THE JOY OF SIX: Round 23

The Joy Of Six1. WHAT PRICE COMPASSION?

SHOULD a player who gains compassionate leave profit financially from it? According to NRL head of football operations Todd Greenberg, capping payments made to a player released on compassionate grounds – perhaps for the term of the original contract he escaped – will be discussed as part of the salary cap review. Another suggestion was to hand the difference in any contract back to the player’s former club, as compensation. This might work if, say, Ben Barba or Anthony Milford go into the Brisbane’s cap by NRL decree at a higher price than Canterbury or Canberra would be paying them next year. In that case, the difference between that figure and the cap amount could be paid by Brisbane to the Bulldogs and Raiders. “Compassionate grounds, if that (release) is awarded by clubs, they may well make the decision that the commercial terms don’t change,” Greenberg said on the ABC

2. WHAT HAPPENS IN BRISVEGAS

BRISBANE coach Anthony Griffin and his media manager, James Hinchey, are friendly, down-to-earth, likeable fellows. But their approach to talking about the – very necessary – recruitment going on at the club right now is curious. Even after signings have taken place, such as that of Sydney Rooster Martin Kennedy, there is no announcement. Peter Wallace and Scott Prince being told they are in reserve grade, or the club’s interest in Ben Barba and Anthony Milford, are treated as if they are figments of the media’s imagination – but never denied. And on Friday, Josh Hoffman was stopped almost mid-sentence while talking to television cameras . Fans have a right to know who a club is talking to and letting go. If you can’t comment because talks are at a delicate stage, why not say “I can’t comment right now because talks are at a delicate stage”? Melbourne’s squeamishness about anything concerning their departing assistant coaches is equally mystifying.

3. BRENT TATE: ORIGIN MADE ME

BRENT Tate won’t be retiring from State of Origin and wants Australia’s World Cup selectors to know it. Tate has heard coach Tim Sheens will be picked a team with a view to the future; his future will still including playing for Queensland. “I’m very mindful of where I am with my body but at the same time, I think Origin makes me a better player,” said Tate after the 22-10 win over Gold Coast. “Being around that environment, it takes me to another level. It would be really hard for me to to say ‘no’ to it. I feel as if I’m not quite ready (to quit). On the World Cup, he said: “I’d love to go, although I know Tim has said there’s a bit of an eye on the future. I was part of the last World Cup and it would be nice to be able to go there and right a few wrongs. If I get a chance there, I’ll be the first one with my bags packed.”

4. NATIONAL INFORMATION MINISTRY

THE NRL’s ill-advised crackdown on what is arbitrarily deemed “excessive” criticism by coaches of referees will be put to the test today when Geoff Toovey’s post match media conference from Friday is examined. It used to be that you had to question the integrity of a match official to cop a fine; now you pretty much only have to upset the NRL. How can reporters rely on the NRL to enforce media regulations and free speech at clubs when the administration itself indulges in censorship? On a more positive note, the ARLC will attempted to make the link with touch football an international association by encouraging the RLIF to make contact with touch’s international governing body, FIT. We’ve rapped the NRL over the touch footy deal but here’s another brickbat: officials travelling around Sydney in chauffeured cars isn’t a great look.

5. BEING JOHNATHAN THURSTON

YOU may have wondered exactly when Johnathan Thurston turned from a footballer to a role model and ambassador; the sort of fellow who spots kids in the crowd during games and tells the ballboy to hand them a signed kicking tee. The Closing The Gap round, of which he is a frontman, seemed an opportune time to ask him. “When I had that misdemeanour of getting locked up in Brisbane (in 2010),” he said on ABC when I asked. “It didn’t only just affect myself. It affected my fiancé Samantha, my parents, my brothers, my sisters, my family. That’s when I really had a good, hard look at myself and the legacy I wanted to see when I leave football. I’ve got a four-year deal and I want to make the most of these four years because after that, you know, I’ll be in the real world.”

6. MELBOURNE BALLS TAMPERED WITH AGAIN

MELBOURNE have become the victims of ball tampering for a second consecutive week, it is alleged. Last week it was Sam Burgess fiddling with Chambers’ willie, this week it was Knights officials lubricating the pigskin with water. Storm halfback Cooper Cronk complained to referees Jared Maxwell and Brett Suttor that the Steedens had been placed in water before kick-offs and this had lead to at least one knock-on. Melbourne officials did not want to add to the allegation when contacted late Sunday. Co-incidentally, while Sam Burgess is currently serving a two-week suspension for tampering with Chambers, the last known example of interfering with a ball in the NRL was perpetrated by his England team-mate, James Graham last year. Graham rubbed his legs in vaseline, primarily to make him harder to tackle but with the perhaps unintended incidental result of making balls harder to handle too. OK, enough.

And a bonus ‘zero tackle’

7. GREEN GRASS OF WEMBLEY

NEXT weeks’ Set Of Six will come to you from Wembley Stadium, where Wigan and Hull are preparing to take part in a rematch of one of the top two matches I’ve ever seen, the 1985 Challenge Cup final that pitted Peter Sterling (black and white irregular hoops) against Brett Kenny (cherry and white). Playing half for Wigan will be former Parramatta and Cronulla man Blake Green and NRL talent scouts should be glued to Eurosport to check his form. Just about every Australian who signs with a Super League club these days has a get-out clause and experienced halves aren’t really thick on the ground. Blake’s agent Isaac Moses is flying to London for the game but no doubt in a different part of the plane to your correspondent. We’re cheering for Hull though, on account of Mark ‘Ogre’ O’Meley having an opportunity to win something special in his last season.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Prince, Henry In Dark Over Futures

By STEVE MASCORD

WINNING coach Anthony Griffin stopped well short of denying reports that Peter Wallace and Scott Prince were on the way out of Brisbane while rival Neil Henry continues to wait for the Noerth Queensland executioner’s axe to fall.

Brisbane’s 18-16 derby win over North Queensland at 1300smiles Stadium was played amid anticipation of seismic changes at both clubs, who face near-Herculean tasks to qualify for the finals.

Broncos five-eighth Scott Prince – who kicked the winning goal – has reportedly been told he will play reserve grade if he stays at the club next season, while sometimes-half Peter Wallace is not wanted.

And Henry – whose side must now win all their remaining matches to make the play-offs – is tipped to be told as soon as this week his services will not be required in 2014.

Prince said when asked about his future: “I’m not sure.

“At the end of the day, I’m signed for next year and we’ll just see how this year unfolds and, yeah, we’ll see what happens.”

Given the opportunity to deny the speculation, Griffin said only: “They’re things that are in the paper and I’ve got no control over what they write in the paper.”

Henry, meanwhile, again indicated he would not jump and would have to be pushed by directors. “I don’t know, it’s up to the board to discuss that,” he said when asked about a decision on his future.

“As I said, at the moment I’ve got a contract for next year and I want to stay up here and fulfil that obligation. We’ll see.”

The match was one in which changes made by Griffin, with Ben Hunt moved to halfback and Josh Hoffman back to fullback, worked – although the Cowboys roared back from 12-0 down.

Henry was upset no action was taken when outstanding Brisbane rookie Corey Oates made contact with NQ winger Kalifa FaiFaiLoa as he chased a 66th-minute kick into the in-goal.

“Kalifa was that close to it, he would have scored,” Henry said. “I can’t see how it wouldn’t have been a penalty.”

But the Cowboys coach said the main reason his men did not hold on after Matt Bowen’s 58th minute try gave them the lead was that they let each other down.

“Obviously our right edge strugged a little with their left-edge attack,” said Henry.

“We’re bitterly disappointed … people are doing their job and other people come up with poor decisions. We’ve got half a dozen of those in the game.

“It wasn’t outstanding attack. It was a poor defensive read or a lack of urgency or maybe communication.”

Retiring Dallas Johnson suffered a hip injury.

Griffin reckoned: “They had us by the throat there for, probably, 30 minutes of that second half. To their credit, (Johnathan) Thurston and (Matt) Bowen wouldn’t let us out.

“If we leaked anymore than 16, we were gone.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

NRL round five: BRISBANE 32 GOLD COAST 12 at Skilled Park

By STEVE MASCORD

By STEVE MASCORD

BRISBANE coach Anthony Griffin admitted that firing up Justin Hodges was probably not the best thing Gold Coast did in last night’s southern Queensland derby.

In his comeback from hamstring injury, the Australia centre had made just five runs when he became involved in a dispute with Gold Coast co-captain Greg Bird right on halftime.

Seconds later, Bird caught Broncos winger Lachlan Maranta high – resulting in his being placed on report – and Hodges rushed in to defend him. Hodges went on to double  his workload in the second half and scored the try that guaranteed the Broncos their 32-12 win.

“They didn’t need to stir him up there – he went to another level in the second half,” Griffin said after his side’s second win of the year.

“He came up with that great tackle on Bird, which I thought was his best play of the night.”

Captain Alex Glenn, filling in for Sam Thaiday who was suspended for touching a referee, added: “He is just one of those players who looks after his team-mates.

“That’s just what he was doing for his winger out there.”

Titans coach John Cartwright said of the confrontation: “It’s good to see two guys having a go at it. Neither of them are going to back down, are they?”

In form Gold Coast went into the derby seeking a fourth consecutive win for the first time in three seasons, and were favourites to do it, while Brisbane’s season remained dangerously close to receiving an early reading of the last rights.

But the Titans missed their late withdrawal, five-eighth Aiden Sezer (ankle), more than Brisbane struggled without their controversially suspended captain, Sam Thaiday.

And in losing, Cartwright’s side may have done more damage to its halves firepower with Albert Kelly – the scorer of a spectacular early try – forced off with a knee injury suffered trying to prevent a 72nd minute Andrew McCullough try.

The Broncos, with just one win in their opening four games, trailed by two at halftime but wore their neighbours down before finishing with a flourish, centre Justin Hodges scoring in the 67th minute and his rake burrowing over not long afterwards.

Replacement Nick Slyney’s touchdown came seconds before the siren.

The first stanza was an entertaining, open affair – an approach best exemplified by the exhilarating opening try.

From 65 metres out, Kelly beat a couple of defenders, chipped ahead and overcame a terrible bounce to touch down with his right hand before the ball richocheted free. Video referees Bernard Sutton and Justin Morgan confirmed the try and stand-in goalkicker Bird goaled for 6-0.

There was plenty of speed and guile in the Broncos’ response, which came six minutes later.

Corey Norman, Jack Reed and Hoffman were all involved in a 60 metre movement which finished with halfback Peter Wallace scoring near the posts. Despite the jeers of his former acolytes, five-eighth Scott Prince converted to tie the scores.

Gold Coast forced three consecutive line dropouts in the lead-up up to replacement hooker Beau Falloon’s 30th minute try.

After Bird drove the ball in to within a metre of the line, Falloon hopped out of dummy half and dived over, the eyes in the sky confirming he had not used his captain as a shepherd. Bird’s conversion was from almost in front and he made no mistake.

The final points of the first half came when centre Reed gave Hoffman the narrowest of corridors down the left flank and he touched down in the south-eastern corner for a try Prince was unable to convert.

Six minutes after the resumption of play, with Gold Coast back peddling and the visitors rising in stature, Brisbane hit the front.

Ben Hannant and Scott Prince were involved in the lead-up and second rower Matt Gillett crossed to the right of the posts, with Prince converting for a four-point lead.

Four minutes elapsed before replacement Ben Hunt kicked deftly for Reed. The England international did a good job selling the try with his celebration – and for an agonising minute or so it looked like the video referees were going to award it even though he did not ground the ball cleanly.

Sanity prevailed, however, and the four point margin made for a grandstand finish.

After a sluggish start to the season, the Broncos have now scored 11 tries in two games. Former Titan  Prince, who was not made available to speak after the match, played a key role in the victory which ended Gold Coast’s three-game winning run.

“I thought his second half was pretty good,” said Griffin, who said he never considered changing the combination of Corey Norman at fullback and Prince plus Peter Wallace in the halves.

“He got us some opportunities there in the first half, under a lot of pressure from the opposition.

“Defensively, he held his end up and he came up with some nice plays to get some space for Gillett and Hodges.”

Aside from the absence of Sezer and injury to Kelly, Titans centre Brad Takairangi (hamstring) was forced off early and forward Ben Ridge couldn’t return in the second half due to a pectoral muscle injury.

Kelly has a low grade medial ligament tear in his right knee and will be sidelined for between two and four weeks.

“It was pretty sharp (pain) … I broke my leg and I was out for 16 weeks and it was pretty much the same feeling as that,” Kelly said.

“It’s not a matter of how long I’ll be out, it’s a matter of how much work I put in to get it right,” he said.

“I don’t know when I’m going to come back but my mind is set to play next week.

“It’s a low-range medial. They said it could have been worse. Happy days for me.

“I don’t want to miss a game. I just love playing football. You can be on top of your game one week and get injured just like that.”

Broncos forward Dunamis Lui also has a medial ligament strain.

Summing up the reason for the steady improvement in his side’s fortunes, Griffin said: “We’re playing more direct and the halves are combining with the fullback a bit better.”

Titans co-captain Nate Myles said: “A lot of people were painting a pretty picture for us but we weren’t up to where a lot of people thought we were.

“I don’t think the players were getting carried away but I think other people were.”

BRISBANE 32 (P Wallace J Hoffman M Gillett J Hodges A McCullough N Slyney tries S Prince 4 goals) bt GOLD COAST 12 (A Kelly B Falloon tries G Bird 2 goals) at Skilled Park. Referees: S Hayne/A Shortall.  Crowd: 22,749.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Final team lists:

TITANS: William Zillman; Kevin Gordon, Brad Takairangi, Jamal Idris, David Mead; Greg Bird, Albert Kelly; Ashley Harrison, Ben Ridge, Dave Taylor, Nate Myles, Matt Srama, Luke Douglas. Res: Luke Bailey, Ryan James, Beau Falloon, Steve Michaels.

BRISBANE: Corey Norman; Josh Hoffman, Jack Reed, Justin Hodges, Lachlan Maranta; Scott Prince, Peter Wallace; Corey Parker, Michael Gillett, Alex Glenn, Scott Anderson, Andrew McCullough, Ben Hannant. Res: Ben Hunt, Dunamis Lui, David Hala, Nick Slyney.

Referees: Shayne Hayne/Alan Shortlall.

NRL round 23: GOLD COAST 24 PARRAMATTA 16 at Skilled Park

By STEVE MASCORD

DEPARTING Parramatta caretaker coach Brad Arthur last night said the current rule interpretation on obstructions was wrong and warned the issue would cause major dramas during the finals.

Gold Coast was awarded the second contentious try of the weekend under the rule during a 24-16 win at Skilled Park, which also featured a disallowed touchdown which its would-be scorer, FuiFui MoiMoi, claimed was “100 per cent a try”.

The headline grabbing decision to give Canterbury’s Johnathan Wright a try against Wests Tigers after an apparent obstruction on Friday was seized upon when Titan Ashley Harrison ran behind team-mate Luke O’Dwyer in the 59th minute before putting over centre Steve Michaels.

“It’s the same try as Friday night!” Gold Coast captain Scott Prince shouted while video referee Rod Lawrence mulled over a decision. “I didn’t see Friday night,” on-field official Steve Lyons deadpanned, “who played?”

The touchdown was given and Arthur – unwanted by incoming Ricky Stuart next year – said little about the issue at the post-match media conference. But when asked later by the Herald if more teams would run plays that were once illegal as a result of the rulings, he said: “We will be.

“Look, I don’t know if anyone will go down that path but you would hate to see a semi-final decide by that. In a game like today, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make a difference for us.

“But it could make a difference to a semi-final team or a game in the semi-finals.

“Are you allowed to run behind your player and score a try? We definitely need to get an answer of what the ruling is. It’s not just today’s game, it’s every club, right across the game. There needs to be a rule we can all work off.”

Titans coach John Cartwright disagreed with his captain’s on-field statement that the Michaels and Wright tries were “the same”. “I think that one today was totally different … the one the other night was no try,” Cartwright said. “Commonsense says it was no try. I don’t think I’m being biased in saying today was a try.”

Prince said: “I had a view on what an obstruction rule was. The other night with the Doggies-Tigers game, it certainly changed my (opinion).

“It’s more confusing for the punters at home who watch. Now it’s even confusing for the players and coaches.”

There was actually confusion over two rules at the post-match media conference yesterday. Nathan Hindmarsh was unsure of the implications of new guidelines restricting comment about the performances of match officials.

“Does anyone know what the rule is these days …. can I say that?” said Hindmarsh, when asked about the obstruction furore. “I’m allowed to say that? I’m not going to get fined or anything?”

Just a few seconds after Parramatta’s Cheyse Blair went up for a kick that should have brought him a try – until he failed to take the ball cleanly – fullback William Zillman charged only a lovely pass from Matt Srama to score.

Titan Matt White dived on another ball lolling dangerously close to his own tryline in the 26th minute and soon afterwards, prop Nate Myles charged through a yawning gap for his side’s second touchdown. The scoreboard clicked over to 14-0 with a penalty goal and that looked like being the halftime ledger until quick hands put Luke Burt over in the final seconds of the period.

The Eels narrowed the margin to four with Chris Sandow’s try off a MoiMoi pass in the 54th minute – before Michaels touchdown dead-batted their revival. “We definitely had the momentum,” Arthur reflected, “but we made the error to hand them the ball.”

The Titans extended their lead via Kevin Gordon (64 mins) before MoiMoi was ruled to have lost the ball over the line. “The way I was carrying it, it looked like it came out,” MoimOi told the Herald. “But I got it down, it was 100 per cent a try.”

When the next Eels try came  – after great lead-up from Ken Sio to put Taniela Lasalo over – it was far too late.

There was a bizarre start to the second half with the Titans fielding only 12 men – without Ashley Harrison – and defying the referees’ instructions to kick off. “I think Harro was having a dump,” said Prince. “Nah, he  had a toe issue. He was getting his toe strapped.”

Hindmarsh repeated earlier comments about not caring if his career finished with a wooden spoon. Sandow was reported for a high tackle on Zillman.

GOLD COAST 24 (W Zillman N Myles S Michaels K Gordon tries S Prince 4 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 16 (L Burt C Sandow T Lasalo tries L Burt 2 goals) at Skilled Park. Referees: G Sutton/S Lyons. Crowd: 14,159.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Final team lists:

TITANS: William Zillman; Kevin Gordon, Jamal Idris, Steve Michaels, David Mead; Aiden Sezer, Scott Prince; Ashley Harrison, Ben Ridge, Greg Bird, Luke Douglas, Matt Srama, Nate Myles. Res: Matt White, Mark Minichiello, Luke O’Dwyer, Beau Falloon.

PARRAMATTA: Jake Mullaney; Luke Burt, Ryan Morgan, Cheyse Blair, Ken Sio; Ben Roberts, Chris Sandow; Reni Maitua, Justin Horo, Nathan Hindmarsh (c), FuiFui MoiMoi, Nathan Smith, Tim Mannah. Res: Joseph Paulo, Taulima Tautai, Justin Poore, Taniela Lasalo.

Referees: Gerard Sutton/Steve Lyons.

Toyota Cup: Gold Coast 34 Parramatta 32

NRL round 13: GOLD COAST 28 NORTH QUEENSLAND 12 at Skilled Park

By STEVE MASCORD

GOLD Coast captain Scott Prince late last night stressed the game against North Queensland earlier in the evening had not been a tennis match between himself and Johnathan Thurston.

But at the risk of labouring an obvious metaphor, the “love” between the two long-time selection rivals would have been represented by Prince’s straight-sets victory if it had been

After an abysmal start to the season, Gold Coast have now strung together three consecutive victories to lift the hopes of the NRL’s most belleagured fans that something can yet be salvaged from 2012.

Last night their 28-12 success came in the most dramatic fashion – the Titans kicked the ball out on the full from the start of the contest and found themselves without the ball for almost a quarter of an hour.

There were four line dropouts in the first seven minutes – and another not long afterwards – and the tackle count at one stage was 73-10 in “favour” of Gold Coast.

Yet they led the NRL’s top first-half scoring team 12-0 at the break and finished with five tries to complement wins over Canterbury and Wests Tigers. The game was marred by injuries to North Queensland hooker James Segeyaro (ankle) and Gold Coast prop Luke Bailey, who according to commentator Paul Vautin reported ribs loose in his abdomen.

“We sat here after a fair few losses early and people were pretty quick to say our season was over,” said coach John Cartwright, when asked to explain his side’s remarkable turnaround.

“The playing group didn’t believe it. It’s sometimes tough in situations like that.”

Prince had recaptured the spark of his glory days, particularly when he bamboozled the defence in setting up Greg Bird’s first-half score. Cartwright said Bird was in career best form and Prince was back to enjoying himself.

Prince commented: “It’s always good to play the best and JT’s certainly one of those but it’s not a tennis match out there where it’s just me and him out there on the court

“JT’s smacked my bum a few times so I’ll take them when I can.

“There’s outside pressures but we knew if we worked hard enough, things would have to change..

“It’s important for us that we’ve got some confidence and self-belief in the team to just enjoy it … there were some dark days but we’ve moved on.”

According to North Queensland prop Matt Scott, the Cowboys are “off the money” at the moment.

Referring to seven line-dropouts by the Titans, Scott said: “We’re normally pretty good at converting that possession.

“It just showed we’re off the money a bit at the moment. Execution just wasn’t right and they took a lot of confidence out of defending a couple of sets on their line.

“The last two games, we’ve been pretty poor. There’s really no excuse for it.”

Coach Neil Henry who reckoned ‘we weren’t really in the game’ reckons fatigue is at least a factor. “We’re one of the last teams to get a bye,” he said.

Prince declined to speculate about the chances of the Titans making the finals while Henry admitted his men were looking forward to a break next week.

The crowd of 12,092 was kept down by the rain but after positive off-field news regarding a deal with the Titans creditors, Cartwright was confident fans would get back on board in the weeks ahead.

GOLD COAST 28 (B Champion 2 K Gordon G Bird A Harrison tries S Prince 4 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 12 (C Paterson J Taumalalolo tries J Thurston 2 goals) at Skilled Park. Referees: S Hayne/A Shortall. Crowd: 12,092

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Final team lists:

GC: William Zillman; Kevin Gordon, Jamal Idris, Beau Champion, David Mead; Aiden Sezer, Scott Prince (c); Ashley Harrison, Mark Minichiello, Greg Bird, Nate Myles, Matt Srama, Luke Bailey. Res: Luke Douglas, Matt White, Ben Ridge, Luke O’Dwyer.

NQ: Matt Bowen; Ashley Graham, Brent Tate, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein; Johnathan Thurston, Ray Thompson; Dallas Johnson, Cory Paterson, Gavin Cooper, James Tamou, James Segeyaro, Matt Scott. Res: Aaron Payne, Glenn Hall, Ashton Sims, Jason Taumalolo.

Referees: Shayne Hayne/Alan Shortall.

Toyota Cup fulltime: North Queensland 17 Gold Coast 16