IN looking back on 2006 in rugby league what stands out is how many of the usual high achievers excelled once again. In assessing my "awards" for the season, the task was not really a hard one because the game
RUGBY league has a unique opportunity to drive a giant stake right through the heart of rugby union's plans to recruit key rugby league players.
THE St George Illawarra Dragons were today made aware that Wes Naiqama was involved in an alleged incident in the city overnight.
FOR a team that is still three months away from its first NRL appearance, the Gold Coast Titans are already a magnet for trouble when it comes to players wanting to play elsewhere.
IF a week is a long time in politics it can be an eternity in the struggle between rugby league and rugby union over key players.When the Wallabies returned from a rather ordinary European tour early this week, the focus was on recruiting rugby league players to boost union?s ranks.But today the boot is very much on the other foot with at least one Wallaby star wanting to switch to rugby league BEFORE next year?s Rugby World Cup, and another rumoured to be keen to do so as soon as possible.Mat Rogers, who switched codes to rugby union in 2001 after seven league Test appearances and a very successful playing career with the Cronulla Sharks, apparently wants to join NRL newcomers, the Gold Coast Titans, for the 2007 season. He has already signed a contract to join the club in 2008.Dissatisfaction with coach John Connolly?s team selections on the recent Wallabies tour has caused Rogers to rethink his plans for 2007.If he decides to seek an early release, the Titans and the NRL will fall over backwards to facilitate what would be a significant PR coup for rugby league in view of the posturing by the ARU about "raiding" rugby league?s player ranks.It will present the ARU with a real quandary. Releasing Rogers would set a precedent, but does union really want in its World Cup team next year a player who would rather be playing in another code?But an even more successful ex-league player is also thinking about a return to the 13-a-side game. Lote Tuqiri left the Broncos in 2001 and has been the best performing former league player in the Wallabies ever since.A host of NRL clubs is already lining up to talk to Lote if he decides to switch codes. That will force the ARU to offer him a contract after the World Cup worth a lot more than it had in mind a week ago.But if he wants to return to rugby league ? and senior league officials are very confident he does ? he will have to take a substantial pay cut, or the NRL will have to ease its salary cap restrictions. And it will be under enormous pressure to do so.The news this week has come as a relief to David Gallop and the NRL. Instead of worrying about how to prevent NRL players being poached by the ARU, rugby league officialdom can sit back and enjoy the position in which Rogers and possibly Tuqiri have put the ARU ? and John Connolly.
IT took 26 rounds of the premiership, four weeks of finals, and now six weeks of Tri-Nations to achieve it, but it was well worth the wait. Saturday night?s Tri-Nations final between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis may well go down as the best ever rugby league Test match played in Australia.
IN the avalanche of publicity surrounding the Ashes Test series, a court award in Sydney yesterday that has far reaching consequences for all body contact sport went almost unnoticed.
LAST night the standing of the International Rugby League Board, and the Australian Rugby League, sunk to its lowest ever level ? if it is possible to sink lower than it already was.
AS the Wallabies continue to bumble and fumble their way through Europe, it is hardly surprising there is speculation the Australian Rugby Union will again try to "raid" rugby league to boost its player ranks.It is therefore somewhat surprising that yesterday?s conference of NRL coaches and senior players (with the usual exception of Wayne Bennett) seems to have discussed just about everything except how any raid would be repelled.Two weeks ago, Daily Telegraph Union writer, Peter Jenkins, said it was "time to raid the NRL again", and the Wallabies fortunes have hardly improved since then.The 2006 "raid" hardly proved to be spectacularly successful ? Clinton Schifcofske left the Canberra Raiders to join the Queensland Reds rugby team, but he did turn 31 last week.And the Roosters' Ryan Cross switched codes to join the Western Force, but during an eight-year rugby league career he made just one representative team, the City side playing in Origin trial matches.The raid on Mark Gasnier did not succeed, nor did the earlier attempt to snare Andrew Johns.But the NRL, and its 16 clubs, should not be complacent. Rugby union is apparently not short of cash, and when you look at the Wallabies' performance this year, the ARU will be under enormous pressure to open its purse.If that does not concern the NRL then it should.Despite the new television agreement with Nine, most NRL clubs are not particularly flash financially. But a handful would be able to match a serious offer from the ARU for a top player.That is unless the NRL came to the party, as it did ? through PBL Ltd ? when Andrew Johns was being tempted to switch codes.It is a subject the NRL and the clubs seem reluctant to address, because it inevitably raises questions about the issue most don?t want to talk about ? the salary cap.The ARU surely knows that. And it is why Peter Jenkins might get his wish sooner rather than later.And it is one reason why the Gold Coast Titans' prospects ? or any other club?s prospects ? of securing a return to rugby league by Lote Tuqiri (the most successful convert in the modern era) are not much better than zero!
NOT that it needed much to do so, but the credibility of the rugby league Tri-Nations series is today on the rocks.
Firstly, the Great Britain half-back, Sean Long, flew back to the UK yesterday, and team management behaved like a Brian Burke Ministerial mate trying to explain it away.