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: May 2014

Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash
Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash

By STEVE MASCORD

LIKE your clubs in England, the NRL is considering ways to hold onto players and to recruit new stars,
Bondi Beat‘s spies tell us that the issue was raised in Auckland before the NRL Nines. The CEO of the league, David Smith, suggested that if one club wanted to sign a rugby union star, for instance, it could apply for central funding.
But every club would have the opportunity to match or exceed the amount of money the recruiting club was willing to pay. If Souths wanted to sign England rahrah George North, for instance, North Queensland could offer to pay a larger part of his wage package. This would leave the league paying less.
North would still have the opportunity to go to the club of his choice, not the highest bidder.
But another idea should be a concern to most readers. The plan is to make transfer fees salary cap-free if the incoming player is not from the NRL.
In other words, a leave pass to raid the Super League if you have enough money to pay the transfer fees.
I am told it was South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson who pointed this implication out. “They play the same sport as us over there, you know,” was the crux of his argument.
If you go through the current NRL club CEOS, few have much experience in the international game.

THE debate over the marquee player proposal in England is a fascinating one.
I heard on the BBC recently that the NRL has a marquee player allowance of $600,000 per club. That is wrong. There is no marquee player system in the NRL that is even remotely similar to what Dr Marwan Koukash is proposing in Super League.

What is allowed in the NRL are third part agreements – club sponsors paying players up to a limit. It is not the same as allowing clubs to spend their own money on imported talent, regardless of whether it sends them broke.
Instead of offering Stg200,000 for rival clubs’ “golden tickets”, perhaps Dr Koukash should guarantee to under-write the rest of the comp so every club can spend up to the cap as it exists now.
I am a bit of a sociallist when it comes to sporting competitions. I believe our game needs to be outwardly capitalist but inwardly communist.
Until every club in the Super League is spending up to the cap, there is no point giving them more rope to hang themselves. Maybe if every club in the new division of eight is spending up to the cap and is on a sound financialfooting, it can be considered again.
The recent Widnes-Salford epic was a clash of cultures – between licencing and throwing raw cash at something. And who won that?
.
THIS column probably features a few too many items which paint my Australian compatriots as being a little ignorant of the realities of rugby league outside their own bubble. It’s a point that gets laboured here too much.
But it was curious the other day to hear Penrith coach Ivan Cleary say this: “I think, personally, we shouldn’t have representative tournaments every year at the end of the year,” Cleary said. ”Maybe a one-off game with Australia and New Zealand straight after the grand final pretty much. Basically, if you are going to have one it needs to finish a lot earlier.”
Cleary, you’ll remember, is the New Zealand assistant coach!
Now, George Gregan played 139 Tests in that other code. Darren Lockyer had played 59 when he retired. But WE’RE playing too many Tests? Clearly, were playing too many club games…
One man who agreed with Cleary was Greg Alexander, who is on the board at Penrith. When I appeared with Andrew Voss and Brandy on 2UE to argue against Cleary’s contention, one of their responses was that if we needed international football so much then perhaps there should be a World Cup every two years!
From the sublime to the ridiculous…..
.
IN the wake of the sort of ignorance described above, you’ve got to hand it to the Sydney Roosters and former Catalan coach Trent Robinson.
He has hired the England coach as his assistant and in Remy Casty has a man who is likely to be only the fourth French born player to turn out in the top flight down under, after Jerome Guisset, Jacques Molinet and Jason Baitieri.
And when his team completely outclassed Wigan in the World Club Challenge, Robinson argued that the concept should be expanded. Even in the face of the increasing disparity in the salary caps of the two competitions, he argued an expanded WCC would narrow the gap, not accentuate it.

.
ANOTHER great story in this neck of the woods this year has been the debut in Queensland’s Untrust Super Cup (the Q Cup to you) of the Kopoko-based PNG Hunters.
After the disappointments of the World Cup, the PNGRL signed players from rural areas to contracts, took them away from their families for 11 weeks and put them in a police barracks.
The result was a 24-18 win on debut against Redcliffe in Brisbane. “Back at home, after the World Cup when everyone got back into the country, the guys that played in
the World Cup never went out in public places because a lot of the media and the people around the country were pissed off,” said coach Michael Marum.
PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka says Mal Meninga is now the coach of the Kumuls. They hope to play the winner of the mid-year Samoa-Fiji Test before the Four Nations and a warm-up game against another 4N team – perhaps England.
.
TYRONE McCarthy and his partner, Helen Lomax, are settling in nicely in Cairns.
The Ireland vice-captain and ex-Warrington star scored two tries on debut for Q Cup side Northern Pride. “I was probably getting stagnant at Warrington, being in and out of the side,” he said.
“It’s pretty different to home here, very hot and humid, but I’m used to it now and the club have been great. Two tries is more than I scored all last year.”
Tyrone is hoping to get his charity project, the FullBloods, going in Oz. It helps kids in disadvantaged areas using rugby league to connect with them. Support Tyrone by visiting thefullbloodproject.org.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Pre-season

The Joy Of Six

NOT MUCH OF A CHALLENGE
AT 24-4 at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, plans for a six-team World Club Challenge next year were looking somewhat dodgy. South Sydney and Brisbane have already told English officials they are interested in being the second and third teams in the mini-tournament next February if neither of them win the NRL this season. Whichever finishes higher will play the second-placed Super League team on a Saturday and the other will play the no.3 SL side on Friday, with the WCC proper on Sunday. Huge gate receipts are anticipated, although the games cannot yet be sold as a separate television property. The previous week, the plan is for Brisbane and Souths to meet in an exhibition game in London while the premiers play Catalan in Perpignan. Of course, a fixture squeeze involving the Allstars and Nines could ruin all these plans – but so would have 50-0 at the weekend.

FRANK PAUL NAYSAYER
ONE of the most noteable aspects of the WCC from the sidelines was the ill-tempered display of Sydney Roosters lock Frank Paul Nuuausala. FPN had plenty to say – he especially enjoyed riling Michael McIllorum – and at one stage was cautioned for by referee Gerard Sutton for abusing Wigan players as they stood in their own in-goal. Jared Waerea-Hargrweaves – who managed extreme aggression minus the compulsion to verbalise it, told MMM: “It’s not English, definitely not English. He’s got his own fresh language going. I don’t even think the Wigan boys understood what he was saying.” All jokes aside, the feistiness could be a chink in the Roosters’ armour as the season unfolds.

COULD BE MAGIC – AND COULD NOT
PREVIOUS NRL administrators have looked into the ideas of the Magic Weekend and deduced that few of the advantages it affords Super League apply in the southern hemisphere. The Magic Weekend gets an entire round on the television for the only time in the Super League season – not an issue in the NRL. The crowd attracted over the weekend is often more than the round would get at separate venues – not likely here. Far from being an unqualified success, the concept was on death’s door until it returned to the heartland of Manchester two years ago. For the NRL, a big fat cheque frome the host city and/or venue would seem to be the big advantage. Having said all that, Joy Of Six likes the idea.

CREATING UNHAPPY CAMPERS
IF the Rugby Football League and Australian Rugby Union continue to plot playing each other at Wembley, they are likely to unsettle quite a few NRL clubs. It goes without saying that the Burgess brothers, Gareth Widdop and James Graham won’t be released from their clubs. If they are then denied huge match payments, they’ll likely become disgruntled. This will encourage players to sign short-term contracts, which in turn will help entrepreneurs staging off-season events. As Discord wrote last week, the result could be the current governing bodies in both rugby codes being severely undermined.

BOYS OF SUMMER
TRENT Robinson’s broader point on Saturday night – aside from supporting the WCC expansion outlined above and criticising the NRL for not promoting this year’s match – was that the pre-season is being completely wasted commercially. Last week, Sonny Bill Williams played in front of a crowd on the Central Coast that got in for free. The fact is, someone would like to televise every one of these games, someone would like to sponsor them and someone would like to call them on radio. But there is so little groundwork being done on the pre-season that there wasn’t even a match programme printed for the WCC – unthinkable for British fans who even have programme collecting societies. Yes, I was once in one of them.

SAM THE MAN
SAM Tomkins may not qualify for some rookie of the year awards – but he’ll win those he is eligible for based on the couple of glimpses we’ve already had of him. In fact, if you can still bet on the Dally Ms, he’d be worth a flutter to win the thing outright given what are no doubt generous odds right now. It’s safe to say he was feeling better about his weekend than Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin and St George Illawarra’s Steve Price, who were already said to be under pressure and whose sides were comprehensively beaten. Speaking of rookies, a group of listeners were last night allowed to call the Melbourne-Canterbury game on radio after winning a contest. Let’s hope the trend doesn’t spread to newspapers.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

2013 Season Review: SYDNEY ROOSTERS

Sydney Roosters logoBy STEVE MASCORD
HE made it sound so easy that anyone could do it: sign a few superstars, treat everyone equally and: abracadabra, a premiership at first attempt.
But beneath the professed credo of Sydney Roosters’ rookie coach Trent Robinson were two pillars which those in the inner-sanctum described as every bit as important as the worth ethic he espoused at post-match press conferences all year.
They were: simplicity and warmth.
“His structure is very simple,” chief executive Brian Canavan tells RLW in the hubbub of the winning dressingroom on grand final day.
“If it needs to be adapted, yes. But that allows everyone to work comfortably within that structure.
“That’s what I found about him – no-one’s confused, very simple delivery and it allows everyone to express themselves.”
The warmth is something that comes naturally for Robinson. While playing under new Melbourne Storm assistant Justin Morgan at Toulouse, he made the effort to learn French and immersed himself in local culture, something many Australian imports were not willing to do.
Empathy is a very under-rated aspect of coaching. Back in Sydney, that approach translated itself to including everyone in the club, from the ballboys to Sonny Bill Williams, in what he was trying to do.
“There’re so many people who put a lot of work into our club,” Robinson explained.
“People try to put it down to a player or two and coaches.
“But there were a lot of people who worked so hard over the last few years to get it to this point, where we were right this year. A lot of us have come in and we’ve benefited from that.”
The Roosters face to the outside world changed; they seemed a team with no secrets – open, honest and available. That philosophy was most sorely tested two weeks from the finish line when a test results registering high levels of HGH were found on a crime figure’s phone.
Robinson was at a crossroads: should he shut the media out, show his anger at the reports and pull down the shutters or continue on the road that he had set out on in February.
He chose the latter – and it may have delivered a premiership.
“We’ve got nothing to hide in everything we do and that’s how we’ve dealt with everything this year,” says Robinson. “We’re clear about our footy and we know who we are as a club and as a team.
“We’re comfortable when we talk about that … and last week was really hard.
“We decided to talk about it rather than shut it down. And we probably need to talk about it more … but there’s no issue from us.
“I think that’s a good policy. Sometimes … there is anger there.”
The elephant in the room in discussing what Robinson and his assistants Jason Taylor and Paul Green did this year is why they had to do it.
It’s one thing to say that various philosophies and measures had to be put in place but not the done thing to address what it was like before.
Robinson did a thorough apprenticeship under veteran Brian Smith but there would have been no need to put the highest paid player on the same level as the lowest, and make sure they work hard, if there was no danger of the opposite occurring.
“People thought the star factor would take over our club,” Robinson told the assembled media on Sunday night.
Robinson played the ultimate psychological card trick on his side: we’ve got the players to win the competition but let’s behave all year as if we don’t.
He explained: “We know we’re a club that’s seen as quite a wealthy club, seen as the high fliers, but we’re built on a real hard-working foundation. That was our team. We were really clear on who we were at the Roosters.
“We knew we had some good players but we wanted to work hard for each other, as our club has.
“We knew this group of players was ready to win a comp but we didn’t know if we coaches were.”
Consider it a question now conclusively answered. Robinson’s own confidence was probably the final plank in building the Roosters’ 13th premiership.
When asked before one finals series game what the big question in his mind regarding the contest was, he replied that he was not wondering about anything at all.
If the events of last week did not surprise the coach, then they did others in the club.
“It does surprise me,” said Canavan. “To come from where we’ve been the last couple of years and end up club champions, minor premiers and now the premiers is quite an extraordinary run.
“I’d like to know why …. And I’ll write it down.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Finals week four

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

WELL, WE DO – BUT SHOULD WE GO AROUND SAYING SO?

COACH Trent Robinson has admitted he thought it ‘a bit strange’’ that Sydney Roosters chose to promote this season with the slogan “We Play For Premierships”. As part of an extremely bolshy campaign which attracted little media scrutiny, the tricolours even handed out at home games imitation premiership pendants for each of their 12 titles. “I actually just thought about that this morning,” Robinson told me in a pre-match MMM interview. “It was a bit strange. It was a marketing ploy (from) right back before I got here. They decided on it. I thought it was true but I didn’t know if we wanted to sprout it anywhere. “ In an age of even puerile comments, slogans and stories being plastered on opposition dressing room walls, the boasts went through the to keeper – perhaps because they were aimed at the converted, ticketed Roosters fans.

2. BTW SBW MIA? LOL

FACT: Sonny Bill Williams is a rather big time athlete. Fact: Rugby league, outside of NSW and Queensland, is a rather small time sport. Just as getting Williams back in the NRL was seen as some sort of endorsement for how important the NRL was, keeping him seems to be judged as a similar litmus test. But in coming and going as he pleases, he holds a mirror up to us – even if we don’t like what we see. Our World Cup is older than rugby union’s but commercially dwarfed by theirs. It looks like he’d rather box than play in it. Our national teams rarely play. The NRL has limited geographic reach within Australia and New Zealand and nothing more than cult following elsewhere. It looks like he’d rather play in a competition played across three countries. Instead of saying ‘let’s give SBW a fortune and we’ll all feel better’, would we not be better served addressing the shortcomings of our sport?

3. YES, THEM AGAIN

BY fining Geoff Toovey and Ricky Stuart (the second time) this year, the NRL became more draconian over criticism of match officials. By not fining Neil Henry or Johnathan Thurston, they showed new leniency, with the difference being that it’s OK if you were robbed. , but only in cases where you were robbed. That being the case, Toovey should have been allowed to say whatever he liked on Sunday night. The match officials made mistakes – that’s all. But the vast majority of them happened to favour Sydney Roosters. Coaches should be able to say what everyone else sees.

4. SEE MORE BUTTS

“WHAT about the headbutt from that grub!” “We’ll take a penalty for the head-butt thanks”. “OK boys, let’s start headbutting now”. Those were the comments from Manly players to referee Shayne Hayne after Sydney Roosters’ Jared Wearea-Hargreaves led with the head in a clash with Manly’s Justin Horo in Sunday’s grand final. It wasn’t what many of us would regard as a headbutt because it wasn’t cocked, as such. JWH didn’t tilt his head back before lunging with the forehead. But if it wasn’t a head-butt, what was it? We see similar actions every now and then. Perhaps we need the head butt to be more clearly defined. “In the first half when you had that whatever,” Hayne later told Waerea-Hargreaves, “just watch what you do with the head”.

5. WORLD SCHEDULING CHALLENGE

WE were confidently assured mid-year that the World Club Challenge would be in Australia in February and that the previous hodge-podge organisation of the game was a thing of the post. But that announcement will be sorely tested, now that Wigan and Sydney Roosters will be involved. Leeds were the club that pushed for the game to be played Down Under, while big city clubs like Brisbane and Melbourne were the NRL teams seen as being capable of turning a profit. South Sydney were going to take the game to Perth. And the exchange rate has fallen away since the decision was made. Perhaps this could be the year we get the mythical neutral venue in the Middle East or Asia. But DW Stadium, Wigan, must be firming.

6. DOG OF A NIGHT

DERIDING wingers is sometimes a sport within the sport of rugby league. In Sunday’s first game, Winsor Wolves’ Eto Nabuli – the man discovered as a hotel porter by Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler in Fiji – scored his side’s first two tries and his errors gave opponents Cronulla two of theirs’ as well. Similarly, some gaffes from Shark Nathan Stapleton helped Windsor. But some wingers are clearly important – like a Wolf of another variety, Warrington’s Joel Monaghan. When he was carried off with concussion (there’s a photo of his ear flattened like a pancake doing the rounds), his side was leading the Super League grand final at Old Trafford 16-2. Wigan scored within seconds of his slow passage to the sheds on a medicab – and promptly impersonated Manly last week by running up 30 unanswered (and uninterrupted) points.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Finals Week Three

The Joy Of SixRUFFLED FEATHERS

SYDNEY Roosters coach Trent Robinson accepts blood test results which are not under investigation will still be remembered by some fans long after Sunday’s grand final. “How do you take that back?” he said on ABC yesterday. “The way the media works now, the way all those things are kept on the internet, it’s hard to take it back. I was amazed at how those guys played under that pressure. You can see their conscience isn’t weighing them down, they played freely. They knew they were in right.” Robinson has been pretty straight-up with the media and fans for most of the season but when it comes to grand final team selections and the comeback of Boyd Cordner, “that’s something I haven’t really talked about all year, whether I’m going to play someone or not, before we get to the game. He’ll be in the selection. We’ve probably got about 21 guys who we’ll select from. Every grand final team has a motto, for the Roosters it seems to be this quote from the coach: “It’s not about being in one, it’s about winning one – we were really clear about that”

SPIRIT OF ‘78

IF THAT’S the Roosters’ call to arms, what’s Manly/’s? Knowing them, they won’t tell us. But plenty of people are comparing the current side to the storied 1978 premiers, who had to play six games in 21 days – two replays including the grand final – to lift the trophy. Not only that, they repeatedly came from behind. After losing their first finals series match, the Sea Eagles snatched a 13-13 draw with Parramatta, forcing a midweek replay. When the grand final was drawn 11-11, there was another replay ending in a 16-0 win over Cronulla.  Warwick Bulmer, a staffer at Manly who has been involved since the 60s, said there were “more needles than players” in the dressingroom back then and rated Friday’s win over South Sydney as the best since. Interviewed on radio on Sunday, he said Geoff Toovey’s side couldn’t eclipse that team but they had matched their toughness.

 DEMERITUS MINOR      

YOUR correspondent has been covering rugby league for almost three decades and the idea that grand finals and major games should somehow be worth more before the judiciary than other matches has been around almost as long. It popped up again when Glenn Stewart was booked; no-one has ever been able to come up with a workable formula. Players would stretch the envelope in a preliminary final knowing they could get away with more. Every member of a senior squad would have to get, say, two games sliced off an existing suspension if their team made the grand final, to avoid exploitation of the rule through team selections. And finally, victims of foul play would still be sidelined for the same time while the assailant gets a discount because he committed the offence at the ‘right’ time of year. Great idea; doesn’t work.

THUNDER, LIGHTNING, NRL BID IS FRIGHTENING

AUSTRALIAN players were stunned that a game which kicked off in bright sunshine was suddenly hit with thunder and lightning when the Prime Minister’s XIII beat Papua New Guinea 50-10 at Kopoko’s Kalabond Oval yesterday. Of particular concern was the young children perched on electricity pylons at the packed venue. The fact that two tweeters, listening on the radio in Port Moresby, were the only links between the 50-10 win and the outside world is evidence there won’t be a PNG side in the NRL in our lifetimes. Do  Peuto Rico or Haiti have Major League Baseball teams? The only hope would be to base the team in Darwin and fly in for ‘home’ games. PNG’s James Segeyaro (shoulder) was forced off at halftime and is in a little bit of World Cup doubt. It was the first big game in the Rabaul area since the volcano eruption of 1994.

FESTIVAL OF THE BOOT

ACCORDING to the NRL’s Paul Kind, people who seek to resell their grand final tickets at face value are not in any real danger of having them cancelled by the League or Ticketek. Some 14,000 more seats are to be released on Monday morning and with all the South Sydney fans trying to off-load theirs’, plenty of scalpers seem certain to do their dough. But why do rugby league care so much more about who is in the GF, when deciding whether to go, than their AFL counterparts? Do you really think  of this Sunday’s match as a celebration of rugby league, or just a game to decide who wins the comp? And if it’s the latter, why? Does this go to the heart of the cultural differences between Sydney and Melbourne, right back to convicts v free settlers?

ANORAKS ARE US

THIS one’s for the trainspotters, geeks and anoraks. And if you’ve read this far, that’s most of you. Manly, it has been argued on Facebook (where else?), did not score 30 unanswered points on Friday night. Yes, they were down 14-0 and the scoreline turned into 30-14 in their favour, But, their 30 point – at the very least – was ‘answered’ by a late South Sydney try. So ‘unanswered’ is often misused when ‘uninterrupted’ or ‘consecutive’ is more accurate. We deal with the game’s biggest issues here. Next week: what time each weekend does the the team with the bye actually get those two competition points? Should you count them when you go through the competition table before kick-off on Friday? Are they sent out registered post? Should they be?

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Finals Week Two

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

WAYNES WORLD VIII?

ASKED on Saturday night why his Newcastle side was coming good in the finals, coach Wayne Bennett replied: “It’s spring”. Then quizzed if that was the reason just for him, he replied: “For all of us, that’s the time you want it to happen”. On the eve of the second preliminary semi-final, veteran Danny Buderus said Bennett was “a different coach” during the finals. That was apparent to outsiders after the 18-16 victory, when Bennett acceded to every interview request. On Sunday, he even made a rare appearance on FM radio. The reason Wayne Bennett makes himself scarce for most of the year is so he can cash in his media chips when it matters most, drawing attention and pressure away from the players by cracking jokes and hamming it up in public. The man with an image for dismissing the media actually strategies his interactions with them down to the finest detail.

WALKING WOUNDED CUP

YOU’D be forgiven for forgetting there is plenty of rugby league on after the grand final, by virtue of the World Cup. But will there be any star players still standing? Benji Marshall and Justin Hodges are already gone, Sonny Bill Williams is rated at long odds chose the tournament over boxing and then there are the walking wounded of the the NRL finals series. Greg Inglis, Anthony Watmough and Billy Slater (all knee) all look doubtful for Australia. Jack Reed’s shoulder has already cost him his England spot and if Brent Kite is playing with a broken hand, it’s hard to see Penrith encouraging him to play for Tonga. Sisa Waqa suffered a grade two medial ligament tear on Saturday night and seems set to be a Fiji Bati casualty. There will no doubt be more withdrawals – probably many more.

WHO KNOWS?

WOULD it really be such a bad thing for referees to be given a third option when they send a try decision upstairs, namely “dunno”. The signal could be arms at the side, bent at the elbow, with flat palms pointed at the sky. Maybe a head tilt as well. But seriously, is there not a logic disconnect in saying the on-field official must make a decision in 100 per cent of cases, only using technology to doublecheck his decision, then making it significantly harder for technology to disagree than agree with him? Surely the information of the video referees is being hampered to such an extent that we might as well not have them at all. Not having “dunno” seems a matter of pride rather than practical sense. At least I think that’s the case. I’m not sure.

CLUB CALL

LATE on Sunday night, Tony Smith – brother of Brian – was force to make a decision which he detested. Under the rules of the Super League play-offs, as the highest-ranking winner of week one in the play-offs, Smith’s Warrington got to choose their preliminary final opponents. The Wolves had a choice between Huddersfield, 76-18 winners over Hull, or perennial late-season-peak men Leeds, 11-10 winners over St Helens. Smith detests ‘club call’, as it is known, for old school coaching reasons – it gives the opposition ammunition. That’s how highly coaches rate psychology – they’d rather pass up the chance to choose their own opponents! The question is, who would 2012 Catalan coach Trent Robinson choose this year? I’m banking on the team where he used to be assistant under Tony Smith’s brother – Newcastle.

GROUNDS FOR CONCERN

ONCE upon a time, all finals were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground or Sydney Sports Ground. You knew it was September in Sydney when the wind picked up and you waltzed onto the hill around midday to watch under 23s and reserve grade. But crowds were poor early in the finals, so we shifted matches to home grounds. Then we did that in week two, then week three. And we stopped using suburban grounds completely. But – as we saw at the weekend – attendances are still and issue. What is the logical next step? Tendering out finals to venues who can guarantee big gates and financial security, perhaps? Perth, Auckland, Brisbane, Wellington, Adelaide, Darwin? Seems to be worth a try, given that finals venues are already centrally controlled and the grand final is in Sydney until further notice.

MORE QUESTIONS

SOME questions regarding Saturday’s NRL media release: One of the people interviewed as part of the probe, a reporter, says he was told by the SC’s assistant the alleged incident itself was not being investigated. If this is true, how can one investigate a cover-up without determining if there was something to cover up in the first place? And how can a person who was not investigated be exonerated in the subsequent press release? Given that that the release said there would be “no further comment”, I guess we’ll never know.  You might be wondering why this column is appearing, given its Sun-Herald predecessor. I’ve only stepped away from chasing news, because I can’t see the point under current conditions. I’m still hoping someone wants me to cover games and write columns and features. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD