THE JOY OF SIX: International season week two 2014

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

PLAY LEAGUE, SEE THE WORLD

TOP players would be hired as ambassadors and sent to promote the game around the world as part of one proposal if the new Rugby League International Federation office is based in Sydney. In a move which could address the loss of stars to rival codes, the scheme would provide legitimate additional earnings for elite players and also match the opportunities for travel offered by other sports, Set Of Six has learned. The scheme would be financed by assembling a portfolio of current NRL sponsors who are headquartered overseas and interested in broadening their involvement in the code. But at the moment it seems likely the RLIF will be based on the northern hemisphere and minimise its engagement with the NRL and NRL players, with its first fulltime CEO to have had no history in the game. In that case, the ambassador scheme would not get past first base.

HAKA HULLABALOO

THANKS to the Junior Kangaroos and Junior Kiwis for reminding us all about one of the perennial yarns of the Four Nations and Tri-Nations – the haka. Remember Willie Mason and David Kidwell? The young Aussies linked arms and advanced on the haka at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday before the junior international, actually touching heads in some cases – pretty remarkable scenes. Some of the forehead-lunges may have brought a penalty or worse after kick-off and the match officials got between the players as things got testy. Could we see Tim Sheens’ men do something similar at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday? And we are already salivating at the prospect of pre-match formalities when the Kiwis take on the Samoans at Whangerei.

NO MORE AWARD DRAMA

donate2ORGANISERS of the RLIF player of the year award have sidestepped the controversy surrounding Ben Hunt and Daly Cherry Evans at the Dally Ms by doing away with positional award voting. Manly’s Cherry-Evans made the Dally M NRL team of the year at halfback even though Brisbane’s Hunt polled more votes. The RLIF Award will be presented at a Brisbane luncheon on Thursday. Instead of judges being asked to vote for players in each position, they were simply given a shortlist and asked to provide a three-two-one on their top three candidates. Sonny Bill Williams got the gong in 2013; there must be a fair chance it will go to another departing star in 2014 with Sam Burgess and Jarryd Hayne among a group of nominees that also include Greg Inglis, James Graham and Johnathan Thurston. Teams for the double-header on Saturday will be named on Tuesday – tournament rules stipulate starting sides must be announced, not just squads as at the World Cup.

PHANTOM SIREN GOES GLOBAL

JARRYD Hayne isn’t the only NRL institution thinking global at the weekend. The Phantom Siren made his international debut when Fiji played Lebanon at Remondis Stadium on Sunday, doing his thing as Fiji made a break while ahead 22-12 a few seconds from halftime. “It’s one of the drummers,” radio sideline eye Daniel Pettigrew reported, in reference to the musicians on the Lebanon bench. Fiji didn’t flinch but also didn’t score before the proper bell rang out. By fulltime, they had run out 40-28 victors in the Hayne-Mannah Cup. “On behalf of all the Fijian-Australian boys, we wish Jarryd luck overseas,” Bati captain Wes Naiqama told a crowd of around 1000 as he accepted the trophy, the name of which seems unlikely to be affected by the Parramatta star’s flirtations with the NFL.

FARAH EYES CEDARS SEND-OFF

ROBBIE Farah is eying a 2017 World Cup send-off – by representing Lebanon alongside new Australia team-mate Josh Mansour. Under new World Cup qualification rules, Africa and the Middle East are guaranteed one spot in the tournament, to be held in Australia, New Zealand and possibly Papua New Guinea. That makes the Cedars odds-on to qualify after missing the last two tournaments by the barest of margins. “Hopefully one day I can get back there and help them out,” Farah told Set Of Six. “The World Cup in 2017 … I’ll be 33 so I’m not sure if I’ll still be picked by Australia or not. The Commission would be very happy if Lebanon qualifies, in terms of the crowd they will generate. I think they’ll get there this time and if we do, we’ll have a pretty good side – myself, Tim Mannah, the Robinson brothers (Reece and Travis), Mitchell Moses and Josh Mansour who is here with me.”

INTERNATIONAL MEN OF HISTORY

amazonONCE upon a time, you could comfortably make it to every rugby league international played in a given year. Now, it’s difficult to even keep up with the scores. Aside from events at Remondis Stadium on Sunday, Latin America beat Portugal 40-6 at Woolhara and in Lae, PNG beat Tonga 32-18/ Earlier in the weekend, the Junior Kiwis edged out the Junior Kangaroos 15-14 in Auckland, Ireland upset France 22-12 in Dublin, Greece beat Bosnia-Herzigovina 58-4 and Serbia flogged Hungary 50-0, both in Belgrade, while Scotland returned to happy hunting grounds in Workington to outclass Wales 44-18. The games in Serbia were part of a new competition, the Balkans Cup.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week Three

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

SLIPPERY WHEN … DRY

A slippery surface and strangely mute crowd – those were the minor negatives on an otherwise positive and encouraging opening day at the World Cup. Despite claims the crowd of 45,052 was a day one record, the Australia-Great Britain game to kick off the 1968 tournament attracted 62,256 at the SCG. Saturday’s attendance was certainly a triumph but England fans seemed scared of investing emotionally in a team that has let them down so often over the years. The match was not boring but it was slow. Players believe this was a result of the surface, which tends to suffer from condensation when the roof is closed – they were watching their footing and playing conservatively. Anthony Minichiello called the pitch “gluggy”. Oh, and Sam Burgess’ discipline problems are becoming a real issue.

A STROKE OF GENIUS

THE World Cup format was widely derided when announced before the 2008 tournament. Effectively, all the good teams are concentrated in one or two pools and they get the majority of places in the latter stages.  Pools containing “development countries” have to progress through play-offs and repercharges. This matches like with like and gives the illusion of a competitive tournament while maximising the possibility of money-making clashes of the titans throughout. Your correspondent was one who dismissed this as cynical and even deceitful but is now happy to admit it is a stroke of genius. In fact, the principle could be applied to lopsided leagues in many sports – including Super League. Wigan, Leeds, Warrington and the rest could play each other and get most play-off spots, while those directly below them competing with the best of the rest for the remaining couple of berths. The beauty of it? You don’t even have to admit there’s two divisions – you dress it up as one.

NOT FAKIN’ IT

FEIGNING injury is a growing problem in rugby league but Canberra and Italy prop Paul Vaughan was involved in a bizarre strain of the practice at Millennium Stadium on Saturday. He was being helped off with what appeared a serious knee injury in the 48th minute – before waving away the medicos and breaking into a jog on the way to the bench. When  Vaughan was jeered by the crowd, he put one hand up to an ear and then signaled with the other that they should give him more. Why was it so strange? Because this all happened with the Welsh preparing for a line dropout – it was they who needed a spell! “I got a bit of a hit in the knee and I thought the worst,” said Vaughan. “The boys had a bit of a roll-on. I probably put a halt to that. As soon as I had a bit of a jog, I was alright.”

GORDON BRAY EAT YOUR HEART OUT

IT was wonderful hearing the ground announcer at Cardiff use perfect continental pronunciations for the names of Italy’s largely Australian squad– but stuff up the England side. The England halfback was “Ran-jee” Chase and the hooker was “James Robbi”. Question of the day came from the BBC’s Robbie (not Roby) Paul, who posited to Billy Slater in one of those new fangled halftime interviews that the game so far had been “a half of two halves”. Veteran BBC caller Ray French was fascinated that one of the Italians played for “Maroon Bar Miners’ – Moranbah. Italy coach Carlo Napolitano was asked about the split in the game there and insisted winning games internationally with the best available team was the best way to promote the sport and that the Azzurri had garnered domestic publicity already.

NEWBE BLACKOUT

IF a team makes its World Cup debut and no-one sees it, has it really made its World Cup debut? On-selling the television rights to International Management Group may have made commercial sense to the RLIF but it has resulted in the disappointing situation of the games being shown nowhere but the internet in the United States and Italy, who are in the World Cup for the first time. IMG’s concern is making its money back, not promoting rugby league. And as for England coach Steve McNamara refusing to discuss why James Graham was not picked, how can one expect the passion and support of a public without feeling any accountability to that same public? The whole thing was poorly managed.

 

WIDE WORLD OF LEAGUE

HAVING watched rugby league over the past three weekends in Port Vila, Johannesburg and Cardiff, it is probably incumbent upon this writer to pass comment on the general state of the not-union. Despite the civil war in Super League and growing pains in the NRL, the amount of activity is quite remarkable. After a century stuck in the starting blocks, rugby league is starting to spread its wings somewhat; who would have though Welsh bootleggers would one day be flogging fake Italian rugby league merchandise in the streets? The World Cup opening ceremony was professional and classy but the best pictures of the weekend were the Greek team teaching Hungry how to pack a league scrum – directly before they played each other.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: ITALY 32 WALES 16 at Millennium Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

SYDNEY Roosters grand final hero Aiden Guerra admitted after scoring two tries in Italy’s World Cup victory over Wales he had not inhabited the same world as the rest of us for quite some time.

Guerra, a scorer in the Roosters’ 26-18 GF win over Manly just under a month ago, made Millennium Stadium his own with tries in the eighth and 22nd minutes and setting up the match-sealer in the 32-16 victory.

Anthony Minichiello, his captain at club and international level, said the premiership had done wonders for Guerra’s confidence while the 25-year-old’s admitted the World Cup debutantes had set their sights on a quarter-final appointment with New Zealand.

“I don’t think reality is going to set in until I have to show up to Roosters training sometime in December – and hopefully not too early,” said Guerra, who played in the centres against the home nation.

“I don’t think the grand final’s really sunk in yet and I don’t know if the magnitude of a World Cup will really sink in for a while yet either.

“We’re definitely aiming to meet New Zealand in the first quarter-final. If we can get there, that would be a good achievement and if we can go further, that would be even better..”

The sides traded tries in the first half before the NRL experience and class of the Italians kicked in during the second session, with Wests Tigers’ James Tedesco also outstanding.

Guerra’s effort in pirouetting before putting winger Chris Centrone over in the 70th minute sent the locals heading for the exits.

“That was the best thing I’ve been involved in,” said Italy prop Cameron Ciraldo. “When you walked out, with the anthems and that, I was in wonderland.

“It was better than I imagined. It was on another level.”

Wales coach Iestyn Harris conceded the NRL experience in the Italian side, and particularly the flair of the Italian centres, was decisive.

“If we’re at our best, we can trouble anyone; unfortunately we weren’t at our best,” he said.

“We’ve still got a good change to go through. We’ve just got to win our next two games. If we could afford to lose any game, this was it.”

ITALY 32 (Aiden Guerra 2, Josh Mantellato, James Tedesco, Chris Centrone, Mark Minichiello tries; Mantellato 4 goals) bt WALES 16 (Will Evans, Rhodri Lloyd, Elliot Kear tries; Lloyd White 2 goals) at Millennium Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 45,052.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: UNITED STATES 24 WALES 16 at Racecourse Ground, Wrexham

By STEVE MASCORD
AFTER securing a quarter-final tie against Australia, United States officials revealed that World Cup organisers had booked them on flights home before the pool stage of the tournament is even completed.
The Tomahawks further enhanced their reputations a the biggest stories of the Cup by downing woeful Wales 24-16 at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground on Sunday; it was 24-4 with 10 minutes to go.
In doing so, the Americans assured themselves of a November 16 appointment with Tim Sheens’ green and golds at the same venue, which had been locked in in the expectation of Wales progressing.
“Under tournament rules, you are supposed to fly out two days after you are eliminated,” Tomahawks team manager Steve Johnson told Fairfax Media.
“Well, we were booked to leave on November 9 – two days before the last pool game when we could always have still been alive.
“It shows how little was expected of us. We ain’t going nowhere now.”
They may be part timers to no-timers – possible Wests Tigers recruit Les Solaia has merely trained once with a rugby union team in Portland, Oregon, this year – but it didn’t take long for the Tomahawks to adopt a decidedly NRL approach to their first game against Australia since the now-legendary 2004 clash in Philadelphia.
Players were instructed to talk only about this week’s final pool match against Scotland,
But former Parramatta and Gold Coast winger Matt Petersen, a tryscorer on Sunday, says each game so far on the campagn has beaten every previous match in a 216-game NRL career and with the quarter’ Australia, his likely final game will now be his most memorable.
“It was definitely one if the highlights of my career (in 2004),” said Petersen, the only survivor from the game a decade ago which rhe US led 24-6 at halftime before losing 36-24
“We’ve got to play Scotland first but it’s a highlight (to do it again). When we played France and we won, to be honest that’s been the highlight of my career, of 10 years of NRL.
“Then we beat Cook Islands. The we came up here and beat Wales. There were 50 people in the crowd with (US) flags and 8000 Welsh people – definitely the hightlight of my career.
“To be still involved after 10 years is massive. When I came away, I had four weeks left in me and I knew it.”
The Welsh did manage to score first, through centre centre Christian Roets, and his brace comprised probably the tries of the match.
But Iestyn Harris’ side was mostly pedestrian in attack.
Tomahawks captain Clint Newton crashed over to tie the scores in the 22nd minute. The try of Petersen, who played bush football to keep himself fit for the tounament, seven minutes before the break gave the Americans a halftime lead.
When man of the match Joseph Paulo waltzed through retreating defence 14 minutes into the second half, the writing was on the wall.
Paulo finally managed a conversion when Tui Samoa barged over from dummy half just short of the hour and Penrith’s Newton tossed the ball in the air after posting his second soon afterwards.
RLWC officials began contemplating the size of next Sunday’s crowd in Neath for Wales’ final pool game at this point, while restless members of the crowd began contemplating the jeering of their own team.
This, at least, was averted by late scores by Roets and Anthony Walker, which were greeted enthusiastically.
Harris earned himself a rebuke from the Tomahawks when he said afterwards: “Come World Cup time, they come from all over the world. There’s one USA man in the whole squad”.
The AMNRL posted online: “Just to correct uninformed comments by Wales coach Iestyn Harris about the USA team. We had ten USA nationals and residents on field today” and Petersen commented on Facebook: “You can’t help sore losers”
Harris – whose comment would have been more or less accurate if he was referencing players with American accents – continued: “When we sit down to look at that game, we’ll see 25, 30 opportunities to score points. That’s very frustrating.
“It’s a bad result, yeah.”
Harris seemed keen on keep the players on the straight and narrow for the remainder of the tournament wit nothing to play for.
“What you’ve got to show over the next seven days is your professionalism,” he said. “When players look back on this World Cup campaign … they’ll see how they conducted themselves over the seven days.”
UNITED STATES 24 (Clint Newton 2, Matt Petersen, Joseph Paulo, Tui Samoa tries; Paulo 2 goals) beat WALES 16 (Christian Roets 2, Antony Walker tries; Lloyd White 2 goals) at Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. Referee: Ben Cummins (Australia). Crowd: 8019.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

World Cup: ITALY 32 WALES 16 at Millennium Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

SYDNEY Roosters grand final hero Aiden Guerra admitted after scoring two tries in Italy’s World Cup victory over Wales he had not inhabited the same world as the rest of us for quite some time.

Guerra, a scorer in the Roosters’ 26-18 GF win over Manly just under a month ago, made Millennium Stadium his own with tries in the eighth and 22nd minutes and setting up the match-sealer in the 32-16 victory.

Anthony Minichiello, his captain at club and international level, said the premiership had done wonders for Guerra’s confidence while the 25-year-old’s admitted the World Cup debutantes had set their sights on a quarter-final appointment with New Zealand.

“I don’t think reality is going to set in until I have to show up to Roosters training sometime in December – and hopefully not too early,” said Guerra, who played in the centres against the home nation.

“I don’t think the grand final’s really sunk in yet and I don’t know if the magnitude of a World Cup will really sink in for a while yet either.

“We’re definitely aiming to meet New Zealand in the first quarter-final. If we can get there, that would be a good achievement and if we can go further, that would be even better..”

The sides traded tries in the first half before the NRL experience and class of the Italians kicked in during the second session, with Wests Tigers’ James Tedesco also outstanding.

Guerra’s effort in pirouetting before putting winger Chris Centrone over in the 70th minute sent the locals heading for the exits.

“That was the best thing I’ve been involved in,” said Italy prop Cameron Ciraldo. “When you walked out, with the anthems and that, I was in wonderland.

“It was better than I imagined. It was on another level.”

Wales coach Iestyn Harris conceded the NRL experience in the Italian side, and particularly the flair of the Italian centres, was decisive.

“If we’re at our best, we can trouble anyone; unfortunately we weren’t at our best,” he said.

“We’ve still got a good change to go through. We’ve just got to win our next two games. If we could afford to lose any game, this was it.”

ITALY 32 (Aiden Guerra 2, Josh Mantellato, James Tedesco, Chris Centrone, Mark Minichiello tries; Mantellato 4 goals) bt WALES 16 (Will Evans, Rhodri Lloyd, Elliot Kear tries; Lloyd White 2 goals) at Millennium Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 45,052.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

FAR & WIDE: Number 24

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
ST George Illawarra’s Tyson Frizell is in for a heart-wrenching World Cup warm-up game with his Welsh side set to meet Tonga, for whom he is also eligible.
Far & Wide has been told the Charlie Tonga’s side is negotiating for a game in the principality the weekend before the World Cup kicks off on October 26.
Frizell previously toured the UK as a member of the 2009 Australian Schoolboys rugby union side. He joined the Dragons this year from St George Illawarra.
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OK, I know this is confusing but the American team taking on Samoa in Hawaii next month – on a date to be announced – now will be officially the national side.
But it will include only residents, as will the opposition. Officially, they the AMNRL is making it part of their World Cup build-up. A Test series against Canada will follow.
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GREAT to see rugby league stories popping up in the press in countries where we don’t normally see it.
The National in Dubai recently reported on the first day of domestic league fixtures at the start of the month. Reporter Paul Radley gushed about a delight. “Sausages on the barbecue, Kid Rock and Grandmaster Flash on the airways, free stash for each of the four participating teams, including dapper, specially designed playing shirts.”
The Whistler, Canada, the local paper “The Question” told readers about an upcoming Nines tournament. “Another rugby league first is hitting the Sea to Sky corridor, and it’s drawing teams from around B.C. as well as rugby hotbeds around the world,” said writer Eric McKenzie.
There’ve been plenty of false dawns but really good things seem to be happening right now.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK