Players "insulted" by NRL salary cap offer

PLAYERS association president Simon Woolford says players feel "insulted" by the NRL's offer to lift the salary cap by just $130,000 for next season.

Don't leave it all to Benji

WESTS Tigers' medical staff will today make a final decision on whether to clear star five-eighth Benji Marshall to take on Melbourne in their NRL encounter at Leichhardt Oval tomorrow.

Slow start not a surprise to Smith

PARRAMATTA coach Brian Smith says he has seen enough in the Eels opening three NRL games to suggest a win over a red-hot North Queensland side is achievable tonight.

Piggins headed for court over Souths

SOUTH Sydney Leagues Club chairman George Piggins has confirmed he will take his opponents to court in order to get a recount of the club's privatisation vote.

C.Cup final to move as Wembley faces delay

AFTER initial delays, work on the new stadium was set to be finished in time for soccer's Community Shield on August 13.But that game, along with an England soccer friendly in August and two Euro 2008 qualifiers in September and October, will now be played at other venues.The completion delay means that rugby league's Challenge Cup final on 26 August will also be held elsewhere.The official deadline for the handover of the stadium was due to take place on Friday, but the FA is still waiting to hear exactly when the builders will finish the stadium.Multiplex are due to make an announcement to the Australian stock exchange on what progress they have made.Wembley was originally supposed to stage the FA Cup final on 13 May as well as the Football League play-offs, but the decision was made to move them to Cardiff in February.Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Challenge Cup final will be moved to Twickenham, the HQ of rugby union in England."We have contingency plans in place," an RFL spokesman told BBC Sport."We have a contract with Wembley, but we have not yet been told that there is a problem or that we won't be able to hold the game there."An RFU spokeswoman confirmed the Twickenham stadium was available on 26 August, but refused to comment on whether the organisation had been in talks with the RFL."There has been a lot of speculation and we don't want to add to that at the moment," said the spokeswoman.About 35,000 Challenge Cup final tickets have been sold, with many fans travelling to London from rugby league's heartland in the north of England - meaning another venue in the capital is the most likely destination if Wembley is not ready in time.The BBC has also learned that the delay has also affected four music concerts scheduled for this year.The building of the stadium has suffered numerous problems, with a roof beam collapsing last week, resulting in building work being cancelled for a day.There have also been problems with underground sewer pipes at the stadium and workers were sent home on Tuesday after disputes over pay and threats of redundancy.

Round 4 NRL Preview

NEARING the end of another hard week at work, we turn our focus to Rugby League once more as the 4th round of NRL action is set to unfold. I was caught napping last week after trying to decipher the complex equation that is the Canberra Raiders as well as backing the Eels in what I thought would have been a team hell-bent on avenging the drubbing they suffered last year at Lang Park.But with 5/7 I can?t complain too much although the elusive perfect round is always a welcome bonus early in the year. I?m sitting on 16 from 21 picks and I?m pretty happy with that looking at this week?s games. The stakes are now higher and the teams are more desperate, so as a man once said to me on the hill at WIN Stadium whilst watching Albert Torrens line up a conversion from the sideline: ?This one could go anywhere!?Eels v CowboysRound 4 gets underway with the Cowboys visiting Sydney for the first time this season, taking on the smoked Eels at Parramatta Stadium.The Cowboys are the form team of the comp after three rounds, displaying not only a devastating attack but some stiff defence when called upon. They?ve lost Ty Williams with a broken ankle but simply call-up Origin centre Josh Hannay to take his place. They are still missing the services of Aaron Payne but the big news is Rockin? Rod Jensen has found his way to the bench for the first time this year.Parramatta?s line-up looks good on paper but it?s time for them to dominate matches through the forwards. Similarly, they had a great excuse for revenge last week but were ordinary against the Broncos and will need a big improvement if they are to get anywhere near the Cowboys this week. It?s also an important one for playmaker Tim Smith, who needs a big game to lift the spirits of the Parramatta faithful, and what better way to do it than in front of a parochial home crowd.But this game is one of those ones where you have to take the favourite, in this case the Cowboys, given their form and start to the year. I wouldn?t mind watching Parra win, but the Eels haven?t shown me enough to suggest they?re on the right path just yet and we know just what the Cowboys are capable of at the moment.Sharks v RabbitohsSuper Saturday kicks off down in the Shire where two desperate teams are facing up against one another, both so far possessing the stamina of a two-stroke engine.You get the feeling that if Cronulla could have overcome Manly last weekend we wouldn?t be entertaining thoughts of a possible Souths victory in this game. Don?t get me wrong, the Bunnies were woeful against the Dragons after what was a promising start, but the Sharks were real heart attack material last week and again displayed that they can lose a game from a position of ascendancy.It?s fair to say that Souths are a fickle mob when it comes to playing footy. After a terrific opening 30 minutes where they had it all their way, a few simple dropped balls and turnover?s sees an 8-6 lead blown out of the water by an opportunistic attack resulting in a 26-8 deficit at the break. They simply need to concentrate more and learn to dig in when the going?s a bit tough.The Bunnies took the points in a bit of a shock at Endeavour field last year and it wouldn?t surprise me if it happened again. Ross for the Sharks has a bit of a bruised head and a couple of the Cronulla boys have some injury concerns. With Mad Dog back for Souths they could really press hard, but I?m going to stay with the home team on this one.Sea Eagles v RoostersThis is another tough game with both teams sure to reflect on their last performances with some confidence. Despite the fact that Manly won by 2 and the Roosters won by 36, they would have been just as content with their respective results.Firstly, the Chooks had to wait 50 minutes before systematically tearing the Raiders apart in a precise and indiscriminate manner, finally showcasing some of the talent they have at the club. For Manly, I bet they were just pleased to record their first victory of the season after two losses.Neither team has made any major changes but the Roosters have Adrian Morley coming back from suspension to bolster their forward pack and Manly have discharged Kane Cleal to the Bunnies in what came as a bit of a shock. Last week will have inflated the balloon of self-belief for both clubs and it?s hard to choose a winner. I?m going to tip the Roosters as they remember how to score all of a sudden whereas the Sea Eagles were still a bit scrappy against the Sharks last week. And Brookvale Oval is representing more of a sand castle than a fortress these days.Raiders v PanthersI don?t know that it can get any lower for the Raiders or that it can get any better for the Panthers right now. Normally you?d be able to rely on the home ground advantage to a certain extent when Canberra play at home, but the wolves have separated the weak buffalo from the pack and are licking their lips.Penrith must be thinking that there?s never been a better time to come off the bye. Whilst their attack was a little blunt against the Bulldogs and Dragons they still managed to win and victory in tight games can give a team the confidence and patience to keep winning footy games even when they haven?t reached their potential.Matt Elliott has put the broom through the line-up and made quite a few changes in the forwards and bench. He?s also up against the club he?ll be coaching next year, with the man he?s deposing still without a job in ?07. That could add a bit of spice to proceedings.It remains to be seen how the bye affects the Panthers, and although no team this year has won coming off it, it?s very early days. Penrith must really fancy their chances here after a great start to the year which will allow them to play their natural game on Saturday night. I?m going to tip them against a Canberra team who are searching for a base to work from and will require a huge turnaround to secure victory.Tigers v StormSunday at Leichhardt Oval is a great tradition and one that the Balmain fans love, but they?re sure to have a nasty taste in their mouth after the last game these two clubs played here.Melbourne ran riot that day and scored a comprehensive 30-14 victory in what was an embarrassing day for Tigers. This year things will be a bit different, with injuries playing a key role. Benji Marshall and Shane Elford are back in the fold and should help correct a backline that has lacked direction and been impotent in their last two outings. But Farah and Fulton are still missing, and they?re absence is not to be taken lightly.The Storm have a terrific backline with the firepower to really put Wests under the pump. Cronk looks to have what it takes with good support from Hill, but I?ve got my concerns over the forwards, who are lacking a bit of mongrel with Crocker and Kafusi out. Both sides are last start losers and coincidentally got rolled by better packs who dominated them. This game will be more of a skilful encounter than a bash and barge affair. With Benji back the Tigers have more options, but I?m going to pick the Storm who have been good travellers in their enforced nomadic existence this season. I still don?t know what Lolesi is doing at lock though?Dragons v BroncosGame of the Day on Sunday where two bitter rivals take the field in what shapes as a rugged encounter in beachside Wollongong. The Dragons are reeling from an injury toll that has claimed their two international front rowers, lock, halfback and promising winger. Brisbane are more or less at full strength with Tate the only player of note missing from the line-up.The Broncos outclassed Parra last week and showed that they are a team on the improve, ignoring the dooms-dayer?s that were floating about after their round 1 lesson by the Cowboys. They have more options in attack these days and it?s encouraging to see Karmichael Hunt getting more involved. He was knocked out in this game last year by Shaun Timmins, who is out injured.The Dragons may or may not be buoyed by the news their coach has re-signed for a further two years. They?ve probably got other things on their minds, like trying to keep Barrett and Gasnier at the club. With Brown issuing a challenge to his young forwards to step up and make a fist of things whilst they have this opportunity, it?s easier said than done. One bloke who?ll probably have a fair bit to do with proceedings on Sunday is Shane Webcke and I?ve got a feeling he?ll be primed to teach the young kids a few tricks.The Dragons backline is looking better with Cooper back but I don?t think they have the forwards to lay a platform to work with. The Broncos will take the points with them back to Bris Vegas.Knights v WarriorsThe final game of the weekend sees the Warriors travel out of New Zealand for the first time this season, straight to rugby league?s latest graveyard. The Knights have won the past six games in a row at home but conceded the last contest here between the two clubs after Johns broke his jaw late in the first half. It?s sure to bring back a few bad memories for Joey who will be looking to put that behind him. The Warriors were a much improved team last week and finally recorded their first victory in New Zealand outside Auckland. I?m glad they got on the board as their season was in jeopardy had the folded for a third straight week.But there?s not much that can really help them in this one, unless Johns gets injured again. The Knights are like a bull in a china store at the moment and things don?t look like settling down. They could make a real mess of the Warriors, but whilst I expect the visitors will lose, I think they?ll fare a little better than most would have you believe.The Canterbury Bulldogs get a week off with the bye in round 4. They?ll need it to have a think about how they?re going to tackle the Raiders next week after a pretty disappointing start to the season.

First Time

SO the long wait is finally over. Summer has passed in a haze of sunshine and insect repellent; sight of sunbathers like so many rotisserie swine rotating for maximum UV exposure; smell of barbequed beast blending with the pungent smoke wafting off mosquito coils; sound of double-pluggers flapping against the pavement, a thin veneer of protection against the burning asphalt. All are going the way of our hard-earned tans; fading to memory.

For the Love of the Game

WHEN it comes to rugby league I strongly believed that I had felt it all. I thought I knew what it was all about. The power, the passion, the crowds and the tribalism.

Dolphins vs Tigers Preview

EASTS v REDCLIFFE Langlands Park, Saturday April 1, 3.00pm Referee: Michael Wise

You Can't Always Get What You Want

THE lyrics to the chorus of this classic song by The Rolling Stones were reverberating through my head as I sat down to write aboard a Qantas flight bound for Auckland. I had spent the past four days in Melbourne, attending the Australian Game Development Conference. This was the first time I had visited any Australian city for longer than a stopover period, and I felt it prudent to explore the home of so many of my transtasman cousins. In all, my time in the Victorian city left me with many positive experiences, and a desire to return at some time in the future.

Breakfast With Jason Smith

IT is a classic Canberra morning on the shores of Lake Burley-Griffin; brilliant sunshine illuminates the sky, yet there is enough chill to keep women?s nipples firm and erect. I?m enjoying breakfast waiting for my interviewee to arrive.In the distance I see an instantly recognisable figure. Solid but athletic, his spiky grey hair glistens in the sunshine like the sole natural snowflake at Perisher. With a characteristic swagger and confident air, he is unmistakeable.It is Jason Smith.He is so different to the other interviewees. The week beforehand, Clinton Schifcofske arrived in stonewashed jeans and a white t-shirt, accentuating his effortless good looks. Sunglasses possibly masked a massive night where he must have hopped from one nightclub to, well, the other one. Todd Carney arrived with spiked hair, no less than six sweatbands on his forearms (obviously masking some profuse perspiration problem) and designer boxers emerging from dangerously low shorts.Jason provided such a contrast to that over-rated look. In flannelette and no-nonsense blue denim, he struck an incongruent juxtaposition; in the artificial surrounds of Canberra, Jason Smith was so real.I rise and he grabs my hand, possibly breaking a finger with his vice-like grip. With a Winfield Red dangling from his lips, he motions towards outside. ?We?ll sit over there,? he croaks, ?and don?t bring that crap with you,? referring to my toasted focaccia. ?I wouldn?t feed that nancy garbage to my dog.?Now with a T-bone for breakfast (despite my pleadings that a cow didn?t deserve to die so early in the day), Jason relaxes. He takes a long, soothing drag on ?Winnie,? his exhale slow and fulfilling. He smokes just like he plays, I thought. Never in a rush, always with so much time. No longer hungry, I move to the first question of the morning.?So Jason, how did you enjoy your first season back in the NRL??My question draws a blank response, yet there is a latent anger. His seemingly emotionless face is filled with disdain. It is the same look Matt Gafa received when he misread the play ? he can?t tolerate fools.?Mate, how do you think I enjoyed it? We ran second last and broke the clubs? biggest losing streak twice. Had a friggin? ball.?I was stunned by his truthful severity. Here was a man who could have filled my morning with clich?, yet he chose not to. Intrigued, I pressed on, feeling much like his team-mates ? I had no idea what was coming next.?You?re 34 and played most of 2005 with injury, and you?re going round again. How are you so tough??Like his magical on-field ability, he quickens the pace. ?Mate I?m not tough. I earn a good clip playing footy. It?s not tough. Being a labourer, a cop ? that?s tough.?I nod agreeingly, now in more awe of the man. In his self-deprecating style, he proved how tough he was instantly. He finishes a vegemite soldier and adds,?Plus the money?s good ? why wouldn?t I sign on again.?I laugh, and the tension hanging over us like a Canberra fog is lifted. He cracks a weary smile, and I am accepted. The interview has just begun.Like Lincoln Withers, I am the link-man while Jason runs the show. There are no questions, just conversation over breakfast between a poor journalist and a footballing legend. A quick glance to his watch ends our meeting; he probably has a sponsor?s commitment to attend or teaching Adam Mogg to tackle. I put a final question to him.?Jason, what odds you take Canberra to a premiership in 2006??He smiles and grabs my trembling hand. ?Mate, I won?t be taking the Raiders to a title ? I?m past it. The kids here will win you one, no sweat. I?m just here to help ?em along a bit, win the odd game or two.?His honesty shocks me, yet his truth speaks volumes. He is the teacher of the clubs? future, not the man to pin hopes on. With Matt Elliott leaving, I throw him a final question:?Why don?t you become our coach when you?re finished??He turns, winks in a completely non-sexual fashion, and walks away. ?In a way mate, I already am.?I smile; he nods understandingly. I depart ecstatic, knowing that the future of the Raiders is in unconventional, yet safe hands.

Forging a legend

LOOKING at the effect time has on something is a remarkable thing.You could liken a fond memory to a bottle of wine. On the shelf, there?s very little that?s fascinating about it. But as time takes effect, in our minds the bottle becomes increasingly special; almost unique - despite the fact that it was originally just one of a bunch.There?s another factor that determines the effect of time on a bottle of wine, and that is quality. A cheap four-dollar plonk is likely to be seen more as a relic over time. But the really good stuff takes a place in our minds and stands alone.So before I run the risk of sounding like a compulsive alcoholic, I should mention that these qualities of a bottle of wine have a lot in common with moments in rugby league. Well, it?s more than just moments ? it is achievements, failures, individuals, controversies; it?s a myriad of things.When something special comes along, it can be difficult to foresee where it will take place in our minds as time goes by. I mention all this because something is happening in rugby league that, with a little help from time, will become one of those extra special bottles of wine in the cellar.Actually come to think of it, this particular bottle might be more suited up in the display room ? because it?s about something that came out of the cellar and into the big time. This bottle would be simply labeled ?North Queensland Cowboys ? Forging A Legend?.All rugby league fans in this country knew that at one time or another North Queensland?s representation in the premiership would emerge from the bottom few positions on the ladder into something of competitiveness. But even though most described the club as a genuine ?sleeping giant?, who would have really imagined it stamping itself as virtual perennial favorite so quickly? What we are witnessing right now is a cornerstone in the history of the Cowboys. Players like Bowen, Thurston, Sing, Williams and O?Donnell are superstars of the game. But imagine what kind of effect time will have on these names, in particular to Cowboys fans of the future?As seasons come and go, personnel change and players retire. The Cowboys have reached (or are very close to reaching) a plateau. The nature of sport suggests that eventually the Cowboys' success will diminish. This all happens over time, which then starts to have its effect on what we?re seeing now. New players introduced into the Cowboys side will be invariably compared to the current crop when wins don?t come. And as players come and go, if emerging talents fail to meet the lofty standards of today?s champions, the status of the heroes of today is heightened. Over time new fans will ask questions about the players of today and the legends will grow.The bottle of wine that?s on the shelf right now is looking pretty difficult to top. Wait for time to have its impact. It will go from looking good to becoming outstanding, and eventually legendary. The future of the Cowboys will be pinned on our present. And as much as I can do to describe it, or you to imagine it, nobody will really know what kind of form this Cowboys legend will take on until time adds the finishing touches.I think it?s an exciting thing to know that what we?re seeing will take on such a special form as time goes by. If you tell someone today that you saw the Cowboys play over the weekend, it?s not much more than an idle conversation starter. If you tell someone in twenty years time that you saw the Cowboys play in 2006, it will be taken with plenty of wow factor and might start a conversation about how great they were.If you tell someone that you saw the Cowboys play in 2006 in fifty years, it will be something else altogether.?I watched that Bowen fella do things on his feet that I?d never seen before or since,? you might say. ?Matt Sing was the strongest, fastest winger I can remember watching play ? he must have single-handedly held up 100 tries in his career,? you?ll add. ?Thurston could do things with the ball that would make the sternest opposition supporters just stand and applaud.?Just imagine the legends you?ll see forged the next time you watch the Cowboys play.

Stats? what Stats?

NRL.COM is at it again ladies and gentlemen. While there is a fine line between pointing out areas where the site is ?challenged? and being outright defamatory, I?ll tread as carefully as I dare.With a new season generally the administration of any major sporting body likes to deliver something new and exciting to the fans to help promote their game. has in the past few years undergone a new transformation at the conclusion of every season and 2006 proved no different. While we can?t seem to get a new theme song for the NRL (bring back Tina Turner while she can still shake it I say) after what seems like 25 years, the NRL has been keen on dishing up a new official website each season.But is new always better?As of Round 1 this year we had a site that basically imploded under the weight of (what had to be expected) heavy use by the fans and a new ?Match Console? that looked to promise a whole lot more for the fan (especially those who are keen on statistics).Then in the space of a week the site was in all liquorish sorts again as the Match Console got shut down and getting live scores seemed harder to get than chewy off your boot.Then it got re-launched and it looked like the powers that be had rigged up a server that could host the extra traffic and a Match Console that could handle the load of statistical information it carried. Well that lasted all of one week (for Round 3) and having logged on Wednesday evening I found that low and behold the Match Console has been scaled down again.Now instead of having access to the most interesting statistics like Used Plays and Unused Plays, to kick return metres, to ineffective tackles, to the amount of line drop outs conceded etc ? it is back to square one for the NRL.Now when you log into a match you get for Team Stats:Try scorers, Goal kickers and Sin Bin stats (all easily accessed elsewhere)Team Penalties Conceded (again easily accessed elsewhere)Scrums (see above).Then in Player Stats instead of about a thousand interesting (if laborious to scroll through) stats that can give you a good indication of player involvement and contribution if you have not seen the match ? has left us with some admittedly good basic stats but left out two gigantic ones.For some reason that defies logic, tracking how many Runs and Metres Gained a player has made looks to be a thing of the past. A glitch in the system means only pure hit up tallies are listed (it could just be me but seeing Karmichael Hunt listed with ZERO hit ups next to his name from Sunday yet he made TWO line breaks seems a little odd) in the Hit up category. Somehow it seems the stat that relates directly with each hit up/run ? metres gained is gone and thus you can only assume not important enough to list.Why is it so difficult for the NRL to give the fans something that actually has something to offer which is exclusive to Obviously they were more than happy to show to us these stats for the first three rounds of the Telstra Premiership?So what has changed?By all means I?ll be glad if these omissions prove to be simply a logistical error in formatting and within the week most of the stats come back, but you would think that if the reason they left so many stats out was a bandwidth problem, then it seems Telstra is in more trouble than they?re letting on!One could only then assume that Australia?s biggest telecommunications company cannot sustain a hugely popular website that they bought exclusive rights to. It doesn?t seem to add up to me.But as fans we?re not important. Although if you read the big logo on the field for Free to Air television games asking everyone to join the site, you get the feeling the NRL wants more fans logging onto the site. Well honestly you have to wonder why you would bother if they keep giving then taking away the kind of things that make any Official site stand head and shoulders above their already sits behind a number of sites (LU included) for breaking Rugby League news as it happens and why they would want to take away the one genuinely exclusive product they can offer the fans when they log on is anyone?s guess.==== The NSC Almanac is still available for subscription and League Player Ratings has a healthy number of subscribers already ? so get on board.For just $22 AUD you get the 2006 Almanac featuring the definitive guide to over 700 NRL players from all 15 NRL Clubs. Plus each week you will receive NSC Exclusive League Player Ratings of the 238 individual performances from each Round. And both products are formatted for easy printing making them not reliant on web access to view after download. As an added bonus LU will send a printed bound copy to your home address.Follow your favourite team and your favourite players throughout 2006 with a far less expensive way to track player performance than a weekly magazine (and dare I say it more reliable tracking guide than the official website). For just one $22 payment you receive the PDF printable NSC Almanac and weekly League Player Ratings ? the most comprehensive individual player ratings available on the internet ? delivered straight to your Inbox. You can order your subscription here: If you subscribe late don?t worry you won?t miss out as all preceding rounds will be sent to you with your first copy of LPR. 2006 LEAGUE PLAYER RATINGS ROUND 3 LEADERBOARD26 ? Andrew Johns, NEW26 ? Johnathan Thurston, NQL24 ? Mark Gasnier, STI

Powergen Challenge Cup Fourth Round Previews

THIS weekend's matches are the first to include Superleague clubs, and the 16 winners will progress to Round 5 in the quest for the honour of playing in the prestigious Challenge Cup Final, to be held at Wembley Stadium on 26 August 2006.

Brown's contract extended to end of 2008

ST George Illawarra has handed coach Nathan Brown a two-year contract extension to keep him at the NRL club until the end of the 2008 season.The 32-year-old's contract was due to expire at the end of this season but he accepted the deal to stay on at the Dragons after the club's monthly board meeting. Brown says he is very pleased to be continuing his role at the club beyond this season.?I have always had great passion and enthusiasm for this Club, ever since I arrived here as a player in 1992." Brown said.?Everybody knows I want to be a career rugby league coach and I couldn?t be happier knowing that I have been given a further opportunity at this great Club.?Being head coach in one of the highest profile Clubs in the business certainly presents its challenges and comes with great expectations from everyone but I wouldn?t want to be anywhere else?.Brown accepted the new deal which was finalised after the Club?s monthly Board meeting on Tuesday.Dragons Chairman Warren Lockwood said the Board resolved the matter this week because they wanted to have the Club?s coaching direction in place, well before the June 30 deadline for player movements.?Nathan was always a part of a long-term coaching strategy for the Club and as an organisation we are pleased with the return on that investment, to date, which we anticipate will increase considerably over the next few years,? said Lockwood.?The Board has confidence in Nathan?s human and technical stewardship and is particularly impressed with his development of junior players to NRL level, one of our key strategies in rugby league, across our region.?Furthermore, his commitment to our brand across all our business endeavours is significant and of quality,? added Lockwood.

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