The A-List: MICHAEL MORGAN (North Queensland, Queensland & Australia)

RLW Michael MorganBy STEVE MASCORD

“YOU mean THE tackle?” Michael Morgan says, raising an eyebrow.

A-List has just pointed out to the 24-year-old Townsvillian that in sports, you can trade on one thing for your entire life. Exhibit A: Scott Sattler. Exhibit B: the 2003 grand final.

Michael Morgan hasn’t thought about that way before. He hasn’t thought about the impact of setting up the try that tied the greatest grand final of all time, three quarters of a year ago.

He insists it hasn’t changed his life. Yet.

“No, not at all. I think because of the way I see it … I don’t see it at all as I threw the pass to win the grand final. I don’t look at it like that,” he says, before the Cowboys begin training on a typically warm and humid NQ afternoon.

“I genuinely believe that I got extremely lucky and there were other things in the game that I didn’t do that I should’ve. So no, I don’t think it’s changed my life at all. It’s just … look, it’s a very proud moment, one that I will remember for a long time and I’m stoked it happened but ….”

When you retire, though, it could become the focus of every interaction you have with the outside world … just like Satts.

“… no, no, I haven’t thought about that. Yes, I still get asked about it a lot but I think to me it feels like it was only just last year so … we’re still the premiers from the year before.

“People still bring up a bit of last year because it’s early in the season. I think that’s the only reason … I only see it that way.”

You know how you can tell a smart person sometimes by the sparkle in their eye? Michael Morgan – nearing 100 games for the Cowboys, a Queensland State of Origin player – is one of those people.

He’s so steeped in north Queensland rugby league that his grandfather knew Arch Foley, after whom the Foley Shield was named. But he’s still managed the perspective to understand it’s just a game, weekend entertainment for the masses.

“I’d like to think I’ve been pretty level headed, even before,” he nods. “I think it’s a good thing, growing up around my mates and that.

“I went to Iggy (Ignatius) Park here. If you did anything that was cocky or anything like that, you couldn’t get away with it. I was never in a group of friends where that was acceptable.”

That is not to say he hasn’t taken his own career seriously. And the early NRL days, he is happy to admit, were tough. Quite tough, actually.

“When I debuted and first played first grade, that was probably the hardest thing for me,” he says, when I ask about the confidence to speak up as a playmaker.

“One, playing in the halves when I was 18, filling in for Johnno (Johnathan Thurston) for my first game. And then having guys like Mango (Matt Bowen), Luke O’Donnell, Willle Mason. As an 18-year-old I didn’t find I had the authority as a half to tell them what to do.

“I never talked enough. I suppose I wasn’t confident enough. I suppose I was still overawed at the whole situation.

“My debut game, like I said, I filled in for Johnno. It was a Monday night game and I found out the Monday before that I was going to be playing so it was a long week. All the hype about filling in for JT and being from here … there was a lot of talk.

“But I probably struggled with the physicality of it the most. I played four games that year but my body after every game was wrecked. I’d never played against men before. I’d never played local A-grade even. I played high school footy and straight into 20s so my first A-grade game was NRL. So my body at 18, I don’t think was ready. That was the biggest challenge for me.”

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How did it change? Forget all the clichés about maturity and advice from older players. It changed by getting the hell out of the halves.

“I think the year I had at fullback (did it). I think I played 13 games in 2012, that was the most I’d played in a season before 2014 when I went to fullback.

“Moving away from the halves, I didn’t feel like I needed to talk and organise. I didn’t need to be the dominant voice or anything like that. I’d played in the halves with Johnno before but he’s a very dominant player and at times I wasn’t sure how to play with him, as much.

“So when I went to fullback I could follow him, play off the back of him. I wasn’t trying to … not compete for the ball but if there was something on, I wouldn’t have the confidence to call for it I suppose because if he wants the ball he gets it. I didn’t want to call it and stuff up.

“The year at fullback just allowed me to see the game from a different angle and pop up where I could. It was a bit more of a free reign without having to organise and talk. I could worry about myself more than anything and my own role.

“I think that was what made me start to get more comfortable and build into it better.”

Other things contributed to the player we have now, the man who many think would keep Anthony Milford out of the Queensland squad even if he was available. Not all of them were good things.

Like the loss of good friend Alex Elisala to suicide.

“Everything with Alex was extremely hard,” he said, when we finally get around to the topic. “But I think, as well, a lot of people talk about depression they only talk about suicide. Yes, its awful but there’s a lot of different types of depression that people don’t know about so to learn more about the different types of it, knowing that there’s not just one single form of depression, (is important).

“I suppose I grew from it as a person and that kind of thing and I’m just glad I can be in a position where I can help, maybe, one person.”

Back back to where we started. What fascinates me, and probably you if you contemplate it, is doing something so momentous that it changes lives. That literally millions of set of eyes can be on you when you performed a reflex action that will go on to define your life.

The vast majority of us will never experience it. I have to ask again: how does it feel?

“I haven’t actually thought about it. I thought if it didn’t happen, we would have lost because if I get tackled there or we have a go at a kick and it doesn’t come off then it’s ‘game over’ right there.

“But honestly the most I’ve thought, or what I’ve thought, is that we were very lucky because it was just a lucky play, I suppose, the way it all came off.

“I haven’t thought about it in that way, of how many people would have watched it and …

when you think about it like that, I suppose it is a bit. There’s a lot of people just at the game but I suppose with the TV, how much it was on TV, and been played since … it’s pretty crazy really.

“In a way, I don’t know if I’m answering it the way you want me to, but for that week or even months after the actual game, when the trophy went around, we were able to give people a lot of happiness – just from winning that game.

“One game brought so many people so much happiness.

“I think for that period of time, people forgot about their problems – whether it is not having work, struggling financially …

“To know we could actually make a difference in people’s lives like that and give them happiness from winning a football game … to know you’ve, by playing well and working as hard as we all did last year, made people we’ve never met extremely happy for a long period of time…..

“Even now, people still talk to you about the game and where they were for it, what they were doing, how they reacted, who they were with and everyone’s got their own story now of where they were when the Cowboys won their first premiership.

“It feels pretty special to have done that.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
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The Amazing Rise Of Ben Hunt

Hunt, Ben2By STEVE MASCORD

BEN Hunt has read too much negativity about a particular subject to really enjoy talking about it. So when he is asked about it, he tends to give short, polite, somewhat defensive answers.

That subject is: himself.

“Before the season started, a lot of people wrote me off,” the Brisbane Broncos player of the year tells Rugby League Week ahead of the Four Nations kick-off this Friday.

“People were saying ‘he’s going to be no good’ at halfback.. So I just tried to go out there and do what I could. I’ve learned not to read too much into things. There are always rumours and speculation and opinion.

“You can’t take it too seriously. You’ve just got to get on with your life.”

And this 24-year-old’s life is worth exploring, regardless of how expansive or not he chooses to be in discussing it. From being stuck at hooker to being struck by the sacking of ‘Hook’, it’s a rip roaring yarn of succeeding in one of the most famous jerseys in the game when just every every9one – as outlined above – said he couldn’t.

But it’s when we move away from the story of B Hunt that the St Brendan’s Yeppoon junior starts to loosen up. It’s when we move onto the top du jour, one J Hayne, that walls come down.

“I’ve only spoken to Matty Gillett about it, just last night, and he thinks it’s crazy but also very, very exciting – like, good on him,” Hunt says, suddenly sounding like a bloke having a mag over the back fence.

“It would be a massive thing for him to make it but he is freak athlete.

“I think it does have a broader meaning. Other players do look to other sports, like rugby union, to prove that they can do something different, play something else, and the NFL is one of the biggest competitions in the world.

“These days, you play your five or six years of rugby league and then you’re looking for a change, to challenge yourself and prove you can do it. Like, in union, you can play all around the world and see all these other countries.”

amazonHayne’s shock departure has, of course, led to claims that rugby league could have been better protected against this trend if it had done more to expand since its inception in 1895. Hunt reckons this would help retain some players, but not all.

“For some guys, yes,” he explains. “They do change for the lifestyle so if they could travel around the world or something, they might stay in league.

“But for others it’s about testing themselves. They want to prove they can make it in another sport, that’s their reason.”

Hunt agrees that the internet and the globalisation of media has resulted in players looking beyond the NRL and beyond rugby league for role models.

“The world has changed,” he said. “People are getting married later …. There are so many options out there and because others have done it, there are opportunities to play other sports.”

Perhaps our players feel comfortable talking about what lies beyond the game’s borders because no coach or CEO is going to hold it against them.

Internally, politics creates a maze for interviewees.

The entire Brisbane first grade squad was loyal to coach Anthony ‘Hook’ Griffin. When he was sacked in late July, they halfback’s form suffered and he considered throwing himself on the open market.

“We all got called in for a meeting with Hook and Paul White but there were rumours around, we knew what was going on,” said Hunt.

donate2“Paul White explained to us what was happening. It was pretty upsetting. Many of us had been with him since under 20s, he was the reason we were there at the club.

“He had faith in me when pretty much no-one else did so I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Hunt’s father, Geoff, said this was the time his son came closest to leaving the Broncos. Frustrated at the treatment meted out to Griffin, he said he was willing to test his value on the open market.

“I spoke to a couple of people, had a talk about what other clubs might be able to offer,” he recalled.

“But I didn’t look into it too much. It was in the back of my mind. There were a number of reasons (why I didn’t).

“I like living in Brisbane. My partner’s always been with me here. I think the club has a good future, I think Wayne Bennett will be good.”

When Brisbane were eliminated from the premiership race by North Queensland on the first weekend of the finals, Hunt was not expecting much. “I thought ‘footy’s over, time to relax, take it easy, get away.”

Instead, after polling well in the Dally Ms with votes (but Daly Cherry Evans beating him into the team of the year on five fewer votes), things have got a little crazy post-season for the Rockhampton-born footballer.

At the Broncos presentation night, he was named player of the year by a clear margin. He took out the fans’ favourite, the best back and players’ player.

Straight from the Brisbane Convention Centre, he travelled to the airport and onto Cairns for an overnight stay, before continuing to Kokopo and a starring role in the Australian Prime Ministers XIII’s 34-16 win over PNG.

(“What sticks out in my mind is how hard they hit … they tackle full-blast – and how passionate the fans are, they know everything about you”)

He was out of camp before the Four Nations long enough move into a new house.

At the Broncos presentation, club CEO Paul White publically thanked Hunt for not testing his value on the open market – but recounted a story of the no.7 getting his message across regarding negotiations by rewriting a Status Quo song at a barbecue.

Hunt explains: “There was a barbecue over at Anthony Griffin’s house and a few of us were in the middle of negotions.

“Anyway, a few of the boys started singing ‘Down, down, prices are down’.”

Hunt reveals this year is not the first time in his five years at the club that he thought about leaving. When he was stuck at hooker, a position he disliked, “I had a bit of a talk to a few people.

“There were some clubs …. A couple in Sydney, some in other places. But I was facing the same thing I had in Brisbane. I would have to force my way in and take someone else’s position.”

Success means more to Ben Hunt because he’s had to work at it, play out of position and prove a lot of people wrong. Arguably, he represents Anthony Griffin’s lasting legacy at the club.

“You see some players, they come straight out of the blocks as soon as they come into first grade,” he says. “Yeah, it does mean more, that it didn’t happen like that for me.”

Ben Hunt had better get used to reading some good things about himself.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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The A-List: CHRIS McQUEEN (South Sydney & Queensland)

South Sydney - Chris McQueenBy STEVE MASCORD

FROM his tongue stud to his South Sydney playing number tattooed on his neck, Chris McQueen is the archetypal ‘Nu Skool’ rugby league player.

So when he talks about Facebook and ‘the biff’ in the same sentence, he bears listening to.

“I actually saw someone on Facebook last night say ‘bring back the biff’,” says McQueen, 26, perched the the Café On The Park in Redfern, “and I sort of thought to myself: ‘those days are gone’.

“We’re all professionals. No-one goes out on the field and says ‘I’m going to punch someone and hurt someone’. It’s not why we play the game.

“We play the game for success, we play the game for our brothers and for our mates. It’s not about fighting.

“I’m sorry, I know that might disappoint some of the old guys but that’s the way it is.”

For a man who eschews violence, loves Nu Metal and experiments with facial hair the way most of us change clothes, the South Sydney back rower’s football actually seems to have more in common with the past than the current age of hulking wrestlers.

South Sydney old timers see Ron Coote and Norm Proven in the uncompromising, upright running style and tough defence of this former winger.

Now a Queensland State of Originsback rower and set for a pay rise because of it, the Kingaroy product’s success has been a result of three transitions, two of them extremely difficult.

Here, for A-List, he outlines how each of the big moves transpired:

ONE: “The move to Brisbane, I found that pretty easy. My mum has been in Brisbane forever. Also, I did the move to Brisbane with my two best mates from school – Aaron and Ryan Brown, they’re twin brothers. They’re as close to me as my real brothers. I spent my whole life with them. I grew up with and worked with them. I played with them, got a job with them, we went to school together, we were in all the same classes.

“We all moved together to play with Wynumn Manly. I’ve got their names tattooed on my leg, that’s how close we all are.

“You go straight into the team environment and straight away you’re meeting guys, you’re making new friends. It’s not like just moving somewhere with no-one and not having the opportunity to meet people so I found that pretty easy.”

TWO: “When I moved to Sydney, that was a bit harder. Coming into a first grade squad, I didn’t know anyone. I was very shy around the boys. I’d never been to Sydney, just didn’t know my way around and I just felt lost. It took a while, it took a few months but once I got to know the boys and the season came around and we started playing and that sort of thing, it all just happened a lot easier.”

THREE: “Moving to being a winger and an outside back to back row … I played a bit of back row the year before last under (John Lang) but that was more just due to the fact we had so many injuries and a few suspensions throughout the year. That was never going to be a permanent move. When (Michael Maguire) gave me the tap on the shoulder and said ‘I want you to play back row’…. Yeah I was keen to give it ago but it wasn’t a smooth transition. It took a lot of hard work. I had to get my defence up to scratch, I wasn’t fit enough, I struggled with it. I got dropped for five weeks or so … going back to the Bears was a good opportunity to play long minutes and that helped.

“There was a game last year, it was the second time we played the Bulldogs … and I was 18th man and Eddy Pettybourne got hurt. He pulled out, I went into the team and I sat on the bench the whole game.

“Madge said … it was a tight game and he wasn’t sure if I’d have handled it out there. I sort of said ‘have you given any thought to putting me back on the wing? I think I could do a job on the wing for the team’. He dismissed it straight away, he wasn’t interested.

“If he had said (then) ‘yeah, I’ll give you a crack’, we wouldn’t have known what I could have done as a back rower. I guess none of this would have happened, I don’t know where I would have been as a winger.”

Sattler and Provan probably wouldn’t have talked about loneliness and their own failings as a footballer in an interview. But today’s kids have no such reticence.

Through it all, McQueen’s biggest supporter had been his father Kevin. Now a road worker in Cairns, Kevin was born in England – meaning his son is eligible for Steve McNamara’s men – and has 17 tattoos.

Kevin supports Manly, the only other NRL side to show interest in Chris and has already found space for a couple more tatts: one for a bunnies premiership, and one for his son’s (Australian!) World Cup selection.

“He was covered in tatts,” Chris jnr says of his dad, with visible fondness.

“I got my first one when I had just turned 17. The guy that’s done all my tattoos, I used to live with him. He used to live near my old man. He moved from Kingaroy to the Sunshine Coast so we spent a weekend down at his place and he gave me my first tattoo.

“Especially being from a country town, no-one really had tattoos. I was the first of my friends to get a tattoo. Now you look around, even look around our dressing room, more people have tattoos than don’t.

“The tattoos reflect your personality. You can sort of make that link: ‘oh, he’s a bit of a rocker and he has tatts’. But they’re completely separate. You see people from all walks of life with tattoos.

“I’ve seen my old man covered in tattoos. As long as I can remember in my life, he’s been covered so I never gave it a second thought. People might judge but as I say, nowdays everyone’s got tattoos.

“I think a bit of the stigma and the bad reputation has gone from people with tattoos. I wasn’t too worried about it.”

Nevertheless, one of the first pieces of ink Chris got in Sydney was something of a gamble. He smiles at the memory.

“I played four first grade games and got the (‘1070’) tattoo on my neck, which is something I’d never regret, no matter if I left the club or whatever had have happened,” he explains.

“It was always going to be my first club and it was always going to be my first NRL number so it’s always going to be special for me. A couple of weeks after I got the tattoo, I did my knee again – did my ACL – and that was the start of the 2010 season and I was off contract at the end of that year so I was a bit worried, only having four first grade games under my belt and missing the whole second season of that contract, that I was just going to be let go.

“But they came to me pretty quick, the club. Russell (Crowe) actually spoke to me and said they were going to give me another shot, give me another one-year contract which is what happened.

“I feel like I’m a part of the club now.”

Aside from decrying the biff, McQueen is careful what he says on social media and has so far managed to stay away from the front of the paper. But after his debut Origin season this year, there were reports he – to put it bluntly – wanted more money.

“Madge actually came to me after that Origin period and he’s big on player welfare and that sort of thing,” McQueen recounts.

“… and (he) said he would have a look at that. He’s big on paying players what they’re worth. For an Origin starting back rower, Madge – I guess – has an idea in his head about how much he should be paid. We’re going to look at it during the off-season. I know that Madge and the club will do the right thing by me so I’m not pressing the issue. I know we’ll get it sorted out.

“We’re all working really hard. We all love it bit it is really tough so for a club to look after the player and approach them before the player has to approach the club, I think that’s a really good sign.”

There are good signs everywhere for Chris McQueen. Just ask him to show you.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

The A-List: MATT GILLETT (Brisbane, Queensland & Australian Prime Minister’s XIII)

Brisbane - Matt GillettBy STEVE MASCORD

MATT Gillett squints in the sunshine at Moore Park. We’re standing under a tree but it doesn’t provide much shelter on a balmy Sydney spring day.

And he recounts a pledge his Brisbane Broncos coach, Anthony Griffin, made two years ago, standing in the sun on a field just like this, with his charges gathered around.

“He wasn’t going to be looking anywhere else for any other players,” says Gillett, 25. “That gave us boys a bit of confidence, that he was going to stick with us.

“He said it across the park, to everyone. ‘He’s happy with the group that he has there. He’s not going to go look anywhere else’. It was earlier, the first year.

“He’s always had that. He’s had the faith in all the players who were there at the club.”

That was 2011. The Broncos went to within one match of the grand final that year. The following season it was eighth, this year 12th. The pledge has softened, the promise made to the core of Griffin’s 2008 grand final Under 20s team has expired.

Ben Barba is coming. Anthony Milford might be as well, and after that Cameron Smith. Gillett, who was there that day two years ago, understands the reasons things won’t be the same now.

“Obviously now we’ve got a couple of players coming to the club and a few players moving on also,” he says, gently.

“It’s good for the club, we’ll have a few players moving in there also and it is definitely going to move us.

“People would be asking (Griffin) the questions, not the players. There’s a lot stuff that goes on behind doors that he wouldn’t tell us about. There’s probably a lot of pressure on him at the moment, as of the last year and the year before.

“He’s a great coach, mate – there’s no doubt about that. It’s just the players putting in and doing that bit for him and understanding how it works. We all get along well there.”

The realisation that things had to change, that the 2008 Under 20s side would not win Brisbane an NRL premiership, has been the major off-field development of 2013 for Australia’s most popular rugby league club.

“I don’t know what to say about that,” Gillett says when I ask about the impact of players like Corey Norman, Scott Prince and Peter Wallace edging towards the exit during the Broncos’ 2013 campaign.

“It probably was a bit of a distraction, obviously Princey retired at the end of the year and had his final year with us, Peter Wallace leaving after being at the club for a long time. But it’s all part of what the business is about. It’s football. Any of the players, or the coach, can be there one day and be gone the next. That’s just the way it is and we have to move on with that. I do feel sorry for some of the players who have to leave, obviously they’re good mates and that sort of thing.

“We’ll still be friend outside of football.”

Gillett is a straightforward, friendly sort of fellow. If you’re looking for an indication of his character, then take his decision to stay with his mates at Wests Arana Hills when he first had the chance to join the Broncos Colts.

“I was there in the pre-season and during the year and halfway through the year I went to the Broncos and played a few games there with Hook,” he says, when asked to recount the story.

“I was playing back at Arana and our team got to the grand final at Wests and the Broncos … the next week, it was the start of their finals campaign. I decided to go back and play with my mates at Arana that I thought was the right thing to do.

“I left the Broncos. I had to tell Hook what I was doing and he wasn’t too happy and didn’t understand what was going on.”

The decision left Gillett tumbling back down the pecking order – but his startling ability was such that he was never going to be down there long. “I went to Norths the next year to play Queensland Cup and Ivan (Henjak) gave me the opportunity to do the pre-season,” he recalls.

Blessed with immaculate footwork, a deft offload and ability to pull off thunderous hits, Gillett was a boom commodity in his debut season of 2010, winning the Dally M rookie of the year. He was also considered one of the most acute cases of Second Year Syndrome of recent seasons, although he didn’t play badly in ’11 by any means.

Rather than “bounce back” like a character out of a clichéd pulp story, he’s found his own equilibrium.

“I’ve got a lot better … understanding the game more,” he says. “Having a few years under the belt playing NRL footy is a big thing and I think, for the young blokes who come through, after a couple of years they’ll realise the same thing. Once you are a regular first grader, you do get used to it and the body does react to the game.

“I used to come off the bench and play limited minutes. Now I’m starting at the Broncos which I’ve been loving this year. Cementing a back row spot at the club has been be a big thing for me and it’s going to be another tough ask next year.”

Rather than feel the pressure to make an immediate impact, Gillett now gauges his effectiveness over the whole 80 minutes.

“I’m still trying to get that off-load out when I can but I’m playing a bit smarter footy now, now that I’ve been here a couple of years. I’m just picking the times to do that sort of thing.”

And the bell-ringers are harder to pull off now the shoulder charge is banned. “I got away with one when we played Newcastle. (Akuila) Uate ran straight at me and I panicked. He was running pretty fast. I just put the shoulder like that. It wasn’t intentional but he dumped me off anyway and went away. “

But Matt has had things going in in the background which put trite accusations of Second Year Syndrome into perspective.

In July 2009, his friend and Bribie Warrigals team-mate Todd Parnell was king hit and killed outside Bribie Island Leagues Club. Since then, Parnell’s mother Jenny has been to watch many Broncos home games as the case got bogged down in the courts.

In the past couple of weeks, it has reached some kind of closure. There were reports of a clash between Parnell’s family and that of the accused, Wally Hung, when the verdict was handed down.

“He got sentenced to seven years – the same sentence he got last time and can apply for bail in 2015, in December,” says Gillett.

“Tony, Todd’s dad, is the one who rang me up the other day and told us what was going on. He seemed pretty down at the time, as you would (be). It’s definitely been a tough time for them, with the case dragging on, so I suppose they would be happy that it’s been sorted out now.”

Gillett gives the impression he is not overly happy with the sentence. “You think that if he gets bail in two years … I can’t comment on what the result was so… yeah.”

Just as he still likes returning to Bribie to “get away from football”, Gillett will be able to escape everything this week with his second trip to Papua New Guinea, for the Prime Minister’s XIII’s annual clash with the Kumuls on Sunday.

That’s why we’re here at Moore Park, for training.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he says with a smile. “You get the luxury of playing with other players from other clubs and meeting new fellas and just learning from other players.

“Seeing what type of blokes they are off the field is a good thing as well. Everyone’s a good fella off the field. Some of the boys are a bit of a pest on the field. Everyone tries to put everyone off their game.

“It’s all part of the game …. happy days. “

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 23

The Joy Of Six1. WHAT PRICE COMPASSION?

SHOULD a player who gains compassionate leave profit financially from it? According to NRL head of football operations Todd Greenberg, capping payments made to a player released on compassionate grounds – perhaps for the term of the original contract he escaped – will be discussed as part of the salary cap review. Another suggestion was to hand the difference in any contract back to the player’s former club, as compensation. This might work if, say, Ben Barba or Anthony Milford go into the Brisbane’s cap by NRL decree at a higher price than Canterbury or Canberra would be paying them next year. In that case, the difference between that figure and the cap amount could be paid by Brisbane to the Bulldogs and Raiders. “Compassionate grounds, if that (release) is awarded by clubs, they may well make the decision that the commercial terms don’t change,” Greenberg said on the ABC

2. WHAT HAPPENS IN BRISVEGAS

BRISBANE coach Anthony Griffin and his media manager, James Hinchey, are friendly, down-to-earth, likeable fellows. But their approach to talking about the – very necessary – recruitment going on at the club right now is curious. Even after signings have taken place, such as that of Sydney Rooster Martin Kennedy, there is no announcement. Peter Wallace and Scott Prince being told they are in reserve grade, or the club’s interest in Ben Barba and Anthony Milford, are treated as if they are figments of the media’s imagination – but never denied. And on Friday, Josh Hoffman was stopped almost mid-sentence while talking to television cameras . Fans have a right to know who a club is talking to and letting go. If you can’t comment because talks are at a delicate stage, why not say “I can’t comment right now because talks are at a delicate stage”? Melbourne’s squeamishness about anything concerning their departing assistant coaches is equally mystifying.

3. BRENT TATE: ORIGIN MADE ME

BRENT Tate won’t be retiring from State of Origin and wants Australia’s World Cup selectors to know it. Tate has heard coach Tim Sheens will be picked a team with a view to the future; his future will still including playing for Queensland. “I’m very mindful of where I am with my body but at the same time, I think Origin makes me a better player,” said Tate after the 22-10 win over Gold Coast. “Being around that environment, it takes me to another level. It would be really hard for me to to say ‘no’ to it. I feel as if I’m not quite ready (to quit). On the World Cup, he said: “I’d love to go, although I know Tim has said there’s a bit of an eye on the future. I was part of the last World Cup and it would be nice to be able to go there and right a few wrongs. If I get a chance there, I’ll be the first one with my bags packed.”

4. NATIONAL INFORMATION MINISTRY

THE NRL’s ill-advised crackdown on what is arbitrarily deemed “excessive” criticism by coaches of referees will be put to the test today when Geoff Toovey’s post match media conference from Friday is examined. It used to be that you had to question the integrity of a match official to cop a fine; now you pretty much only have to upset the NRL. How can reporters rely on the NRL to enforce media regulations and free speech at clubs when the administration itself indulges in censorship? On a more positive note, the ARLC will attempted to make the link with touch football an international association by encouraging the RLIF to make contact with touch’s international governing body, FIT. We’ve rapped the NRL over the touch footy deal but here’s another brickbat: officials travelling around Sydney in chauffeured cars isn’t a great look.

5. BEING JOHNATHAN THURSTON

YOU may have wondered exactly when Johnathan Thurston turned from a footballer to a role model and ambassador; the sort of fellow who spots kids in the crowd during games and tells the ballboy to hand them a signed kicking tee. The Closing The Gap round, of which he is a frontman, seemed an opportune time to ask him. “When I had that misdemeanour of getting locked up in Brisbane (in 2010),” he said on ABC when I asked. “It didn’t only just affect myself. It affected my fiancé Samantha, my parents, my brothers, my sisters, my family. That’s when I really had a good, hard look at myself and the legacy I wanted to see when I leave football. I’ve got a four-year deal and I want to make the most of these four years because after that, you know, I’ll be in the real world.”

6. MELBOURNE BALLS TAMPERED WITH AGAIN

MELBOURNE have become the victims of ball tampering for a second consecutive week, it is alleged. Last week it was Sam Burgess fiddling with Chambers’ willie, this week it was Knights officials lubricating the pigskin with water. Storm halfback Cooper Cronk complained to referees Jared Maxwell and Brett Suttor that the Steedens had been placed in water before kick-offs and this had lead to at least one knock-on. Melbourne officials did not want to add to the allegation when contacted late Sunday. Co-incidentally, while Sam Burgess is currently serving a two-week suspension for tampering with Chambers, the last known example of interfering with a ball in the NRL was perpetrated by his England team-mate, James Graham last year. Graham rubbed his legs in vaseline, primarily to make him harder to tackle but with the perhaps unintended incidental result of making balls harder to handle too. OK, enough.

And a bonus ‘zero tackle’

7. GREEN GRASS OF WEMBLEY

NEXT weeks’ Set Of Six will come to you from Wembley Stadium, where Wigan and Hull are preparing to take part in a rematch of one of the top two matches I’ve ever seen, the 1985 Challenge Cup final that pitted Peter Sterling (black and white irregular hoops) against Brett Kenny (cherry and white). Playing half for Wigan will be former Parramatta and Cronulla man Blake Green and NRL talent scouts should be glued to Eurosport to check his form. Just about every Australian who signs with a Super League club these days has a get-out clause and experienced halves aren’t really thick on the ground. Blake’s agent Isaac Moses is flying to London for the game but no doubt in a different part of the plane to your correspondent. We’re cheering for Hull though, on account of Mark ‘Ogre’ O’Meley having an opportunity to win something special in his last season.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Hoffman Tips Storm Team-mates As Maroons’ Next Gen

Ryan Hoffman/wikipedia
Ryan Hoffman/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE and NSW back-rower Ryan Hoffman disputes claims that Queensland is headed for an Origin slump because of its aging squad – citing two Storm team-mates as evidence of the Maroons’ continued vitality.

While Mal Meninga’s men are favourites to seal an eighth successive series victory over the Blues at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday, there is a popular argument that when the likes of Cameron Smith (30), Bill Slater (30), Cooper Cronk (29), Johnathan Thurston (30) and Justin Hodges (31) exit the scene, there will be a dearth of quality replacements.

“Everyone was saying ‘Queensland, where are they going to pick their side from?’ ten years ago,” Hoffman tells Fairfax Media.

“It was supposed to be a State Of Origin crisis. They found players. They’ll find some good players.

“There’s one like Willie Cambers, he’s ready to come in. Justin O’Neill … they’re very talented players. Willie’s been outstanding and Justin O’Neill, you need that bloke with finishing ability.

“And both of them are very talented defenders. When the time comes, they’ll be ready for Origin but hopefully it’s not for a few years yet!”

Chambers and O’Neill will form the cornerstone of the Storm side that faces its 2012 grand final opponent, Canterbury, at ANZ Stadium this afternoon.

Hoffman continued: “(Queensland have) blooded a few this year with (Chris) McQueen, (Josh) Papalii, (Daly Cherry) Evans.

“It’s good to see the talent coming through in NSW too. A bloke like Boyd Cordner, he’s 21, he looks like an Origin player already.”

Despite the Blues losing the previous clash by 20 points, Hoffman says NSW “draw our confidence from that defence in the first half.

“Queensland camped, and stayed a few nights, down our end in that first half. We defended quite well to hold them out.

“We watched some tape and found out there’s some opportunities there if we stick to what we do well. We gave them too many opportunities (though).”

Canterbury have regained the services of halfback Josh Reynolds after he was released from NSW camp on Friday, with Joel Romelo likely to miss out. It’s uncertain if Romelo will go back to the bench or be one of three players omitted from the squad named by coach Des Hasler on Tuesday.

The Storm report no changes, although it is uncertain if rookie Ben Hampton will spend more time at fullback or in the halves. Junior Sau and Tim Glasby are the likely bench omissions

Referee Gavin Badger is an injured withdrawal, with Gerard Sutton his replacement.

Teams for the match, which kicks off at ANZ Stadium at 3.05pm, are:

CANTERBURY: Ben Barba; Mitch Brown, Tim Lafai, Krisnan Inu, Sam Perrett; Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson; Greg Eastwood, Tony Williams, Frank Pritchard, Sam Kasiano, Michael Ennis (c), Aiden Tolman. Res: Dene Halatau, Josh Jackson, James Graham, Dale Finucane, Tim Browne, Martin Taupau, Joel Romelo (three to be omitted)

MELBOURNE: Justin O’Neill; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Mahe Fonua; Brett Finch, Ben Hampton; Slade Griffin, Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jordan McLean, Junior Moors, Siosaia Vave, Mitch Garbutt.

Referees: Gerard Sutton/Alan Shortall.

Filed for: SUNDAY AGE

Origin I: Rude Awakening

p1a_coverBy STEVE MASCORD

IT’S 8.30, the morning after New South Wales beat Queensland 14-6 in the opening State of Origin match, and the phone rings.

Your correspondent is not in the best of moods after a stuff-up on radio the previous night (more of that later) and has little patience for the ABC Canberra producer who is doing that thing producers’ do – “auditioning” talent.

“There has been a lot of outcry over Paul Gallen punching someone in the head and getting away with it,” he says. “There has been a bit of a moral shift and self-examination in sport recently with the banning of live odds in telecasts.

“You would go to jail if you did that in the street. What do you think?”

I am not being paid for this radio appearance he about to request I do, so I am not going to audition for it. “Look,” I say wearily, “if you want me to talk about it on air, I will. What time?”

Twenty minutes later, I am on air with Genevieve Jacobs, who explains that she doesn’t watch rugby league but it was on the previous night at home because there were “young blokes” around.

She’s not as bolshy as you might imagine by that but says she found it unbelievable Gallen was not sent off and thought it had undone the good work of Canterbury appointing a female chief executive and Tom Waterhouse’s omnipresence being limited by federal government legislation.

As someone introduced as a rugby league writer, no doubt my friend the producer hoped I would pig-headedly defend Gallen, who just before halftime used a swinging arm on Queensland’s Nate Myles before repeatedly striking him in the head.

“He’s been twisting my knee all night,” Gallen told referee Ashley Klein after being placed on report. “He’s been doing it series after series, head-butting…..”

Later, Gallen said the Blues were “sick of being bullied” in the previous seven series defeats. Clearly, this had been a rallying call under new coach Laurie Daley, who described the stoush as “a great Origin moment”.

But I am not about to read my lines as knuckle-dragging mungo hack. In fact, I agree with Genevieve. The idea, expounded for the nine millionth time the night before – this time by Daley – that Origin “is different” is illogical and ridiculous. How can a multi-million dollar competition like Origin be run according “implied” rules that no-one has ever written down?

How can referees feel too intimidated to send off a player or give penalties because of “the occasion” when it’s the same sport they referee each weekend? Is Origin sport’s biggest see-no-evil, speak-no-evil conspiracy? But each year, an incident brings us closer to sanity, transparency and consistency. This year, it was Gallen and Myles.

One thing though, about the old ‘you’d go to jail if you did that in the street’ line. You’d go to jail if you crash tackled someone, too. They have fights in ice hockey and, well, boxing. So the rugby league field is not quite the cave of Neanderthals some of Genevieves listeners would have us believe.

But I found my conversation with my friends in the capital interesting on another level.

As big as rugby league is in New South Wales and Queensland, there are swathes of the population that ignore it completely. Yet even these people can’t escape Origin.

When they watch it, they judge it by society’s values, not rugby league’s. And there is almost always a disconnect.

As journalists, we are kind of conditioned to believe we are the guardians of community standards, pulling the rude, the corrupt and the anti-social into line at ever turn. But that’s bollocks.

Two nights before Origin, Warriors Russell Packer had relieved himself on the field, in full view of television cameras (although without exposing himself) in Monday Night Football. Personally, I had found the incident funny and was far more concerned with a fan sign that read “Let’s Gone Warriors”.

But the Warriors were fined $15,000 over the, ahem, indiscretion. Similarly, the outcry over Gallen surprised me.

As it transpires, I am a terrible barometer of community standards. You might be too. But who is a barometer? The Canberra radio announcer who never watches rugby league? The gay couple down the street? The immigrants next door?

Certainly, those of us without kids seem to be behind the eight ball. We have no idea what is acceptable or offensive and are frequently surprised, as detailed above.

One thing’s for sure, the most conservative elements of society do seem to win in the end, particularly now. Rugby league can refuse to make a punch to the head an automatic send-off but rest assured, it will happen eventually.

So, what was my stuff up? I was told Nate Myles, not Gallen had been charged and reported same on the radio.

Suspended for head butting someone in the first immediately? Hey, don’t be so sure it won’t happen one day….

Filed for: FORTY-20 MAGAZINE