DISCORD 2014: Edition Three

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
WHILE most of the rule changes announced by the NRL for the coming season are intelligent and helpful, the competition continues down its road to becoming a different sport to the one played elsewhere in the world.
In fact, the NRL must be close to being, technically, the third code of rugby. After all, now that rugby union is professional, the only thing separating it from league are rules.
‘zero’ tackle from 20 metre restarts, taps from 40/20s, timeouts in the final five minutes of matches; these things along with golden point time and dual referees make the NRL very different to the games played on parks each weekend and in England, France and the rest.
To people involved in the game in these areas, the most recent changes smack of arrogance; of a believe that the NRL IS rugby league and no-one else matters.
Those of you of a certain age would remember when all rule changes had to ‘go to the international board’. Yet now that organisation, the Rugby League International Federation, can hold a tournament that makes $6 million and a few months later be completely ignored by sweeping changes in the rules of a domestic league.
Recruitment is supposedly a key aim of the NRL. Yet the sport that players are being recruited for is growing more distinct with every passing year from the one played on TV. The NRL is either trying to get youngsters to play an increasingly different game or it is doing nothing more than promoting itself.
You’re probably reading this and asking what its author thinks should happen. What should happen is that the NRL thinks of itself as the Premier League – a high profile example of a sport played widely – and not the NFL, the only competition of any importance in its sport.
Rule changes should go to the International Federation, as they used to in the seventies and eighties. Full stop.
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ALL the other news since the last column has been in England, with the new competition structure announced, a naming rights backer unveiled and the draw for the Magic Weekend also made public.
In this paragraph I should probably explain what the new competition structure is. But it would take more than a paragraph. Basically, the season will kick off with two divisions of 12 and, after 22 or 23 rounds, split into three of eight.
The idea of this is to retain as much interest as possible in as many games as possible. This column was very critical of the idea when it was first announced.
But another way to look at it is that there is just a top eight play-off in Super League – but everyone who misses out have to justify staying in the competition the following year.
Manly people have welcomed a return to what is effectively promotion and relegation. It gives teams something to aim for, they say. The flipside of that is short term planning at its worst, an environment of quick-fixes that rely on staying up – or getting up – at all costs.
Whether it will help England develop players for the international stages is questionable. So is whether there are enough resources in the British game to support 24 clubs all striving for the top.
But like the club chairmen who opposed the proposal – and they only just failed to block it – Discord is now willing to at least give the idea a chance. Next year is going to be a fascinating one in the northern hemisphere.
The sponsors are called First Utility. I’ve never heard of them but colleague Andy Wilson makes a good point – we can now enjoy the FU Super League.
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LAST week, Steve pointed out that the New York Raiders have never been in the USARL and are in fact an AMNRL team describing their own competition as “defunct”. That error was fixed within 90 minutes of the column being posted.

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DISCORD 2014: Edition Two

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
PEACE negotiations between rugby league’s warring bodies in the United States have collapsed, with one club posting a statement describing the AMNRL – which sent the popular USA Tomahawks to the World Cup – as “defunct”.
An AMNRL source denied this but Discord has been told that a peace deal was agreed upon, only for last minute complications to scupper the arrangement. It appears the USARL feels it is in a dominant position and has decided to finish off its rival.
The AMNRL has vowed to fight on, while the USARL promises major announcements in the coming weeks – even though it is not the officially recognised body for the sport in America.
NY Raiders posted the following statement on its site in the last day or so:
“We, The Raiders, an American Rugby League Football Club, based in New York, former member in good standing of the now defunct AMNRL, today declare our neutrality from any and all self appointed, unelected, officers, officials, negotiators, organizations, agents, governing bodies or their affiliates,” it said.
“This decision derives from continuing inter league politics detrimental to the sport and our team. Neutrality aside, we reserve our right play and remain committed to competing in the upcoming 2014 Rugby League season.
“We strive for a forward thinking, transparent, inclusive governing body manned by elected members willing to produce a structured, viable business model for our sport.”
Apparently the Raiders did not respect the independent commission set up under the peace deal – a peace deal which has fallen through anyway. The other new country in last year’s World Cup, Italy, also has a divided comp.
It’s a mess – and exactly the sort of behaviour that gave birth to rugby league in the first place.
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IT’S a relief that Newcastle have sacked Russell Packer.
But the way the Integrity Unit does its business these days, does the action (or inaction) of the club really matter? Is there any use “standing by” a player who is never allowed to play?
In the cases of several pre-season incidents, the Integrity Unit probably still has plans. What happens if there are several players and officials at the same club, even if it’s not the club’s fault? Can the club still be held accountable?
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SUPER League is reportedly close to announcing a naming rights sponsor.
But there is still uncertainty over the structure of the competition beyond this year. In the last month, Bradford’s entire board has quit before returning and London needed to be saved at the 11th hour. They are still trying to piece together a team for 2014.
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THANKS to those who commented regardling the first column of the year, which concerned itself with nines rugby league and whether former greats add or detract to the concept.

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TRAVELS: VI

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD

AN interesting document fell off the back of a truck – sorry, lorry – the other day. It may or may not have been a Stobart truck/lorry.

A copy for the RFL’s pitch document to potential naming rights sponsors has fallen into my hands and it makes for intriguing reading. Here’s a few key points:

·        There is a three-year minimum on the title sponsorship;

·        The Sky TV deal is priced at Stg121 million. Total value to sponsors of 680 hours on TV plus print and radio exposure is estimated at Stg8,610,729 with 65 per cent more value when global reach is taken into account;

·        Total fan base is claimed at 6.9 million. The proportion of fans in the south of England is 34 per cent;

·        Fans are 68 per cent male and 32 per cent female and “early adopters of technology”;

·        A boast that live Super League games average 171,000 viewers on Sky weekly with the Autumn Internationals averaging 800,000 on BBC;

·        RFL websites had 2.1 million unique users over the last year and there are 500,000 social media interactions a day;

·        Thirty-four per cent of fans say they are more likely to buy a produce if the company sponsors rugby league;

·        Super League fans are more likely than the general populous to own enjoy luxury holidays, own a home, eat at a fancy restaurant, enjoy watching sports in the pub and attend a gym;

·        A new website – superleaguetv.co.uk – will be launched. There’s nothing there now.

Some of this stuff you might already know, some you might have had an inkling of and some of it will entirely surprise you. I hope you find it interesting how your tastes and habits are being used to attract sponsors. What do you think of it all? Comment below.

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IN the NRL, we’ve had some clubs over the years that have been regarded as half-way houses – joints that would take anyone, regardless of their disciplinary or behavioural record.

Kiwi Arana Taumata this week parted ways with his seventh club, a record that is unlikely to be equalled any time soon when you consider that five of them sacked him.

South Sydney come to mind as a place than had more than its fair share of “colourful rugby league identities” over the years, although those days are long gone.

On the first fortnight of the season, there were real concerns that Super League was becoming the halfway house of world rugby league. Some of the cheap shots and high tackles were terrible and the reactions of the disciplinary committee woefully and inappropriately lenient.

For mine, Julian Bousquet’s challenge on Theo Fages in round two was worthy of a 10 week ban, not four. I haven’t seen the point of contact of Rangi Chase on Zac Hardaker but if it was head high then how can two matches be a sufficient suspension?

My countryman Ben Cross badly mistimed a tackle and seems to have been a little fortunate in the length of his suspension as well.

Leon Pryce lashing out with his knee at Richie Myler last Friday made for terrible television and yet he escaped a ban, while Brent Webb and Ben Westwood were each outed for a week even though they were kept apart when they apparently wanted to brawl as they were sent to the sin bin.

And how Nick Scruton escaped even a penalty for his hit on Gareth O’Brien last Saturday has got me beat. It obviously has the disciplinary committee beat too because Scruton was charged.

In discussing the demise of the shoulder charge, Leeds coach Brian McDermott said he didn’t mind because the disciplinary committee was not up to policing the ones that went wrong and “could kill someone”.

But following this line of thinking, do we ban every offence that the judiciary under-punish? Charge-downs? Gone! Any forward motion involving the knee? Gone. Tackling! Gone!

It’s fine to have a system of early pleas and charge grading but in the end the penalties have to fit the offence. It’s something worth working on if we are serious about convincing parents to let their kids play our game.

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COMMENTS now and Todd Slater said Brad Takarangi may be heading to England after Luke O’Donnell received a release from Hudderfield. I’m hearing Adam Cuthbertson’s name.

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