Bondi Beat: January 2016

RLW January 2016By STEVE MASCORD

IT’S a rather strange dichotomy: players in Australia have never been better paid yet nor have they ever been more militant.

Since the last Bondi Beat, the National Rugby League has secured a satellite TV deal with Rupert Murdoch’s FOX Sports which has taken the total television rights contract to A$1.8 billion – with overseas to be added.
Securing this contract – which involved terrestrial broadcaster Nine selling back one Saturday night game to Fox – allowed the League to put out a draw for the new season.
Only problem is, after making all the right noises regarding player welfare (and giving the Australian team an autumn of) they didn’t actually ask the players first. It’s not the first time the game’s stars have been brushed.
Much work was done on a season of only 22 games, only for the former NRL chief executive David Smith to settle on 25 without telling anyone when a $925 million terrestrial deal was done.
Suddenly, industrial action was being discussed. The RLPA recruited the former boss of the AFL Players Association Ian Pendergast, as it’s new boss. The Aussie Rules players are a bigger political force in their game but, interestingly, they also agree to a draft – which is rugby league players traditionally oppose.
A rebellion from clubs was averted but one by players is still a possibility.
The big bugbear of the players is the five-day turnarounds between matches. Before the formulation of the 2015 draw, we were told they were to be eliminated. Now, they’re back – and while Monday Night Football is about to enter its final season, the advent of Thursday night games means completely eliminating them is going to be tricky.
Calls to change the draw have fallen of deaf ears and the NRL has even stopped well short of apologising for not consulting players before putting it out.
Michael Shenton’s column in last month’s Rugby League World brought the matter into sharp relief; players have short careers and have trouble focusing Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 09.24.13on the long-term lot of their brethren. It’s often every man for himself.
But with the clubs also knocking down the door of NRL chairman John Grant for cash, asking for 130 per cent of the total salary cap in funding, could we one day see the day where the middlemen are removed from the equation?
The NRL owns the team names and colours. Why can’t it simply employ the players directly, appoint 16 coaches and 16 identical offices and operate like McDonalds?
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IT’S common for Australians and New Zealanders in Super League to have clauses in their contracts which allow them a quick getaway if opportunities arise at home – all of which must make British fans feel a bit unappreciated.
But the Aussies seem to be getting a taste of their own medicine with Tom Burgess travelling to New York to trial with a couple of NFL franchises.
This has been characterised in the South Sydney came as Big Tom trying to ‘better himself’. Please. Tom Burgess is an elite athlete of international standard who is risking injury by training during the off-season in a completely different sport while under contract!
The fact that such a proud club as South Sydney can take such a subservient role in regard to the NFL proves that my dire warnings in this column over the years may have finally come true.
European soccer and American sports rule the world and we’re all sitting around fighting over their scraps.
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AS an old Illawarra Steelers fan, I was thrilled to read that Wollongong-loving media tycoon Bruce “Commissioner” Gordon was about to buy the Dragons.
Previously, Gordon – the man who owns WIN TV – owned half the mighty Steelers which meant he owned a quarter of the Dragons.
We Illawarra types have lamented the shrinking influence of the scarlet half of the joint venture in recent years, even though the training base is smack bang in the middle of the steel town.
The joint venture seems to have 50 jerseys, of which not one is the old Steelers design!

Maybe Bruce can change their name to the St George Illawarra Steelers?

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FURTHER to my earlier item about Gary Carter, as I write this I have just come back from visiting him in the Royal London Infirmary.

While it was a harrowing experience to see a mate hooked up to all number of contraptions, today was also the first on which has been able to speak.
Gary can move all his limbs, he smiles at jokes, squeezes your hand and answers any question put to him with a nod or a shake of the head.
The capacity of the human body to heal is indeed a wonder. I know that Gaz is grateful for everyone’s best wishes and encouragement, as well as to those who donated to his appeal. His wife Gemma is an incredible woman.
I am sure that by next month I’ll be able to report even more profound improvements.
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MAL Meninga’s appointment as Australian coach since the last Bondi Beat deserved to attract publicity – just not for the reasons it actually did.
The likes of former NSW coach Phil Gould reckoned paying Meninga to be a full-time national coach was a waste of money. Clearly, even in its most prosperous nation, rugby league just isn’t important enough for the Test coach to be paid much money.
What should have actually caused a storm was claims from the Papua New Guinea Rugby League that Meninga was still contracted to them when he signed up with the green and golds.
According to Kumuls CEO Bob Cutmore, Big Mal was supposed to be their coach until after the 2017 World Cup. While he informed Queensland of his decision to leave the Maroons’ loving embrace, he did not pay the same courtesy to PNG.
Customer said he only received a call days after Meninga was paraded before a media conference in Sydney.
If it’s true, it’s pretty shabby. Now the man who missed out on the Australian job because he didn’t want to be full-time, Wayne Bennett, might get’s Mal’s sloppy seconds in Port Moresby.
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IT’S a little curious that Steve McNamara was’t immediately reappointed following the Test series win against New Zealand.
Instead, there was the beginning of a long debrief from the series, Steve returned to Australia and an RFL spokesman said there was unlikely to be a decision until the new year.
You would imagine Steve’s position would have been strongest immediately after the series win and that every passing day allows Red Hall to further hedge its bets.
No doubt Wayne Bennett – who helped win New Zealand its first World Cup in 2008 – would be top of Nigel Wood’s shopping list.
McNamara rightly has support amongst the players to keep his job until after the next World Cup, Under his guidance, they beat the number one country in the world.
But few coaches have reason to grumble when they are replaced by Wayne Bennett Just ask Anthony Griffin.
Twitter @BondiBeat

The A-List: SAM BURGESS (South Sydney, NRL All Stars, England & Great Britain)

South Sydney - Sam BurgessBy STEVE MASCORD

ON a dreary, cold, wet Sydney day, the redeveloped Redfern Oval gives off an unearthly green hue. It’s almost as if the lighting that allows Melbourne AAMI Park to turn the colour of the host team has been installed just below the historic patch of grass.

In the Park Cafe at the northern end of the grandstand, Sam Burgess’ face completes the club colours. The topic of conversation is the Sydney media and, specifically, gossip column speculation about who he is dating.

Big Sam is, unmistakeably, blushing.

“I looked at it and I had a bit of chuckle. There’s no truth in what’s been written in some of the stories,” the 21-year-old says of those Candice Falzon stories.

“It doesn’t help me socially. People think I’m in relationships with girls and all that. It doesn’t help me at all – if you know what I mean.”

A few minutes earlier, A-List had happened upon Sam sharing a coffee and a laugh with cafe owner Harry Azar and some of his friends. Burgess calls them all by name and seems to have spent plenty of time in the modest but often busy little establishment.

It’s a snapshot that sums the England forward up. Remember the 1997 World Club Challenge slogan “we’re not here for a holiday?” Well Sam, kind of, is. Not as in getting pissed up every night and sleeping all day, but as in “getting new life experiences”.

“It’s good to get as many life experiences as you can from footy because it’s not a long career,’ he explains.

“I’d like to think I’ll stay for a while now. I’m having the best time of my life at the moment.”

He sees away games in Perth and Auckland as “free travel”. He’s curious and inquisitive and – most of all – personable. This isn’t about making money or getting famous, it’s about doing something many of his mates back home never get to do – and representing them well while he does it.

To take it for granted or become arrogant would be to disrespect them.

As you’ve probably guessed, Sam has plenty to say – which is why we’re going to revert to one of A-List’s favourite journalistic mechanisms, the sub-heading.

LIFESTYLE

“I’ve never lived in a big city. I’ve always lived away from home, since I’ve been old enough so I’m used to that but living in a big city under a little bit of a spotlight, compared to how I used to live in England … it’s a bit of a difference. It’s not a bad difference. It’s been the best decision I ever made.

“Everyone since I got here … they give me advice. Other players, the staff at Souths, they warned me what it’s like. I think of myself as well-behaved lad anyway but they just sort of warned me to be careful.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a burden, this (points to voice recorder) part of the game. We’ve got to realise we play in a big sport, a well-documented sport. It’s part of being a professional footballer. You’ve got to deal with it and just enjoy it.”

MID-SEASON TEST

“It definitely took its toll on the body. I struggled with my sleep, waking up in the middle of the night but that wasn’t the thing. It was just how fatigued I were. We played Manly that weekend. I’ve never been as tired in my life. I probably had the worst game of my NRL career. It took it’s toll and some of that I’ll have to think about next year, whether I go or not.”

ENGLISHMEN IN THE NRL

“I think there’s a bit more interest now, with obviously Mark (Flanagan), myself and Gaz (Gareth Ellis). There’s a bit more interest in players coming over. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see a few more in the next few years. “

James Graham? “I’m not saying he will, I’m not saying he won’t. I’m not sure where he’s thinking of going but I think it’s an option for James. He’s fairly young and he’s an outstanding player. He’s got a great attitude, he’s got a very competitive attitude and I think he’d do really well. Whether he decides to come or not … he’s a fan favourite back in St Helens. He’s well-liked. He’s been there all his life so it would be a tough decision for him to leave if he did. But I’m sure he’d fit in well over here – especially in a Souths jersey.

“It would be nice. I’m sure there would be a way to do it. It would be nice to get him here. I’m going to try and twist his arm and tell him to come.”

DEBUT AT REDFERN AGAINST MANLY

“It was quite an emotional day. I don’t know why, the build-up to putting on the Souths jersey was quite big for me. Everywhere I’d go, people would be looking forward to seeing you play. I got really into the Souths tradition.”

RUSSELL CROWE

“I consider myself really good friends with Russell. He’s a champion bloke. He’s helped me settle into things over here and he’s been a port of call if I do get any problems. He’s been good to me. I’m in close contact with him. He works very hard and is very busy in his own life but he’s good with all the boys. It’s unbelievable for us that he’s involved in the club.”

HIS CONTRACT STORY

The Sydney Morning Herald quoted leaked Immigration Department documents to suggest his contract with Souths was under-the-odds. “That were one of the only things that pissed me off. I laugh about it now but for people to go to such lengths … I wouldn’t have signed here if I was cheating on anything. I know it’s their job but just to print my salary, or what they believe is my salary, in the papers was – I thought – a bit of a bullshit thing. That was one of the only things that has pissed me off since I’ve been here.

“That’s what I don’t understand. That’s the difference. In England, that just wouldn’t happen. It did piss me off that it’s come off my visa application, that that’s come out somewhere. It’s a bit shit. These things happen.”

BROTHERS CONTACTED FOR A STORY

Sam and Souths were up in arms when a journalist contacted his brothers for a profile story. “I’ll tell you what: looking back on it now, I shouldn’t have been pissed off. But I’d just got here and I’d been warned about this press, media and all that crap and I just thought someone were out to get me. And then, ringing my little brothers who were daft as a brush … great guys, I love them to bits but they don’t understand the press out here. They could have said anything stupid and I was just a bit worried that they’d say something and it would get taken the wrong way. That’s what I was worried about. I’d not spoken to either of my brothers about it. I know Glenn (Jackson), he’s a good fella. At the time I didn’t know Glenn, I couldn’t put his name to his face. It were a really good story that he ran. My little brothers, they’re just crackers…”

GOALS

“I want to play in a grand final and win one. That would be my main goal. That’s my only goal. That’s what drives me each week to win a comp and just better myself as a player.

ENGLAND

“From coming over here and experiencing life in Australia, playing rugby league as a professional player, to going back and seeing it back there – it just makes you think ‘I don’t want to leave Australia’.

“It’s a great place to play footy and enjoy yourself. Who knows what will happen in England. There’s soccer that’s massive, cricket, rugby union…’’

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Taking Out The Burgess Brothers

p1_coverBy STEVE MASCORD

WHEN Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson saw Steve McNamara at Allianz Stadium on July 1, he had a proposal for the visiting England coach.

“Trent here was hoping I could go to as many Souths games and do him a favour by taking out a few Burgess boys,” McNamara told Forty20 in the tunnel shortly after the conversation.

That’s not out to dinner, Steve explains. “Last year unfortunately I came and Gareth Ellis and Sam Burgess got injured in the same game. James Graham got injured last Friday, thankfully he’s alright I’ve seen him today.”

Yes, McNamara has a reputation Down Under as something of a jinx. Whenever he shows up at an NRL ground, any Englishman within a 1 mile radius is likely to slip over on the footpath, get hit by lightning or – if he’s a rugby league player – do a knee, foot, shoulder or something.

It happened against in round 15, when stand-off Gareth Widdop suffered an horrendous injury, a dislocated hip, playing for Melbourne Storm in Monday Night Football against Gold Coast.

At least the England coach was on hand to visit Widdop in hospital the next morning. “He was surprisingly good,” McNamara says.

“ From the state he was in the previous night … obviously when they got it (hip) back in he was pretty much up and running again. And he was. He was standing on his feet, he had crutches but he could stand up. He’s a chance, he’s a chance. He’s in a real positive frame of mind, which helps.”

That’s right folks, Gareth Widdop’s World Cup hopes are not dead yet. Playing without a club game under his belt between now and then, however?

“We’d have to look at that. That would be difficult but you never say never. He’s in a really positive frame of mind, he thinks he’s a chance of being back to play some games before the end of the year

The primary reason for the visit to Oz, as you will have read elsewhere, is to spend time with NRL-based players. In future, there may be so many of them that England actually plays internationals in the southern hemisphere.

It also happens to be Origin time.

And it seems that the parallels between England and Queensland will increase as the years pass. Many of the Queensland players live and play in NSW but have no trouble raising the requisite motivation – even hate –when he interstate series comes around.

The Queensland bus driver got McNamara into the Maroons’ final training session before Origin II.

“You look at the Queensland team and the consistency and continuity over a period of time – they really look like a team, don’t they?” McNamara observes.

“Sometimes you see a rep team and all the players do different things by different systems because they just don’t play with each other.

“Queensland just look like they’re so much on the same page.

“There’s a little bit of that in us. We’re sort of the minnows. We haven’t got as many players as Australia, we probably don’t have the same sort of climate to train in (the Maroons can’t play that card) so there’s a lot of things that go against us which I think, Queensland, in their own little way, use.

“We’re the underdogs, in some regards. The players we’ve got, we’ve got fewer to chose from than Australia and New Zealand but we’ll be very tight knit, very close as a group.”

You’ll hear Steve Mac talk about that a lot. The main reason for his trips to Australia are to “take out” his players – but not in a bad way..

“We’ve had four camps back in England this year as a group of players,” he explains. “We’ve had a fair bit of time together, we’ve played a Test match, and at the end of the year when our NRL-based players come into camp, I want them to be fully up to speed. I don’t want them to feel they’ve been isolated across here. My intention is to spend as much time with those players as I can and constantly remind them of England with videos … I want them to feel as close to that group as possible, even though they’re 12,000 miles away. I’m never astonished by the patriotism they show, when I speak to them individually. When they come together as a group, they’re very, very focused on doing well at the end of the year.
“It’s our two-team mentality, something we’ve worked on extremely hard – that you feel that you play for South Sydney or Brisbane Broncos AND England – not that you play for South Sydney and England is something you do every now and then. It’s important that you feel like you’re part of two teams and that’s something we do right through Super League and that is part of our NRL players too. These players actually feel that they are England players.”

The surprising aspect of all this is that everyone in Australia seems happy to help McNamara. Seeing him at NRL grounds, he comes and goes as he pleases and seems to know everyone.

“I think there’s a real sense of people wanting England to do well,” he reckons. “There’s a history there and there ’re a lot of good memories of a lot of good English players who have played in this country and competition. And not only of how they’ve played but how they’ve conducted themselves and there’s a number of boys now. So there’s a real affection towards English rugby league and, yeah, I see that. The hospitality and the access to everything is incredible. I’m grateful for it.”

What is the most surprising aspect of prowling behind the scenes at an NRL game? “How many people you have in the dressingroom, that’s for one! It’s ridiculous! The press aren’t in there (anymore) but I think everyone else in the stadium is to get a piece of the action.

“The competition is very strong. It’s still not too different to our competition. There is still a gap out here between the best teams and the others. That’s been quite clear to me since I’ve been out here. As much as we talk about in England that being a problem and an issue, it’s similar. There are some teams (here) that are definitely better than the other teams.”

McNamara says England have nothing to learn from the Aussies in terms of sports science and training methods – the national team are at the cutting edge there.

“It’s just the size of the game over here and the publicity it generates and on the back of that, they have a lot of kids playing the game,” he says when pressed for other observations.

“We have between 50,000 and 60,000 participants in the whole of the country. That’s the difference. I couldn’t bear to think how many people are registered as players here. We understand that that’s where we’re at and we have to do the very best with what we’ve got and that’s what we plan to do.”

Before speaking to me, McNamara was seen chatting to Manly’s England-eligible stand-off Daly Cherry Evans. But he says there’ll be no more additions to his squad when it comes to foreign-based stars.

How about another issue: the biff. Will the crackdown on punching be carried over to the World Cup?

“I think it’s very difficult for the authorities. They do have a responsibility for the image of the game and everything else that goes with it. I think there was a quote from Sonny Bill during the week – “it’s parents’ responsibility to raise kids, not the rugby league” and I agree with that. We don’t have to clean everything up. Rugby league isn’t a black and white sport. It’s not a line in the sand where if you cross it, you’re offside. It’s not American Football where the game stops.

“Each incident should be judged on its own merits and not just …. I think there’s varying types of ill-discipline. Some deserve to be punished, some don’t. I think the referees are having that taken out of their hands in some regard and that makes it tough for them.”

Sounds like a ‘no’ then.

Forty-20 may have played a its own little role in England’s preparation when we asked if England would be in South Africa in October at the same time as the NSW Country teams. Steve didn’t know anything about the tour.

“We might get in some opposed sessions against them. Where are they playing? I’ll have to try and get a number off you.”

Always happy to help good people. If I’m there at the same time, maybe Steve can return the favour by taking me out.

I mean, you know, to dinner ….

Filed for: FORTY20 MAGAZINE

NRL round 20: SOUTH SYDNEY 32 GOLD COAST 4 at Skilled Park

By STEVE MASCORD

SOUTH Sydney coach Michael Maguire said after watching the competition leaders crush Gold Coast he would not be afraid to make further major team changes – and even “experiment” – despite a looming minor premiership.
The Burgess brothers steamrolled the Titans in a 32-4 victory which saw Sam post two tries, George one and Tom also make a big impression. Between them, the Dewsbury brood ran for 434 metres.
But it was the late, two-try cameo from halfback Luke Keary which could have the biggest impact on Souths’ bid for their first premiership in more than four decades.
“It’s about opportunity,” said Maguire. “(We lost) on Monday and it allowed a few fellows and opportunity tonight and they’ve taken them.
“Everyone behind the boys who played tonight is fighting very, very hard to get their positions … back in the team.”
He said Ipswich youngster Keary’s best position was “in the halves”. “It allows us to put John (Sutton) in the pack and play with two halves.
“It’s allowed us to look at how we can play the game, it allows us to experiment with the players we’re bringing in. We’ve just got to find the right combination.
“I’m sure if he had the opportunity to start for us, he’d do well. It’s just a matter of time.
“If he keeps performing like that, he’s pushing his way into the team.”
Gold Coast co-captain Greg Bird and his coach said the Burgess boys were almost interchangeable.
“The Burgess brothers are all the same – one comes on, one goes off,” said John Cartwright.
“If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, those guys. They’re all big physical and aggressive.”
Bird, who will probably face the Burgesses at the World Cup, added: “They’ve big and powerful and they’ve got late footwork. They’re not just lumbering up,m they’ve got that late feet which makes it hard to get a good shot on.
“They kept coming, they were relentless.”
Maguire said the fourth Burgess brother, Luke, was pushing heavily for inclusion.
“Luke is working extremely hard,” the coach said. “He’s come back from a fair injury so he’s now played a few games in reserve grade.”
A couple of early mistakes from Gold Coast fullback Jordan Rankin helped the Rabbitohs, with Sam Burgess stepping his way over in the 11th minute. George then reached out to score just before halftime, giving his side a 14-0 advantage.
When prop Sam Burgess scooped up a loose ball and dived over at 44 minutes, the contest was over.
But Keary set Robina alight when he backed up comeback centre Matt King to score one touchdown in the 68th minute and then appeared to palm off a team-mate after breaking free to touch down seven minutes later.
A compelling side-story for Souths was the return from a broken arm of King. “It’s a great story,” said Maguire. “When he heard about his arm and broke it a second time, he was probably thinking about retirement.
“Kingy’s been a major part of everything that’s been going on.”
Having played his 300th game for the club, captain John Sutton said: “Probably this is the best team I’ve been associated with at the club. It’s good times here.”
The Titans looked to have lost hooker Matt Srama (sydesmosis of the ankle) for an extended period while prop Luke Bailey twisted an ankle.
“We got bashed up all over the park,” said coach John Cartwright. “…steamrolled
“Confidence is that invisible force. When it’s there you know it, when it’s not there you know it and it’s missing at the moment.”
SOUTH SYDNEY 32 (S Burgess 2 L Keary 2 G Burgess tries A Reynolds 6 goals) bt GOLD COAST 4 (K Gordon try) at Skilled Park. Referees: A Klein/P Haines. Crowd: 20,302


Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

BONDI BEAT: July 2013

RLW July 2013By STEVE MASCORD
NEXT year’s World Club Challenge in Perth? Someone should hurry up and tell Perth about it.
Normally reliable Bondi Beat sources have informed us the most isolated city in the world outside of Siberia is just about nailed on for the first WCC in Australia since 1994.
But John Sackson, the CEO of the WARL, tells us: “If an event of that magnitude was going to take place in Perth next year, I would say negotiations would be well under way.
“And aside from Gary Hetherington throwing up Perth at some stage, I haven’t heard a whisper.
“They’d need to be talking the West Australian Events Corporation, they’d need to be talking to nib Stadium and maybe other venues and I hope they’d be talking to us.
“I haven’t heard a whisper. WCC in Perth? Very doubtful if you ask me.”
All of which suggests two possibilities. One, we’re going to have a one off in the north of England for the fifteenth consecutive year or two, we’re doing things by the seat of our pants as usual.
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“I’M Welsh. Does that make me a pom?”
With that, former Harlequins and Saracens chief executive Mark Evans introduced himself to the Melbourne media as the new boss of the world champion Storm – and the World Cup lost a consultant.
Evans has been appointed by Bart Campbell, a London-based New Zealander who will be the new majority shareholder of our greatest club side.
But amid all the business related questions at the media conference on May 21, there were others like “do you feel the Purple Pride?” – a good sign I guess from reporters who usually cover religion (ie: AFL).
Are you just bringing outsiders, they wanted to know – conveniently overlooking the fact that only one Victorian has ever played for the Storm.
Hence Evans’ question back to a reporter. “Well, it makes you British,” she responded.
“Right, I’m British. I’m the only Brit. Everybody else is Australasian including Melbournians. Is that how you say it?”
Having watched a live feed of the press conference on my Ustream channel (sorry about the plug!), one fan commented that Evans needed to learn how to say Melbourne.
It’s not “Mell born”, it’s “Melbin”
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IT was gratifying to see the Rugby Football League’s Blake Solly reveal that what we suggested in last week’s column – a marquee player system for Super League – is under consideration.
The question now is: who would these marquee players be and which clubs would sign them?
I am sure Salford, whose owner has already vowed to cheat the cap, would be one. Although perhaps he means a “marquee player” in the Melbourne Storm sense, where funds for the hire of a tent are funnelled into players’ bank accounts.
Wigan could afford one, Leeds could afford one, Warrington, maybe Saints … who else?
Personally, I hope the system is introduced in time for North Queensland’s mercurial Matt Bowen to be a beneficiary. Why Warrington went cold on him, I’m not too sure.
But I reckon he’d be a hit in a town famous for outstanding Australian imports.
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OK, I have a little bit of info about some warm up games that are due to be held the week before the World Cup kicks off in October.
Expect France to host the United States, England to take on Italy, Wales to tussle with Tonga and Fiji to clash with one of rugby league’s top countries, Rochdale.
Australia don’t believe they need a warm up. The Kiwis do, but there’s still no news on an opponent.
The World Cup remains a niche event among rugby league fans but I know plenty who are going or are trying to arrange the journey.
Aaron Wallace, the stats man who so superbly briefs the Fox Spots commentators, has never been the UK and is hiring a campervan to ferry himself and his girlfriend from match to match.
He might have a passenger at times….
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BENJI Marshall is such a big name in Sydney that his wife has a Sunday newspaper column.
So you can imagine the uproar back in round 10 when he was dropped to the bench for the match against South Sydney.
Add that to the fact he has a column in the Sydney broadsheet the Herald and doesn’t say much to the tabloid Telegraph and you have an idea of the level of interest in his dramatic fall from grace
But the whole thing could be played out again come October and November.
Marshall was relieved of the Kiwis captaincy during the pre-season and it’s not impossible to imagine Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson keeping him out of the New Zealand side at some stage of the tournament.
Such a scenario would put Bondi Beat in mind of the 199five World Cup, when Gary Freeman was dropped and sulked on a bus at training.
One of Sydney’s favourite soap operas, coming to a field near you.
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THIS is not a joke, people have suggested it as a serious promotion.
There are those who want the Burgess brothers – Sam, Tom, Luke and George, to engage in what is known colloquially as a game of “backyard footy” with the Sims boys – Ashton, Tariq and Corbin.
In fact, it was North Queensland back rower Tariq who came up with the idea.
“Dead-set, if we can get that to happen, I would love it. We could do it for charity – it would be awesome,” Tariq said in the lead-up to the City-Country game.
Of course, the Englishmen would have a numerical advantage – something that could be remedied by adding Ruan Sims, who plays for the Australian womens’ team.
She recalled on a recent television appearance that one night a week, the four of them were allowed to wrestle in the loungeroom.
It was no holds barred but once someone cried, the bell rang.
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MORE and more NRL types are seeing the error of their ways when it comes to golden point time.
Another chip in the foundations of the controversial rule came in round 10, when Manly played a 10-10 draw with Melbourne in Melbourne. That was the score in regulation time and it was also the score after overtime but only following seven unsuccessful drop goal attempts.
According Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey, it’s all gone too far.
After 80 minutes, if it’s a draw, it’s only my personal opinion but it should be a draw,” he said. “When we’re having field goal shootouts, it’s just crazy.
“There’re 26 rounds in the competition. There’s enough football played. You want to see the guys busted and bleeding. It’s a gladiatorial sport, I know, but we’ve got to look after our players as well.”
Commentator Phill Gould agreed, writing the next day: “I was always a fan of the golden point and believed it added to the excitement of the close finish.
“However, when you witness a gladiatorial classic from two teams such as Melbourne and Manly this week, a draw and a competition point each is a fair result.”
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A FUNNY moment from the same game.
Storm winger Sisa Waqa (you’ll see him in action for Fiji in a few short months” was called inside the 10 chasing a kick and started walking off the pitch, asking a touch judge why he had been sent to the sin bin!

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

Sliding Doors, Consumed Chickens – The Story Of The Burgess Brothers

Burgess BrothersBy STEVE MASCORD

SOMETIME soon, maybe next year, Sam, Luke, Tom and George Burgess will become the first set of four brothers to play together in a premiership match since 1910.

And the tale of how it came to pass will go back much further than you think, to late June 2004.

Chris Caisley, then the chairman of Super League club Bradford, sits down with former Great Britain five-eighth Iestyn Harris and agrees to bring him back to rugby league from Welsh rugby union for an estimated one million pounds over four seasons. “I am delighted that we have been able to recruit a player of Iestyn’s calibre and standing,” Caisley says in a statement dated July 2.

Harris says he is returning to the north of England for family reasons. Neither he nor Caisley makes any reference tp the fact that Leeds claim an option on Harris’ services should he return to rugby league.

The decision to sign Harris, according to the club’s later administration but not according to Caisley, would drive the Bulls to the brink of permanent closure.

And it would send a boy who was just 12 years old when it happened on a journey that began on the set of a Hollywood motion picture and ended in Sydney. His name is Sam Burgess and before long his brothers Luke, George and Tom and mother Julie would join him on the other side of the world.

But if “I Harris” had not been scrawled on that contract nine years ago, it’s possible members of Sydney’s most famous English family would still be going about their lives in west Yorkshire, as they were at the time.

Over the four years from 2004, Leeds pursued legal action against Harris for not honouring his obligation to rejoin them and Bradford for inducing him to breach his contract. Caisley stepped down from running the Bulls – the most successful team of Super League’s first 10 years – in 2006.

According to the next chairman, Peter Hood, the six figure payout to Leeds seriously gored the Bulls. Caisley denies this – but it did leave the club in serious need of cash.

So when Souths came knocking in late 2009 with an offer to pay a transfer fee for Sam Burgess – by then, 21 – they weren’t in a position to turn them away.

“I was friends with Chris Caisley from my time in Super League, when he was running Bradford and I was at Hull,” Souths CEO Shane Richardson explains.

“He’s the one who brought Sam to my attention. I watched him play, I could see that he was something special.

“Steve Menzies was at Bradford at the time and he had been speaking to Sam about going to Manly. He was about to go there.

“At the time, Russell (Crowe) was over in the UK on a movie set. I told him ‘we’ve got to move on this kid’. He watched him in a couple of matches on television and agreed with me.

“I got Sam’s phone number, Russell called him up and they took him and his mum down to the movie set for a chat.

“Bradford wanted a transfer fee. Yes, I knew they were in financial trouble and needed the money. Transfer fees are not covered by the NRL salary cap so we paid it and Sam became a South Sydney player.”

At the time, the idea that all four Burgesses would end up at Souths was fanciful indeed – although Sam had certainly raised it with the club. Luke, who played for Harlequins, Doncaster and Leeds, was not setting the world on fire at the Rhinos.

“There was an opportunity there because he was out of the first team at Leeds and we had some injuries,” Richardson recalls.

“He came out here, got a chance because of another injury, and ended up playing 18 games for us. It worked out well.”

But snaring George, who’s this year’s Burgess flavour of the month, and Tom was another thing altogether. George, who wasn’t even a Super League player when he joined the red and greens, was always keen to try his luck in Australia.

His twin brother Tom, however, took some convincing before linking up with the Bunnies this year. He played 46 first-team games with Bradford.

The question is, are the Burgesses all at Souths on merit? Coach Michael Maguire says they are.

“I first met Sam overseas, before I came back from Wigan,” he says. “I had heard about him but not met him and I was very impressed with him.

“Now, George, when I first met him he was a giant. You look at him now and the way he’s getting around the field and there’s no comparison with what he was like then.

“That’s a result of the small things people don’t see. They are here to play rugby league and they work hard.

“I don’t necessarily treat them as brothers around the place. I treat them like any other members of staff, although there are positives to having brothers in the club.”

The Burgesses aren’t on a media ban, as such, but there is a Souths strategy at work aimed at minimising their profile. When you look at the size of them, that’s no mean feat.

Sam fronts up at all in media opportunities, Luke is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, George says very little and Tom is being discouraged from doing interviews until he makes first grade.

The last time four brothers played first grade together was 103 years ago, when Ray, Roy, Rex and Bernard Norman played for Annandale. It’s fair to say they may have all just shown up to training together one Tuesday night, rather than been put through the rigorous filtering system employed by pro clubs these days.

“Family is one of the four pillars of this club,” says Richardson. “The others are passion, uniqueness and innovation.

“Having four brothers at this club really makes it like a family. It shows people how we feel about family.

“And now their mother is here too, working around the club.”

Sitting in the background is Caisley. He recently attempted to wrest back control of the Bulls as they floundered under enormous financial pressure before a new owner was found.

Now concentrating on his legal business, Caisley has recently found himself writing to the local paper to defend his reputation against the suggestion his Harris deal ruined what was once a model Super League franchise.

But his role in the Burgesses’ success is a source of pride.

“He isn’t a manager, he is a mentor to the boys – they trust him with their lives,” says Richardson. “It’s similar to the way Russell feels – not like a father but almost like a father.

“I know Chris is proud of what the boys have achieved and I know they are grateful for how he has helped them achieve it.”

When it finally happens and Sam, Luke, George and Tom Burgess run out together in the cardinal and myrtle, it’s to be hoped Caisley gets enough notice to be there. Regardless of how the history of the Bradford Bulls is written, his impact on a family that lost a father and husband to motor neuron disease a decade ago has been profoundly positive.

As for the rest of us, don’t be surprised if Maguire springs the historic moment on the wider world an hour before kick off, to save the boys from a media circus.

The coach laughs. “That’s a fair chance,” he says.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE WRAP: NRL 2012 Round 21

By STEVE MASCORD

THERE is a great contradiction in the South Sydney revival: while there are countless stories associated with the Rabbitohs’ run, there are few quotes to slot into those stories.

That’s because coach Michael Maguire, who went to Wigan with the assignment of restoring their glory days and achieved that aim spectacularly, has instructed everyone associated with the club not to talk about premierships. The hype surrounding Souths since Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court took over has clearly been the biggest obstacle to them justifying it, in the coach’s eyes.

“Obviously my experience over there has definitely helped me with what I’m trying to do here,” says Maguire. “They’re very, very similar clubs with all the expectation.”

But that’s not the only English link to Souths’ run for their first premiership in four decades. In their squad are Sam, Luke and George Burgess. Brits in the NRL are still a novelty, as they were back when the bunnies last won the competition.

To have three in the same club, in the salary cap era, who are brothers speaks volumes for the sort of atmosphere the rabbits are trying to engender at Redfern. And next year they may be joined by a fourth Burgess, Tom.

Sitting next to George in the ANZ Stadium grandstand on Sunday, watching Souths beat Wests Tigers 32-6, was England coach Steve McNamara. Souths’ recruitment of Sam, Luke and George could one day – soon – see all three of them don St George’s Cross together, an achievement that happens maybe once a generation.

And the Burgess family will have Souths to thank for it. McNamara wouldn’t comment but Wests Tigers’ England back rower Gareth Ellis says Luke is ready

“He’s certainly playing … the best football he’s played in his career,” Ellis, who has stayed on the field for all but a few minutes of his first two games back from long-term injury, told NRL.com

“He’s really carrying the ball forward and he’s not just a bit-player now. He’s one of the big go-forward men for Souths, in such a big squad. It’s great to see him out here and playing so well and I’m sure he’s on the radar when it comes to selection for England.”

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