By STEVE MASCORD
ROB Peter to pay Paul. Give with the left hand and take with the right. Better the devil you know.
Rugby league has always loved clichés and as the Australian authorities belatedly look at rationalising their fixture list and recognising the importance of international football, Bondi Beat is put in mind of these three in particular.
The NRL believes it can attract more than A$2 billion for its next television deal, if it offers networks the same thing it currently peddles.
One problem though: it wants to change what it is flogging. Six weeks of the club season are wrecked by State of Origin, with clubs not having access to their own players and the great flowing rapids of NRL interest slowing to a trickling stream which is not easily replenished when it’s all over. Attendances are a worry.
Players are so concerned about burnout they told Great Britain to stay home in 2015, as any reader of this column would be all too aware.
On the other hand, the Auckland Nines make a fortune and the Rugby League International Federation wants to set up its own equivalent to make money between World Cups.
The World Club Challenge has become the World Club Series. The Four Nations were an unexpected success, with the highest aggregate attendance despite there being no games in Sydney or Auckland.
Samoa have emerged to such an extent that the “Pacific Test” on the representative weekend next year is likely to be a double-header.
State of Origin continues to be a universe unto itself, smashing television, sponsorship and attendance records. In 2015, it returns to Melbourne.
But the club season, and the endless churn of programming over 30 weeks, pays the bills. Rugby league is art; broadcasting is commerce. And if the season is going to be shortened to make space for new offshoots of our game to grow, then it won’t be worth A$4 billion anymore.
So the NRL needs to make what games are on offer more lucrative. They have a very specific formula for how much the rights are worth – and these figures are based on audience size and the asking price of advertising.
Some of the ideas for making the existing NRL matches more valuable, so we can make as much money from fewer of them, have been around for a while.
One has been to insert a 30 second pause before line dropouts are taken, giving us another advert. Another is to revert to the mid-week cup format of four-quarter football (Ian Heads’ excellent new book The Night The Music Died outlines how the 1974 Western Division side made the most of the extra two breaks).
These ideas have been around for a while.
Colleague Phil Rothfield of the Daily Telegraph recently uncovered a couple of other kites flow inside the Competitions Committee room. One was making each quarter go for 25 minutes, lengthening the entire TV programme as well as the opportunity to insert commercials.
Another would be the use of eight interchange players.
Most rugby league fans want the Australians to take international football seriously, and to expand their competition.
But is fiddling with the rules a) at all or b) to the extent detailed above a price worth paying? Tell me on Twitter at @BondiBeat what your choice would be if it was between the NRL remaining isolated and a more progressive outlook, but with big rule changes.
American Football tailored itself for television and the NFL became the biggest club competition the world has ever seen. Personally, I think four quarters is a no-brainer. It gives us more revenue, it has been successfully trialled before and its impact on the fabric of the game is, while significant, still acceptable.
A 30 second break at every break in play eliminates one of the biggest advantages we have over our rivals – continuity. A 30 second break at line dropouts gives tiring defences too much time to regroup and meddles too much.
Extra interchanges make us too much like basketball and the NFL and further erodes the element of fatigue and therefore bravery. I’m against it.
But I’m willing to accept that maybe the NRL can take a constructive leadership role in the evolution of our rules. It’s quite possible they can’t, and their actions will be mainly destructive, but I still have an open mind.
Tell me what you think.
THE Rugby League International Federation search for a CEO is becoming a little farcical.
After being turned down by former IRB chief Mike Miller, it’s my understanding they’ve also failed in a bid for premiership-winning South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson.
Richardson may be looking for a new challenge after being the first club chief in Premiership history to win titles at two clubs but the RLIF could not get their act together in time to convince him it was a good idea to take up the post.
Bondi Beat is hearing mutterings of financial complications in the bid to set up a fulltime office. It’s all very sad – and the NRL has clearly decided to do its own thing in the Pacific by pairing development programmes with foreign aid from the Australian government.
The RLIF has lost its tax-exempt status and wants it back
AS usual, it’s been a poor off-season for the game when it comes to player misbehaviour.
South Sydney’s Kirisome Auva’a was banned for nine months after the court finally dealt with his domestic abuse allegations, Greg Bird was charged with urinating on a police car (which he denies) on the first day of his honeymoon, and John Hopoate’s son Jamil was jailed for a serious assault.
That’s just off the top of my head.
The NRL continues to be criticised for inconsistently dealing with the these offences – but they are all different. I’m not sure what the answer is.
TERRY Campese is one of my favourite players and I’ll be cheering him to make a big impression at the KC Lightstream Stadium.
You know what’s sad? That he missed last year’s World Cup for Italy, for whom he could have made a massive impression, to prepare for a season which finished in him being nudged towards the door in Canberra.
Last year I predicted Matt Bowen to be a sensation in Super League and it took a while for him to warm up – so I’ll be more circumspect in my predictions regarding Campo.
But he will be one of the most talented handful of players in the competition in 2015. The only question is whether injury allows him to show it.
Please check out my podcast, White Line Fever, by searching that title on itunes.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD
SOUTH Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson lost a house trying to expand rugby league.
That was back in 1999, when the former Cronulla boss risked it all to start a club in Newcastle, England, called the Gateshead Thunder. They lost Stg700,000 and only lasted one year.
But a decade and a half on, “Richo” hasn’t given up. With the Bunnies’ first premiership in 43 years beckoning, he’s committed Souths to the 2015 World Club Series.
Richardson’s friend, Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, has been pushing for a re-expansion of the World Club Challenge for years. The 1997 version was such a disaster that until now, Australian clubs have baulked.
But it’s Richardson who pushed the negotiations, involving the likes of St George Illawarra’s Peter Doust, Wigan’s Ian Lenagan and Warrington’s Simon Moran, to the point where next February 20 to 22, the World Club Challenge between the winners of the NRL and Super League will be preceded by two other games.
St Helens, as winners of the League Leaders Shield, will take on either Souths or Brisbane at a venue to be determined. The other NRL team will play the beaten Super League grand finalists. One game Friday night, one game Saturday.
The Rugby Football League’s chief executive, Blake Solly, has confirmed that two trophies will be awarded. The WCC trophy goes to the winner of the main match, the WCS shield for the country with the most wins from three matches.
There is a hope that – despite the fact existing TV deals include the WCC so there is no appreciable profit from that area – the concept could be taken on the road, to places like Dubai and Hong Kong, and become at least as big as the Auckland Nines.
But this is not a preview of next year’s World Club Challenge.
In an increasingly globalised world, rugby league cannot survive forever as a local powerhouse and an international oddity. It needs to get on the information superhighway and get up to speed quickly, or risk being swamped.
American and European sports are increasingly marketing themselves to Australians, playing games here and increasing their TV reach. The shrinking resources of newspapers make it easier for them to give these competitions more space.
Richo wants to fight back. Here’s his warplan.
STOP BEING EMBARASSED
FOR some reason rugby league fans are embarrassed about how small the sport is internationally and think trying to expand is pointless. AFL has no such self-doubt – they’ve played many exhibition games in the major capitals of the world. “It’s expectations which are lower than they should be that stop us growing the game,” says Richardson. “We have to change the way we think about the game … young people today don’t think that way. With the internet and social media … every time people are exposed to this game, they like it. We keep thinking within the boundaries of where we are now, not where we could be in five years. Sometimes we limit ourselves in our thinking as administrators but the players don’t have the same view.”
“My main thought is we have to think outside of the box,” he says. “You can’t keep doing the same things and expect to get different results. I think we proved, at Souths, with Perth and Cairns that you can expand the brand. I know ‘brand’ is a terrible word…. The World Club Challenge is about the English clubs trying to build some momentum in Europe and compete with the (rugby union) Heiniken Cup, etc. We’ve been working for the last two years to try and support that. Our sponsors, Delonghi, Fujitsu, Alcitel and Crown have all got a presence in Europe so it’s showing the game has got a greater reach.”
OUR game is splintering; different rules at international, NRL and Super League level make it bewildering for anyone considering taking up the sport. Local bodies change the laws and interpretations without consulting anyone. “We’ve got to have central control, we can’t have different rules in different hemispheres,” says Richo. “We’re trying to make the game more attractive for television – I get that. But we also have to make the rules so that new people understand them. I’m not against changing the rules. I’m against changing them only in the NRL.”
A FIVE YEAR STRATEGY FOR THE WHOLE GAME: INTERNATIONAL, PROFESSIONAL AND GRASSROOTS
RUGBY league had a 100 year head start on rugby union, during which it paid players and union didn’t, but self-interest allowed the 15-man game to dominate globally. “This has been spoken about at CEOs conferences for a while – we’ve got to have a five year plan of where we want to take the game, not just the NRL. We lock in the World Club Challenge, we lock in Nines, whether it’s World Nines or the nines we’re doing now. But it’s whole-of-game.”
FEWER CLUB GAMES
RICHARDSON is one of the few NRL club supremos to publically declare the NRL season too long. “We may have to restrict the number of club games, NRL games, we play to expand beyond those boundaries. I’ve always said – I don’t see the need to play 24 fixtures. One of the challenges we’ve got with the scheduling is that it’s locked into the television deal so we need X number of games. That’s presupposing we can’t have other games to fill those slots. I’m not sure that, if we have an expanded view of the game, Tonga v Samoa wouldn’t be a better game for people to watch on a Saturday afternoon than Souths v Cronulla.’
CONSULT PLAYERS OVER ELIGIBILITY
BRAD Takairangi and Aiden Guerra are just two of the players set to be “poached” from the sides they represented in the World Cup for this year’s Four Nations. Should they be allowed to return to Cook Islands and Italy respectively? “The players want the game to go onto another stage and expand,” says Richardson. “The article with Jarryd Hayne, where he talks about players’ IP … players might be concerned about the number of games they play but they’ll always be involved in matches that expand their IP because they understand the importance of it. Are we listening to what they want? Does Jarryd Hayne, if he doesn’t play for NSW, not want to play for Fiji?”
GET RUGBY LEAGUE ON TV IN MORE PLACES
THE NFL flooded British television with cheap broadcasts before attempting exhibition games at Wembley. “Where do we want to be? If people in the Czech Republic want to watch rugby league, should we charge them when they can watch ice hockey, basketball, soccer … those sports are part of their culture? If we want to have an impact on that culture, then we have to give them some sort of bonus. Making them pay for it is not much of a bonus. You have to get to the point where the US wants to pay big money, not charge them straight off the bat.”
USE NRL PLAYERS TO PROMOTE RUGBY LEAGUE WORLDWIDE IN AN AGE OF NICHE INTERESTS
“THE NFL don’t promote their game in the UK with local players. They bring stars from the US. Why aren’t we doing the same with the Greg Inglises and the Sam Tomkins’ of the world? It promotes the game and sets them up on the world stage. People are sitting on their computers in Moldova and Minnesota taking an interest in all sorts of unusual things that their local media ignores. We need to be one of those things and from my experiences at Souths, I know we already are one of those things because people in those places contact me. Whenever administrators stuff up, a great game like the Roosters-Panthers final compensates for it. The game itself saves the people running it, over and over again.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
WHEN we went to Parramatta with claims Chris Sandow had played in an aboriginal knockout and been sent off for a shoulder charge followed by an elbow, Eels CEO Scott Seward told us: “He had permission to play. He passed a medical and the coach gave him his blessing. Chrissy has told us he was sent to the sin bin for a shoulder charge on a childhood friend. It was a bit of a joke between them.” But bootleg video on YouTube above appears to show a dismissal – with the elbow chiefly to blame. When Seward put this to Sandow, he insisted he wasn’t aware he had been sent off, only sin binned. We can’t find any record of a judiciary hearing. The title for the Murri Carnival at Redcliffe two weeks ago changed hands when it was discovered the winners, Murri Dingoes Blue, fielded a player who mistakenly believed his drugs suspension had expired. Parra’ refused permission for Joseph Paulo and Bereta Faraimo to play for the US in the Mitchelton Nines on Saturday.
PUNCHING ON 1
WE have often heard this year that “little guys wouldn’t be pushing big guys if they could still be punched”. It was just a theory until the Super League grand final, when little Lance Hohaia pushed big Ben Flower, then lunged at him with a raised forearm. As we know, Hohaia punched Flower twice, the second time when he was on his back, possibly unconscious. They both missed the rest of the game, leaving St Helens to limp to victory as they have all year. Had Flower – who left Old Trafford before fulltime – not opted out of Wales duty, he could at least have counted the upcoming European internationals against what will no doubt be a mammoth suspension. Condemnation of Flower has been widespread and almost unanimous. Soccer star Joe Barton Tweeted he had “little sympathy” for Hohaia because of the provocation, but later stressed he did not intend to defend the Welshman.
PUNCHING ON 2
LIKE Wigan’s Super League campaign, the proud 15-year-plus history of the United States Tomahawks may have come to an end with a punch at the weekend. The USARL is taking over running the game in the US and is likely to dispense with the old AMNRL trademark, meaning it was all on the line when the Americans trailed invitational side Iron Brothers 8-4 with three minutes left in a Nines quarter-final in Brisbane. The Tomahawks got the ball back but sometime-cage fighter Tui Samoa took umbrage to something a rival said and punched him. Water carrier Paulo – banned, as we said, by Parramatta from playing – helped separate them, Samoa was sent to the bin and Brothers scored again to eliminate the US 14-4.
GRACIOUSNESS AND GAFFES
AND what a mixed bag we had for rugby league public speaking at the weekend. On the plus side, congrats to departing Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin, the club’s player of the year Ben Hunt and CEO Paul White for their oratory at the club presentation. “Ben Hunt was entitled to test his value on the open market but he didn’t,” White told around 500 guests. “Although at a backyard barbecue I was at, he did get his message across to me by changing the words of the Status Quo song to ‘down, down, prices are down”. Griffin said: “Whatever I do now, I’ll be a competitor. But I’ll never be a critic of this club or the people in it.” On the negative, St Helens’ Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, at fulltime on live TV: “I’m absolutely buzzing. I could fucking swear”. Yes, he said those words – in that order.
SOUTHS chief executive Shane Richardson has savaged the running of the international game in Britain’s The Observer. “I look at the state of international rugby league and it just makes me angry,” Richardson – citing the departure of Sam Burgess as a symptom of the problem – said. “I know from the years I’ve spent in the game, and the contacts I’ve made in business, and the places I’ve been around the world, that there’s a potential to do so much more.” Nevertheless, Greece played their first home international at the weekend, beating the Czechs 68-16 in Athens, the Philippines defeated Vanuatu 32-16 on remote Santo and Norway were preparing to meet Thailand in Bangkok. Next weekend, Latin America faces Portugal and Fiji takes on Lebanon, both in Sydney while Tonga take on PNG in Lae and the European Championships commence.
RETIRING ON A HIGH
REPORTS of veteran rugby league photographer Col Whelan’s retirement were greatly exaggerated last year. The NRL weren’t quite ready to take over Col’s operation and he went around in 2014 for one last season – wearing a South Sydney cap to every game. NRL rules prohibit media from wearing club merchandise but the media areas are full of uniformed club staff posting on social media, an inconsistency the irascible snapper sought to highlight. At fulltime on grand final day in the bunnies rooms, players became concerned Col had stopped shooting. He was crying with happiness. At the Red and Green ball, Whelan presented every player with a disc containing 120 photos of their life-defining triumph. What a way to go out – enjoy your retirement, Col.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
By STEVE MASCORD
LIKE your clubs in England, the NRL is considering ways to hold onto players and to recruit new stars,
Bondi Beat‘s spies tell us that the issue was raised in Auckland before the NRL Nines. The CEO of the league, David Smith, suggested that if one club wanted to sign a rugby union star, for instance, it could apply for central funding.
But every club would have the opportunity to match or exceed the amount of money the recruiting club was willing to pay. If Souths wanted to sign England rahrah George North, for instance, North Queensland could offer to pay a larger part of his wage package. This would leave the league paying less.
North would still have the opportunity to go to the club of his choice, not the highest bidder.
But another idea should be a concern to most readers. The plan is to make transfer fees salary cap-free if the incoming player is not from the NRL.
In other words, a leave pass to raid the Super League if you have enough money to pay the transfer fees.
I am told it was South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson who pointed this implication out. “They play the same sport as us over there, you know,” was the crux of his argument.
If you go through the current NRL club CEOS, few have much experience in the international game.
THE debate over the marquee player proposal in England is a fascinating one.
I heard on the BBC recently that the NRL has a marquee player allowance of $600,000 per club. That is wrong. There is no marquee player system in the NRL that is even remotely similar to what Dr Marwan Koukash is proposing in Super League.
What is allowed in the NRL are third part agreements – club sponsors paying players up to a limit. It is not the same as allowing clubs to spend their own money on imported talent, regardless of whether it sends them broke.
Instead of offering Stg200,000 for rival clubs’ “golden tickets”, perhaps Dr Koukash should guarantee to under-write the rest of the comp so every club can spend up to the cap as it exists now.
I am a bit of a sociallist when it comes to sporting competitions. I believe our game needs to be outwardly capitalist but inwardly communist.
Until every club in the Super League is spending up to the cap, there is no point giving them more rope to hang themselves. Maybe if every club in the new division of eight is spending up to the cap and is on a sound financialfooting, it can be considered again.
The recent Widnes-Salford epic was a clash of cultures – between licencing and throwing raw cash at something. And who won that?
THIS column probably features a few too many items which paint my Australian compatriots as being a little ignorant of the realities of rugby league outside their own bubble. It’s a point that gets laboured here too much.
But it was curious the other day to hear Penrith coach Ivan Cleary say this: “I think, personally, we shouldn’t have representative tournaments every year at the end of the year,” Cleary said. ”Maybe a one-off game with Australia and New Zealand straight after the grand final pretty much. Basically, if you are going to have one it needs to finish a lot earlier.”
Cleary, you’ll remember, is the New Zealand assistant coach!
Now, George Gregan played 139 Tests in that other code. Darren Lockyer had played 59 when he retired. But WE’RE playing too many Tests? Clearly, were playing too many club games…
One man who agreed with Cleary was Greg Alexander, who is on the board at Penrith. When I appeared with Andrew Voss and Brandy on 2UE to argue against Cleary’s contention, one of their responses was that if we needed international football so much then perhaps there should be a World Cup every two years!
From the sublime to the ridiculous…..
IN the wake of the sort of ignorance described above, you’ve got to hand it to the Sydney Roosters and former Catalan coach Trent Robinson.
He has hired the England coach as his assistant and in Remy Casty has a man who is likely to be only the fourth French born player to turn out in the top flight down under, after Jerome Guisset, Jacques Molinet and Jason Baitieri.
And when his team completely outclassed Wigan in the World Club Challenge, Robinson argued that the concept should be expanded. Even in the face of the increasing disparity in the salary caps of the two competitions, he argued an expanded WCC would narrow the gap, not accentuate it.
ANOTHER great story in this neck of the woods this year has been the debut in Queensland’s Untrust Super Cup (the Q Cup to you) of the Kopoko-based PNG Hunters.
After the disappointments of the World Cup, the PNGRL signed players from rural areas to contracts, took them away from their families for 11 weeks and put them in a police barracks.
The result was a 24-18 win on debut against Redcliffe in Brisbane. “Back at home, after the World Cup when everyone got back into the country, the guys that played in
the World Cup never went out in public places because a lot of the media and the people around the country were pissed off,” said coach Michael Marum.
PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka says Mal Meninga is now the coach of the Kumuls. They hope to play the winner of the mid-year Samoa-Fiji Test before the Four Nations and a warm-up game against another 4N team – perhaps England.
TYRONE McCarthy and his partner, Helen Lomax, are settling in nicely in Cairns.
The Ireland vice-captain and ex-Warrington star scored two tries on debut for Q Cup side Northern Pride. “I was probably getting stagnant at Warrington, being in and out of the side,” he said.
“It’s pretty different to home here, very hot and humid, but I’m used to it now and the club have been great. Two tries is more than I scored all last year.”
Tyrone is hoping to get his charity project, the FullBloods, going in Oz. It helps kids in disadvantaged areas using rugby league to connect with them. Support Tyrone by visiting thefullbloodproject.org.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
1. ‘FIXTURE’ IN NAME ONLY?
THE NRL is adamant it won’t be forced to back down over another potential fixture clash with the AFL a week after revising their draw because ANZ Stadium was double-booked. On September 6, South Sydney are due to host Sydney Roosters at Homebush in a game that could decide the minor premiership. But there is also some chance that Sydney Swans will have a home final assigned to the same weekend. “Our game is locked in to the Friday night and it won’t be moved,” and NRL spokesman said late Sunday. South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson added: “When Allianz Stadium offered to host the game, ANZ said they definitely wanted it.” The Swans will just have to play on Saturday – at least that’s what the Mungos are saying. Set of Six was told P1 parking tickets were hard to come by, leading to suggestions the venue remained undecided on who it would favour if the clash occurred.
2. A PUNCH AND DUTY
WHILE this is one of the few rugby league columns you’ll read that’s in favour of the punching ban, predictions that it would be interpreted by some players as a licence to niggle were just about proven right at Suncorp Stadium. “I held him down in the tackle, fair enough,” St George Illawarra halfback Nathan Fien told referee Jason Robinson, in reference to Brisbane’s Corey Parker, “but that doesn’t give him the right to strike out at me. You referees have made a big deal about that.” In other words, the rules now make it acceptable to drop knees and elbows into attacking players and if they retaliate, it’s they who should be punished. If Fien’s interpretation was in vogue, the punching ban would be unworkable. There should never be an incentive to niggle. If Parker had thrown a punch, he should have been sent to the sin bin but the penalty should still have gone to the Broncos.
3. MISERABLE DECISIONS
EVEN the referees and touch judges didn’t think Joel Thompson knocked on when he tried to catch a line drop-out with Canberra coming to get the Sydney Roosters and a couple of minutes left at Allianz Stadium on Saturday. But when the Raiders second rower froze, they thought they must be mistaken, packed a scrum, and the tricolours hung on. The match officials’ boss, Daniel Anderson, however says their eventual decision was the right one. “I thought it was a knock-on, as a spectator,” Anderson said. Anderson added there was little alternative but to penalised Newcastle’s Jeremy Smith for kicking the ball loose in a tackle at Remondis Stadium, even though it appeared an accident. “The ball has to come out some way – it’s either dropped or a defender is responsible,” he said. “Under the rules, there is nowhere else for the referee to go. Sometimes they have to make miserable decisions.”
4. TIGERS CHANGE SPOTS – AND CHANGE THEM BACK AGAIN
ONLY at Wests Tigers could bad news become good news and then be bad again. When the club released a statement saying three staff members had been let go, it was reported these included assistants Royce Simmons and Steve Georgallis. Bad news – the experienced coaches said they had been used in a publicity stunt because they had each told the joint venture weeks before that they would be departing of their own accord. On Sunday, club chief executive Grant Mayer said they weren’t the men being referred to. Good news. But that mean there are still three officials who are sready for the high jump – and who may very well have some unkind things to say about the decision. Bad news again. Mayer’s comment on ABC that Wests Tigers seem behind Manly when it comes to “sports science”? Could have been better timed….
5. NINES LIVES
A couple more of points regarding the Auckland Nines. If clubs have to field one of their five highest-paid players, but all five go to the World Cup and are therefore exempt, what then? Also, club reportedly resent the NRL is “out-sourcing” the tournament but would you have our governing body steal the intellectual property of someone else who had done all the spade work? I’d suggest they would be in court quicker than you can say “chilly bin”. What the ARLC should have done is gone back to promoters with what they wanted out of the concept. It could have been the launching pad for a Nines circuit, it could have involved Pacific countries or the states or Super League clubs. Instead, all the ARLC and the clubs seem to want out of it is the moolah -– and admittedly some valuable promotion for the sport in New Zealand.
6. WORKING FOR THE ENEMY
COACH Stephen Kearney has received help from the unlikeliest of sources for New Zealand’s bid to retain the World Cup. The Auckland Blues and Waikato chief rugby union franchises have reportedly told Benji Marshall and Sonny Bill Williams respectively that they are happy for them to play in the tournament, to be played in England, Wales, Ireland and France from October 25 to November 30. Marshall wrote in his Sun-Herald column that although his is available for selection, he does not believe his form warrants selection ahead of Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran. He’s right – but Marshall could be a game breaker off the bench. Australia’s stocks were severely dented on Sunday with the loss of Justin Hodges (Achilles), Boyd Cordner (ankle) and perhaps Trent Merrin (knee).
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SOUTH Sydney are set to take games to Cairns for at least the next two years after Sunday’s unqualified success against Gold Coast.
There were estimates that the premiership match at Barlow Park pumped around $1.7 million into the local economy, justifying the investment by Events Queensland in the fixture.
“We’re coming back for the next two years – it’s been a big success,” says chief executive Shane Richardson
There is already speculation the Rabbits may play Brisbane there next year. Souths are also keen to extend their relationship with Perth, where they’ll play the Warriors in round 17.
“We actually like travelling together the fact we’ve taken a home game out of town would not be an excuse for losing,” said coach Michael Maguire.
Round 17 will be a red letter day of sorts for the game and the practice of shifting games to developing markets, with Darwin, Perth and Mackay all hosting matches on the same weekend.
Titans captain and Cairns product Nate Myles said recent relocated games in Mudgee and his home town had been a pleasure to be involved in.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
By STEVE MASCORD
WE certainly picked the right time to kick off our World Rugby League Power List in 2012 – if only because it bore little resemblance to rankings we now present to you 12 months later.
Last June, the game had just lost NRL chief executive David Gallop, who went to the FFA, and Rugby Football League executive chairman Richard Lewis, who is now back in tennis.
But at the time, the NRL didn’t have a CEO while no-one has really replaced Lewis at Red Hall, although former Football League CEO Brian Barwick is now the chairman and Maurice Watkins is on board a senior non-executive director.
But it’s at League Central in Sydney that the biggest shakeup has taken place. Since Gallop’s departure, Welshman David Smith has taken over as chief executive and he has designed and instituted a detailed administrative structure.
Todd Greenberg is head of football, Jim Doyle is chief operating officer, Shane Mattiske is head of strategy and Paul Kind runs commercial with three positions to be added.
The old guard is largely either gone, or going.
Last year we summed up the aim of this list thus: – if rugby league has a “direction” as such, who is behind the thing, pushing the hardest? These aren’t necessarily people who throw their weight around most often – but equally we have not favoured wallflowers who could action enormous change for the sport with their wealth and influence but who have so far done nought.
In achieving this aim, we looked at appointing a panel of judges. In future years, that might happen but for now we are sticking to the informal process observed by most journalists gathering information most days – ringing people and talking to them.
The buck for this list stops with the name at the top of the page.
1. John Grant
ARLC chairman: Grant has receded into the background somewhat but is still David Smith’s boss. He attends marquee events, presses the flesh, does interviews and recently presided over the decision to prioritise 30 tasks that the ARLC wanted to achieve over the coming months. He’s the most active and influential member of the commission and still spends a great deal of time at League Central – although much less than before Smith’s appointment. Because of his personal interest in international football, the game’s progress in that area will be significantly influenced by him.
2. Dave Smith
ARLC chief executive: For months last year, the only rugby league official we seemed to see on television was the Commission’s chairman, John Grant. He was everywhere – but has virtually become invisible since he found his man in Welsh banker David (now ‘Dave’) Smith. The name change is eerily reminiscent of predecessor David Moffett, who used to ring open line radio programs posing as ‘David From Hornsby’. Despite being labelled a ‘dunce’, Smith completely remodelled the NRL administration and was at pains to point out the changes were all his. By this time next year, he should go up a place on this list.
3. Gary Pemberton
ARL Commissioner. It seems strange to have three ARLC types at the top of the list and then no more. But Pemberton, Grant and Smith are seen as the men who run rugby league in Australia while the others six commissioners work behind the scenes. We called him a “head kicker” last year but he has been less obtrusive since then. However, clubs hear from Pemberton regularly. Pemberton has experience in TV rights negotiations but unlike others in that area of expertise, has held his spot in the top 20. The likes of Ian Frykberg and Lachlan Murdoch will next be heard from here in four years.
4. Cameron Smith
Melbourne player. Cameron Smith’s influence was best exemplified by David Smith telling the assembled club CEOs earlier this year the hooker wanted the accreditation of three journalists revoked overthe Jon Mannah story. If an Australia captain has ever been so politically active, we haven’t known about it. Smith regularly talks to players around the competition and reportedly would like to be Queensland coach one day. His steady demeanour means he inspires trust in others. As influential as any player has even been off the field.
5. David Gyngell
Television executive. With the NRL’s TV deal signed since our last power rankings, the executives of the stations that got the rights have held their places and those who missed out have disappeared completely. Channel Nine remains central to the way most Australians consume rugby league. People who tweet scores from games they are showing on delay are regularly abused and Nine’s commentators are arguably more famous than most players. Nine succeeded in convincing the NRL to allow them to delay Sunday games and keep grand finals in the evening by throwing truckloads of money at the new administration.
6. Todd Greenberg
NRL official. Despite his high profile, Greenberg didn’t make our list last year because we were told he was not a wheeler-and-deaer, preparing to focus on what was in front of him at the Bulldogs. But having handled the Ben Barba episode at the club earlier this year, Greenberg has been appointed as David Smith’s frontman at Moore Park. He’s the man who knows it’s Ben Barba, not Benji Barba, and will speak on football-related matters in future. Presumably, given Dave Smith’s pre-occupation with the corporate side of the business, Greenberg will increasingly seem like the boss of the NRL to average fans.
7. Patrick Delany
Television executive. Our first new entry, the Fox Sports CEO has been very proactive this year as his pay television channel completely overhauled its rugby league coverage, cutting a talent-sharing deal with Nine. A former Commonwealth Games swimming trialist, Delaney is known to be in constant contact with clubs about innovations such as the Fox Kopter and cornerpost-cam. A great corporate link with News Limited and a big move into tablets and mobile technology increases Fox’s – and Delany’s – influence.
8. Phil Gould
Penrith general manager. Gould was David Gallop’s no.1 nemesis and saw him off. No other club official commentates on games and writes columns in newspapers. He has the ear of David Smith and the respect of most, putting in long hours and leading the fight against the GWS AFL franchise. Gould appears to be a fan of the ARLC but history shows he will be a formidable adversary if they get him offside. He talks about politics, football and personalities and shapes public opinion in each these areas. And he almost prised Johnathan Thurston away from North Queensland.
9. Ray Dibb
Canterbury chairman. The rise of NRL club chairman has been a key development since our most recent power rankings. The group succeeded in getting an advance on the TV rights income which has been estimated at some $7 million per franchise. Initially, there were fears they would block the introduction of the commission completely if they didn’t get their way. Dib is in constant contact with other club bosses, recently appointed the first female chief executive of the NRL era, Raelene Castle and played a key role in the recent restructure of the NSWRL.
10. Gary Hetherington
Leeds chief executive. Our highest ranking English power broker, Hetherington runs the dual code Leeds Rugby conglomerate and is the man behind bids to expand the World Club Challenge which now look like being successful. Hetherington is always thinking outside the box, be it taking games to places like Dubai and Hong Kong or tinkering with the domestic season, and has more influence than anyone at Red Hall given the recent financial problems at Bradford and the near-collapse of Salford.
11. Dave Trodden
Wests Tigers official. The Balmain solicitor stepped down as Wests Tigers chairman at the end of his term last year but by then he had already played a key role in establishing the NRL chairmans’ group and won significant funding from the Commission, creating a new power group in the game. At the end of 2011, he was quoted in RLW saying the clubs were refusing to sign licence agreements with the NRL, which could have freed them to form their own competition. Despite no longer being a club chairman, Trodden remains active. Also a huge influence over NSWRL restructure.
12. Graham Annesley
NSW Sports Minister. The next big revolution in the NRL is going to concern the stadiums policy, and attempts to match venues to events more sensibly.. That will mean a painful departure from suburban grounds and better deals for clubs and fans at the super stadia. As NSW sports minister, former international referee Graham Annesley will be at the centre of the paradigm shift. He’s rocketed up eight spots in our world rugby league power rankings as a result.
13. Wayne Beavis
Player agent. With the television deal done and the competition structure settled, player agents such as Beavis come into their own once more. When it was reported recently that Neil Henry had two weeks to save his job as coach of North Queensland, it was a meeting Beavis held in Townsville which sparked the rumour. Beavis manages Trent Barrett, who has been linked to a coaching job at the Cowboys. He also represented the players in talks with the RLPA about representative payments and is also deeply involved in the Agent Accreditation scheme.
14. Wayne Bennett
Newcastle coach. The supercoach has dropped a few spots because he has had enough on his plate at Newcastle, restricting the time available to influence the sport as a whole. Nathan Tinkler has gone from the top 20 completely for similar reasons. But when Bennett has something to say, like recently regarding cannonball tackles, people listen. Having brought back the Tri- (now Four) Nations, he has reportedly moved his focus to Australian sport as a whole. Bennett knows how to use his influence and is anecdotally close to ARLC chairman John Grant.
15. Jim Doyle
NRL chief operating officer. Already influential in his role as the chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby League, the Navman millionaire has crossed the Tasman and is helping run the NRL. Doyle turned Kiwi league around in the wake of the SPARC report, winning many admirers, and could even be regarded as over-qualified for his NRL gig. His oversight includes the new NRL integrity unit and he gave an early indication he won’t be a wallflower by speaking out against the practice of sweeping off-field incidents under the carpet.
16. Shane Richardson
South Sydney chief executive. Richardson has a finger in plenty of pies. As one of the longest-surviving club CEOs, he has plenty to say at CEOs conferences. As a former Super League club boss, he is on the committee that liases over the future of the World Club Challenge. And as the boss of the competition’s form team, he has a big input on competition-wide policies, such as media procedures. Richardson is also not afraid to make a public statement, meaning he can use the media to apply pressure where necessary – a lost art among most NRL CEOs
17. Isaac Moses
Player agent. A new entry by unlucky to miss out last year. Moses is the man who manages Cameron Smith, the current Australian captain, and the recruit the game most covets, Israel Folau. As part of Titan management, which also handles Karmichael Hunt, he has been involved in some of the most seismic transfers in recent rugby league history – ones which affect the overall health of the game by shifting athletes from one sport to another. Moses was banned from operating by the Agent Accreditation Scheme over his involvement in the Storm salary cap drama but the suspension seemed to have little or no impact on his operation
18. Simon Moran
Warrington majority shareholder. The English “pop impresario” rarely gives interviews but is too polite to decline them, simply going missing at the appointed time. He’s the man behind some of the biggest bands, festivals and venues in the UK but his big passion is rugby league and, more specifically, Warrington Wolves. He has single-handedly turned them into a Super League force and is part of a powerful group that is negotiating over the future of the World Club Challenge. A man with enough money to make things happen.
19. Paul Gallen
Cronulla captain. Gallen has become increasingly outspoken in recent years and the ASADA investigation at the Sharks has brought his leadership qualities into shark focus. Cronulla’s decision to stone-wall the drugs agency has forced it to change tack and probably prolonged the investigation. On the field, he took the law into his own hands in Origin I as NSW skipper and probably went a long way towards determining the result. Number 19 with a bullet.
20 Owen Glenn
Warriors shareholder. Probably holds the fortunes of rugby league in New Zealand in his hands. The billionaire took a share in the Warriors last year, with an announcement he and Eric Watson would share the ownership on a 50-50 basis. Without the club as a flagship, rugby league in New Zealand would not be able to keep its head above water in comparison with the dominant rival code. The owners last year announced they wanted to make the club the biggest sporting franchise in Australasia. That’s got off to a shaky start.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
SOMETIME soon, maybe next year, Sam, Luke, Tom and George Burgess will become the first set of four brothers to play together in a premiership match since 1910.
And the tale of how it came to pass will go back much further than you think, to late June 2004.
Chris Caisley, then the chairman of Super League club Bradford, sits down with former Great Britain five-eighth Iestyn Harris and agrees to bring him back to rugby league from Welsh rugby union for an estimated one million pounds over four seasons. “I am delighted that we have been able to recruit a player of Iestyn’s calibre and standing,” Caisley says in a statement dated July 2.
Harris says he is returning to the north of England for family reasons. Neither he nor Caisley makes any reference tp the fact that Leeds claim an option on Harris’ services should he return to rugby league.
The decision to sign Harris, according to the club’s later administration but not according to Caisley, would drive the Bulls to the brink of permanent closure.
And it would send a boy who was just 12 years old when it happened on a journey that began on the set of a Hollywood motion picture and ended in Sydney. His name is Sam Burgess and before long his brothers Luke, George and Tom and mother Julie would join him on the other side of the world.
But if “I Harris” had not been scrawled on that contract nine years ago, it’s possible members of Sydney’s most famous English family would still be going about their lives in west Yorkshire, as they were at the time.
Over the four years from 2004, Leeds pursued legal action against Harris for not honouring his obligation to rejoin them and Bradford for inducing him to breach his contract. Caisley stepped down from running the Bulls – the most successful team of Super League’s first 10 years – in 2006.
According to the next chairman, Peter Hood, the six figure payout to Leeds seriously gored the Bulls. Caisley denies this – but it did leave the club in serious need of cash.
So when Souths came knocking in late 2009 with an offer to pay a transfer fee for Sam Burgess – by then, 21 – they weren’t in a position to turn them away.
“I was friends with Chris Caisley from my time in Super League, when he was running Bradford and I was at Hull,” Souths CEO Shane Richardson explains.
“He’s the one who brought Sam to my attention. I watched him play, I could see that he was something special.
“Steve Menzies was at Bradford at the time and he had been speaking to Sam about going to Manly. He was about to go there.
“At the time, Russell (Crowe) was over in the UK on a movie set. I told him ‘we’ve got to move on this kid’. He watched him in a couple of matches on television and agreed with me.
“I got Sam’s phone number, Russell called him up and they took him and his mum down to the movie set for a chat.
“Bradford wanted a transfer fee. Yes, I knew they were in financial trouble and needed the money. Transfer fees are not covered by the NRL salary cap so we paid it and Sam became a South Sydney player.”
At the time, the idea that all four Burgesses would end up at Souths was fanciful indeed – although Sam had certainly raised it with the club. Luke, who played for Harlequins, Doncaster and Leeds, was not setting the world on fire at the Rhinos.
“There was an opportunity there because he was out of the first team at Leeds and we had some injuries,” Richardson recalls.
“He came out here, got a chance because of another injury, and ended up playing 18 games for us. It worked out well.”
But snaring George, who’s this year’s Burgess flavour of the month, and Tom was another thing altogether. George, who wasn’t even a Super League player when he joined the red and greens, was always keen to try his luck in Australia.
His twin brother Tom, however, took some convincing before linking up with the Bunnies this year. He played 46 first-team games with Bradford.
The question is, are the Burgesses all at Souths on merit? Coach Michael Maguire says they are.
“I first met Sam overseas, before I came back from Wigan,” he says. “I had heard about him but not met him and I was very impressed with him.
“Now, George, when I first met him he was a giant. You look at him now and the way he’s getting around the field and there’s no comparison with what he was like then.
“That’s a result of the small things people don’t see. They are here to play rugby league and they work hard.
“I don’t necessarily treat them as brothers around the place. I treat them like any other members of staff, although there are positives to having brothers in the club.”
The Burgesses aren’t on a media ban, as such, but there is a Souths strategy at work aimed at minimising their profile. When you look at the size of them, that’s no mean feat.
Sam fronts up at all in media opportunities, Luke is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, George says very little and Tom is being discouraged from doing interviews until he makes first grade.
The last time four brothers played first grade together was 103 years ago, when Ray, Roy, Rex and Bernard Norman played for Annandale. It’s fair to say they may have all just shown up to training together one Tuesday night, rather than been put through the rigorous filtering system employed by pro clubs these days.
“Family is one of the four pillars of this club,” says Richardson. “The others are passion, uniqueness and innovation.
“Having four brothers at this club really makes it like a family. It shows people how we feel about family.
“And now their mother is here too, working around the club.”
Sitting in the background is Caisley. He recently attempted to wrest back control of the Bulls as they floundered under enormous financial pressure before a new owner was found.
Now concentrating on his legal business, Caisley has recently found himself writing to the local paper to defend his reputation against the suggestion his Harris deal ruined what was once a model Super League franchise.
But his role in the Burgesses’ success is a source of pride.
“He isn’t a manager, he is a mentor to the boys – they trust him with their lives,” says Richardson. “It’s similar to the way Russell feels – not like a father but almost like a father.
“I know Chris is proud of what the boys have achieved and I know they are grateful for how he has helped them achieve it.”
When it finally happens and Sam, Luke, George and Tom Burgess run out together in the cardinal and myrtle, it’s to be hoped Caisley gets enough notice to be there. Regardless of how the history of the Bradford Bulls is written, his impact on a family that lost a father and husband to motor neuron disease a decade ago has been profoundly positive.
As for the rest of us, don’t be surprised if Maguire springs the historic moment on the wider world an hour before kick off, to save the boys from a media circus.
The coach laughs. “That’s a fair chance,” he says.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK