If You Could Change One Rule In Rugby League, What Would It Be?

By STEVE MASCORD

“THAT’s a REALLY good question,” says James Graham, late one Friday night after Canterbury match at Homebush.

“It’s a tough one. What have people been saying? Um, yeah, I don’t want to waste this. What about ‘no rules’? Huh! Just go out and play. Do whatever. No rules at all.

“Nah, I’ll thinking of something. Get back to me.”

Rule changes are the issue du jour in rugby league, with many people up in arms – no pun intended – about the recent shoulder charge ban.

Should any rule interpretations change mid-season? Should the players have a say? We asked a host of NRL and Super League stars what rules they hated, and what changes they would make if they could.

We never did get the British Bulldog’s answer. Ask hif if you see him around.

Please note that most of this survey was done before the shoulder charge blitz. Tell us which rule you’d change by Tweeting and including @Leagueweek and #myrulechange.

Now, over to the stars….

TERRY CAMPESE (Hull KR)

Campo reckons just touching the ball in a tackle does not make the Campese, Terrydefender guilty of being a dirty stripper.

“The strip,” he answered quickly when we put our query to him. “Some of them, you’re in contact where you’re trying to wrap it up and you touch it and they call it a strip. They’ve got to put more onus on the guy carrying the ball. “

This was an issue when David Shillington was recently sent off for a headbutt in his 200th game. He had dropped the ball. Rival Robbie Farah admitted he had a hand on it the tackle, arguing that Shillington is “a compulsive offloadeer” and should expect nothing less.

JARROD CROKER (Canberra)

Ball stealing and consistency

What gives “Toots” the poo-poos during a football game? “Most Jarrod Crokerthings give me the shits, mate. Ball stripping … I’ve seen them go to the scrum, looking at the big screen and blow a penalty. So, there’s a bit of inconsistency there. That’s only me saying that as well, because it cost us some momentum. I don’t watch a heap of footy. Just a bit of consistency all-round. There’s been a bit of talk of the captain’s challenge. I’ll admit I’m probably not a fan of that. It just slows the game down too much I reckon. The obstruction one still gets thrown around a lot. It’s not so much the rules, it’s consistency.” We hear you, brother.

Halatau, DeneDENE HALATAU (Wests Tigers)

Diving

The NRL were backed into a corner earlier this season by a spate of players staying on the ground, bringing in the video referee and giving their team-mates a spell. Now, the video referee can only intervene over a high tackle if the incident is likely to result in a judiciary charge. Diving has taken a dive but old hand Dene Halatau reckons it’s still an issue.

“Staying on the ground, yeah,” he says. “You don’t want it to turn into soccer, eh? You don’t like seeing someone get hit illegally but if they bounce back up you also feel like they’re doing something tough by getting up. They’re not trying to milk a penalty. But if someone is injured, you don’t want them to getup unnecessarily.”

ETHAN LOWE (North Queensland)

Number of referees

ONE referee was a big hit with NRL fans during the representative Lowe, Etthanweekend this year – but that doesn’t mean it’s coming back. Some players, however, would like it to.

“I get a bit annoyed with the two referee thing. One is telling you to move, the other one is telling you you’ve got more time. That’s a bit frustrating. You don’t know who to listen to. But it’s up to people above me to make those sorts of decisions. “

It certainly is – and they’re sticking with two.

EORL CRABTREE (Huddersfield)

Crabtree, EorlInconsistency

It’s pretty clear what ticks off Big Eorl during a rugby league game – refs in general.

“Interpretation is a weird word, isn’t it, in terms of it all being up the referee. Sometimes they make decisions that are unbelievable, mind-boggling. I don’t think those decisions are … it’s just a case of consistency. I don’t know how you can get (inconsistency) out of the game. It’s human nature. Humans make mistakes. It’s just the way it is.”

advertise hereGARETH ELLIS (Hull)

Ellis, GarethThe play-the ball

Gaz Ellis is an old school rugby league man. His pet peeve is based on principles and etiquette.

“You know what really gripes me? People not playing the ball properly. That’s what defines our game, between rugby league and rugby union – the play-the-ball. So it’s a skill we should learn properly. I don’t mind if there’s an attempt but if it’s just thrown back, it gets on my nerves a little bit.”

MICHAEL LICHAA (Canterbury)

Seven tackles

LIchha, MichaelOher players are less idealistic in the rules they would change. They want live to be made a little easier for them – and having to tackle for longer after kicking the ball dead is not, in any way, Michael Lichaa’s cup of tea.

“Seven tackles – it’s a killer – when the ball goes dead. Sometimes it just goes dead and they get seven. I think the people who made that rule up aren’t out there playing it because it’s already fast enough. When you’ve got the ball and you get the seven tackles, it’s nice. But … the rule’s gonna be there but it sucks when you’ve got to run back there and D up.”

JAKE MARKETO (St George Illawarra)

Play-the-ball and offside

Marketo, JakeAnd then there are the men who would use their magic wand to stop the refs penalising them. Just their team, do what you like to the rest….

“The play-the-ball is the most annoying. People do that every game., If you pinged on one of those things, it’s a bit rare. I mean, I hate when we get penalised for off-side, late in in a set. You’ve busted your backside for four or five tackles and then that happens coming out of yardage. That’s hard to cop. You can’t change that one. You’ve just got to play by the rules I suppose.”

JASON NIGHTINGALE (St George Illawarra)

Captain’s Call

Likewise, the Dragons winger wants a captain’s challenge – but only

St George Illawarra - Jason Nightingale 2

when he is captain.

“When I’m captain, I’d like a captain’s challenge. When I see the 20s do it, I get jealous. I always thing I’m right! I would have got Dylan Farrell a try when we played the Roosters. I’d put in a captain’s challenge … just for selfish reasons. It’s me thinking I know everything and wanting to try and change the ref’s decision. I try and argue but I don’t have power in that area yet.”

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Five Things We Learned: 2015 NRL Nines

dick-smith-nrl-auckland-ninesBy STEVE MASCORD

SOUTH SYDNEY CAN SURVIVE THE DEPARTURE OF SAM BURGESS

IT’S hazardous to make judgments on premiership candidacy in February and bordering on delusional to do so after a nines tournament. But it wasn’t so much South Sydney’s 18-14 win over Cronulla in a wonderfully offbeat final as little pieces of body language that foreshadowed a robust title defence. Dylan Walker approached defenders with an arrogance in his gait that indicated he knew he could beat them – then did. Adam Reynolds did the same kick over and over again, knowing it would eventually work. Issac Luke lifted a trophy after missing the grand final through suspension and simultaneously declared his elation and downplayed the reason for it. Is there a better way to transition from a championship to its defence than by winning three trophies in the intervening pre-season? Glory, Glory, Glory and finally, Glory.

RUGBY LEAGUE’S STAR REMAINS ALOFT IN AUCKLAND

RUGBY league would no more lose face in New Zealand because of misbehaving players and absent stars than the same reasons would damage the Premier League’s or NFL’s IP in Australia. More than a quarter-century after the Winfield Cup first burst onto Kiwi TV screens, the competition has a sheen of glamour on this side of the Tasman that has too often been tarnished in its birthplace. Local fans supported all teams but reserved their most cacophonous reception for the Warriors and the Kiwi Ferns women’s side, who won a three-match nines series against Australia. The tournament is locked in for five years; reading between the lines, the NRL wants to add teams and the organisers would rather not.

SOME THINGS HAVE CHANGED AT CRONULLA, OTHERS HAVEN’T

COACH Shane Flanagan walked out of a close-season media opportunity when he was repeatedly asked about the ASADA controversy and many doubts have been expressed about whether anything has really changed in the Shire. The words and deeds of the Sharks at Eden Park strongly suggest they have. The “new culture” mentioned by Tinarau Arona in one interview was well represented by the likes of Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes, among others. But the Sharks are still luckless, cruelly denied in the final despite some defensive heroics and losing Nu Brown for possibly the season with a knee injury. He’ll have surgery on Monday.

THERE were enough stuff-ups in the absence of the video ref to for him not to be worrying about his future employment prospects. Jarrod Mullen succeeded in dispossessing an opponent in-goal but the try was given, Bodene Thompson was denied a touchdown for a team-mate’s knock-on-that-wasn’t and there were more. But the old Super League rule of giving the man (or men, or women) upstairs limited time to do their thang might have merit. The lack of stoppages was refreshing. Another bonus: players interviewed about officiating errors at the Nines did not know they had been dudded because they had not had time to watch the replays themselves!

NINES RUGBY LEAGUE IS NOT ABOUT THE FOOTBALL – AND THAT’S OK

MORE than 16 hours of rugby league will test even the most voracious treiziste and virtually no-one who passes through the gates at the NRL Nines watches every minute of every game. It’s de rigueur for league fans to pontificate about how superior a spectacle their sport is but even caviar and champagne get tedious if they are shoved down your throat every two minutes for an entire weekend. That’s OK. Dress up as a naughty nun, buy a pre-mixed bourbon and coke and punch that inflatable ball back up into the air. The Nines is about the party more than it’s about the football and is definitely best served with a beverage.

Filed for: THE GUARDIAN

Four Nations: NEW ZEALAND 14 SAMOA 12 at Toll Stadium, Whangarei

Parish, MattBy STEVE MASCORD

FURIOUS coach Matt Parish claimed Samoa had been treated “like second class citizens” after another agonising late defeat at the Four Nations.

A 75th minute try by centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall saved the Kiwis from suffering the first loss by a top-three country in the history of the tournament – but Parish was fuming over the decision to appoint New Zealander Henry Perenara as referee.

Asked what stuck out in his mind about an epic contest played in front of 16,912 fans at Whangarei’s Toll Stadium, Parish replied: “The 6-2 penalty count in the second half.

“Last week there were three video refereeing decisions that went against us and cost us 14 points. Today, we led all but the end and got penalised 6-2 in the second half in a tough game.

“Who was the video ref last week?” he asked journalists. It was Perenara.

Parish continued: “I’ve got a whole team of shattered blokes down there. What do you say to them? Do you think they could do any more than they did out there today?

“Mate, we get treated like second class citizens. It’s about time they took a bit of notice.”

Earlier, long serving Test referee and World Cup match officials board member Stuart Cummins said the decision to appoint Perenara to a New Zealand game and Aussie Gerard Sutton to Sunday’s Anglo-Australian Test in Melbourne meant international football had “gone backwards”.

Asked if he would like to have seen a referee from a neutral country, Parish said: “That’s an understatement.

 amazon“Ben Roberts does a kick …. Adam Blair was taking kickers out left, right and centre all day … (Frank Pritchard) pushes him, they come back and give a penalty. That’s a game changer.

“We were up 12-6 then, with 20 minutes to go. Mose Masoe’s clearly got a chicken wing – play on. Tim Simona, they get him in a headlock. Play on.

“I told these blokes, ‘if they touch our kickers, don’t cop it’.”

Pritchard admitted he was giving Perenara “constantly, too much of a spray. If I think the call is wrong, I’m definitely going to stand up and give it to him.”

Controversy aside, the Four Nations delivered its best game despite the Samoans being 7-1 outsiders. On Saturday’s evidence, New Zealand v Samoa could one day be the Pacific’s answer to State of Origin.

Fans engaged in chanting wars between singing and dancing at the natural amphitheatre in bright sunshine as Samoa scored first through winger Tautai Moga after three minutes.

By halftime, the Samoans led 8-6. After the break, centre Joey Leilua – probably the man of the match – used a giant fend on Kenny-Dowall to extend the lead to 12-6.

Centre Tim Lafai had no luck with his three conversion attempts. It’s the second week in a row Samoa have scored as many tries as their opposition only to be beaten by goal-kicking.

Two passages of play stand out from the second half.

The first was when NZ’s Issac Luke was ankle-tapped after making a break but managed to off-load. The Kiwis kept the ball alive from touchline to touchline before forcing a line dropout, with winger Jason Nightingale scoring off the next set.

donate2The other was a forced pass by Samoa half Ben Roberts with six minutes to go, which resulted in a turnover that gave the Kiwis possession for Kenny-Dowall’s clincher in the corner.

Kiwis captain Simon Mannering used the word complacency in a fulltime interview, later saying his side tried to play too fancily. Coach Stephen Kearney admitted attitude may have been wanting.

“If you want to call that getting out of jail, you can,” said Kearney said. “Early, late – does it matter?

“It’s a Test match win and we’re very pleased downstairs to be celebrating a Test match win.’

There was a minutes silence before kick-off for young Warriors Luke Tipene, who was killed in a violent brawl in Auckland on Friday night.

A new trophy was awarded at fulltime, perhaps intended to be rugby league’s equivalent of the Americas Cup.

The Peter Leitch Trophy will be on offer to Pacific countries visiting New Zealand. On Saturday’s evidence, it won’t stay in the Shakey Isles for long.

NEW ZEALAND 14 (Keiran Foran, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Kenny Dowall tries; Shaun Johnson goal) beat SAMOA 12 (Tautai Moga, Daniel Vidot, Joey Leilua tries) at Toll Stadium, Whangarei. Referee: Henry Perenara (New Zealand). Crowd: 16,912.

Filed for: SUN-HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Finals week four

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

WELL, WE DO – BUT SHOULD WE GO AROUND SAYING SO?

COACH Trent Robinson has admitted he thought it ‘a bit strange’’ that Sydney Roosters chose to promote this season with the slogan “We Play For Premierships”. As part of an extremely bolshy campaign which attracted little media scrutiny, the tricolours even handed out at home games imitation premiership pendants for each of their 12 titles. “I actually just thought about that this morning,” Robinson told me in a pre-match MMM interview. “It was a bit strange. It was a marketing ploy (from) right back before I got here. They decided on it. I thought it was true but I didn’t know if we wanted to sprout it anywhere. “ In an age of even puerile comments, slogans and stories being plastered on opposition dressing room walls, the boasts went through the to keeper – perhaps because they were aimed at the converted, ticketed Roosters fans.

2. BTW SBW MIA? LOL

FACT: Sonny Bill Williams is a rather big time athlete. Fact: Rugby league, outside of NSW and Queensland, is a rather small time sport. Just as getting Williams back in the NRL was seen as some sort of endorsement for how important the NRL was, keeping him seems to be judged as a similar litmus test. But in coming and going as he pleases, he holds a mirror up to us – even if we don’t like what we see. Our World Cup is older than rugby union’s but commercially dwarfed by theirs. It looks like he’d rather box than play in it. Our national teams rarely play. The NRL has limited geographic reach within Australia and New Zealand and nothing more than cult following elsewhere. It looks like he’d rather play in a competition played across three countries. Instead of saying ‘let’s give SBW a fortune and we’ll all feel better’, would we not be better served addressing the shortcomings of our sport?

3. YES, THEM AGAIN

BY fining Geoff Toovey and Ricky Stuart (the second time) this year, the NRL became more draconian over criticism of match officials. By not fining Neil Henry or Johnathan Thurston, they showed new leniency, with the difference being that it’s OK if you were robbed. , but only in cases where you were robbed. That being the case, Toovey should have been allowed to say whatever he liked on Sunday night. The match officials made mistakes – that’s all. But the vast majority of them happened to favour Sydney Roosters. Coaches should be able to say what everyone else sees.

4. SEE MORE BUTTS

“WHAT about the headbutt from that grub!” “We’ll take a penalty for the head-butt thanks”. “OK boys, let’s start headbutting now”. Those were the comments from Manly players to referee Shayne Hayne after Sydney Roosters’ Jared Wearea-Hargreaves led with the head in a clash with Manly’s Justin Horo in Sunday’s grand final. It wasn’t what many of us would regard as a headbutt because it wasn’t cocked, as such. JWH didn’t tilt his head back before lunging with the forehead. But if it wasn’t a head-butt, what was it? We see similar actions every now and then. Perhaps we need the head butt to be more clearly defined. “In the first half when you had that whatever,” Hayne later told Waerea-Hargreaves, “just watch what you do with the head”.

5. WORLD SCHEDULING CHALLENGE

WE were confidently assured mid-year that the World Club Challenge would be in Australia in February and that the previous hodge-podge organisation of the game was a thing of the post. But that announcement will be sorely tested, now that Wigan and Sydney Roosters will be involved. Leeds were the club that pushed for the game to be played Down Under, while big city clubs like Brisbane and Melbourne were the NRL teams seen as being capable of turning a profit. South Sydney were going to take the game to Perth. And the exchange rate has fallen away since the decision was made. Perhaps this could be the year we get the mythical neutral venue in the Middle East or Asia. But DW Stadium, Wigan, must be firming.

6. DOG OF A NIGHT

DERIDING wingers is sometimes a sport within the sport of rugby league. In Sunday’s first game, Winsor Wolves’ Eto Nabuli – the man discovered as a hotel porter by Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler in Fiji – scored his side’s first two tries and his errors gave opponents Cronulla two of theirs’ as well. Similarly, some gaffes from Shark Nathan Stapleton helped Windsor. But some wingers are clearly important – like a Wolf of another variety, Warrington’s Joel Monaghan. When he was carried off with concussion (there’s a photo of his ear flattened like a pancake doing the rounds), his side was leading the Super League grand final at Old Trafford 16-2. Wigan scored within seconds of his slow passage to the sheds on a medicab – and promptly impersonated Manly last week by running up 30 unanswered (and uninterrupted) points.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Finals Week Two

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

WAYNES WORLD VIII?

ASKED on Saturday night why his Newcastle side was coming good in the finals, coach Wayne Bennett replied: “It’s spring”. Then quizzed if that was the reason just for him, he replied: “For all of us, that’s the time you want it to happen”. On the eve of the second preliminary semi-final, veteran Danny Buderus said Bennett was “a different coach” during the finals. That was apparent to outsiders after the 18-16 victory, when Bennett acceded to every interview request. On Sunday, he even made a rare appearance on FM radio. The reason Wayne Bennett makes himself scarce for most of the year is so he can cash in his media chips when it matters most, drawing attention and pressure away from the players by cracking jokes and hamming it up in public. The man with an image for dismissing the media actually strategies his interactions with them down to the finest detail.

WALKING WOUNDED CUP

YOU’D be forgiven for forgetting there is plenty of rugby league on after the grand final, by virtue of the World Cup. But will there be any star players still standing? Benji Marshall and Justin Hodges are already gone, Sonny Bill Williams is rated at long odds chose the tournament over boxing and then there are the walking wounded of the the NRL finals series. Greg Inglis, Anthony Watmough and Billy Slater (all knee) all look doubtful for Australia. Jack Reed’s shoulder has already cost him his England spot and if Brent Kite is playing with a broken hand, it’s hard to see Penrith encouraging him to play for Tonga. Sisa Waqa suffered a grade two medial ligament tear on Saturday night and seems set to be a Fiji Bati casualty. There will no doubt be more withdrawals – probably many more.

WHO KNOWS?

WOULD it really be such a bad thing for referees to be given a third option when they send a try decision upstairs, namely “dunno”. The signal could be arms at the side, bent at the elbow, with flat palms pointed at the sky. Maybe a head tilt as well. But seriously, is there not a logic disconnect in saying the on-field official must make a decision in 100 per cent of cases, only using technology to doublecheck his decision, then making it significantly harder for technology to disagree than agree with him? Surely the information of the video referees is being hampered to such an extent that we might as well not have them at all. Not having “dunno” seems a matter of pride rather than practical sense. At least I think that’s the case. I’m not sure.

CLUB CALL

LATE on Sunday night, Tony Smith – brother of Brian – was force to make a decision which he detested. Under the rules of the Super League play-offs, as the highest-ranking winner of week one in the play-offs, Smith’s Warrington got to choose their preliminary final opponents. The Wolves had a choice between Huddersfield, 76-18 winners over Hull, or perennial late-season-peak men Leeds, 11-10 winners over St Helens. Smith detests ‘club call’, as it is known, for old school coaching reasons – it gives the opposition ammunition. That’s how highly coaches rate psychology – they’d rather pass up the chance to choose their own opponents! The question is, who would 2012 Catalan coach Trent Robinson choose this year? I’m banking on the team where he used to be assistant under Tony Smith’s brother – Newcastle.

GROUNDS FOR CONCERN

ONCE upon a time, all finals were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground or Sydney Sports Ground. You knew it was September in Sydney when the wind picked up and you waltzed onto the hill around midday to watch under 23s and reserve grade. But crowds were poor early in the finals, so we shifted matches to home grounds. Then we did that in week two, then week three. And we stopped using suburban grounds completely. But – as we saw at the weekend – attendances are still and issue. What is the logical next step? Tendering out finals to venues who can guarantee big gates and financial security, perhaps? Perth, Auckland, Brisbane, Wellington, Adelaide, Darwin? Seems to be worth a try, given that finals venues are already centrally controlled and the grand final is in Sydney until further notice.

MORE QUESTIONS

SOME questions regarding Saturday’s NRL media release: One of the people interviewed as part of the probe, a reporter, says he was told by the SC’s assistant the alleged incident itself was not being investigated. If this is true, how can one investigate a cover-up without determining if there was something to cover up in the first place? And how can a person who was not investigated be exonerated in the subsequent press release? Given that that the release said there would be “no further comment”, I guess we’ll never know.  You might be wondering why this column is appearing, given its Sun-Herald predecessor. I’ve only stepped away from chasing news, because I can’t see the point under current conditions. I’m still hoping someone wants me to cover games and write columns and features. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Players Deliberately Obscuring Would-be Tries, Says Waqa

Melbourne - Sisa WaqaBy STEVE MASCORD

NRL players are exploiting a loophole in the current video refereeing procedure by deliberately obscuring would-be tries from television cameras, according to Melbourne winger Sisa Waqa.

The Fijian international had a crucial no-try call go against him in last Friday’s qualifying final, before a sickening fall after an aerial collision ended his evening prematurely.

“I got the ball down, I definitely scored the try,” Waqa tells Fairfax Media. “As soon as I got the ball, I went straight to the ground.

“But they said it was no try and when they went upstairs, they couldn’t see so unfortunately they didn’t give it to me.”
As was the case for a Steve Matai “try” in round 23, the on-field official ruled “no try” because he couldn’t see the ball on the ground – and the eyes in the sky disallowed it for the same reason.

Because the benefit of the doubt rule does not apply in the same way it did until this year, players can simply position their bodies between the ball and the television camera and it will be impossible for an on-field decision to be overturned.

“Everyone does that,” says Waqa. “I grounded the ball but the defenders get around it and block the view so they can’t get a good look at it on the ground.

“It’s a tough one. I don’t blame them. I would do the same thing in that situation.”

Waqa wasn’t sure of a solution to the trick. “They used to have benefit of the doubt but I think they changed that so that it was more clear-cut, the referee on the field said what he thought,” he added.

The ploy by defenders, usually in the case of attackers chasing kicks, puts the onus on the on-field official to almost guess whether the ball was grounded safely. If he guesses wrong, inconclusive video evidence means his colleagues in the grandstand cannot correct the decision.

Waqa, meanwhile, is gearing up to take on a good friend in his 50th first grade appearance – Newcastle flier Akuila Uate.

“He is on my side of the field. We are good mates,” said Waqa. “We spoke only last week. I played with his brother, Pana, in school. He was a very good player.”

Waqa has one appearance for the Fiji Bati to his name and hopes to add to that tally at the World Cup. He says Uate believes he can also play for his homeland, despite changing his country of election to Australia since the 2008 tournament.

“Aku can play for Fiji, yes,” said Waqa. “He is going to wait and see if he makes the Australian side and if he doesn’t, he will try to play for Fiji.

“I’d like to go to the World Cup but I have to get through the season with the Storm injury-free first.”

He’s confident the Storm will bounce back from last week’s defeat on Saturday at AAMI Park. “Souths didn’t beat us, we gave that game away,” he said.

Filed for: THE AGE

DISCORD 2013: Edition 38

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
YOU know how some rugby league columnists seem to have a go at the game’s administration every chance they get?
You know how you read their columns and wish they’d talk about something else?
I was one of you. Really, I was. Here at Discord, we’ve staunchly defended new NRL CEO David Smith, for example, saying he should be accountable to the game, not the Sydney media. I’ve never met him – and regard that as a healthy sign.
But recent events – on both sides of the world – have got Discord wondering whether rugby league really is going to some version of Hell in some version of a hand basket.
You already know what we think of a club administrator who presided over an alleged cover-up then getting – and so far, retaining – the second most senior position a headquarters. Not much. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that ringing people and asking them questions will be rendered a pointless exercise for rugby league reporters if the NRL endorses providing incorrect answers by doing nothing about that situation.
Let’s take you to Super League now, where Huddersfield – having secured the minor premiership – fielded an entire team of reserve graders on national television in the final round and were lapped 58-6 by Bradford.
The Rugby Football League found that the Giants fielded the best available team – even though all of their stars were miraculously back on deck for the play-offs the next week. Come again?
Unlike broadcasters in Australia, Sky try to help the game by giving all clubs more or less equal exposure throughout the season. Their goodwill has been thrown back in their faces by a club which – to be fair on them – is only playing by the rules. Rules that should be changed immediately.
We now move to Saturday, when North Queensland coach Neil Henry threw up – although didn’t explicitly endorse – the prospect of a conspiracy to get a Sydney Roosters-South Sydney grand final after his side was beaten by a seventh-tackle try.
“If you were … conspiracy theory (sic), you’d say ‘we’re so Sydney-centric, we don’t care about the boys up north’. The press talks about the ideal grand final – Souths-Roosters. Bring it on. Don’t worry about Melbourne. They’ve won a couple. Don’t worry about North Queensland. That’s what you want: the heartland of the game.
“Yeah, well we’ve just been dudded of an opportunity to maybe make a dent in this competition. Where’s our pull? We’re out of mind out of sight up there. You get a bit bitter when it’s happened to you two years.”
Later, Henry added: “What do you say, that there’s – as I said – a conspiracy theory? Let’s keep it Sydney-centric, as I said before?” If you watch the video, Henry then shrugs. “Who knows? How can you go down that track?”
In 2008, Craig Bellamy said this about the judiciary suspending Cameron Smith from the grand final and the link with bookmakers: “Bookmakers and betting agencies, they don’t guess, they’ve got good information – take that as you may.
“As soon as I saw that (market) on Wednesday morning … he was thousands.”
The club was fined $50,000 and the judiciary members initiated defamation action, even though Bellamy was specifically asked at the press conference whether was he suggesting the judiciary tipped off bookmakers and said no.It’s nonsense to say Saturday night’s conspiracy theory was aimed a reporters and not referees.
Did reporters give Beau Ryan a try on the seventh tackle? That was the entire context of the media conference: referees.
I am not calling for Neil Henry to be fined, I am calling for the NRL to pull itself out of this freefall of inconsistency before it finds itself splattered all over the ground. I don’t think Neil Henry believes the referees were in cahoots with the League but as a result of his comments, hundreds – or maybe thousands – of people do.
As we said in – ahem – Joy Of Seven, the NRL has extended its powers to fine coaches beyond comments which are defamatory to criticism deemed “excessive”. As a result of being subjective, this rule is unenforceable and stupid. It’s no co-incidence that this change came when the solicitor who used to run the NRL, David Gallop, left.
Solicitors know the importance of precedence, consistency and transparency. Footy officials, historically, have struggled with those concepts.
Do Saturday’s match officials have grounds for any legal action over the “conspiracy theory”? One thing’s for certain, the events of last weekend indicate Manly were dudded by their $10,000 fine almost as severely as the Cowboys were by their seventh-tackle try.
Like I said: Hell, hand basket.
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QUICKLY through the comments.

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THE WRAP: NRL Finals Week One

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

MY furry colleague at Rugby League Week, the Mole, last week wrote that Greg Inglis was unlikely to play in the World Cup due to his ongoing knee problem.

So when the finals series kicked off on Friday night, a couple of hours before kick-off between South Sydney and Melbourne at ANZ Stadium, I asked the Rabbitohs coach about the situation.

“I get asked that every week,” said Michael Maguire, who your correspondent interviewed pre-game for Triple M.

“To be honest, his knee’s where it needs to be. He got through a full week’s training this week, which is a real positive for us.”

You’ll remember the first week of the 2013 finals for your reasons. Maybe your team won, maybe your team lost, maybe your team is the North Queensland Cowboys which means they should have done the former but ended up doing the latter.

Maybe you’re Matt Cecchin or Henry Perenara, in which case you will never forget the weekend just passed.

Me? I spent the weekend doing a lot of radio; so much so that I still have the vestiges of a headache from wearing headphones for hours on end. So I’m going to do turn this week’s wrap into a kind of Things You May Have Missed – stuff I came across that slipped between the cracks of the daily news cycle.

FRIDAY:

Maguire went on to secure his first win over Melbourne, 20-10.

“We missed the start last time against Melbourne, we missed it against the Roosters,” said Souths utility Chris McQueen said.

Jason Clark suffered a knee injury at training and was in doubt right up to kick-off.

“We had the captain’s run last night and we were pretty confident,” he said, “But we left it right up until the game.”

SATURDAY

While his team-mates celebrated, Todd Carney cut a disconsolate figure as he limped towards the tunnel with a serious hamstring injury after the 20-18 win for Cronulla over North Queensland.

“The leg feels a bit sore,” he told me “It’s a bit disappointing, I can’t soak it up with the boys. I’ll have to do everything possible to get it right for the game.

“I wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t 100 per cent. I did everything I had to do yesterday but obviously it fatigued and it’s gone wrong again.

“It was a sharp pain, like happened a few weeks ago, and it just got worse as the game went on but I couldn’t leave the field.”

Shane Flanagan on Carney: “He hasn’t torn the hamstring, he’s just getting referred pain from his back.”

The Sharks had been unaware of Beau Ryan’s seventh-tackle try. Paul Gallen: “I just found out about it off Ryan Girdler. Sometimes you get things go your way, sometimes you don’t. We’ll take it.

“I suppose the NRL probably thought Melbourne were going to be here but they weren’t. Too everyone’s credit, the Roosters fans and the Manly fans, they turned out to watch us play as well.”

The Cowboys didn’t know either. Antonio Winterstein: “We didn’t have any idea, that’s the first time I’ve heard about it. We can’t do anything about it now. I thought he (Kane Linnett) had it there. The replay showed otherwise.”

Despite the rancour afterwards, Matt Bowen was nothing if not a sportsman. “It is disappointing to go out the way we did but in saying that, full credit to the Sharkies. They wanted it more than we did,” was his remarkable comment.

“It wasn’t meant to be tonight. In saying that, we did a couple of things to hurt (ourselves) in the first half. We can’t do anything about it now. They got the win and they get to play on and we don’t

On his future, Bowen said: “I’ll have to make a decision next week. We’ll see what happens.”

Coach Flanagan’s heart sank when Bowen got the ball with a few seconds left. “He was the one person in the rugby league world I didn’t want to have the ball,” Flanagan said.
A time keeper approached Flanagan while I was waiting to speak to him, to explain the confusion at fulltime over time on the clock.

“They just explained to me it was the clock the referees see on the ground.. The actual referees and time keeper did tell him there was 11 seconds to go. It was just a technical glitch with the game clock that all the fans saw and the players see as well.”

Does he care that the seventh tackle try took the gloss off the victory?

“I do care. It was done earlier. These things happen in our game, it’s human error. The referees, if they made a mistake, they didn’t mean it, I’m sure.

Neil Henry has been painted as a conspiracy theorist but he also said this to me, on the ABC: “No-one goes out to deliberately get the tackle count wrong. But with the number of officials they’ve got, they should get it right.

“I think the refereeing, overall, has improved a bit. We saved a couple of our worst decisions for the big stage.”

The next game was a 4-0 win for the Roosters over Manly – the scoreline from a certain preliminary final in 1992 which this Illawarra fan would rather forget.

“We’ll improve our attack next week but that’s the way we need to be defending at this time of year,” said Roosters five-eighth James Maloney.

All the points were scored by young winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. I asked if he’d ever done that before.

“It’s a first try for me. I’m glad I was able to get the points for the boys.” He then gave this gem of a quote: “We just looked at each other and said ‘this is who we are, this is the game we play’.”

The big worry for Manly fans must be backing up six days after and out-and-out war Geoff Toovey: “We’re fortunate we’re playing the Cronulla Sharks. They had a tough game here today as well, against the Cowboys. Very physical there as well and they played a similar type of football. Hopefully they’re as bumped and bruised as we are.”

I spoke to Roosters coach Trent Robinson after the game and again the next day on ABC’s The Hit-Up

“I grew up watching the eighties games and enjoyed that sort of footy,” he said. “The courage that used to get shown back then, we had to show tonight – along with Manly, We both showed it.

“Both sides should be proud.”

SUNDAY:

On Sunday, Robinson paid tribute to Steve Menzies, whose career ended with Hull’s 14-4 win over Catalan on Friday night.

“It’s a bit like Sonny coming here, my first head coaching gig, I recruited Beaver. He allowed me to coach him. He doesn’t need to stop, the way that he’s still playing.”

Video referees Justin Morgan and Luke Patten were booked as guests before the seventh tackle furore. Asked if video refs are supposed to keep count for the men on the field, Morgan said:  “Yes. That is right. It’s somebody’s role in the box to keep the tackle count during the match for reinforcement and correction. It would have been somebody’s job last night.?

And do you tell the referees about major blunders at halftime?

Morgan: “For me, it’s very similar to coaching. You have to know the individual. You have to know how they’ll take that information on. Some referees will want to know. They’ll want to know that information. They’ll want to know ‘did I get that right?’ ‘Did I get that wrong?’

“Others, you most probably need to be a bit more gentle … most of them, if they ask you the question, they want a straight answer.’

The final guest before I headed out to see Newcastle eliminate Canterbury 22-6 was Parramatta chairman Steve Sharp.

“We’ll have something in the pipeline in the next week, or two maximum, as to who’s going to be our coach,” he said.

Do players joining the club next year have get-out clauses? “In fact, if they don’t want to come to our club, I don’t really want them there. We want people who want to play for the club.”

What about the Bulldogs chasing Jarryd Hayne? “Jarryd’s got a contract with the club which he has just extended for two years. There is no getout clause. Jarryd’s going to be here in 14 and 15 at least.”

Filed for: SMITHYSPEAKS.COM.AU

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THE JOY OF SEVEN: Finals Week One

se7enBy STEVE MASCORD
BEARING BAD NEWS
SHOULD referees be told at halftime if they have committed a major error in a big ticket match that has the potential to affect the outcome? The argument in favour of informing them is that they are likely to find out anyway, with video officials, reserve referees, strappers and even spectators coming into contact with them at the break. The argument against is that even if they don’t feel pressure to square up, there will be a perception to that effect which can be plausibly denied if they are not aware of their error. Neil Henry and  Shane Flanagan each decided against telling their players about the seventh-tackle try. “It’s like coaching players, you have to take into consideration what makes people tick,” video referee Justin Morgan said on ABC when asked whether it is common practice when asked whether it was common practice to tell referees at halftime of their stuff-ups.

SWINGS, ROUNDABOUTS AND EMPTY STANDS
LAST week we wrote about how rugby league has a habit of solving one problem, and then revisiting an old one as a result. The NRL insisted the double header was not a result of this interminable cycle, that they wanted it regardless of the AFL’s intentions. OK, we liked the double-header so well done. How about this? Finals in week one are poorly attended because teams in two games have a second chance. We respond in 1999 by introducing a system under which most week one games are potentially sudden death. This is scrapped as unfair. We return to a formula where the elimination games are clearly identified – and the crowds stay away. Back to square one? (Doesn’t explain the poor crowd on Sunday though).

CENSORS CENSORED
IS the NRL seriously suggesting that a coach who throws up suggestions of a conspiracy involving the administration and referees to influence the result of matches won’t be fined next year? The NRL censors have come badly unstuck with the seventh tackle drama. Neil Henry stopped short of saying he believed the conspiracy theories; under the previous League policy, that may have just saved him. But under this year’s crackdown on “excessive” criticism, it’s an insult to the intelligence to say he didn’t “step over the mark”. The only defence was that the situation justified the reaction – and that’s the very reason the NRL itself overstepped the mark in its draconian censorship.

BETTER OFF ALONE
ONE of the few positives at the weekend for the NRL administration was the double-header, which produced two fantastic games and a memorable atmosphere. Or was it? As it turns out, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson was not a fan. “I thought we could have filled that (stadium), just a Manly-Roosters game, if it was ticketed as that,” said Robinson. “It was a big clash, we could have done that better. Logistically, it was fine but I’m not sure if the crowd was as big as it could have been. From a Roosters point of view, I thought it could have been done differently from the NRL.” The combined attendance on Saturday was 32,747.

SHARP RETORT
PARRAMATTA chairman Steve Sharp has backed suggestions by Nathan Hindmarsh and Matthew Johns that Eels players were not all that unhappy to see coach Ricky Stuart leave. “I think the players were looking for a fresh start,” said Sharp. “I think that influenced Ricky’s decision. It may have been on his mind and influenced his performance.” Sharp also had this to say about Denis Fitzgerald’s offer to become involved in the club again: “Denis and other people who have been working behind the scenes to downtrod (sic) our club over the last few months need to take a bit of a holiday.” On players who reportedly have get-out clauses, Sharp said on ABC: “I’ve had no contact with any player managers saying they are not bringing their players to the club. In fact, if they don’t want to come to our club, I don’t really want them there.”

AND IN OTHER NEWS
ON a bad weekend for officiating, it’s worth noting that an innovation helped get two decisions right in one of the Under 20s finals. With the scores tied between Brisbane and Wests Tigers near the end of regulation time at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, Brisbane received two penalties in kicking distance. On each occasion, Wests Tigers used the ‘captains challenge’ facility being employed in Holden Cup this year and on each occasion, the joint venture won. The match went into overtime and Wests Tigers kept their season alive. The captains’ challenge is almost certain to be used in first grade eventually. Intriguing, though, than in identical circumstance in the NRL, the result would have been different.

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT
IT’S always bitter sweet when your favourite parodist joins the mainstream. And so it was when Denis Carnahan, the man behind the “That’s In Queensland” jingle, became part of the match-day entertainment at the weekend. Denis had to learn the words to “Give Your Love To A Cowboy Man” pretty promptly. But the implications of meeting those you send up was more stark when was asked to write and perform a song at the Canberra Raiders’ annual presentation night. A Raiders fan, Carnahan was initially given carte blanche when it came to subject matter. But as the Green Machine came a cropper, the list of taboo subjects – from Pineapple Cruisers to ASADA – got longer. He must have done a good job; the lyric sheet is destined for the pool room of club patriarch John ‘JR’ McIntyre.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD