Sandow Coy On NRL Return

By STEVE MASCORD
CHRIS Sandow says the quality of his football will determine whether he returns to the NRL when his Warrington contract expires at the end of next year.
The former Parramatta no.7 is one game away from a Challenge Cup final at Wembley after the Wolves’ 20-18 success on Friday night at Halliwell Jones Stadium and says he’s enjoying the attack-oriented Super League.
“We can throw the footy around a bit more over here – that’s what Smithy (coach Tony Smith) wants us to do, use the ball,” Sandow tells League Week. “But we’ve just got to do it at the right time.
“The hamstring injury set me back. I did everything to come back and I’m feeling really good about myself. But it always takes time to come back after something like that. A hamstring, that’s a big injury.
“I just progress each week at training.”
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Parramatta have been embroiled in in-fighting, a salary cap scandal and the loss of star signing Kieran Foran since his mid-season departure in 2015.
“I still keep in contact with some of the boys back home but I’m over here and I’ve got to worry about my team here,” Sandow said. “I’ve got to keep progressing and winning games for Warrington.
“I’ve still got some good mates back home in both (Parramatta and South Sydney) and I wish them all the best. I moved over here to continue my dream of playing rugby league and I’m enjoying it.”
Could he be rejoining those mates in 2018? “I’m here til next year. I’ll let my footy do the talking. The club’s been really good to me so hopefully we can work something out, the club and my manager.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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DISCORD 2014: Can Duncan Thompson’s ‘Contract Football’ Save Rugby League?

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
EARLY in a recent Super League game, commentator Paul Cullen remarked: “We’ve been going for 10 minutes and there’s not a blade of grass that’s not been stood on”.
Leaving aside the double negative, you can picture the sort of game Cullen was describing – touchline to touchline attack, from the outset.
Now, I’ve already said that I could not remember a better weekend of football, given the comebacks and razor-edged finishes of the two preliminary semi-finals we had in the NRL.
But plenty of blades of grass went undisturbed.
The structured nature of NRL football could be one reason why the game is better to watch on television than live, in the view of all the people who also left seats at Allianz Stadium undisturbed.
The physical nature of the sport, which is harder to detect from the stands, is highlighted by tight camera shots while the ball movement – a feature of Australian football – is rather limited.
Result: you’re better off watching it at home.
Step right up, Ben and Shane Walker.
The brothers, both former first graders at a number of clubs, have turned back the clock almost a century and have employed at Ipswich Jets a style of football favoured by Duncan Thompson, who captained North Sydney to their only two premierships in 1921 and 1922.
It’s called “contract football” and it works like this: you have a ‘contract’ to pass the ball to your team mate if he is in a better position to me.
“If you played structured football, the way they do in the NRL these days, you make it easier for the defence to get three men into the tackle to do all that stuff I don’t like – wrestling,” Walker told Discord.
“The way we play, we test the defensive like three or four times on a single tackle. The defence can’t get enough numbers in to wrestle and we play off the back of it.”
Thompson, who died in 1980, once said: “Contract football is flowing football – it has no relation to bash-and-barge stuff – it is what rugby league is all about, or is supposed to be.”
Ben Walker says he learned about it growing up in Thompson’s home down, Toowoomba, where it was passed down from generation to generation.
He also says t works.
“It would work better in the NRL, where you can train fulltime,” he said. “You need players who can catch and pass under pressure – but mostly just catch and pass.
“That actually takes a lot of work these days. I have had our players say to me after watching an NRL game on TV ‘we would have towelled them up playing our style of football’.”
The Jets fielded seven rookies in their final 17 man squad of the year; they made the finals this year and next year they will employ their free-flowing style even more.
“I won’t say which NRL game I am talking about but one of those at the weekend, they played block play, block play, block play, kick.
“You could have defended it with your eyes closed.”
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MY MEMORY tells me Greg Mackey was a player who pre-dated my career as a journalist; someone from whom I sought an autograph but never a quote.
The facts tell a different story; he was at Illawarra for three years that I was covering the game, albeit all of them as a casual reporter at AAP while still in highschool.
“Bluey” was such a good player, I must have interviewed him many times.
But I prefer to think of him as an untouchable footy hero, a flame-haired five-eighth who won a match with an intercept fresh off the plane for the Chatillon club in Paris – not before momentarily stopping when an “idiot” in the crowd blew a whistle.
These were days, for me, when football players and administrators could do no wrong. If I knew about off-field “atrocities” and official incompetence, a rarely paid it any mind.
I just lived for Sunday afternoon at 3pm when men like Bluey would take to Wollongong Showground and throw outrageous cutout passes, chip and chase from their own quarter and upend much bigger men.
These, days, the fact that they lost most weeks seems inconsequential.
Steelers legend Michael Bolt says he last saw Blue on Thursday, and he had “a cheeky grin”. That’s good to know, because it’s the way I remember him too.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

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

DISCORD 2014: Edition Four

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
SORRY but Discord doesn’t believe Warrington coach Tony Smith did anything wrong by helping Sydney Roosters prepare for the World Club Challenge.
Wigan coach Shaun Wane has described it as “sad” that Warrington would help the Roosters tactically, including a video session and an opposed training session.
“But I take it as a compliment that one of the best teams in the world is asking for help from a Super League team, especially a team that did not manage to beat us in a huge game last year,” he commented to The Star newspaper.*
It’s a good story – but if the Roosters were taking the Wolves under their wing at training, it’s reasonable for them to expect something in return.
Smith may have coached England but like Roosters boss Trent Robinson, he’s Australian. He doesn’t owe Wigan anything, really.
One Super League club that is unwittingly helping Wigan is Huddersfield, who have to kick off the season a week early next Friday so the Warriors can travel to the southern hemisphere. Their coach, Paul Anderson, is not best pleased at the situation.
And have we forgotten that the England national coach is on the Sydney Roosters coaching staff? I’d assume HE is helping the Roosters, right?

* Wane later denied being offended by Smith’s actions
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COLLEAGUE Tony Hannan is correct in saying Super League’s new deal with Sky can only be properly judged when – or if – we know how much money is involved.
Given that the NRL contract will certainly dwarf whatever the figure is, it’s possible we will never be told.
But on the surface, these are positive times for the game in the UK, with a new sponsor announced and controversial competition structure bedded down for next year.
The season launch is at Event City in Manchester on Monday. Two more sponsors for the competition are likely to be announced there, or later in the week.
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THE signing of Lote Tuqiri by South Sydney is another example of how our sport could benefit from a proper Nines circuit.
Tuqiri could keep playing indefinitely in Nines and his name would put bums on seats. When brings me to the Cabramatta Nines. I’m not in Sydney right now but if I was, I’d be getting out there this Saturday.
Congratulations to Thailand for their 46-10 win over Japan (13 a side) at Redfern Oval last night.
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THANKS for last week’s comments, as always. Mercurial MattyV makes a very, very good point about the dangers of the last five minutes of games being refereed differently than the first 75. Will we now just get time-wasting in minutes 70 to 75?

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Comment: The NRL Auckland Nines Must Expand

NRL NinesBy STEVE MASCORD
PROMOTERS of the Auckland Nines aren’t keen to add teams next year – but if the concept is to be of any lasting benefit to rugby league aside from generating truckloads of cash, the NRL must insist on it.
A full house at Eden Park yesterday saw nines league revived at the top level in the southern hemisphere after a 17-year absence and by almost any measure, it was a triumphant return.
Fans came dressed as everyone from Caligula to Steve Matai, they cheered like they were actually paying attention and Warriors stars Sam Tomkins and Shaun Johnson were so good it gave you goosebumps.
This was en event that had the hallmarks of something grand; guides meeting officials and media in their hotel lobbies, fleets of buses, closed streets and even a dedicated lane in customs at Auckland Airport.
In a country where rugby union reigns and some of the old vestiges of anti-league bigotry survive, the NRL Nines is the PR equivalent of a right hook to the temple of the other code.
There are those who say Auckland is actually ‘a league town’ – or close to becoming one, anyway.
But in the past month, people have slowly got their heads around the potential of Nines to expand the sport as a whole.  It beggars belief that most of us didn’t know until this week that rugby league nines is to be played at the Commonweath Games THIS year.
The game seems almost embarrassed about this.
We also have the Cabramatta Nines which showcases a host of international teams – this month, Canada sent a team – and annual tournaments in the north east of the United States and Las Vegas.
Nines has also been played recently in the UK, Germany and elsewhere and now Salford owner Marwan Koukash wants Super League’s Magic Weekend at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium turned into a Nines tournament.
But this new NRL administration is probably unaware of all that.
They have big plans and great expertise but a lack of perspective and knowledge on the state of the game outside their own big-buck Australasian bubble. It’s the same administration that decided on Friday to allow its clubs to raid Super League with transfer fees outside the cap, whereas if they raid each other, the fees are included.
And if there was one negative at Eden Park it was the thought of Wigan – one of our game’s most famous clubs – sitting in the grandstand getting suntans. They wanted to be out there. So, too, did Warrington and there are suggestions even cash-strapped Bradford were clamouring for a spot.
The NRL needs to identify whether it is promoting rugby league as a whole or just itself. And if it’s the former, it needs to determine how the Nines can assist in that objective. Nines will not help expand rugby league while we leave the Super League champions sitting in row G with a few bags of chips.
I understand my earlier idea of having state teams full of NRL stars in the Auckland Nines and using the tournament for some pre-season publicity in non-league states was a bit harebrained. Would the crowds have flocked yesterday to see the might of Tasmania take on the superstars of South Australia? Probably not.
But the NRL needs to get something out of the nines other than money. Underdogs, minnows and exotic combatants are part of the DNA of sevens and nines.  That’s where the charm lies – although many assume it is located behind the bar.
Turn the other tournaments into qualifiers for the NRL Nines and you have an international ‘circuit’ overnight, with a minimum outlay. From there, it’s not too far to see dedicated nines franchises. Why not allow Brad Fittler, Darren Lockyer and Steve Menzies to play for the Washington DC Slayers next year?
What are we so scared of? The fact that Wigan won the World Sevens in 1992, perhaps?
Filed for: SUN-HERALD

Bowen ‘Definitely’ Does Not Want To Retire

North Queensland - Matt BowenBy STEVE MASCORD

NORTH Queensland icon Matt Bowen says he does not want to retire at the end of the season, lending weight to speculation linking him with Warrington.

The 31-year-old fullback, off contract at the end of the season, bounced back to something approaching his best on Saturday night against Canberra after he was rested due to knee soreness from the round six encounter with Brisbane.

While Bowen has been touted as a candidate for retirement at the end of the season, he tells RLW: “Definitely, I want to keep playing.

“I don’t want to hang them up just yet but I’ve just got to keep an eye on different things.”

But when asked if he might play somewhere else next year, Bowen answered: “I don’t think so. It hasn’t really crossed my mind.

“It’s all up in the air at the moment. I obviously want to stay here and finish my career here but we’ll see what happens. That’s what we pay our managers for.”

Warrington majority shareholder Simon Moran is said to be keen on signing Bowen as a replacement for Exiles captain Brett Hodgson, who is considering retirement.

North Queensland recruitment manager Peter Parr said the club had not even discussed the possibility of signing Wigan’s Sam Tomkins but added the club would give Bowen all the time he needed to make a decision on his future.

Bowen added: “It’s been the slowest start for me in a couple of seasons but I’ve just got to keep going with it.
“I had a shoulder injury and the knee’s been playing up. It’s good now, I’ve just got to put that behind me.

“We’ve got Morgo (Michael Morgan) and Johnno (Jonathan Thurston) going well. If they stay together for a while now, it should be a good combination.”

Bowen was the subject of speculation last week that he could have played against Brisbane but was, effectively, dropped.

He does not deny he could have taken the field in a pinch – and disagreed with the decision to rest him at the time. But he insists his knee was injured.

“Sitting out for the Bronc’s game was a good idea,” he says. “Obviously I didn’t like it at the start but, thinking back, it was the best thing I ever did.

“It was hard sitting watching it from the sideline but they’re they choices you’ve got to make.

“It was a bit sore the day before the game and I had to make a late call before lunch. That game and then the week off, back training last week … it was good.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK