Shopping At ASDA And Forgetting ASADA

untitledBy STEVE MASCORD

THERE is a history of Australia sending teams to World Cups in Britain with controversy swirling at home.

In 1995, it was the Super League War. The courts had ordered the Australians to consider players who had signed for the breakaway league.

They were considered – and left out. Heading to a World Cup without the likes of Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart, Allan Langer, Bradley Clyde and Wendell Sailor placed Bob Fulton’s Brad Fittler-captained squad under enormous pressure to win as the PR battle heated up at home.

After losing the opening game at Wembley 20-16, the green and golds survived a gripping semi against New Zealand and beat the host nation 16-8 in the final.

In 2000, players sat up late one night waiting for the courts to decide if South Sydney would be readmitted to the competition. After a mammoth march in the streets of Sydney, they were reinstated – and the story completely overshadowed the Australian campaign which finished with a 40-12 World Cup final win over New Zealand.

Because of the – quite encouraging – growth of the playing programmes of developing rugby league nations, the Australian controversy de jour in 2013 threatens to disrupt more than just Tim Sheens and his men, who are trying to win back the trophy lost to the Kiwis in Brisbane five years ago.

This controversy threatens a wide range of teams competing in the 14th rugby league World Cup.

ASADA, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, is expected to finalise its investigation into peptide use during the 2011season at some stage following the NRL grand final on October 6.

Read: smack bang in the middle of the World Cup, probably at the most inconvenient time for all concerned.

The highest profile of the players recently interviewed by ASADA is Paul Gallen, the Cronulla and Australian captain who is also likely to be Cameron Smith’s deputy in England and Ireland. He even described himself as the agency’s prime target and recently had his phone confiscated upon his return from an away game in Auckland, although there were reports this was at the behest of a different law enforcement agency.

Others reported to have been interviewed include Fiji back rower Jayson Bukuya and Tongan utility forward Anthony Tupou.

Also linked to the investigation are Newcastle players Jeremy Smith of New Zealand, Kade Snowden of Scotland and Kevin Naiqama of Fiji.

“That’s not something I want to go into in any detail,” Australia coach Tim Sheens says when Forty20 puts it to him the investigation could provide obstacles every bit as tricky as those thrown up by any opposition.

“That’s a matter for the ARL.”

We are told the Australian administration has, or will, approach tournament organisers about replacing players in the finals squad of 24 if they are called home by doping authorities.

At the moment, the no changes are allowed to the squads that start the tournament.

There will also be assurances sought that silverware cannot be stripped if the findings come after the tournament. Given that the alleged doping offences occurred two years ago, such a sanction would appear unlikely – but possible.

Sheens, though, has more tangible concerns.

Australia’s only warm-up game actually won’t involve them at all. Instead, it will be the Australian Prime Ministers XIII match against what will probably be a full-strength Kumuls side in Kokopo on September 29.

“We’re going to take this game pretty seriously, even though it won’t be the Australian side by any stretch,” said Sheens.

“I’d imagine they will have a full Test side out and given they are not in our group at the World Cup, they’ll want to get a result against us.”

The side will be coached this year by Laurie Daley, who succeeds his Origin rival Mal Meninga, and as usual will include only players with no club commitments. The Australians have decided playing any warm-ups in Europe, as most otherccountries are doing.

Players involved in the finals, as Sheens has already seen, are no guarantee to be still getting about on two legs by the time the World Cup kicks off in Cardiff on October 25.

Centre Justin Hodges (knee) and utility Kurt Gidley (foot) are already out of the tournament. At the time of writing, there was a finals series involving most of the remaining Aussie players left to run.

“We are fortunate that we have depth in most positions – but you don’t want to be losing your x-factor players, of which Hodgo is definitely one,” said Sheens.

“He plays on the left side so anyone who replaces him will have to come over from the right.”

North Queensland’s Brent Tate and Sydney Roosters’ Michael Jennings are the major candidates. Jennings will likely make the squad in any case, and be lost to Tonga.

Like Hodges, Tate was linked during the 2013 State of Origin series to a retirement from representative football.

The 31-year-old Tate, who has overcome an horrendous injury run over a glittering career, recently made it clear he would play on and wanted Sheens to know his availability.

“Don’t worry,” the coach laughed, “Tatey also made it clear to me when I saw him in the sheds after the Origin game!

“I would never, ever forget Tatey. He is an example to every young player when it comes to perseverance and professionalism. He has always done a job for me.”

Up front, the likes of Ben Hannant (shoulder/wrist) and Matt Scott (hand) have suffered minor recent injuries but Sheens’ side is not likely to be significantly different to the line-up which beat New Zealand 32-12 on April 19 at Canberra Stadium.

There is a perception that the opening match at Cardiff is more important to England than to Australia because the winner will stay away from New Zealand until the final. But Sheens says the Australians want to stay away from the Kiwis just as much.

“If you look at the last few series over there, you’ll see teams losing the first game and bouncing back,” he says.

“The first game is a very, very important once for us too.”

Aside from ASADA, another potential hurdle is the difference in rules between the northern and southern hemispheres. The advantage rule, the video referees, even the number of referees make the sport as different in Australia and the UK as it has ever been.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll even be able to throw a punch at the World Cup without being sent to the sin bin!

“In my time as Australian coach, we’ve had as few as two pages of rule variations and as many as six,” Sheens says.

“It’s going to be interesting. Yes, it is a potential hurdle. My understanding is that Daniel Anderson and Stuart Cummings are working on a united set of rules and interpretations for the tournament.

“It’s going to be a combination of what happens in the NRL and Super League because that’s where most of the players will be coming from.

“I remember Matt Cecchin pulling up play after a turnover and getting bagged by Eddie and Stevo before they remembered that under international rules, you’ve taken the advantage when you’ve thrown a pass.

“That’s just one example.”

Sheens has indicated he may quit the Test post after the World Cup – and that would be more likely with a victory.

But thanks to a swirling scandal at home, there are likely to be things not even he can control.

Filed for: FORTY-20 Magazine

TRAVELS: VII

TravelsSTEVE MASCORD

THE AUSTRALIAN game is in uproar as the NRL season prepares to kick off today with the noose of the Federal Government investigation into drug use tightening at Cronulla.

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that up to 14 players have been offered six-month bans for using the peptides Thymosin Beta 4 and CJC-1295 in 2011.

That’s despite the fact they weren’t banned at the time and they were given to them by their club. The players may sue and on the surface seem somewhat hard-done-by.

The controversy has completely overshadowed the build-up to the Sydney Roosters v South Sydney derby, which is close to being a 42,000 sellout at Allianz Stadium. The game will feature the return to rugby league of Sonny Bill Williams.

But the Cronulla controversy was so dire on Wednesday that sections of the media asked the NRL if the Sharks’ game against Gold Coast on Sunday night would even go ahead.

Apparently, it will.

DURING an appearance on Sky’s Backchat a couple of weeks ago, I contended that Catalan forward Julian Bousquet should have been banned for longer than four weeks over his hit on Salford’s Theo Fages.

I also argued that he would have got a much stiffer ban in the NRL.

Now, some have taken issue with me over this claim, pointing to the tackle by St George Illawarra’s Matt Prior on North Queensland’s Johnathan Thurston in 2012 was about the same.

So I’ve had a look at both tackles back-to-back on YouTube and here’s what I think: yes, they are similar.

BUT Prior was suspended a week longer, Thurston complained the sentence was light, most people agreed with him and Prior also pleaded guilty and had 50 demerit points carry over.

NRL prosecutors called for a seven-match ban at the Prior hearing.

Taking all those factors into account, I stand by my contention that the NRL disciplinary system is tougher on foul play than Super League.

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STILL on TV, and a new show – NRL 360 – debuted on Fox Sports on Wednesday night.

Hosts Ben Ikin and Paul Kent had coaches Tim Sheens and Craig Bellamy – who have each just returned from England – as guests in the second half of the programme.

Former international Ikin asked them about the current state of the game in England.

Sheens said “the country seems to have money problems – they lost their triple A rating” but that rugby league still seems quite strong.

Bellamy reckoned “the top four or five teams would compete in the NRL but after that it falls away. They don’t have the depth”.

Just thought you’d like to know.

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FINALLY got around to reading Phil Wilkinson’s excellent interview with Bobbie Goulding in a recent Rugby League Week.

Read on

BONDI BEAT: December 2012

By STEVE MASCORD
FOR most of the last century, our game suffered from a giant gulf between the innovation displayed by our coaches plus players and that of our administrators.
While our players were joining the ranks of the most finely-tuned athletes on the face of the earth and our coaches were so good at exploiting the rules that we had to change them almost every year, our administrators were just trying to keep their heads above water.
There were, and are, good reasons for this.
Our game is played in many places that are not flushed with funds. And if the places are, then our people are not. It is pointless to pretend that the ‘Big End Of  Town’ is in our corner, 1. without being disingenuous and 2. without mixing geographical metaphors clumsily.
And that goes for everywhere – with the possible exception of Queensland.
Big business, private school boys, the expat community, goverment interests – they all want other sports to succeed. Those sports achieve, financially, way above the  level of innovation and excellence of their coaches and players.
I am going to get to a point here. Bear with me. It concerns the fact that our working class origins are our greatest strength on the field, where everyone is scrapping for a penny, and our biggest weakness off it, where unfortunately the same is the case.
We are, and always will be, from the wrong side of the tracks.
My point is this: over the past month since the grand final, I’ve seen evidence of a new gulf. Our various administrations – often part timers, at the coalface of the game at grassroots level – are now trying things, they are being bold.
Things that readers of this column have been calling for, for years, are finally coming to fruition.
It appears we will get the expanded World Club Challenge. The last two World Cups have had proper qualifying tournaments. One one weekend last month, we had internationals played in Thailand and Vanuatu for the first time, with NRL players. Junior internationals now have a structure, the NRL is planning a game in China, the list goes on.the list goes on.
But the new chasm is between that spirit of adventure from grass-roots, footy-focused rugby league people and the marketing and media back-up to make the events a success.
When Cook Islands hooker Sam Brunton chased Lebanon winger Cliff Nye back with 10 seconds left and the Cooks leading by four at Bass Hill the week after the NRL grand final, he didn’t know the game was on the line.
There was no ground announcer and no scoreboard. Few family and friends knew it was Cliff Nye and Sam Brunton because there was no programme.
When captains Luke Srama and Charlie Jones led their teams onto the Royal Thai Police Stadium on October 21, their entrances were perfectly timed, a state-of-the-art  PA system played the national anthems and both sides had branded training apparel and backpacks.
But there were, generously, 150 people watching.
It is wrong to blame those who sacrificed hours organising these games, attracting sponsors, booking grounds, raising the money for hotels and transport and convincing NRL clubs to release players, for any of these shortcomings. People like Thai Rugby League founder Andrew Charles and the Lebanon Rugby League’s Remond Safi are the true heroes of our game – but they’re not miracle workers.
Our sport needs to do more to help them in areas outside their expertise.
We desperately need an events division – working primarily with Super League and the NRL but also available to developing countries – to help co-ordinate and promote our increasing number of incursions into new territory.
We’re playing a game in Barcelona? Great. Who are the key media people we need to get on board? What is the most cost-effective form of advertising? Where do the expats drink and is there an email list? Let’s start a Facebook page. Let’s keep people involved after we leave town.
The same should go for Szenzhen, Perth, Manila, Las Vegas or the Sea Of Tranquility. One sponsorship across all these events – some pitch-side-signage perhaps – could pay for one job for a year.
You know what? You’re right. We’re not co-ordinated like that yet. But we need to be. For 100 years, our rank-and-file rugby league administrators weren’t up to the level of our players and coaches.
Now, the blokes who buy the tackling pads, run the chook raffles, coach the kids, put the pads on the posts and get the sponsors are leaving the fellows in the well-paid suits in the dust.
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THERE was something of a kerfuffle after the Townsville Test over the Queensland members of the Australian team singing the Queensland victory song – and a couple of red herrings thrown in for good measure in their defence.
One of the arguments was that the Australian victory song was a NSW invention anyway, as it had been adapted from St George’s “We are the Saint George boys, we had a win today….”, the suggestion being that the maroons in the Australian squad had every right to get even for decades of this terrible injustice.
That’s how silly interstate rivalry still is in Australia.
The second argument tapped into the hysteria over the Bulldogs’ ‘Bad Monday’ drama, suggesting that the ‘intrusive media’ was to blame.
Um, on halfway, on live international television, at fulltime? Yeah, those damn paparazzi!
The truth is that although NSW captain Paul Gallen was not in the slightest bit offended, it wasn’t the best look and probably shouldn’t happen again.
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DURING the build-up to the trans-Tasman Test, Australia coach Tim Sheens was going through a tough time.

Sheens, a man who loves his job more than anyone else on earth perhaps, had been sacked by Wests Tigers but asked to accept a lesser role to save the joint venture club some money.
This was, understandably, a subject he was not overly enthusiastic on talking about. When cornered by us on the eve of the match, Sheens intimated that he felt he had been surrounded by sharks.
We weren’t offended, however. The official press conference was being held in an aquarium.
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THERE is finally movement on the eligibility debate – although I’m not at all sure it’s movement in the right direction.
Earlier in the season, the chairman of the ARL Commission John Grant said the defections of James Tamou (now followed by Josh Papalii) from New Zealand to Queensland were a matter for the RLIF.
“Nothing to do with us,” responded the Federation, led of course by a kiwi in Scott Carter.
In fact, foreign countries are free to pick Origin players because the RLIF does not recognise them as being eligible for Australia. Only Australia does. That’s how Anthony Minichiello was able to represent both NSW and Italy last year without it affecting his country of election.
Carter said he wanted it sorted out by the end of the year. Ah-hah, said the Australians. If it’s nothing to do with you, we don’t have to tell you a thing!
At the moment, as far as Bondi Beat can ascertain, what is being considered is banning Junior Kiwis from changing allegiances to Australia. That will just weaken the Junior Kiwis, we reckon.
What should happen is that residency for three (push it out to five) years can get you into the Australia team but not NSW or Queensland. Then how many kiwis will switch?
And being picked by NSW or Queensland doesn’t stop you representing another country. Many Feleti Mateos and Akuila Uates will then stick with foreign countries, boosting the international game.
What do you think?
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ONE of the funniest moments of the month was the Philippines team serenading history-making female referee Kasey Badger with “Wonderwall” on the way back to the hotel in Bangkok. The first husband-and-wife officiating team in world sports history got more space in the Observer than most Super League matches.
Filed for RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

BONDI BEAT: November 2012

By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S a strange thing in rugby league – we laugh at things which would be a crime if they happened in the street.
Take, oh, just picking something random like …. James Graham (allegedly) biting Billy Slater’s ear in the NRL grand final. If it happened up the corner, you’d be straight in the nick for it. If it happened in the boxing ring – where events are generally considered more violent even than on our fields of play – it’s a one-year suspension and a fine with plenty of zeros on it.
But what did we get when Jammer became Jaws? Nothing but puns and frivolity.
It is appropriate to call judicial proceedings a “hearing”? Has rugby league hit a new lobe? He’ll bite your ear off on the field but won’t talk to the media afterwards. He’s the only Bulldog who tasted premiership success. Slater is now in Canterbury’s Book Of Foods.
Biting someone’s ear in most settings is an act of brutality. In rugby league, it fuels jokes. The same goes for many other things. See six men brawling in the street and you’ll be appalled. See it on the rugby league field and you’ll probably cheer.
Broken legs and shredded cruciates don’t exactly prompt Mexican waves but they’re viewed far more seriously in the great majority of real estate that is not a rugby league field. Concussion, on the other hand, is seen as either a triumph of one man over another or a slapstick sideshow.
It’s worth reminding ourselves every now and then that we watch a sport that is not only athletic and demanding but often brutal, violent and desensitising. Got that? Inhale it, mull it over. Still like rugby league, then? OK, I’ll continue.
No-one was seriously hurt in the alleged James Graham offence and it gave rise to some great puns. Puns are infinitely better for the soul and mind than punting, which is endlessly promoted during Australian sporting contests on television these days.
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IN this column we have suggested before that teams frustrated with the wait to join the NRL should apply for a Super League franchise.
Well, during one of those late nights that grand final week demands of us – with Andrew Johns named as the eighth Immortal at the Men of League dinner which followed the grand final breakfast but came before the Carbine Club lunch, I was assured the idea had actually been discussed at a West Australian Rugby League board meeting.
More information as it comes to hand….
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THE ‘Autumn Internationals’ (a confusing name for us, given it is spring here) are even more anonymous in Australia than they are in your part of the world.
But one group of people all too aware that they are on is NRL clubs with English players. Jack Reed is out with shoulder surgery, Chris Heighington’s new club – Cronulla – is not expected to be thrilled about releasing him and if Sam Burgess had not wanted to go to South Africa and on home, you can bet South Sydney would have supported him in staying on the beach.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” was the comment of Melbourne’s Gareth Widdop when we asked him about journey from the rarified atmosphere of a premiership to the high altitudes of South Africa.
And James Graham? Well, this is how the suspension system works for international football in the NRL.
If the ban is longer than the upcoming series, then the games in that series cannot be included in a suspension. If the ban is shorter than the series or tournament, then the suspension can be included. If the suspension is only one game shorter than the international competition, the chairman gets to use his discretion as to whether the ban is served in the tournament or in next year’s club competition.
Stand alone internationals cannot be placed against suspensions in any circumstance. We spend a lot of time criticising officials in columns like this but that’s one rule that we think they’ve just about got right.
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THREE years ago, when Melbourne won a premiership they were subsequently not permitted to keep, I was typing happily away in the press box some time after 10pm when I spied the entire squad, in their suits, taking the Telstra trophy out to halfway at ANZ Stadium.
They stood around, took turns at talking to the group, sung the team song and then splashed beer everywhere.
The Storm did it again this year too. Last August, with Michael Maguire, Ryan Hoffman, Brett Finch and Jeff Lima bringing the tradition with them to Wigan, it happened again at Wembley.
But this year when Warrington attempted a re-enactment, stewards stopped them. They had to make do with sitting in the stands.
There was a nice touch to the ritual after the NRL grand final this year when Channel Seven cameraman Greg Parker was approached by a Melbourne official as he shot events from above the tunnel. I thought he was going to be stopped from filming.
Instead, he was handed a beer.
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SPORTS editors will always tell you that players visiting hospitals are not a story while players putting members of the public in hospital invariably are.
But you have to feel sorry for officials that this next bit of news has been so sparingly reported that even you, rugby league anorak, are likely to have not heard about it.
The Australian Rugby League Commission won world governing body of the year in London during July from the International Beyond Sport Federation for its community engagement policies. That’s pretty major. They had the OneCommunity Awards in grand final week in Sydney, which is actually held on the same scale as the Dally Ms
Johnathan Thurston won the player award and another winner, James Sullivan from WA, flew into ANZ Stadium on a Black Hawk helicopter on grand final day with the NRL trophy.
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SINCE we last broke bread, Brian Smith and Tim Sheens have joined Stephen Kearney and Brian McClennan in being given the bum’s rush.
I have a theory regarding how teams perform when their master has moved on. In the case of unsuccessful coaches, like Kearney, they improve to impress the new man. In the case of successful men, like Nathan Brown and Trent Robinson, they drop their bundle.
The Warriors, however, stayed pretty poor. There are suggestions they are holding out for Craig Bellamy.
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There’s usually too much fixture news in this column. This month I have very little. The World Club Challenge is on in England on February 16. The All Stars game is in Brisbane a week earlier. Manly may be playing Canberra in China some time around then, too.

Joke Gives Hint Of Sheens’ Tack With Wests Tigers

By STEVE MASCORD
It was intended as a humorous comment but Tim Sheens last night gave his first indication of what his answer will be to Wests Tigers’ offer of alternative employment.
Asked about Cameron Smith’s role in the 18-10 Test win over New Zealand at Dairy Farmers Stadium, the man recently sacked as the joint venture’s head coach said: “If I had a club, he’d be welcome to come play there.”
Sheens had just seen the green and golds score their second successive eight-point win over New Zealand, Darius Boyd’s late try securing the result before 26,479 fans. When he returns to Sydney today, Sheens will begin preparing a response to Wests Tigers’ offer of a job after they sacked him as coach.
His comment does not suggest he’ll be staying on.
Whatever happens at club level, Sheens is expected to keep the national post for the World Cup. Once again, his use of the bench prompted debate – as it did with Daly Cherry-Evans; selection in April.
Sheens said injury and tactics were the twin reasons behind Nate Myles demotion from the starting side, in favour of Tony Williams.
“I wanted a bit more thrust with Tony our there early and Nate has a bit of a sternum injury which he’s carried at the back end of the season and had a bit of issue with at the back end of the week,” he said.
“I decided to make a change to ease (Myles) into game later. I wanted to get him on earlier but it didn’t happen for whatever reason.
“He did a good job when he came out at the the back end.”
New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney said: “I anticipated that they would try and work over Benji (marshall) early and that’s what they did. I don’t think it worried us.”his side had come a long way from last year’s flogging in the corresponding game 12 months ago. He said the side was well-positioned for next year’s World Cup in Britain and Ireland.
“With the lads’ effort, I probably couldn’t have asked a great deal more,” said Kearney.
“There was just a 20-,minute period there we didn’t execute quite the way we wanted to, we didn’t get a good finish to our sets.
“The same Test last year was 42-6. From our point of view, it’s always about wanting to improve where we’ve come from.
“The guys who made their debuts tonight – gee, I thought they looked pretty comfortable out there. Kevin Proctor, big Sam (Kasiano) and young Dean Whare…”
Kearney was happy with the role of Ben Cummins under international rules, where there is one whistler rather than two. “I think we should keep a southern hemisphere ref for these games and the Anzac Test.
Cameron Smith became only the third captain to lift club, state and international trophies in the same season.
“I’m just about to ring Craig Bellamy and ask for an extra month off,” hooker Smith said.
Filed for: SUN-HERALD

Meninga Says Australia Coaching Job Should Be Fulltime

Mal Meninga/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

QUEENSLAND coach Mal Meninga last night called on the Australian Rugby League Commission to prevent Tim Sheens’ departure by making the national post a fulltime position – a move which would also defuse Sheens’ looming brawl with Wests Tigers.
On the eve of tonight’s Dairy Farmers Stadium Test against New Zealand, Sheens – who is still involved in wrangling with his club after they sacked him as head coach – said he would relinquish the Test job after the 2013 World Cup in Britain and Ireland. He is yet to be appointed Australia coach for next year, although this is regarded as a formality.
The Herald late yesterday contacted Meninga, his rival Origin coach Laurie Daley and Sheens’ Test predecessor Ricky Stuart to guage their interest in the post. All are former proteges of Sheens at Canberra. Daley said “definitely not” while Stuart declined to comment.
Meninga – whose relationship with Sheens goes back to 1988 – said: “Maybe if they offered Tim a fulltime job, he wouldn’t leave.
“I think the Australian coaching position should definitely be fulltime. Sure, the person involved would coach the team for Tests and tours but they would also promote the game around Australia and worldwide.
“We are just about to have a lot of money come into the sport and we need an experienced coach to head up the strategic planning. It would be good for someone with a complete understanding of the grass roots right up to the elite level.
“Other sports in Australia and overseas do it, I don’t know why rugby league can’t.”
Sheens has been offered alternative employment at Wests Tigers and would not comment on his response yesterday. His murky future was the main talking point yesterday as two injury-free teams prepared to do battle in front of a sold-out 26,500 crowd in sweltering Townsville. The match is a one-off Test but Australia captain Cameron Smith stands to be only the third premiership captain to lift club, state and international trophies in a calendar year.
Meninga did not rule himself out of the running for the Australia job but said it would be better suited to a man with recent NRL experience. When Sheens was asked yesterday if the post could be fulltime, he responded: “That’s a good question.
“We probably, technically, coach more games than the Origin do – although the Origin, obviously, generates a lot more cash and a lot more profile which is unfortunate for the Australian side.”
Earlier, when asked about reports he would stand aside at the end of next year, he said: “Yeah, I would be thinking that.
“It would be a five-year cycle since the last World Cup. I sort of started with that, even though I didn’t make it too public: trying to win back the trophies we held. The Four Nations – we held it and lost it. That isn’t played now until after next year.
“The main focus now would be the World (Cup) My main aim would be to get that and then at the end of the year, I’d be standing down. Yes.
“They’re talking about the Anzac Day Test in Gallipoli in two years’ time. That would be lovely but that’s a fair way away.”
Wests Tigers, trying to avoid a payout of up to $1 million after dumping Sheens, would no doubt support Meninga’s call. But if Sheens was to accept alternative employment at this stage, it could endanger his hopes of a full payout from the joint venture.
Sheens said he was “never in for” the Warriors job. “I was never, particularly, looking to go there. I was too focused on this and sorting out my issues with the Tigers.
“I always said when this was done, we’d sit down and sort things out.”
There was little sign of ill-feeling between Sheens and his Wests Tigers star, Benji Marshall, yesterday when they met for a pre-match media conference at the Reef HQ aquarium. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” Marshall said at one stage.
The Australian and New Zealand boards will meet this afternoon, with international eligibility likely to be discussed but extremely unlikely to be resolved. Sheens said he opposed any change which would cost Australia the right to choose from every State of Origin player.
“Origin, initially, was a trial match for the Australian side,” Sheens said. “Origin is still, in the year of tours particularly … you’d want to be playing players in those games that are eligible to be picked in the Test side.”
New Zealand have chosen seven grand final players in a bid to break the Australians’ stranglehold on the fixture while Australian have remained loyal to tried and true combinations. But Greg Bird said it was players in his position, back row, which were under the most pressure to perform.
“The back row is, I think, the most competitive position in rugby league,” said Gold Coast’s Bird. “There’s so many back rowers who missed out on this team – they’re all injured at the moment.
“I’d have to put at least a couple of us playing in that position (down) as fringe players.”
The Australians trained under lights at Dairy Farmers Stadium last night. New Zealand have not won a stand-alone Test against Australia in 10 years.
Teams for the Test, which kicks off at 7.40pm (NSW time), are:
AUSTRALIA: Billy Slater (Melbourne); Brett Morris (St George Illawarra), Josh Morris (Canterbury), Greg Inglis (South Sydney), Darius Boyd (Newcastle); Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland), Cooper Cronk (Melbourne); Nate Myles (Gold Coast), Paul Gallen (Cronulla), Greg Bird (Gold Coast), James Tamou (North Queensland), Cameron Smith (capt, Melbourne), Matt Scott (North Queensland).
Reserves: Tony Williams (Manly), Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers), David Shillington (Canberra), Ryan Hoffman (Melbourne).
NEW ZEALAND: Josh Hoffman (Brisbane); Sam Perrett (Canterbury), Krisnan Inu (Canterbury), Dean Whare (Manly), Gerard Beale (Brisbane); Benji Marshall (capt, Wests Tigers), Kieran Foran (Manly); Simon Mannering (Warriors), Kevin Proctor (Melbourne), Frank Pritchard (Canterbury), Sam Kasiano (Canterbury), Issac Luke (South Sydney), Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne).
Reserves: Elijah Taylor (Warriors), Ben Matulino (Warriors), Greg Eastwood (Canterbury), Adam Blair (Wests Tigers).
Referee: Ben Cummins (Australia)

Players Band Together To Keep Sheens In Charge For World Cup

By STEVE MASCORD

AUSTRALIA coach Tim Sheens is yet to formally reject a job at Wests Tigers next year – but his players in the national team have spoken about helping him avoid the rare distinction of being sacked twice on one off-season.
After being shown the door as head coach of the joint venture for next season, Sheens has been offered an undefined alternative position which would help the club avoid a payout estimated by some as up to $1 million. Last night, Wests Tigers chief executive Stephen Humphreys told the Herald there had been no response from Sheens “at this stage.
“Tim is obviously focused on the Kangaroos this week,” Humphreys said by text.
Sheens’ appointment with the national side is on a year-to-year basis. Australia prop David Shillington said the coach had spoken during a team-meeting about everyone involved in the squad helping their 2013 World Cup chances with a strong performance against New Zealand at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Saturday.
“Tim mentioned it yesterday, saying we want to use this as a lead-in to the World Cup,” Canberra’s Shillington said after a weights session at Townsville Sports Reserve. “Hopefully we can win, have a bit of success now and in the Anzac Test next year and he keeps the same squad, we can keep him as coach.
“And then leading into the World Cup, we don’t make too many changes, there’s plenty of fluency in the team and we all play off the bat straight away.”
Shillington said it would be to Australia’s advantage if Sheens was retained.
“Yesterday, because it’s a similar team, I don’t think we dropped a ball the whole session and all the plays we did were perfect,” he said. “We didn’t need to sit down or learn anything. It’s a huge advantage if we can do that.
“We’ve lost a Four Nations and a World Cup in the last four or five years so we want to win them back.
“We’ve had (Sheens) for the last four years, the whole four years that I’ve played. It would be nice to keep him as coach. We’ve had good success with him but there’s still room for improvement.”
The green and golds have dismissed any doubt over the fitness of fullback Billy Slater. The Kiwis have arrived in Cairns, where they will prepare until tomorrow, with Krisnan Inu, Sam Perrett and Greg Eastwood made available to the media yesterday. Eastwood refused to talk about the Bulldogs’ Mad Monday controversy.

DISCORD 2012: Edition 36

By STEVE MASCORD
IT’s hard to see how Wests Tigers can avoid paying out Tim Sheens.
Offering him a lesser role at the club does not negate the fact that he has contract as head coach which they – not him – have broken. These days the length of a coach’s contract has no relation to how long he spends at the club – it simply indicates the size of the payout he’ll get when he is sacked.
Sheens is entitled to stick to his guns and demand the full pay packet. However, while he’s wrangling with the joint venture over this issue, other jobs could well pass him by.
Which brings us to the Warriors. Former Wests Tigers director Ben Elias says Sheens should go there. Others say he doesn’t want to. But Warriors players have told the club who they want as coach – unequivocally.

“Tony Iro coming in, I love the guy,” said Feleti Mateo. “I’d love for him to take over as head coach. It’s obviously out of our hands but I think all the players have voiced their opinion on the situation. We’re just sitting around waiting to see what happens.

“We’ve done some season reviews and that with the CEO and the coaches and stuff … I think they know who we want and what we want. It’s good because most clubs don’t really give you that opportunity to voice what you want. To their credit, they’re listening to the players and I hope they can come to a decision that will make everyone happy.”

Iro has the support of the players, says Mateo, “100 per cent. I think he’s a guy that all the boys would play for. He knows the game really well. He’s an ex-player so he knows how to get the boys up emotionally too. I’ve said it lots of times – as far as coaching’s concerned I think he ticks all the boxes so it will be nice to see him get the job.”

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THERE is quiet grumbling in NRL clubland about players taking part in the Tri-Nations in Europe.

England are playing Wales and France because Australia and New Zealand refused to play after a verbal undertaking was given to the players for a quiet spring ahead of next year’s World Cup.

But there is no reason England should feel bound by an agreement between the old ARL and NRL players, is there? If the games seem low key, that’s only because Australia and New Zealand refused to play Steve McNamara’s men. Whose fault is that?

read on

Sheens: One Win Is All It Will Take

By STEVE MASCORD

COACH Tim Sheens says all it will take is a one-point win for Wests Tigers to regain the momentum that saw them go seven matches without defeat – but they won’t be able to “fancy our way through it”.

The joint venture side fell from the top eight with Sunday’s 32-6 loss to South Sydney, Sheens making the surprise claim afterwards that players had joined fans in relying on other results to go their way rather than concentrating on their own tasks.

“We’re a long way away from those seven wins in a row,” says Sheens.

“It does come down to just winning a game. We’ve just got to come out and regain it with a win, do anything you can to win it. It doesn’t matter if we win it by one or two points.

“We have to be really tough next week on ourselves with our possession, with our discipline, our field position – the things that mentally keep you in the game and keep the opposition as far away from the tryline as you can and earn the win.

“Earn it! Not try to fancy our way through it.”

Sheens said in some ways it was hard to blame players for cheering on other results – favourable outcomes kept Wests Tigers in the eight for at least a week longer than they could otherwise have expected.

“It’s only human nature to look at the draw and say ‘look, they got beat, that keeps them off our tail’ but you can’t be thinking that way,” the coach said.

“We haven’t got that luxury now, we haven’t got that option.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK