BONDI BEAT: November 2014

November 2014By STEVE MASCORD

AS a reporter, there is sometimes a feeling I get on grand final day – deep in the pit of my stomach, below the pies and chicken skewers – that is difficult to explain. I don’t get it after Test matches or State of Origin games or semis or Nines or Sevens.

I’ll try to approximate it with a word in English that won’t be do the job properly: jealousy. Maybe envy. Sudden emptiness.

It often hits when a team you’ve had a fair bit to do with during the season wins the competition. The things you envy, the things you are jealous of, are not what you may think.

I don’t wish I was a big rugby league star. I don’t wish I was posing for photos with pretty girls and being paid a massive salary and was encouraged to get drunk for a week without paying for one beer myself.

Because it’s not necessarily the players I am jealous of.

A few Sundays ago, I was envious of Souths’ doorman, their kit man, their trainer … hell, I was envious of every single Souths supporter.

Because in this job, we get to see years and years of greatness at extremely close quarters, which is a blessing. But we don’t get to BE great.

When South Sydney were kicked out of the NRL, I stayed at the Sydney Morning Herald all night and worked out a criteria for who should be excluded if teams had to be culled.

Souths finished, mathematically, as one of those teams. One of the responses I got to that story was a veiled death threat. Many of the people who berated me over the story deserved to be in the dressingroom on grand final night much more than I did.

I didn’t stay long. It didn’t feel right.

In my business, we are forever observing and judging. But on rare occasions like the 2014 NRL grand final, it feels like you stand for nothing. You are committed to nothing, forever a spectator, impartial and unmoved at every turn, committed only to upholding “the truth”.

No-one ever held a ticker tape parade for the truth.

Some reporters get this sense of purpose by “going after” those who they perceive as dishonest or corrupt – dogged investigative journalists are among the most passionate people I know but I find they often take a side to motivate themselves along the way, even if the finished product ends up objective.

I’ve always been one to have trouble typecasting people as evil, never been vindictive enough for that gig.

I guess what I felt most envious about on grand final night, why I wished I was even the man who cleaned the toilets at Redfern Oval, is that without a cause in life, your life is much the poorer.

The grand final gave me a cause: finding a cause.

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WHERE to start, then, away from my own loony ramblings?

South Sydney’s grand final victory was almost a social phenomenon in Australia. It connected Australians – particularly Sydneysiders – with their past in ways no-one could fully have anticipated and also touched on class, race and commerce.

donate2Front and centre for the whole thing was one S Burgess. Should he have stayed on the field with a fractured cheekbone? Should he have gone to the blood bin? Should the salary cap be bent to get him back to rugby league?

My answers: yes, yes and no.

I would have no hesitation in saying Burgess has made a bigger impact than any other Englishman in my time covering the premiership, which is as far back as 1986. Adrian Morley would have been the fellow who came closest.

By the time he finishes up, James Graham could usurp both of them.

I’m surprised there was not more comment on Graham being overlooked for the England captaincy. If it’s good enough for the England coach to be based in Australia, surely it’s good enough for the captain to be here as well.

I realise Sean O’Loughlin has served a long apprenticeship and do a good job. But Graham? He’s a beast!

ONE has to feel for Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington when it comes to the World Club Challenge and Series.

Hetherington has been banging on about an expanded competition for at least a decade now. Throughout that period, the Rhinos have been pretty consistently involved.

But when the concept finally gets off the ground, they can’t even get one of the three available spots for Super League teams!

As usual, interest in Australia has been pretty much zero and nobody seems to understand why Brisbane and St George Illawarra are going.

If I had a dollar for every time I have Tweeted “because they’re the only ones who wanted to go”, I’d have enough moolah to keep Sam Burgess in rugby league.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the concept next year. Will we go back to just two teams in Australia? Or will we take the expanded concept to a neutral venue?

Broncos chief executive Paul White visited Dubai on the way back from the World Cup last year and visited several venues which would be suitable for the matches.

Personally, I favour making the Warriors and Catalan permanent contestants in the tournament, meaning four countries are represented.

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NOT content with there being no Great Britain tour next year, the Australian players association has called for the national team to adopt a “rotation policy” to further ease the demands on players.

amazonNever mind that the NRL starts a month after Super League and finishes a week before.

Australia’s cricket and rugby union teams do not always field their strongest line-ups and as far as Bondi Beat is concerned, anything that makes it more likely our dominant national side loses is a good thing.

It might just start over the next few weeks, given the absences of Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Paul Gallen, Brett Morris and the rest…

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A word, too, about Tyrone McCarthy. The former Warrington and Ireland forward scored a crucial try as the Cairns-based Northern Pride won the “second tier super bowl” against Penrith on grand final day.

Before the game, I asked Tyrone about the curious contradiction of Sydney fans loving English players – but having zero interest in the English game.

“It just shows how the NRL cares only about the NRL,” he said. “No one over here could tell you who the next Graham/Burgess might be in Super League.

“As much as it’s up to other countries to promote the game a small hand from the NRL would have great significance for UK rugby league on so many different aspects, commercially and the development of the sport which in turn would make the NRL stronger.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

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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?
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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…..
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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.

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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.
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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

Fullblood: An Englishman Who Plays For Ireland & Lives In Queensland

McCarthy, TyroneBy STEVE MASCORD

PROFESSIONAL rugby league players get a bad rap. At best, they are seen as mindless automatons, oblivous to the nuances of life around them, trained wholely to run at brick walls and tackle semi-trailers.
At worse, our football stars are portrayed as oafish, neanderthal hoons with no regard for anyone but themselves.
In the case of either cliche, an appreciation and understanding for their game’s history and culture, and a concern for its future, are not often ascribed as part of the current player’s make-up.
The reality is most often somewhat different. Just about every NRL player gives up countless hours doing community and charity work. When Newcastle halfback Dane Campbell was understudy to Andrew Johns at Newcastle, he was using his spare time to help start rugby league in Jamaica.
And for Ireland vice-captain and new Northern Pride signing Tyrone McCarthy, time spent in Africa doing charity work during his gap year has had a much more profound impact on his life than anything he achieved as a Super League player with Warrington.
Like Campbell, McCarthy has become involved in helping rugby league develop in places affected by poverty; in his case, Fiji, with his project The Fullblood Project.
“People do said to me ‘why?’,” the 25-year-old backrower says from Cairns. “They’re, like, how do you make money from that?
“But if you’d gone to Africa on that trip, and you’d seen how happy those kids were … and it’s not just making them happy, it’s the fact that you could give them an opportunity and through the work you do, you could help make them a better person.
“It would be great if, when my rugby (league, Australian readers!) career is over, I could get paid to go and do these programs but that’s not what it’s about.”
Charity work, particularly in Africa, is so much in demand among young westerners that the organisations involved not only charge to do it but there is a long waiting list and many kids actually miss out.
“We did the normal things: building houses, putting up mosquito nets,” McCarthy recalls. “But we also did a rugby league programme and at the end of it we had a little carnival which the kids really enjoyed.”
When McCarthy returned to England, he and some mates – Rob Griffiths, Tom Whitehead and Nigel Scott – came up with the idea of doing a rugby league-based program in less fortunate parts of the world. “And then we kind of thought ‘well, if we went to Fiji, what if we used it to identify some talent too, to help get players in touch with clubs and vice-versa”.
It was when McCarthy began playing for Ireland in 2009 that the idea of Fullblood was born. “I’m obviously a heritage player and we want fullbloods playing for Ireland, Fiji, whatever,” he explains.
“The idea was to introduce young kids to the sport, teach them about the game and show them about the standards of behaviour that are required in an NRL or Super League environment as well.
“So we are doing general work in the community as well as things that are specifically introducing people to rugby league.”
While Tyrone was eeking out a professional career at Warrington and playing in the World Cup, his cohorts were taking Steedens to remote islands in Fiji, teaching the locals rugby league. They’ve enacted a full ciriculum, teaching kids about the history of the game as well as how to play it. It’s a trip McCarthy is itching to take himself – as well as expanding Fullblood to other parts of the world.
“My move from Warrington to the Northern Pride has slowed things down a little,” he says.
And after scoring two tries on debut against the Sunshine Coast (“that beats my total for last year”), it’s a move that is going well for McCarthy. “Cairns is pretty different to home – very hot and humid,” he said.
“But I couldn’t have asked for more from the club when it came to helping me and my missus settle in. It’s been fantastic.
“Naturally it would be great to get back into a fulltime set-up (with an NRL club) but I have no complaints.”
Being part-time means McCarthy has to take a job – and it’s one he is well suited to: teaching.
“It’s a joint position with the Queensland Department of Education and the Northern Pride, doing the Pride’s rugby league program,” he explains. “With all the indigenous communities up here, I think the Fullbloods Project would be perfect.
“Actually, there is a lot in the Pride program that is quite inspirational. Towards the end of the year, we’ll look at doing a joint program, perhaps.
“It’s not until you get out here that you realise how big rugby league really is in Australia. It’s massive, it’s everything. If we could get our brandname out there and ride on the back of that, we could really make a difference.”
Visit Fullbloods at thefullbloodproject.org

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK