DISCORD 2013: Edition 35

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

JUST under a decade ago, the National Rugby League made it known that a team which relocates could receive up to $11 million from the administration.

The availability of the incentive was a tacit acknowledgement that there were too many teams in Sydney but that saving the history and intellectual property of an existing team was preferable to shutting it down and starting afresh.

Then, out of nowhere, then-CEO David Gallop revealed that there would also be an incentive to stay where you were!

Gallop reckoned that saturation of the Sydney market was important in the face of encroachment from rival codes and the NRL would be willing to help prop up a team that looked likely to fall over.

Relocation, as an option for Sydney teams, was dead.

In recent weeks, we have seen it given pulmonary massage in light of the travails currently being experienced by Cronulla.

The theory is that if the club was to be sued by players who are found guilty of using illegal substances, they would quickly become insolvent. That could also happen if the NRL imposes a Draconian fine on the club in the wake of the ASADA investigation.

It’s one thing to predict the Commission would use the situation as leverage to get the club to move. But does the ARLC even favour relocation?

As things stand, the incentives for staying put are the same as moving. It’s time for the NRL administration to make its position clear on relocation.

Is it a preferred option or not? Please let us know.

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THE last two weeks, we’ve been reporting on the back and forth between the two rival bodies trying to start rugby league in Thailand.

While there is currently no league in the kingdom, it’s instructive about the issues and battles which seem to repeat themselves all over the place in our sport.

Shannon Crane, who runs the TRL, sent us a link to the League’s entry on the Thai Department of Business’ registry. He also says the rival Thailand Rugby League’s Facebook page has been closed down and insists he does reside in Thailand, not Brisbane.

We will not be continuing the back-and-forth. Case closed!

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COMMENTS time and let’s go back to last week’s column.

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DISCORD 2013: Edition 34

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

THERE’S almost too much to talk about this week: the latest Cronulla developments, the sacking for David Furner & the possibility of Ben Barba being banned from playing against Canterbury as part of any release to Brisbane.

So we’ll give all three of them a miss for now. Not much to add on Cronulla’s ‘secret’ bank account, the exact circumstances of Furner’s removal are still in dispute and no-one actually seems to say much on the record about Barba and the Broncos.

Let’s instead talk about the mess Wests Tigers have got themselves into.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on this website in recent days, you’ll be aware that the joint venture needs an ‘urgent cash injection’ of $1 million, and that Western Suburbs will only provide this if they are handed the chairmanship.

Balmain, on the other hand, want an independent board to run the club and are interested in a funding package from the NRL.

Alan Katzmann, a well know and respected Sydney Roosters fan, writes: “As a Roosters supporter, and NRL fan, I would be appalled to see the NRL provide these funds.

“Adopting the proposal from Balmain, together with their phony altruism, will mean that the rest of the rugby league world would suffer as a result of Balmain’s petulance.

“Funds that could help junior development or keep increases in grand final tickets to a minimum would be spent instead keeping Wests Tigers afloat when they already have alternate funding readily available.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Balmain is lucky Wests aren’t demanding to drop the ‘Tigers’ half of their name completely.

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FURTHER to our item last week about the battle for control of the game in Thailand, Andrew Charles – coach of the Thailand Stars side which played the Philippines in October – has responded to some of the claims made last week by rival – Shannon Crane.

OK, we realise this is all small potatoes given that only one game of any note has ever been played in the kingdom – but it’s an interesting microcosm of the bickering that besets our game all over the world.

Charles disputes the claim Crane registered a trademark, he says the only “legal action” initiated was having a facebook page taken down and says every player who represented Thailand Stars against the Philippines was eligible under RLIF rules.

He also disputes the amount of time Crane spends in Thailand. You’ve now heard both sides of the argument, make up your own mind.

In the meantime, more evidence of the thawing in relations between the rival AMNRL and USARL, with Boston 13s player Shane Begin picked to play for the US Tomahawks this weekend against Canada.

The 13s play in the ‘rebel’ USARL, which until recently meant he would be excluded from national selection. The international is being played as part of a double header with the USARL championship game in Pennsylvania this Saturday.

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THIS week’s column comes to you from sunny London, where Wigan and Hull meet in a rematch of the famous 1985 Challenge Cup final this Saturday.

On Friday in Trafalgar Square, there’ll be a three-hour promotion for the World Cup, which I’m looking forward to. Later that night, I’ll be talking to the European Federation about media and how to get more exposure.

How do you think international rugby league could make the mainstream media sit up and take more notice? Comments below please.

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SPEAKING of comments, here’s some responses to those you’ve posted over the last week.

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FAR & WIDE: Number 37

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

WE’RE pleased to confirm that Malta will be taking on Italy at Livorno on September 6!*

The international, which we foreshadowed in a previous column, has just been confirmed and means the Azzurri will have a better World Cup preparation than most of their rivals.

Livorno is near Pisa. The countries are negotiating a deal which would involve them fielding no more than seven overseas-based players, to promote domestic activity.

Well done. Would love to be there.

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WE received a call last week from Shannon Crane, the man behind what was previously described as the “rebel” league in Thailand.

In fact, says Crane, his organisation pre-dates by several months the one that fielded a team against the Philippines last October.

Crane, a former Penrith junior coach who moved the Bangkok in 2004 to pursue business interests, actually attended that game but disapproved of the number of expats in the Thailand Stars team.

“We didn’t even think of staging internationals – our focus was on getting a domestic competition up and running first,” said Crane.

While the RLIF is yet to take sides in Thailand, Crane’s group owns most of the trademarks associated with Thai Rugby League and will be getting serious in the next few months.

Doug Keen will be coaching referees later this year, a six team competition (four in Bangkok and two in Pattaya) is due to kick off next year and his side plays Greece at a major stadium on October 12.

He says he has big name companies lined up as sponsors and insists to put down solid roots in the Kingdom, you need to live there.

“I have nothing against Andrew Charles and the people who put together the Thailand Stars,” he said.

“I have had a meeting with him and offered to work with him, share everything. So far, they’ve insisted on doing their thing and we are pressing on with ours’.

“The Thailand Stars are not the national rugby league team, though.”

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OK, NOW we have got to the bottom of THAT, how about this?

What’s worse than two warring governing bodies in a country where there is very little actual rugby league? How about one of those warring governing bodies having two warring websites?

The establishment AMNRL, which is sending the United States team to the World Cup, used to have a site called AMNRL.com, which disappeared and then came back and didn’t appear to have been updated for some time.

Now AMNRL.com is back, with a recently-written story about the World Cup. But it has a rival called AMNRL.org, which redirects to club pages.

Anyways … at least there rival leagues are hosting a joint event this weekend. Let’s hope they settle their differences over a few beers.

* NB: Since this story appeared, the Malta-Italy international has been cancelled.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

DISCORD 2013: Edition 33

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

NRL chief executive David Smith hasn’t just been vindicated by the deal signed with Touch Football Australia – he’s been vindicated by the reaction to it.

If Smith has made his name for anything in his short time in charge of the game in this country, it’s been for ignoring criticism.

Multiplying rugby league’s participant numbers four or five-fold in one fell swoop is not just his first really big triumph but it’s rugby league’s biggest success since peace broke out in the Super League War.

Yet there are those who either see the development as of no significance or of actually being bad. I wonder if these are the same sections of the game’s community who have previously been criticising his management style?

The fact people can still find fault with such a staggering achievement proves David Smith has been right to ignore us all along.

Some of the criticism I have seen on social media has been along the lines of the merger being “a numbers game” and “window dressing”, along with the contention that the merger will somehow make the game at the top level “softer”.

That, or that it is part of an overall strategy to make the game softer.

Discord’s core belief about the way forward for any sport is that it’ objectivs must be to expose itself to more participants and more spectators. Without that aim, there is no reason for administrators to get out of bed in the morning.

It is to be hoped more women, for a start, have a go at full contact rugby league as a result of the new link between the sports. This is a potential boon for the women’s game.

Touch football can also provide us with more spectators, particularly in the “heathen” states, if we market our sport to them intelligently. We can win back a few people we have lost over the years. We can perhaps find more Shaun Johnsons and Matt Moylans and stop them going to rugby union.

But the most significant statement came from the boss of TFA, Colm Maguire, who said: “Touch Football in Australia was born out of Rugby League”.

That’s right, touch was a reaction to the popularity of rugby league so the NRL has every right to bring it BACK under its umbrella.

Of course, rugby union denizens would no doubt have similar argument about annexing league – but in this country, combined, the rugby codes would still be dwarfed by Touch Football!

To compare touch football with “brandings”, “British Bulldog” and “Kiss and catch” is highly amusing but ignores the historical links. If rugby league was not popular in Australia, touch football would not be popular.

But most importantly, as a rugby league fan, I hope David Smith is not reading this. And if he is, I hope he gives it scant regard. I don’t want a leader of my game that cares what some hack thinks.

I want a leader who does what he thinks is right until he doesn’t have a job anymore.

Also, I think we can see why the NRL needs 140 staff when you are doing broad-brush things such as merging sports. Making the most of a decision affecting more than a million participants, can’t be done with two people a couple of mobile phones. It’s a mind-bogglingly complex task.

Discord is hearing that the International Rugby League Federation may soon have a handful of fulltime employees, too, and a physical address!

Give me a second while I get up off the floor.

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DISCORD got a phone call this week from Shannon Crane, the man behind the ‘other’ rugby league body in Thailand.

For those who have been following this, you’ll be aware there has only been one game of note in the Kingdom, last year’s “international” between Thailand and the Philippines in Bangkok.

I used quotation marks there because Crane says he registered “Thai Rugby League” as a trademark in mid 2011 and the team fielded against the Tamaraws included players who were not eligible to represent the country under RLIF rules.

Crane, a former Penrith development squad coach who moved to Thailand to pursue business interests in 2004, always intended to start a domestic comp first and was happy to let the other group, led by South Sydney Juniors identity Andrew Charles, do as they wished.

That’s as long as they didn’t infringe on his copyright, which he says they did. This resulted in legal action. Crane hopes to have a six-team domestic competition up and running next year with some big name sponsors.

The RLIF appears to have made no call yet on which group it supports. Crane’s team plays Greece in Bangkok on October 12 with a big domestic pop star Dome Pakorn Lum to perform at halftime.

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COMMENTS time and let’s start with last week’s Discord, which concerned itself chiefly with Anthony Milford.

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