BONDI BEAT: December 2014

December 2014BBy STEVE MASCORD
IT’S not overstating things that there has been something of a paradigm shift in out game as a result of the recently-completed Four Nations.

I have a favourite saying about the warring factions within our game: the parochial populists and the outward-looking anoraks: if the meek are to inherit the earth, then the geeks will get rugby league.

And with Jarryd Hayne, Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess walking out on us all at the same time, the non-geeks are finally starting to get it. Fencing ourselves off and resigning ourselves to always being a regional sport just isn’t an option.

It never has been, but they couldn’t see that.

It works like this: the NFL and Major League Baseball and European soccer bring their teams to our doorsteps and try to make money from us. The money we usually give them would otherwise have gone to sports that were locally traditional, like rugby league.

As globalisation steps up a gear and networked media becomes the norm. those traditional local sports will either continue to lose bigger slices of their market share, or they can go into the markets of other sports and steal something back.

There will eventually be no local sports, local music or local arts. There will just be sport, music and art. The very real long-term choice rugby league has is to be a sport, or be nothing.

That rugby union international between the United States and New Zealand recently was astonishing: 65,000 people watching something that has no history in that society was a watershed moment, up there with the NFL at Wembley.

Sonny Bill Williams went straight from our loving embraced to playing before 140,000 on successive weekends in Chicago and London. Wow.

The ignoramuses can no longer deny that expansion is essential for our game’s survival, and that international competition provides us with the best vehicle to carry us down that road.

Now. Plenty of people commenting on rugby league in Australia and New Zealand are general sports followers rather than devotees of our game. Normally, they should be summarily ignored in talking about our battles with other sports, because it’s a war in which they have invested nothing.

But even some of these cynics are finally admitting that the club season is too long, that international football has enormous potential and that – God forbid – Australia should actually be playing next year.

We have Samoa to thank for this breakthrough. We have been searching for a credible fourth nation for a generation. Eligibility laws should naturally accommodate Samoa as a result, allowing State of Origin players to represent them.

That’s the plan: for Origin players to be free to represent tier two countries, but not New Zealand or England.

Secondly, the Four Nations was on the way out with one – at most – planned between 2017 and 2021. We may have to rethink that now. And what happens when the invited country finishes above one of the big three – and we kick them out of the next Four Nations anyway?

Thirdly, it would seem we don’t need big stars to successfully promote an international series any longer. Australia were missing 12 World Cup stars and still attract great crowds in Brisbane, Melbourne and Wollongong.

The Geek Revolution has begun.

THIS column is called Bondi Beat, which means it is supposed to be about Australian rugby league. From time to time we write about how British rugby league looks from Bondi (like, you really have to squint to see it).

Taking those parameters into account, writing about England’s Four Nations campaign may seem a bit of a stretch. For a start, the closest game to Bondi was in Wollongong, which for the hipsters around the seaside suburb may as well be Sierra Leone.

But what the heck. We’re going to make some observations anyway.

England were probably the best team to watch in the tournament, just edging Samoa. They played with daring and skill and speed and seemed to create overlaps on the fringes of opposition defences with ease.

They have solved their problems in the halves. Matty Smith and Gareth Widdop are an accomplished pairing. Kallum Watkins is all class, Josh Charnley and Ryan Hall were outstanding and the Burgess boys plus Jason Graham make for a ferocious pack.

Daryl Clark enhanced his reputation.

They lost for the same reasons all emerging teams at any level do so. You have to pay your dues to rugby league karma. Good, emerging teams, always hit a “luck wall”. If they stick at what they’re doing, they burst through the other side.

With Josh Hodgson in mind, maybe we should call it a “luck door”.

I’ve thought long and hard about Steve McNamara’s claims to keep his post. I’ve come to this conclusion: they had want to have someone very good lined up as a replacement if they are going to punt him.

I didn’t agree with much of what he did from a PR point of view at the World Cup but there is ample evidence his team is building up to something very worthwhile on the pitch.

.

SO just who is Mike Miller, the American rugby union official who turned down our top job – the CEO of the Rugby League International Federation?

Before he was at the IRB, Miller was head of sport at the BBC. That did not go well – complaints against him from his own staff were leaked to the Mirror.

In rugby union he seemed to do well. He got the sport back into the Olympics, expanded the Sevens, boosted the women’s game and introduced a strategic investments programme.

The World Olympians Association, where he is now CEO, seems a rather cushy job. The man who had the casting vote in offering the job to him was an outside consultant, with Australia’s David Smith and the RFL’s Nigel Wood deadlocked on the issue.

To say it was a blow to Wood that Miller took his time responding, and then declined, is a gross understatement.

Members of the appointments committee were so busy with their own backyards during the interview process that they repeatedly broke appointments.

So when they finally got around to offering Miller the job, he took his time in responding. And presumably, he was not overly impressed with what he was being asked to get involved in.

But the committee doesn’t seem to have its act together since, either. You would have thought they would have gone to the second best candidate, offered it to him, and got on with things. If that did happen, then things have since ground to a halt again.

Rugby league is not a member of Sports Accord and it does not have tax exempt status. Given that it doesn’t even have a CEO, you could argue it doesn’t deserve either.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

THE JOY OF SIX: Pre-Season II

KoukashBy STEVE MASCORD

EARL GREY OVER DANK NEWS
EXILED footballer Sandor Earl was not best pleased to read on the Sun-Herald that controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank has a job with the women’s Indian Premier League Twenty20 Cricket Competition. “Unbelieveable – I can’t even play park footy. Flanno (suspended Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan) can’t watch footy and Dank gets a new job,” Earl Tweeted, presumably from Thailand. Flanagan, of course, is under investigation for attending a Cronulla trial while banned for his involvement in the club’s supplements programme. Earl, 24, remains the only player yet issued with an infraction notice. ASADA revealed last week it had concluded its investigations into the supplements issue. Dank, who denies any wrongdoing, insists he is yet to be interviewed. If he is still on staff at Hull KR, it isn’t helping much; Rovers were lapped 30-10 by Castleford on Friday night.

I DID IT HIS WAY
THE truth is out: Sam Burgess WAS inspired by Sonny Bill Williams in his decision to change codes. Burgess has steadfastly refused to talk about the motivation behind his switch; although despite suggestions he has been affronted by the coverage of the news, he is talking football with journalists and TV inquisitors again. His supporters reckoned the suggestion his decision he was influenced by the man he will face next Thursday at ANZ Stadium is nothing but scurillous gossip. But here’s what the Bath rugby union coach (and former South Queensland Crushers half) Mike Ford said on BBC Radio Manchester’s Rugby League Extra programme. “I think he’s seen what Sonny Bill Williams has done, switching from one code to the other and how successful he was, playing in New Zealand in the World Cup in 2011. He boxed as well, Sonny Bill. That’s the challenge he wants. Sam, once he makes his mind up he wants something, he more or less gets it every time.” Burgess has every opportunity to reject the associated speculation he wants to fight Sonny Bill. Over to you, Sam.

OOMPA LOOMPAS UNITE!
THE latest weapon being prepared to fight the financial might of the NRL was first devised by Roald Dahl half a century ago. Feisty racing magnate and Salford owner Marwan Koukash has called for Super League clubs to each be given a “golden ticket”, ala Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, to sign players outside the salary cap. “If a club does not want to use its golden ticket, I will buy it off them for 200,000 pounds,” Koukash told Sky before watching his Reds humbled 38-0 by St Helens on Thursday night. The marquee player concept was voted down last week but will probably return to the agenda of Super League clubs. Koukash is causing such a stir in England that it’s understood RFL chiefs are conducting an exhaustive search for an Everlasting Gobstopper. (photo: Dr Kockrash Twitter)

POACHERS WELCOME
PAPUA New Guinea’s new team in Queensland’s InTrust Super Cup has a message for NRL scouts: please steal our players. And Manly may be about to take the advice; Joy Of Six‘s sources at Dolphin Oval during the historic 24-18 win over Redcliffe yesterday tell us forward Mark Mexico is on the verge of signing with the Sea Eagles. Another World Cup Kumul, Wellington Albert, is already on Penrith’s books. “That’s why we have entered a team in this competition,” PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka said. “NRL scouts don’t come to PNG, we wanted to put our players in a competition where they will be seen. If one player leaves, we have 15,000 kids who will want to take his place.” Stand-outs for the Hunters included lock Sebastian Pandia and lock Wartovo Puara.

REFS ON FILM
A FEW weeks after the video referees was heard explaining his decisions on television coverage of the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, the NRL introduced a version of the system for the finals. Instead of appearing live as they deliberated (as happens in England), however, our officials got the decision out of the way and then gave a short explanation. Since then, the English have lifted the bar again for the local boys by showing the video referees on camera as they toggle the vision before ruling yey or nay. This necessitates spiffy suits and turtlenecks for the likes of Ian Smith and Phil Bentham. It didn’t stop St Helens winger Mark Percival being denied a fair try in the 38-0 win over Salford on Thursday. Will the NRL follow …. suit?

IT’S A GAS
HAVING got off to a winning start on Sunday, PNG Hunters coach Michael Marum says Australian teams are set for a culturally enriching experience when they visit Kopoko for their away matches. “Back at home, there will probably be a few gas guns outside chasing people away who are trying to get in,” he said enthusiastically. “That’s the way we play the game up there; people are passionate about the game.” Hunters players have spent 11 weeks in a police camp preparing for the Intrust Cup; many have not seen their families in this time. Mal Meninga is Kumuls nationa coach elect; Tsaka says he is trying to organise a Test against the winner of the Samoa-Fiji Test at Penrith in May and another against one of the teams warming up for the Four Nations.

Bonus item: RADIO NO-RAHRAH
WILL we soon have a 24-hour-a-day rugby league radio station? The emerging internet radio industry is awash with speciallist stations and Sydneysider Alby Talarico -the man behind the Coogee Dolphins – has spent a pretty penny setting up a footy frequency at his Steele Sports site. He already broadcasts for six hours on a Saturday afternoon during the season (he’ll be at Belmore Sports Ground next week for NSWRL fixtures), boasts decent audiences and has plans to further expland, offering airtime to the many league podcasts already being churned out by independent broadcasters. He reckons a full day of footy isn’t far away. Full disclosure time: he has even offered to air my hokey production when I get around to doing one.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

DISCORD 2014: Edition Eight

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
LET’S face it, the NRL didn’t do a very good job of proving that players WERE concussed when their clubs allowed them to play on over the past season or so
But now, we are being assured, the League is hellbent on proving they are NOT concussed when – or if – the new concussion guidelines are exploited to get a free interchange.
The bottom line is that it’s a good thing the League is doing something to protect players against themselves, and the sport in this country against bankrupcy which would surely come with an NFL-style class action. An American expert told the club CEOs by video conference recently that the legal action they would likely face would completely ruin them financially.
But the NRL has never taken action against clubs for flaunting the rules as they existed before. Even video of a player being given smelling salts was not considered compelling enough as evidence of an infraction. Players stumbled around on national television and nothing was done.
So it’s hard to believe that collusion that happens behind closed doors, with just a few people involved, to fake a concussion can be adequately policed by the governing body.
Hopefully everyone will just appreciate what is at stake now, and will do the right thing.
.
IS deducting points from clubs who go into bankrupcy a bit like executing someone for being dead?
Bradford are on the brink of collapse after their new owners-in-waiting withdrew an offer in response to the Bulls being deducted six competition points for entering administration.
RLF chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer says the would-be owners knew the dangers. Obviously a club going broke is not a good look for the sport and the governing body feels it has the right to respond with some sort of punative measure against those who damaged its brand.
But if there’s a bigger example in professional sport of kicking a dog when it’s down, Discord has not heard it. If the punishment is aimed at clubs who deliberately go into receivership to avoid their debts, why are we punishing the team and the fans, on the field?
Surely we don’t want people who do business in this way involved in our sport OFF the field? Punishing the team by docking points would achieve little but exonerate the RFL of accusations they did nothing.
It’s hard to imagine an NRL club experiencing financial difficulty being docked competitition points. In the past, the administration in Australia has helped clubs in trouble, by either advancing grants or even forwarding loans.
And what of the players still owed money by failed franchises such as the Celtic Crusaders? How does docking competition points help them?
In light of Bradford’s problems, it’s not surprising that the Super League clubs voted against a marquee player system.
.
TO those who scoffed at my tweet that Sonny Bill Williams had inspired Sam Burgess’ decision to switch codes, I offer the following quote from Bath coach and former South Queensland Crushers coach Mike Ford on the Rugby League Extra podcast from BBC Radio Manchester:
“I think he’s seen what Sonny Bill Williams has done, switching from one code to the other and how successful he was, playing in New Zealand in thw World Cup in 2011,” said Ford.
“He boxed as well, Sonny Bill.
“That’s the challenge he wants. Sam, once he makes his mind up he wants something, he more or less gets it every time.”
.
THANKS to everyone who commented on Discord last week and Set Of Six on Monday.
Alan said the extended 1997 World Club Challenge was good. Most people would describe it as the most disastrous competition in the history of rugby league! As for his comment that State Of Origin was become irrelvant … Alan we dreamers often overlook the importance of tribalism in our game. Tribalism is why we have eight and a half teams in Sydney and none in Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory. There is clearly something to it!
Soot says a summer nines tournament may become irrelevant, like rugby union sevens. I’m sure the boffins at Rugby League Central would be happy to achieve that level of irrelevance. It doesn’t matter if the media ignores it, if it keeps the turnstile clicking over the summer, then the concept will do its job.
DOS called for a PNG team on the NRL. As you may be aware, the PNG Hunters are making their Queensland Cup debut against Redcliffe on Sunday – and I’ll be there. But NRL? Is there a Major League Baseball team in Haiti? Where does the television rights income come from? How do you get players to live there? I have serious doubts it will happen in my lifetime.
Frank from Bexley, I suspect, was taking the mick so I won’t be responding to him.
Taffy said he liked my optimism but I thought last week’s column was largely pessimistic! I disagree that no-one debated union players going to league when union was not openly professional – many column inches were devoted to the subject at the time. And clearly hybrid games are commercial attractive because there are powerful forces pushing for them. You are
right, however, to say rugby union in most places would have nothing to gain from rugby league – which makes the prospects I discussed last week even more forboding for league.
I recommend everyone read Friendly_Raptor’s comment at the bottom of last week’s Discord. I agree with Hear The Crow that Eddy Pettybourne should have been sent off on Saturday.
Here‘s the forum:
Subscribe to the podcast here

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

DISCORD 2014: Edition Seven

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

CROSS-code challenges, nines tournaments and players defections; are we at a fork in the road of evolution of the rugby codes, or are these developments no more than fodder for the daily news cycle?
This week we’ve seen Sam Burgess defect to rugby union, calls for nines tournaments to be held everywhere but the moon (give them time) and now Salford announce a cross-code challenge with Sale for August 26.
None of these developments is completely new – players have been switching to union since that code became openly professional, nines tournaments have been played for 20 years and cross-code challenges have also been staged before.
But it is the conflence of factors behind these developments that could amount to a discernible trend.
One, Sonny Bill Williams’ example points to elite players crisscrossing sports and signing short-term deals which maximise their earning potential, profile and personal motivation.
Whereas fulltime professionalism was seen as demanding specialisation and killing off the all rounder, we have now seen the emergence of individualistic, exceptional athletes who see being an all rounder as the peak of a sporting Everest.
If you change the rules, athleticism will eventually catch up and overtake the legislators.
Two, private ownership and external entrepreneurs offer the chance for sports to go beyond the traditional income sources of broadcast rights, sponsorship and gate receipts.
Until now, pro sports were locked into a cycle of courting sponsors, selling memberships and flogging broadcast rights to the highest bidder.
But now consortia such as DUCO in Auckland and the Dubai businessmen who want to stage a nines tournament can provide a totally new income stream, as can venues and cities who are increasingly willing to bid for events in the way that previously only the Olympic locations were chosen.
Where can all this be leading?
Let’s extrapolate the trend of players changing codes more regularly. The more open and competitive the labour market place, the greater the pressure on individual sports to follow the AFL’s lead and centrally-contract players. NRL CEOS discussed this in Auckland last Friday; if one club identifies a rugby union player it wants to sign, it can apply for financial assistance from head office BUT every club has to have the chance to sign that player and make up the larger part of his total salary package.
As I have said previously, before we whinge about losing players we should reflect on how lucky we are that our most popular domestic sports are not played widely overseas. If Australian Rules or rugby league were big sports in the United States or western Europe, none of our best players would reside here.
Our glass is well over half full; our small, divided market does not really DESERVE to retain world’s-best talent at anything in pro sports.
Extrapolating the second trend, of outside entrepreneurs providing new income streams, it is reasonable to assume rugby league will have nines ‘specialists’ and year-round competition before long, and that broadcast rights will be more diverse with a portfolio of properties (NRL, pre-season, nines, domestic representative fixtures, World Club Challenge and internationals) spread more widely between competing television platforms.
More clubs will do what the Dragons have done and spread their games around a wide variety of venues; we’ll more further away from the traditional model of teams having one ‘home’ ground. There’s money to be made.
It’s not hard to have a stab at what could happen as a result of more interaction between the rugby codes at club level. If Salford and Sale were to aggressively sell sponsorship and advertising for several years of annual cross-code challenges, they may invite more clubs to be involved.
Then they could try to sell their own television rights and when threatened by the RFU and RFL, they could conceivably decide to go it alone and play an entire season of hybrid rugby, taking other clubs with them.
The main reason for there being two rugby codes was professionalism. That reason no longer exists. Hyper-professionalism could one day re-united the codes; cross code challenges create the market and demand for a third code which could conceivably kill off the other two through economies of scale.
If rugby league and rugby union officials don’t want that to happen, they’d be best advised to protect their intellectual property aggressively and impose draconian penalties on any clubs sleeping with the enemy.
It’s when a whole club does what Sam Burgess has just done that we’ll know the apocalypse is upon us.
.

DISCORD is happy that the idea of a summer nines tournament, mooted here over the … um … summer, is now gaining widespread support.
But while our idea of having state teams, rather than clubs, in the Auckland Nines didn’t catch on, we certainly hope that any summer nines tournament doesn’t just include the same 16 NRL clubs.
A touring circuit, ala rugby sevens, should include all Australian states and territories. As Ben Elias says in League Week, it’s a great ‘soft landing’ for franchises earmarked for NRL inclusion.
But at the risk of being branded a scrooge of sorts, let’s not call Perth and Adelaide ‘new markets’ and the nines a ‘new concept’.
We had teams from Adelaide and Perth before – and stuffed it up. And we had nines in 1996 and ’97 – and gave up on the concept. Let’s get really excited with rugby league does something really new.

.
THANKS for last week’s comments.
read on

DISCORD 2013: Edition 47

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
YOUR correspondent has a tough decision to make before Christmas – how to vote in the Golden Boot poll.
The nominees for that gong that goes to the best player in the world have been released today: Johnathan Thurston, Sonny Bill Williams, Danny Brough, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Sam Burgess.

It seems like a pretty good list to me. Thurston was man of the match in the World Cup final, Williams was RLIF Player of the Year, Brough won Man of Steel, Cronk got the Dally M, Smith and Burgess were consistently outstanding.

I’d be interested – and maybe even swayed – by your comments over who should get it. I won’t say mine will be a “vote for the people” but I’ll listen. Personally, at this early stage, I’m leaning towards Thurston – even though he was on my bench in the Team Of The World Cup which was published in the final match programme.

Thurston was rested during the tournament while the United States Joseph Paulo played every game and played well. That is not a contention that Paulo is a better player. To me, the spirit of such teams is that you don’t take into account the quality of the opposition, you just look at performances.

In fact, that’s the spirit of the whole World Cup, why it’s not just about who won. Anyway, let me know who you think should win the Golden Boot.
.
AUSTRALIA were unbelievably ruthless last Saturday but anyone labelling the performance the ‘most complete in memory’ has a short memory.
In the 2004 Tri-Nations final at Elland Road, Australia led 38-0 at halftime on the way to a 44-4 win. The Great Britain side they beat had been widely tipped to give them a run – they finished top of the competition table – and there had even been injury and illness concerns for the Australians before kick-off.

But the Aussies played football as close to perfect as any this reporter has ever seen in the opening 40 minutes.
We ran into Shane Webcke – who played in the game – on the way out of Old Trafford on Saturday and checked that our memories were not deceiving us. He said that while the Aussies had been great on Saturday, the 2004 performance was something else again.

“And I am the one who came closest to making a mistake in that first half,” he said.
.
WIGAN coach Shaun Wane knows Super League clubs can’t compete with the NRL or rugby union financially – so he tries to reward them with life experiences.
That’s why the Super League champions are looking at playing PNG in Kopoko on February 15. The proposal to play the Warriors in Auckland is back on the table, I understand – just a couple of days before the Nines.

That would make for a fantastic week of rugby league in the City of Sails but the problem is that Matt Elliott’s side has pledged it will field its best side and the Nines and Wigan don’t want to play against second stringers.
If the game against PNG – which will be their last warm-up before joining the Queensland Cup – is played, I’ll be going to a little place called Kokopo, not Eden Park.
.
OK, a few comments now.

read on

DISCORD 2013: Edition 41

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

ABOUT two months ago, your correspondent posted online what he thought was a ho-hum story he had written more than two weeks before and had appeared in print – “without incident,” I guess you could say – 11 days previously.

It told how, after a verbal battle with Sydney Roosters’ Sonny Bill Williams during a match, Gold Coast prop Ryan James had attempted to shake his hand and had been greeted with apathy.

“I shook his hand at fulltime and said ‘thanks for the game’ and he didn’t really appreciate it,” said James, 22. “So, yeah, that’s up to him.”

In other words, the usual fodder of the weekly rugby league media, which spends a bit more time in the dressing rooms, sweeping up what the dailies miss. Nothing to see here.

Or so I thought.

The reaction to the yarn online bordered on apocalyptic. There were more than 100 comments on one Facebook page. Typical of the sentiments were “you should be ashamed of this story and you should never have posted it”.

In discussions with the co-administrator of the Facebook page, it was pointed out to me that Channel Nine’s The Footy Show had only just run a sympathetic piece on Williams and “people will think we’re trying to turn them against him”.

But it was really just a quote story about one footballer discussing an encounter with another at fulltime in a football match I can honestly say I would have written it about anyone. It had not traded on Williams’ celebrity because it had been buried in the middle of a rugby league magazine, as I said, 11 days earlier.

I had not “beaten it up”. The readers had.

My website had been running for three years and the traffic for that one story was THREE times my total daily record for the entire site in all that time.

This got me thinking about the confluence of factors that makes Williams ‘Pro Athlete 2.0’.

One, people no longer trust the traditional press and start with the assumption of agenda and work backwards. This makes athletes who are polarising, and over whom rival media outlets have taken opposite sides, much bigger stars than they would ever have been before.

They are the opposite of collateral damage in media slanging matches – their brand gets “collateral enhancement” because it is always getting tossed up.

If a media outlet says someone is a good person, cynics will immediately believe the opposite while others will look at the evidence presented and agree. And if you have two media camps presenting opposite views, you can actually throw a net over everyone remotely interested in sport – a marketing feat no amount of money could ever buy.

But you can only leverage that frenzied, deafening media presence by changing employers constantly, maximising the effect when contracts expire. There’s no point being the talk of the town if your team gets all the benefits from your huge profile and you get nothing.

Secondly, since people began getting their raw information from other sources, newspapers have sought to entertain as much as inform. With this has come the tendency to portray public figures as pantomime heroes or villains – nothing entertains like conflict.

This also plays straight into the hands of those who are marketing Williams. When he does something good, as depicted on the Footy Show, a portion of the audiences refuses to believe it.

When he offers a wet-fish handshake to an opponent, the other half of the audience (which, by virtue of the process described above, is already huge) is also in denial and effectively put its digital hands over its digital ears.

Why do we refuse to believe both depictions could be true? Very few of us know people who are absolutely good or absolutely bad. But these days we are hellbent on believing everyone in the media is one or the other.

Khoder Nasser understands the forces at work, if not literally as stated here, then very instinctively. There were reports he wanted as many media outlets as possible to know about a $1 million fight offer late and less than 24 hours after someone from the BBC contacted me chasing his number (I couldn’t find it), Sonny popped up on the BBC World Service.

No doubt the person who contacted me knew he would have to use audience size to get SBW to submit to an interview, the way you do with rock stars or actors. Lots of people listen to the BBC World Service – it’s bankable exposure.

Stephen Kearney was put in the position this week of someone who wants to quit their job on principle. They start marching towards the boss’ office – and then think of their kids, their mortgage and their partner.

By Kearney doing the “right” thing and telling Williams it was too late to change his team, New Zealand rugby league and the tournament itself would be hurt immeasurably.

Nasser knows that. He and Williams hold all the cards. Sonny Bill Williams may not think he’s bigger than rugby league but events this week prove conclusively that he is.

That’s not a criticism, it’s a fact.

Williams is one of those rare cross-discipline athletes who pop up once a generation. It’s a perfect double-act – the athlete can be humble while his agent sell him as an individual, ignoring the norms of team sport economics, milking the 21 Century cult of personality and the death of newspapers for all it’s worth.

Of course, it is possible for Williams to genuinely do kind, considerate things and then do something unspeakably unthinking and selfish – because it is possible for you and me to do so as well.

Williams is just a real person who happens to be very good at a number of sports. Nasser is hoping we don’t wake up to that very boring reality until everyone’s parted with as much money as possible.

,

I WANTED to further discuss the US World Cup team here but we’ve run out of room. I think I’m taking over Sin Bin (at least in part) for the duration of the international season so I’ll throw something in there.

read on

2013 NRL grand final: SYDNEY ROOSTERS 26 MANLY 18 at ANZ Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

AFTER winning a National Rugby League premiership at his first attempt, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson was none the wiser about the plans of his cross-code rugby superstar, Sonny Bill Williams.

The former All Black played a key role in the tricolours 13th premiership, his team twice coming from behind to secure a 26-18 win at ANZ Stadium in a decider that featured a rare penalty try to Manly centre Jamie Lyon and a number of other contentious calls.

New Zealand international Shaun Kenny-Dowall is believed to have played the second half with a broken jaw, with x-rays to confirm the extent if the injury.

Williams is yet to commit to the club for next season and there is intense speculation he will accept an AUD $1 million offer to box instead of playing in this month’s rugby league World Cup and then sign for New Zealand rugby union franchise the Waikato Chiefs.

“I haven’t asked him – I said ‘after the season’ but it’s only been 45 minutes,” said Robinson, who transferred from Super League side Catalan at the start of the season.

“Give us a little more time.

“After it gets past a point in a season, if he decides not to stay, that’s a huge hole you can’t fill anyway. You can’t find that type of player at this time of year, usually.

“That’s the risk you take with a player like that. He’s proved a lot of people wrong this year. We just decided to back him and we’ll do the same again.

“He can make a huge difference to a team.”

Lyon’s penalty try came three minutes into the second half and the decision looked like it would change the course of a contest at ANZ Stadium, during which his Manly side had endured the rough end of some first half calls.

Instead, Williams set up a try which lifted the tricolours back into the game and centre Michael Jennings touched down just millimetres short of the dead ball line, with seven minutes remaining, to secure victory.

The penalty try was one of a number of contentions calls at the end of a finals series that started with a seven-tackle try eliminating North Queensland.

Lyon chased Daly Cherry-Evans’ kick before he was pulled down by rival Mitchell Aubusson.

“I’ve got a try, I want to check the penalty try,” referee Shayne Hayne told video officials Ashley Klein

Six minutes later, centre Steve Matai added to Manly’s total with a converted try but just as Geoff Toovey’s side appeared set to take control, the Roosters responded with a try to Italy forward Aiden Guerra.

From the opening seconds, when Manly’s Glenn Stewart staggered out of an attempted tackle on rival Sam Moa and received medical attention before continuing, it was a grand final full of incident and contentious officiating.

Sea Eagles players claimed Sydney Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves had head-butted Justin Horo in the 33rd minute. There was definitely contact, but no classic butting action, and a previous penalty to the tricolours stood.

A penalty against Eagle Matt Ballin for tackling in the air was also highly contentious, as was a decision to award Sydney Roosters a scrum feed when their centre Michael Jennings appeared to play at the ball before it went into touch.

It was almost written into the plot that the trend should continue and when Sonny Bill Williams released James Maloney in the 60th minute, the pass to captain Anthony Minichiello drifted forwards – but went undetected – before Kenny-Dowall scored.

Well-known for his outbursts about refereeing this year, Toovey was measured post-match. “Pretty tough on the big calls again tonight,” he said.

“It was probably the lowest penalised game of the year.”

Losing halfback Daly Cherry-Evans was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal as man of the match.

Australia back-rower Greg Bird tweeted: “Am I the only person that finds it strange that every camera close up is on Sonny Bill. If he wins Clive I’ll retire!”

SYDNEY ROOSTERS 26 (A Guerra M Jennings S Kenny-Dowall D Tupou tries J Maloney 5 goals) bt MANLY 18 (J Lyon S Matai J Taufua tries J Lyon 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: S Hayne/ B Cummins. Crowd: 81,491.


Filed for: THE GUARDIAN