BONDI BEAT: May 2014

Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash

Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash

By STEVE MASCORD

LIKE your clubs in England, the NRL is considering ways to hold onto players and to recruit new stars,
Bondi Beat‘s spies tell us that the issue was raised in Auckland before the NRL Nines. The CEO of the league, David Smith, suggested that if one club wanted to sign a rugby union star, for instance, it could apply for central funding.
But every club would have the opportunity to match or exceed the amount of money the recruiting club was willing to pay. If Souths wanted to sign England rahrah George North, for instance, North Queensland could offer to pay a larger part of his wage package. This would leave the league paying less.
North would still have the opportunity to go to the club of his choice, not the highest bidder.
But another idea should be a concern to most readers. The plan is to make transfer fees salary cap-free if the incoming player is not from the NRL.
In other words, a leave pass to raid the Super League if you have enough money to pay the transfer fees.
I am told it was South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson who pointed this implication out. “They play the same sport as us over there, you know,” was the crux of his argument.
If you go through the current NRL club CEOS, few have much experience in the international game.

THE debate over the marquee player proposal in England is a fascinating one.
I heard on the BBC recently that the NRL has a marquee player allowance of $600,000 per club. That is wrong. There is no marquee player system in the NRL that is even remotely similar to what Dr Marwan Koukash is proposing in Super League.

What is allowed in the NRL are third part agreements – club sponsors paying players up to a limit. It is not the same as allowing clubs to spend their own money on imported talent, regardless of whether it sends them broke.
Instead of offering Stg200,000 for rival clubs’ “golden tickets”, perhaps Dr Koukash should guarantee to under-write the rest of the comp so every club can spend up to the cap as it exists now.
I am a bit of a sociallist when it comes to sporting competitions. I believe our game needs to be outwardly capitalist but inwardly communist.
Until every club in the Super League is spending up to the cap, there is no point giving them more rope to hang themselves. Maybe if every club in the new division of eight is spending up to the cap and is on a sound financialfooting, it can be considered again.
The recent Widnes-Salford epic was a clash of cultures – between licencing and throwing raw cash at something. And who won that?
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THIS column probably features a few too many items which paint my Australian compatriots as being a little ignorant of the realities of rugby league outside their own bubble. It’s a point that gets laboured here too much.
But it was curious the other day to hear Penrith coach Ivan Cleary say this: “I think, personally, we shouldn’t have representative tournaments every year at the end of the year,” Cleary said. ”Maybe a one-off game with Australia and New Zealand straight after the grand final pretty much. Basically, if you are going to have one it needs to finish a lot earlier.”
Cleary, you’ll remember, is the New Zealand assistant coach!
Now, George Gregan played 139 Tests in that other code. Darren Lockyer had played 59 when he retired. But WE’RE playing too many Tests? Clearly, were playing too many club games…
One man who agreed with Cleary was Greg Alexander, who is on the board at Penrith. When I appeared with Andrew Voss and Brandy on 2UE to argue against Cleary’s contention, one of their responses was that if we needed international football so much then perhaps there should be a World Cup every two years!
From the sublime to the ridiculous…..
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IN the wake of the sort of ignorance described above, you’ve got to hand it to the Sydney Roosters and former Catalan coach Trent Robinson.
He has hired the England coach as his assistant and in Remy Casty has a man who is likely to be only the fourth French born player to turn out in the top flight down under, after Jerome Guisset, Jacques Molinet and Jason Baitieri.
And when his team completely outclassed Wigan in the World Club Challenge, Robinson argued that the concept should be expanded. Even in the face of the increasing disparity in the salary caps of the two competitions, he argued an expanded WCC would narrow the gap, not accentuate it.

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ANOTHER great story in this neck of the woods this year has been the debut in Queensland’s Untrust Super Cup (the Q Cup to you) of the Kopoko-based PNG Hunters.
After the disappointments of the World Cup, the PNGRL signed players from rural areas to contracts, took them away from their families for 11 weeks and put them in a police barracks.
The result was a 24-18 win on debut against Redcliffe in Brisbane. “Back at home, after the World Cup when everyone got back into the country, the guys that played in
the World Cup never went out in public places because a lot of the media and the people around the country were pissed off,” said coach Michael Marum.
PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka says Mal Meninga is now the coach of the Kumuls. They hope to play the winner of the mid-year Samoa-Fiji Test before the Four Nations and a warm-up game against another 4N team – perhaps England.
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TYRONE McCarthy and his partner, Helen Lomax, are settling in nicely in Cairns.
The Ireland vice-captain and ex-Warrington star scored two tries on debut for Q Cup side Northern Pride. “I was probably getting stagnant at Warrington, being in and out of the side,” he said.
“It’s pretty different to home here, very hot and humid, but I’m used to it now and the club have been great. Two tries is more than I scored all last year.”
Tyrone is hoping to get his charity project, the FullBloods, going in Oz. It helps kids in disadvantaged areas using rugby league to connect with them. Support Tyrone by visiting thefullbloodproject.org.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Fullblood: An Englishman Who Plays For Ireland & Lives In Queensland

McCarthy, TyroneBy STEVE MASCORD

PROFESSIONAL rugby league players get a bad rap. At best, they are seen as mindless automatons, oblivous to the nuances of life around them, trained wholely to run at brick walls and tackle semi-trailers.
At worse, our football stars are portrayed as oafish, neanderthal hoons with no regard for anyone but themselves.
In the case of either cliche, an appreciation and understanding for their game’s history and culture, and a concern for its future, are not often ascribed as part of the current player’s make-up.
The reality is most often somewhat different. Just about every NRL player gives up countless hours doing community and charity work. When Newcastle halfback Dane Campbell was understudy to Andrew Johns at Newcastle, he was using his spare time to help start rugby league in Jamaica.
And for Ireland vice-captain and new Northern Pride signing Tyrone McCarthy, time spent in Africa doing charity work during his gap year has had a much more profound impact on his life than anything he achieved as a Super League player with Warrington.
Like Campbell, McCarthy has become involved in helping rugby league develop in places affected by poverty; in his case, Fiji, with his project The Fullblood Project.
“People do said to me ‘why?’,” the 25-year-old backrower says from Cairns. “They’re, like, how do you make money from that?
“But if you’d gone to Africa on that trip, and you’d seen how happy those kids were … and it’s not just making them happy, it’s the fact that you could give them an opportunity and through the work you do, you could help make them a better person.
“It would be great if, when my rugby (league, Australian readers!) career is over, I could get paid to go and do these programs but that’s not what it’s about.”
Charity work, particularly in Africa, is so much in demand among young westerners that the organisations involved not only charge to do it but there is a long waiting list and many kids actually miss out.
“We did the normal things: building houses, putting up mosquito nets,” McCarthy recalls. “But we also did a rugby league programme and at the end of it we had a little carnival which the kids really enjoyed.”
When McCarthy returned to England, he and some mates – Rob Griffiths, Tom Whitehead and Nigel Scott – came up with the idea of doing a rugby league-based program in less fortunate parts of the world. “And then we kind of thought ‘well, if we went to Fiji, what if we used it to identify some talent too, to help get players in touch with clubs and vice-versa”.
It was when McCarthy began playing for Ireland in 2009 that the idea of Fullblood was born. “I’m obviously a heritage player and we want fullbloods playing for Ireland, Fiji, whatever,” he explains.
“The idea was to introduce young kids to the sport, teach them about the game and show them about the standards of behaviour that are required in an NRL or Super League environment as well.
“So we are doing general work in the community as well as things that are specifically introducing people to rugby league.”
While Tyrone was eeking out a professional career at Warrington and playing in the World Cup, his cohorts were taking Steedens to remote islands in Fiji, teaching the locals rugby league. They’ve enacted a full ciriculum, teaching kids about the history of the game as well as how to play it. It’s a trip McCarthy is itching to take himself – as well as expanding Fullblood to other parts of the world.
“My move from Warrington to the Northern Pride has slowed things down a little,” he says.
And after scoring two tries on debut against the Sunshine Coast (“that beats my total for last year”), it’s a move that is going well for McCarthy. “Cairns is pretty different to home – very hot and humid,” he said.
“But I couldn’t have asked for more from the club when it came to helping me and my missus settle in. It’s been fantastic.
“Naturally it would be great to get back into a fulltime set-up (with an NRL club) but I have no complaints.”
Being part-time means McCarthy has to take a job – and it’s one he is well suited to: teaching.
“It’s a joint position with the Queensland Department of Education and the Northern Pride, doing the Pride’s rugby league program,” he explains. “With all the indigenous communities up here, I think the Fullbloods Project would be perfect.
“Actually, there is a lot in the Pride program that is quite inspirational. Towards the end of the year, we’ll look at doing a joint program, perhaps.
“It’s not until you get out here that you realise how big rugby league really is in Australia. It’s massive, it’s everything. If we could get our brandname out there and ride on the back of that, we could really make a difference.”
Visit Fullbloods at thefullbloodproject.org

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Pre-Season II

KoukashBy STEVE MASCORD

EARL GREY OVER DANK NEWS
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.

I DID IT HIS WAY
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.

OOMPA LOOMPAS UNITE!
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)

POACHERS WELCOME
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.

REFS ON FILM
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?

IT’S A GAS
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.

Bonus item: RADIO NO-RAHRAH
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.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

What Is The Future Of Second Tier Rugby League In Australia?

Holden_Cup_LogoBy STEVE MASCORD

EVEN the people who conceived the Under 20s competition, now known as the Holden Cup, admit it’s not working.

At least, that’s the scuttlebutt in rugby league circles.

Sydney Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan was on a committee that came up with the formula for the NYC in 2008. He says the scuttlebutt isn’t exactly right.

But Canavan reckons the NYC wasn’t supposed to get as big as it has, pushing open age second tier competitions into the background.

“Within second tier footy, we need an underage competition, closed-age such as the NYC, and we need our state cups,” Canavan tells Steele Sports.

“We then get a two-pronged benefit. For the NYC, it’s all about recruitment and talent development and from the State Cup, open age, that’s where you have the heart of football.

“That’s where you cater for the later mature-ers or the players who’ve had pretty severe injuries on the way up, at 18 or 19 years of age, or the player who is backlogged behind senior players at NRL level.”

The reason open age competition has been left behind? “A very simple physical thing – the major stadia, including ours here at Allianz Stadium, said you could only have two games on match day.

“The good old days of three grades on match day disappeared. Then the NRL made a choice of having NYC on game day attached to the NRL.

“The consequence was that your open age state cups got pushed to the backblocks. I feel as though that was (bad).

“But it’s a very saleable product, NYC. It has appeal to the masses. There are as many good players come out of the State Cups as NYC.

“That re-enforces the fact that we need to have two strong second tier competitions. No other sport has that.”

Alas, the problem of stadia refusing to host three games on the same day will not go away. Next year, Canavan says, the situation from a fan’s perspective will “practically speaking, stay as it is.

“But I feel as though the game is poised to far better resource state cups. Through grants, participation criteria, more staff, more specialists, strength and conditioning staff, sports medicine people, improved management….”

Filed for: STEELE SPORTS