JOY OF SIX: round one 2015

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

SEEING RED OVER MOSES
WHAT if Dallas Donnelly pulled up outside an NRL ground in his time travelling Delorian and went inside for a gander? What would he make of a competition where you are sent to the sin bin for punching someone but stay on the field for a deadset coat-hanger? How can we be SOFTER on an offence now than we were in the seventies? It defies logic. The ban on referee comments stifled the debate on Saturday night surrounding Mitchell Moses’ shot on William Zillman. Set of Six will debate it; Moses should have been sent off. Flailing fists deter parents from letting their kids play rugby league – do we think mum wants little Johnny to do his best rag doll impersonation every weekend?
BATTLE AHEAD
WELL may Phil Gould and Penrith oppose an external draft – they have more juniors than most other clubs. But one donatechange in the game that has gone un-noticed over the summer has been the rebranding of the state leagues, aside from NSW and Queensland. The South Australian Rugby League is now NRL South Australia – and so on. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Moore Park HQ. No doubt, the aim is to do the same with the NSWRL, the QRL and the CRL. The NRL wants to be to rugby league what the NBA is to basketball – that is, just about everything. It will take care of all development and clubs will be shells focused only on winning first grade matches and attracting fans. Set of Six likes the idea.
COCKY FOWLS NOT SCARED OF FOULS
LOTS of things have changed this season by according to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, one thing hasn’t. “It’s a little bit faster, sides are trying to find their feet. Sides don’t want to give away too many penalties away – bar the Roosters. They were quite happy to give penalties away and then defend ‘em.” The Roosters do not like accusations they deliberately give away penalties. Flanagan nominated Trent Robinson’s team, South Sydney and Parramatta as sides who had “put their hand up” over the weekend. The Sharks boss wasn’t sure how he’d feel going to Remondis Stadium last night for his first game back from suspension. “Surprisingly, I’m pretty calm about the whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’ve got a job here to do and I’ve just got to get on with it.”
HELLO 2015
SOME random observations about our first taste of premiership football for the year. One, the game IS faster and there IS amazonless wrestling, and the crowds like it. Friday night at Pirtek Stadium, particularly in the first half, was a revelation; the word “fickle” just isn’t in the dictionaries of western Sydney. Your correspondent was at Headingley, where they sing all night, eight days previously and the local Blue and Gold Army outdid their British cousins easily. A bulked-up Anthony Milford in the halves is a gamble. We won’t get reliable forward pass rulings until there are chips in the balls. Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua could be the centre pairing of the year. Pat Richards could easily realise his ambition of playing in the 2017 World Cup. Live free-to-air TV coverage on a Sunday should have happened years ago.
THE SHAFT FOR SHILLO AND SHANNON
TRENT Merrin was only “dropped” for Monday Night Football if you don’t count the game against Warrington, which he also started from the bench. He was in the starting side for round 26 last year, though – we checked. Two men who WERE dropped, by any definition, are big Canberra forwards David Shillington and Shannon Boyd. They were named in Canberra’s first grade side on Sunday – Shillington in the starting front row – but played NSW Cup. Coach Ricky Stuart admitted the hot conditions were in his mind but “there’s a few other reasons – nothing untoward in regards to the two boys. We made the decision earlier in the week.” Stuart reckons the quicker rucks this year mean “dropped balls and penalties are making a big difference between winning and losing.’
CARNAGE IN FRANCE
Dwrq4E1421835700EVEN a broken rib for Todd Carney took a back seat to the scoreline in the Catalans-Salford Super League game over the weekend. The match finished in a 40-40 draw – which in the Australian premiership would make it the highest scoring drawn game ever, beat three matches which finished 34-34.. In England, there’ve been higher scores in draws – and there almost certainly have been in France, too. After a tackle by Lama Tasi, Carney – who missed the opening two rounds through injury – tweeted: “Just got home from the hospital, Broken Ribs Fingers crossed I won’t be out for long.” Dragons coach Laurent Frayssinous said the tackle was illegal. “It is not acceptable that there is a late tackle on Todd Carney that has left him in the hospital with a broken rib,” he told reporters. Oh, and the penalty which gave Salford a late draw was a tad controversial, too.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

BONDI BEAT: August 2014

RUGBY-LEAGUE-WORLD_AUG-14By STEVE MASCORD

JOURNALISM is full of new experiences, even after 400 issues of this esteemed organ. For the first time in my career, I am about to write a column which attempts to rebut another column written by the guy paying me for this column. 

Most of you will know the back story.

I recently wrote a yarn saying rugby league had a terrible image. League Publications chief Martyn Sadler responded on totalrl.com saying – I think – that I was wrong. Or that I shouldn’t have written that, anyway.

Rather than make this tit-for-tat throughout, which will age very quickly, I’d like to develop this column into a discussion about what is really at the core of rugby league, what its soul means to you and how that differs from myself and Martyn.

That is something people might still find interesting when the 800th RLW rolls off the presses.

This debate has laid bare the fact that some people believe the game is being “taken from them” by poorly behaved players, while others believe pandering to the media and moral outrage would take it from them.

But first, the good thing about Martyn’s piece, which I liked very much, was that he posed a series of questions to me.

Firstly, the story was not prompted by a Tweet from a player agent. His language simply gave me a way into the subject. His comment was made several hours before the Todd Carney photo emerged.

Secondly, I did not “put the boot into rugby league players generally”. There is a paragraph there, which Martyn excludes, where I point out I have praised the behaviour of most players many times before.

The column is about rugby league’s image, mainly in Australia, and the influence of player behaviour on that image.

Martyn completely misses the point when I say a development officer in Hobart suffers when an NRL player stuffs up. It’s not that the development officer thinks less of the sport, it’s that everyone he is trying to sell it to is scared off!

Since the column appeared, grassroots people In Tasmania, Germany, Greece & Thailand have contacted me to thank me. Shannon Crane from Thailand said a 14-year-old boy came up to him and asked “what’s bubbling?”. Simon Cooper sent me a German language clipping about Carney.

These people believed their largely unrewarded efforts were being undermined by badly behaved professionals.

I was also contacted by two extremely high profile former coaches, two well-known former Test players and an ex PR at a pro club. They said I had not gone too far. The PR said the behaviour he witnessed put him off the game “for life”.

Martyn the SMH is a sister paper of  The Age. They print the same stories. Rugby league is a mainstream sport in Australia. All stories are written with the expectation they will be read by the wider public, including those who dislike the game. As a writer, if it’s what you believe to be the truth, the opinions of the publisher and the reader do not matter.

You, however, usually write for the converted. My aim was deliberate  – to upset insiders by pointing out to them the way the product of rugby league was seen by everyone else, in front of everyone else.

Someone said to me that Martyn’s main error was to confuse the game with the product. I have chased the game all around the world. I’ve seen and experienced all those wonderful things Martyn speaks about. Visiting a Filipino orphanage with young men who had never been to their  parents’ home country will live with me forever.

But I firmly believe the product of rugby league is poorly positioned in Australia.More of that later.

Martyn asks if I feel ashamed of rugby league. Yes Martyn, at times I do. And despite your belief that I was playing to the gallery of AFL and rugby union apologists, if you look at comments at the bottom of the column and elsewhere, you will see many other rusted-on league fans in this country feel the same.

One fellow even felt inspired enough to write an open letter to David Smith, detailing the extent of his embarrassment.

Do Rolf Harris and Andy Coulson make me ashamed of being Australian and a journalist as well? Yes! They do! But I remain both nonetheless.

Martin mentions scandals in other sports, as others have. But in Australia, rugby league would already have a down-market image even if players behaved, because a history we all have some understanding of.  It’s the lower class rugby here, too.

What bad behaviour does is confirm those prejudices.

That’s where I want this column to go, if there’s room. The huge question we face is: do we just accept our place in the world as a fact of life or do we move to alter our entire demographic?

The AFL aren’t trying to win over rugby league and rugby union fans. They’re trying to convert their kids. They built infrastructure, visit schools, give things away and they have an aura of being cool, genteel and family oriented.

And parents in NSW and Queensland see them as being less “bogan” than rugby league, which is always in the news for badly behaved players. Sure,.it’s in the news because it’st he biggest show in town – but every times someone stuffs up, it plays into their hands.

I believe the AFL will win this war unless we dramatically overhaul our image. The NRL can either be the flagship for a community pursuit or an extreme sport.

A Canberra fan answered some of Martyn’s comments for me. To the point about Ed Ballis: “Yes I can Martyn. It happened after Carney led police on a high speed chase through Canberra after running a red light, while having a suspended licence, then running away from his car to leave Steve Irwin carrying the can – what happens is Carney got let off by The Raiders, The NRL and the courts, as long as he didn’t do it again. ”

To the point about Richard Scadamore:” Barking at women outside All Bar Nun wasn’t particularly complimentary. But then again, nor was pissing on someone else’s neck in the men’s room.”

Martyn once wrote that players who take performance enhancing drugs should not be labelled cheats – which I frankly found outrageous – so we are not going to ever agree on many of the points raised here.

But I believe rugby league is a sport of noble origins that has a fatal flaw. It’s biggest strength is that it is a working class game but its biggest flaw is that for 119 years it has been a gravy train for too many people with no other way of making a quid.

Decisions have been short term-selfish and narrow-minded.

Somehow we have to not only amputate those on the gravy train but also those who facilitate or even ignore them.

The answer to the question of what makes it “our game” is straightforward: it’s not. By the time we get to 500 issues, maybe we’ll have realised it’s everyone’s and have eliminated those who want to keep it mired in a past which NEED NOT have any relevance to the next generation.

.

I was going to write this column about Jim Savage, who is my closest friend and who I first met as an Open Rugby penpal in 1986. 

Jim is now a bartender in Boston, Massachussetts.He buys a season ticket at Warrington every year, even though he can’t go (and if he does, he buys another ticket).

His father stood on the terraces at Wilderspool, so did his grandfather. He was disgusted by the Carney episode.

He inspired my original SMH column.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD  

 

THE WRAP: NRL Finals Week One

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

MY furry colleague at Rugby League Week, the Mole, last week wrote that Greg Inglis was unlikely to play in the World Cup due to his ongoing knee problem.

So when the finals series kicked off on Friday night, a couple of hours before kick-off between South Sydney and Melbourne at ANZ Stadium, I asked the Rabbitohs coach about the situation.

“I get asked that every week,” said Michael Maguire, who your correspondent interviewed pre-game for Triple M.

“To be honest, his knee’s where it needs to be. He got through a full week’s training this week, which is a real positive for us.”

You’ll remember the first week of the 2013 finals for your reasons. Maybe your team won, maybe your team lost, maybe your team is the North Queensland Cowboys which means they should have done the former but ended up doing the latter.

Maybe you’re Matt Cecchin or Henry Perenara, in which case you will never forget the weekend just passed.

Me? I spent the weekend doing a lot of radio; so much so that I still have the vestiges of a headache from wearing headphones for hours on end. So I’m going to do turn this week’s wrap into a kind of Things You May Have Missed – stuff I came across that slipped between the cracks of the daily news cycle.

FRIDAY:

Maguire went on to secure his first win over Melbourne, 20-10.

“We missed the start last time against Melbourne, we missed it against the Roosters,” said Souths utility Chris McQueen said.

Jason Clark suffered a knee injury at training and was in doubt right up to kick-off.

“We had the captain’s run last night and we were pretty confident,” he said, “But we left it right up until the game.”

SATURDAY

While his team-mates celebrated, Todd Carney cut a disconsolate figure as he limped towards the tunnel with a serious hamstring injury after the 20-18 win for Cronulla over North Queensland.

“The leg feels a bit sore,” he told me “It’s a bit disappointing, I can’t soak it up with the boys. I’ll have to do everything possible to get it right for the game.

“I wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t 100 per cent. I did everything I had to do yesterday but obviously it fatigued and it’s gone wrong again.

“It was a sharp pain, like happened a few weeks ago, and it just got worse as the game went on but I couldn’t leave the field.”

Shane Flanagan on Carney: “He hasn’t torn the hamstring, he’s just getting referred pain from his back.”

The Sharks had been unaware of Beau Ryan’s seventh-tackle try. Paul Gallen: “I just found out about it off Ryan Girdler. Sometimes you get things go your way, sometimes you don’t. We’ll take it.

“I suppose the NRL probably thought Melbourne were going to be here but they weren’t. Too everyone’s credit, the Roosters fans and the Manly fans, they turned out to watch us play as well.”

The Cowboys didn’t know either. Antonio Winterstein: “We didn’t have any idea, that’s the first time I’ve heard about it. We can’t do anything about it now. I thought he (Kane Linnett) had it there. The replay showed otherwise.”

Despite the rancour afterwards, Matt Bowen was nothing if not a sportsman. “It is disappointing to go out the way we did but in saying that, full credit to the Sharkies. They wanted it more than we did,” was his remarkable comment.

“It wasn’t meant to be tonight. In saying that, we did a couple of things to hurt (ourselves) in the first half. We can’t do anything about it now. They got the win and they get to play on and we don’t

On his future, Bowen said: “I’ll have to make a decision next week. We’ll see what happens.”

Coach Flanagan’s heart sank when Bowen got the ball with a few seconds left. “He was the one person in the rugby league world I didn’t want to have the ball,” Flanagan said.
A time keeper approached Flanagan while I was waiting to speak to him, to explain the confusion at fulltime over time on the clock.

“They just explained to me it was the clock the referees see on the ground.. The actual referees and time keeper did tell him there was 11 seconds to go. It was just a technical glitch with the game clock that all the fans saw and the players see as well.”

Does he care that the seventh tackle try took the gloss off the victory?

“I do care. It was done earlier. These things happen in our game, it’s human error. The referees, if they made a mistake, they didn’t mean it, I’m sure.

Neil Henry has been painted as a conspiracy theorist but he also said this to me, on the ABC: “No-one goes out to deliberately get the tackle count wrong. But with the number of officials they’ve got, they should get it right.

“I think the refereeing, overall, has improved a bit. We saved a couple of our worst decisions for the big stage.”

The next game was a 4-0 win for the Roosters over Manly – the scoreline from a certain preliminary final in 1992 which this Illawarra fan would rather forget.

“We’ll improve our attack next week but that’s the way we need to be defending at this time of year,” said Roosters five-eighth James Maloney.

All the points were scored by young winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. I asked if he’d ever done that before.

“It’s a first try for me. I’m glad I was able to get the points for the boys.” He then gave this gem of a quote: “We just looked at each other and said ‘this is who we are, this is the game we play’.”

The big worry for Manly fans must be backing up six days after and out-and-out war Geoff Toovey: “We’re fortunate we’re playing the Cronulla Sharks. They had a tough game here today as well, against the Cowboys. Very physical there as well and they played a similar type of football. Hopefully they’re as bumped and bruised as we are.”

I spoke to Roosters coach Trent Robinson after the game and again the next day on ABC’s The Hit-Up

“I grew up watching the eighties games and enjoyed that sort of footy,” he said. “The courage that used to get shown back then, we had to show tonight – along with Manly, We both showed it.

“Both sides should be proud.”

SUNDAY:

On Sunday, Robinson paid tribute to Steve Menzies, whose career ended with Hull’s 14-4 win over Catalan on Friday night.

“It’s a bit like Sonny coming here, my first head coaching gig, I recruited Beaver. He allowed me to coach him. He doesn’t need to stop, the way that he’s still playing.”

Video referees Justin Morgan and Luke Patten were booked as guests before the seventh tackle furore. Asked if video refs are supposed to keep count for the men on the field, Morgan said:  “Yes. That is right. It’s somebody’s role in the box to keep the tackle count during the match for reinforcement and correction. It would have been somebody’s job last night.?

And do you tell the referees about major blunders at halftime?

Morgan: “For me, it’s very similar to coaching. You have to know the individual. You have to know how they’ll take that information on. Some referees will want to know. They’ll want to know that information. They’ll want to know ‘did I get that right?’ ‘Did I get that wrong?’

“Others, you most probably need to be a bit more gentle … most of them, if they ask you the question, they want a straight answer.’

The final guest before I headed out to see Newcastle eliminate Canterbury 22-6 was Parramatta chairman Steve Sharp.

“We’ll have something in the pipeline in the next week, or two maximum, as to who’s going to be our coach,” he said.

Do players joining the club next year have get-out clauses? “In fact, if they don’t want to come to our club, I don’t really want them there. We want people who want to play for the club.”

What about the Bulldogs chasing Jarryd Hayne? “Jarryd’s got a contract with the club which he has just extended for two years. There is no getout clause. Jarryd’s going to be here in 14 and 15 at least.”

Filed for: SMITHYSPEAKS.COM.AU

read on

Carney: Sharks Need To Prove Themselves Against Top Four Opposition

Cronulla - Todd CarneyBy STEVE MASCORD

CRONULLA star Todd Carney says the Sharks need to prove themselves against top four opposition more than he needs a personal victory of Sydney Roosters and NSW five-eighth James Maloney.

Carney gave the Blues an indication of what they missed during the Origin series with a five-star showing in Friday night’s 19-18 win over Brisbane, setting up three tries, converting them and booting the winning field goal for good measure.

But he played down his looming personal battle with the man who took his Blues shirt.

“He’s not going to worry about me until Thursday and I’ve just got to worry about their strike players and he’s one of them,” Carney tells RLW.

“He’s one of 17 so it’s important we prepare well to play against them … we’ve got to play good against top four teams and who better than the Roosters?

“We haven’t performed against a good team this year, that’s higher than us on the ladder.

“Origin last year took a lot out of me and hopefully tonight was a bit of a spark I needed for the back end of the year, and that I can continue to bring in performances like that.”

Friday night was Carney’s 150th game but he pointed out that he would have reached the mark much sooner if not for some disciplinary problems over the years.

“I had a little holiday … if things went to plan, I could have been around 200 now,” he said.

“But everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t had those holidays, I probably wouldn’t have been sitting here, I’d probably still be in Canberra. I’m happy to play 150 … hopefully I can get 200 and 250 in this jumper.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

NRL round 18: CRONULLA 19 BRISBANE 18 at Suncorp Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

HE’LL have no say in whether Queensland loses an Origin series for the first time in eight years but in his 150th first grade game, Todd Carney probably consigned Brisbane to missing the finals for only the second time in 21 seasons.
Wearing blue against maroon – but not playing for the Blues against the Maroons after  missing the selection boat – – the Cronulla five-eighth and former Dally M winner set up three second half tries but his 75th minute field goal provided the ultimate difference in a victory against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium

The former Canberra and Sydney Roosters talisman put fullback Michael Gordon over in the 58th minute and then raced into the clear to put second rower Jayson Bukuya away seven minutes later.
Advertisement
It was Carney’s bomb which Corey Norman spilt with seven minutes left, allowing Sharks wingman Sosaia Feki to register what seemed to be the clincher. All three tries were converted by the former NSW pivot, who added a 75th minute field goal from 30 metres out.
Not even the withdrawal of skipper Paul Gallen and a shoulder injury to his stand-in Wade Graham midway through the first half could prevent picking up their ninth victory of the season.
It promises to be a subdued occasion at Brisbane Convention Centre on Saturday night when the Broncos mark their 25th anniversary at a black tie ball. It is shaping as their worst season in that time.
The first half was scoreless but that didn’t make it featureless. The Sharks lost Graham at the 17-minute mark.The best scoring opportunity for either side in the opening 40 minutes came early, Todd Carney appearing to put winger Nathan Stapleton over in south-western corner before play was called back for a forward pass.
Brisbane looked disorganised initially – big prop David Hala contributed a grubber kick at one point – but soon found their feet and created marginally more opportunities in the first half.
Corey Oates and Lachlan Maranta flew high chasing a Peter Wallace kick in the 15th minute but neither could cleanly reclaim the Steeden.
After Graham’s departure, his team-mate Bryce Gibbs took prop rival Josh McGuire high in a shot that looked spectacular but was not placed on report by referees Matt Cecchin and Luke Phillips.
While Brisbane were showing a little more enterprise in centrefield, enterprise on the fringes meant Cronulla went close to scoring more often.
When five-eighth Carney released Johnathan Wright on the eastern touchline, the centre kicked ahead and ran out-of-bounds in pursuit of his kick. Scott Prince raced back to save the day as Wright bore down on the ball in the Broncos’ in-goal.
There was a spectacular individual piece of play from Cronulla fullback Michael Gordon when he fielded a bomb under intense pressure in the north-eastern corner at 35 minutes and proceeded to make a weaving 35 metre run upfield.
Oates, playing only his second first grade game, was impressive. He pulled off a number of big hits and also took a Carney kick in heavy traffic.
Oates managed to cross the stripe for Brisbane in the 77th minute and Jordan Kahu posted another with a minute left it but by then a chant of “Sharkies, Sharkies” was drowning out local fans in the 25,677 crowd.
CRONULLA 19 (J Bukuya S Feki M Gordon tries T Carney 3 goals T Carney field goal) bt BRISBANE 18 (J Hoffman J Kahu C Oates tries S Prince 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Luke Phillips. Crowd: 25,677.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD 

New Storm CEO Completes Due Diligence Trip To Oz

Melbourne - Mark EvansBy STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE Storm’s new chief executive has completed a due diligence trip to the Victorian capital and flew back to London via Abu Dhabi on the eve of the home match against Canberra

Fairfax Media spoke very briefly with Mark Evans, the former chief executive of rugby union clubs Harlequins and Saracens who is now running the sports promotions company helping sell the Rugby League World Cup semi-final double-header at Wembley on November 23.

“Can I ring you when I get to London?” Evans said when contacted. “We’re just about to take off and I’ve got to turn my phone off in about two minutes.”

Although until recently the boss of rugby union’s most tradition clubs, Evans has always professed a taste for the other code and was responsible for London Broncos changing their name to Harlequins RL from 2006 and 2011.

The Broncos and Harlequins share Twickenham’s Stoop stadium and some facilities. Evans is the preferred CEO of a UK-based consortium seeking to buy the NRL and world champions from News Limited.

He’s acting as a consultant for the semi-final double-header dubbed The Big Hit, which recently conducted a high profile launch featuring London mayor Boris Johnson.

In other news, the Storm have dismissed reports late yesterday that they may make a play for off-contract Cronulla, NSW and Australia star Todd Carney.

“We’d love to have him but there is no way in the world we can afford to have him on our list next year,” said football manager Frank Ponissi.

“I’ve not spoken to Todd or his manager.”

Raiders halfback Josh McCrone had been troubled by a groin injury but trained strongly yesterday and will play.

Jarrad Kennedy and Shaun Berrigan did not travel, with Glenn Buttriss coming into the side as 18th man.

Ponissi said he expected Kenny Bromwich to drop off a five-man reserves list. Canberra won the corresponding game last year, 40-12

“They obviously enjoy playing us,” halfback Cooper Cronk told reporters yesterday. Discussing the nine-day break since the Storm’s previous game, he said: “History shows we’re not very good off long breaks.”

Cronks said he welcomed the return of captain Terry Campese to the Raiders’ starting side.

“He’s obviously had a very hard time of it and I wish him all the best,” Cronk said in relation to former Australia five-eighth Campese’s run of serious injury over the past three seasons.

“Hopefully he plays injury free, plays consistently well for Canberra – but not tomorrow night.

“He’s the captain of their football team and the heart of what they do.”

A win would make Melbourne only the fifth club in the history of the premiership, dating back to 1908, to win 16 consecutive games.

Earlier, coach Craig Bellamy said of the club’s recent record against his former team: “We certainly did get towelled up.

“We played really poorly but having said that, the Raiders played well and they beat us down here the year before as well.

“That hasn’t happened to us very often, I must say: sides beating us down here two years in a row. They’re a good side, they’re a big physical side.

“They probably didn’t play the way they’d like to (against North Queensland) but I think – quite eerily – last year they played the Cowboys in Townsville the week before they came down here.

“They got a touch-up then and they came down here and touched us up. Hopefully we can change history this year.”

Teams for the match, which kicks off at 5.35pm at AAMI Park, are:

MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Justin O’Neill, Mahe Fonua; Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk; Tohu Harris, Ryan Hoffman, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith (c), Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jason Ryles, Junior Moors, Slade Griffin, Lagi Setu, Kenny Bromwich (one to be omitted)

CANBERRA: Reece Robinson; Sandor Earl, Jack Wighton, Blake Ferguson, Edrick Lee; Terry Campese (c), Josh McCrone; Shaun Fensom, Jake Foster, Joel Edwards, Brett White, Matt Mcillwrick, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs. Res: Anthony Milford, Joe Picker, Dane Tilse, Paul Vaughan, Glen Buttriss (one to be omitted)

Referees: Ashley Klein/Phil Haines.

Filed for: THE AGE

FIVE METRE GAP: Round Seven

Hamish NealLike the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round seven.

AFTER days of off-the-field drama, three minutes was all it took for Tim Mannah’s week to get worse. Hauled off with a leg injury having played 51 minutes  (29 tackles and 14 runs) as Parramatta slumped to their fifth loss of the season – against Penrith on Monday – coach Ricky Stuart may be ruing playing Mannah for longer than his normal match-time.

Every club has a subtle difference in their prop rotation but as the Eels were getting schooled, Mannah ended up playing three minutes more then he had in the past month of action as Stuart attempted to stem the flood of Penrith points. Luckily the injury isn’t as serious as first though.

Speaking of the Eels and their captains, Reni Maitua is fast becoming a target for other sides in attack with the Eels back-rower having missed nine tackles in the last two weeks. The 30-year-old has had some good games in defence this season, including when Parra’ beat Cronulla in round five, but that last few weeks must be cause for concern for Stuart.

Is the top eight set even before Origin? I’m prepared to say no but a good case could be made for that to be the case when you take into account the injury concerns, form and off-field issues surrounding teams nine to 16 right now. The sides most likely to be affected by Origin are ensconced in the top four so even a dip in form is likely to keep them well inside the eight. But as was once said ‘that’s why we play the games.’

Todd Carney, despite the Sharks loss, would seem to have cemented his Origin spot after his comeback from injury on the weekend. The livewire five-eighth was highly influential in Gosford but was let down by his outside backs in the first half. Players like Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis dropped crucial balls after Carney had the Sharks attacking the Bulldogs’ line in the second half. Catching practice might be on the cards for the Shire boys at training this week.

The release of the 28th Rugby League Week Players’ Poll was bound to bring to light player reactions to various aspects of the game. One of the most interesting was Greg Inglis usurping Billy Slater as the ‘best player in the game’.

But some things never change . Brett Suttor was voted ’the hardest referee to deal with’ and the below excerpt from last season’s round 22 match report from this website when Canterbury beat Newcastle 26-10 illustrates why.

“Following a play-the-ball incident, the senior referee of the pair, (Jason) Robinson (an official of ten years’ NRL experience) finished a chat with Ennis after the penalty before Suttor attempted to recall Ennis for an additional dressing down. Despite Robinson saying to Suttor to ‘to let it go’, the junior official called Ennis back to lecture him over the infringement and his team.” Is there a prize for consecutive awards in this category? Wooden whistle?

BONDI BEAT: August 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

IF anyone but Australia wants to host the 2017 World Cup, they’d better send Rugby League International Federation chairman Scott Carter an email immediately. Because from what Bondi Beat hears, the Aussies are nailed on as hosts.

Soon, the RLIF will be releasing something we’ve been waiting decades for – a programme laying out fixtures for the next seven years.

And despite whispers that the United States, South Africa and New Zealand are all interested in hosting the next World Cup, Bondi Beat hears Australia will be in that fixture list as 2017 hosts.

And the Aussies will be doing their damnedest to screw as much money as they can out of local governments bidding to host games – an art they are learning well right now and which served the organising committee of next year’s tournament well.

Between the World Cups, the Four Nations will flit between the northern and southern hemispheres. In the 2016 year off, if not before, we’ll have an expanded World Club Challenge at the end of the domestic seasons.

Remember where you read it first. Unless it’s wrong – in which case forget immediately.

 

BEFORE South Sydney CEO Shane Richardson recently headed to England for a trip David Gallop jokingly described as a junket, I joshed that the outcome would be: “After in-depth and fruitful talks, we are pleased to announce the 2013 World Club Challenge will be played in the north of England between the winners of Super League in the NRL”.

And guess what? That’s exactly what they decided!

Richardson met Nigel Wood, Ian Lenagan and Gary Hetherington during his trip and tells Bondi Beat that discussions centred on a six-team WCC, which is Hetherington’s model.

Venues discussed included Las Vegas, Hawaii, Dubai and – haven’t heard this one before – Qatar. There was no talk of the Premier Sports idea to take the WCC to Los Angeles.

But it was all considered too late for 2013.

The working parties from the NRL and Super League are waiting for this much-vaunted seven-year international program to be released.

Yes, they want to play post-season. But they are happy to play pre-season if it is a busy international year.

The Australian delegation also wants WCC proceeds split evenly between Super League clubs, as Bondi Beat reported last month. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when that idea was put to Lenagan.

.

BACK in round 16 of the NRL, we had two games on a Sunday. One, between Sydney teams Manly and Sydney Roosters, was staged at Allianz Stadium, the old SFS, in the heart of a city with a population of 4,627,345 people.

The other, between Canterbury and Melbourne, was staged at Virgin Australia Stadium, a half hour walk from the heart of Mackay, which boasts a population of 166,811.

The game in Sydney drew 13,531 and the game in Mackay, 11,836.

Of course, we all know a big population doesn’t equal a huge attendance – look at the London Broncos. But the situation highlights the reasons the NRL is – supposedly – introducing a new stadiums policy next year.

This hasn’t received much publicity in Australia, let along glamorous global publications like this.

But basically, the way it is supposed to work is this: The League will decide what games are played where. This already happens in the finals, when the rigid scheduling once locked thousands out of a Wests Tigers-St George Illawarra game while Melbourne and North Queensland played in Sydney in front of empty seats.

Clubs like Manly, the Dragons, Cronulla and South Sydney get their fans up in arms when they try to move games to other centres. But if the NRL and ARLC tell them to – well, they’re secretly happy with that.

The idea is that games which should be played at enormodomes like ANZ are, while games that should be moved to the bush, Adelaide, Darwin, Perth, Cairns, Wellington, Christchurch and the rest are sent there. At the moment clubs, like the Bulldogs and Mackay, do their own deals.

One immediate result of the new policy is that the Warriors may not leave New Zealand for weeks on end, with their away games – poor drawers in Sydney – shifted to Kiwi cities outside of Auckland.

As you know, I love a trip. I think the new stadia policy is a wonderful thing.

.

THE recent visit to these shores of Ellery Hanley and my LPL colleague Garry Schofield was quite a media event.

Although each of them played for Western Suburbs and Balmain – who are now one club – it was the Balmain Hall Of Fame to which they were inducted,

I can remember after Origin II in Sydney, reporters returning to the press box saying: “Ellery Hanley is down there!”. Never mind that NSW had just squared the series!

We tend to revere players from the 1980s for reasons that are not immediately obvious. For Hanley and Schofield, their geographic remoteness just adds to the mystique. Perhaps it’s just the age we were then; music from that era also tends to be glorified.

Or maybe it’s because it was an era of comparative innocence for rugby league, before the onset of fulltime professionalism, franchises, breakaway leagues and expansion.

Schofield complained in the Sydney Morning Herald that the fact his and Hanley’s visit down under was not being reported at home was “disrespectful”

.

THE other night I walked into the New South Wales team hotel at Coogee and was greeted with an astounding site.

Todd Carney was sat on one side of a high table in the bar area (no, this isn’t what you think) and across from him was … a journalist!

Carney has not done a one-on-one interview since he signed with Cronulla after the most recent of his off-field misdemeanours. Yet there he was, chatting into the Dictaphone of scribe Richard Hinds

But wait until you hear why I was at the Crowne Plaza.

I was there to interview Anthony Watmough, whose vow of one-on-one print interview silence has been even longer than Carney’s!

There seems to be a distinct thawing of the icy relationships between players and the media in Australia, which has been pretty testy for half a decade now.

Young players coming in to first grade don’t view us with the same suspicion their older team-mates do. Many of them are avid followers of American sports, where athletes make a lot of money by marketing themselves and brands and as personalities.

The rise of gossip journalism created a culture shock which players are only now coming to terms with. “You’re not helping yourself if you refused to talk to the people who write about the game,” said Watmough, who admitted that until recently he didn’t care what people thought of him.

Soon there will be new media guidelines, influenced by American sports, that carry hefty fines for non-compliance. Still, super coaches like Des Hasler and Wayne Bennett will be able to make themselves scarce during the week – which is disappointing.

But it’s a start.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

“Somebody Like Todd Carney”

By STEVE MASCORD

IT was a curious statement, uttered by Cronulla captain Paul Gallen in the aftermath of the round eight win over Canberra. “The way the club’s treated him, the way everybody’s treated him, is the way to treat somebody like Todd Carney,” Gallen said.

Gallen, of course, was speaking about the Sharks five-eighth who had just led his former club on a merry dance in a 44-22 win. But what, what, exactly, is “someone like Todd Carney”?

Is it a former Dally M medallist? Or someone who was banned from his home town for a year? Is it a former Junior Kangaroos captain? Or a man who once urinated on a team-mate’s friend? A fellow who is an Australian international? Or one involved in a car chase with police that made the other Steve Irwin famous?

It could be argued that even in the colourful world or professional sports, there is no-one quite like Carney, let alone a “right way” to deal with him.

So, yeah, a strange comment from Gal’.

Last week, in the buzzing surrounds of the Wooloomooloo Police Citizens Youth Club, during a sportswear promotion featuring Carney himself, Rugby League Week walked up behind the NSW captain, tapped him on the shoulder and asked him what the heck he had meant.

What is “somebody like Todd Carney”?

“He’s a 25-year-old bloke, you know?” says Gallen, smiling and warming to the subject. “How do normal 25-year-olds act? They’ve got a life, they’ve got a social life. They (Cronulla) have just been really good with stuff like that. Todd understands that he’s probably on his last chance at any club and he doesn’t want to stuff that up, he doesn’t want to ruin things like that.”

And what is “the right way to deal with him”?
“(It’s) giving him responsibility to take care of his own actions,” Gallen answers. “He hasn’t been put … (no-one wants to actually say the world “booze ban”, do they?) He’s just treated like every other player. He hasn’t been put under strict guidelines, like ‘he can’t do this’ and ‘he can’t do that’.

“He’s a professional athlete. He turns up to training. He does the job at training every day and he does the job at weekends for us.

“He’s responsible now. He hasn’t had the responsibility taken out of his hands, where if something does happen then it’s all his fault. He’s been given responsibility and he’s doing well.”

The secret to Carney’s last chance, as it turns out, is to pretend it’s not his last chance. In terms of week-to-week dealings with their star play-maker, in the eyes of Cronulla Carney has a clean rapsheet. In terms of action that might be taken if he stuffs up, his very long rap sheet comes right back and smacks him in the face.

A few weeks ago, Sharks chairman Damien Irvine appeared on the satirical Fire Up! radio programme, where they often joke that the State Emergency Service has a contingency play for the next time Todd has a drink.

Irvine, who was introduced as (and, we assume, is) a former tailor to Hoodoo Guru Dave Faulkner, played along.

“It’s an in-depth plan,” he said.  “It’s myself answering the phone without waking up the wife or the 12-week-old baby, the six year old or the four-year-old, sneaking out, getting the car keys, throwing on something that’s a bit reasonable and going to find him. I generally bump into (football manager) Darren Mooney or Shane Flanagan on the way.

“It generally ends up with all four of us back at Starbucks having a nice chat”.

As much as that makes it sound like it’s already happened, coach Shane Flanagan defers questions about Carney’s off-field behaviour by reciting the same line as his captain – that he worries about all his young players and the trouble they might get into.

“I have those (fears) over a lot of players in our squad,” Flanagan told AAP last week. “You have them with your own children. You have them all the time.

“No one’s exclusively not going to get into those situations. The best behaved kid could get in a situation where it’s not his fault (while) out late at night. Being out late at night creates these problems, unfortunately, and young people are going to do it. Todd is exactly the same as everyone else.”

Carney himself is defiant when asked where he would be right now if the Sharks had not come knocking. “Yous wrote where I only had one or two clubs,’ he says now. “I had a fair few clubs I could have chose from but as I said when I first signed at Sharks, the vocal side of Gal and the coach Flanno was the reason why I went to Sharks.”

But as he stands on the precipice of Origin selection, things have changed.

“I feel I’ve been mentally ready to go,” he says at the PCYC last week. “Probably a few years ago I wasn’t when I was first mentioned. Form’s got a lot to do with it. I’ll leave it to Ricky and the other selectors. I’m ready to put my hand up and if I do get that opportunity I’m ready to go.

“I always pride myself on being fit. I try to be one of the fittest at any club I’m at. That’s been the case here. Mentally, I’m good – as I said, winning helps. We’ve won our last six.

“I’m probably a bit bigger and a lot heavier than what I was in the past. Different parts of my game are getting better in the physical side.

“I feel I can handle it better. I was talked up. It’s easy to be talked up but I haven’t played it. I haven’t put a measure on it, if I’m better than where I was in 2010 at the moment. It’s a completely different team, different structures different style of football.

“It’s going to be a completely different arena that I haven’t experienced, a completely different style of football and I’ll have to adapt to that challenge.

“It’s been a goal of mine since I was a kid when I first started playing football at the Raiders so it would be another tick in the box. The Dally M was a big achievement for me. I sit that really high. Playing for Australia, your country, is obviously a massive tick in the box for me but year, it would be just another tick.

“For me, if I do get that opportunity, I want to stay there and I want to be a consistent origin player.”

Carney sat on the edge of a boxing ring, surrounded by media while other athletes were ignored.

“It is a little bit weird that with the sports stars in the room, I’ve got a big circle around me. It’s always the case. I am used to it. It’s not always pleasant but at the moment, when I’m going good, it’s all positive.”

Someone who attracts equal attention whether his actions are good or bad – that’s the the sort of person Todd Carney is.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK