JOY OF SIX: round one 2015


WHAT if Dallas Donnelly pulled up outside an NRL ground in his time travelling Delorian and went inside for a gander? What would he make of a competition where you are sent to the sin bin for punching someone but stay on the field for a deadset coat-hanger? How can we be SOFTER on an offence now than we were in the seventies? It defies logic. The ban on referee comments stifled the debate on Saturday night surrounding Mitchell Moses’ shot on William Zillman. Set of Six will debate it; Moses should have been sent off. Flailing fists deter parents from letting their kids play rugby league – do we think mum wants little Johnny to do his best rag doll impersonation every weekend?
WELL may Phil Gould and Penrith oppose an external draft – they have more juniors than most other clubs. But one donatechange in the game that has gone un-noticed over the summer has been the rebranding of the state leagues, aside from NSW and Queensland. The South Australian Rugby League is now NRL South Australia – and so on. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Moore Park HQ. No doubt, the aim is to do the same with the NSWRL, the QRL and the CRL. The NRL wants to be to rugby league what the NBA is to basketball – that is, just about everything. It will take care of all development and clubs will be shells focused only on winning first grade matches and attracting fans. Set of Six likes the idea.
LOTS of things have changed this season by according to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, one thing hasn’t. “It’s a little bit faster, sides are trying to find their feet. Sides don’t want to give away too many penalties away – bar the Roosters. They were quite happy to give penalties away and then defend ‘em.” The Roosters do not like accusations they deliberately give away penalties. Flanagan nominated Trent Robinson’s team, South Sydney and Parramatta as sides who had “put their hand up” over the weekend. The Sharks boss wasn’t sure how he’d feel going to Remondis Stadium last night for his first game back from suspension. “Surprisingly, I’m pretty calm about the whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’ve got a job here to do and I’ve just got to get on with it.”
HELLO 2015
SOME random observations about our first taste of premiership football for the year. One, the game IS faster and there IS amazonless wrestling, and the crowds like it. Friday night at Pirtek Stadium, particularly in the first half, was a revelation; the word “fickle” just isn’t in the dictionaries of western Sydney. Your correspondent was at Headingley, where they sing all night, eight days previously and the local Blue and Gold Army outdid their British cousins easily. A bulked-up Anthony Milford in the halves is a gamble. We won’t get reliable forward pass rulings until there are chips in the balls. Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua could be the centre pairing of the year. Pat Richards could easily realise his ambition of playing in the 2017 World Cup. Live free-to-air TV coverage on a Sunday should have happened years ago.
TRENT Merrin was only “dropped” for Monday Night Football if you don’t count the game against Warrington, which he also started from the bench. He was in the starting side for round 26 last year, though – we checked. Two men who WERE dropped, by any definition, are big Canberra forwards David Shillington and Shannon Boyd. They were named in Canberra’s first grade side on Sunday – Shillington in the starting front row – but played NSW Cup. Coach Ricky Stuart admitted the hot conditions were in his mind but “there’s a few other reasons – nothing untoward in regards to the two boys. We made the decision earlier in the week.” Stuart reckons the quicker rucks this year mean “dropped balls and penalties are making a big difference between winning and losing.’
Dwrq4E1421835700EVEN a broken rib for Todd Carney took a back seat to the scoreline in the Catalans-Salford Super League game over the weekend. The match finished in a 40-40 draw – which in the Australian premiership would make it the highest scoring drawn game ever, beat three matches which finished 34-34.. In England, there’ve been higher scores in draws – and there almost certainly have been in France, too. After a tackle by Lama Tasi, Carney – who missed the opening two rounds through injury – tweeted: “Just got home from the hospital, Broken Ribs Fingers crossed I won’t be out for long.” Dragons coach Laurent Frayssinous said the tackle was illegal. “It is not acceptable that there is a late tackle on Todd Carney that has left him in the hospital with a broken rib,” he told reporters. Oh, and the penalty which gave Salford a late draw was a tad controversial, too.


DISCORD 2013: Edition 26


LET’S start this item about the $15,000 fine meted out to Ricky Stuart on Monday by saying we understand what the NRL is trying to achieve.

Yes, respect for referees is paramount and yes, there is culture of criticism – some would say attempted manipulation – in our competition which is probably unhealthy.

But the thing about the rule as it stood until about 5pm on Monday was that you could defend it as an apparatus that kept rugby league out of the courts.

Generally speaking, aside from a couple of times when coaches have used swear words in their criticism, the comments which have attracted fines could conceivably have led to defamation proceedings.

No-one wants referees suing coaches for libel.

But on Monday, the goalposts moved – or more precisely, they got wider and higher, so much so that they now cover most of the tryline and the uprights go up to the back row of ANZ Stadium.

Here are the comments that could vaguely be described as questioning the integrity of officials

“We cannot be so different every week to the opposition in regards to – not penalty counts but – what we’re getting penalised for”

“The same actions aren’t being penalised for the opposition team”

Now, every weekend captains make comments like that to referees out on the field. Those comments are broadcast, via SportsEars, to television and radio audiences nationally and internationally.

Are we going to start fining captains for bringing the game into disrepute?

Or was Stuart fined for questioning the “competency” of Daniel Anderson? Our whole game was born out of questioning the “competency” of authority, back at The George in 1895.

Without rabble-rousing and rebellion, there would be no rugby league. Do the current inhabitants of League Central understand that? It’s the purpose of rugby league, it’s in every strand of our DNA.

You can say that coaches should not be allowed to intimidate referees – that’s right, referees shouldn’t allow themselves to be influenced and I don’t think they do.

The precedent set by Monday’s breach notice is that if someone says “David Smith is hopeless” or “the commission are doing a crap job”, they can now be fined for bringing the game into disrepute by questioning “competency”.

I don’t think anyone would stand for such oppressive censorship. Not only is it Orwellian and even somewhat fascist, it’s against what rugby league has always been about.

PS: And if Stuart is being picked on as a repeat offender – isn’t that what he was accusing referees of doing to his team in the first place? It suggests he might be right.


OK it’s comments time, going back to last week’s column, and there have been lots of them.

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THE JOY OF SIX: Round 16


DESPITE the complications alcohol and social media have each caused him, NSW and St George Illawarra fullback Josh Dugan still seems to really like both. After reports emerged on Sunday that police were called after he was seen sitting in a boat parked outside a Sutherland Shire house and rowdily pretending to fish, Dugan posted on Instagram a meme (which now means a picture with a slogan superimposed on it) that read “A Lion Doesn’t  Concern Himself With The Opinions Of Sheep” following by the hashtag #anythingtosellastory . Within a few hours, the posting had more than 1000 likes. Most respondents, predictably, agreed with Dugan and criticised the story but some pleaded with him to, in the words of one follower, “pull your head in”.


RICKY Stuart deftly walked the line between getting his message across and not questioning anyone’s integrity with his post-match comments after the South Sydney loss. The Parramatta coach has said before that he doesn’t speak to referees boss Daniel Anderson and did not repeat his earlier contention that referees treat sides down the bottom of the table are treated differently than those at the top. That accusation carries an implication of prejudice and will make you $10,000 poorer in an instant. And while that was still the clear hint on Sunday, the majority of players in the NRL agree anyway. In the Rugby League Week Player Poll, when asked “do lesser clubs cop a rough deal from refs?”, 54 per cent of respondents answered ‘yes’. The NRL recently beefed up its rules to take in criticism which is considered excessive, even if no integrity is questioned. In the view of Joy Of Six, this is blatant censorship.


THE speculation on Thursday and Friday that Sonny Bill Williams was about to pull out of the Sydney Roosters-Canterbury match because he did not want to put money in his former club’s coffers did no-one any favours. Sure, the fact that Williams played should have put the innuendo to bed but in truth a professional sports should not have to endure the whispering in the first place. In the NFL, all clubs have to maintain an injury list outlining who trained, who didn’t and why – which is available to the public. And betting on American football in most US states is illegal. Hiding or lying about injuries is punishable by Draconian fines. Rugby league may have scaled back its involvement with bookmakers but it arguably owes the public more transparency than the NFL because it still benefits from punting. When the Integrity Unit is done with misbehaving players, it should get to work on making clubs completely transparent over injuries and team changes.


ANOTHER job for the Integrity Unit, then. People still seem angry at Josh Dugan, even though he apparently did nothing wrong on his night out with Blake Ferguson and fishing on dry land is not – at this stage – a crime in NSW. It is central to their disquiet that Dugan did “the wrong thing” in Canberra and was “rewarded” with a St George Illawarra contract, and then “rewarded” again with NSW selection. That being the case, surely Jim Doyle’s Integrity Unit should assess each case where a player is sacked for disciplinary reasons and make a ruling on whether he should be able to join a rival club immediately, after a set period or at all. There’s no integrity in deliberately getting yourself sacked by not showing up to work, and then joining a rival employer after a few weeks’ purgatory. The NRL should be involved.


CHANNEL Seven’s signing of an agreement to cover the World Cup is tremendous news and follows a similar deal in the UK, where regular league broadcaster Sky Sports lost out to upstart Premier Sports in rights negotiations. While International Management Group, who negotiated both deals, are motivated by profit and not the welfare of the sport, rugby league has often lacked the confidence to share TV broadcasting rights around. International Rugby League is essential for the sport to go to the next level commercially and in the case of the broadcasters we already have, familiarity has bred contempt. You could argue it is in the interests of our domestic broadcasters for rugby league to remain a local, affordable commodity. They don’t care about international football and in that circumstance, we can either dance to their tune or go out and find someone who does care. Thankfully, we’ve done the latter. It could be a milestone decision.


THE negligible space afforded to Sam Tomkins’ likely signing with the New Zealand Warriors (from Wigan Warriors) in the Australian press is a sad indictment on the perceived strength of Super League. Tomkins is a once-in-a-generation English rugby league player whose evasive skills on kick returns have to be seen to be believed. While Australians decry the denuding of Super League, most English fans have never had illusions of grandeur about their competition. England coach Steve McNamara, speaking to Set Of Six in the South Sydney dressingrooms late on Sunday, spoke for many of them when he said fans would far rather see Tomkins stay in rugby league on the other side of the world than defect to rugby union at home. “It’s almost like the lesser of two evils, if you get my meaning,” McNamara said. Compare that to Australian fans, who view Super League and rugby union more or less equally as predators. Some of them would prefer a league player represent the Wallabies than Wigan, no doubt – a position that would be considered utter treason in the north of England.


Stuart Still Fuming Over Standard Of Refereeing


DEFIANT Ricky Stuart says he hasn’t changed his mind on the standard of refereeing since being fined $10,000 for his famous Skilled Park rant a month ago.

The Parramatta coach was furious over a number of calls in Saturday night’s 19-18 win over Brisbane, not least the decision to send Eels replacement Mitchell Allgood to the sin bin after he copped two direct blows to the head by rival Josh McGuire.

Stuart says the frustration he expressed on April 14 is now widespread

“I’ve got to say, from what I said on the Gold Coast, my opinion has not changed,” Stuart tells Rugby League Week.

“I’ve got to be careful why I say but Daniel Anderson and his referees have not got any better.

“You get Mitchell Allgood who is punched twice in the head – I don’t know anyone who would cop that and wouldn’t defend themselves. How does he get sent to the sin bin?

“It’s not just me – many other coaches are getting very frustrated at things that are happening out there … frustrated and confused.

“They fined me but I haven’t changed my mind at all.”

Stuart’s use of the word “unfair” and contention that clubs lower down the competition table were treated differently resulted in a sanction for bringing the game into disrepute. It was found that he was accusing match officials of pre-judging teams, which is an attack on their integrity.

But the Rugby League Week poll found that most players agreed with Stuart. Asked “do lesser clubs cop a rough deal from refs?”, 54 per cent answered yes.

“What do we do about it? I’m stuffed if I know. It’s not my job,” Stuart said.

Another winning coach on the weekend, Gold Coast’s John Cartwright, was furious with the match officials.

While St George Illawarra coach Steve Price identified three distinct calls which went against his men in the 15-14 loss, Cartwright was so furious at a disallowed try to fullback William Zillman that the coaches box couldn’t contain his anger.

Cartwright roared: “We could have lost today’s game – and ‘the Titans are struggling again’. Bullshit!

”I was that ropeable, I couldn’t talk. I had to get out of that box I was ropeable – and I still am now, as you can probably tell.

”It would have been a tragedy if we lost that game, it just wouldn’t have been right.”

Like Stuart, Cartwright contended his team was from “a small club” and that refereeing errors are not highlighted as much as they are for glamour teams.


Cameron Smith: I Don’t Manipulate Referees

Melbourne - Cameron SmithBy STEVE MASCORD
MELBOURNE and Australia captain Cameron Smith has denied “playing” referees but says some rivals do themselves no favours with their overly-aggressive approach to match officials.
Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter and Parramatta’s Ricky Stuart have each suggested in recent weeks that established, star players with successful teams get better results from referees than struggling sides and players without the guile required to sweet-talk whistlers.
But Smith, who’ll lead Australia against New Zealand on Friday night at Canberra Stadium, tells The Age: “I don’t practice anything or think there’s an art to it.
“The only thing I do is go out and show them respect because I’d like them to respect me back.
“I see some games where there’s a bit of a heated relationship between some players and referees and I don’t think there’s any place for that in our game.”
After losing 26-12 to the Storm on April 8, Potter referred to “The influence people have over other people to cause results”. Stuart was fined $10,000 after saying following the loss to Gold Coast that his men were “easy to penalise”.
Stuart said: “We haven’t got any of the high profile players where you can get the penalty and milk the penalty”.
Asked if senior or high profile players curried more favour with referees, Smith said: “I don’t think so at all. That’s just my thoughts. You’ll have to ask a referee what they’re thinking.
“If you go out there and you approach them and you’re calm about everything … what’s the use of going and yelling at someone?
“You’re always going to get a pretty cold response.”
Friday’s referee, Ashley Klein, was found to have bungled a tackle count in last week’s Brisbane-North Queensland game. Johnathan Thurston, the current Australia five-eighth, said at the time: “You’ve got Ashley Klein, who’s been around for a while. You’d expect him to get the calls right.”
Smith also disputed suggestions that he and other captains “buy time” by questioning decisions.
“Myself, I don’t go out just for the sake of talking to someone,” he said. “If genuinely I don’t understand a decision made or why there’s a certain ruling, I’ll go out and ask the question then.
“I won’t go out and say ‘mate, what’s going on there?’ when I clearly know what happened. It’s a waste of my energy. Let’s just get on with the game.
“I think the referees appreciate that that. They don’t want to blow the whistle and stop the game and talk to a captain for no reason.
“If I want a clearer understanding of a ruling, that’s when I’ll go out and chat to them.”
The Storm’s next game is on Anzac Day against the Warriors at AAMI Park.

Filed for: THE AGE

NRL round six: GOLD COAST 28 PARRAMATTA 22 at Skilled Park


HERITAGE Round concluded last night with furious Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart claiming rugby league was “going backwards” as a result of “unfair” and “bullshit” refereeing.

Gold Coast winger David Mead playing 10 minutes of the 28-22 win at Skilled Park with a broken jaw was relegated to a minor details by Stuart’s tirade, the most explosive of the season so far.

It was sparked by an 8-1 second half penalty count against the Eels, who led 16-8 at halftime. Titan Albert Kelly, who left the venue 10 days ago in a knee brace, engineered and scored the winning try in the 73rd minute.

“I really don’t know where Daniel Anderson and these referees are taking the game,” Stuart said in relation to the NRL referees coach.

“There’s no way that they (Titans) were that clean. It was just wrong. It was unfair tonight.

“Get those referees in here to talk about their bullshit errors.

“The game’s turning into surrender, dive on the ground, play the ball. It’s turning into super league era. It’s going backwards. The players, they’re not machines.

“These poor buggers have been kicked like brown dogs over the last two years and they’re just easy to penalise. Penalise Parramatta, penalise Parramatta, it’s happened for the last six weeks.”

Asked if he was suggesting referees went into games with a preconceived idea about Parramatta, Stuart said: “I’m just saying it’s very hard …. I’ve got to be careful what I say … I’d rather not answer that.”

When Stuart was asked to clarify his use of the word “unfair”, he answered: “There’s a lot of other words I’d like to use too. Unfortunately, the beautiful powers-that-be will come down and say ‘OK, $10,000 fine there’. Yep, that’s a beautiful way to escape the attention in regards to what the problem is.”

Stuart contended that while the eight penalties against his side in the second half may have been individually justified, the Titans should have been penalised as well.

“I just feel sorry for the players,” the coach said. “It’s happened every week. We’re just a very, very easy team to penalise.

“We haven’t got any of the high profile players where you can get the penalty and milk the penalty. It’s bullshit.

“That out there tonight was very, very obvious

“You bust your arse all week in preparation. I know what they go through, these boys. To be 7-0 down (in the penalties) in the second half, to be the better football team … it’s wrong.

“The NRL talk to broadcasters, they say don’t bag referees. The referees are there who are interpreting games different to other referees.

“It’s just not consistent. These poor blokes go into a game of football like that, they’re the better team in the first half, the scoreline says so …. “

He said a pass from Chris Sandow to Kelepi Tanginoa in the in the 47th minute, called back as forward, had been nothing of the sort.

“The pass was too good for the ref. Talk about first grade standards, everyone’s got to get to first grade standards.

“Ask Daniel Anderson about that. He’ll come back and give you the sheet I read every week and don’t understand. Obviously I’m not that intelligent.

“No-one’s got any ownership or responsibility.

“Tonight it should have been our game. You can’t have a 7-0 penalty count and win a game of football. It shouldn’t have been 7-0.

“Jarryd, Reni, they go to the referee for an explanation and the explanation’s in friggin Spanish.”

Mead went straight to hospital at fulltime for x-rays. Of Kelly’s amazing recuperation, Nate Myles said: “He should be fined for being carried off one week and playing the next.”

GOLD COAST 28 (A Don A Harrison A Kelly M Minichiello tries B Henry 6 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 22 (J Hayne 2 R Morgan tries C Sandow 5 goals) at Skilled Park. Referees: J Robinson/A Gee. Crowd: 12,047.


THE WRAP: NRL Round Four

THE day after he wrote an entire newspaper column about the subject, Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart admitted: “the obstruction rule will be probably be fixed before us”.
To be fair, Stuart was sporting a wry smile when he made the statement. But his side had just been lapped 50-0 by Sydney Roosters and, judging by comments from NRL referees coach Daniel Anderson, the rule interpretation everyone is talking about will be addressed after the representative weekend on April 19-21.
Chances are, the Eels will still be struggling then.
“I took the job on and I knew it was probably going to be a mountain of a job,” said Stuart, as part of his chat with radio station Triple M late on Monday.
“It’s going to be. It’s going take a number of seasons to get this right. I feel sorry for our supporters. We can all think we should be doing this and should be doing that and winning.
“But there’s evidence there tonight that we haven’t got a roster that’s up to a lot of the rosters. It’s going to be a tough year and I said that at the start of the year.”
Over the first month of the NRL season, there has also been evidence that some squads are simply much stronger than others. The overall salary cap increase from $4.4 million to $5.85 million (including a hike in the marquee player allowance) has allowed powerful clubs to hold onto big names and forced struggling teams to play “overs” for mid-range players.
St George Illawarra (25-12 over Cronulla on Saturday) and the Warriors (20-18 over North Queensland on Monday) secured their first wins in round four – which means we still have far fewer stragglers than most other professional sporting competitions worldwide.
“There’s a couple of standout sides and the rest are trying to chase them and catch them and stick with them,” says Gold Coast coach John Cartwright.
And there is little to suggest perceived inequalities had any detrimental effect on attendances, given the bumper Easter weekend with crowds of 51,686, 40,071 and 20130 after a somewhat sluggish opening month.
The resurgence in live interest is perfectly timed in that the Bulldogs take on Manly and Gold Coast hosts Brisbane this Friday – two fixtures bound to attract bumper crowds.
“It’s a genuine local derby and I think there is a dislike there between Brisbane and Gold Coast people,” says Cartwright.
Co-captain Greg Bird added: “I come from Cronulla and there was a big brother-little brother thing with St George. I think it’s the same thing.”
While success and entertainment are seen as the most important commodities being chased by spectators, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has identified a third: security.
Robinson, who followed Cronulla as a kid, believes fans want to be able to trust their team not to concede a try while they’re at the bar or toilet – and it’s something his men were able to give 18,014 raucous Rooster boosters on Monday.
“Fans want to see some exciting attack but they also want to be proud of their team and they want to see them defend well and feel safe with the way they defend and the pressure they put on teams,” Robinson says.

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Bentley Defends Axing Of Arthur

Brad Arthur/Parramatta RLFC


PARRAMATTA chief executive Bob Bentley has defended the decision to release coach Brad Arthur just weeks after saying Ricky Stuart would not be allowed to import his own backroom staff.

On July 29, Bentley told ABC radio: “Our position is that we do have staff here that are currently employed to do those jobs and some of those people are on contract so we’re not going to provide or allow Ricky to do a major cleanout of our coaching structure.”

But last week Arthur was told his services were not required next year while Dean Pay has announced he is leaving Melbourne to join the Eels.

Asked about the apparent change, Bentley tells RLW: “We’ve had some discussions about where he thought some gaps are but we’ve also had Matt Cameron leave and go to Penrith.

“That provided an opportunity. One of those positions will be taken with his vacancy. We’ll sort out what other additional resources he might need to fill some other gaps.

“There’ve been a few people mentioned: Dean Pay, Matt Parish and Trent (Barrett) … . we haven’t actually signed anything (with Pay) at the moment. He’s certainly on our radar.

“We’re still looking at an NYC coach. That’s one of the things that Ricky wants to sort out. Once we’ve got the right structure with the coaching side and the high performance area, we’ll try to sit down early next week and see what he wants.”

Bentley said of the remaining staff,  “pretty much, they’ll all be staying. It’s an area where we haven’t really sat down and gone through the details. There’s (head trainer) Craig Catterick, he’s been there and Ricky’s worked with him in the past.”

Arthur said he was at a loss to say what he would be doing next year. “We just have to wait and see what opportunities are out there. We’ll worry about the next two weeks first.”
Retiring club great Luke Burt said: “I’ve really enjoyed Brad for the two years I’ve had him and he’s doing a wonderful job. He’s really brought the boys together and I think he’s an asset where-ever he is and a definitely NRL coach of the future – 100 per cent.”


Ricky Stuart Begins Discussions On His Future


RICKY  Stuart last Monday kicked off talks with his manager over his future, John Fordham saying he “hopes” reports of an approach from at least one NRL club are true.

On Sunday, NSWRL chairman John Chalk said he planned to offer Stuart a three-year, fulltime deal. Fordham said he hoped to open talks with the Blues in the coming days.

“From what John said at the weekend, they would prefer the current policy of having a fulltime coach continue,” Fordham tells RLW.

“I need to speak to them about how serious they are about that in light of the possibility of an NRL opportunity arising.”
Asked if there were NRL jobs available to Stuart, Fordham said: “I’d say I’m hoping there’ll be an opportunity.

“I keep reading that there will be. I think when there are incumbent coaches at all those clubs and I have a policy of not ringing clubs when there is someone there busting their backsides to make a success of it.”

Fordham said he spoke to Stuart upon his return from a short southern highlands break at the beginning of the week and this marked their first formal discussions over his future.

“Paul Gallen has come out and said Ricky could do both a club job and the Origin position at the same time, as have others,” said Fordham.