BONDI BEAT: December 2014

December 2014BBy STEVE MASCORD
IT’S not overstating things that there has been something of a paradigm shift in out game as a result of the recently-completed Four Nations.

I have a favourite saying about the warring factions within our game: the parochial populists and the outward-looking anoraks: if the meek are to inherit the earth, then the geeks will get rugby league.

And with Jarryd Hayne, Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess walking out on us all at the same time, the non-geeks are finally starting to get it. Fencing ourselves off and resigning ourselves to always being a regional sport just isn’t an option.

It never has been, but they couldn’t see that.

It works like this: the NFL and Major League Baseball and European soccer bring their teams to our doorsteps and try to make money from us. The money we usually give them would otherwise have gone to sports that were locally traditional, like rugby league.

As globalisation steps up a gear and networked media becomes the norm. those traditional local sports will either continue to lose bigger slices of their market share, or they can go into the markets of other sports and steal something back.

There will eventually be no local sports, local music or local arts. There will just be sport, music and art. The very real long-term choice rugby league has is to be a sport, or be nothing.

That rugby union international between the United States and New Zealand recently was astonishing: 65,000 people watching something that has no history in that society was a watershed moment, up there with the NFL at Wembley.

Sonny Bill Williams went straight from our loving embraced to playing before 140,000 on successive weekends in Chicago and London. Wow.

The ignoramuses can no longer deny that expansion is essential for our game’s survival, and that international competition provides us with the best vehicle to carry us down that road.

Now. Plenty of people commenting on rugby league in Australia and New Zealand are general sports followers rather than devotees of our game. Normally, they should be summarily ignored in talking about our battles with other sports, because it’s a war in which they have invested nothing.

But even some of these cynics are finally admitting that the club season is too long, that international football has enormous potential and that – God forbid – Australia should actually be playing next year.

We have Samoa to thank for this breakthrough. We have been searching for a credible fourth nation for a generation. Eligibility laws should naturally accommodate Samoa as a result, allowing State of Origin players to represent them.

That’s the plan: for Origin players to be free to represent tier two countries, but not New Zealand or England.

Secondly, the Four Nations was on the way out with one – at most – planned between 2017 and 2021. We may have to rethink that now. And what happens when the invited country finishes above one of the big three – and we kick them out of the next Four Nations anyway?

Thirdly, it would seem we don’t need big stars to successfully promote an international series any longer. Australia were missing 12 World Cup stars and still attract great crowds in Brisbane, Melbourne and Wollongong.

The Geek Revolution has begun.

THIS column is called Bondi Beat, which means it is supposed to be about Australian rugby league. From time to time we write about how British rugby league looks from Bondi (like, you really have to squint to see it).

Taking those parameters into account, writing about England’s Four Nations campaign may seem a bit of a stretch. For a start, the closest game to Bondi was in Wollongong, which for the hipsters around the seaside suburb may as well be Sierra Leone.

But what the heck. We’re going to make some observations anyway.

England were probably the best team to watch in the tournament, just edging Samoa. They played with daring and skill and speed and seemed to create overlaps on the fringes of opposition defences with ease.

They have solved their problems in the halves. Matty Smith and Gareth Widdop are an accomplished pairing. Kallum Watkins is all class, Josh Charnley and Ryan Hall were outstanding and the Burgess boys plus Jason Graham make for a ferocious pack.

Daryl Clark enhanced his reputation.

They lost for the same reasons all emerging teams at any level do so. You have to pay your dues to rugby league karma. Good, emerging teams, always hit a “luck wall”. If they stick at what they’re doing, they burst through the other side.

With Josh Hodgson in mind, maybe we should call it a “luck door”.

I’ve thought long and hard about Steve McNamara’s claims to keep his post. I’ve come to this conclusion: they had want to have someone very good lined up as a replacement if they are going to punt him.

I didn’t agree with much of what he did from a PR point of view at the World Cup but there is ample evidence his team is building up to something very worthwhile on the pitch.

.

SO just who is Mike Miller, the American rugby union official who turned down our top job – the CEO of the Rugby League International Federation?

Before he was at the IRB, Miller was head of sport at the BBC. That did not go well – complaints against him from his own staff were leaked to the Mirror.

In rugby union he seemed to do well. He got the sport back into the Olympics, expanded the Sevens, boosted the women’s game and introduced a strategic investments programme.

The World Olympians Association, where he is now CEO, seems a rather cushy job. The man who had the casting vote in offering the job to him was an outside consultant, with Australia’s David Smith and the RFL’s Nigel Wood deadlocked on the issue.

To say it was a blow to Wood that Miller took his time responding, and then declined, is a gross understatement.

Members of the appointments committee were so busy with their own backyards during the interview process that they repeatedly broke appointments.

So when they finally got around to offering Miller the job, he took his time in responding. And presumably, he was not overly impressed with what he was being asked to get involved in.

But the committee doesn’t seem to have its act together since, either. You would have thought they would have gone to the second best candidate, offered it to him, and got on with things. If that did happen, then things have since ground to a halt again.

Rugby league is not a member of Sports Accord and it does not have tax exempt status. Given that it doesn’t even have a CEO, you could argue it doesn’t deserve either.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

Sam Tomkins Says Sam Burgess Is Leaving For “A Buzz” Not A Challenge

South Sydney - Sam BurgessBy STEVE MASCORD

ENGLAND fullback Sam Tomkins says absent team-mate and international player of the year Sam Burgess is leaving for rugby union in search of a “buzz” more than a tougher sporting challenge.

Rugby league’s Four Nations kicks off in Brisbane today in somewhat curious circumstances for the 13-man game, when England takes on Samoa and Australia meets New Zealand before an anticipated Suncorp Stadium crowd of up to 50,000.

England’s Burgess, New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams and Australia’s Jarryd Hayne each played a full season of NRL but have chosen other sports in preference to the international series.

For Burgess and Williams it’s rugby union, for Hayne it’s training alone in Los Angeles in the hope of winning an NFL contract. Samoa’s best player at the 2013 World Cup, Anthony Milford was in Australia’s train-on squad but when he missed the cut, became unavailable for the island nation even though rules would have permitted him to play.

But New Zealand Warrior Tomkins – himself a rugby union target – says league is not under siege.

“I think the NRL’s a great stage to play on,” he told The Guardian.

“The reason I left the Super League is I wanted to challenge myself on a bigger stage and a tougher competition.

amazon“Sam Burgess, he’s not going and playing in a tougher competition. He’s going to a competition that’s not as tough. But the idea of playing in the rugby union World Cup … England rugby union, they can play against Fiji and fill Twickenham with 80,000 people.

“That’s the buzz there.”

Burgess inspired South Sydney to its first premiership victory in 43 years earlier this month. England or Great Britain last beat Australia in a series the year before Souths’ previous title, during the 1970 Ashes series.

Members of the England squad were reminded how long the Australian epoch has run when the 1994 Kangaroos were special guests at the Player of the Year Awards luncheon on Thursday and highlights of that series were played at length on a big screen.

For Sam Burgess’ brothers, Souths giants George and Tom, the opportunity is there to break enough droughts in the space of two month to be accredited as rain-bringing mystics.

“We’re all fully aware of how long it has been,” said Tomkins.

donate2“We’re here for silverware. There’s no doubt about it. We’re not here to make up the numbers. We’ve come and come second or third far too many times now so, yeah, we want a trophy.”

Winger Ryan Hall added: “It’s been 44 years. It might be unknown this side of the world but we talk about it every year, it going longer and longer since we last won something.

“It means a great deal to us. Hopefully this is the year. Hopefully next year, it won’t be 45 years, it will be one year.

“This bunch of players we’ve got, I think we deserve some sort of recognition on the international scale. There’ve been some new guys come into the squad this year but the core of the group is quite similar. We’ve been together so long, we know each other so well so I think it’s about time we got something.”

Captain Sean O’Loughlin’s thigh injury means James Graham will lead England on Saturday. This marks a measure of redemption for the Canterbury Bulldogs prop, who was omitted from coach Steve McNamara’s first World Cup team a year ago due to off-field ill-discipline.

“It was frustrating more than anything but … I’ve moved on,” said Graham, who now expects O’Loughlin to be skipper permanently and said he did not harbour ambitions regarding the position.

At a match-eve media conference, McNamara said Sam Burgess has presented the team with their jerseys and that he was not taking seriously reports linking George Burgess to rugby union club Gloucester.

The Samoa coach Matt Parish said he rated Tomkins as equally dangerous to any fullback in the game, and that had spent plenty of time schooling his men in how to contain England’s young hookers, Canberra-bound Josh Hodgson and Super League Man of Steel Daryl Clark.

Samoa have been hit with disciplinary problems of their own this week, with Reni Maituia, Tautai Moga and Sauaso Sue fined $10,000 each and dropped for their involvement in a brawl outside a Brisbane nightclub.

Filed for: THE GUARDIAN 

uklqFq1414565478

The A-List: SAM BURGESS (South Sydney, NRL All Stars, England & Great Britain)

South Sydney - Sam BurgessBy STEVE MASCORD

ON a dreary, cold, wet Sydney day, the redeveloped Redfern Oval gives off an unearthly green hue. It’s almost as if the lighting that allows Melbourne AAMI Park to turn the colour of the host team has been installed just below the historic patch of grass.

In the Park Cafe at the northern end of the grandstand, Sam Burgess’ face completes the club colours. The topic of conversation is the Sydney media and, specifically, gossip column speculation about who he is dating.

Big Sam is, unmistakeably, blushing.

“I looked at it and I had a bit of chuckle. There’s no truth in what’s been written in some of the stories,” the 21-year-old says of those Candice Falzon stories.

“It doesn’t help me socially. People think I’m in relationships with girls and all that. It doesn’t help me at all – if you know what I mean.”

A few minutes earlier, A-List had happened upon Sam sharing a coffee and a laugh with cafe owner Harry Azar and some of his friends. Burgess calls them all by name and seems to have spent plenty of time in the modest but often busy little establishment.

It’s a snapshot that sums the England forward up. Remember the 1997 World Club Challenge slogan “we’re not here for a holiday?” Well Sam, kind of, is. Not as in getting pissed up every night and sleeping all day, but as in “getting new life experiences”.

“It’s good to get as many life experiences as you can from footy because it’s not a long career,’ he explains.

“I’d like to think I’ll stay for a while now. I’m having the best time of my life at the moment.”

He sees away games in Perth and Auckland as “free travel”. He’s curious and inquisitive and – most of all – personable. This isn’t about making money or getting famous, it’s about doing something many of his mates back home never get to do – and representing them well while he does it.

To take it for granted or become arrogant would be to disrespect them.

As you’ve probably guessed, Sam has plenty to say – which is why we’re going to revert to one of A-List’s favourite journalistic mechanisms, the sub-heading.

LIFESTYLE

“I’ve never lived in a big city. I’ve always lived away from home, since I’ve been old enough so I’m used to that but living in a big city under a little bit of a spotlight, compared to how I used to live in England … it’s a bit of a difference. It’s not a bad difference. It’s been the best decision I ever made.

“Everyone since I got here … they give me advice. Other players, the staff at Souths, they warned me what it’s like. I think of myself as well-behaved lad anyway but they just sort of warned me to be careful.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a burden, this (points to voice recorder) part of the game. We’ve got to realise we play in a big sport, a well-documented sport. It’s part of being a professional footballer. You’ve got to deal with it and just enjoy it.”

MID-SEASON TEST

“It definitely took its toll on the body. I struggled with my sleep, waking up in the middle of the night but that wasn’t the thing. It was just how fatigued I were. We played Manly that weekend. I’ve never been as tired in my life. I probably had the worst game of my NRL career. It took it’s toll and some of that I’ll have to think about next year, whether I go or not.”

ENGLISHMEN IN THE NRL

“I think there’s a bit more interest now, with obviously Mark (Flanagan), myself and Gaz (Gareth Ellis). There’s a bit more interest in players coming over. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see a few more in the next few years. “

James Graham? “I’m not saying he will, I’m not saying he won’t. I’m not sure where he’s thinking of going but I think it’s an option for James. He’s fairly young and he’s an outstanding player. He’s got a great attitude, he’s got a very competitive attitude and I think he’d do really well. Whether he decides to come or not … he’s a fan favourite back in St Helens. He’s well-liked. He’s been there all his life so it would be a tough decision for him to leave if he did. But I’m sure he’d fit in well over here – especially in a Souths jersey.

“It would be nice. I’m sure there would be a way to do it. It would be nice to get him here. I’m going to try and twist his arm and tell him to come.”

DEBUT AT REDFERN AGAINST MANLY

“It was quite an emotional day. I don’t know why, the build-up to putting on the Souths jersey was quite big for me. Everywhere I’d go, people would be looking forward to seeing you play. I got really into the Souths tradition.”

RUSSELL CROWE

“I consider myself really good friends with Russell. He’s a champion bloke. He’s helped me settle into things over here and he’s been a port of call if I do get any problems. He’s been good to me. I’m in close contact with him. He works very hard and is very busy in his own life but he’s good with all the boys. It’s unbelievable for us that he’s involved in the club.”

HIS CONTRACT STORY

The Sydney Morning Herald quoted leaked Immigration Department documents to suggest his contract with Souths was under-the-odds. “That were one of the only things that pissed me off. I laugh about it now but for people to go to such lengths … I wouldn’t have signed here if I was cheating on anything. I know it’s their job but just to print my salary, or what they believe is my salary, in the papers was – I thought – a bit of a bullshit thing. That was one of the only things that has pissed me off since I’ve been here.

“That’s what I don’t understand. That’s the difference. In England, that just wouldn’t happen. It did piss me off that it’s come off my visa application, that that’s come out somewhere. It’s a bit shit. These things happen.”

BROTHERS CONTACTED FOR A STORY

Sam and Souths were up in arms when a journalist contacted his brothers for a profile story. “I’ll tell you what: looking back on it now, I shouldn’t have been pissed off. But I’d just got here and I’d been warned about this press, media and all that crap and I just thought someone were out to get me. And then, ringing my little brothers who were daft as a brush … great guys, I love them to bits but they don’t understand the press out here. They could have said anything stupid and I was just a bit worried that they’d say something and it would get taken the wrong way. That’s what I was worried about. I’d not spoken to either of my brothers about it. I know Glenn (Jackson), he’s a good fella. At the time I didn’t know Glenn, I couldn’t put his name to his face. It were a really good story that he ran. My little brothers, they’re just crackers…”

GOALS

“I want to play in a grand final and win one. That would be my main goal. That’s my only goal. That’s what drives me each week to win a comp and just better myself as a player.

ENGLAND

“From coming over here and experiencing life in Australia, playing rugby league as a professional player, to going back and seeing it back there – it just makes you think ‘I don’t want to leave Australia’.

“It’s a great place to play footy and enjoy yourself. Who knows what will happen in England. There’s soccer that’s massive, cricket, rugby union…’’

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: March 2014

South Sydney - Sam BurgessBy STEVE MASCORD

THE issue of Sam Burgess’s departure from South Sydney has prompted much analysis and hand-wringing about his place in South Sydney, England, the NRL and rugby league in general.
Why is he leaving, as appeared likely at the time of writing? How much will he be missed by these four institutions? What does it say about each of their futures?
Let’s deal with each one by one.
Burgess is an important player at Souths, probably their best after Greg Inglis. There has been speculation his “love of the spotlight” has made him unpopular there. I don’t know about that; what I do know is that his onfield brain explosions have increasingly been costing his team and his temper is a concern to all.
It’s a trait that has shown no sign of abating.
The documentary on Burgess which was shown before last year’s grand final was part of his third party agreements with the club. Colleague David Riccio has speculated the coaching staff at Souths were unimpressed with it.
Had it not been aired, the club would have been in breach of the salary cap for blocking a legitimate third party deal. Coaches focus too much on external things and it’s self perpetuating – you use some inane quote to motivate your side and then you have to prevent your own players from giving inane quotes. Why don’t we just have a truce, furchrisakes?
But that’s another column. Souths will miss Burgess but they’ll replace him. They’ll do well to win a comp with him this year.
England will miss Sam Burgess much, much more. He was their best player in the World Cup and it’s hard to see another forward with the footwork and power of Burgess emerging any time soon. Can he play in this year’s Four Nations? A big question.
England rugby union snaring Burgess is a big victory in the battle of the codes for them. However, is Burgess quick enough to play centre in the 15 man game? Do you even have to be quick to play centre in rugby union? I’d have to watch it comment and that’s a sacrifice I’m not prepared to make!
In short, the NRL and rugby league in general will not blink with Burgess’ exit. It will flutter an eyelash in Sonny Bill Williams direction when he does the same, but that’s all.
The dogs are barking but the caravan moves on, as Alan Jones once said.
.
AS usual, I spent the pre-season in the UK. Moving the World Club Challenge forced me to go back to Oz earlier but it was great to see the Super League season open at DW Stadium.
The debate about the new television deal is intriguing.
It was like the original Super League War all over again; Sky put money on the table to secure the long-term rights of rugby league (and other sports) immediately. It was clearly not going to be there forever. Unlike 1995/6, however, there were no demands regarding the restructuring of the game (we hope).
So while Red Hall is copping flack for allegedly railroading the clubs into accepting the deal, how much more would they be copping had they thumbed their noses at Stg200 million?
The concern is that BT Sport and Sky Sports will eventually have to call a truce in the battle over European rugby union. They’ll have to share content. And when that happens, the market value of other sports will go down.
That belief powered the decision to accept Sky’s offer. We can now sit back and see whether it was an accurate or inaccurate belief.
.
THE proposed Great Britain tour of Australia and New Zealand next year is proving somewhat problematic.
While the good rugby league folk of the British Isles are excited about something that has not happened since 1992, the antipodeans seem largely unmoved. I mean,
Cameron Smith did say in his World Cup acceptance speak that the squad had enjoyed its time in “Britain and Wales”. England and Britain are interchangeable to many foreigners, including Americans.
The result is that the NRL and NZRL seem in no hurry to confirm the trek. Then again, we’ve had no confirmation of this year’s internationals either, have we?
A couple of years ago, there was talk of the Lions heading south of the equator but no-one would have them. Could it happen again?
.
AN update on next year’s World Club Challenge is in order, perhaps.
As previously reported, South Sydney and Brisbane have agreed to be the second and third NRL sides to head to the northern hemisphere in February. They would play the second- and third-placed Super League sides on the Friday and Saturday before the WCC proper.
The new information I have to hand regards the lead-up games. South Sydney are set to play Brisbane at Barnett in a major boost to our code in London.
And the NRL premiers will play Catalan in Perpignan en route to England. What a great promotion – the sort of things other professional sports have been doing with exhibition games for years.
By the way (I almost typed ‘BTW’ there – derr) if the WCC is to be taken seriously, surely the prize money has to go back up from Stg25,000 – hardly a fitting purse for the world champions in a professional sport.
The real put of gold at the end of the WCC rainbow is the clubs being allowed to sell their own TV rights. Which brings me to this proposal: if Ian Lenagan and Marwan Koukash are so confident the elite clubs should determine their own destiny, why not let them start by running the expanded WCC?
It needs year-round attention to realist its potential.
.
WHILE the NRL was spending a fortune on bodyguards for its stars at the Auckland Nines, a little tournament in western Sydney was picking up the slack for the lack of international development being promoted across the Tasman.
World expansion pinup boys Canada travelled down under for the first time and we also had the likes of Fiji, Niue, Cook Islands, Fiji, the Philippines, Portugal, Thailand, Greece, Malta, Japan and South America’s Latin Heat going around.
Auburn Warriors beat the Philippines 14-8 in the final.
.
WHAT really happened in America to scupper the planned merger of the AMNRL and USARL?
Bondi Beat has heard two principal theories. One, the USARL delegates came to believe the AMNRL delegates had not been democratically elected by their clubs and had lost faith in the process and two, the USARL clubs got cold feet about an independent body determining their fate.
Either way, it sounds terrbly rugby league, doesn’t it?
.
ONE of the first places I went this past off-season was South Africa, where a NSW Country side was on tour.
There was scarcely 300 people at the stadium for the game against the Rhinos and one of them was Jock Colley, the CRL chairman. Jock was an irrascible fellow, not afraid to upset the suits from the city when he felt the bushies were copping a raw deal.
To mix a metaphor, he wasn’t afraid to get off the gravy train and rock the applecart.
He made the annual City-Country game interesting by speaking his mind in the lead-up when it came to unco-operative clubs and players who didn’t believe in the cause.
So it was a shock on the opening day of this season in England to learn Jock had collapsed during an evening walk. He was airlifted to Sydney, placed on life support, and later passed away.
You’ll be missed Jock. We need more like you.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

.

THE JOY OF SIX: Pre-Season II

KoukashBy STEVE MASCORD

EARL GREY OVER DANK NEWS
EXILED footballer Sandor Earl was not best pleased to read on the Sun-Herald that controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank has a job with the women’s Indian Premier League Twenty20 Cricket Competition. “Unbelieveable – I can’t even play park footy. Flanno (suspended Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan) can’t watch footy and Dank gets a new job,” Earl Tweeted, presumably from Thailand. Flanagan, of course, is under investigation for attending a Cronulla trial while banned for his involvement in the club’s supplements programme. Earl, 24, remains the only player yet issued with an infraction notice. ASADA revealed last week it had concluded its investigations into the supplements issue. Dank, who denies any wrongdoing, insists he is yet to be interviewed. If he is still on staff at Hull KR, it isn’t helping much; Rovers were lapped 30-10 by Castleford on Friday night.

I DID IT HIS WAY
THE truth is out: Sam Burgess WAS inspired by Sonny Bill Williams in his decision to change codes. Burgess has steadfastly refused to talk about the motivation behind his switch; although despite suggestions he has been affronted by the coverage of the news, he is talking football with journalists and TV inquisitors again. His supporters reckoned the suggestion his decision he was influenced by the man he will face next Thursday at ANZ Stadium is nothing but scurillous gossip. But here’s what the Bath rugby union coach (and former South Queensland Crushers half) Mike Ford said on BBC Radio Manchester’s Rugby League Extra programme. “I think he’s seen what Sonny Bill Williams has done, switching from one code to the other and how successful he was, playing in New Zealand in the World Cup in 2011. He boxed as well, Sonny Bill. That’s the challenge he wants. Sam, once he makes his mind up he wants something, he more or less gets it every time.” Burgess has every opportunity to reject the associated speculation he wants to fight Sonny Bill. Over to you, Sam.

OOMPA LOOMPAS UNITE!
THE latest weapon being prepared to fight the financial might of the NRL was first devised by Roald Dahl half a century ago. Feisty racing magnate and Salford owner Marwan Koukash has called for Super League clubs to each be given a “golden ticket”, ala Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, to sign players outside the salary cap. “If a club does not want to use its golden ticket, I will buy it off them for 200,000 pounds,” Koukash told Sky before watching his Reds humbled 38-0 by St Helens on Thursday night. The marquee player concept was voted down last week but will probably return to the agenda of Super League clubs. Koukash is causing such a stir in England that it’s understood RFL chiefs are conducting an exhaustive search for an Everlasting Gobstopper. (photo: Dr Kockrash Twitter)

POACHERS WELCOME
PAPUA New Guinea’s new team in Queensland’s InTrust Super Cup has a message for NRL scouts: please steal our players. And Manly may be about to take the advice; Joy Of Six‘s sources at Dolphin Oval during the historic 24-18 win over Redcliffe yesterday tell us forward Mark Mexico is on the verge of signing with the Sea Eagles. Another World Cup Kumul, Wellington Albert, is already on Penrith’s books. “That’s why we have entered a team in this competition,” PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka said. “NRL scouts don’t come to PNG, we wanted to put our players in a competition where they will be seen. If one player leaves, we have 15,000 kids who will want to take his place.” Stand-outs for the Hunters included lock Sebastian Pandia and lock Wartovo Puara.

REFS ON FILM
A FEW weeks after the video referees was heard explaining his decisions on television coverage of the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, the NRL introduced a version of the system for the finals. Instead of appearing live as they deliberated (as happens in England), however, our officials got the decision out of the way and then gave a short explanation. Since then, the English have lifted the bar again for the local boys by showing the video referees on camera as they toggle the vision before ruling yey or nay. This necessitates spiffy suits and turtlenecks for the likes of Ian Smith and Phil Bentham. It didn’t stop St Helens winger Mark Percival being denied a fair try in the 38-0 win over Salford on Thursday. Will the NRL follow …. suit?

IT’S A GAS
HAVING got off to a winning start on Sunday, PNG Hunters coach Michael Marum says Australian teams are set for a culturally enriching experience when they visit Kopoko for their away matches. “Back at home, there will probably be a few gas guns outside chasing people away who are trying to get in,” he said enthusiastically. “That’s the way we play the game up there; people are passionate about the game.” Hunters players have spent 11 weeks in a police camp preparing for the Intrust Cup; many have not seen their families in this time. Mal Meninga is Kumuls nationa coach elect; Tsaka says he is trying to organise a Test against the winner of the Samoa-Fiji Test at Penrith in May and another against one of the teams warming up for the Four Nations.

Bonus item: RADIO NO-RAHRAH
WILL we soon have a 24-hour-a-day rugby league radio station? The emerging internet radio industry is awash with speciallist stations and Sydneysider Alby Talarico -the man behind the Coogee Dolphins – has spent a pretty penny setting up a footy frequency at his Steele Sports site. He already broadcasts for six hours on a Saturday afternoon during the season (he’ll be at Belmore Sports Ground next week for NSWRL fixtures), boasts decent audiences and has plans to further expland, offering airtime to the many league podcasts already being churned out by independent broadcasters. He reckons a full day of footy isn’t far away. Full disclosure time: he has even offered to air my hokey production when I get around to doing one.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

DISCORD 2014: Edition Eight

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
LET’S face it, the NRL didn’t do a very good job of proving that players WERE concussed when their clubs allowed them to play on over the past season or so
But now, we are being assured, the League is hellbent on proving they are NOT concussed when – or if – the new concussion guidelines are exploited to get a free interchange.
The bottom line is that it’s a good thing the League is doing something to protect players against themselves, and the sport in this country against bankrupcy which would surely come with an NFL-style class action. An American expert told the club CEOs by video conference recently that the legal action they would likely face would completely ruin them financially.
But the NRL has never taken action against clubs for flaunting the rules as they existed before. Even video of a player being given smelling salts was not considered compelling enough as evidence of an infraction. Players stumbled around on national television and nothing was done.
So it’s hard to believe that collusion that happens behind closed doors, with just a few people involved, to fake a concussion can be adequately policed by the governing body.
Hopefully everyone will just appreciate what is at stake now, and will do the right thing.
.
IS deducting points from clubs who go into bankrupcy a bit like executing someone for being dead?
Bradford are on the brink of collapse after their new owners-in-waiting withdrew an offer in response to the Bulls being deducted six competition points for entering administration.
RLF chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer says the would-be owners knew the dangers. Obviously a club going broke is not a good look for the sport and the governing body feels it has the right to respond with some sort of punative measure against those who damaged its brand.
But if there’s a bigger example in professional sport of kicking a dog when it’s down, Discord has not heard it. If the punishment is aimed at clubs who deliberately go into receivership to avoid their debts, why are we punishing the team and the fans, on the field?
Surely we don’t want people who do business in this way involved in our sport OFF the field? Punishing the team by docking points would achieve little but exonerate the RFL of accusations they did nothing.
It’s hard to imagine an NRL club experiencing financial difficulty being docked competitition points. In the past, the administration in Australia has helped clubs in trouble, by either advancing grants or even forwarding loans.
And what of the players still owed money by failed franchises such as the Celtic Crusaders? How does docking competition points help them?
In light of Bradford’s problems, it’s not surprising that the Super League clubs voted against a marquee player system.
.
TO those who scoffed at my tweet that Sonny Bill Williams had inspired Sam Burgess’ decision to switch codes, I offer the following quote from Bath coach and former South Queensland Crushers coach Mike Ford on the Rugby League Extra podcast from BBC Radio Manchester:
“I think he’s seen what Sonny Bill Williams has done, switching from one code to the other and how successful he was, playing in New Zealand in thw World Cup in 2011,” said Ford.
“He boxed as well, Sonny Bill.
“That’s the challenge he wants. Sam, once he makes his mind up he wants something, he more or less gets it every time.”
.
THANKS to everyone who commented on Discord last week and Set Of Six on Monday.
Alan said the extended 1997 World Club Challenge was good. Most people would describe it as the most disastrous competition in the history of rugby league! As for his comment that State Of Origin was become irrelvant … Alan we dreamers often overlook the importance of tribalism in our game. Tribalism is why we have eight and a half teams in Sydney and none in Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory. There is clearly something to it!
Soot says a summer nines tournament may become irrelevant, like rugby union sevens. I’m sure the boffins at Rugby League Central would be happy to achieve that level of irrelevance. It doesn’t matter if the media ignores it, if it keeps the turnstile clicking over the summer, then the concept will do its job.
DOS called for a PNG team on the NRL. As you may be aware, the PNG Hunters are making their Queensland Cup debut against Redcliffe on Sunday – and I’ll be there. But NRL? Is there a Major League Baseball team in Haiti? Where does the television rights income come from? How do you get players to live there? I have serious doubts it will happen in my lifetime.
Frank from Bexley, I suspect, was taking the mick so I won’t be responding to him.
Taffy said he liked my optimism but I thought last week’s column was largely pessimistic! I disagree that no-one debated union players going to league when union was not openly professional – many column inches were devoted to the subject at the time. And clearly hybrid games are commercial attractive because there are powerful forces pushing for them. You are
right, however, to say rugby union in most places would have nothing to gain from rugby league – which makes the prospects I discussed last week even more forboding for league.
I recommend everyone read Friendly_Raptor’s comment at the bottom of last week’s Discord. I agree with Hear The Crow that Eddy Pettybourne should have been sent off on Saturday.
Here‘s the forum:
Subscribe to the podcast here

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

DISCORD 2014: Edition Seven

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

CROSS-code challenges, nines tournaments and players defections; are we at a fork in the road of evolution of the rugby codes, or are these developments no more than fodder for the daily news cycle?
This week we’ve seen Sam Burgess defect to rugby union, calls for nines tournaments to be held everywhere but the moon (give them time) and now Salford announce a cross-code challenge with Sale for August 26.
None of these developments is completely new – players have been switching to union since that code became openly professional, nines tournaments have been played for 20 years and cross-code challenges have also been staged before.
But it is the conflence of factors behind these developments that could amount to a discernible trend.
One, Sonny Bill Williams’ example points to elite players crisscrossing sports and signing short-term deals which maximise their earning potential, profile and personal motivation.
Whereas fulltime professionalism was seen as demanding specialisation and killing off the all rounder, we have now seen the emergence of individualistic, exceptional athletes who see being an all rounder as the peak of a sporting Everest.
If you change the rules, athleticism will eventually catch up and overtake the legislators.
Two, private ownership and external entrepreneurs offer the chance for sports to go beyond the traditional income sources of broadcast rights, sponsorship and gate receipts.
Until now, pro sports were locked into a cycle of courting sponsors, selling memberships and flogging broadcast rights to the highest bidder.
But now consortia such as DUCO in Auckland and the Dubai businessmen who want to stage a nines tournament can provide a totally new income stream, as can venues and cities who are increasingly willing to bid for events in the way that previously only the Olympic locations were chosen.
Where can all this be leading?
Let’s extrapolate the trend of players changing codes more regularly. The more open and competitive the labour market place, the greater the pressure on individual sports to follow the AFL’s lead and centrally-contract players. NRL CEOS discussed this in Auckland last Friday; if one club identifies a rugby union player it wants to sign, it can apply for financial assistance from head office BUT every club has to have the chance to sign that player and make up the larger part of his total salary package.
As I have said previously, before we whinge about losing players we should reflect on how lucky we are that our most popular domestic sports are not played widely overseas. If Australian Rules or rugby league were big sports in the United States or western Europe, none of our best players would reside here.
Our glass is well over half full; our small, divided market does not really DESERVE to retain world’s-best talent at anything in pro sports.
Extrapolating the second trend, of outside entrepreneurs providing new income streams, it is reasonable to assume rugby league will have nines ‘specialists’ and year-round competition before long, and that broadcast rights will be more diverse with a portfolio of properties (NRL, pre-season, nines, domestic representative fixtures, World Club Challenge and internationals) spread more widely between competing television platforms.
More clubs will do what the Dragons have done and spread their games around a wide variety of venues; we’ll more further away from the traditional model of teams having one ‘home’ ground. There’s money to be made.
It’s not hard to have a stab at what could happen as a result of more interaction between the rugby codes at club level. If Salford and Sale were to aggressively sell sponsorship and advertising for several years of annual cross-code challenges, they may invite more clubs to be involved.
Then they could try to sell their own television rights and when threatened by the RFU and RFL, they could conceivably decide to go it alone and play an entire season of hybrid rugby, taking other clubs with them.
The main reason for there being two rugby codes was professionalism. That reason no longer exists. Hyper-professionalism could one day re-united the codes; cross code challenges create the market and demand for a third code which could conceivably kill off the other two through economies of scale.
If rugby league and rugby union officials don’t want that to happen, they’d be best advised to protect their intellectual property aggressively and impose draconian penalties on any clubs sleeping with the enemy.
It’s when a whole club does what Sam Burgess has just done that we’ll know the apocalypse is upon us.
.

DISCORD is happy that the idea of a summer nines tournament, mooted here over the … um … summer, is now gaining widespread support.
But while our idea of having state teams, rather than clubs, in the Auckland Nines didn’t catch on, we certainly hope that any summer nines tournament doesn’t just include the same 16 NRL clubs.
A touring circuit, ala rugby sevens, should include all Australian states and territories. As Ben Elias says in League Week, it’s a great ‘soft landing’ for franchises earmarked for NRL inclusion.
But at the risk of being branded a scrooge of sorts, let’s not call Perth and Adelaide ‘new markets’ and the nines a ‘new concept’.
We had teams from Adelaide and Perth before – and stuffed it up. And we had nines in 1996 and ’97 – and gave up on the concept. Let’s get really excited with rugby league does something really new.

.
THANKS for last week’s comments.
read on