BONDI BEAT: November 2014

November 2014By STEVE MASCORD

AS a reporter, there is sometimes a feeling I get on grand final day – deep in the pit of my stomach, below the pies and chicken skewers – that is difficult to explain. I don’t get it after Test matches or State of Origin games or semis or Nines or Sevens.

I’ll try to approximate it with a word in English that won’t be do the job properly: jealousy. Maybe envy. Sudden emptiness.

It often hits when a team you’ve had a fair bit to do with during the season wins the competition. The things you envy, the things you are jealous of, are not what you may think.

I don’t wish I was a big rugby league star. I don’t wish I was posing for photos with pretty girls and being paid a massive salary and was encouraged to get drunk for a week without paying for one beer myself.

Because it’s not necessarily the players I am jealous of.

A few Sundays ago, I was envious of Souths’ doorman, their kit man, their trainer … hell, I was envious of every single Souths supporter.

Because in this job, we get to see years and years of greatness at extremely close quarters, which is a blessing. But we don’t get to BE great.

When South Sydney were kicked out of the NRL, I stayed at the Sydney Morning Herald all night and worked out a criteria for who should be excluded if teams had to be culled.

Souths finished, mathematically, as one of those teams. One of the responses I got to that story was a veiled death threat. Many of the people who berated me over the story deserved to be in the dressingroom on grand final night much more than I did.

I didn’t stay long. It didn’t feel right.

In my business, we are forever observing and judging. But on rare occasions like the 2014 NRL grand final, it feels like you stand for nothing. You are committed to nothing, forever a spectator, impartial and unmoved at every turn, committed only to upholding “the truth”.

No-one ever held a ticker tape parade for the truth.

Some reporters get this sense of purpose by “going after” those who they perceive as dishonest or corrupt – dogged investigative journalists are among the most passionate people I know but I find they often take a side to motivate themselves along the way, even if the finished product ends up objective.

I’ve always been one to have trouble typecasting people as evil, never been vindictive enough for that gig.

I guess what I felt most envious about on grand final night, why I wished I was even the man who cleaned the toilets at Redfern Oval, is that without a cause in life, your life is much the poorer.

The grand final gave me a cause: finding a cause.

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WHERE to start, then, away from my own loony ramblings?

South Sydney’s grand final victory was almost a social phenomenon in Australia. It connected Australians – particularly Sydneysiders – with their past in ways no-one could fully have anticipated and also touched on class, race and commerce.

donate2Front and centre for the whole thing was one S Burgess. Should he have stayed on the field with a fractured cheekbone? Should he have gone to the blood bin? Should the salary cap be bent to get him back to rugby league?

My answers: yes, yes and no.

I would have no hesitation in saying Burgess has made a bigger impact than any other Englishman in my time covering the premiership, which is as far back as 1986. Adrian Morley would have been the fellow who came closest.

By the time he finishes up, James Graham could usurp both of them.

I’m surprised there was not more comment on Graham being overlooked for the England captaincy. If it’s good enough for the England coach to be based in Australia, surely it’s good enough for the captain to be here as well.

I realise Sean O’Loughlin has served a long apprenticeship and do a good job. But Graham? He’s a beast!

ONE has to feel for Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington when it comes to the World Club Challenge and Series.

Hetherington has been banging on about an expanded competition for at least a decade now. Throughout that period, the Rhinos have been pretty consistently involved.

But when the concept finally gets off the ground, they can’t even get one of the three available spots for Super League teams!

As usual, interest in Australia has been pretty much zero and nobody seems to understand why Brisbane and St George Illawarra are going.

If I had a dollar for every time I have Tweeted “because they’re the only ones who wanted to go”, I’d have enough moolah to keep Sam Burgess in rugby league.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the concept next year. Will we go back to just two teams in Australia? Or will we take the expanded concept to a neutral venue?

Broncos chief executive Paul White visited Dubai on the way back from the World Cup last year and visited several venues which would be suitable for the matches.

Personally, I favour making the Warriors and Catalan permanent contestants in the tournament, meaning four countries are represented.

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NOT content with there being no Great Britain tour next year, the Australian players association has called for the national team to adopt a “rotation policy” to further ease the demands on players.

amazonNever mind that the NRL starts a month after Super League and finishes a week before.

Australia’s cricket and rugby union teams do not always field their strongest line-ups and as far as Bondi Beat is concerned, anything that makes it more likely our dominant national side loses is a good thing.

It might just start over the next few weeks, given the absences of Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Paul Gallen, Brett Morris and the rest…

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A word, too, about Tyrone McCarthy. The former Warrington and Ireland forward scored a crucial try as the Cairns-based Northern Pride won the “second tier super bowl” against Penrith on grand final day.

Before the game, I asked Tyrone about the curious contradiction of Sydney fans loving English players – but having zero interest in the English game.

“It just shows how the NRL cares only about the NRL,” he said. “No one over here could tell you who the next Graham/Burgess might be in Super League.

“As much as it’s up to other countries to promote the game a small hand from the NRL would have great significance for UK rugby league on so many different aspects, commercially and the development of the sport which in turn would make the NRL stronger.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

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Cameron Smith Warns Players May Get Militant Over Nines

Melbourne - Cameron SmithBy STEVE MASCORD

AUSTRALIA captain Cameron Smith has warned players may ask their trade union to intervene if clubs approve the Auckland Nines without consulting the game’s stars.

As 16 club CEOs met in Sydney to discuss the $2.2 million proposal from New Zealand promoters and the Auckland Regional Council, the stakes got higher when Smith told The Herald in Leeds that the issue could soon become an industrial matter.

So far, arguments over player burn-out have amounted to an esoteric debate but Smith said opposition was such that the Rugby League Players Association could soon be called in.

“Maybe it will if people keep tossing up all these new tournaments and trying to throw all these games on board,” the Melbourne skipper said in an interview at the Leeds Marriott, where he is preparing for the World Club Challenge.

“What the fans want, they want to see the elite players in the game for as long as they can. Do you want Greg Inglis to play five or six years and be burnt out? Or do we want to give him an opportunity to be in our game for 10 years?

“That’s what I want to see. I want , Johathan Thurston, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Benny Barba to play as long as they can.

“You keep throwing these games on, on top, I think you’re asking for trouble … without giving somewhere else.

“If you want to have a nines tournament, if you want to play an all star game, take some games out of the season, make it 20 rounds, play your Origin series, play your Test series and you can have these  extra four or five games at the start of the year

“I’ve got no problem with all these new concepts but you just can’t keep putting it on top and on top and on top.

“We might have to (involve the RLPA).”

Officials are also deciding on a proposal by a working group of clubs from both sides of the world to move the World Club Challenge to Australia in 2014 and expand it to a six-team competition in 2015.

Melbourne’s experienced football manager, Frank Ponissi, has come up with a radical alternative plan which would see an NRL game played in England for the first time when the WCC is in the northern hemisphere and a Super League game played Down Under the week after a championship bout in Australia.

“Everyone likes the concept as long as you don’t create more games,” Ponissi said.

“The two grand finalists from one hemisphere travels to the other. The two winners play in the World Club Challenge, the two losers play each other in just a game – a fund-raiser or something.

“Then the following weekend, you have a double header: say, Melbourne v Canterbury in the first round of the NRL, in England, for points, and after that a Super League game at the same venue involving the champions from the previous year.

“If you’re going to travel that far, you’ve got to do it for a reason.

“I applaud Gary Hetherington for thinking outside the box with his proposal. This one is mine. We need as many ideas as possible.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD