FAR & WIDE: United States, Tonga, Fiji, Canada, Spain, Serbia, Ireland, Czech Republic

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

THE 2016 Ohana Cup at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium has been run and won, with organisers hailing the ever-expanding festival as a success.
Samoa enjoyed a big 40-6 win over Tonga while Fiji beat newcomers Canada 26-12. That was a pretty good debut for the Wolverines, considering half their side was back in Toronto playing the touring North-east England side.
In the curtain-raiser, NSW Police beat Hawaii Chiefs 26-20. Hawaiian league chief Steve Johnson is still trying to tempt NRL sides to the Islands.
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SPAIN and Serbia are to meet for the very first time on September 24, in the not-unpleasant locale of Valencia.
The Spanish have a big World Cup qualifier against Ireland at the same locale in October and will warm-up against the Serbians at Quatre Carreres. If you’re thinking of going, the game kicks off at the very Mediterranean time of 5pm.
The Serbians are looking for a new coach after Darren Higgins stood down.
“We regret Darren could not fit his professional and personal commitments together with the obligations needed for the Serbian national side,” said SRLF general secretary Slobodan Mank.
“We thank him for all he has done to raise the standard, he has put in some long lasting structures which we will benefit from.”
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CANADA are easily the most active international side at the moment, having fielded a “full international” side in two cities in two countries on the same day recently!
The Wolverines Under 17s side is currently on tour in Jamaica. The new British League One expansion side, Toronto Wolfpack, helped finance the Young Wolverines tour, which kicked off with a win in a Nines tournament.
Canada also fielded a military team against the full Czech Republic side recently, losing 64-0.
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AS we’ve said before, the rivalry between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Island puts NSW v Queensland in the shade.
But one similarity this year is the result, with Northern Ireland sealing the Origin series in game two, a 24-20 victory at Chambers Park, Portadown.

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Far & Wide: July 27 2015

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

OFFICIALS are hailing this year’s Ohana Cup at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium as the best yet, with Samoa thrilling around 8000 fans in their 20-4 win over Tonga.

The Hawaiian Rugby League are still trying to lure Penrith and Brisbane to the holiday isle, despite the reservations of the NRL, and plan to use next year’s event as a precursor to a state competition for domestic players.

“We’ll shoot for four month competition starting next July,” says organiser Steve Johnson.

The Western Corridor NRL bid boss also revealed he wanted this year’s game to be a double-header, with the United States taking on Fiji in the earlier game. But the newly rebranded USA Hawks weren’t interested.

LeagueWeek Back IssuesHe said ESPN Radio and Western Union were two American companies hugely impress with what they saw just over a week ago and keen to be involved again in future.

“Samoa is one of the big places Western Union does transfers to from Hawaii and we spoke to them about putting something back,” he said.

“American sports aren’t involved in the community like rugby league is. That impresses a lot of companies in Hawaii.

“ESPN Sport were blown away by rugby league. They’d never seen it before and they want to cover whatever we do.”

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ON the mainland, the US has named a 35-man train-on squad for the upcoming internationals against Canada.

And, as is consistent with the change of administration for the game in America, there are 28 potential international newcomers.

A number of training camps are to be held. The USARL National Championship Final will be held on rugby league’s 120th birthday, August 29.

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A PNG minister made headlines last week with some colourful quotes regarding the re-emergence of the Kumuls

State enterprise minister Ben Micah told parliament: “”We are going to hunt them down, we’ll kill them and we’ll eat them.”

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World Cup fourth quarter-final: FIJI 22 SAMOA 4 at Halliwell Jones Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD
FIJIAN players are no longer star-struck by Australia and will come up with some trick shots for their World Cup semi-final at Wembley, the Bati’s coach and captain say.
It’s believed the rugby league team will be the first in any sport to represent the Pacific nation at arguably the world’s most famous sports arena after beating Samoa 22-4 in a final quarter final, at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium.
For decorated former Australia captain Petero Civoniceva, it’s a rich reward for playing on a year after his NRL retirement. He told Fairfax Media some of his team-mates were star-struck when they played out a creditable 34-2 loss to the tournament favourites on November 2.
“I think so, they were (in awe) and you can’t fault the boys for that,” said Civoniceva, 37.
“For years, they’ve grown up watching these guys on the TV and then they’re out there tackling them.
“We’re going to give it our best shot, no doubt. We’re not going to lie down. When we played Australia a couple of weeks ago, we got a lot of confidence out of that, knowing that for great parts of that match, we were in the contest.
“They took a lot of confidence knowing they can get out there and compete with them. There’s where our focus will be – turning up the notch a bit.
“It’s a great feeling to know my last game will be at one of two great venues. I feel blessed.”
Fiji have been playing a pragmatic, physical style at the tournament but coach Rick Stone, the Newcastle assistant, said there was a demand to produce some unorthodoxy at Wembley.
“I’ll have to have a think about surprises but hopefully we can pull a few things out for the Aussies because you’ve got to take them out of your comfort zone,” said Stone, who identified Cameron Smith as the man who would be targeted.
“If you play the way they think you’re going to play, they’ll generally handle most things pretty well. We might come up with a couple.”
Penanai Manumalealii, the Samoan five-eighth whose mother was killed in a Christchurch car accident a week and a half ago, lasted only a few minutes before being forced off with injury on Sunday.
Matt Parish’s Samoans struggled in attack as a result and the Fijians dominated the first half territorially and on the scoreboard.
Winger Akuila Uate’s break from near halfway put halfback Aaron Groom over after just four minutes, with Wes Naiqama converting and adding a 9th minute penalty goal.
A kick by man of the match Groom handed centre Wes Naiqama his 32nd minute try – he perilously jousted with the dead ball line trying to improve the position for his own conversion – and at 14-0 the Bati were well in control.
Samoa, whose support in Warrington had been cemented by a comeback there against New Zealand on day two of the tournament, gave themselves some hope with Antonio Winterstein’s 57th minute try, which went unconverted.
But on the back of some expansive but brutal football, Naiqama added a second penalty goal and replacement Vitale Roqica plunged over between the posts to secure the result with three left.
Stone said he wasn’t sure if, as a result of the win, the Bati had qualified for next year’s Four Nations in the southern hemisphere. He said foward Jayson Bukuya had an infected knee and Tariq Sims an unspecified injury needing a pain-killing injection but both would be fit for the semi.
“We’ve had injuries right from the start – but I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” said Parish.
FIJI 22 (Aaron Groom, Wes Naiqama, Vitale Junior Roqica tries; Wes Naiqama 5 goals) beat SAMOA 4 (Antonio Winterstein try) at Halliwell Jones Stadium. Referee: Richard Silverwood (England). Crowd: 12,766.

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World Cup: SAMOA 22 FRANCE 6 at Stade Gilbert Brutus

By STEVE MASCORD
FRANCE coach Richard Agar accused NRL referee Henry Perenara of being “weak” and jokingly questioned whether he was a New Zealander or a Samoan following a rugged end to the group stages of the World Cup.
The Samoans had three players reported a total of four times and one of them – Mose Masoe – also sent to the sin bin during an 22-6 win in Perpignan which allowed them to avoid England in the quarter-finals.
Instead, the Samoans -they dedicated the win to squad member Penani Manumalealii whose mother May died in a car crash during the week – will play Fiji on Sunday. The remaining quarters pit New Zealand against Scotland, the United States against Australia and France against England.
“I thought it was weak at times,” said Englisman Agar. “How many guys did they have on report? I lost count at times.
“Is Henry a Kiwi or Samoan? I’m just trying to work that one out.
“There were penalties for absolutely nothng in the ruck and our halfbacks were just open targets for some very, very late challenges. One sin binning, I think they’d be happy with the result, it was probably worth their while.
“We had one halfback leave the field twice on the back of those challenges.”
France’s Roosters-bound prop Remi Casty added: “We’ve had red cards for lesser infractions. I don’t know if the rules are different in this tournament,.”
But Samoa coach Matt Parish reckoned “some of the Frenchmen could be in line for Academy Awards” for their reactions to the incidents.
“Their ball players went to the line; all our blokes made contact with their shoulder, their were no high shots. It was debatable whether they were late.”
|In front of the angriest crowd of the tournamernt so far, Leeson Ah Mau took out William Bathau late and high after 12 minutes and 60 seconds later Sauaso Sue claimed the halfback from behind.
An off-the-ball shoulder charge went unpunished before Sydney Rooster Masoe was give a spell for another, on Thomas Bosc.
Then centre Tim Lafai got a mention in referee Henry Perenara’s report for a speak tackle, and Wests Tigers’ Sue another one, for a possible trip. “There’s no way he stuck his foot out to tray and trip someone,” said Parish
On each occasion, the 11,576 crowd made it very clear it expected sterner action from the match officials.
But amid such uncouthness, it was pure rugby league poetry that assured the Samoans of victory.
Taking the ball 15 metres out with a standing start, fullback Anthony Milford dazzled the French defence with probably the individual try of the tournament five minutes after halftime.
He beat five defenders to dot down between the posts and converted himself to break a 6-6 deadlock; from there the Samoans weren’t headed.
France went close a number of times, however, with a two man overlap completely slaughtered on one occasion by Sebastian Raguin to the audible frustration of the fans, who follow Catalan in Super League.
Cronulla’s Manumalealii decided to stay in camp despite the loss of his mother in Christchurch. His father, who was also reportedly hurt in the accident, encouraged him to stay on.
France go into the quarters with the worst record of any surviving team
SAMOA 22 (Daniel Vidot, Anthony Milford, Antonio Winterstein, Pita Godinet tries; Milford 3 goals) bt FRANCE 6 (Morgan Escare try; Thomas Bosc goal) at Stade Gilbert Brutus. Crowd: 11,576. Referee: Henry Perenara (New Zealand).

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FIVE LESSONS FROM THE 2014 FOUR NATIONS

photo (2)By STEVE MASCORD

SAM Devereux was a referee. He would wear a cap during matches, which made him look almost exactly like AC/DC singer Brian Johnson, fresh out of a time machine.

Referee Sam Devereaux/Photo: Otago Witness
Referee Sam Devereux/Photo: Otago Witness

In 1928, the expatriot Englishman controlled a rugby league Test at the Caledonian Ground in Dunedin. Until the just-completed Four Nations, it was the most recent Test played in the coastal South Island city.

A former Leigh and St Helens player, Devereux had settled in New Zealand and become the chief plumbing inspector for Dunedin City Council.

We were actually better at appointing neutral referees for internationals in 1928 than we are now. Phil Bentham, who controlled the New Zealand-England game at the magnificent Forsyth Barr Stadium on November 8, was also from Leigh – but unlike Devereux, had no connection at all with the Shaky Isles.

And had Bentham wanted to send off a Burgess during that gripping 16-14 Kiwis victory, he had two to chose from.

Our man Sam dismissed English forward Bill Burgess back in ’28. Despite this, England won – but Sam (Devereux, not Burgess) received a bad review for waiting too long to act.

He never controlled another game, quitting the sport entirely. His descendants told the story to the Otago Times as Test football returned to Dunedin for the first time in 86 years last month.

Why kick off this Four Nations review with such an obscure anecdote?

The story illustrates that some things don’t change in rugby league and other things change dramatically – and which ‘things’ are which is almost completely random, because very few people in the game have a long-term perspective on events.

The 2014 Four Nations has the capacity to prompt a paradigm shift for our sport, away from the parochial focus on club football, away from the belief that we can’t survive without our superstars, away from the idea that player burnout cannot be resolved, away from squeezing every last bit of juice out of the heartland orange.

But when that Test was played in Dunedin in 1928, there had been one just four years before. There was no reason to suspect they would have to wait another 86 years.

We either learn from things or we don’t. It’s up to us if we take anything of value away from the fantastic Four Nations, which finished with the Kiwis winning a gripping final, 22-18 over Australia at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on November 15.

Here are the things we should remember, or else this clipping will be used as another historical oddity in the year 2100 when we go back to Dunedin again.

  1. INTERNATIONAL SPORT IS BIGGER THAN ANY INDIVIDUALWITHOUT Billy Slater, Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Burgess, Anthony Milford, Johnathan Thurston, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, James Roby, Justin Hodges and the rest, the 2014 Four Nations was tipped to be “a yawn”. Yet 47,813 saw Samoa push England all the way and New Zealand thrash Australia at Suncorp Stadium to kick things off. The 25,093 attendance at the final made it a record-drawing Four Nations tournament. The reason is simple: in the eyes of the general public – as opposed to rugby league fanatics – international sport sits above club sport and always win. It has a lure all of its own; the jumper is more important than the face.
  2. amazonRUGBY LEAGUE CAN BE SOLD OUTSIDE THE BIG CAPITALSA RUGBY league tournament in Australasia without a single match in Sydney or Auckland? It worked. This occurs in tandem with the previous point: international competition helps us reach exactly the people who are somewhat immune to our charms as a club sport. The 18,456 crowd at WIN Stadium on November 9 for Australia-Samoa was the biggest for any event in Wollongong this year. On top of – literally – the 16,912 at Whangarei’s Toll Stadium for New Zealand-Samoa on November 1 were two people up a tree. And of course, we returned to Dunedin after a rather long absence. Test football can widen our horizons within countries that already play the game, by giving us credibility that teams representing suburbs can never provide.4. 3. OUR SPORT COULD, AND SHOULD, BE MORE ENTERTAININGHISTORICALLY, rugby league swings from attack-focus to defence-obsession. The Four Nations should trigger a swing back towards attack – it sometimes embarrassed  the NRL as being safety-first, structured and beset with wrestling. The Kiwis, in particular, seem to relish playing against anyone but Australia, and discarding the percentages in favour of skill, speed, and daring. Their games against Samoa and England were epics. But coach Stephen Kearney has made them adaptable, too: they can beat the Aussies at their own game and did so on consecutive occasions for the first time since 1953. But Samoa and England were arguably better to watch than the finalists. We need to incentivise entertaining play and discourage five hit-ups and a kick.

    4. SAMOA ARE (MAYBE) OUR FOURTH COMPETITIVE NATION

    donate2AT the 1995 World Cup, Wales played England at an Old Trafford semi-final that attracted 30,042 people – including busloads of fans from the Valleys who have long since forgotten us. The English won by the respectable – for the Welsh – score of 25-10. In 2000, the Welsh led Australia at halftime in their semi. Yet the Dragons have not kicked on and we should be wary of getting carried away with Samoa for the same reason. Nonetheless, in their worst showing they were still 20 points better than in their only previous match against Australia. With Anthony Milford on board, it is reasonable to suggest they may have beaten England and New Zealand. The Kiwis need local, competitive opposition because internationals are the only way they make money. They may well have found an enduring new rivalry.

    5. THE CANCELLATION OF THE 2015 LIONS TOUR WAS POINTLESS

    TOP State of Origin players wanted next spring off to rest their weary bones. But a whole heap of them – 12 from Australia’s winning 2013 World Cup squad – took this year off as well! We had a successful, competitive tournament without them. If another 12 cried off in 2015 and the dozen unavailable this year returned, logic dictates Australia would be no more or less competitive against the first Lions tourists in 23 years – who were told to stay home. Great Britain were to play tour games in the bush, travel from Brisbane to Sydney by bus and maybe provide the first-ever opposition for the proposed Pacific All Stars. What a terrible waste of an opportunity. Now tours are supposed to be returning – after the 2017 World Cup – just when the Four Nations finally comes into its prime. There is enormous pressure on Scotland in 2016 to match the feats of Matt Parish’s Samoans.

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World Cup: SAMOA 38 PAPUA NEW GUINEA 4 at Craven Park

By STEVE MASCORD
ANTHONY Milford is playing fullback – a position likely closed off to him if he succeeds in joining Brisbane next year – at the World Cup simply because he wants to, coach Matt Parish has revealed.
The 19-year-old, centre of a tug-o-war between Canberra and Brisbane for his services in 2014, was named man of the match as Samoa claimed their first win of the tournament, 38-4 over a disappointing Papua New Guinea at Hull’s Craven Park.
While Milford insists his bid for a compassionate release from the Raiders is wholly in the hands of his managers, Parish gave a surprising answer when asked if he considered switching the rookie into the halves following a first-up loss to New Zealand.
amazon“He can play where-ever he wants, that kid,” Parish said. “He’s certainly a great talent. I personally think he’s suited to fullback. If he wants to play fullback, I’m happy to play him there.
“But again, he could play halfback really well.”
The signing of Ben Barba means Milford would probably not be able to play the custodian role at Suncorp Stadium – particularly since the club also boasts the current New Zealand no.1, Josh Hoffman.
Asked if he was suggesting Milford was allowed to play where-ever he wanted for Samoa, Parish responded: “Why not?”
Beng given the run of an international side while still a teenager works well, according to Milford. “If it’s too far for me to come across, I just play that first receiver role,” he told Fairfax Media.
“They boys don’t mind playing at the back as well, which is good. I can pick and choose.”
Milford is saying little about his 2014 plans. “I’m not too sure. I’ve got a four week break when I go back. Everything’s up to my management team. Hopefully when I go back, I’ll have something sorted out,” he said.
Samoa led 22-0 after 24 minutes, effectively anaesthetising the hardy 6782 fans who braved the cold at East Hull. The Kumuls remained he local favourites, however, and responded with a more spirited display after trailing 28-0 at the break.
The Samoans were deadly at times on the edges, with Pita Godinet’s 14th-minute try the result of a mesmerising interchange of passes on the right side.
But Samoa are running low on troops, with Reni Maitua (groin), Harrison Hansen (leg) and Frank Winterstein (pectoral muscle) to miss the rest of the tournament.
A call to bring in re-inforcements, which would have incuded St Helens’ Tony Puletua, has fallen in deaf ears.
PNG coach Adrian Lam, meanwhile, was battening down the hatches for a wave of criticism. Coaching director Mal Meninga has moved to write a lettet to the country’s public after the one-point loss to France which opened the campaign.
“Although we wanted to do well here, the priority is that next (World Cup),” Lam said.
“At the last World Cup, we had 15 international players and eight locals. At this World Cup, it’s swapped around, it’s the opposite.”
donate2Lam said his message to league-mad Papuans was “just to be patient with the process”.
“We’ve got seven million people who were probably up watching this morning.They judge the boys pretty harsh on performance. I know everyone at home will be pretty disappointed. Probably, we’ll see our critics over the next couple of days and the next week or two. That’s cool. Off the back of that performancetonight, it wasn’t too cool.
“We’ve still got New Zealand to go. All is not lost. We might win that to go through to the quarter-finals.”
Lam offered a wry smile as he uttered that last sentence.
SAMOA 38 (Antonio Winterstein 3, Suaia Matagi, Pita Godinet, Ben Roberts Suasu Sue tries; Anthony Milford 5 goals) beat PAPUA NEW GUINEA 4 (Jesse Joe Nandye try) at Craven Park. Referee: Shayne Hayne (Australia). Crowd: 6,782.

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THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week Seven

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
McNAMARA STAYS
ENGLAND coach Steve McNamara has been retained. When asked by Set of Six what process would determine who has the job next year, Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood told us: “There is no process because there is no vacancy. Steve is 12 months into a two year contract.” When McNamara joined Sydney Roosters at the start of the year and his RFL contract was renegotiated, no term was made public. What of Australia’s Tim Sheens? He would no doubt be seeking a three year extension to take him though to the next World Cup. His old protege Mal Meninga could be an alternative candidate. Sheens said Australia only had one Test next year – even though the TV contract demands two

amazonSIONE SHATTERED
THERE was a touching moment on the field at fulltime on Saturday night when some Australian team staff had a whisper in the ear of captain Cameron Smith to let him know winger Sione Matautia was doing it tough. Matautia could easily have been the hero with a last-ditch try that was called back for a forward pass but was no doubt upset at the performance of opposite number Manu Vatuvei. Smith comforted Matautia in concert with some team-mates. We can’t remember Australia ever fielding a player with fewer than 10 games experience against a man with almost 200 – with the foreigner plying his trade in what was once the “Sydney premiership”!

DONT GET CARRIED AWAY WITH SAMOA
WOOD is also the chairman of the Rugby League International Federation and he has warned against getting carried away with the performance of Samoa in the Four Nations. There are calls for an annual New Zealand-Samoa three-Test series at Origin time. “Our priority must be to construct a clear, fair fixture calendar for all member countries,” Wood said, “Sometimes it is tempting to a react to a good one-off Test performance but only 12 months ago we all thought Fiji were clearly our number four country. We have to look beyond knee jerk reactions, our priority is to build countries four to eight,” Wood gave little away regarding the quest for an RLIF CEO, aside from saying the search was “on-going”. He said the much-vaunted 12-year calendar would be from 2018 to 2029, with the next two seasons already settled,

COMICAL STRIP
THE aftermath of the final was something of a strip show, with some Australian players throwing everything into the crowd by their jocks, Sam Thaiday emerged for the dressingrooms with his entire kit back and began flinging its contents into the terraces like an automatic sprinkler. Cameron Smith, Greg Bird and Greg Inglis were also very generous, The Kiwis performed a post-game hake and then returned to the ground when it was empty to reflect on the victory, as is now customary. They must have got a shock when the cleaning staff started shouting and applauding them as they stood in a circle some time around midnight.
JOHNSON STANDS UP
donate2SHAUN Johnson was so excited at fulltime he dropped the F-bomb on Triple M. The former touch footballer was probably man of the tournament and really came of age over the last month and a bit. He also made an interesting statement at the media conference: it was the first time he had been part of a team that had set a goal and them achieved it. That realisation will mean a lot for the Warriors in 2015 – Johnson could become an all time great. It was the first of the Kiwis’ four tournament victories over the last nine years to be registered in front of a home crowd and the first back-to-back wins against Australia since 1953.

2014 AND ALL THAT

THIS is the last Set of Six for 2014, although Discord will continue during the break. Where has the year left us? Some of rugby league’s problems can be solved, others can’t. Young men will always misbehave. Bigger, more wealthy sports will always poach players. Most of our solvable problems are a result of parochialism and self-interest. There are signs that these flaws are finally being addressed: the game is becoming more inclusive, there is a growing realisation there are too many teams in Sydney and the importance of international competition is finally dawning on even the most conservative commentators and administrators. We are getting more people of influence who don’t rely on the game as a meal ticket and who can therefore act with a greater degree of altruism. Onwards and upwards. See you in 2015.

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