FAR & WIDE: Europe, California, Women’s rugby league, Greece

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
EUROPEAN Countries are getting ready for the final stage of World Cup qualifiers, with the matches played in the coming weeks.
Pool A includes Wales, Italy and Serbia while Pool B comprises Ireland, Spain and Russia. The top two in each group automatically qualifies for Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with second in each playing off for the final berth.
The tournament kicks off on October 15 at Moscow’s Fili Stadium, when the host country takes on Spain.
Of the six teams involved, Spain and Russia would be regarded as the outsiders.
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THE United States Rugby League is again making a push towards the Wesr Coast.
Jacksonville Axemen founder and Floridian league pioneer Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland recently reached out to interested parties about getting a competition up and running.
He received quite a response.
It’s to be hoped those involved in California previously, such as Zane Hirtzell, Col Manners and Ben Everill can be involved.
We’ll keep you posted.
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SINCE our last column, we had the great announcement that the Women’s World Cup would be run concurrently with the men’s tournament next year.
And while Sydney controversially missed out on most of the men’s tournament, Wooloware’s Southern Cross Stadium will host the pool matches and finals.
The final itself will be played at Suncorp Stadium on December 2, the same day as the men’s final.
It’s a feather in the cap of RLWC CEO Andrew Hill that he was able to mend bridges between the tournament organising committee and the NSW government by attracting funding.
One can only assume the bridges were burned by former boss CEO, given that the government offered the men’s tournament no funding at all.
The US is playing Canada on October 1 at Wilmington, Delaware, and F&W will be there!
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THE RLEF is continuing to rebuild rugby league in Greece. It recently conducted match official training there, accrediting the country’s first female referee, Zoe Valassa.
@RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: United States, Malta, Norway, Czech Republic, Jamaica, Canada, Wales, Germany, Thailand

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
JACKSONVILLE Axemen have been the outstanding team of American rugby league for the last decade but they were toppled in the USARL grand final a couple of weekends back.
Northern Conference champions Philadelphia Fight took out the big one 42-20 at Boston University after eliminating the local club the previous week.
The Fight finished the season undefeated.
The US has announced a clash with Canada at Wilmington, Delaware on October 1.
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FORMER Penrith and Celtic Crusaders star Jarrod Sammut has been named in Malta’s squad for the upcoming internationals against Ireland and Thailand.
The Ireland game is in Bray on October 8, the Thailand match in Chiang Mai on October 28. The Knights will have different coaches for each match.

NORDIC Cup winners Norway are about to put their pride on the line with an away international against the Czech Republic.
The match will take place at RLC Dragons Krupka Stadium on September 24 (4pm kick-off if you’re thinking of going.
The sides last met three years ago, with Norway winning 26-14 in Oslo.
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JAMAICA and Canada have met in the first youth international for each team.
The Canadians won the Under 17s game 24-4 in Kingston.
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SOUTH Wales Scorpions have been rebranded South Wales Ironmen and the club’s new CEO is a former rugby union international, Lee Byrne who wants to pilot the team into Super League.
A number of Scorpions/Ironmen players have been named in the Welsh side which is about to embark on a tour of Germany.
@RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: Greece, United States, World Cup,

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

IN the aftermath of our story last week about the chaos engulfing Greek rugby league, the country has been kicked out of the European Federation.
The Greeks were earlier suspended for failing to meet fixture commitments and other irregularities.
Now the RLEF has announced: “The RLEF Board has formally expelled the Hellenic Federation of Rugby League from its membership after a four-month suspension period.
“During that time the HFRL was asked to establish its membership and youth programme, comply with financial audit requirements, and answer allegations of misappropriation of funds and maladministration of the sport.
“On 2 August the RLEF, invoking Article 18 of its constitution, wrote to the Hellenic Federation informing them of their expulsion and requested HFRL’s withdrawal from the membership by 9 August, which the Greek body confirmed in writing yesterday.
“In April 2016, the RLEF membership voted 33-1 in favour of the resolution to suspend the Hellenic Federation, for wilfully acting in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the overall governing body and international rugby league.”
The truth of the matter is that the sanctions are really aimed at one official: Tasos Pantazidis. Far and Wide does not suggest Pantazidis misappropriated funds but clubs have rebelled against his administration and the RLEF has effectively sided with those clubs by expelling Greece.
The RLEF now wants to run its own Greek competitions and is advertising for players.
Pantazidis has affiliated with the Modern Pentathlon authorities in Greece and, as far as we know, plans to continue running rugby league as well.
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SINCE last week we’ve has a long-ish chat with Jason Moore, the Australian promoter who wants to take the 2021 World Cup to the US, and came away impressed.
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We’ll share some of the key elements of what he had to say in a future feature but I asked him whether it would be such a bad thing if they were passed over this time and got the 2025 tournament.
“It’s almost like ‘shut the gate, the horse has bolted’,” he argued. “This is a golden opportunity for rugby league.
“It may be a once in a generation/lifetime scenario.”
The rugby union World Cup basically can’t come here before 2023. It would be a great piece of rugby league global marketing to get in ahead of that.
“But also it has to be the dominant rugby code in the United States because of the hosting of the World Cup.
“And it’s also the RLIF should consider as a bold statement.”
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DANISH winger Mads Hansen scored a hat-trick as Denmark took out the Nordic Cup match against Sweden 50-18. The trophy had already been secured by Norway.
That Tri-Series we told you about last week has also kicked off, with Belgium downing Germany 26-12 at Mendesportanlage.

FAR & WIDE: World Cup, United States, Argentina, Chile, Brazil

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

WITH all the discussion about where World Cup games will be, there has been precious little by way of explanation for how the draw will actually work.
The venues and dates were announced last Thursday and the big controversy was that Sydney only got two games because the NSW government refused to bid.
But a quick look at the draw poster, which can be downloaded from the tournament’s website, poses more questions than it answers.
England and Australia are in the same group and a literal reading of the draw would see them meeting in the quarter-finals which, of course, would be outrageous.
In fact, as was the case in 2013, the draw is seeded in such a way as to maximise competitive pool games – with more teams from the strong pools progressing than those from the weaker divisions.
With the pools being A, B. C and D, the quarter-finals will work like this: A1 v B3, B2 v D1, B1 v A3, A2v C1.
Three teams from pools A and B progress, with only one each from C and D. That means the match between Lebanon and France will be very important while Scotland will have to – realistically – beat Tonga or Samoa.
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THE word ‘Journeyman’ is misused in rugby league.
It does not mean someone who moves around a lot. In fact, it is tradesman who never becomes proficient in his craft.
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The origins of this are from when a master tradesman would set up a shop but those who were not quite so good would have to travel around for work.
A ‘journeyman’ in sport can actually spend his whole career at one club. It just means he never attained the status of being a master of his trade.
Junior VaiVai is a journeyman in the misused, rugby league cliché sense. He has played for Samoa but may play against them for NSW Country on a tour of Samoa at the end of this year.
But he has also been recently selected for the US Hawks, which means he is in line to play for the Americans in the World Cup!
Junior is currently with Wollongong Wests.
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RUGBY league’s America’s Cup has kicked off, with Canada beating Jamaica 38-2 in Levittown, Pennsyvania. The tournament continues.
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OUR friends at the Latin Heat report that The three-way tournament between Argentina, Chile and Brazil on November 12-13 in Miramar, Argentina looks more like reality each day.
Visit the Latin Heat website or social media accounts if you want to see what you can do to make it happen!

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: June 2013

Rugby League World June 2013By STEVE MASCORD

AS a rugby league fan – probably in Britain – reading this, it’s entirely possible you can’t completely avoid soccer.

You may have a soft spot for your home town club or for a Premier League outfit. And while Rugby League is your passion, you’ll have more than a passing interest in the results each weekend.

In NSW and Queensland it is completely possible and quite easy to ignore the fact soccer exists. But fans of the round ball game in those states would find it almost impossible to have no idea who Wally Lewis or Andrew Johns is.

The reason I raise this is to draw a comparison between British rugby league and Australian soccer –the latter of which I am sure you can and do go about your daily lives not contemplating.

Both competitions, the A-League and Super League, have moved to summer to escape their overbearing competitors. Each sport has snared an administrator from the other, in David Gallop and Maurice Watkins.

And each has a poor record of failed expansion and financially ruined clubs.

But it’s in the area of recruitment that I want to make this comparison relevant. Super League is becoming a little like Australian soccer in that the best stars – the Tim Cahills and Harry Kewells – would not even consider staying at home due to the riches, glamour and profile on offer overseas.

Just a couple of weeks back, Gareth Hock and Lee Mossop inked deals with Parramatta. Many more are apparently on the way, with Mike Cooper linked to St George Illawarra.

The way Australian soccer attracts stars like Alessandro Del Piero despite having a salary cap of just $2.48 million (Stg1.66 million) is a marquee player scheme. There’s one at each club and their payments are completely exempt from the salary cap.

Similarly, Super League could stay in the hunt for some of the best players in the world by employing a similar system. Perhaps they would each go into the cap at a nominal amount, rather than nothing. The danger, of course, is that clubs who can’t afford marquee players (everyone but Leeds, Warrington, St Helens and Wigan) would send themselves broke by buying one anyway.

But with the cap unlikely to go up next year due to financial pressure and players lining up at Manchester Airport for direct flights to the NRL, it looks like the best short-term solution.

Who knows? Maybe someone’s already thought of it.

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UNTIL now, we got a vague idea that the new Australian Rugby League Commission cared a bit more about international football than the previous administration (which, to be fair, probably cared more than the one before it.

But now we have proof.

The commission has identified 30 tasks that it values above all others in the months ahead. One of them is the development of the international game.

In case you were hoping for ARLC chairman John Grant to just go ahead and list the other 29, well … er … he won’t.

But here’s what he had to say to us recently on the ABC.

“We just carried out a work prioritisation. If I go back, we put a strategic plan out there that was very clear on where we plan to put our focus and our attention over the next five years.

“We’ve devolved that laid it out into what turns out to be 30 priorities we plan to time-schedule and run through. It’s turning the intent of the strategic plan into actions and into measurements.
“We’ve got each of those 30 projects, each of which has multiple sub-projects.

“One of the things we have in our charter that fits onto this priority of international rugby league and making the Pacific Island nations stronger.

“That requires funding, and the commission funded the Tonga-Samoa international.”

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AND that’s a nice segueway into the game held at Penrith’s Centrebet Stadium on April 20, a big 36-4 win to a Tongan team full of NRL stars over a Samoan side full of NRL stars.

As you may be aware now, there were two large-scale pitch invasions late in the match. The second prevented Tongan five-eighth Samsoni Langi from converting winger Mahe Fonua’s second try.

One of the most bizarre – and disturbing – scenes during the evening was a security guard high-fiving a pitch invader.

The common story after the game was that half the security was sent home at 3pm because they didn’t think the crowd would be very big in light of heavy rain at that stage.

The event organiser, Frank Puletua, repeated this allegation to me in a story. Penrith Panthers angrily denied it, saying no such thing happened.

Even Chinese Whispers start somewhere.

But the fact remains that a fully sanctioned Test match was abandoned with 45 seconds left because of a pitch invasion – an even which would prompt countless unsavoury headlines if it happened in another sport.

International rugby league often wants to have a bet each way – “please take us seriously” until something goes wrong, then it’s down to “passion” and “grassroots”.

This definitely won’t wash at the World Cup. If we get the mainstream media engaged, we have to accept they won’t just report the good stuff.

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IT’S hard to know what to make of the make-over at NRL headquarters at Moore Park.

The former banker now running the show, David Smith, copped a bit of a battering the other day when only 4635 fans showed up to City-Country.

Central to the complaints is that he doesn’t return reporters’ phone calls. Although it went national – and international – in 1995, the premiership is still quite a Sydney-centric beast and the Sydney media feels it pretty much owns it.

Actually, until a year ago, it did!

No doubt the daily press had considerably less interest in what David Smith did each day when he sat at a desk and crunched numbers.

Now, traditional media everywhere is growing steadily less influential (you’re reading this on our ipad app, aren’t you?) but in the case of the Sydney dailies, they’re not going down without a fight.

Radio commentator Ray Hadley calling Smith a “dunce” was headline news in the Daily Telegraph.

The next day, the changes were announced. Chief amongst these were the appointments of Canterbury chief executive Todd Greenberg as head of football and former NZRL CEO Jim Doyle as chief operating officer.

Smith is putting an enormous bureaucracy around him, having hired people with a background as political lobbyists early in the piece.

He has created new divisions at the NRL: Finance, Marketing Digital & Content, Corporate Affairs And Community, Football, Strategy, Commercial and Operations.

Four heads of these departments have been appointed, three have not. Drop Dave an email if you are interested!

While the Sydney press treated these developments with the seriousness it would afford a new New South Wales state cabinet – and afforded them more space – it all seems like empty rhetoric to Bondi Beat.

The first big success the ARLC can claim is the $1.025 billion Tv deal. Since then, there have been small triumphs but we’re still waiting for the second big one.

Smith seems capable and I have heard from at least one club that his address to its board was “staggeringly impressive”.

“He knows where he wants the game to go and can tell you exactly how we can get it there,” the insider said.

The make-up of the team is only of so much interest. It’s the game that counts.

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AS previously reported, the United States and Samoa are hoping to play a World Cup warm-up game in Hawaii.

I can report that Australia coach Tim Sheens is not planning any warm-up games while New Zealand’s Stephen Kearney is looking for an opponent in Europe.

@BondiBeat

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

FAR & WIDE: Number 23

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
THERE’S more than just prestige and a semi-final berth for Pacific nations to play for in the World Cup, Far & Wide can reveal.
It has been pretty much set in stone that the highest-ranked island country in Europe at the end of the year will be the fourth team in next year’s Four Nations, which will be held in the southern hemisphere.
That’s a big carrot for Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea. Aside from the obvious benefits of exposure for their brands and for their sponsors, players will be more likely to stick solid with a developing nation if they get to play the big boys.
The mid-year Pacific Test in Australia, then, will not now be tied to the Four Nations. While Tonga and Samoa are confident their clash will become an annual fixture, the NRL wants to share the love around and have different countries compete each year.
We’re hearing Fiji and PNG for 2014 – although if the clubs agree, this could be part of a double-header with Tonga-Samoa.
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MORE big news from your number one World Cup column.
The proposed World Cup warm-up game between Samoa and the United States in Hawaii is actually nothing of the sort.
Instead, it will be a domestic players-only clash between the Hawaiian Allstars and Samoa and will take place in around a month. It still hasn’t been confirmed.
BUT…here’s the scoop on what RLWC warm-ups are likely to take place. Fiji are talking to Rochdale, Papua New Guinea hope to play Scotland, France will likely play the United States and England hope to take on Italy.
All these games will take place on the weekend of October 17-18. So hold off booking your travel to Europe until these games are confirmed and the venues announced.
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THE European Shield, played over two seasons, resumes at the end of this month.
Russia currently leads the shield, over Serbia, Germany and Italy. The Russians travel to Belgrade for their first game of this year on May 25.
@RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: February 2013

RLW February 2013By STEVE MASCORD
ON the surface of it, the current plight of the Newcastle Knights proves that the NRL and Super League are not that far removed from each other.
Soft rock kings Dire Straits are in Salford and Newcastle? No, it’s the other way around.
We Australians like to think we’re flying, with our $1.025 billion television deal and players coming from all places and all codes to lace a boot in our competition.
But Nathan Tinkler, the Knights’ moneybags owner, seems to be slowly going broke and only recently the members board asked him to give the club back to them. Hunter Sports Group, which has a massive tax bill and is bleeding cash and letting go of many assets, ducked for cover when it came to public comment and instead left those with no real knowledge of the clubs’ financial situation to face the media.
Sound familiar?
At Salford, the council refused a bailout proposal for the Reds who are a the subject of a winding up petition – of which several out-of-pocket players are a part.
It seems they might have nicer weather and a better national team in Oz but there’s nothing new under the sun-or-not in rugby league.
But there’s a big difference.
Nathan Tinkler was not allowed to take control of the Knights until he put up a $20 million bank guarantee – and paid off ALL of the Knights’ bills. Now, he may have amassed some more debts in his short time in control but the club will be immeasurably better off if he departs during this season than it was when it took the reins last than two years ago.
Compare that to the plight of Salford. Their tax bill is only Stg50,000 but tell them they had a bank guarantee and they’d cry with happiness and head to the pub.
This writer can’t say he feels sorry for Tinker, who once told a reporter: “You’re a f—ing deadbeat, people like me don’t bother with f—ing you. You climb out of your bed every morning for your pathetic hundred grand a year, good luck.
”There’s a tall poppy syndrome; you would have heard of that because you hang around with the deadbeats and the losers who have done nothing with their lives.”
I’d rather do something with my life for enjoyment than for cash, Nathan. When you do something for satisfaction, you are rewarded instantly. Is it only money that gets you out of bed?
Might as well sleep in a bit this year…
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IT’s a measure of how much anticipation there is about the current season that when Manly put out a lame sponsorship announcement the other day, it was not only seized upon but ripped the shreds.
Normally, a press release saying the club was now called the “Kaspersky Sea Eagles” would be summarily ignored. How many times have clubs around the world tried to sneak their sponsor into the paper with such announcements, with the releases sinking without a trace.
But instead of being treated with the usual disdain, the media release received such a big run in traditional and social media that people thought Manly were actually changing their name! They had to put out a statement climbing down from the original announcement!
Do you know that Brisbane were recently “called” the Wow! Sight And Sound Broncos?
Please calm down everyone. The season will be here soon enough.
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SOMETHING is happening in the United States – and it’s too hard to say whether it’s good or bad.
The AMNRL site, owned by the establishment competition run by David Niu, is gone. The USARL site – run by the rebels – remains. Breakaway side Boston 13s recently Tweeted that they hoped to have players in the Tomahawks squad for RLWC13.
At the moment, players from the breakaway comp are precluded from playing for the national side. Apple Pope had to quit his Jacksonville Axemen to retain the Tomahawks captaincy.
As we told you last month, there is also new activity on the West Coast. It should be an interesting lead-up to the Americans’ World Cup bow. We aren’t even sure if coach Matthew Elliott will be holding onto the job after getting a start with the New Zealand Warriors.
IN Oz there was a commericial in the early eighties for a non-alcoholic mixer called Claytons, with the slogan being “The Drink You Have When You’re Not Having A Drink”.
Every since then, “Claytons” has been local slang for something fake.
And from what I can tell, we may be about to see a Clayton’s Shoudler Charge Ban.
From what I am told by sources deep within the refereeing ranks, shoudler charges will be OK in the NRL this year as long as the arm of the defender is extended. In other words, the difference between a shoulder charge and a legitimate tackle will be defined as whether the arm is tucked into the body or not.
I’m also hearing that if there’s no penalty on the field, and no high contact, then the match review committee won’t even bother looking at it.
I’m sure Chris Sandow’s coach, Ricky Stuart, would prefer him to stick his arm out anyway.
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SO, will this month’s World Club Challenge between Leeds and Melbourne be the final one in the old two-team format …. finally?
The clubs want to stage a six-team tournament at the end of next season, perhaps in a neutral venue such as Las Vegas or Dubai.
The RLIF, on the other hand, is keen on a tour of some sort (more news as it comes to hand) in Australia and New Zealand at that time.
A compromise would see three Super League teams travelling to Australia for a pre-season WCC next year, with the clubs leveraging the games as part of their stadium deals.
In the mean time, in a couple of weeks the Melbourne Storm will be setting up shop at Eton, which may be the poshest school in the entire world.
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MY own thoughts on Rugby League World‘s World XIII last month were that St George Illawarra’s Brett Morris was very lucky indeed to get in.
He can do much, much more than he acheived last year; remember the way he started 2011 playing for the Dragons against Wigan. His twin brother Josh has moved way ahead of him and is now an outstanding centre.
While on Josh, if you think rugby league players just like to go to cheesy holiday spots and get rolling drunk in the off-season, Josh took a group of Bulldogs to the South By Southwest (SxSW) music festival in Austin Texas last year.
Would love to go myself.
Cooper Cronk’s ascention to being the world’s best halfback is richly deserved and a great advertisement for patience, given the men he has been lining up behind for the best part of a decade.
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WHEN Fiji coaching director Joe Dakuitoga told me shortly after one of Petero Civoniceva’s “final” appearances at Suncorp Stadium that the big fella was going to play a year in the Queensland Cup to stay fit for RLWC 13, I had to check it out from the man himself.
“Tell him to get off the kava,” Petero texted.
But as it turns out, Joe was right and Petero was … well, it would be a massive co-incidence if he had never considered this possibility until the Fijians presented it as fact to a reporter, wouldn’t it?
One can only surmise that Civoniceva didn’t want to take the lustre from his various farewell matches but admitting he actually had more than a year left in his career.
In fact, he may even get another run at Suncorp Stadium if his new team, Redcliffe Dolphins, may the Q Cup final.
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I THOUGHT last month’s edition was a cracker and I particularly enjoyed reading about France’s 25-18 win over Great Britain at Headingley in 1990.
I was a spot 21-year-old on my first visit to the UK back then and remember two things about the match very clearly. One, the French were sponsored by Jiffi Condoms. Two, I was taking a pee when they scored the winning try.
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