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.
EASTS v REDCLIFFE
Langlands Park, Saturday April 1, 3.00pm
Referee: Michael Wise
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.
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.
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.
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. NRL.com 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 ? NRL.com 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 NRL.com. 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 NRL.com 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 competition.NRL.com 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: http://www.leagueunlimited.com/static/nsc.asp 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
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.
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.
NEW Parramatta skipper Nathan Hindmarsh says the extra burden of captaincy won't cause him to alter his game against North Queensland on Friday night.
THE NRL and the rugby league players' association have emerged from their meeting today at loggerheads over proposed increases to the salary cap. Rugby League Players' Association boss Matthew Rodwell met with NRL chief executive David Gallop in Sydney today to continue negotiations towards a new collective bargaining agreement, but Rodwell has described the parties as "miles apart" on the cap issue.
INCOMING South Sydney executive chairman Peter Holmes A Court will meet with the Souths Leagues Club board today in a bid to overturn his banning from the club.
THE Dolphins prevailed in 2 of the 3 games on offer last weekend with the Colts and Premiers Grade running out winners while an out of sorts A Grade went down in their match against the Western District Panthers.Craig Ingebrigsten?s Colts outfit were comfortable winners in the end with a margin of 42-16. The halftime scores were locked at 16 all however the Dolphins were able to pile on 26 unanswered points on the back of a heavy penalty count in their favour. David Hala was outstanding in his first outing for the Dolphins receiving the LEADING EDGE SPORTS Player of the Match award. Others to impress were Foisa Peni and Asher Elemani who has started the year in solid form. Today presents a good test for the side when they meet undefeated competition leaders Easts on their home turf.A disappointing first half performance by A Grade saw the side go to the sheds at half time trailing 22 nil. A much improved second half allowed the Dolphins to add some respectability to the scoreboard however to Wests credit they hung onto to their lead and were eventual 28-20 winners. James Douglas was tireless for the Dolphins receiving the HOGS BREATH CAFE Man of the Match award and received good support from Mark Christensen at fullback who is progressing well from a knee reconstruction. Today should see an improved showing from the side starting from kick off.The Comets began last weeks Premier Grade game in a blur accelerating to a 24 nil lead by the 20 minute mark. To their credit the Dolphins dragged themselves off the matt and registered 38 unanswered points before conceding a late converted try for a final scoreline of 38 points to 30. A confusing trend in the penalty count must be mentioned with the Dolphins being heavily adjudicated in the opening exchanges before seeing the penalties swing in their favour throughout the second half which may go a little way to explaining the large fluctuation in scores. That said Coach Anthony Griffin was impressed with the way his charges kept their composure chasing a large deficit despite not being overly convincing in their execution. Best for the Dolphins was Grant Flugge who had a whale of game receiving the SEARLES GARDEN PRODUCTS Player of the Match while Captain Shane Perry delivered some crucial blows to the Comets when it counted and was voted KEYSTAR AUTOWORLD Players Player. Today shapes as a tight contest with Easts registering 2 wins and a draw in the opening rounds to sit 1 point ahead of the Dolphins on the competition ladder. The side will welcome back Pat Gardner after suspension and veteran Troy Lindsay is also an outside chance of playing.Round 5 action sees the Dolphins return home to Dolphin Oval in what should be a great days footy with the Burleigh Bears travelling north to the Peninsula. The Bears are sure to provide strong opposition and we expect a good crowd on hand to witness the action. This weeks teamsQueensland Wizard Cup1. Ryan Cullen 2. Alwyn Simpson 3. Greg Bourke 4. Nick Emmett 5. Adam Fletcher 6. Marty Turner 7. Shane Perry (c) 8. Adam Starr 9. Mick Roberts 10. Pat Gardner 11. Grant Flugge 12. Danny Burke 13. Shannon Fish Interchange 14. Chris Fox 15. Duane O'Grady 16. Damian Jentz 17. Gerard Parle Coach Anthony GriffinFOGS A Grade 1. Mark Christensen 2. Kaine Manihera 3. Pat McGill 4. Rory Bromley 5. Lucas Dearden 6. Matt Anderton 7. Chris Jelich 8. Darren Glase 9. Scott Gillis 10. Dominic Fallini 11. Richard Russell 12. James Douglas 13. Matt Mannion Interchange 14. Brad Massey 15. Mick Pares 16. Dan Jones 17. Mitchell SimpsonCoach Grant ClealFOGS Colts Challenge 1. Phil Daisy 2. Jordan Brown 3. Matt Gillett 4. Michael Wilson 5. James Derbyshire 6. Bob Jones 7. Asher Elemani 8. Greg Malenstein 9. Joel Romelo 10. David Hala 11. Foisa Peni 12. Logan Sullivan 13. Tim Benson (c) Interchange 14. Angus Cameron 15. Dane Hogan 16. Stuart May 17. Anthony TonkinCoach Craig Ingebrigtsen
DRAGONS Supporters,Round 3 saw the Dragons return to form with a convincing 44-14 victory overthe Rabbitohs to notch up their first win of the 2006 season. The return ofTrent Barrett made a big difference to the structure in attack and MarkGasnier crossed for 3 tries to continue his good form of recent weeks. Thisweek will be a tough match as the Dragons take on the Brisbane Broncos in aSunday Blockbuster at WIN Stadium. This week's event for the MBDS will beheld at The Pub at Crown Casino, with coverage and audio kicking off at 4pm.With both sides starting to show glimpses of the potential expected of themin the 2006 season this will undoubtedly be a spirited game. Saints welcomeback Ben Creagh and Matt Cooper and will give a good account of themselveson their home ground. Dragons by 10 is the early tip.What: Dragons v BroncosWhen: Sunday 2 April, 4pmWhere: The Pub, Level 1 Crown CasinoSee you there!
AFTER just three rounds of the National Rugby League, I think I?ve been forced to review my pre-season predicted favourites.While the Dragons showed signs of the form we?ve come to expect from them in recent years on the weekend against South Sydney, let?s face it, they weren?t outstanding and Souths were much worse. The Dragons are becoming renowned as the team similar to the good movie your mates tell you to see that turns out to be a stinker. At least on the weekend, the movie got three stars.I think it was Bob Fulton who said that the Dragons played a 6 out of 10 game, but still won by 30. After watching the game I?d have to agree, it was certainly more of a reflection of Souths? inept play than the Dragons? brilliance. They were my favourites at the beginning of the season, while I haven?t written them or anyone else off for the title this year, I would have to go with the North Queensland Cowboys at this stage.I think the notion that they are the only club who don?t rely solely on one player is a little off the mark though, without Johnathan Thurston I think they?d struggle a bit. But having said that, they have more depth this year and even though they do rely on Thurston, he has a near perfect record with injuries so he should get the best part, if not all, of the season played out. Although you can never be too sure, freak accidents do happen on the football field. But it must not be ignored that sides with players who are prone to injury are generally harder hit than those who aren?t.Pundits were willing to throw Newcastle up the top as premiership favourites after their tremendous win over the Bulldogs. I tend to disagree, I think they?re going off a bit early. Didn?t they win the wooden spoon last season? Yes, yes, yes, I know, they didn?t have Andrew Johns. But doesn?t that tell you anything in itself? Johns hasn?t played a full NRL season since 2001, and let me tell you, the older you get, the harder it gets. So Newcastle - with Johns, premiership contenders; without Johns, spoon contenders. At least we know where they stand. I think that in itself is enough of a reason to suggest why they shouldn?t be favourites.I?m really trying to think of sides that don?t rely solely on one player, and to be honest, the only one that springs to mind is the Melbourne Storm.Take the following players out of the following teams and they wouldn?t be the same:Broncos: LockyerBulldogs: Sherwin or El MasriKnights: JohnsPanthers: GowerSharks: KimmorleyCowboys: ThurstonStorm: (have a number of quality players)Sea Eagles: Kennedy or OrfordTigers: MarshallRaiders: Smith (Even with him they are ordinary!)Roosters: Anasta or MorleyDragons: GasnierEels: HindmarshAs for the leftovers, the Rabbitohs and the Warriors, they really don?t have any players worth noting, but I think you get my drift.The Storm are number one in terms of relying on a number of players, and while the Cowboys rely heavily on Thurston, they?d be able to get through without him for short periods here and there, particularly during origin.So back to the premiership favourites, those two would be my two picks at this stage, the Cowboys and the Storm. But it is only round three, a lot can change. Just on Penrith, I tipped them to win the wooden spoon at the start of the year, I think I have eaten my words there, they are top four contenders for sure.I went off a bit early on the Bulldogs last week as well, while they can pull out the big performance here and there, they just don?t seem to be able to do it as consistently as they used to. Where they finish this season is a mystery to me, but I really can?t see them making the top four. They need to put Mark O?Meley back on the bench. He?s much more effective that way, a lot of his bite is taken away when he starts the game. They had it right against the Tigers but for some reason they wanted to change things.I think I?d have to put the Roosters in the same boat. While they are probably more consistent than the Bulldogs, they don?t have the Bulldogs? tendency to win the big games. They can?t even do it occasionally any more. The 2004 grand finalists probably won?t be playing a part in that match this year.The Warriors proved me wrong last week, they?ll finish above zero points this season. And the wooden spoon is not a foregone conclusion as thought also, watching the Raiders concede 126 points in their last two matches, the race is far from over.The men from the nation?s capital should be rebuilding for the future. The Raiders should pay out his contract, get someone in for the long term and let Elliot prepare for his Penrith stint next season.So all in all round three sprung up a few surprises, leaving this writer eating a bit of humble pie.
BEST to say farewell Mr Gasnier