FAR & WIDE: United States, Tonga, Fiji, Canada, Spain, Serbia, Ireland, Czech Republic

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

THE 2016 Ohana Cup at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium has been run and won, with organisers hailing the ever-expanding festival as a success.
Samoa enjoyed a big 40-6 win over Tonga while Fiji beat newcomers Canada 26-12. That was a pretty good debut for the Wolverines, considering half their side was back in Toronto playing the touring North-east England side.
In the curtain-raiser, NSW Police beat Hawaii Chiefs 26-20. Hawaiian league chief Steve Johnson is still trying to tempt NRL sides to the Islands.
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SPAIN and Serbia are to meet for the very first time on September 24, in the not-unpleasant locale of Valencia.
The Spanish have a big World Cup qualifier against Ireland at the same locale in October and will warm-up against the Serbians at Quatre Carreres. If you’re thinking of going, the game kicks off at the very Mediterranean time of 5pm.
The Serbians are looking for a new coach after Darren Higgins stood down.
“We regret Darren could not fit his professional and personal commitments together with the obligations needed for the Serbian national side,” said SRLF general secretary Slobodan Mank.
“We thank him for all he has done to raise the standard, he has put in some long lasting structures which we will benefit from.”
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CANADA are easily the most active international side at the moment, having fielded a “full international” side in two cities in two countries on the same day recently!
The Wolverines Under 17s side is currently on tour in Jamaica. The new British League One expansion side, Toronto Wolfpack, helped finance the Young Wolverines tour, which kicked off with a win in a Nines tournament.
Canada also fielded a military team against the full Czech Republic side recently, losing 64-0.
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AS we’ve said before, the rivalry between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Island puts NSW v Queensland in the shade.
But one similarity this year is the result, with Northern Ireland sealing the Origin series in game two, a 24-20 victory at Chambers Park, Portadown.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

The A-List: FRANK PRITCHARD (Hull, New Zealand & Samoa)

Pritchard, FrankBy STEVE MASCORD

“WHEN he walked into training, the session stopped,” Hull coach Lee Radford says. “That doesn’t happen for me, I can’t do that.”

It’s early in the season. The wind howls in off the North Sea. It’s pretty much dark by 5.30pm. Not far from the front door of Hull FC’s striking KC Stadium, past a chippy more battered than anything it sells, boarded up shops and convenience stores with reinforced glass, there are what’s known in England as Estate housing.

Outsiders use words like “bleak” and “grim” to describe Hull. But for Frank Pritchard, posing for photos with a few lingering fans in the cold, it’s not foreign. Not at all.

“We were brought up in housing commission, out west in Campbelltown, everyone waiting for hand-me-downs,” ‘Frank The Tank’ tells A-list, in a corridor outside the KC’s media room.

It wasn’t just the Airlie Birds players who took an instant shine to Pritchard, as Radford recounted. Fans immediately recognised him as one of their own. “Super Frank, Super Frank. Super Frankie Pritchard” they chanted during a pre-season derby against reviled Hull KR, in which he set up a try with his first touch.

Frank is now 32. While the road from humble beginnings to success  is what rugby league is made of, the former New Zealand and Samoa international hasn’t taken the most direct route.

Along with being blessed with size and speed and power and delicate hands, Frank has always had something which coaches increasingly see as a liability – a personality.

In 2006 alone, this correspondent can remember quoting him, while at Penrith, as saying he was sick of playing for peanuts, that Karmichael Hunt would be made to regret choosing Australia over New Zealand (Hunt was smashed in the first tackle of the Anzac Test) and that Melbourne’s Ian Donnelly had eye gouged him.

The move to Canterbury in 2011 seems to have made Frank more circumspect. It’s easy to imagine him being gagged by a famously inward-looking club. He argues not.

“It was just growing as a player,” he says, giggling a little at his early utterances.  “I was a bit immature then, I didn’t know how to handle the media and all that stuff. I could have been a bit more mature with my words, thought before I spoke. I could have chosen better words to use at the time.

“At the time, I was 21 and coming off contract and I had all the clubs chasing me. It’s overwhelming but you’ve got to just keep your feet on the ground.”

On the field, there have always been suggestions Pritchard could have done more, become more. Now, he played well over 200 first grade games and 30 Tests, but….

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“On the field, early in my career, I could have been a lot more dominant instead of just sitting back, waiting for something to happen, waiting for the other player to do something.

“I got to the Bulldogs matured a lot, let the game grow a bit. It was good to play around those guys – Mick Ennis, James Graham and that who are dominant blokes in their own right.”

But can some coaches get more “out” of Frankie than others, as commentators have suggested? Yes, he admits. And Des Hasler is one of those men.

“There’re some coaches that you learn to go that extra mile for,” he answers

 “Just a lot of belief in myself … I was out at Penrith there, had a few good games here and there at Canterbury it was c confidence builder. I got to a club that had a winning culture and it just rubs off on you when everyone is willing to win.

“Dessy’s a mastermind, he’s a magician. During his time there, he’ll get one. I wish I could have won a premiership in my time there, with Mick Ennis and the rest of the boys.”

And of all Pritchard’s seasons at Canterbury, 2013 was the most problematic. Perhaps one day, a book will be written about how the protracted departure of the previous year’s Dally M medallist, Ben Barba, tore the club apart.

“We had a lot of in-house drama there with the Benny Barba saga and stuff like that,” he says, as fellow reporters grow impatient waiting for us to finish.

“Things like that were out of our control. There was stuff like that that shouldn’t affect a team, which it did.

“We made the eight and then we lost the first game of the finals series. It was a bit of a shock and Des blew us up at the Leagues Club, after that game. He blew us up. So he should. He said not enough of the boys wanted to bleed for their brothers. Thirteen wasn’t a good year.”

It was at the end of 2014, during the Four Nations, that Pritchard first heard that Canterbury might be willing to release him early. First it was Catalans, then Salford, and the Warriors posted an 11th hour bid after he had agreed to terms at Hull.

“I gave the club my word …,” he explains, when asked if it was an offer he considered. “I’ve come over here to do a job so the moment I get comfortable, I need someone to kick me in the arse.”

He likes Hull and Hull likes him. “Rough streets” aren’t just a cliché for Frank. In 2007, his brother Tom was stabbed in the heart as they each tried to protect their sister in Penrith.

“I almost lost my brother and two of my relos,” he says. “I come from a family that are big believers in Christ and faith had its role. My brother got another life.”

And so the circle is about to be completed. Football is many things but amid the gossip and adulation we often forget it is a way out for many families, a way to make things better from one generation to the next.

 “Rugby league has helped my family financially, it’s given them a better start in life,” Frank reflects. “I was able to help my family get ahead.

“To every kid out there looking to play footy, it’s a great job. You get to travel and if you’re smart with your money, you can invest it and buy a couple of houses.

“Football’s been great to me.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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Far & Wide: July 27 2015

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

OFFICIALS are hailing this year’s Ohana Cup at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium as the best yet, with Samoa thrilling around 8000 fans in their 20-4 win over Tonga.

The Hawaiian Rugby League are still trying to lure Penrith and Brisbane to the holiday isle, despite the reservations of the NRL, and plan to use next year’s event as a precursor to a state competition for domestic players.

“We’ll shoot for four month competition starting next July,” says organiser Steve Johnson.

The Western Corridor NRL bid boss also revealed he wanted this year’s game to be a double-header, with the United States taking on Fiji in the earlier game. But the newly rebranded USA Hawks weren’t interested.

LeagueWeek Back IssuesHe said ESPN Radio and Western Union were two American companies hugely impress with what they saw just over a week ago and keen to be involved again in future.

“Samoa is one of the big places Western Union does transfers to from Hawaii and we spoke to them about putting something back,” he said.

“American sports aren’t involved in the community like rugby league is. That impresses a lot of companies in Hawaii.

“ESPN Sport were blown away by rugby league. They’d never seen it before and they want to cover whatever we do.”

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ON the mainland, the US has named a 35-man train-on squad for the upcoming internationals against Canada.

And, as is consistent with the change of administration for the game in America, there are 28 potential international newcomers.

A number of training camps are to be held. The USARL National Championship Final will be held on rugby league’s 120th birthday, August 29.

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A PNG minister made headlines last week with some colourful quotes regarding the re-emergence of the Kumuls

State enterprise minister Ben Micah told parliament: “”We are going to hunt them down, we’ll kill them and we’ll eat them.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

World Cup: ITALY 16 TONGA 0 at The New Shay

By STEVE MASCORD
IT’s likely the first time in any World Cup, in any sport, that players from one nation’s team donned the uniform of another, presented jerseys before kick-off and cheered a “rival” country from the dugout.
Fresh off the plane from Ireland after their final pool match, Australia’s Michael Jennings and Andrew Fifita were photographed at The New Shay before Tonga’s stirring 16-0 win over Italy wearing the Mate Ma’a striking red training gear.
While the gesture may appear bizarre to outsiders, Tonga coach Charles Tonga and captain Brent Kite described it as a symbol of a new era in which NRL players will each pledge allegiance to two countries: Australia, New Zealand or England and someone else.
The changes was reported by Fairfax Media a fortnight ago and Tonga said he had been advised by his national federation that they would be in force. Kite, who has also played for Australia, acknowledged the loosened qualification laws would be mocked – and not just by those outside the game.
“Even people in the game … in rugby league it’s a cultural thing,” he told Fairfax Media. “You pick sides and you stick with your side. You don’t go from NSW to Queensland.
“I would just say as someone who is half Tongan and half Australian: it’s as hard as picking between your mum and your dad. My dad’s Aussie, my mum’s Tongan.
donate2“Australia and New Zealand are spoiled for talent. You have a look over there and Michael Jenningsa isn’t realy getting a run for Australia. He would have been a massive asset to an emerging nation like Tonga.
“If we are serious about getting international fixtures that people want to watch and can raise revenue for the game, instead of just being a basket case as they have been….
“For those guys to take time out of their campaign to come and support us when we had been knocked out of the comp was a really touching gesture and Charlie rewarded them by (them) being able to hand out the jerseys.
“Playing for Aussies and Kiwis and even NSW – it’s very lucrative for a young giuy We don’t ask them to come and play and pass up that cash. We want everyone to do well.”
The brutal contest allowed Scotland to qualify for a quarter-final against New Zealand. Tonga went into the Halifax game with their World Cup already over; Italy needed to win and threw everything at their opponents.
Given that it was a match which the Tongans led just 2-0 at halftime, and which they iced by scoring with two minutes remaining, their coach reckoned it should have forever buried a prejudice they have faced repeatedly.
“People say we are only good for 20 minutes, that we’re big but we run out of steam,” Tonga said.
“We were just known as big and physical. Today we showed we can go for the 80 minutes. People shouldn’t say that anymore..”
The first try of the contest did not come until the 46th minute, when Willie Manu beat three defenders and carried three across the line with him in an Herculean effort.
Italy followed with their best period of the match; a crunching Konrad Hurrell tackle which jolted the ball loose was probably the turning point of the whole contest as the Azzurri dominated posession.
Halfback Daniel Foster’s 63rd minute try was also a testiment to raw determination; he was stopped well short but carried two men as he drove the final metre to the line, flinging an arm out to plant the Steeden on the chalk.
Peni Terepo’s late score was rare beast; given after an illegal strip in the Italian in-goal. When Italy coach Carlo Napolitano was going through, post-match, the factors that conspired against them, captain Anthoy Minichiello added: “refereeing”.
In particular, the Italians believed video referee Phil Bentham had wrongly denied centre James Tedesco a fair try. He was ruled to have been held up – and was later taken out chasing a kick. “It was maybe thew Scottish Gods looking down on the referee,” said coach Carlo Napolitano
To top of a dramatic evening, man of the match FuiFui MoiMoi answered an English television interviewer at fulltime entirely in Tongan.
Minichiello, meanwhile, hinted he would re-sign with Sydney Roosters in roughly a fortnight.
“It’s been a success for Italy,” said Minichiello. “First World Cup and we’ve only lost one game. We beat England (in a warm-up) too.”
Napolitano said he was unsure if he would continue in the head coach’s roleech role.
TONGA 16 (Willie Manu, Daniel Foster, Peni Terepo tries; Samsoni Langi 2 goals) beat ITALY 0 at New Shay, Halifax. Referee: Ben Thaler (England). Crowd: 10,266.

Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: TONGA 22 COOK ISLANDS 16 at Leigh Sports Village

By STEVE MASCORD
COOK Islands winger Jordan Rapana wrote himself into international rugby league folklore with a spectacular bombed try – and then told his coach he would have converted it to tie an epic World Cup battle with Tonga.
It took 23 years for Great Britain winger Martin Offiah’s in-goal fumble in Christchurch to be challenged – by Sonny Bill Williams in Warrington – and only nine more days for a gaffe that arguably eclipsed them both.
Searching for the first ever win in a World Cup match, David Fairleigh’s side roared back against the more favoured world game t-shirtTongans at Leigh Sports Village and by the 68th minute trailed by just six points.
After play broke down briefly, causing the Tonga defence to hesitate, five-eighth Johnathan Ford put Canberra’s Rapana over in the right corner without a hand laid on him.
But as the former Gold Coast prodigy tried to ground the ball, he dropped it. There was no further scoring and the Cooks’ campaign is over.
“He reckons he would have kicked the goal, too – fair enough,” said coach David Fairleigh.
“(The error) is not why we got beat. The game writes its own story. There was a collection of things throughout the game. To pin it on one thing … it’s not Jordan’s fault, that’s for sure.”
Interestingly, Rapana hadn’t even done the goal-kicking up until then in a game which kept alive Tonga’s and guaranteed the United States their quarter-final against Australia.
The duties had instead been performed by Newtown winger Chris Taripo, who with a hat-trick, provided all his team’s points and was man of the match.
Crossing in the 18th, 42nd and 61st minutes, he beat the flanker who has been ahead of him at Sydney Roosters all season, grand final star Daniel Tupou.
“Tupou, he was in my position at my club, and I was up against him. It was good,” said Taripo, who is without a club next season.
“I was stoked just to be in the team because I wasn’t named last week.”
The towering Tupou acknowleged he had been bested. “I know him as a bloke, a good friend of mine,” the 23-year-old said.
“I talked to him after the game, said congrats and thanks for showing me up.”
After losing their opening match to Scotland, Brent Kite’s Tongans were expected to roast the Cooks.
But after Glen Fisiiahi’s early scored for Tonga, the underdogs hit the front with Taripo’s first two touchdowns. The second, from Drury Low’s kick, took advantage Tupou’s height by keeping the ball on the ground.
On the half hour, Tonga regained the lead when second rower Jason Taumalolo bullocked over from close range – and then centre Konrad “Hurricane” Hurrell posted the individual try of the tournament.
donateFirst he beat Cook Islands captain Zeb Taia and he added five more victims on a bumping, steam-rolling 35-metre run to the tryline two minutes short of the break.
Taripo completed his hat-trick two minutes after halftime and converted for 18-16 and there it stayed until Tonga winger Jorg Taufua managed a benefit-of-the-doubt try in the 61st minute, with video ref Richard Silverwood unable to see the ball on the ground.
Tonga needs the United States to beat Scotland on Thursday to keep alive their campaign. “We definitely need a favour,” said Kite. “They’ve played well to get into the position they’re in.
“I’m just hoping they’re not going to take this one too easy and rest too many.
“I’m not too proud to beg: get out there USA and get us a win. We’ll owe you one.”
Cook Islands have a dead rubber against Wales at Neath on Sunday. “We want to try to create history by getting our first win at the World Cup,” said their captain, Zeb Taia.
TONGA 22 (Glen Fisiiahi, Jason Taumalolo, Konrad Hurrell, Jorg Taufua tries; Samsoni Langi 3 goals) beat COOK ISLANDS 16 (Chris Taripo 3 tries; 2 goals) at Leigh Sports Village. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 10,544.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: SCOTLAND 26 TONGA 24 at Derwent Park, Workington

By STEVE MASCORD
LUKE Douglas’ fellow Scotland Bravehearts told him his mother was smiling down on them.
Scotland, 500-1 outsiders at the Rugby League World Cup, scored their greatest ever win on Tuesday night when they surrendered a 20-4 halftime lead to a star-studded Tonga and then surged back to snatch victory in at Workington’s Derwent Park.
For Gold Coast prop Douglas, it had already been an emotional journey. His first trip to the ancestral home of the Douglas clan 12 months ago was prompted by his mother Trish having suffered a heart attack en route from Australia.
When in hospital in the UK, she was diagnosed with a melanoma and died earlier this year. Father Chris had been reluctant to return to the scene of so many painful memories – but when Luke walked off at fulltime in Tuesday’s boilover, his dad was there in the grandstand beaming.
“I talked him into coming – he’s brought a mate over and hopefully he’ll get a few better memories this time,” Douglas tells Fairfax Media.
“One of the coaching staff said ‘someone was definitely looking down on us there’. Mum’s up there. Got us through a tough end period and we snuck home.’
The Tongan side boasting NRL stars like Brent Kite, Konrad Hurrell, Jorge Taufua, Jason Taumalolo and FuiFui MoiMoi was left shellshocked by the unexpected defeat, which featured four of their would-be tries being disallowed by video referee Ashley Klein.
The most telling of these was right on fulltime, when halfback Daniel Foster forced his way over but appeared to be illegally stripped in a two man tackle.
“He tried to pass it, that’s how it came out,” said Klein. “That was the ruling.”
It was Douglas who fell on the loose ball. “I know you’re allowed, in the act of scoring, to rake it,” he said. “It was touch and go.”
Tonga coach Charlie Tonga was angry at the call. “I was actually at the coaches meeting the other day and that’s something (referees boss) Stuart Cummings mentioned – that if there’s a two-man strip in goal it’s going to be a penalty right in front,” he said.
But rival Steve McCormack insisted; ‘I certainly don’t think people can look at that game and say we were lucky to get any decisions.’
The first and last Bravehearts tries in a famous victory were scored by fullback Matt Russell, the former understudy to Sam Tomkins at Wigan who will return from a stint at Gold Coast to play for Warrington next season.
His 14th minute effort saw him leave Kite, MoiMoi and Siliva Havili clutching at air. His match winner, with eight minutes left, involved him stepping inside Kite and past two other Tongan defenders.
“My time in Australia did make me a more professional player but in saying that, I was at Wigan before and they are pretty professional,” Russell said.
“It was a great win to be part of.”
Scotland’s North Queensland centre Kane Linnett finished the game in the sin bin for a professional foul while Tonga’s Wests Tigers forward Ben Murdoch-Masila appears to have played his last football for the year after suffering a suspected broken leg in his first hit-up of the night.
SCOTLAND 26 (Matthew Russell 2, Brett Carter, Ben Fisher tries; Danny Brough 5 goals) beat TONGA 24 (Sika Manu 2, Willie Manu, Glen Fisiiahi, Nafe Seluini tries; Samsoni Langi 3 goals) at Derwent Park, Workington. Referee: Shayne Hayne (Australia) . Crowd: 7630.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Sam Moa Is Still Ton Gan

Sydney Roosters - Sam MoaBy STEVE MASCORD

IT sounds like a territorial dispute in the Pacific when you say it out loud: Tonga and New Zealand fight over Sam Moa.

But despite being linked to the Kiwis for the Anzac Test, Sydney Roosters forward Moa isn’t jumping ship on Tonga’s bid for a World Cup semi-final berth.

Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney says it would be up to Moa if he wants to switch and the man who has been a boom signing from Hull FC only spoke about Tonga when League Week quizzed him.

“The sky’s the limit for Tonga,” the 27-year-old said.

Whatever the World Cup holds for Moa, it may struggle to match the atmosphere at Friday night’s 24-12 win over South Sydney to secure the minor premiership, in front of 59,708 fans

“It was crazy, I can’t explain it,” he enthused. “It was the biggest rugby league game I’ve been involved in and a great atmosphere.

“We weren’t too excited about winning the actual minor premiership. I think we were more excited after the game about how we performed. Our form over the last month hasn’t been too crash hot and we just spoke about getting back to what’s been good for us throughout the year. That’s been our defence.

“The short turnaround probably helped us because we were so excited to get back and try and make amends after losing against the Titans. We just spoke briefly during the week about thinking about what’s been good for us and we needed a bit of passion and a bit of mongrel back in D, in our defence which has been good for us during the year. “

Moa started his first class career with Cronulla in 2008 before becoming a crowd favourite in four years at the KC Stadium.

First and foremost, it’s been a good choice to come to the Roosters,” he said.

“It’s a tremendous club. It’s a united club. It filters down from the board members down to the staff in the offices and coaches. I’ve come back to a great side and it’s easy to slot in when you just pitch in your 10 cents worth and that’s what I do.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK