THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week One 2014

The Joy Of SixSANDOW SIN BIN

WHEN we went to Parramatta with claims Chris Sandow had played in an aboriginal knockout and been sent off for a shoulder charge followed by an elbow, Eels CEO Scott Seward told us: “He had permission to play. He passed a medical and the coach gave him his blessing. Chrissy has told us he was sent to the sin bin for a shoulder charge on a childhood friend. It was a bit of a joke between them.” But bootleg video on YouTube above appears to show a dismissal – with the elbow chiefly to blame. When Seward put this to Sandow, he insisted he wasn’t aware he had been sent off, only sin binned. We can’t find any record of a judiciary hearing. The title for the Murri Carnival at Redcliffe two weeks ago changed hands when it was discovered the winners, Murri Dingoes Blue, fielded a player who mistakenly believed his drugs suspension had expired. Parra’ refused permission for Joseph Paulo and Bereta Faraimo to play for the US in the Mitchelton Nines on Saturday.

PUNCHING ON 1

WE have often heard this year that “little guys wouldn’t be pushing big guys if they could still be punched”. It was just a theory until the Super League grand final, when little Lance Hohaia pushed big Ben Flower, then lunged at him with a raised forearm. As we know, Hohaia punched Flower twice, the second time when he was on his back, possibly unconscious. They both missed the rest of the game, leaving St Helens to limp to victory as they have all year. Had Flower – who left Old Trafford before fulltime – not opted out of Wales duty, he could at least have counted the upcoming European internationals against what will no doubt be a mammoth suspension. Condemnation of Flower has been widespread and almost unanimous. Soccer star Joe Barton Tweeted he had “little sympathy” for Hohaia because of the provocation, but later stressed he did not intend to defend the Welshman.

PUNCHING ON 2

LIKE Wigan’s Super League campaign, the proud 15-year-plus history of the United States Tomahawks may have come to an end with a punch at the weekend. The USARL is taking over running the game in the US and is likely to dispense with the old AMNRL trademark, meaning it was all on the line when the Americans trailed invitational side Iron Brothers 8-4 with three minutes left in a Nines quarter-final in Brisbane. The Tomahawks got the ball back but sometime-cage fighter Tui Samoa took umbrage to something a rival said and punched him. Water carrier Paulo – banned, as we said, by Parramatta from playing – helped separate them, Samoa was sent to the bin and Brothers scored again to eliminate the US 14-4.

GRACIOUSNESS AND GAFFES

AND what a mixed bag we had for rugby league public speaking at the weekend. On the plus side, congrats to departing Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin, the club’s player of the year Ben Hunt and CEO Paul White for their oratory at the club presentation. “Ben Hunt was entitled to test his value on the open market but he didn’t,” White told around 500 guests. “Although at a backyard barbecue I was at, he did get his message across to me by changing the words of the Status Quo song to ‘down, down, prices are down”. Griffin said: “Whatever I do now, I’ll be a competitor. But I’ll never be a critic of this club or the people in it.” On the negative, St Helens’ Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, at fulltime on live TV: “I’m absolutely buzzing. I could fucking swear”. Yes, he said those words – in that order.

WORLDWIDE LIVE

SOUTHS chief executive Shane Richardson has savaged the running of the international game in Britain’s The Observer. “I look at the state of international rugby league and it just makes me angry,” Richardson – citing the departure of Sam Burgess as a symptom of the problem – said. “I know from the years I’ve spent in the game, and the contacts I’ve made in business, and the places I’ve been around the world, that there’s a potential to do so much more.” Nevertheless, Greece played their first home international at the weekend, beating the Czechs 68-16 in Athens, the Philippines defeated Vanuatu 32-16 on remote Santo and Norway were preparing to meet Thailand in Bangkok. Next weekend, Latin America faces Portugal and Fiji takes on Lebanon, both in Sydney while Tonga take on PNG in Lae and the European Championships commence.

RETIRING ON A HIGH

REPORTS of veteran rugby league photographer Col Whelan’s retirement were greatly exaggerated last year. The NRL weren’t quite ready to take over Col’s operation and he went around in 2014 for one last season – wearing a South Sydney cap to every game. NRL rules prohibit media from wearing club merchandise but the media areas are full of uniformed club staff posting on social media, an inconsistency the irascible snapper sought to highlight. At fulltime on grand final day in the bunnies rooms, players became concerned Col had stopped shooting. He was crying with happiness. At the Red and Green ball, Whelan presented every player with a disc containing 120 photos of their life-defining triumph. What a way to go out – enjoy your retirement, Col.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

SIN BIN: October 12 2013

sinbinsign1By STEVE MASCORD

SOMEHOW most rugby league fans outside the UK remain oblivious to it but British rugby league is experiencing an open rebellion right on the eve of its hosting of the World Cup.

When we say ‘open rebellion’, we are talking Australia, 1995. We’re talking – potentially – that significant.

The spark has been a plan to restructure the professional game by having two divisions for part of the season and then – innovatively or crazily, depending on your perspective – rearranging it into three competitions mid-stream.

There was supposed to be an extraordinary general meeting of clubs last week to finalise the plan but it was postponed indefinitely, the Rugby Football League saying everyone wanted to concentrate on the World Cup.

What it didn’t say was that all the Super League clubs bar Leeds were organising their own meeting to discuss the next move. Not a friendly development. Wigan’s Ian Lenagan is leading the protest.

Leeds CEO Gary Hetherington is seen as exerting the most influence over Red Hall, and Sin Bin understands he is not backing the threatened breakaway.

But one of the new bosses at Wakefield – who are – is Kath Hetherington, his wife!

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“TREAT the sideline as a precipice” is one of rugby league’s hoariest clichés – but at Port Vila’s Kormand Stadium, it really is the end of the known universe.

If you’re a crab.

To prevent land crabs invading the field of play, the venue for this weekend’s Vanuatu-Niue Islands international is ringed by a buried concrete barrier which stops the critters in their tracks.

Some, however, seem to find their way over the top of them because there are numerous holes over the field nonetheless.

The white concrete strips would serve as functional ground markings but proper paint will be laid down before knick-off by a man who will also do some tidying up around the place – and acts as deputy speaker in the Vanuatu Parliament.

For the second consecutive year (Vanuatu played Greece in 2012), there were concerns about access to the venue. Soccer claimed to be using it and an official said on radio during the week that the “rugby” would have to miss out.

But Queensland-based organiser Dane Campbell – who set up rugby league in foreign countries as a hobby while halfback understudy to Andrew Johns at Newcastle – made sure a deal was done with the government well in advance and it is the soccer administrators who have to find a new venue.

In case you are wondering, Melbourne’s Justin O’Neill still hasn’t represented his homeland. He was in Mackay helping out last week, though, when Vanuatu beat the Solomon Islands 48-30.

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YOUR correspondent has just started reading No Helmets Required, Gavin Willacy’s meticulously-researched story of the 1953 American All Stars.

While the United States are finally going to the World Cup this month, Willacy reveals they were actually invited to the first one in ;54 – even though the game was not played there at any level when the invitation was issued and promoter Mike Dmitro hadn’t recruited a single player!

But there is just as much rancour over the 2013 Tomahawks, with domestic players and officials outraged at the number of “heritage” players who’ve got a start.

It’s worth remembering, though, that there are more domestic players in the squad than in those of Italy, the Cook Islands, Ireland, Scotland and others.

We were first alerted to the situation when big prop Curtis Cunz revealed on Facebook he had been overlooked.

Unlike Tohu Harris, Cunz has not turned down the chance to tour as an “ambassador” and seemed as thrilled to confirm his involvement as he was depressed at missing the cut.

But the drama and debate will no doubt continue.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: International Season week one

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

1. WHAT IN THE WORLD?

ACCORDING to the Rugby League International Federation constitution, the gates of all Tests are to be levied with the money going into central funds. The levy is supposed to apply, as a percentage, the same to Saturday’s Vanuatu-Niue game in Port Vila as April’s Australia-New Zealand match in Canberra. But is it being applied at all? The 2008 World Cup made a reported $4 million profit. How was this spent? If we are all to get behind the 2013 tournament with our cash and enthusiasm, surely a little transparency shouldn’t be too much to ask in return? The fact is, domestic leagues don’t want the RLIF taking sponsors and other financial opportunities off them and that’s been holding back international footy for years.

2. INS AND OUTS

ANOTHER player who could have shone in the World Cup is out. Hooker James Segeyaro’s shoulder injury forced him to withdraw from the Papua New Guinea side over the weekend. Italy have lost both first choice halves, Terry Campese and Craig Gower, but Tonga’s Brent Kite is playing on despite hand and wrist injuries. Samoa coach Matt Parish has not had a good time of it. Frank Pritchard, Krisnan Inu and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck were nabbed by the Kiwis while Jeff Lima, Steve Matai and Carlos Tuimavave were ruled out injured. It appears Matai played in the NRL grand final with a serious hand injury. He ran straight up the tunnel at fulltime against South Sydney the previous week – perhaps he suffered it then. He’s been named as a technical advisor for the Samoans.

3. PACIFIC PRINCES

IT used to be that you could comfortably make it to every rugby league international played in a given year. Yet on one of the quietest weekends of the year, NSW Country beat South African Clubs Selection 50-0 in Silverton, Vanuatu beat Niue 22-20 in Port Vila and Greece downed Thailand 90-0 in Bangkok. The Port Vila game was a great spectacle, with players from both teams forming a circle for a prayer at fulltime and celebrating long into the night – with the referee! Self-starting countries like these need all the help they can get from the RLIF. But it’s a double-edged sword – the Federation probably wouldn’t let them use players who qualify through great grandparents (and there were plenty of them), or allow five reserves!

4. THAIS HAVE LEGS

ON the surface, there wasn’t much for the Thais to be happy about when they were beaten 90-0 by Greece at Technology Stadium, Bangkok, on Saturday. But in the stands for the game run by Shannon Crane’s Thai Rugby League was the boss of the rival organisation, Andrew Charles. Charles’ Thailand Stars play the Philippines away next week and several of those players – including Queensland-based Charlie Jones – turned out in Crane’s team. Charles was also invited to a sponsor’s function. The result of the game is compelling proof a country that has so far hosted just two rugby league games cannot continue with the folly of two governing bodies. Despite the thrashing, everyone also seemed to have a good time afterwards.

5. SMALL WORLD

STROLLING along Port Vila waterfront on Sunday night, Joy Of Six was stunned to run into Gold Coast Titans hooker Matt Srama and his girlfriend. With a trip to the Philippines on hold because of a shoulder injury, Srama decided to head to Vanuatu completely oblivious to the fact a rugby league international was being played there. Titans official Matt Francis – who spoke to several promising local players – must have missed Srama at the airport by a matter of hours on Sunday. Honourable mention, too, to the local French film-makers who shot the Vanuatu players walking towards the camera, Melbourne Storm style, at training two days before the Niue game and turned it into a slick promo video at lightning speed. One suspects they were not paid anything like what our game shells out for similar clips in England, New Zealand and Australia.

6. AMERICAN CIVIL WAR CONTINUES

JACKSONVILLE Axemen owner Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland continues to rail against the number of foreign-based players in the United States World Cup team. Now comes a claim the team might actually be, in some regards, illegal. Howland has cited the Ted Stevens Act, which impacts on amateur sports in the US and their relationship with the US Olympic Committee. However, given that other sides at the World Cup have fewer, and even no, domestic players, it’s hard to see anything changing with regard to the Tomahawks. In more positive news for Spinner, the Axemen have launched their own beer.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

International: VANUATU 22 NIUE 20 at Municipal Stadium, Port Vila

By STEVE MASCORD

MAL Meninga’s 22-year-old nephew could be with the Gold Coast Titans next year after starring in Vanuatu’s historic, nail-biting win over international league newcomers Niue.

Rangy back-rower Joey Meninga crossed for the home side’s second try in a 22-20 win at Port Vila’s Municipal Stadium, a result secured in the 78th minute after Niue came back from 10-0 down to lead for much of the second half.

Sunshine Coast Sea Eagle Meninga was seen talking to Gold Coast official Matt Francis at fulltime on Saturday and it’s understood the possibility of a move to the tourist strip was discussed.

“I’m not sure about next year – I’m still keen to play footy, I’m just looking for another club to go to,” Meninga told Fairfax Media.

“I want to have a good shot at it now, while I’m still young. My time’s coming up now. I don’t want to not go for it now and later regret it.

“Every week I’m improving. Hopefully something comes up.”
Joe said his family’s connection to Vanuatu went back to great great grandfather Tom, who was relocated to Queensland to work on the cane fields as part of the blackbird movement.

“My great, great grandfather came from Tanner Island,” said Meninga. “He was blackbirded, to work on the sugar cane field. I think it might have been to Bundaberg.

“The reason he was allowed to stay in Australia was that he married an Irishwoman.

“Uncle Mal comes to Vanuatu all the time, he does charity work and stuff here. Tom Meninga is his great grandfather.”

While increased ticket prices are not restricted to the NRL – and probably kept Saturday’s crowd down on last year’s attendance for a game against Greece – the result was Vanuatu’s first home win and Niu’s first ever full international.

Victory was snatched when halfback Josh Tanner snuck over from close range after a 73nd minute Niue try had appeared to create a wide enough gap between the visibly tiring teams.

There was controversy over a late try to Vanuatu’s Jason Pakaosongi, who appeared to be tackled touch-in-goal. “Unfortunately we don’t have men upstairs to check it in games like this,” said Niue’s Brad Watkinson. “We didn’t think it was a try but refereeing is refereeing everywhere.”

Melbourne Storm centre Justin O’Neill is eligible for Vanuatu but is yet to play for them. Most of the Niue side is based in New Zealand, although Watkinson plays for Dewsbury.

Ten members of Vanuatu coach David Simpson’s squad were from the domestic league.

VANUATU 22 (Geoffry Kausei, Joe Meninga, Sam Pierce, Jason Pakaosongi, Josh Tanner tries; Tanner goal) beat NIUE 20 (Chris Ulukita 2, Jordan Tongiahiri, Kodezz Simeki tries; Alex Seini-Edwards 2 goals) at Municipal Stadium, Port Vila. Referee: Peter Gough (Australia). Crowd: About 3000


Filed for: SUN-HERALD

FAR & WIDE: Number 42

Far & WideSTEVE MASCORD

JAPAN appear to have pulled out of the Asia Cup.

“I have heard that,” Thailand coach Andrew Charles tells Far & Wide. “If that’s the case, we’ll still be going and we’ll play the Philippines.

“There has been some talk about us playing them twice. It depends on our flights. Personally, I’d be happy to play them once and just relax and enjoy the location.

“But I am sure there will be some discussions.”

The Asia Cup was to take place between October 19 and 23 at Clark, near Angeles City, in the Philippines. The Philippines-Thailand game was scheduled for October 23 and will probably go ahead on that date.

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FRED Gruhler was a pioneer of American rugby league, going back to the days of the Patriots in the World Sevens.

Fred was a US Marine, worked in the aviation industry and represented the Tomahawks and Patriots 25 times. He passed away last week in circumstances which are so far unreported, his obituary saying he died “suddenly on September 12, 2013 at his home”

Fred was involved in rugby league as a coach right up until his passing, which has shaken the sport in the US.

Far & Wide and Rugby League Week send our condolences to Fred’s family and friends and everyone in the wider rugby league community who knew him.

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TICKETS are now on sale for the Vanuatu-Solomon Islands international at Mackay’s Virgin Australia Stadium the night before the grand final, October 5.

They’re only $10 a pop and are available from the Mackay Events & Convention Centre website. A week later, Vanuatu will host the Niui Islands in Port Vila and we’ll be there.

Kick-off is at 6.30pm. The game marks the 150th anniversary of the Black Bird movement, where South Pacific were forcibly removed from their homelands to work in the sugar cane industry in Australia.

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FRANCE coach Richard Agar has been in Australia for a couple of weeks, checking out Les Chanticleers’ World Cup opposition.

Agar is also on recruitment duty for this Super League club Wakefield and has been spending plenty of time with Catalan’s 2012 coach, Trent Robinson, at Sydney Roosters.

Richard has a 40-man squad for the Coup du Monde which will be cut to 24 on October 1.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: Number 30

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

NEWLY re-signed Canberra prop Brett White is sitting by the phone waiting for the call to come from Ireland’s World Cup coach Mark Aston.

White was in the Wolfhounds’ squad for the 2008 tournament but had to withdraw through injury and is worried he may have been forgotten.

“I don’t know, they must be going alright over there,” White tells Far & Wide. “I got in contact with them when I was over for the World Club Challenge (before the last World Cup)

“I haven’t heard anything. I certainly am (interested). I was very close to my grandfather, who probably had the biggest influence on my life.

“He was Irish, came out from Ireland for the Snowy River Scheme in the fifties – Arthur Costello. He was the biggest influence on my life and my football career.

“To be able to play for Ireland, it would mean a lot to my family and myself. At the moment, I’ve been trying to just do the best for the Raiders and get back to the best footy I can play.

“If that happens at the end of the year, that would be fantastic.”

NSW five-eighth James Maloney also checked out his lineage to see if he was eligible for Ireland. “But it’s great grandparents, not grandparents,” he said with disappointment.

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THE latest country outside the World Cup to plan post-season internationals is Vanuatu.

Melbourne centre Justin O’Neill qualifies for the fledgling league nation but didn’t play last year against Greece.

However, he’s a huge chance of making his bow this year. Opponents and dates to be announce some time in the next week.

Elsewhere, Jamaica has just completed a very successful schools tournament and former St Helens and Samoa star Apollo Perelini will coach the United Arab Emirates Under 18s against Lebanon in September.

League is getting a surprising amount of newspaper coverage in the UAE, with The National reporting Perelini’s appointment in detail.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

FAR & WIDE: Number 19

By STEVE MASCORD

PREPARATIONS are on in earnest for Vanuatu’s league debut, against Greece in Port Vila on October 20.

The Vanuatu Rugby League have signed a sponsorship deal with Ford. The team will assemble in Port Vila on October 16 ahead of the international, with Storm grand final star Justin O’Neill in line for selection.
At the moment, October 20 is also the day France plays Wales in Lens and Thailand takes on the Philippines in Bangkok. We’re hearing the latter game may, however, be subject to minor time and/or date changes (NB: Now confirmed for Royal Thai Police Stadium at 3pm on October 21).
On Monday, October 22, the Philippines side (featuring Matt Srama, Kevin Gordon and Andrew Everingham) will travel to Manila to undertake coaching clinics. Far & Wide understands the first of these will be on Wednesday, October 24. The clinics will over the course of that week will be held in Manilla and in another venue about two hours’ drive from the capital.
We’ve been waiting a while for the draw of the Tri-Nations, involving England, Wales and France. Things seem to have progressed since we last reported on this.
The second game of the series is between Wales and England at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham on October 27 and the third a week later between England and France at Craven Park, Hull. The final, on November 8, is penciled in for Salford City Stadium.
It’s hope the matches will be shown live on BBC at 3pm UK time.
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THE rubbery nature of international eligibility is not limited to the southern hemisphere.
Huddersfield’s Dale Ferguson has had a strong year in Super League. He started his representative career for Scotland before switching to England Knights, the second tier England team. Now he’s going back to Scotland.
But his Giants team-mate Joe Wardle, who made his Scotland debut alongside Ferguson, is still with England Knights and will play AGAINST Scotland in Edinburgh on October 28. Are you with me?
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TIME to honour the premiers around the country.
Northern Territory: Brothers, 36-10 over Nightcliff. South Australia. Centrals 21-10 over Norths. Western Australia: North Beach 17-10 over Fremantle. Victoria: Altona, 25-22 over Sunbury.  ACT: Belconnen United, 38-22 over Queanbeyan Kangaroos. Tasmania play in the summer.