WORLD RUGBY LEAGUE POWER LIST: Year Two

Power ListBy STEVE MASCORD
WE certainly picked the right time to kick off our World Rugby League Power List in 2012 – if only because it bore little resemblance to rankings we now present to you 12 months later.
Last June, the game had just lost NRL chief executive David Gallop, who went to the FFA, and Rugby Football League executive chairman Richard Lewis, who is now back in tennis.
But at the time, the NRL didn’t have a CEO while no-one has really replaced Lewis at Red Hall, although former Football League CEO Brian Barwick is now the chairman and Maurice Watkins is on board a senior non-executive director.
But it’s at League Central in Sydney that the biggest shakeup has taken place. Since Gallop’s departure, Welshman David Smith has taken over as chief executive and he has designed and instituted a detailed administrative structure.
Todd Greenberg is head of football, Jim Doyle is chief operating officer, Shane Mattiske is head of strategy and Paul Kind runs commercial with three positions to be added.
The old guard is largely either gone, or going.
Last year we summed up the aim of this list thus: – if rugby league has a “direction” as such, who is behind the thing, pushing the hardest? These aren’t necessarily people who throw their weight around most often – but equally we have not favoured wallflowers who could action enormous change for the sport with their wealth and influence but who have so far done nought.
In achieving this aim, we looked at appointing a panel of judges. In future years, that might happen but for now we are sticking to the informal process observed by most journalists gathering information most days – ringing people and talking to them.
The buck for this list stops with the name at the top of the page.
1. John Grant
ARLC chairman: Grant has receded into the background somewhat but is still David Smith’s boss. He attends marquee events, presses the flesh, does interviews and recently presided over the decision to prioritise 30 tasks that the ARLC wanted to achieve over the coming months. He’s the most active and influential member of the commission and still spends a great deal of time at League Central – although much less than before Smith’s appointment. Because of his personal interest in international football, the game’s progress in that area will be significantly influenced by him.
2. Dave Smith
ARLC chief executive: For months last year, the only rugby league official we seemed to see on television was the Commission’s chairman, John Grant. He was everywhere – but has virtually become invisible since he found his man in Welsh banker David (now ‘Dave’) Smith. The name change is eerily reminiscent of predecessor David Moffett, who used to ring open line radio programs posing as ‘David From Hornsby’. Despite being labelled a ‘dunce’, Smith completely remodelled the NRL administration and was at pains to point out the changes were all his. By this time next year, he should go up a place on this list.
3. Gary Pemberton
ARL Commissioner. It seems strange to have three ARLC types at the top of the list and then no more. But Pemberton, Grant and Smith are seen as the men who run rugby league in Australia while the others six commissioners work behind the scenes. We called him a “head kicker” last year but he has been less obtrusive since then. However, clubs hear from Pemberton regularly. Pemberton has experience in TV rights negotiations but unlike others in that area of expertise, has held his spot in the top 20. The likes of Ian Frykberg and Lachlan Murdoch will next be heard from here in four years.
4. Cameron Smith
Melbourne player. Cameron Smith’s influence was best exemplified by David Smith telling the assembled club CEOs earlier this year the hooker wanted the accreditation of three journalists revoked overthe Jon Mannah story. If an Australia captain has ever been so politically active, we haven’t known about it. Smith regularly talks to players around the competition and reportedly would like to be Queensland coach one day. His steady demeanour means he inspires trust in others. As influential as any player has even been off the field.
5. David Gyngell
Television executive. With the NRL’s TV deal signed since our last power rankings, the executives of the stations that got the rights have held their places and those who missed out have disappeared completely. Channel Nine remains central to the way most Australians consume rugby league. People who tweet scores from games they are showing on delay are regularly abused and Nine’s commentators are arguably more famous than most players. Nine succeeded in convincing the NRL to allow them to delay Sunday games and keep grand finals in the evening by throwing truckloads of money at the new administration.
6. Todd Greenberg
NRL official. Despite his high profile, Greenberg didn’t make our list last year because we were told he was not a wheeler-and-deaer, preparing to focus on what was in front of him at the Bulldogs. But having handled the Ben Barba episode at the club earlier this year, Greenberg has been appointed as David Smith’s frontman at Moore Park. He’s the man who knows it’s Ben Barba, not Benji Barba, and will speak on football-related matters in future. Presumably, given Dave Smith’s pre-occupation with the corporate side of the business, Greenberg will increasingly seem like the boss of the NRL to average fans.
7. Patrick Delany
Television executive. Our first new entry, the Fox Sports CEO has been very proactive this year as his pay television channel completely overhauled its rugby league coverage, cutting a talent-sharing deal with Nine. A former Commonwealth Games swimming trialist, Delaney is known to be in constant contact with clubs about innovations such as the Fox Kopter and cornerpost-cam. A great corporate link with News Limited and a big move into tablets and mobile technology increases Fox’s – and Delany’s – influence.
8. Phil Gould
Penrith general manager. Gould was David Gallop’s no.1 nemesis and saw him off. No other club official commentates on games and writes columns in newspapers. He has the ear of David Smith and the respect of most, putting in long hours and leading the fight against the GWS AFL franchise. Gould appears to be a fan of the ARLC but history shows he will be a formidable adversary if they get him offside. He talks about politics, football and personalities and shapes public opinion in each these areas. And he almost prised Johnathan Thurston away from North Queensland.
9. Ray Dibb
Canterbury chairman. The rise of NRL club chairman has been a key development since our most recent power rankings. The group succeeded in getting an advance on the TV rights income which has been estimated at some $7 million per franchise. Initially, there were fears they would block the introduction of the commission completely if they didn’t get their way. Dib is in constant contact with other club bosses, recently appointed the first female chief executive of the NRL era, Raelene Castle and played a key role in the recent restructure of the NSWRL.
10. Gary Hetherington
Leeds chief executive. Our highest ranking English power broker, Hetherington runs the dual code Leeds Rugby conglomerate and is the man behind bids to expand the World Club Challenge which now look like being successful. Hetherington is always thinking outside the box, be it taking games to places like Dubai and Hong Kong or tinkering with the domestic season, and has more influence than anyone at Red Hall given the recent financial problems at Bradford and the near-collapse of Salford.
11. Dave Trodden
Wests Tigers official. The Balmain solicitor stepped down as Wests Tigers chairman at the end of his term last year but by then he had already played a key role in establishing the NRL chairmans’ group and won significant funding from the Commission, creating a new power group in the game. At the end of 2011, he was quoted in RLW saying the clubs were refusing to sign licence agreements with the NRL, which could have freed them to form their own competition. Despite no longer being a club chairman, Trodden remains active. Also a huge influence over NSWRL restructure.
12. Graham Annesley
NSW Sports Minister. The next big revolution in the NRL is going to concern the stadiums policy, and attempts to match venues to events more sensibly.. That will mean a painful departure from suburban grounds and better deals for clubs and fans at the super stadia. As NSW sports minister, former international referee Graham Annesley will be at the centre of the paradigm shift. He’s rocketed up eight spots in our world rugby league power rankings as a result.
13. Wayne Beavis
Player agent. With the television deal done and the competition structure settled, player agents such as Beavis come into their own once more. When it was reported recently that Neil Henry had two weeks to save his job as coach of North Queensland, it was a meeting Beavis held in Townsville which sparked the rumour. Beavis manages Trent Barrett, who has been linked to a coaching job at the Cowboys. He also represented the players in talks with the RLPA about representative payments and is also deeply involved in the Agent Accreditation scheme.
14. Wayne Bennett
Newcastle coach. The supercoach has dropped a few spots because he has had enough on his plate at Newcastle, restricting the time available to influence the sport as a whole. Nathan Tinkler has gone from the top 20 completely for similar reasons. But when Bennett has something to say, like recently regarding cannonball tackles, people listen. Having brought back the Tri- (now Four) Nations, he has reportedly moved his focus to Australian sport as a whole. Bennett knows how to use his influence and is anecdotally close to ARLC chairman John Grant.
15. Jim Doyle
NRL chief operating officer. Already influential in his role as the chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby League, the Navman millionaire has crossed the Tasman and is helping run the NRL. Doyle turned Kiwi league around in the wake of the SPARC report, winning many admirers, and could even be regarded as over-qualified for his NRL gig. His oversight includes the new NRL integrity unit and he gave an early indication he won’t be a wallflower by speaking out against the practice of sweeping off-field incidents under the carpet.
16. Shane Richardson
South Sydney chief executive. Richardson has a finger in plenty of pies. As one of the longest-surviving club CEOs, he has plenty to say at CEOs conferences. As a former Super League club boss, he is on the committee that liases over the future of the World Club Challenge. And as the boss of the competition’s form team, he has a big input on competition-wide policies, such as media procedures. Richardson is also not afraid to make a public statement, meaning he can use the media to apply pressure where necessary – a lost art among most NRL CEOs
17. Isaac Moses
Player agent. A new entry by unlucky to miss out last year. Moses is the man who manages Cameron Smith, the current Australian captain, and the recruit the game most covets, Israel Folau. As part of Titan management, which also handles Karmichael Hunt, he has been involved in some of the most seismic transfers in recent rugby league history – ones which affect the overall health of the game by shifting athletes from one sport to another. Moses was banned from operating by the Agent Accreditation Scheme over his involvement in the Storm salary cap drama but the suspension seemed to have little or no impact on his operation
18. Simon Moran
Warrington majority shareholder. The English “pop impresario” rarely gives interviews but is too polite to decline them, simply going missing at the appointed time. He’s the man behind some of the biggest bands, festivals and venues in the UK but his big passion is rugby league and, more specifically, Warrington Wolves. He has single-handedly turned them into a Super League force and is part of a powerful group that is negotiating over the future of the World Club Challenge. A man with enough money to make things happen.
19. Paul Gallen
Cronulla captain. Gallen has become increasingly outspoken in recent years and the ASADA investigation at the Sharks has brought his leadership qualities into shark focus. Cronulla’s decision to stone-wall the drugs agency has forced it to change tack and probably prolonged the investigation. On the field, he took the law into his own hands in Origin I as NSW skipper and probably went a long way towards determining the result. Number 19 with a bullet.
20 Owen Glenn
Warriors shareholder. Probably holds the fortunes of rugby league in New Zealand in his hands. The billionaire took a share in the Warriors last year, with an announcement he and Eric Watson would share the ownership on a 50-50 basis. Without the club as a flagship, rugby league in New Zealand would not be able to keep its head above water in comparison with the dominant rival code. The owners last year announced they wanted to make the club the biggest sporting franchise in Australasia. That’s got off to a shaky start.

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WORLD RUGBY LEAGUE POWER LIST: Year One

By STEVE MASCORD

FIRST it was the Davis Cup tennis player. Then the Sydney first grade cricketer.

In the space of just under two months, rugby league lost two of its biggest administrative names in Rugby Football League executive chairman Richard Lewis and NRL CEO David Gallop. From a leadership point of view, it was without doubt our biggest shakeup since the Super League war.

Sure, they leave the sport in very different circumstances on opposite sides of the world.

In Australia, Gallop’s departure is linked in no small part to a boom. The next television rights deal is expected to bring a windfall which the new Independent Commission needs to manage by balancing a myriad of competing interests. Gallop was one of the final vestiges of News Limited’s half ownership of the National Rugby League.

In England, Bradford has been to death’s door and back this season and the Red Hall administration has been criticised for the poor financial state of the game after giving away competition naming rights in exchange for free advertising on the side of trucks. The collapse of Crusaders put Richard Lewis’ franchise licensing under the spotlight and club bosses are beginning to grumble about the parlous financial state of the game.

But in their own ways, Gallop and Lewis leave big holes – which is why this is an ideal time for Rugby League Week to publish our first annual Power List of the most influential league people in the world.

You’ve seen similar lists elsewhere but to our knowledge it’s the first specific to rugby league but still wide enough to include the game on a global scale.

There’s no beating around the bush – lists like this are terribly subjective. The buck stops with me this year – in future we might get more democratic and scientific. The writer took advice from people but in the end this list is based on my own observations.

The criteria here is simple – if rugby league has a “direction” as such, who is behind the thing, pushing the hardest? These aren’t necessarily people who throw their weight around most often – but equally we have not favoured wallflowers who could action enormous change for the sport with their wealth and influence but who have so far done nought.

Let us know what you think

1.        John Grant

ARLC chairman: The former Australian international and IT tycoon comes across as a genial chap but he left no doubt about his ruthlessness with a tap on the shoulder that was felt around the rugby league world last Tuesday. The Independent Commission could have been as convoluted and impotent as a government department but Grant has made sure this is not the case by driving a steak into the heart of the old establishment from the outset. The challenge for Grant now is to find a CEO dynamic enough to be an effective frontman but pliable enough to work with the Commission more smoothly than Gallop did.

2.        Gary Pemberton

ARL Commissioner. The former head of Billabong, Qantas and TAB boss has a reputation as a head-kicker but Pemberton reportedly played a key role in keeping Michael Searle in charge of the Gold Coast Titans when Gallop wanted more decisive action. Pemberton’s power remains pretty much in reserve. Unless the commission becomes more open about its inner machinations, most of his head-kicking or job-saving will remain the preserve of rumours and unsourced reports. But rest assured, he’ll be close to the action.

3.        Wayne Bennett

Newcastle coach. No-one in rugby league – or indeed Australian sport – knows how to use his profile and status more effectively than the Knights mentor coach. Bennett keeps his public utterances scarce so they have maximum impact and much has already been made of his footballing friendship with Grant. As well as being employed by a millionaire in Nathan Tinkler, the winner of seven premierships has strong, long-lasting relationships with many other members of our top 20. Thus his influence is twofold – public and private.

4.        Rupert Murdoch

Media mogul. It’s only been four months since the Commission took over in Australia but already Rupert Murdoch’s influence over rugby league is far more significant in the United Kingdom. If Sky was to stop showing the game, it would be the equivalent of bombing us back to the dark ages – certainly, fulltime professional rugby league would probably disappear. But News owns half of premier sports which owns half of Fox Sports in Australia – meaning there’s still plenty of influence in the southern hemisphere when you include Sky Sports NZ as well

5.        David Gyngell

Television executive. When ranking television executives its unwise to underestimate the power of the current free-to-air rights holder in Australia. Nine has the rights to make the final offer in the current negotiations and its influence over the National Rugby League is all-pervasive. The reason one game kicks off at 2pm every Sunday is that it is over before Nine’s delayed telecast of the other match. Radio stations are banned from calling Friday night matches that are not live on Nine. And the network’s contract-defying refusal to show matches at a reasonable time in the sport’s developing states has been responsible for many a letter to the editor.

6.        Phil Gould

Penrith general manager. Gould’s outspoken war on the AFL incursion into western Sydney has had an impact on the independent commission and his criticism of Gallop clearly also found influential ears. Gould has played the role of contrarian for a decade now, criticising the NRL at every turn and turning up the heat on the administration over most issues. After a period in the media, the former premiership coach was coaxed back to clubland and has asked the League for cap concessions to help keep the Panthers strong in the face of the GWS menace.

7.        Ian Frykberg

Television executive. The manager of International Sports Television is an imposing and important figure expected to represent the interests of Fox Sports in the NRL’s continuing TV rights negotiations. Insiders tell us he is omnipresent at talks despite his low public profile. Even though there is now an independent consultancy working for the NRL during talks, all sides respect ‘Frykers’ opinions when it comes to the value of rights and how best to handle them when they are secured. Renowned for getting things done when negotiations reach a stalemate.

8.        Russell Crowe

Actor. It may not make sense immediately but Russell Crowe is our biggest powerbroker outside the traditional league hotbeds of Australia, New Zealand and England. Yes, he owns South Sydney. But fears he would be brash and push the NRL around have proven baseless. It’s in places like the United States that Crowe has made a difference for the game, getting our game on national talk shows and attracting a six figure crowd to a pre-season game in Jacksonville. He considered investing in the AMNRL and supports taking the World Club Challenge to Las Vegas.

9.        Nigel Wood

RFL chief executive. With Richard Lewis’ departure, Nigel’s is the undisputed seat of power in British rugby league. The former Halifax officials has risen through the ranks of Red Hall, which is now turning a profit instead of the losses that followed the disastrous 2000 World Cup. Wood is also the tournament director for the 2013 World Cup and the longer the search for a chairman continues, the more his influence deepens. But the fact Stg500,000 had to be raised by fans to save Bradford, and the collapse of Crusaders, are black marks against his administration.

10.     Nick Politis

Sydney Roosters chairman. The collapse of the NRL partnership committee was expected to erode the influence of the City Ford millionaire. But then came the rise of the chairman’s group and the downfall of David Gallop, with whom Politis reportedly fell out. At one point last year, the chairmen demanded guarantees the commission would be put in place and asked for what amounted to an advance on the next television deal. Those close to the game say Politis is still as active politically as ever, even if his direct and obvious influence isn’t what it was.  Reacting last week to David Gallop’s departure, his predecessor David Moffett commented: “You also have to question what influence Nick Politis is having behind the scenes. It’s all very much ARL.”

11.     Gary Hetherington

Leeds chief executive. A self-made mover and shaker who started out as a rugby league missionary at Sheffield and ended up running a dual code club in Leeds that has given us our current world champions. Hetherington is on most committees that matter in England, has been pushing for an expanded World Club Challenge for years and this year gave his players more than the total prizemoney for beating Manly. His power comes from years of putting in the hard yards.

12.     David Leckie

Television executive. The former Nine heavy hitter is now at Seven, a serious challenger for NRL and State of Origin rights. Leckie is the CEO of Seven West media, which owns the network, and it was he who paid $1.25 billion for the AFL rights last time they were up. He was recently included in The Australian’s top 50 most influential people in Australian sport. The newspaper noted Leckie was “the only man to take two television networks to number one”. Even if seven gets no rights, its involvement will push the price up considerably.

13.     Lachlan Murdoch

Television executive. The son of Rupert, like Leckie, is in a good position to cause current rights holders Nine a lot of heartache. Aside from his obvious connections as a member of arguably the most powerful media family in the world, Murdoch was reportedly good friends with Gallop, goes back a long way with Bennett and is a passionate Brisbane Broncos supporter. Gallop met Murdoch on April 11 to kick off talks with non-incumbent bidders for the TV rights.

14.     Petero Civoniceva

Brisbane player. With all the wheeling a dealing going on between the ARL Commission and television networks, players are feeling a little left out. RLPA chief David Garnsey recently complained the NRL had announced next year’s representative format without consulting his organisation. Petro will be directly involved in the Collective Bargaining Agreement and has widespread respect from a cross section of the game’s players. He’s made it clear he believes they deserve a better deal. Only last week, Civoniceva reacted to David Gallop’s departure by saying: “The playing group must be consulted about the replacement. The playing group will obviously be heavily affected by the decision.”

15.     Cameron Smith

Melbourne player. Australia’s captain showed he was an independent thinker before the State Of Origin series when he signed an endorsement deal with Victoria Bitter, the sponsor of the Blues. Occasionally outspoken on political issues, Smith has been through the Storm salary cap drama and has the even temprement to deal with players, media and officialdom. It would not surprise to see him move into administration upon retirement.

16.     Ian Lenagan

Wigan chairman. The former Wigan fan who got rich and ended up chairman, with Harlequins RL his stepping stone. Lenagan has restored the fortunes of arguably our most famous club to something resembling former glories in the age of the salary cap – no mean feat. Notoriously frugal and running an extremely lean operation at DW Stadium, Lenagan has quickly risen through the ranks of influential British rugby league men on the back of his beloved Warriors.

17.     Shane Richardson

South Sydney chief executive. Like Hetherington, Richardson’s biggest strength is his longevity. His connection with Crowe and experience in England with Gateshead and Hull also help him connect the dots. When it comes to getting the numbers to effect change at CEOs conferences, Peter Doust and Steve Noyce are sometimes his equals but no-one is better. Comes from a fan-boy background like Lenagan and Hetherington but arguably more hard-nosed than either of them. Probably the number one draft pick if they had one for CEOs.

18.     Nathan Tinkler

Newcastle owner. It could be argued this is a man with great potential power but we haven’t had the chance to see it in action yet. But he has already attracted Wayne Bennett, Kade Snowden and Danny Buderus to the Knights and his capacity to wreak havoc with sport was grimly illustrated by his decision to surrender the Newcastle Jets licence after a clash with soccer administrators. A similar stand against the ARL Commission would be catastrophic – let’s not forget the Super League war looked to have been won by News Limited until Paul Harragon paid for a mini-bus and drove his team-mates to Phillip Street.

19.     Wayne Beavis

Player agent. Others such as George Mimis may have big names. David Riolo may have moved the goalposts by taking clients to AFL. But old stager Beavis has arguably the biggest stable and the most influential contacts in the game. It’s Beavis who has been representing the players in talks with the RLPA over representative payments. He is also a driving force behind the Agent Accreditation Scheme which recently suspended Issac Moses and George Mimis over the Melbourne Storm salary cap drama.

20.     Graham Annesley

NSW Sports Minister. It’s not every day that a former referee and leading NRL official gets such a senior government position and Annesley is our top ranking polly for that reason. As sports minister in the state where the NRL is headquartered, Annesley makes decisions that have a direct impact on the sport. It’s understood several of his decisions have paved the way for the stadia policy which will come into force in Sydney next year. A fellow the game considers itself lucky to have in its corner.

Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: January 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

HERR ‘ead ‘itter has given Bondi Beat an assignment this month: how should international rugby league be organised?
Easy for him to say! Things have never been so fluid in that particular part of our game, with the International Federation re-constituted over the past six months and registered as a company in Australia, the Asia-Pacific Federation about to be launched and the Independent Commission to (finally) be floated in Australia.
Middle East and Atlantic Federations are also in the starting blocks, I’m told. So we have to be careful to not suggest remedies which are already in the process of being applied.
Let’s identify our problems.

One, only three teams can win the next World Cup – and we are being extremely generous to include a side that has not beaten one of the others in any series for 39 years.
This is not a problem that can be solved in the short term and is tangled up with other issues we will list later.
But the way domestic sporting competitions address lack of competitiveness and predictability of results is to introduce drafts and salary caps. Drafts and salary caps don’t work at international level but surely we should do for our developing countries what Super League once did for London and what the AFL is about to do for Western Sydney and Gold Coast.
That is: give them as big a leg up as we can.
OK, we don’t have money (more of that later) but the RLIF should be aiming to lay out fixture lists four years in advance, with an objective of giving the other countries as many games each year as Australia, New Zealand and England. No developing country should have fewer fixtures in a year than any one of those three.
This would encourage players to commit to other countries. I feel sorry for Frank Pritchard, who took the leap from New Zealand to Samoa only for their tour to be cancelled.
The development will come. As one influential figure said to me, England can live with Australia for 65 minutes, New Zealand can live with them for 75 and Wales are up to about 15 – on the back of home-nourished players, not rugby union converts.
Maybe in RLWC13, the Welsh will be up to 30 minutes, then 50 – which should be more than enough to make the semis of the 2017 World Cup.
Our next problem is lack of funds.
I cannot believe no-one picked up the phone and called Gatorade or Coca-Cola last year and said “How would you like to sponsor the corner posts in Philadelphia, Rarotonga (oops), Belgrade, Avignon and London over the next two months?”
Is this property worth something? Yes! Did anyone try to sell it? No! Look at some of the other things that get sponsored in rugby league – lower division clubs’ training gear, for instance!
Again, I have had private conversations with movers and shakers about this issue. They say there are domestic agreements, red tape. Objective two is to cut that red tape and sell just one  – one – global sponsorship in the next 12 months.

Let’s put it bluntly: rugby league is such a small sport globally that it is a cartel when it comes to sponsors. Domestic officials don’t want to cost themselves sponsors by handing too much independence to international bodies. Only when they are fighting each other, as well as other sports, for cash will both areas of our game realise their potential.

Cartels allow people to take it easy, get complacent and – as a result – the consumers and the industry itself eventually suffer.
The IRB’s beer sponsor rings the Serbian rugby union and DEMANDS to give them 10,000 euros every year! “Please come and get it!”
OK, so we have every country playing four internationals a year and a coterie of global sponsors funding a modest office. What next?

Eligibility.

This is one of those issues where you just can’t please everyone. Again, an insider described to be a “philosophical divide between those who want the best players in the World Cup and those who want the best players who are eligible”.

The RLIF’s announcement recently that players would not be able to represent one country in qualifiers and another in the tournament proper was largely hollow since we have 12 automatic qualifiers for RLWC13 anyway! Players from those 12 countries can wait right up until the team is picked to choose their loyalty!

Bondi Beat would like to see the residential qualification pushed out from three to five years. We are tempted to call for the one permitted change of election within each World Cup cycle abolished but – again – without proper annual international programmes there is a danger developing countries would field badly depleted teams in the World Cup.

One policy of the RLEF deserves praise.

The body will not pay to fly in pros from Australia or elsewhere. In the recently-completed World Cup qualifiers, the most the Federation gave any team for travel was Stg4000. The RLEF’s aim is to give countries programmes they can afford to complete – which means a nation might be demoted to a lower level of competition because of its ability to get there as much as its competitiveness.

In the end, it is down to whether Anthony Minichiello is willing to sleep in barracks or whether Lebanon can afford Jai Ayoub’s airfare as to whether they play. It is also a matter for the individual countries whether they dump players who got them to the World Cup in favour of stars who can win games when they get there.

In the end, eligibility rules should be tightened when we have the fixture list that allows players to compare oranges with oranges in choosing which country to play for.

I don’t see refereeing as a problem. It is cosmetic to appoint Thierry Alibert or Henry Perenara to a “neutral” test just because of where they were raised. They live in Leeds and Sydney furchrisakes. If it is right that all NRL referees must live in Sydney then it’s OK that Matt Cecchin can control Australia.

What about programming?

Is it too hard to have the Anzac Test and the Exiles game on the same weekend and let all professional players go home and represent their countries mid-season? Is it? Really? Certainly, under the new TV deal in Australia, it shouldn’t be.

Our final problem, then, is club v country.

With the advent of the Independent Commission, NRL clubs think they are going to have more power and appear to have actually forced England to stay home at the end of this season. But that comes down to the late planning of everything.

When the NRL agreed with clubs – verbally, not in writing – three years ago that October and November would be “quiet” internationally, we should have already known there would be one test between Australia and New Zealand, on exactly what date, and that’s it. No argument – or have it then instead of now.

Let me know what you think international rugby league’s other problems are by going on the totalrl.com forums or coming to whitelinefever.ning.com, joining up, and posting in the forum there.

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WHEN a New Zealand official abused referee Matt Cecchin at halftime in the Hull Test, he got more than he bargained for.

At home Cecchin would have filed a report and shut up. At Hull, he gave it back to the Kiwi in spades – perhaps even using a cuss word or two. The touch judges and match commissioner were apparently left speechless by the Chech’s tirade!

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