DISCORD 2014: Edition Nine

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

THE aspect of today’s NRL media conference about Cronulla which really stunned Discord was CEO David Smith’s admission that the League wouldn’t have the power to ban Shane Flanagan from Remondis Stadium, even if it wanted to.
Now, on balance we’re not sure Flanagan deserves to be locked out of the stadium. He probably doesn’t. But the idea that someone could perpetrate a much worse crime than that of which he is accused and still walk through the gates of any ground he or she chooses is pretty scary.
We all know of fan “watch lists”, which effectively ban troublemakers from venues. Neo nazi Ross ‘Skull’ May was banned from St George for years. But a player manager who encourages a club to rort the salary cap, a “sports scientist” involved in doping or a bookie who tries to fix matches can still come in? It’s unbelieveable.
Just what can the league do if it can’t stop individuals going to games?
In other sports, drug cheats and the like are banned from being present at matches and/or meets – plus training sessions. The NRL does not have enough power over its clubs. The sooner it incentivises its grants in return for better business practices and accountability from the clubs, the better.
The news regarding Flanagan and Trent Elkin was really no news at all. The NRL considered the appeals against penalties that had already been handed down and rejected them. Flanagan remains banned for the year, Elkin most likely for two years.
By the way, it’s hard to see Cronulla being banned from the finals, despite the threat to that effect from the NRL.
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I AM indebted to colleague (and inventor of the Set Of Six column format) Andy Wilson of The Guardian for the following whispers regarding the end-of-season Four Nations.
Apparently England will play Fiji or Samoa somewhere in Queensland and Australia in Melbourne (I seem to remember there was a long-term commitment between the ARL and the Victorian government to that effect). Steve McNamara’s men are also set to take on New Zealand in Dunedin.
Sounds like quite a cool tournament.
Best wishes to Hull KR centre Sean Gleeson, who may lose an eye after being attacked in Wigan at the weekend. Two men have been detained over the attacks.
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ONE of the things the NRL plans is incentivising clubs to do is more media. Rather than fining teams for not fulfilling media guidelines (which are already looking rather forgotten), the plan is to give them more money if they do what they’re supposed to.
The season kicks off this weekend and there were no big joint press conferences like the one that launched the World Club Challenge, during the week. The game has not been out there spruiking itself as it normally does this time of the year.
There is a feeling among some clubs that the traditional media is becoming increasingly irrelevant and the dispersal of information is better achieved by sending out emails to members and posting things on facebook pages. Instead of courting new fans with publicity, it’s done via databases the NRL has obtained with its takeover of touch football.
You would expect me to rail against that attitude here but in fact I think they may be right in their approach. People are becoming more savvy in the way they consume information and “mass media” does have less power than it once did.
Having said that, clubs are not likely to put out a video to all members revealing their player got in a fight. Would Dragons TV have chased an exclusive interview with the man Craig Garvey allegedly bashed?
So what happens is the clubs get “exclusive” access to good news, and the traditional media finds itself only covering bad news. If the clubs and NRL believe that scenario won’t hurt them, then fair enough. But there’s a gamble involved.
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THANKS, as always, for all the comments on last week’s Discord and this week’s Set Of Six.

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THE WRAP: NRL Finals Week One

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

MY furry colleague at Rugby League Week, the Mole, last week wrote that Greg Inglis was unlikely to play in the World Cup due to his ongoing knee problem.

So when the finals series kicked off on Friday night, a couple of hours before kick-off between South Sydney and Melbourne at ANZ Stadium, I asked the Rabbitohs coach about the situation.

“I get asked that every week,” said Michael Maguire, who your correspondent interviewed pre-game for Triple M.

“To be honest, his knee’s where it needs to be. He got through a full week’s training this week, which is a real positive for us.”

You’ll remember the first week of the 2013 finals for your reasons. Maybe your team won, maybe your team lost, maybe your team is the North Queensland Cowboys which means they should have done the former but ended up doing the latter.

Maybe you’re Matt Cecchin or Henry Perenara, in which case you will never forget the weekend just passed.

Me? I spent the weekend doing a lot of radio; so much so that I still have the vestiges of a headache from wearing headphones for hours on end. So I’m going to do turn this week’s wrap into a kind of Things You May Have Missed – stuff I came across that slipped between the cracks of the daily news cycle.

FRIDAY:

Maguire went on to secure his first win over Melbourne, 20-10.

“We missed the start last time against Melbourne, we missed it against the Roosters,” said Souths utility Chris McQueen said.

Jason Clark suffered a knee injury at training and was in doubt right up to kick-off.

“We had the captain’s run last night and we were pretty confident,” he said, “But we left it right up until the game.”

SATURDAY

While his team-mates celebrated, Todd Carney cut a disconsolate figure as he limped towards the tunnel with a serious hamstring injury after the 20-18 win for Cronulla over North Queensland.

“The leg feels a bit sore,” he told me “It’s a bit disappointing, I can’t soak it up with the boys. I’ll have to do everything possible to get it right for the game.

“I wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t 100 per cent. I did everything I had to do yesterday but obviously it fatigued and it’s gone wrong again.

“It was a sharp pain, like happened a few weeks ago, and it just got worse as the game went on but I couldn’t leave the field.”

Shane Flanagan on Carney: “He hasn’t torn the hamstring, he’s just getting referred pain from his back.”

The Sharks had been unaware of Beau Ryan’s seventh-tackle try. Paul Gallen: “I just found out about it off Ryan Girdler. Sometimes you get things go your way, sometimes you don’t. We’ll take it.

“I suppose the NRL probably thought Melbourne were going to be here but they weren’t. Too everyone’s credit, the Roosters fans and the Manly fans, they turned out to watch us play as well.”

The Cowboys didn’t know either. Antonio Winterstein: “We didn’t have any idea, that’s the first time I’ve heard about it. We can’t do anything about it now. I thought he (Kane Linnett) had it there. The replay showed otherwise.”

Despite the rancour afterwards, Matt Bowen was nothing if not a sportsman. “It is disappointing to go out the way we did but in saying that, full credit to the Sharkies. They wanted it more than we did,” was his remarkable comment.

“It wasn’t meant to be tonight. In saying that, we did a couple of things to hurt (ourselves) in the first half. We can’t do anything about it now. They got the win and they get to play on and we don’t

On his future, Bowen said: “I’ll have to make a decision next week. We’ll see what happens.”

Coach Flanagan’s heart sank when Bowen got the ball with a few seconds left. “He was the one person in the rugby league world I didn’t want to have the ball,” Flanagan said.
A time keeper approached Flanagan while I was waiting to speak to him, to explain the confusion at fulltime over time on the clock.

“They just explained to me it was the clock the referees see on the ground.. The actual referees and time keeper did tell him there was 11 seconds to go. It was just a technical glitch with the game clock that all the fans saw and the players see as well.”

Does he care that the seventh tackle try took the gloss off the victory?

“I do care. It was done earlier. These things happen in our game, it’s human error. The referees, if they made a mistake, they didn’t mean it, I’m sure.

Neil Henry has been painted as a conspiracy theorist but he also said this to me, on the ABC: “No-one goes out to deliberately get the tackle count wrong. But with the number of officials they’ve got, they should get it right.

“I think the refereeing, overall, has improved a bit. We saved a couple of our worst decisions for the big stage.”

The next game was a 4-0 win for the Roosters over Manly – the scoreline from a certain preliminary final in 1992 which this Illawarra fan would rather forget.

“We’ll improve our attack next week but that’s the way we need to be defending at this time of year,” said Roosters five-eighth James Maloney.

All the points were scored by young winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. I asked if he’d ever done that before.

“It’s a first try for me. I’m glad I was able to get the points for the boys.” He then gave this gem of a quote: “We just looked at each other and said ‘this is who we are, this is the game we play’.”

The big worry for Manly fans must be backing up six days after and out-and-out war Geoff Toovey: “We’re fortunate we’re playing the Cronulla Sharks. They had a tough game here today as well, against the Cowboys. Very physical there as well and they played a similar type of football. Hopefully they’re as bumped and bruised as we are.”

I spoke to Roosters coach Trent Robinson after the game and again the next day on ABC’s The Hit-Up

“I grew up watching the eighties games and enjoyed that sort of footy,” he said. “The courage that used to get shown back then, we had to show tonight – along with Manly, We both showed it.

“Both sides should be proud.”

SUNDAY:

On Sunday, Robinson paid tribute to Steve Menzies, whose career ended with Hull’s 14-4 win over Catalan on Friday night.

“It’s a bit like Sonny coming here, my first head coaching gig, I recruited Beaver. He allowed me to coach him. He doesn’t need to stop, the way that he’s still playing.”

Video referees Justin Morgan and Luke Patten were booked as guests before the seventh tackle furore. Asked if video refs are supposed to keep count for the men on the field, Morgan said:  “Yes. That is right. It’s somebody’s role in the box to keep the tackle count during the match for reinforcement and correction. It would have been somebody’s job last night.?

And do you tell the referees about major blunders at halftime?

Morgan: “For me, it’s very similar to coaching. You have to know the individual. You have to know how they’ll take that information on. Some referees will want to know. They’ll want to know that information. They’ll want to know ‘did I get that right?’ ‘Did I get that wrong?’

“Others, you most probably need to be a bit more gentle … most of them, if they ask you the question, they want a straight answer.’

The final guest before I headed out to see Newcastle eliminate Canterbury 22-6 was Parramatta chairman Steve Sharp.

“We’ll have something in the pipeline in the next week, or two maximum, as to who’s going to be our coach,” he said.

Do players joining the club next year have get-out clauses? “In fact, if they don’t want to come to our club, I don’t really want them there. We want people who want to play for the club.”

What about the Bulldogs chasing Jarryd Hayne? “Jarryd’s got a contract with the club which he has just extended for two years. There is no getout clause. Jarryd’s going to be here in 14 and 15 at least.”

Filed for: SMITHYSPEAKS.COM.AU

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Smith Raises Hopes He’ll Stay In Melbourne

By STEVE MASCORD

CAMERON Smith said after a 250th-game romp – in which only a stray seagull managed to put him off – that he hoped to chalk up the triple century with the Storm.

His comments came on the same day he was quoted as saying he would put himself on the open market for the end of next year. He would not be able to achieve his aim of 300 games at the same club if he returned to Queensland, which he says is tempting, at the conclusion of 2014.

“It would be nice … to make that 300 club,” said Smith, who was feted at fulltime with his family but missed a conversion shortly before halftime when a seagull distracted him.

“There’re not too many blokes who are in that club, particularly for the one organisation. That would be pretty special to do that.

“I’ve been very lucky in my career to play the amount of games I’ve played in the position I play in. A lot of people joke around, and I joke around, about my physique but that’s probably contributed to me playing so many games.

“I’m not the most masculine bloke getting around. I bend a bit in tackles so it’s helped me out. I haven’t had many injuries.”

He said leaving the Storm would be a difficult call. “When I first started playing – you ask my wife, you ask my family – I always wanted to be a one-club man,” Smith said.

“I’d be extremely lucky to do that but that’s something for the future, for myself and my family to decide on. It’s a very important thing. The next contract I sign, it’s probably going to be the last one.

“It’s important that I make the right decision but as far as playing 300 games in one place, that would certainly be high on the list.”

Team-mate Billy Slater described the thrashing as one of Melbourne’s few complete performances all season. The bird arguably did more damage than the Sharks, who posted a late consolation try.

Smith said: “Geez he put me off, he rattled me, the old seagull. But I couldn’t have asked for a better effort from the boys.

“The win’s a bonus. I was just looking for a good performance from the team tonight, building on what we did against the Roosters a couple of weeks ago.

“The boys looked fresh. They must have enjoyed their week off last week.”

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan lamented a dismal end to a four-match winning streak. “They all tried really hard but technically, we weren’t very good tonight,” he said.

“We fell off tackles, made some poor decisions in defence, and our offence was off as well.

“I’m disappointed about the loss but I’m probably more disappointed about our performance.”

Origin star Luke Lewis said: “What you see is what you get with Melbourne. You know they’re going to turn up every night and we didn’t turn up.

“They took us to school tonight.”

Smith concluded: “We’re back playing the way everyone knows the Melbourne Storm can play – that’s starting well, being ruthless with our football, putting pressure on opposition teams for the whole 80 minutes.

“That was as close and you get to playing a complete game for us.”

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE WRAP: NRL round 11

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
CRONULLA coach Shane Flanagan and his South Sydney rival Michael Maguire have called for Monday Night Football to be scrapped on the weekends when State of Origin teams are picked or for NSW and Queensland to delay naming their line-ups until the club round is complete.
Flanagan said after last night’s boilover 14-12 victory over the Rabbitohs at Sharks Stadium he was upset that new Blues interchange forward Andrew Fifita had been gone into the NSW camp on the day of a vitally important club game.
While Fifita was the star for the Sharks in the absence of injured representative stars Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Michael Gorden, his coach was concerned the distraction would prove too much.
“Either don’t have Monday Night Football in weeks like this or pick the teams on Tuesday – simple,” Flanagan told NRL.com.
“For Andrew it was very hard but even the pressure that Gal was feeling… Gal wants to play and he’s got this Origin thing hanging over him, captaining NSW.
“Gal’s always known he’s going to be in the team. He’s a bit more experienced but the pressure on Andrew, not from anyone but the pressure of being selected and still having another game…
“It’s enormous pressure for players.”
Maguire opted to keep the Queensland selection of Ben Te’o and Chris McQueen from them before last night’s clash to minimise the distraction.
“You can tell players beforehand or after,” Maguire said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got a team that’s very focused on what we were trying to achieve. Unfortunately, as a group, we didn’t do that.”
Told of Flanagan’s comments, Maguire said: “I’m with Flanno (because of) all the distractions for players – who’s in, who’s out. Obviously there was Gallen and Lewis missing tonight after their selection.
“But full credit to Cronulla. They turned up without those players and performed very well.”
Speaking on Triple M, Flanagan said the 23-year-old Fifita thought he was doing the right thing by joining Laurie Daley’s Blues in camp on Monday.
“I was really concerned about the leaking of the (NSW) team,” said Flanagan. “We had three days with us playing on a Monday night.
“(Fifita) actually went into Origin camp today, which I was really disappointed in. I can understand the excitement and everything but I was disappointed he went in there today.
“(He could have) started tonight.
“It was a little bit of miscommunication on our part. It wasn’t the NSWRL’s fault. Gal rang him up and said ‘what are you doing? Do you want to come in for an hour?’ Doing the right thing, he thought … he went in there for an hour.
“In the end, it didn’t affect him. We won the two competition points. But I don’t think it was the right thing to do.
“From my perspective, I don’t think Greg Inglis was at his best tonight. Whether that was playing on his mind or some of the other Souths boys, I don’t know. It is tough to play, knowing you’re going into Origin camp.

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Flanagan Blasted Sharks Upon Return To Work

Cronulla - Shane FlanaganBy STEVE MASCORD

COACH Shane Flanagan has defended his decision to blast his players upon his return to Cronulla, saying they didn’t follow his instructions while he was on a club-enforced suspension.

There was little in the way of sentiment when Flanagan – stood down by the club as part of the ASADA investigation into drugs in rugby league – gathered his men together on the eve of Sunday’s 28-4 win over the Warriors at Sharks Stadium.

He showed them a video compilation of everything they had been doing wrong in the first two games of the season. “He gave us a rocket,” said star five-eighth Todd Carney.

Flanagan tells RLW: “I just gave them my own view of what I saw in the first two games. I hadn’t been able to talk to them as a group.

“I spoke to a lot of them individually over those first two rounds but it wasn’t what we planned for in our off-season, it wasn’t how we planned to attack.

“We were a bit more what I expected from our team in the first half (against the Warriors). Against South Sydney, we were real loose, we didn’t wrestle, our contact was poor, our systems were thrown out the window.

“I just went and told them that. I said ‘it’s not acceptable, we’re all back here and we have to work hard’.

“Most teams have got a bit of a plan and systems in place in offence and defence and we have as well – and we went away from that.”

Carney explained: “He gave us a few hugs when he first got back but once he got into the sheds, he gave us a rocket. We had a fair video sessions. We reviewed both the games that he missed.

“He’s a head coach for a reason. He does a great job. He knows what’s going to happen and that’s why we listen to him and it paid off.

“It’s good to have him back and hopefully we’ll have him for a while.”

The Sharks won one from two while Flanagan cooled his heals and then pummelled the Warriors in sauna-like conditions on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Flanagan was diplomatic when asked if he expected staffers David Givney, Darren Mooney, Mark Noakes and Conrad Schultz to be reinstated.

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s one of those things I just need to deal day-to-day with, you know?

“They’ll work with the club and we’ll work with the club and I can’t predict that.”

Carney said there was still plenty of improvement in his own game.

“Team-wise, I think we’re going reasonably well with the adversity the boys have been through,” he said.

“Personally, I’m just getting back. It was a major injury. Three weeks of pre-season training is all I had. Hopefully I can build on that.

“We’ve got a big task against the Dragons here on Saturday night. It’s a big two weeks for us – Dragons into Parra into a full bye so it’s a good time to rest and recuperate.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Sharks On Departed Stars: We’re Better Off Without You

Paul Gallen

By STEVE MASCORD

CRONULLA’S coach and captain have a message for stars who have left for “an opportunity” over the past two years – no offence but we’re better off without you.

While the Sharks fly high after six consecutive wins, the clubs of departed Blake Ferguson (13th), Luke Douglas (15th) and Kade Snowden (10th as of Monday) are struggling with a third of the 2012 regular season gone.

And those are facts not lost on Shane Flanagan and Paul Gallen, who on Sunday easily accounted for a Canberra side including Ferguson – the winger who left because he couldn’t see himself ever winning a premiership in the Shire,

“Fergo’s made a good decision – I think we beat them last year in the competition (table) too,” Gallen tells RLW.

“I shouldn’t say that, Fergo’s a good kid. He made a decision at the time that no-one could blame him for. We were going pretty ordinary.

“He made that decision and guys like Dougy and Snowy made that decision. With all respect to those guys, we’ve reaped the rewards – probably not on purpose, probably a bit more out of luck than anything. That’s what rugby league is like, you’ve got to make your own luck. Picking up guys like (Andrew) Fafita, (Bryce) Gibbs, Mark Taufua, Ben Ross, Jon Green – five front rowers and two have left.

“So, we’re probably better off at the moment.”

Flanagan adds: “I’m not shying away from the fact we got a little bit lucky with the recruitment, especially with Todd (Carney). Gibbs and Fifita, I rolled the dice there and proposed to them that I didn’t want one, I wanted both of them. They had cap issues, the Tigers, so we got lucky there for different reasons.

“The Tigers only wanted to release one. I said ‘I don’t want to take one, I want to take both’. Mark Taufua and Isaac de Gois weren’t in Wayne Bennett’s plans but they’ve done a great job for us. They’ve been outstanding.”

Gallen lamented the fact the Sharks were losing too many good players when Douglas headed to Gold Coast and Snowden to Newcastle. He thinks the tide might be turning – although it’s “premature” to say youngsters will now stay at Toyota Stadium.

“When you look at the clubs those guys have gone to, you probably would say that when they left they did have a better chance of doing better than what we did,” he said “(For instance) Canberra have a good roster, they’ve just been unlucky with injuries.

“Fortunately, we picked up some real quality players that other clubs didn’t want and then Toddy came along late last year. So, I think things have turned out for the best.

“It’s like anything, a lot of it comes down to dollars and what you can spend on players. Hopefully if the club’s going good and the price is right to keep the players, then we can keep a lot of players and sign some quality players in the future

“But this roster we’ve got at the moment is doing pretty good. I’ll keep saying it and I know it sounds crap, be we really are taking it one week at a time.”

“I’ve praised Todd Carney ever since he came here. Everyone feels like I pushed his barrow a little bit but I think it’s deserved. He’s doing his job. You look at a player like that, he told me – we’ve got the same manager but he did the best he could to get him the best deal – but he told me as soon as I rang him that he wanted to come here. For a player like that to say that, it’s a good sign.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Time For A Rest For ‘Perfect’ Gal

By STEVE MASCORD

HAVING opened the season with a blazing month that culminated in Rugby League Week’s Holy Grail for players – a perfect 10 – Paul Gallen has been ordered by his coach to have a rest.

“He’s a machine, he’s an animal, one of the best in the game, if not the best,” North Queensland superstar Johnathan Thurston said after the Cronulla captain scored the winning try, running 248 metres in 13 hutups and executing a back-breaking 35 tackles in the Sharks’ 20-14 win at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Saturday.

The stunning display came just five days after a similarly Herculean outing in a home victory over premiers Manly, despite the Australia star being physically ill at halftime and left the rugby league world asking whether Gallen could keep it up for the entire season.

“No,” coach Shane Flanagan tells RLW.

“I need to make sure he’s got fresh legs at tail-ends of games. I’ll be trying to achieve that. It’s hard when you’re chasing the scoreboard and you’re looking at the scoreboard. I’ll be looking to … ] when we’re not under the pump on the scoreboard, we can do that (replace Gallen).

“He’s appreciative. He’s got an origin coming up, he’s got massive games for the Sharks, we want to play in semi-finals. Gal’s the driving force behind that, we’ve got to make sure we don’t burn him out but he’ special.”

Flanagan said he was also worried about the mental toll of Origin on his captain. “If NSW win, he’ll be coming back and he’ll be flying but the amount of effort he puts into that is massive.”

The coach had no qualms about Gallen’s rating as “the Billy Slater of forwards”. “He’s the best forward in the comp. To play 80 minutes in that position is simply outstanding and he’s playing against (Matthew) Scott, which is a fair ask. We only had 15 for the second half, I wanted to give him a rest…”

The coach said Gallen would return to the back of the scrum when Bryce Gibbs returns from injury. “Gal’s just a footballer. He could play anywhere. He could play five-eighth. He’s a lock in the middle. I know he plays that role and when we get some players back, when we get Gibbsy back, he’ll push back to that more conventional lock’s role.

“I thin Gal, probably two years ago when I first started (at the club), he made a few decisions on his own about himself. Perception was not actually reality. He’s not a grubby player, he’s just a 100 per cent competitor and that was seen as him being a grubby, aggressive person.

“That’s not Gal.

“He had to tweak a few things – the way he played and the way he reacted to things. He has got a win-at-all costs attitude and sometimes that got in his way in making decisions. Now, he’s a lot clearer and knows what he’s capable of in his game. He’s comfortable with the captaincy and comfortable with what’s required in a game.

“he’s a lot more mature. There’s family, a lot of things that go into it but in the end it’s a decision by Paul Gallen.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK