BONDI BEAT: November 2015 – The differences in RL media between Australia and the UK

RLW Nov 2015By STEVE MASCORD

I’VE held off writing about this subject for years now because I feared offending colleagues: the different ways in which rugby league is covered in Australia and Britain.

But this year’s Super League grand final presented a couple of extremely stark examples of the contrast and I just couldn’t let the opportunity go by once more.

Two incidents stick out for me. One, Danny McGuire’s apparent knock-on before Joel Moon’s 26th minute try, and Liam Farrell shoving McGuire into the advertising hoardings as he crossed eight minutes later.

I asked Wigan coach Shaun Wane about the former at the media conference. I refrained from asking McGuire about either incident when he came to the presser because I wanted to get him on his own. No-one else asked and as I write this I haven’t had the opportunity to ask Danny one-on-one.

The video refereeing decision to award the Moon try decided a competition – make no mistake. While Wigan winger Joe Burgess complained about the call, very little was written about it.

donate2Compare this to the NRL grand final, where North Queensland won but there was plenty of chatter about whether Johnathan Thurston was illegally dispossessed before a Jack Reed try.

A contentious video refereeing decision that decided a premiership would be headline news for days in Australia – inestimably bigger than Wayne Bennett’s complaints about golden point time, as an example.

Over the years, I’ve gained a better understanding about why this difference in approach exists. There are several reasons but they all revolve around rugby league being a much bigger sport in Australia.

The reporter covering an NRL game assumes most of his readers saw the match. He tries to find something different to tell them over their bacon and eggs.

A journalist at a Super League game assumes the exact opposite: most readers DID NOT see the game. He or she must use their allotted word count to explain the basics which an Australia hack can gloss over – who won, how and why.

For Australian readers who wish there were more stories about Joe Blow being a good player and the match being very entertaining – there’s your reason. When you’re popular, scrutiny really does come with the territory – in an almost mechanical way.

However, I have also sensed over the years that rugby league reporters in the UK are – perhaps largely subconsciously – protective of the sport. I may be completely wrong but I would guess at least some of them would be embarrassed to highlight a grand final being decided by an officiating error.

I am not qualified to judge the performance or decisions of my colleagues and I avoid doing so at all times.

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But I do wonder if sometimes this well-intentioned positivity robs coverage of some of its drama and colour. Would Burgess’s comments screaming from the front page of the specialist press on the Monday after the grand final have hurt anyone?

It was a story – not just content, which is what far too much of the daily churn of sports coverage today has become.

Another factor which I have seen in second-tier sports – in Australia, that’s soccer – that affects the coverage is a lack of competition.

You are always going to get the same space in the paper, regardless of what you write so there is more incentive to not miss something than there is to get something different.

Your sports editor is focused on the big show, not you. He’s only going to notice if you stuff up. The secret to a peaceful life is to collude with your rivals and write the same thing every day.

I am not saying this happens in the UK – because rugby league isn’t even in most national papers on weekdays anymore.

But I have even seen it recently in Australia. Journalists covering the NRL feel under appreciated with the collapse of the newspaper industry. They don’t travel anymore, they have to get copy in early regardless of quality.

So they have taken to cutting corners – sharing the duties of transcribing quotes and doing away with the old tactics and gamesmanship that used to be a hallmark of the trade.

Last season a journalist misheard a quote on his digital voice recorder and the misquote appeared in every newspaper the next day because the reporters were transcribing for each other.

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THE upcoming World Cup qualifiers in South Africa and the United States present some interesting questions regarding eligibility.

Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah wanted to play for Lebanon in Brakpan (that’s where the games actually are – not Pretoria, which sounds better).

He was told by RLIF liason officer Tas Baitieri he would be sacrificing his New South Wales jersey if he did so.

Regular readers of this column would be aware of my position on this: it’s ridiculous. State of Origin’s integrity has been propped up by recent rule changes that mean you must have lived in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13 to play.

Why should NSW or Queensland care what country you represent beyond that? Only if they want to use Origin to stockpile players, which is precisely what is happening.

It’s my understand that part of the new ‘whole of game’ proposal before the NRL right now is to separate Origin from the Australian team – but it has precious little support from key figures who see New Zealand’s international dominance as a reason to use the system to Australia’s advantage.

Having said all that ….

You cannot take part in World Cup qualifiers without meeting a minimum level of domestic activity. But once you are in the qualifiers, the availability of fulltime professionals can make your national team completely unreflective of how much rugby league is played at home.

Wales has more players than the United States but lost to a Tomahawks side full of foreign-based players at the last World Cup.

As a sport, we need to ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with teams getting into the World Cup with players who have only visited that country fleetingly. Once the tournament is on, I guess we want to see the best players on the pitch.

Part of me thinks it’s a good thing that Lebanon will not have Farah’s services in Brakpan against a South African side that has a selection policy of not picking anyone who has never played the sport domestically.

The Cedars will still win – just not by as much.

The RLIF showed its own view of this by making the top seven teams from the last World Cup automatic qualifiers for the 2017 – pointedly snubbing the US.

But making the rules up as you go along, while a time honoured rugby league practice, isn’t terribly professional.

How do we write a consistent rule that gives us strong national teams that have connection to their domestic competitions? Answers on the back of a postage stamp….

@BondiBeat

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

Farah Says Marshall Going Nowhere; Manager Not So Sure

Benji Marshall/wikipedia
Benji Marshall/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

AS Melbourne Storm prepares to take on Wests Tigers without captain Cameron Smith, his opposite number has sought to quell conjecture over the future of star player Benji Marshall.

Hooker Smith will miss the clash at picturesque Leichhardt Oval after a laceration below his right eye suffered in Origin II required plastic surgery. Ryan Hinchcliffe is almost certain to start in his place.

Wests Tigers rake Robbie Farah yesterday said of speculation over the future of five-eighth Marshall: “Regardless of what happens, Benji’s here until 2015.”

But Marshall’s agent, Martin Tauber, responded by telling Fairfax Media: “That’s just something Robbie has said. We’ve not said anything.

“It is true he is contracted for ’13, ’14, ’15. Wests Tigers have made an offer of an upgrade and we’ll respond to that in the next seven to 10 days.”

The uncertainty surrounding Marshall overshadows the absence of Smith and the return from Origin of Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman for the Storm plus Farah and Aaron Woods for the joint venture side.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Farah said of his long-term foil: “I try not to bug him too much about it, I don’t want to intrude.

“As I said to Benji, that will all take care of itself and that’s what his manager is there for.

“I’ve played my whole career with Benji and I hope it continues to be that way but I think it’s kind of been blown out of proportion.

“He’s still here for the next two years , he’s not off contract at the end of the year.

“Regardless of the contract situation, he’s here for another couple of years.”

It is part of Marshall’s agreement with Wests Tigers that he is entitled to a contract upgrade because of the increased salary cap this year and in coming years.

Whether he would ask for a release if unhappy with the terms of the upgrade is the big question. Tauber said he hadn’t even spoken at length with his client about the offer. “I don’t want to distract the kid,” he said.

Asked what would happen if the terms were rejected, Tauber said: “I guess we’d go back to the table and negotiate. That’s what happens. It’s parry and thrust.”

Meanwhile, Storm football manager Frank Ponissi said a decision on who would start for Smith – with Hinchcliffe switching from lock – had yet to be made. An extra reserve is also needed; coach Craig Bellamy has 19 players in camp for rounds 15 and 16.

Ponissi said scans next week would determine whether there was any hope at all of five-eighth Gareth Widdop (dislocated hip) playing in the finals and World Cup.

“It’s looking very doubtful,” he said.

Queensland team doctor Roy Saunders said Smith should be able to play against Brisbane next Friday at AAMI Park without too much of a problem.

“The cut was very close to a lower tear duct, which can be a very significant injury,” Sainders explained. “We decided to deal with it surgically … a plastic surgeon repaired a number of very tiny lacerations.

“There is absolutely no effect on Cameron’s vision.”

Teams for the match, which kicks off at Leichhardt Oval at 5.35pm Saturday, are:

WESTS TIGERS: James Tedesco; David Nofoaluma, Blake Ayshford, Chris Lawrence, Tim Simona; Benji Marshall, Curtis Sironen; Sauaso Sue, Joel Reddy, Liam Fulton, Adam Blair, Robbie Farah (c), Aaron Woods. Res: Ava Seumanfagai, Jack Buchanan, Shaun Spence, Bodene Thompson, Ben Murdoch-Masila (one to be omitted).

MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Justin O’Neill; Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk; Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hoffman, Jesse Bromwich, Jason Ryles, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Bryan Norrie. Res: Mitch Garbutt, Tohu Harris, Slade Griffin (one to be omitted).

Referees: Jared Maxwell/Grant Atkins.

Filed for: THE AGE

DISCORD 2012: Edition 34

By STEVE MASCORD

IMAGINE if an NRL club suspended the sale of season tickets and the chairman offered up this as the reason: “I’m not going to ask fans to spend their hard earned cash until I can safely say to them we will be going around again for the year.”

That’s what Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell told the Hull Daily Mail on Tuesday.

In the same week that broke Bradford Bulls were sold for Stg150,000 to businessman Omar Khan, another one of our most famous clubs faces an uncertain future.

Yet in the NRL, we’ve had a windfall of A$1.025 billion and players are waiting to hear if there will be a big ‘thankyou’ cheque put in their account over the summer in the lead-up to a greatly increased salary cap in 2013.

The contrast is actually very painful if you care about the game – and I’m not just talking about the likelihood of NRL clubs signing all Britain’s best players..

England and Great Britain were once great white hopes for UK sport in an era when the country won nothing. They got government funding, hosted the Kangaroos and two World Cups, and the optimism was perhaps based on the fact they only needed to beat two serious rivals to be World Champions, a numerically easier task than that faced by national sides in other sports.

But they didn’t win.

Now, a little over a decade later, the rugby union team won a World Cup, there are champions in many other sports and the Olympics have been successfully hosted with a swag of gold medals into the bargain.

Where does that leave our game?

Rugby league gave away its naming rights, its Welsh club went broke, the BBC ditched poorly-attended earlier rounds of the Challenge Cup, Bradford called for public donations to keep their doors open and now the businessmen running Rovers are sick to the back teeth of the red ink that has spread from their jumpers to their books.

Internationally, England recently approached Sandor Earl, a New Zealand Maori representative who wants to play for NSW, to turn out on the wing for them.

Sure, the UK is in deep recession. Sure, rugby league is based in areas that are hit harder by that recession than others.

But should things be this bad? Really?

A dramatic decrease in the number of teams in Super League and a rationalisation of the game nationwide seems essential. Great things are being done in junior development away from the heartlands.

But can anyone give me a plausible argument that he professional game is not in a complete mess?

Perhaps the only way to stop a flood of Englishmen to the NRL, leaving Super League as something akin to the Queensland Cup, is to do what officials in Brisbane, Newcastle, Townsville, Wollongong, Canberra and the rest have done over the past 40 years when faced with the same situation.

They entered a team in the NRL (or its predecessor). It’s a long way to Leeds. But it’s a long way from Dunedin to Pretoria too; the rahrahs manage it.

And, as I wrote previously in Discord, the same solution might work in reverse.

If the West Coast Pirates, Brisbane Bombers, Central Coast Bears and Port Moresby Vipers are as cashed up as they say they are, maybe they should be applying to join Super League….

Right now, Red Hall needs all the help it can get.

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AN internet-only column like this is probably the best place to address the phenomenon which has apparently been dubbed “cyber trolling”.

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NRL round 15: SYDNEY ROOSTERS 42 WESTS TIGERS 28 at Leichhardt Oval

Robbie Farah
By HAMISH NEAL The pre-match news of the death of Robbie Farah’s mother Sonia cast a pall over Sunday afternoon’s win for Sydney Roosters as they withstood a late comeback from Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval. The win was much needed for the visitors who had lost four in a row but the pre-match focus turned from talk of an eighth straight victory for the home side to thoughts for the NSW hooker after the death of his mother on Sunday morning after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Tigers coach Tim Sheens said the side found out Farah’s withdrawal shortly before the match. “Robbie (sent a) text to Benji (Marshall) and few of us an hour, maybe an hour and hour and a half before kickoff,” Sheens said. Wests Tigers rallied from 30-4 down to at one stage be within eight points at 36-28 with nine minutes remaining. Sheens said: “It was going to be pretty tough (to come back from 30-4 down), the main thing for us was to close the game and show some sprit and keep the for-and-against down to a minimum. “It just seems to talk about it today… it’s a bit of a waste of time for me at the moment. It’s certainly something I’m not particular interested in.” Reluctant to speak about the match, Sheens emphasised the importance of the club’s culture when addressing the media. “We needed to get through it as a group,” he said. “Beau (Ryan) spoke really well (after the game) on behalf of the players from the point of view that we are tight and that we would stick together and get Robbie through it. But he was pretty upset. Everyone was pretty upset. “At the end of the day though we’ve got to face the fact we have got get on with life this week for us and so our main aim is to support Robbie it’s not about next week now it’s about Robbie this week and their family.” Sheens continued “We just had to try and shut it out and get through the game. They say it but it’s easier said than done. Particularly, a few of them are very close, obviously you’ve got your friends and your close friends and alot are very close friends with Robbie. “It’s a close club and the team will be upset for Rob and for his family but at the end of the day it’s unfortunate the way it happened we feel more for Robbie than we do about anything else at the moment.” In his 28-year coaching career in the top flight of rugby league, Sheens couldn’t remember having had to deal with the death of a relative of a player so close to a match. “It’s one of those ones where you wouldn’t have it happen an hour and half before the game,” he said. “So it’s a new one for me. All sorts of adversity happens during a long career or a long season, have your ups and downs. When things like that happen it just makes playing rugby league a little insignificant.” After an impeccably-observed moment’s silence for Sonia Farah, the Tigers opened the scoring courtesy of Matt Utai with the robust winger nabbing a kick from skipper-on-the-day Marshall for a 4-0 lead after four minutes. The Roosters then opened up their first half scoring five minutes later with a try to Aidan Guerra. This was followed by a four-pointer to Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in the 15th minute which made the scores 12-4. In a crucial play in the 26th minute, Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello stripped replacement forward Ben Murdoch-Masila off possession when the Tigers forward looked set to score after receiving a pass from Marshall. The move proved crucial as the eastern Sydney club extended their lead with two tries in the final three minutes of the half for 24-6 scoreline. Boyd Crodner crossed courtesy of a play reminiscent of the Josh Morris effort in game two of the Origin series when Jake Friend got a foot to a ball he had lost possession of, for Cordner to pick up the scraps. Cordner was involved again moments later when he threw the last pass for a try to Anasta who is set to join the Tigers in 2013. 24-6 down at half-time the Tigers were staring down the barrel of a heavy defeat when they started the day seeking an eighth straight win. A Lami Tasi try in the 51st minute gave the Roosters their biggest lead of the day at 30-4. Tigers prop Keith Galloway scored adjacent to the posts to give the Leichhardt faithful some hope before a try to Roosters NSW Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce sent the score-line out to 36-10. Tries to Ryan, Tim Moltzen and Chris Lawrence in a period of six minutes leading up to the 71st minute mark gave the Tigers a slim hope of pulling out an emotional win. However the Roosters sealed the competition points when a Cordner intercept near halfway resulted in a try to prop Martin Kennedy. Winning coach Brian Smith praised his sides effort, saying the result had been coming. “Today’s victory started a number of weeks ago,” he said. “We started to build and we have been building but we just haven’t been smart with it. The boys have been putting in a great effort. This week they came with (great effort) we raised it this week. “I talked to Braith and some of the leading boys there that we really needed… as the leadership (of the club) to make sure we were exuding confidence. Because that’s what we were feeling. I felt that we weren’t far away. “The way we started the game today, you could smell it in the dressing rooms. The body language of all of our guys (was good). That’s easy for blokes like me and some extent for Braith but for our younger blokes to be confident given that we lost four in a row I reckon it’s a real credit to them. “They are the sort of blokes, we know they are like that, but it’s hard to hold that when your are under pressure.” Smith continued: “It’s not easy…the Tigers win alot here. To come here and win today I thought it was a real measure of the quality of the guys we have got in our squad.” SYDNEY ROOSTERS 42 (B Anasta B Cordner A Guerra M Kennedy M Pearce L Tasi J Waerea-Hargreaves tries B Anasta 7 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 28 (K Galloway C Lawrence T Moltzen B Ryan M Utai tries B Marshall 4 goals) at Leichhardt Oval. Referees: G Badger/ B Cummins. Crowd: 20,327.

THE WRAP: Round Nine 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

A MAN who is sent off for striking an opponent in the head with his elbow speaks to the media. Another who almost single-handedly leads his side to victory, kicking a field goal in golden point time, refuses to.

These are weird and wonderful times in the National Rugby League.

St George Illawarra second rower Matt Prior had every reason to slink out of Dairy Farmers Stadium on Friday night after his 55th minute challenge on local favourite Johnathan Thurston. Players sent off rarely speak to the press because the general consensus is they can only hurt their defence by doing so.

But in the case of the 24-year-old Thirroul junior, throwing himself on the mercy of the fourth estate seemed to be the first step towards doing likewise at the judiciary.

”It wasn’t a brain explosion, I just tried to do a shoulder charge,” he told a couple of reporters, sitting on the sideline to improve their 3G reception, at about 10.30 on Friday night. ”I got him high, which I regret now. I obviously didn’t mean to do that. I just feel real sorry for him, and I hope he is OK. I just tried to see if he was OK, but he’s already ducked out.”

The audio was forwarded to other reporters at the ground by email. A subtle PR offensive had begun. Dragons official Wendell Sailor had already passed on Prior’s apologies to Thurston.

Twenty-four-hours later, Wests Tigers facilitated a ‘PR defensive”. With his place in the NSW Origin side the hottest topic south of the border, Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah scored his side’s first try from nothing, executed  a crucial chargedown that sent the game against Gold Coast at Skilled Park into overtime  and then kicked the winning field goal.

But after being briefly interviewed on the field by TV, Farah declined to attend the media conference and said outside the dressing rooms he would not be talking. The international clearly thought he had as much to lose by speaking as Prior thought he had to gain.

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NRL round nine: WESTS TIGERS 15 GOLD COAST 14 in golden point time at Skilled Park

By STEVE MASCORD

BESEIGED Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah is so disillusioned at the debate over his State Of Origin candidacy that he refused to talk after tendering one of the best individual performances of the season last night.

Labelled as unsuited to interstate football by club great Steve Roach and the centre of an ugly dispute between NSW coach Ricky Stuart and his Australia counterpart Tim Sheens, hooker Farah almost single-handedly lifted his team from 14-0 down to an overtime victory over Gold Coast at Skilled Park.

The 27-year-old not only kicked the winning field goal two minutes into golden point but scored his side’s first try from nothing and charged down a kick which led to the match-tying penalty goal in the final minute of regulation time.

But Farah then failed to front for the post match media conference, where he was replaced by Benji Marshall.  Asked outside the dressingrooms by the Sun-Herald if he was commenting, Farah said “nah mate.”

“Too much has been said already and he wants to stay out of it,” coach Sheens told the Sun-Herald. “He just wants to concentrate on his footy and leave everything else alone. He’s had a tough week.”

The fact that a star player has been goaded into silence is a compelling illustration of just how high emotions are running in the lead-up to the Blues’ side being announced for Origin I on May 23. Sheens argued that Farah should not have had to perform last night’s near-miracle to get into the Blues’ side while five-eighth Marshall was also a passionate advocate of his skipper.

“The only thing he could do was answer it on the field – tonight was his last chance,” said the coach, “although I’d be disappointed if it had to be tonight to prove something. I think he’s played pretty well all season and the City-Country a couple of weeks ago showed that.

“It’s out of his hands now. If he gets his spot he gets it, if he doesn’t, he doesn’t. I think he’s pretty much come to terms with that sort of thing over the years.

“Robbie plays 100 per cent every week. Obviously there’s been a lot written this week. He wants to stay out of that, it’s got nothing to do with him.”

Marshall added: “If it’s got anything to do with form or how someone’s playing, he definitely put his hand up. He won that game for us tonight. (It was) off the back of everyone else’s effort but when it comes down to it, he won that game.

“When the game’s on the line, champions stand up and he definitely stood up tonight.

“He made plenty of tackles, took the ball up strong and to put that effort in at the end to make that charge-down and chase the ball down ….

”He was on his hands and knees just before that. That’s a sign of true character and as the captain I thought he led the way and gave us that penalty and then kicked the winning (field) goal.”

Sheens and Marshall revealed they had last week practiced the field goal, executed after an error from Titan Jordan Rankin, which won the game. “I didn’t think it was going to work – but it did work,” Marshall said.

It was a heart-breaking loss for the Titans who had secured just one win in their previous 12 at home but whose new halves combination of Aiden Sezer and Rankin.

“It was cruel in the end,” said coach John Cartwright. “Lead from start to finish and then have some opportunities at the death to put it beyond doubt. With a minute to go, I thought we’d be sweet.”

WESTS TIGERS 15 (R Farah B Ayshford tries B Marshal 3 goals R Farah field goal) bt GOLD COAST 14 (K Gordon D Mead tries A Sezer 3 goals) in golden point time at Skilled Park. Referees: G Sutton/A Shortall. Crowd: 14,254.

Filed for: SUN-HERALD

Final team lists:

TITANS: Phil Graham; Kevin Gordon, Jamal Idris, Domique Peyroux, David Mead; Jordan Rankin, Aidan Sezer; Ashley Harrison, Mark Minichiello, Greg Bird, Nate Myles, Matt Srama, Luke Bailey. Res: Luke O’Dwyer, Matt White, Luke Douglas, Bodene Thompson.

WT: Tim Moltzen; Beau Ryan, Joel Reddy, Chris Lawrence, Lote Tuqiri; Benji Marshall, Blake Ayshford; Matt Bell, Liam Fulton, Adam Blair, Keith Galloway, Robbie Farah (c), Aaron Woods. Res: Tom Humble, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Ray Cashmere, Junior Moors.

Referees: Gerard Sutton/Alan Shortall.

Toyota Cup: Gold Coast 34 Wests Tigers 6