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 

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DISCORD 2013: Edition 39

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

THE Cronulla-to-Queensland story raises a couple of pressing questions for the NRL.

One: is relocation a viable model to satisfy expansion ambitions? Two: is it morally defensible to take with one hand, in the form of drugs sanctions, and then give back with the other, in the form of relocation allowances, if a club does what it’s told?

Let’s start with number one. Our game has never done relocation in a fully fledged American way, adopted here in Australian football with the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Lions (although still not quite as cleanly).

North Sydney were going to move to Gosford, but then got duck-shoved into a merger with Manly. We’ll never know how that would have gone.

So while most fans reject the idea of relocation out-of-hand, who are we to say it won’t work? It’s hard to see the people of Brisbane embracing a relocated Cronulla but in Central Queensland, where they appear behind the eight ball despite impressive infrastructure and support, it might work.

Similarly, while the WARL have done a lot of work marketing the West Coast Pirates, the Wests Coast Sharks would only grate during the summer months when those words appear all too regularly in local headlines.

Please note Discord is restricting its comments here to the two questions in the second paragraph. Plenty of other people are talking about whether it SHOULD happen.

The second issue is somewhat more vexed.

Personally, I don’t think people would swallow the administration knocking out the Sharks with one fist, and then using the other hand to pick them up, dust them off and send them wherever.

If the two processes could be separated – if ASADA could somehow be blamed for rendering Cronulla bankrupt and the NRL could portray itself as the saviour – then some fans might buy it.

But drugs penalties have to be handed down by the governing body and the NRL exploiting a terrible situation to its own ends would not play well to anyone. I don’t think this administration is that gung ho.

I have no doubt Wednesday’s story is based on some solid information. The NRL may well be tossing it around – but I can’t see it happening.

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IS Sam Tomkins signing for New Zealand Warriors the beginning of the end for Super League?

There are plenty of people in England who think so. He’s without doubt the biggest star in that competition and featured in the memorable advert with Bradley Wiggins at the start of the season.

But the NRL has been losing players to rugby union – and AFL – for years and has survived just fine. Wendell Sailor, Israel Folau, Sonny Bill Williams, Willie Mason … the list goes on.

The exchange rate is improving, Marwan Koukash at Salford seems to have a wad of cash and this new competition structure might even work.

And Matt Bowen is a sensational player.

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IN that column on Saturday, it said I didn’t want to become a “bitter, angry, aging crusader”.

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TRAVELS: XX

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
THE news out of Wigan the other day prompted media reactions on either side of the globe which were, Travels believe, out of step with reality.
In Australia, Sam Tomkins’ signing with the New Zealand Warriors was downpage brief in even the most enthusiastic rugby league paper, the Daily Telegraph.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact the signing has been the worst-kept secret in the game for months, and that Tomkins is not going to a Sydney club, but we are predicting his performances will render it a much bigger story than that.
The second media reaction which we reckon will be proven as a gross under-playing is that of the signing of Matt Bowen as Tomkins’ replacement at the DW.
I watched both Super Leaguer Fulltime and Backchat and they each described Bowen as “a stopgap” who was there primarily to mentor younger custodians at the club.
I think Bowen has the potential to be a sensation at Wigan and to make the sort of impact John Ferguson did. Have you seen his last couple of games for North Queensland? He almost won that controversial, seven-tackle, game against Cronulla.
“Mango” (so called because the north Queensland town of Bowen is a mango-producing hub) is an electrifying returner of the football and has evasive skills to match those of the man he is replacing.
He looks to be over his knee problems. He is the best Super League signing in years – on name alone, the best since Luke O’Donnell or Danny Buderus.
Wigan fans and Super League pundits, don’t be so maudlin.
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CLUB Call is just fascinating.
Logic suggests that getting to choose your opponents in a final should be an enormous advantage. And Warrington’s record against Huddersfield suggests it will be.
But coaches rate psychology, and motivating rivals, so highly that they deem it worthy of distancing themselves from this advantage that has been offered to them, and which they have taken.
If you’ve ever wondered why coaches are so careful about what they say, and what their players say, and why they pin seemingly inane newspaper articles to dressing room walls, here’s your answer.
Warrington’s Tony Smith is a smart man. He knows that he can have his cake and eat it too by distancing himself and the players from their club call choice.
Barrie McDermott recently said being picked in club call did give teams an extra edge – something mere mortals like us find hard to understand because we think you’d be heavily motivated for a sudden death game anyway.
But something drives a team when they are on their last legs, like Manly was last weekend. If it’s being called out as a desirable opponent, sobeit.
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A LITTLE bit of World Cup broadcast news that has reached my ears.
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England May Be Forced To Play ‘Home’ Internationals In Australia

England Rugby LeagueBy STEVE MASCORD

ENGLAND may start playing mid-season internationals in the southern hemisphere in response to the increasing number of Test stars joining NRL clubs.

Wigan fullback Sam Tomkins is thought to have agreed to terms with the Warriors, joining a host of other Super League imports and England-eligible players across the League in 2014.

Australia often plays soccer friendlies in Europe because of proximity to players and in 2006 New Zealand fielded a team of Super League-based players against Great Britain in England for the same reason.

“I’ve seen it brought up a couple of times,” England coach Steve McNamara tells League Week. “We’ve just played the Exiles in England without our NRL-based players.

“If the pendulum swings too far the other way and we’ve got the majority out here … we’ll always be open to new ideas and new suggestions.”

McNamara said it was a positive Tomkins was staying in rugby league.

“I’ll wait for confirmation … but Sam is someone who likes challenges,” he said.

“If we get too many players leaving our competition, it dilutes our competition and we want it to go the other way. We need to strengthen it.

“But there’s been no doubt the players who’ve played in the NRL have enhanced their performance and it’s been good for our national team.

“Rugby union in England has been a real threat. Coming to the NRL with the increased salary cap actually keeps them in our sport.

“It’s probably the better of two … evils is probably the wrong word to describe it but … it’s not for everyone but for the ones who’ve made it so far, I can see the benefits.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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THE JOY OF SIX: Round 16

The Joy Of SixDUGAN UNCHAINED, PART 57

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

RICKY’S LOST DANIELS NUMBER

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

OUT WITH INNUENDO

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

DUGAN UNCHAINED, PART 58

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

THE GAME THEY PLAY ON SEVEN

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

WARRIOR TO … WARRIOR

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

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Round Seven

The Joy Of SixTOUGH ON EVERYONE

AT this point, three days later, debating the merits of Friday’s Jon Mannah/ASADA story would probably only serve to reheat an emotional imbroglio which should be just started to cool down. That’s the last thing anyone needs. If Cronulla have written to ASADA, effectively dobbing themselves in over the administering of Peptides to Mannah, I’m glad I know about it and it wasn’t covered up by a well meaning journalist who was concerned about being maligned for writing it. These are the dilemmas most of us only face once in a career. There is a saying in tabloids: “a good display can turn a good story into a great story”.  “Display” is photos, headlines etc. But an over-the-top display can clearly also turn a worthy story into a community scandal.

A BRIDGE TOO FA’AOSO?

SHOULD repeat offenders within a single game be judged cumulatively? That is, should Richie Fa’aoso have been sent to the sin bin or even sent off after his second spear tackle on Greg Inglis last Friday? Referees coach Daniel Anderson said on the ABC yesterday that it was something which would be considered. In Super League they have a “general warning” signal (it looks like the whistler is casting a spell on the offending team) which basically means the next time anyone infringes, someone goes to the sin bin. There is some confusion over how long the warning lasts. But perhaps it is worth considering. Fa’aoso could have been dispatched for repeated infringements, even if the infringements happened to be foul play.

SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE SIGNS

SET of Six hereby introduces a contest: fan sign of the year. And we have our first entrant in the banner brandished by a pair of Newcastle fans at Skilled Park yesterday: “Go Hard Willie”. @Muzza2501 Tweeted “At his age it should read: Please go hard Willie!! :)”We’ve not seen such excellence in the field of double entendres since St George Illawarra fans’ “Me So Hornby!”. Let’s see how many puns we can fit into the rest of this item. The sign was soon discovered by security and wasn’t up for long. It was so big it had to be handled by two people. And, in reference to our new contest …. it will take some beating.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST AP

IT’S fair to say that if Twitter and Instagram have a natural enemy, it’s the Canberra Raiders. The social media networks played a big role in Josh Dugan’s departure from the Green Machine and at the weekend, they blew coach David Furner’s cover over the return of Blake Ferguson from a fractured cheekbone.  Prop Brett White posted a picture of Ferguson on the plane to Townsville – which was interesting because Ferguson was supposedly not playing against North Queensland. “Got family up here so I made the trip with the boys! Still out till next week!’ Ferguson tweeted. Low and behold, when the team-sheets were posted at 4.25pm Saturday, Ferguson was on the wing for Sandor Earl. He insisted he did visit family – and was cleared to play on match eve. But if the Raiders do any social media training for players in future, perhaps it should perhaps be a simple message: “stay off it”.

SAM, SAM, $1 MILLION MAN

IS Sam Tomkins worth $1 million? Not while the salary cap is $5.85 million, no. But it will soon be $7 million – and Tomkins is the sort of man who puts bums on seats. Tomkins is bettered only by Billy Slater when it comes to broken field running – a fullback who can create opportunities like few others. But the club that can afford Tomkins may not be his best destination. Does Tomkins really need to come into a new competition and be relied upon immediately to win matches? St George Illawarra and Sydney Roosters would afford him a more gentle transition from Super League than the Warriors, based on the form of all three so far this season.

LOCATION, LOCATION

GOSFORD has now hosted more games this season that traditional venues like WIN Stadium, Leichhardt Oval and Campbelltown Stadium. The reason is simple: cash. Rugby league needs to compile a list of matches that don’t work where they are and farm them out in an organised fashion for a guaranteed return from venues and state governments next year. This can be factored into memberships – teams are already doing this. We shouldn’t accept sub-10,000 crowds anymore in this billion-dollar competition. In round 17, we have matches in Darwin, Perth and Mackay but these relocations are done in a piecemeal way. Let’s be organised. If we get the message out that you will lose your home game against Canberra or Melbourne or whoever if you don’t go, hopefully fans will respond.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

TRAVELS: VIII

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD
ON Saturday, I found myself watching half an hour of a NSW Cup game between Canterbury and Illawarra on television and the term “dual registration” popped into my mind.
I’m sure there are plenty of you out there for whom the expression conjures up the image of Satan himself.
But in Australia, almost none of the teams in the lower tiers of rugby league have any NRL aspirations and most, most of the time, are grateful to have the use of top flight professionals – even if they are in the team one week and not the next.
In Saturday’s game, shown live on Fox Sports from a baking Leichhardt Oval, Canterbury had Trent Hodkinson, Joel Romelo and John Kite while Illawarra boasted Daniel Vidot, Junior VaiVai and big Jarrad Hickey.
And this got me to thinking: wouldn’t these players be better off in Super League and Super League be better off with them? Dual registration could be of enormous benefit to the English game … if Super League clubs had players dual registered with NRL teams.
Imagine if the London Broncos fed the Brisbane Broncos, for instance. For Brisbane, Michael Robertson or Shane Rodney could be called up in time of injury while Denan Kemp, Luke Capewell and even Petero Civoniceva could turn out for London in month-long stints.
The rules of several competitions would have to change but what better way for young English players to get a taste of the NRL while Super League clubs are bolstered by some of the best talent from down under?
Jamie Soward could regain his confidence with a month at Wigan. Castleford’s link with Wests Tigers could help them retain players. The benefits would be enormous.
Obviously, the RFL rules around federation-trained players would have to change to how many imports are in the team each week, rather than for the whole season.
Work visas would also be an issue and the UK government would need to be in on the planning.
But with a bit of tinkering, the current second tier salary cap rules in the NRL would cover players called up by Super League.
Would this system be an admission that Super League itself is a second tier competition? If handled wrongly, yes. But if genuinely good players went in each direction under a carefully administered scheme, it would benefit both leagues.
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I KEEP hearing that NRL clubs are not willing to wait for Sam Tomkins to come off contract before making a play for him.
At the weekend I checked out very strong information that Gold Coast currently have an emissary in England willing to offer Wigan whatever it takes to buy out Tomkins contract.
The Titans official I spoke to was not willing to be quoted but said they were not willing to pay a transfer fee of twice the value of Tomkins current contract.
An approach had been considered, he said.
If Super League’s best player walks out of the competition and joins the NRL, what does it mean for the English game?
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THE drugs probe into Cronulla and other clubs continues to cast a pall over the opening weeks of the NRL.

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