The NRL’s 12 Best Characters

Kevin Gordon instagram
Kevin Gordon instagram

By STEVE MASCORD
THERE are times these days when it seems “characters in rugby league” is a non sequitur.
We remember Allan Langer checking out the race results on the big screen at the SFS, Dallas Donnelly eating a goldfish and Kerry Hemsley dressing up as a bushranger.
Today? Meh.
But for all the suggestions that it’s the media’s fault no-one is willing to break the mould in 2015, isn’t LIFE just more serious now? Aren’t lunch breaks and holidays getting shorter, visits to the pub more infrequent, diets healthier and more boring?
When our players’ poll hit up 100 NRL stars about who they thought was the competition’s
“funniest player”, the answers would have surprised many readers.
San Thaiday and Konrad Hurrell are know as being “smiley” but their senses of humour aren’t really laid bare in in public. James Maloney and Willie Mason, yes. Michael Ennis?
The fact is, not everyone is Beau Ryan – and some jokes aren’t for public consumption. Shaun Berrigan has a reputation as being a laugh-a-minute among players, and as little more than taciturn among everyone else.
The opposite is also true. Some players – like, say, Richard Villasanti and Martin Bella – were so different that they’d not win too many popularity contests among their peers. But for that reason alone, they were none-the-less “characters”.
All of which is saying you’ve got to dig a bit deeper these days to find the game’s engaging hombres – but they’re there.
Maybe we’re about to get a resurgence; our players are looking to American athletes who set themselves up for live by stepping outside the norm.
“We need those characters,” St George Illawarra’s Joel Thompson said on Denan Kemp’s refreshing new video podcast, The Locker Room.
“Gal (Paul Gallen) speaks his mind., we need more players to speak their mind. I’ve done it before. I’ve said something in the paper and it’s used as Ammo for another team.
“We might see a change. The Queenslanders weren’t happy but I think the media guys got a lot out of Gal’s honest interview (before OriginI II).
“It’s a bit of pressure on him, too, to stand up.”
Here they, are then: the 12 players keeping the flame of individuality burning in the NRL
12. KEVIN GORDON
Gordon, Kevin 2RUMOUR has it that when Titans trainer Trevor Gilmeister first saw the winger’s sumo haircut, his ears began emitting steam. But the Filipino international and part-time DJ is unbowed, posing on his own Instagram account in all sorts of whacky scenarios, from Lord Of The Rings scenes to pensive portraits with the Gold Coast in the background. Often, he has no shirt on. These sorts of expressions would have put a target on his head in any previous era but rivals seem to except Kev as being a little eccentric and treat him like everyone else. Culturally, that’s a big step forward for the game.
11. SAM THAIDAY
Brisbane - Sam ThaidayREADERS of this esteemed organ know columnist Sam Thiaday’s always got something to say. When cockroaches call you “Third Man In Thaiday” for six weeks a year, it can go one of two ways. Thankfully, Sam takes it all in his stride and has earned respect even from those who like to boo him. He’s also turned his career around after losing the Broncos captaincy and – subsequenty – losing quite a few kilos. A few years earlier, Sam lost a habit that certainly made him stand out from the crowd – he stopped smoking! “I wasn’t that bad but I’m actually glad I gave that up – it’s probably one of the silliest choices I’ve made in my life,” he says. But what is this list about, if not silly choices?
10. DAVID KLEMMER
Klemmer, David3IT’S not your imagination. David Klemmer really does pick “victims” in advance. When he takes the ball from the kick-off, the 200 cm Canterbury prop says, “”Whoever I see, I try to spot someone and run as hard as I can at them. I’ve probably got someone lined up to run at before the kick-off. As soon as I get it, I’m going straight for him.” Like fellow NSW prop David Woods, Klemmer loves old school rock and old school football. That got under the skin of Corey Parker in State of Origin, where he accused Klemmer of lacking respect. You’ll be reading about this fellow for years to come. He is said to have earned the respect of fellow NSW forwards by wrestling Paul Gallen in camp.
9. PAUL GALLEN
Paul Gallen
RUGBY league’’s Twitter king, Gal showed an aptitude for biting honesty up to a decade ago but media outlets took their time spotting his potential. The NSW captain’s public utterances often cause drama – like his rumination on the position of “any c—- at the NRL’ and the position of former Sharks coach Peter Sharp. Whi;e Gallen no doubt fancies a media career upon retirement, it’s not like he’s playing up to the microphone – more like pretending it’s not there. “’m still the same bloke off the field,” he said when we featured him in our A-List section a few years back. “It’s just I probably get along with media a bit more these days. I’m always nice to everyone and most people are nice to me. That’s just part of the job. To be a captain, I’ve to got to do all those things right. If I wasn’t doing those things right, I wouldn’t be a good captain and people would find me out.”

8. JAMES MALONEY

James Maloney/wikipedia

FRANKLY, we were disappointed in Country Origin coach Trent Barrett when he said Jimmy would have to change is persona to be considered a leader. Well, he didn’t actually say that – but it’s how some people interpreted it when the new Manly box told Nick Walshaw, formerly of this parish, ““Jimmy likes to be the joker but if that’s all you ever expect of someone, that’s all they’ll ever give you.” We like jokers and Maloney has always been one, to the extent that some of his old team-mates at Melbourne didn’t know how to take him. ““It was all just … I walk in, I am who I am and that’s the way it was,” says Maloney, who has taken his irascibility to a wider audience, via Channel Nine, recently. Don’t change, Jimmy.
7. GEORGE ROSE
George Rose/wikipedia
IT’S easy to dismiss George Rose’s position as a rugby league cult figure as a function of his rolly-polly physique. But Rose is as popular for the smile on his face as the paunch in his jersey. Sadly, not only does the game quietly discourage outspoken players – it is also legislating against men of Rose’s grith. The decrease in the number of permitted interchange players will likely lead to their extinction. “I think they mustn’t be enjoying the way we play,” Georgey told Fairfax. “I’m going to watch some old Nathan Blacklock highlight reels and try to be a bit more entertaining so they keep us in the game.”
6. JAMIE SOWARD
Criticised ... Jamie Soward
Leave it to Jamie when you want someone to say what everyone else is thinking. Last week he explained – on national television – the conspiracy theory surrounding using the video referee as much as possible for the sake of sponsors KFC. “Bryce Cartwright scored right in front of the ref and he went up to see if he grounded it. I said ‘oh, mate, you were a metre away, you’re just going up to see if it’s chicken time’, A stint with London Broncos has made Soward a more measured character. He told A-List: “I guess the easiest way to sum it up is you either love or hate Jamie Soward. There’s no in between.”
5. JOSH REYNOLDS
Canterbury - Josh ReynoldsHERE’S the definition of being a footy hero, a “character’ in professional sports: you are sitting on the bench. You have not played a second of the match. Ten metres behind you, thousands of gans are chanting your name … over and over again. That’s what Canterbury five-eighth Josh Reynolds experienced on June 29 at Belmore Sports Ground, during the game against Melbourne. His nickname is grub and Bulldogs fans love him for it. Jim Dymock gave him the nickname, after “Grub” Henderson, Matt Nable’s character in the 2007 film, the Final Winter. “When I was, 16 or 17, I just sort of said to myself ‘I’m going to have to probably train a bit harder than everybody else because I haven’t got the natural talent, natural strength, natural build of a footy player’,” he recalls. And the fans probably love him for that as much as anything.
4. ISSAC LUKE
South Sydney - Issac LukeTHESE days, it’s mainly the cheeky grin that provides a glimpse of what Issac “Bully” Luke is all about. He used to be one of the NRL’s most quotable players but certainly isn’t trying to be the next Fletch or Hindy. But Issac is a one-off – who can ever forget his admission that he tried to break cousin Rangi Chase’s leg in 2011? Before the series, he told A-List: ““Rangi’s a bit suspect but I guess he likes white people!” One can only wonder about what would have happened to this lad who used to beat bullies up in front of their parents to teach them a lesson if rugby league hadn’t come along.
3. AARON WOODS
Aaron Woods/weststigers.com.auWESTS Tigers coach Jason Taylor thought he’d heard it all until a couple of Fridays ago. That’s when his prop, Aaron Woods, approached him on the occasion of his 100th first grade game, against Melbourne at Leichhardt Oval. He wanted to know if he could bring his dog into the dressingroom. And so the modern day Geoff Robinson did, after also taking said canine on his lap of honour at fulltime. Then there was the commemorative banner which he failed to successful crash through at the start of the night. Like front row partner David Klemmer, he geed himself up for Origin II by listening to old school rock like The Screaming Jets. “I’m not sure he would have been born when our first record came out,” says Jets singer Dave Gleeson.
2. WILLIE MASON
Newcastle - Willie MasonSPEND any time on the sideline at a game win which Willie Mason is involved and you’ll realise he needs the jokes, sledging and wise-cracking to focus on the contest. Contrary to popular belief the sledging is only a small part of the repertoire. Mason cajoles team-mates, chats with sideline eyes and photographers and takes the Mick out of opponents in equal measure. “When you have a look at my scrapbook and rapsheet, I haven’t done a thing wrong,” he told A-List in 2010. “I can walk around at the end of the day with my head held high. I’ve made a few mistakes. I’ve urinated in public twice. I don’t think I’m the only bloke in the world to do that.”
1. NATE MYLES
Nate Myles/wikipedia
UNFORTUNATELY for Nate, some people remember him for one Central Coast misadventure and have forever left him in the “serious” basket. The man is a comic genius – he has the timing and subtlety that other league funnymen lack. This is the fellow, during the superheroes round, who after clashing with Ashton Sims, told referee Gavin Badger “he’s Thor, he’s scary, he’s got a hammer”. After a Canberra try last year, he approached the referee and said “put one of our centres in the bin, he can’t tackle.” Myles is smart, funny, and knows how to put drama behind him. His support of his wife Tessa’s battle with cancer has won him plenty of new admirers.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 20

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
1. SHOOT THE (DALLY) MESSENGER
LAST week’s tiff between Wayne Bennett and Ivan Cleary over comments at a press conference highlighted a persistent cultural problem in rugby league which was further exemplified when Sonny Bill Williams took Willie Mason high at Hunter Stadium on Sunday. For all the progress the game has made with a gleaming new integrity unit, recognising the role of women and stamping out racism, there is still an obsession with what you can get away with rather than what you actually do. If Cleary’s comments led to Kade Snowden being suspended, then isn’t it the match review committee Bennett should be angry with, for allowing itself to be influenced by the media? And whether or not Mason should or could have jumped straight to his feet yesterday, isn’t the real issue whether or not Williams actually collected him in the head? It’s almost as if it’s OK to accuse people of bias as long as you paint that bias as a fact of life and direct your anger at the person who tried to influence them.

2. A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS AS A BIG TREE FALLS
“HEY, shoulder!” a lone Newcastle Knights voice shouted after Willie Mason took the ball up 15 minutes into yesterday’s match at Hunter Stadium, before being felled in a tackle which featured Sonny Bill Williams coming in over the top.The voice, from an unidentified player standing directly behind the collision, was summarily ignored by referees Jared Maxwell and Gavin Morris. It’s only when Mason failed to regain his feet that the whistlers asked video referees Steve Clark and Justin Morgan to check “possible contact from Williams”. There was definitely contact; Williams later questioned Mason’s motivation in staying on the turf. Whatever the case there, it was apparent to this reporter the incident would have been missed – until Monday morning at least – if Mason had simply got to his feet and played the ball. Maybe it would have been picked up on Monday morning. You’d hope so.
3. THE PRICE IS… APPROPRIATE?
DOES the NRL have a responsibility to make grand final tickets affordable for rank-and file supporters? Newspaper and magazine mailbags and social media pages are awash with complaints about the price hikes for tickets to this year’s showpiece. One fan complained that tickets which were $55 in 2006 are now $165. Gold seats are $225. Other blue ribbon sporting events charge similar prices and try getting into the Super Bowl or FA Cup final for anything like that. The grand final will sell out and generally speaking, the NRL is entitled to charge whatever the market supports. But everyone from FIFA to Bon Jovi knows it’s possible to avoid being painted as greedy by offering a limited number of low-cost seats through a ballot system. The League would do well to consider this option next year.
4. COMMENTATORS RUNNING THE ASYLUM
DARREN Lockyer had an interesting idea in his newspaper column at the weekend. He said video referees should turn up the television when deciding on possible tries to hear what the commentators think. At first glance, this may appear simple commonsense – but of course, it’s not. The test which is all too seldom applied to many of the ideas that get thrown around in rugby league is: if you didn’t know what the game was and who the people were, what would you think? If someone is making a major decision in another sport, or another walk of life, because a media person said it might be a good idea, how would that look? Imagine if boxing judges or AFL goal umpires listened to the transistor radio for inspiration, or police read the paper before laying charges. Always ask the question: how would it look from the outside – and can it be exploited?
5. VALE MUZZA
GRAHAM Murray should have outlived newspapers. He was only 58 when his life support was due to be turned off yesterday and the news is difficult to come to terms with. Many of the things one says in this situation – about him being ‘larger than life’, ‘a positive influence on people’ and ‘loving life and people’ – sound hollow because they are said too often. But there really wasn’t anyone like him in my 28 years of covering rugby league; he was a man who engaged with people one way or another, who was never apathetic. “He taught me the value of honesty,” former Great Britain forward Barrie McDermott Tweeted. Murray coached Illawarra (where he had success by making it compulsory to go to the pub after training), North Queensland and NSW but he did it all so recently that it should have been years before I had to write anything like this. All sympathy to his wife Amanda, his family and his army of friends. This is a terrible time.

6. RANKLING OUTSIDERS
THE contrast between in attitudes of rugby league fans towards casual sports followers couldn’t be more different in Australia and England. British leaguies were mortified and humiliated on Saturday when a Challenge Cup semi-final, shown live on national television, end in a 70-0 win by Wigan over London. Not only was the scoreline indicative of an ailing professional game, considering both teams are in Super League, but having a comparatively small northern town thrash the capital also embarrasses the game’s national pretentions in front of the very people it is trying to impress. Compare that with the Origin fighting ban, which hardcore NRL fans believe was prompted by the concerns of those who watch the sport only infrequently. Australian league supporters not only have no regard for what these people think but actively resent them for sanitised the game.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 18

The Joy Of Six1. OVER THEIR HEADS

THE only way players and coaches are going to get satisfaction over Origin scheduling is to go over the NRL’s heads and approach broadcasters directly. When you are given $1.025 billion, taking a month’s worth of club football off Fox Sports and a huge chunk of the Origin audience from Nine by moving it away from Wednesdays isn’t going to fly – unless you give some of the money back. And the NRL has already decided how it’s going to spend that money. “If it’s not important enough to them, leave it as it is,” said one of the most vocal agitators, Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy. But if a delegation of coaches and players meets broadcasters, at the very least they’ll have a better understanding of the issues involved. At best, they’ll be able to affect real change.

2. SURFACE TENSION

HE wasn’t saying a lot about it, but Canterbury coach Des Hasler said late Sunday that the heavy surface at ANZ Stadium would decisively help NSW in Origin III. “On that surface, NSW,” he told Triple M when asked for a tip. Joy of Six asked Des if he meant the heavy surface would slow the Maroons down and help the Blues’ big boys. Hasler didn’t do much more than nod. It certainly looked chopped up and players seemed to be ploughing rather than running at times in the Dogs’ 39-0 win over Melbourne. But according to Canterbury halfback Trent Hodkinson, conditions were better than he expected. “It wasn’t too bad,” he told us. “I thought it would be a lot worse after the union but it was good, a good surface.”

3. PARISH PREACH

NSW assistant coach Matt Parish was in a feisty and honest mood when interviewed on the ABC yesterday. On refereeing in game two: “I thought the first half was very one-sided, as everyone knows. No team can afford to be on the wrong end of a 4-0 penalty count. Some of the decisions to get them to 4-0 in the penalties were very dubious. To miss strips and to let people blatantly stand offside, it didn’t help our cause. You need an even bite of the cherry, things need to go both ways.” Parish said halfback Mitchell Pearce had been “unfairly targeted” by critics, that James McManus “brings more size and stability and talk … thrust coming out of trouble” and of Boyd Cordner “from the moment he came into camp on Monday, he had ‘pick me’ written all over him. I’ve got no doubt that this is the start of six or seven years in Origin for this kid. Game two, to be honest, I don’t think anyone played well in our team. You’ll see us do a couple of things different with the ball. I can’t say too much … we need to stand up to be counted in that first 20 minutes … we need to control the ruck, which we didn’t in game two.”

4. KEVIN BLOODY KINGSTON

PENRITH coach Ivan Cleary said on Saturday night that “something good” would happen to his captain Kevin Kingston, who was told to look elsewhere for next season. Could that be a new contract at Centrebet Stadium? Assistant coach David Fairleigh suggested so yesterday. “I don’t know what the latest news is,” said Fairleigh on the ABC, “but somehow releasing someone like Kevin Kingston doesn’t sit right.” St Helens have done their best to water down Penrith halfback Luke Walsh’s revelation that he has a get-out clause in his two-year contract, to return to the NRL any time. But most Australian coaches and players have such clauses when they head to Super League. The Langtree Park club is no doubt hoping he doesn’t exercise it before he even gets there.

5 .BRONCOS BUCKED

BRISBANE’s recent form would have put a dampener on the occasion but the naming of the club’s greatest ever “grand final” team deserves to be widely reported. The side is: Darren Lockyer; Michael Hancock, Chris Johns, Steve Renouf, Wendell Sailor; Kevin Walters, Allan Langer; Tonie Carroll, Brad Thorn, Gorden Tallis, Glenn Lazarus, Kerrod Walters, Shane Webcke. The line-up was named before an audience of 1200 people at Brisbane Convention Centre on Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Broncos were bucked 19-18 the previous evening by Cronulla. Brisbane remains the jewel in the NRL’s crown, however. That title will only be under threat when the region gets a second team.

6. GREEN MACHINE OVERHEATING

THE apparent internal wrangling in Canberra is fascinating and would have provided back page after back page if it had happened at most Sydney clubs. The rise of the “senior players group” in the NRL has been rapid over recent years but what happens when they seek to take a stand against one of their own – admirably – and are over-ruled by the club? I’m not sure anyone foresaw this set of circumstances when the system was dreamed up. No-one would have predicted Willie Mason making public comment on team discipline would have exposed it when it did happen, either. Unless senior playing groups and multiple captains have some real influence, the concepts are nothing but feelgood window dressing.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 10

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

1.HOW’S TRENT?
Long before Cronulla players were reportedly visiting him at home to find out what he had been telling ASADA, Parramatta trainer Trent Elkin had already written himself into the rugby league lexicon with the expression “How’s Trent?” Elkin used to be the referees’ conditioner and the phrase was code for “what’s the penalty count?”. Canterbury coach Des Hasler revived memories of “How’s Trent” by strongly suggesting the match officials were aware of the count at halftime in the 44-8 loss to Newcastle – and then spelt it out a little more plainly on Triple M. “It’s almost comical,” he said. “It’s 8-3, come in, check it out, all of a sudden it’s 8-7.” The Bulldogs acknowledged they were beaten by a better side but reckoned a slew of penalties in the Knights’ favour shortly after halftime, when they trailed by just four, was extremely damaging. The answer to “How’s Trent?” these days is a bit more complicated than a number, we suspect.
2. BEAU RYAN, UNDERPANTS AND WILLIE
NOT everything Willie Mason said on the field was invective aimed at Ben Barba. When a scrum was packing down early in the contest, apropos of nothing, he asked the opposition pack of forwards: “did you see Beau Ryan on the back of Rugby League Week? He was in his undies.” At first Set Of Six thought he was having a shot at someone in the Canterbury camp for not playing in City-Country. Mason and Ryan were Country squad members and Bulldogs half Josh Morris withdraw from the City side. But then Mason said “I’m not talking about rep footy”. As it turns out, Mason had no ulterior motive in raising the issue. He just thought it was funny. As 1200 kg of rugby league beef collided in front of 18,982 fans, Mason was making idle conversation with his opponents.
3. NEW ZEALAND WORRIERS
WESTS Tigers’ poor form does not hurt rugby league in any great sense. South Sydney’s good season so far probably does more good thaN the joint venture side’s shocker does bad because it wins back a few fans who lapsed during the Super League War. But the Warriors being beaten 62-6 is disastrous for the game because they are rugby league’s flagship in an entire country. Crowds at Mt Smart Stadium have always been fickle and while some recession-proofing has gone on over the past 10 years, an unsuccessful Warriors gives rugby union a leg-up and has the potential to cause damage right down to the game’s grassroots in the Shaky Isles. The attendance figure this Sunday against Newcastle will be very interesting indeed.
4. DUGAN (UN)CHAINED
ON balance, Peter Sterling’s idea of banning Josh Dugan from turning out against Canberra this year is a sound one. It’s hard to legislate a rule that fits all situations when players are axed for disciplinary reason but this simple measure would be a constant reminder that you can’t stuff up, have a break, and then carry on as if nothing happened. Parramatta signing Gareth Hock pushed Wigan into loaning him to Widnes but it was a condition of his loan he could not play against the cherry and whites. It would be fair to impose a similar restriction on Dugan. I still think the NRL would have to approve such each one of these conditional bans on its merits though, just to make sure a club is not exploiting the rules unfairly.
5. HAVES, HAVENOTS AND NOT SURES
ANY debate about the inequalities of this year’s competition should have become clearer on Friday night when first played last. Sure enough, first won by 44 points. But clearly there is an emerging middle-class too, teams who have either a) illusions or b) potential for grandeur. Each weekend, these teams take polite turns giving their fans reason to suspect upward mobility by waltzing around with top company before slumming it again, nursing a figurative bottle of plonk in a paper bag, the very next weekend. Gold Coast, Canberra, Brisbane, Penrith and St George Illawarra are in this group. You might be able to add Canterbury now too. Cronulla’s improvement seems more reliable and North Queensland are playing well without getting the results. They have to win on Friday against Wests Tigers though, and do it well.
6. DON’T TRIP OVER YOUR LIP
THERE is something wrong with our society when you can’t show so much as a nipple on television but Matt Srama’s bone sticking out of his finger and James Maloney’s lip sliced in two are objects of mirth and instagram frenzies. Both injuries were truly hideous and had the capacity to instantly transform any witness into a vegetarian. Maloney’s gash was so deep it actually affected his speech as I interviewed him on the field at fulltime on Saturday night at 1300SMILES Stadium. Srama apparently caught his injured finger in an opponent’s jumper on Friday night, aggravating the horrible gash which somehow did not involved a fracture. David Mead played half an hour with a broken jaw in the loss to the Broncos. Tough, tough men – but I’d rather just read about their feats than see things in living colour on social media. When did surgery become light entertainment?

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

FIVE METRE GAP: Round Six & Rep Weekend

Hamish NealBy HAMISH NEAL
Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round six and the representative weekend.
WITH the representative weekend taking centre stage last weekend, Five Metre Gap, will take this chance to assess some of the season’s action to date, highlighting  players who look to have exceeded expectations.
And we will start from the back with Canberra fullback Reece Robinson. With the drama surrounding Josh Dugan’s departure Robinson has cemented his spot as the Raiders custodian with some great impact for the side. In his last two games alone he has broken eight tackles and ran for 303 metres combined.
Mahe Fonua has continued his meteoric rise as the first Victorian-produced Melbourne Storm top-grade player. This time last year it was unlikely a player behind Sisa Waqa, Matt Duffie and others in the Craig Bellamy-coached side would end up a World-Cup bound international who has featured in a World Club Challenge win. A few errors aside, the bustling Tongan international is fast becoming an important finisher for the Storm.
James Maloney has become the cog that is driving the Sydney Roosters to a somewhat unexpected 4-2 start to the season. Maloney’s goal-kicking and kicking in general play was never the query but his link play with NSW halfback Mitchell Pearce and dual-international Sonny Bill Williams must be the most pleasing aspect for coach Trent Robinson. The one-time Eels player had stagnated in some ways at the under-achieving Warriors by the end of last season but is a player re-born this club season.
Another part of a team who has started with win four wins and two losses gets a vote for exceeding expectations in the form of the Gold Coast Titans back-row. The selected back-row for round seven may change but the likes of Greg Bird and Ashley Harrison have reeked havoc and worked hard to help lay a platform for the inexperienced halves combination of Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly.
Harrison continues to be a tackling machine and  Bird adds a constant threat on the edge. However, Bird is also making a lot of yardage up the middle at times with 202 metres in the win against the Eels.
Newcastle Knights forward Willie Mason appears nailed on for a return to the NSW side for the State of Origin series after some barn-storming efforts for the Knights and, last weekend, Country Origin.
The evergreen 33 year-old has been a key factor in the Wayne Bennett-coached sides unbeaten run at home this season and will be more important with Kiwi international Jeremy Smith now out due to suspension for the next month or so.

THE JOY OF SIX: Round Seven

The Joy Of SixTOUGH ON EVERYONE

AT this point, three days later, debating the merits of Friday’s Jon Mannah/ASADA story would probably only serve to reheat an emotional imbroglio which should be just started to cool down. That’s the last thing anyone needs. If Cronulla have written to ASADA, effectively dobbing themselves in over the administering of Peptides to Mannah, I’m glad I know about it and it wasn’t covered up by a well meaning journalist who was concerned about being maligned for writing it. These are the dilemmas most of us only face once in a career. There is a saying in tabloids: “a good display can turn a good story into a great story”.  “Display” is photos, headlines etc. But an over-the-top display can clearly also turn a worthy story into a community scandal.

A BRIDGE TOO FA’AOSO?

SHOULD repeat offenders within a single game be judged cumulatively? That is, should Richie Fa’aoso have been sent to the sin bin or even sent off after his second spear tackle on Greg Inglis last Friday? Referees coach Daniel Anderson said on the ABC yesterday that it was something which would be considered. In Super League they have a “general warning” signal (it looks like the whistler is casting a spell on the offending team) which basically means the next time anyone infringes, someone goes to the sin bin. There is some confusion over how long the warning lasts. But perhaps it is worth considering. Fa’aoso could have been dispatched for repeated infringements, even if the infringements happened to be foul play.

SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE SIGNS

SET of Six hereby introduces a contest: fan sign of the year. And we have our first entrant in the banner brandished by a pair of Newcastle fans at Skilled Park yesterday: “Go Hard Willie”. @Muzza2501 Tweeted “At his age it should read: Please go hard Willie!! :)”We’ve not seen such excellence in the field of double entendres since St George Illawarra fans’ “Me So Hornby!”. Let’s see how many puns we can fit into the rest of this item. The sign was soon discovered by security and wasn’t up for long. It was so big it had to be handled by two people. And, in reference to our new contest …. it will take some beating.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST AP

IT’S fair to say that if Twitter and Instagram have a natural enemy, it’s the Canberra Raiders. The social media networks played a big role in Josh Dugan’s departure from the Green Machine and at the weekend, they blew coach David Furner’s cover over the return of Blake Ferguson from a fractured cheekbone.  Prop Brett White posted a picture of Ferguson on the plane to Townsville – which was interesting because Ferguson was supposedly not playing against North Queensland. “Got family up here so I made the trip with the boys! Still out till next week!’ Ferguson tweeted. Low and behold, when the team-sheets were posted at 4.25pm Saturday, Ferguson was on the wing for Sandor Earl. He insisted he did visit family – and was cleared to play on match eve. But if the Raiders do any social media training for players in future, perhaps it should perhaps be a simple message: “stay off it”.

SAM, SAM, $1 MILLION MAN

IS Sam Tomkins worth $1 million? Not while the salary cap is $5.85 million, no. But it will soon be $7 million – and Tomkins is the sort of man who puts bums on seats. Tomkins is bettered only by Billy Slater when it comes to broken field running – a fullback who can create opportunities like few others. But the club that can afford Tomkins may not be his best destination. Does Tomkins really need to come into a new competition and be relied upon immediately to win matches? St George Illawarra and Sydney Roosters would afford him a more gentle transition from Super League than the Warriors, based on the form of all three so far this season.

LOCATION, LOCATION

GOSFORD has now hosted more games this season that traditional venues like WIN Stadium, Leichhardt Oval and Campbelltown Stadium. The reason is simple: cash. Rugby league needs to compile a list of matches that don’t work where they are and farm them out in an organised fashion for a guaranteed return from venues and state governments next year. This can be factored into memberships – teams are already doing this. We shouldn’t accept sub-10,000 crowds anymore in this billion-dollar competition. In round 17, we have matches in Darwin, Perth and Mackay but these relocations are done in a piecemeal way. Let’s be organised. If we get the message out that you will lose your home game against Canberra or Melbourne or whoever if you don’t go, hopefully fans will respond.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

NRL round seven: NEWCASTLE 30 GOLD COAST 6 at Skilled Park

By STEVE MASCORD

WILLIE Mason vehemently denied illegal high tackles had been responsible for two of the three injuries which ruined Gold Coast’s hopes of beating Newcastle at Skilled Park.

Titans centre Luke O’Dwyer suffered a broken jaw, lock Ashley Harrison copped knee and ankle injuries and hooker Matt Srama was left with a bone protruding from a broken finger in the first 12 minutes, leaving John Cartwright’s side with one reserve and consigning them to a 30-6 defeat.

Coach Cartwright said O’Dwyer had been caught high and Harrison – whose Origin involvement is now in doubt – had fallen awkwardly because he had been concussed.

“Those tackles were within the rules of the league,” Mason, who along with prop Kade Snowden was in the hit on O’Dwyer, told Fairfax Media.

“It was a very aggressive start. Our line speed was something we worked on during the week and it was just line speed into contact.

“It was a shame that Ashley Harrison did syndesmosis. I thought he just did his medial. It’s just the way the tackle happened. It was just a very aggressive tackle, in both cases.

“I don’t think anyone will have anything to answer for. The refs saw the replays. They didn’t think anything of it.” “

The Harrison tackle involved Snowden, Travis Waddell and Alex McKinnon, with Waddell up high. Mason said Harrison was not knocked out or dazed because he responded to a question while laying on the ground.

“I said ‘are you sweet?’ and he said ‘yeah, I’m fine’ but his leg was stuffed.”

“O’Dwyer, he just got hit hard. You play this game, you hit hard and you get hit hard and sometimes things happen.”

Harrison hobbled off after a stretcher had been called, O’Dwyer calmly played the ball and then told a trainer he had broken his jaw while reserve hooker Beau Falloon – just back from appendicitis – recalled: “I saw Srama come to the sideline with the bone sticking out so I knew I was going to be playing a fair few minutes.”

Cartwright said: “(O’Dwyer) and Harro’ both got hit, they both got up holding their heads.

“Both were groggy and they were the tackles they got injured in. Both those boys don’t lie down.

“(Harrison) lost his bearings and he just twisted. If you’ve been knocked out, you know what I mean – knee buckled, ankle buckled and rolled ‘em both.

“There’s a lot of experience (O’Dwyer), a playmaker (Srama) and a bloke who plays 80 minutes every week (Harrison). It’ll leave a little hole in us.

“I’m anxious to see how long they’re all going to be (out).”

At the time of the mishaps the scores were 0-0. The Knights posted a spectacular try five minutes before halftime when Dane Gagai took an intercept 60 metres out and found Jarrod Mullen who bounced out of Greg Bird’s tackle before Darius Boyd put Timana Tahu over.

Replacement David Fa’alogo scored off Jarrod Mullen’s kick shortly after halftime, before Albert Kelly posted a sizzling try off William Zillman’s pass in the 48th minute.

But fatigue finally told on the Titans, and the Knights coasted to their first away win of the year with touchdowns to wingers James McManus (59th and 64th minutes) and Akuila Uate.

“First half, 10 minutes in, I looked up and we were three players down,” Bird said. “It all happened so quick and no-one out on the field knew what had happened.”

Knights captain Kurt Gidley described the win as Newcastle’s most satisfying of the year and that his troublesome back had come through well.

“I haven’t had a lot of confidence this year,” he said. “It definitely would have been a pretty big talking point if we got beat today.”

Coach Wayne Bennett concluded: “We just haven’t got everybody on the bus at the moment in ter terms of playing consistently well. Today was a great start.”

NEWCASTLE 30 (J McManus 2 T Tahu D Fa’alogo A Uate tries K Gidley 5 goals) bt GOLD COAST 6 (A Kelly try A Sezer goal) at Skilled Park. Referees: J Maxwell/L Phillips. Crowd: 14,201.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD