bangkok. Next weekend, Latin America faces Portugal and Fiji takes on Lebanon, both in Sydney while Tonga take on PNG in Lae and the European Championships commence.

RETIRING ON A HIGH

REPORTS of veteran rugby league photographer Col Whelan’s retirement were greatly exaggerated last year. The NRL weren’t quite ready to take over Col’s operation and he went around in 2014 for one last season – wearing a South Sydney cap to every game. NRL rules prohibit media from wearing club merchandise but the media areas are full of uniformed club staff posting on social media, an inconsistency the irascible snapper sought to highlight. At fulltime on grand final day in the bunnies rooms, players became concerned Col had stopped shooting. He was crying with happiness. At the Red and Green ball, Whelan presented every player with a disc containing 120 photos of their life-defining triumph. What a way to go out – enjoy your retirement, Col.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

FAR & WIDE: Number 41

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

IT’S not often we have a rugby league team that represents an entire continent but South America’s Latin Heat has been formally launched.

The side will make its bow in the Mitchelton Nines in Brisbane on Saturday, Sept 21.

“Forward Leighton Johanneson was raised in Colombia after his sugar cane-farming parents decided to become missionaries there,” enthuses organiser Robert Burgin.

“He was a goalkeeper for a Division A football team over there. His parents continue to work in some of Colombia’s poorest area, while he has returned to live in Bundaberg.”

The team has even secured sponsorship from the Guzman Y Gomez taco chain!

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NSW and Queensland Universities are set for an excellent adventure next month following confirmation they’ll be taking part in a tournament in Tonga.

The teams arrive in Naku’alofa two days after the NRL grand final. On October 10, two rep sides picked from the domestic competition, Tonga Tau’uta and Tonga Tautahi, play each other and so do the Australian states.

Then, two days later at the Teufaiva Stadium (venue for the whole tourney), the losers play each other and so do the winners.

There’s a whole heap of international football taking place post-season, aside from the World Cup, at all levels.

Far & Wide remembers when it was possible to go to every international rugby league game in a given year!

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FORGET all the doubts – the Asia Cup is going ahead at Clark, Philippines, next month*.

Unfortunately, the shoulder injury suffered by Matt Sarama in round 26 might stop him joining brother Luke in the Tamaraws side. It’s uncertain if Andrew Everingham’s move to Japanese rugby union will affect his involvement.

Organisers have suffered one setback – they’ve been kicked off the playing fields due to an army exercise! An alternative venue is now being sought.

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OOPS. We incorrectly reported last week that Demark had been disqualified from the European Shield for fielding ineligible players. It was, of course, Norway and that is also the country that cancelled its trip to Canada.

Apologies.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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!.
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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.
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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.
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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’!
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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

Everingham Would Rather Be A Rabbit Than A Rahrah

South Sydney - Andrew EveringhamBy STEVE MASCORD
HE’S being courted by Japanese rugby union but winger Andrew Everingham decided during his recent suspension that he had a yen for one thing – staying with South Sydney.
Everingham, 26, was banned for a shoulder charge on Matt Bowen earlier this season but made a strong NRL return in Saturday night’s 25-18 win over Newcastle at ANZ Stadium.
His move to Asian rugby union, where his brother Chris already earns a good living, was considered in some quarters to be a mere formality.
“I’m still in the process – I want to stay here at Souths,” Everingham tells League Week.
“To be honest, I haven’t been playing as well as I’d like to, to start the season.
“That suspension gave me some time to get some more motivation and focus on what I really need to do to try and get a contract here in the future at Souths.”
While there was a perception rugby union was about to “poach” Everingham, he says that’s far from the truth.
“My brother just plays in the Phil’s and tries to get into the team for the Hong Kong Sevens. I think he does more promotion work for the union side,” he explained.
“I don’t really know how it would work (for me). If I said something, it might be wrong. But like I said, my first priority is to try and get a contract here.
“I played rugby union in school and there was a cup competition in Borneo – I played for the Philippines in sevens and it was that much fun.”
Hand surgery prevented the Everingham brothers from playing league together for the Philippines against Thailand last October but he hopes to take part in a triangular tournament with Japan and the Thais this year.

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

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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.

DISCORD 2012: Edition 40

By STEVE MASCORD
FURTHER to our treatise last week on international eligibility, and thanks to several readers, Discord has come up with a formula that would strengthen Origin’s integrity and that of international football – at the same time.
The only reason we have residency allowing players to turn out for Queensland and NSW is that we must have it at national level – to bring us into line with other major sports.
Cut the link between Origin and Australia and you can KEEP residency for the Australian team but SCRAP it for the State sides.
What does that mean? James Tamou and Aquila Uate can play for Australia, but not Origin, unless it can be proven that their first senior rugby league after the age of 16 was in NSW or Queensland.
And, chances are, they wouldn’t want to play for Australia in that case – which helps the international game. If Origin is first senior football after the age of 16 and that’s it, it’s more fair dinkum.
But if someone qualifies under that stringent criteria and still qualifies under the (different) international rules for another country, let em play!
I want to clarify what I was saying last week – I am not proposing Sam Burgess play Origin. What I am proposing is a situation under which Nathan Cayless could have played his entire career for NSW and New Zealand – because he qualified for both.
He is a fair dinkum New South Welshman, having played his junior football in western Sydney, and a bonafide Kiwi under international rules, through parentage. So let him play for both!
That’s what’s great about the internet and social media. A column like this is just the first big Tweet and by throwing the conversation open and reading everything, answers present themselves.
I hope the ARLC is reading.
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SPEAKING of social media, I’m currently in Manila with the team that Facebook built – the Philippines Tamaraws. There was a Facebook page for the Philippines Rugby League before there was a Philippines Rugby League.
People just got on board with the idea and it has turned into a fully-kitted out team including NRL stars on tour in two countries.
I’m going to shoot a  hole in my own logic before someone else does. On one hand, I say you need to maximise the number of people who see and play rugby league as a prime directive.
On the other hand, I am defending a game last Sunday in Bangkok that attracted 150 people, as a worthwhile exercise.
Having mounted a damning argument against myself, I am now about to launch a spirited defence, also of myself.
Yes, the game itself on Sunday may not have had the impact we hoped for on possible spectators. And if the team representing Thailand had been made up of foreign based players, any positive impact would have been negligible.
But, as the score would suggest, the team consisted of local rugby union players who can be relied on to spread the word. Next year there is talk of a nines tournament and tri-series against the Philippines and Japan.