Young Dragon Unconcerned By Coaching Uncertainty

Runciman, CharlyBy STEVE MASCORD
CENTRE Charly Runciman has no regrets about re-signing with St George Illawarra before the current coaching ructions.
Runciman agreed to a two-year extension before Steve Price was sacked and now faces uncertainty over whether caretaker Paul McGregor will retain the role or a more experienced mentor is brought in for 2015.
“I re-signed before everything happened but it doesn’t really have an impact,” Runciman, 20, tells League Week.
“I was pretty keen to stay. I’ve got mates down there now. It was easy just to stick around. All my mates were here at the Dragons.
“It’s a bit more stable. I can finish Uni. I’m studying civil engineering at Wollongong Uni. You need something after footy.
“At the moment, I’m just trying to cement my spot in this team. If I do that, I can work and build in the years to come. Whatever the team needs, I’m here to do.”
The Dubbo-raised Runciman was the joint venture’s 2012 NYC player of the year and made his first grade debut in round 16 last year against Penrith.
Currently shunted out to the win with the move of Josh Dugan to the centres and injury to Brett Morris, Runciman says having a former Australia centre in McGregor as coach has been a bonus.
“Mary’s been really good, especially being a centre,” he says. “It’s a help to me when I need someone to talk to about attack and defence.
“If I’ve got any questions I can go straight up and ask him and he’s more than helpful.
“Duges, he’s a great player and no matter where he’s playing he’s going to do a job for the team. Because he’s such a great ball carrier … in the centres, that’s something you really need.
“Duges has always had that. It was just a matter of where the coaches wanted him to play. He’s found himself in the centres and he’s doing a great job.”
The Dragons are hopeful of making a late run to the finals. McGregor says when he took over, he knew he needed to win eight of the remaining 14 games.
“For myself, this year has been a bit stop-start,” says Runciman. “I found myself in NSW Cup and had to fix a few things. I’m taking the opportunity while I’ve got it in first grade.
“For the team, it’s a little bit similar. We’re building each week and we’re getting better and better. It’s starting to show on the paddock, I think.
“We got a win (against Gold Coast), we went close against Penrith and I’m sure we can back it up against Melbourne on Monday.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: NRL Round One 2014

The Joy Of Six1. REMEMBER THIS
A CONCUSSION expert from Melbourne spoke to NRL chief executives in Auckland last month and spelt out the cold, hard facts of legal action from former players over concussion. The cost to the game, he warned, would be $3 billion. This would close the doors of Rugby League Central indefinitely. Sunday’s comments from former Australia international Ian Roberts, in which he said his memory had been affected by years of collisions, represented the first hole in the wall of a damn that could wash away Australian rugby league as we know it. By changing concussion rules, the NRL has stuck its finger in that hole. But it’s only a matter of time….

2. IT’S EVOLUTION, BABY
THROUGHOUT the modern history of rugby league, coaches have schemed to stymie the sport in interminable tackling and kicking, which extends their influence over on-field events, and administrators have sought to encourage passing and sprawling attack, which brings spectators through the gates and pays their wages. Like the eternal battle between good and evil, kinda. It’s clear from the weekend, particularly St George Illawarra’s 44-24 win over Wests Tigers yesterday, that administrators are on top right now. How long will the coaches take to nullify the changes to the rules this year? “I don’t think you’ll see too many 2-0 scorelines this year,” said Dragons coach Steve Price. “It’ll be fast for the first few weeks and then when the refs stop giving so many so-called penalties, it will slow down a little.”

3. MORE MAGIC REQUIRED
TWO weeks ago we discussed the dubious benefits of having a Magic Weekend – the entire round at one venue – in the NRL. But after disappointing attendances for three games at ANZ Stadium, a new benefit may have been uncovered. Why employ ushers and cleaners and pay three nights’ rent when you could stage all three matches on the same day and attract a bumper crowd? Obviously there are business-related hurdles but the Homebush venue received a shedload of bad publicity out of the poor turnouts; that would be instantly transformed by a festival day reminiscent of the Nines. The price of moving out of suburbia and into enormadomes may be playing more than one match on the same day, like rock bands who prefer to play together at festivals rather than separately at theatres.

4.EARL FEELING LESS GREY
SANDOR Earl says he would be “personally … devastated” if he was the only rugby league or AFL player suspended as a result of the ASADA investigation. “But in the fairness of it all, it wouldn’t bother me … if all the players got a fair warning and this never happened again, that would be a fair outcome … it would really annoy me, but….” he told Triple M. Earl believes he will soon know his fate and remains hopeful of playing again in August. “It’s been indicated I might be a week or two away from hearing a decision on what’s going on. I don’t know how the process will go down. I guess I’ll get my suspension and it’s just down to whether all parties are happy with it.The way I was told things would go down hasn’t happened. The lack of communication has made it really hard. Six months has flown

5. BY GEORGE….
DID George Rose knock on playing the ball at the end of regulation time in Saturday night’s thriller? It would have beeen a match deciding gaffe if a) the referees had seen it and b) it happened. Manly captain Jamie Lyon complained to the referees about it and later said: “It’s a bit hard (for the ball) to get from your hands to your feed without dropping it when you’re on the ground. Rose, who clearly remains popular at Brookvale judging by the reaction he received from the crown, countered: “It didn’t happen.” Then, in reference to the changes to the regulations surrounding players approaching referee, he added: “Killer always goes up to the ref. That’s why they changed the rule!”

6. GAGGING FOR IT
THIS is not another whinge about media access. It’s an open question to you, the potential spectator at ANZ Stadium on Thursday and Friday night. In the list of reasons you did not go, where does the paucity of meaty pre-match publicity rank? If Sam Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams had spoken widely about their coming clash, and their reasons for going to rugby union, would you have been more likely to go? If you had heard more from Canterbury players after Friday’s game, would you be more inclined to go next week? Traditional media will soon have no impact on attendance at sporting events. Are we there yet?

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

 

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 16

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES
TIME for a history lesson. In rugby league we used to have no replacements and men would play on with horrendous injuries. Then we had two replacements, then four, and it happened less often. Then we had interchange. We used to have nothing between a sending-off and a penalty. There used to be no sin bin, no video review. Dirty and violent play decreased when they were introduced. You used to be able to play on with blood pouring out of a wound. Then we had the blood bin. Until two years ago, most players who were concussed continued on as a sign of courage. Until a year ago, there were shoulder charges. And until last Wednesday, there was bare-knuckle punching and brawls in rugby league. Save your breath, don’t fight the future. To quote Pearl Jam, it’s evolution, baby.
HALF A CHANCE?
WHILE most observers would regard replacing both NSW’s halves for Origin III as not so much hitting the panic button as pulverising it, Queensland great Gorden Tallis says the one combination he doesn’t want to see in blue is the South Sydney pairing of John Sutton and Adam Reynolds. “Would they be out of place in a sky blue jersey?” Tallis said on Triple M. “I’m going to be biased, I don’t want to see them in a sky blue jersey.” The pair’s coach, Michael Maguire, is usually reluctant to push his charges for representative selection but said: “It’s good for Souths (they’re not there) but they’d definitely be able to handle that arena. They just get better and better. Johnny Sutton just kicks the team around the park and Reyno kicks them around the park. I’m glad we’ve got both of them.”
RESERVES DRAGON THE CHAIN
WHAT’S wrong with the Dragons? You can point to the absence of a long kicking game, lack of creativity, injuries and more. But according to coach Steve Price – on Saturday night in the 25-10 loss to Penrith at least – it was their bench. “As a coach, I’m really looking for a lot more from my interchange bench,” said Price. “There were too many errors and penalties to come out of our interchange bench. That first eight minutes after halftime, we were bogged down defending our goal line for the first eight sets. That should not happen after halftime.” Amid reports that St George Illawarra had gone cold on Canberra halfback Sam Williams, Price said he was “not sure” if the Country Origin rep would join them next year. And although Penrith were briefly in the top eight at the weekend, their coach Ivan Cleary still says: “We are in a rebuilding year …”
BREAKING POINT FOR TITANS
THE departure of Jamali Idris with a broken ankle turned yesterday’s Newcastle-Gold Coast game irrevocably, with Newcastle providing the most ruthless exploitation in recent memory of a missing defensive player. But it could also have altered Gold Coast’s 2013 campaign just as decisively. Brad Takairangi is out until round 19 with a rib injury and yesterday PNG winger David Mead was forced to fill in as a centre. Luke O’Dwyer will be one centre. Marmin Barba, brother of Ben, could be ready for a call-up with William Zillman switching to the threequarterline. It’s been a good season so far for coach John Cartwright; tougher times are ahead. By the way, stats whiz David Middleton can’t ever recall a penalty try and a (possible) eight-point try occurring before.
A HULL OF A TIME
LAST year, Brett Finch gave up being a starting half for arguably the most famous rugby league club in the world, Wigan, to be back-up at Melbourne Storm and play NSW Cup. Craig Gower started this season as club captain at London Broncos and walked out to play off the bench on a modest wage in Newcastle. And now Michael Dobson has handed in the captain’s role at Newcastle to potentially be behind Gower in the pecking order at New Lambton. Super League’s stocks are sinking by the day and if the Rugby Football League are going to introduce an A-League-style marquee players system, as has been discussed, they had better fast-track it or there’ll be no marquee players left. It’s got to the point that RFL is considering another Socceroos measure – playing internationals on the other side of the world because that’s where the players are.
WHAT’S NEW? NOT QUEENSLAND WINNING
LATE on Wednesday night, some of my radio colleagues criticised the print media for zeroing in on the mass sin bin dismissals at the post-match media conference. According to them, “negative stories sell papers”. But that’s not the rationale at all. The word “news” comes from the same place as “comics” and “funnies”. The news is, literally, “stuff that’s new”. Queensland winning an Origin game is NOT new – it’s happened 49 times. Eleven players facing 11 in an Origin game, on the other hand, was rightly described by Ray Warren as “an historic period”. It IS new! Couple that with the fact just about everyone buying a paper in NSW and Queensland the next day would have seen the game, and getting reaction to the use of the sin bin was the biggest no brainer of the season for any trained journalist, none of whom would have had “selling papers” on their minds as they raced to meet deadlines.

Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

FIVE METRE GAP: Round 13

Hamish NealBy HAMISH NEAL

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 13.

Steve Price’s voodoo hex over Wayne Bennett-coached sides continued on Saturday in Newcastle as St George Illawarra beat the Knights. Many of the plaudits were focused on the individual efforts of Dragons fullback Josh Dugan however ball security won the day for the visitors , who completed 85 per cent of their sets. In recent weeks their completion rate had dipped to 65 per cent so it was been a back-to-basics approach which helped move the joint-venture side up to 12th on the ladder.

Despite the loss on Friday night and the fallout of the ‘Parra 12’ ,the Eels were able to salvage something out of the reshuffled side with the performance of stand-in fullback Jake Mullaney. The 23-year-old was elevated to the starting line-up as regular fullback Jarryd Hayne came off the bench after Origin duty and the former Tiger produced a game-high 19 runs which generated 124 metres and included eight tackle breaks. Given Parramatta’s lack of zip in attack in recent weeks, if your fullback can break the first tackle on nearly every second attempt it’s not a bad platform to start each set with.

Last week we highlighted the targeting of replacement halfback Ben Hunt when the Broncos were humbled by the Warriors in round 12 and this week it’s another substitute half who was in the crosshairs of their opponents. With Johnathan Thurston missing due to injury, Michael Morgan slotted into five-eighth for the Cowboys as they faced the Bulldogs eventually going down 36-26. Missing five of his 15 tackle attempts, the 21 year-old wasn’t quite in Hunt’s echelon but was still poor in his 65 minutes on the park.

With captain Robbie Farah injured, Masada Iosefa took up the workload in the absence of the Blues hooker, making 55 tackles as the Wests Tigers edged the Panthers on Sunday. Team-mate Aaron Woods was exceptional with 46 tackles to go with his 20 hit-ups but the former Panther is proving his worth as Farah’s understudy on the occasions when he has been called upon to play first grade for the side in the last two seasons.

As the Warriors continue their great run of form with their third win on the trot – against Manly on Sunday – coach Matthew Elliott has been left with an interesting predicament about his back three. Compared to the problems he was looking at four weeks ago, the subject of what to do with Glen Fisiiahi with Kevin Locke returning this weekend is a vexing one.  Fisiiahi, 22, produced 20 runs with four tackle breaks and was dynamic in attack playing in the #1 slot on the weekend and Elliott needs to try to get the best out of him coming off the wing when Locke returns but ensuring they don’t reduce the incumbent’s impact.

Not a bad problem to have, though, for the previously under-fire ex-Raiders coach.

FAR & WIDE: Number 22

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA’S Steve Price has been confirmed as coach of the Samoan side to play Tonga on Saturday week at Centrebet Stadium.

Steve Matai has also chosen Samoa over New Zealand, but Sonny Bill Williams has gone the other way. The squads will be named on April 14.

Others to commit to the Samoans are Jeff Lima, Roy Asotasi, Junior Sa’u and David Fa’alogo

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FORMER South Sydney official and Philippines Rugby League director Tom Simpson has started rugby league in his new home, the Zambales province north of Manila.

Tom started coaching the game on the beaches of San Narciso and has squad of around 30 children and young adults.

He is now moving into the nearby Maritime Academy, where coaching will start in July. There are 700 cadets at the Academy and the wider plan of the PRFL is to introduce the game via the maritime industry.

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MORE movements in Italy, where former international Pierluigi Gentile has been appointed general director at Gladiators Roma, a Serie B rugby union club.
Gentile plans to introduce some 450 juniors to rugby league at training, saying there is no reason for the codes to be at war.
The breakaway FIRL will also be able to use Stadio del Rugby di Cocciano, in Frascati, Rome, as its base.
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THE new season in Serbia has kicked off with a three-division senior league, an under-18 league and a student competition.

The six clubs making up the first division are: Podbara, Radnicki, Dorcol, Red Star, Novi Beograd and Nis.
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THERE’S plenty of good young talent in France if the recent under 16s Test series against England is anything to go by.
The French took out the First Test 34-26 a couple of weeks ago, meaning the English had to win by eight points or more last week in Wakefield to clinch the series.
That they did – 42-16 – but now there’s a challenge for the French game to keep and develop the youngsters on show.

NB: Steve Matai subsequently failed to make himself available for Samoa.
@RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Forwards Are Dragon SGI Back Into Finals Race

By STEVE MASCORD

A RESOLUTION from St George Illawarra’s forwards some six weeks ago to bend defensive lines rather than focus on the shape and patterns is behind the Dragons’ late run to the finals, according to new fullback Jason Nightingale.

The joint venture side threw the ball around like the Harlem Globetrotters during the first half of their 26-18 win over Melbourne on Friday but according to converted winger Nightingale, to say they have ‘thrown off the shackles” of earlier in the season is to over-simplify things.

“It comes off running harder … the difference is we’ve got a platform laid so we can throw the ball around a bit,” Nightingale tells RLW.

“We’ve noticed in the past that you have to get the points on the board and that’s something we were lucky enough to do early in the first half. That gave us the confidence to not go into our shell – I think we’ve been guilty in the past of getting the points on the board and packing up shop. We definitely didn’t do that.

“I don’t think our style has changed too much. We’ve still got the same shape. Running to break the line is the difference. You don’t bend things if you’re just playing to shape – you’ve got to create the play-the-ball, create the second phase. I think the difference is running to break the line, that’s the mentality we’ve adopted.

“We were still losing games when it happened, probably six to eight weeks ago. Maybe one before the Souths game and we still didn’t score points after that. It’s not something that happens instantly. Because we scored a lot of points (against Melbourne), it doesn’t mean it’s there (to stay).

“it’s an effort thing … it’s in all of us. It’s an instinct thing, ever since you’ve been playing footy. We’re using some of those instincts, still playing smart.”

Utility Nathan Fien says the statistics do lie, to an extent, when critics look at the Dragons’ attack. “A lot has been said about our attack but I feel all throughout the year we’ve been creating opportunities and for whatever reason, the last pass or the execution of the play hasn’t stuck,” says Fien.

“It’s never been panic stations for us. We know what we can do within the side. We know we’re a team that can get out there and score points.

“We’re close enough if we’re good enough. I know we’re playing a lot of those sides who are in a similar position to us. I guess our destiny is in our own hands.”

Nightingale credits captain Ben Hornby for giving him the advice that has helped ease him into the custodian role.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK