CANBERRA and Penrith doing themselves proud
2006: A level playing fieldThe State of Origin has kicked off again on Wednesday, and, as usual, players, fans and administrators have stirred up some fresh controversies. The ARL got the ball rolling last year when they announced the third game of the 2006 series would be played in Melbourne. This was quite an announcement considering many commentators have suggested the southern capital doesn?t even deserve a team in the NRL, let alone one of the years highest profile fixtures.There seems to be two types of people north of the Murray: those who don?t understand the majority of Victorians, and those who don?t care. Those who don?t understand constantly wonder how a state can claim they are the headquarters of Australian sport yet struggle to pull a decent crowd to even the highest quality Storm game. Those who don?t care usually fall into the ?why don?t we chuck ?em out of the comp? basket. I?m happy to lay my cards on the table and state that I think it?s great that the Storm are in the competition, and that Game 3 is heading south this year. For a determined if not stubborn lot, Leaguies have given up on a lot of markets in the past ten years, no matter how poor the Storm?s crowds are, it?s surely better than surrendering another region to the AFL. And while their crowd average is small, the Storm fans seem less fickle than some other NRL teams. Pro-Victoria or not, all fans may benefit from taking an Origin game to Melbourne. As seen in Wednesday?s clash, State of Origin games are becoming so close that home ground advantage has often become the greatest factor in who will win. In fact since 2000 home teams have won 14 times compared with 3 away wins. This of course has a flow on effect because each state takes turns each year in hosting two games. Since 2000 the team with the most home games has won two thirds of the series. So with such a clear advantage, the team with two home games can always carry extra confidence into their Origin campaigns. This year however no team has such an advantage, meaning the chances of a close series, and a potential Game 3 decider, has increased. Importantly this scenario provides what all sporting fans yearn for, a level playing field.While I carry a high degree of optimism towards the remainder of the series the same couldn?t be said for the Queensland coach. Mal Meninga, who is not averse to the odd outlandish statement, claimed before Wednesday?s game that the Origin concept will be dead if the Maroons don?t win the series this year. While I understand he is only stirring up some controversy to rev up his players, he has placed a lot of pressure on their shoulders. Apart from that he has also insulted the fans of Rugby League at a time when their dedication and passion should be celebrated. Being from NSW I was always led to believe that Queenslanders live for State of Origin. Lang Park (I love calling it by its real name this time of year) is always sold out in minutes, and TV ratings reflect the fact that the far majority of Queenslanders love watching the series. Meanwhile, NSW doesn?t exactly seem bored with the concept either. In fact Origin receives the media exposure, ratings and crowds that other codes dream about. And that?s not to mention the exposure the Australian game receives in international markets such as the UK, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea (last year TV sales climbed in PNG during the Origin series due to many losing Queensland fans throwing their TV into the ocean!).So for Meninga to say the concept is one game from extinction is not just incorrect, but it?s an insulting and inappropriate comment for this time of year. If he truly believes the concept is on its last legs, he of all people has the influence to do something positive to ensure its long term survival. In fact if he feels that Queensland must win to ensure the survival of Origin, surely his time could be better spent coaching his team, rather than using the media to place unwanted pressure on them. Or maybe Meninga?s already worried he may be the next Origin coach to become extinct.
STAY a little longer
WHAT a Crock!Well I predicted the New Zealand team would put in a real fight against the Kangaroos last week and I (and many other fans) were proven completely wrong. This of course is a good thing as I have green and gold running through my veins, but I think there was more to it than my mere misjudgement. I?ve been led to believe that the Australian team secretly threw the Tri-Nations final to get like minded fans hopes up of a close contest this year. Of course the Kiwis were in on this too, playing out of their skins last year only to ?allow? the Kangaroos to flog them 50-12 last week.Wait! What am I thinking believing such stupid conspiracy theories. I must be hanging around Michael Crocker too much!Yes Crocker has caused the controversy of the week by reacting to his nine week ban by blaming everyone bar Warnie for the severity of his punishment. He has also done a fair job (alongside Mark Gasnier) of deflecting much needed promotion from the City vs Country clash.There are two things to consider in the Crocker case. Firstly he has put himself in a situation where he committed an illegal act where it was possible he could have seriously hurt another player. Basically you can?t go running onto a freeway and not accept there?s a chance you?ll get hit. Secondly the fact that Shane Rigon was uninjured should be a positive result for Crocker. He can continue his playing career knowing he hasn?t caused serious injury to a fellow player.Crocker?s bleating about his punishment seems to totally overlook these two facts. Sure I?d admit that Crocker?s tackle was definitely an accident, and his punishment is on the harsher side of fair, but whinging won?t do anything about that. Imagine being caught speeding and telling the officer that you didn?t mean to speed and you?d prefer it if you could choose your own punishment. I wouldn?t expect a positive response.But for Crocker to then suggest the whole scenario has been a NSW conspiracy to ensure he doesn?t play in the this year State of Origin series suggests he might be fending off the men in the white coats in the not too distant future. Judiciaries must make decisions based on the well-being of players, and the good of the game. They know being too soft on spear tackles will place Rugby League players in danger. I?m assuming Crocker doesn?t want anyone in the game with a spinal injury, nor would he be satisfied if he or others received ?special treatment? by the judiciary because they were due to play in an upcoming rep series. In his absurd rant this week Crocker laid his cards on the table - he?s willing to blame anyone to mask his disappointment in missing out on this years State of Origin series. It makes you realise how previous offenders such as Luke McDougall and Clint Newton have emerged with dignity by taking responsibility for their actions.While it?s one thing for a hot headed player to carry on about how the world is against him, it?s a genuine concern when his club boss supports his complaints. Brian Waldron should have kept his mouth shut. If he truly believes his club is discriminated against then he is smart enough to know this was not the forum to air his grievances. In fact he has most likely done more damage with his comments than good. Yes in the AFL the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Lions receive salary cap concessions and extra marketing, but they didn?t receive this support through unprofessional comments at press conferences. They have garnered support in what has been a gradual process.The poor choices Waldron and Crocker have made this week have possibly lost more allies then they have gained. I for one support the idea of increased support to teams in non-traditional regions, and have up until this point been impressed with Waldron?s business sense and persistence. However since he has blamed seemingly everyone for the Storm?s shortcomings (being from NSW I assume I?m part of ?the conspiracy?) I can?t help but think that I can find better things to do than worry about the state of the game in Victoria. A real concern south of the border is whether fringe fans, sponsors and political leaders may soon start to feel the same way.
WHEN is experience just age?
SIGNINGS no guarantee
PLAYIN? those Mind Games
BEST to say farewell Mr Gasnier
OWNERS need to tow the line.Season 2006 has kicked off and it?s worth reflecting on what has been a busy off season. One of the lasting controversies has been the issue of team ownership. For most of us ownership is a fickle concept. Anyone with money (or a decent credit rating) can buy a car, but ownership is useless without a licence. Lose your licence and your vehicle might as well be scrap metal. As untouchable as we felt when we bought our first cars, most of us have learnt that we are all answerable for our actions. That is unless we own a Rugby League team.Much like player managers were in the ?90s, team owners are the new untouchables of the NRL, enjoying this freedom because they are answerable to no-one but themselves. While players, officials and even David Gallop has a boss or bosses, owners by definition run their own race. And it?s this freedom that is making fans and administrators of other codes nervous. A classic example of this is being played out at Manchester United this season. When new team owner Malcolm Glazier bought a majority share in the English Premier League club, fans became concerned that he would move the team away from their spiritual home of Old Trafford. While rumours of Glaziers planned move were false, the thought that the new owner could move the team on a moments notice has made the Red Devil?s fanbase uneasy. Man U fans now spend more time fighting the intentions of their team owner (through movements such as ?Stop Malcolm Glazier?) than barracking for their football team.The untold power of team owners was undoubtedly considered when the NRL handed out punishment to the Warriors for salary cap breaches. During the numerous interviews David Gallop conducted following the announcement, the NRL chief was careful not to tread on the toes of Warriors majority owner Eric Watson. And with good reason, Watson has made a significant financial investment in Rugby League over many years. Gallop understands if the Kiwi millionaire feels like he has been treated unjustly he has every right to take his money elsewhere, or even declare the Warriors bankrupt (as we have seen previous Warriors owners do). This is the modern day challenge for Rugby League administrators: maintaining a balance between the interests of private investors in the game and ensuring the integrity of the competition is maintained. It is ironic that, as South?s members vote for or against privitisation on Sunday, their ownership model could answer the NRL difficulties. Thanks to determined members, Peter Holmes a Court?s proposal has been adjusted to include several non- negotiable guarantees that must be adhered to by the new owners. Such guarantees could form the basis for the NRL to establish a team?s owners register. Registration could involve provisions ensuring any changes to team colours, playing venues and mascots are under the control of members. These provisions could even be decided by each individual clubs fanbase through a ballot. This would also provide an opportunity for the NRL to include negotiated criteria as to how owners are answerable and punishable if their club breaches NRL laws. Private investors are now accustomed to regulation. By far the majority of industries are regulated in some way, and major shareholders understand they are answerable if something goes awry. In the NRL, such regulation would ensure investors would think twice about any underhand dealings, or at least ensure their staff aren?t tempted to bend the laws. But the greatest benefit this form of regulation would provide for the NRL is that it would weed out any investors with questionable intentions. Just like on the field, Rugby League needs it?s money men to be first class.
THE Rabbitohs have today secured their long term financial future by signing a funding deal with South Sydney Juniors. The deal, which is reportedly a seven figure commitment, extends over the next two seasons, and will provide the club with new found financial security.