CANBERRA veteran Jason Croker will play his first game of 2006 coming off the bench in the Raiders four-quarter trial match against Jim Beam Cup teams Windsor and Wentworthville this Saturday night at Queanbeyan.It is the Raiders final hit out before the NRL season kicks off with coach Matt Elliott cutting his squad to 17 for the match. Ensuring they will be up against fresh opposition the entire time, the Raiders will play Windsor in the first and third quarters, and Wentworthville in the second and fourth periods. Captain Clinton Schifcofske will be rested after taking part in the first two trials.Raiders: William Zillman, Adam Mogg, Phil Graham, David Howell, Adrian Purtell, Jason Smith, Lincoln Withers, Terry Martin, Simon Woolford, Willie Raston, Ben Jones, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Alan Tongue.Interchange: Jason Williams, Jason Croker, Todd Carney, Troy Thompson.
NORTH Sydney has come from behind to snatch a superb last minute victory and snatch the Leagues Club Cup from long time holders Tweed Heads.The ?Leagues Club Challenge Cup? became an annual contest between the North Sydney Bears and the Tweed Heads Seagulls Football teams after the North Sydney Leagues Club took over operations of the Tweed Heads Leagues Club six years ago.In hot conditions on Saturday night The Seagulls proved more than a match running away with the first half 10 to nil.But the reminder of a pact made by the North Sydney boys to ?win it for Flo? spurred them on in the second half with Aaron Trinder running in a try soon after the break.Then Bears player of the year Ben Ellis ran in under the posts to allow Ryan Russell to even the scores at 10 all.The game became a classic arm wrestle between the two rivals the score remaining even for most of the remainder. However in the last moments Andrew Moodie and Daniel Russell attempted to force a Tweed Heads player over the side line leading to a mistimed kick by the Gulls and a golden opportunity for Luke Fatnowna to run 50 metres and win the match as the final bell sounded 14 to 10.There was some good work by John Kagi in the hit-up department. Also Ryan Russell, John Russell and Aaron Trinder made good contributions. While Ben Ellis heroically topped the tackle count at 40, despite him not playing the full 80 minutes.Emotions were high in the Bears camp after the match the boys having made good their promise to North Sydney General Manger Greg Florimo.?The commitment was outstanding? said Coach Josh White, But stressed he is still looking for improvements in execution.THE 2006 LEAGUES CLUB CHALLENGE CUP ? NORTH SYDNEY 14 (Aaron Trinder, Ben Ellis, Luke Fatnowna tries Ryan Russell 1 goal) defeated TWEED HEADS 10(Jade McDermott, Joe Cudmore tries; Jade McDermott 1 goal).PHOTO: North Sydney Captain Ben Black proudly savours the Leagues Club Challenge Cup. Photo: Paul Collins.
MELBOURNE coach Craig Bellamy has named a near full-strength team for the Storm's final trial match against Brisbane at Toowoomba on Saturday.It is the third trial match in the Storm's preparation after two clashes with Parramatta in the previous weeks. Five-eighth Scott Hill will play his first match of the season and will be looking to form an instant bond with new halfback Cooper Cronk.Joining Hill in making a 2006 debut are internationals David Kidwell and Matt King while props Brett White, Scott Anderson, Ben Cross and Dennis Scott are all missing through injury.Storm: Billy Slater, Matt Geyer, Matt King, Greg Inglis, Jake Webster, Scott Hill, Cooper Cronk, Garret Crossman, Cameron Smith, Antonio Kaufusi, Michael Crocker, David Kidwell, Dallas Johnson.Interchange: Steve Turner, Adam Blair, Ian Donnelly, Jeremy Smith, Ryan Hoffman, Chris Walker, Nathan Friend, Jamie Feeney.
CATALANS Dragons have announced that Kiwis star Stacey Jones has undergone surgery after suffering a broken arm in last Friday night?s match at The Willows, Salford.The operation took place in Perpignan at lunch time on Monday and a metal rod was inserted into his arm to repair the break.Jones? doctors have said that the operation was a success and initial predictions that he may be out for six to eight weeks have been confirmed as correct.For the next two weeks Jones will be in total rest as he recovers from the operation.After the first couple of weeks of healing have passed he will be able start light fitness training. In five weeks time Jones? arm will be reassessed by his doctors to see the how the bone is healing and when he will be expected to take to the field again.Julien Rinaldi, who moved into the half-back position when Jones broke his arm, but who also exited the match with a leg injury shortly afterwards, has been cleared of serious injury.
THE RFL Disciplinary Committee has found John Wilshire of Salford City Reds guilty of a dangerous tackle in the match against Catalans Dragons (Round Two of engage Super League). Wilshire has been suspended for one match and fined ?350.
THE New Zealand Warriors are facing the possibility of losing competition points before the NRL season even kicks-off after revelations the club had breached the salary cap as far back as 2004.The club is also expected to cop a huge fine for the breaches, which the Warriors' new management is blaming on the old administration. It could have dire effects on the club, who are facing a maximum fine of up to $500,000 and potentially beginning the 2006 competition on -4 or -6 points. The follow-on effects could see sponsors pull out and crowds drop off.It is the second salary cap breach by the Warriors after being fined $100,000 in 2001, and the biggest salary cap scandal in the NRL since the Bulldogs were stripped of the minor premiership in 2002.
WESTS Tigers skipper Scott Prince will meet with Brisbane chief executive Bruno Cullen today to talk about moving to the Broncos in 2007.Prince has permission to negotiate with all three Queensland clubs until February 28, at which stage talks will begin with the Tigers. North Queensland has withdrawn its immediate interest in Prince leaving just the Broncos and Gold Coast Titans as threats to lure the premiership halfback away from Sydney.The Titans are hopeful of chatting with Prince in the next few days.
KIRK Yeaman scored a hat-trick as Hull continued their promising start to the new engage Super League season with a comfortable 40-14 win over Wakefield.The Black and Whites produced a fluent attacking performance to run in seven tries at the KC Stadium but their win owed as much to a superb defensive effort.Talisman and captain Richard Swain was absent with a thigh injury but the team did not suffer with tries spread between Lee Radford, Motu Tony, Shaun Briscoe, Richard Horne and Yeaman.Although Hull went ahead as early as the third minute, when Paul Cooke fed Radford to mark his second home debut with a try, it was Wakefield who showed the earliest promise.Their coach Tony Smith, a former Hull scrum-half, was critical of his side despite running Bradford close last weekend, and he will no doubt be further aggrieved at his side?s failure to make the most of their possession.After Richard Whiting conceded a penalty, five sets of six followed but the Wildcats failed to register anything other than David March?s kick at goal that brought the scores closer together at 6-2.Twice they were thwarted on the line by the excellent Briscoe and it was only a penalty conceded for crossing that prevented them posting a sixth straight set.After weathering the Wakefield storm and receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 11,860 as a reward, Hull punished their visitors? profligacy further by posting their second try.Cooke, captain for the day, attacked the left wing and his weighted pass sent Yeaman flying into a gap to touch down on his 100th appearance.Oliver Elima was then sent to the sinbin for a professional foul as Wakefield struggled to contain Hull, and the 12 men were made to pay soon after as Motu Tony scooted in from dummy half to score under the posts. Danny Brough added his third conversion to open up a 16 point lead at 18-2.Tony then joined Elima on the sidelines after a series of infringements, and although Wakefield did not score in his absence, they did register their first try shortly before the break ? David Solomona?s arcing run taking him over in the left corner.His effort was left worthless however, as Yeaman intercepted Monty Betham?s wayward pass to canter to the line moments later. Hull led 22-6 at the interval.The second period began in a similar manner, as Hull posted two tries within minutes of each other to seemingly put the tie beyond Wakefield?s reach. First Richard Horne created a deserved opening for Briscoe, before Horne was then handed a similar opportunity by Jamie Thackray. Brough converted both for a lead of 34-6.Solomona then claimed his second by way of a response and was quickly followed over the line by winger Paul White as Wakefield began to fight back.They were assisted in their cause by Gareth Raynor?s sinbinning for holding the lively Sam Obst, although their failure to convert any of their tries left them with a considerable amount of work to do.Any faint hopes were soon extinguished however, as Brough?s chip kick created havoc in the Wakefield defence and Sid Domic sent Yeaman crashing over for his treble, backing up his brace against Castleford last week.Hull: Briscoe, Blacklock, Whiting, Yeaman, Raynor, R. Horne, Brough, Thackray, Tony, King, Radford, Domic, CookeReplacements: Higgins, Carvell, McMenemy, Lupton.Wakefield: Halpenny, White, Demetriou, Whittle, Tadulala, Jeffries, Obst, Korkidas, March, MacGillivray, Solomona, Catic, Betham.Replacements: Henderson, Griffin, J. Field, Elima.Hull: (22) 40.Tries: Radford, Yeaman 3, Tony, Briscoe, R. Horne.Goals: Brough 5, Cooke.Wakefield: (6) 14.Tries: Solomona 2, White.Goals: March.Referee: S Ganson (St Helens)Att: 11,860
FORMER Wigan team-mates Stephen Wild and Martin Aspinwall marked their home debuts with tries as Huddersfield twice came from behind to beat injury-hit Warrington 26-20 at the Galpharm Stadium.The Wolves, who were without five regulars, caught their hosts cold with two tries in the first seven minutes but were gradually overhauled by a gritty Giants side in an exciting second half.Great Britain loose forward Wild was the Huddersfield hero, creating one try and scoring another from 50 metres to kill off the brave visitors.Warrington scrum-half Chris Bridge, preferred in the starting line-up to Australian Michael Sullivan, easily won the race to Lee Briers? kick for the first score after only three minutes - with Briers adding the conversion.Four minutes later, neat handling from Bridge and centre Toa Kohe-Love created an overlap for former Hull winger Richie Barnett to race unopposed to the corner for a try on his debut.Huddersfield, who had five players making their home debuts, lost influential hooker Brad Drew with a leg injury after 25 minutes - but they gradually worked their way back into the game.Half-backs Chris Thorman and Robbie Paul caused most of the problems for the Wolves, and it was the former whose stabbed kicks set up first-half tries for centre Albert Torrens and fellow Australian Chris Nero which enabled Huddersfield to draw level by the break.It was no surprise when the Giants went in front for the first time on 52 minutes, Wild using his strength and guile to get Aspinwall over for a try.But Michael De Vere missed with two of his three goal kicks, and Warrington regained the lead on 67 minutes when Briers converted a second try by Bridge - who took Mark Gleeson?s pass to jink his way over.Both sides were down to 12 men at that stage, with Wayne McDonald (Huddersfield) and Ben Westwood (Warrington) sin-binned for fighting - and the game immediately opened up.The lead changed hands for the third time in 20 minutes when substitutes Eorl Crabtree and Paul March both offloaded from the tackle to create the space for Nero to go over for his second try.De Vere converted from the touchline, and Huddersfield made sure of the win when the impressive Wild tore out of the tackle and raced 50 metres to the line.Thorman added the points, before the Wolves? Great Britain centre Martin Gleeson sent winger Henry Fa?afili over for a consolation try.Huddersfield: Reilly, Aspinwall, Evans, Torrens, De Vere, Thorman, Paul, McDonald, Drew, Jackson, Smith, Jones, Wild.Replacements: Crabtree, Nero, Snitch, March.Warrington: Grose, Fa?afili, M. Gleeson, Kohe-Love, Barnett, Briers, Bridge, Wood, Clarke, Westwood, Swann, Wainwright, Noone.Replacements: Sullivan, M. Gleeson, Bracek, Lima.Huddersfield: (10) 26.Tries: Torrens, Nero 2, Aspinwall, Wild.Goals: De Vere 2, Thorman.Warrington: (10) 20.Tries: Bridge 2, Barnett, Fa'afili.Goals: Briers 2.Referee: I Smith (Oldham)Att: 8,104
INJURY-HIT Harlequins pulled off a major upset when they twice came from behind to earn a point from a tough-tackling clash with engage Super League champions Bradford as the game finished 18-18.Inspired by New Zealand scrum-half Thomas Leuluai, the Londoners put last week?s horror show against St Helens behind them to end the Bulls? 14-match winning run.Quins would have claimed both points had former Bradford centre Paul Sykes succeeded with an injury-time drop goal but his long-range effort drifted wide.Bradford were clearly happy with a point after an indifferent display on their first appearance at Odsal since their Grand Final and World Club Challenge triumphs.Twice Paul Deacon attempted late penalties to force a draw and, to the relief of the 11,000 crowd, he succeeded with his second effort two minutes from the end of normal time.Already without five players through injury, Quins were forced to re-shuffle their side following the late withdrawal of last year?s top tryscorer Luke Dorn, who suffered a hamstring injury in their last training session.Matt Gafa, one of eight close-season signings, moved to stand-off and club captain Rob Purdham from loose forward to centre, and teenage trialist Tony Clubb was drafted in as substitute.The early signs were ominous for the visitors, with Bradford hooker Ian Henderson taking Paul Johnson?s pass and jinking his way over for an eighth-minute try, goaled by Paul Deacon.That opening score came while Quins were down to 12 men following the sin-binning of Gafa for holding down full-back Michael Withers after he had collected Leuluai?s grubber kick and raced 80 metres up-field.But the Bulls were unable to capitalise on their fine start, frequently gifting possession with an alarming number of handling errors, and the visitors gradually came more into the game.They drew level on 13 minutes when Leuluai sidestepped his way through a flat-footed defence and went in front on 29 minutes when the little Kiwi got substitute Danny Williams charging through a gap to touch down.Sykes kicked both conversions to give his side a six-point advantage at the break but two tries in the first six minutes of the second half looked to have turned the game on its head.First left centre Shontayne Hape cut a superb line from Iestyn Harris? pass to scythe through and then right centre Ben Harris profited from a fumble by Harlequins winger Rikki Sheriffe, who was deceived by an awkward bounce from Gene?s grubber kick.With Leuluai prompting and probing, the Londoners were quickly back onto the attack and hard-working forward Lee Hopkins burst through the attempted tackle of Matt Cook and Paul Johnson to level the scores.Sykes? third successful conversion edged the visitors 18-16 ahead and, after Deacon put his first penalty attempt wide, he atoned for the lapse just in time.Bradford (6) 18.Tries: Henderson, Hape, B. Harris. Goals: Deacon 3.Harlequins RL (12) 18.Tries: Leuluai, Williams, Hopkins. Goals: Sykes 3.Bradford: Withers, Bai, B. Harris, Hape, Pryce, I. Harris, Deacon, Fielden, Henderson, Lynch, Johnson, Meyers, Langley.Replacements: Vagana, McKenna, Gene, Cook.Harlequins RL: Lucky Luisi, Sheriffe, Sykes, Purdham, Bradley-Qalilawa, Gafa, Leuluai, Temata, Weisner, Heckenberg, Haumono, Hopkins, Mbu.Replacements: Williams, Clubb, Mills, Tookey.Referee: A Klein (London)Att: 11,097
CATALANS Dragons found out how difficult life could be in the engage Super League without Stacey Jones as they slipped to defeat at Salford by 16-0.The French newcomers went into the game on a high after an opening win over Wigan last week - but they failed to perform at The Willows after losing playmaker Jones injured early on.Salford took advantage to maintain their winning start to the season - but despite dominating throughout, they only had two Stuart Littler tries to show until Andrew Brocklehurst went over nine minutes from time.The home side?s failure to score the points their superiority deserved allowed Catalans to retain some hope - but without Jones pulling the strings, they could not find a way through.Catalans? hopes suffered a serious blow when New Zealand scrum-half Jones left the field with what appeared a hand or wrist injury in the early stages.Jones, outstanding against the Warriors, took up a seat on the bench but did not return and had changed into his track-suit by the start of the second half.Without their star signing, the visitors spent most of the game on the defensive but did well to limit the Reds to just six points in the first half.Salford forced the pace from early on and went close to a try after just three minutes when Karl Fitzpatrick?s kick proved just too strong for Junior Langi.Ian Sibbit forced his way over the line after 12 minutes, but frantic Catalans defending managed to prevent him touching down.A lightning break by David Hodgson and Fitzpatrick moments later created another opening - but a great opportunity was spurned as Littler failed to take a pass out wide.All the Reds had to show for their dominance in the opening quarter was a solitary penalty from Hodgson.Littler put that right as he made amends with the opening try after 19 minutes.Catalans mustered little in the first half other than early breaks by Jamal Fakir and Julien Rinaldi and a late chance for John Wilson.Salford could have put the game beyond reach in the first half, but it was not until the 42nd minute that they extended their lead with Littler?s second.Former Leeds scrum-half Andrew Dunemann, making his Reds debut, stretched the Catalans defence with an arcing run out wide before passing inside for Littler to touch down.Hodgson converted to put Salford 12-0 ahead. Littler went close to a hat-trick as he chased the ball in-goal - but it just ran dead.Catalans enjoyed a spell of pressure as they tried to force their way back into the game, but the Reds held firm.Brocklehurst finally put the game beyond reach after 71 minutes as he finished off a slick move with a powerful run on the right.It was no more than Karl Harrison?s side deserved, and they also made sure they kept a clean sheet with some good tackling to keep out Bruno Verges.The winger went close to claiming a consolation in the corner late on but he was stopped short.Salford: Wilshere, Langi, Littler, Moule, Hodgson, Dunemann, Fitzpatrick, Coley, Alker, Highton, Brocklehurst, Sibbit, Finnigan.Replacements: Clough, Haggerty, Rutgerson, Stewart.Catalans Dragons: Frayssinous, Murphy, Wilson, Hughes, Verges, Rudder, Jones, Beattie, Rinaldi, Fellous, Fakir, Guisset, Hindmarsh.Replacements: Guigue, Mounis, Touxagas, Chan.Salford (6) 16.Tries: Littler 2, Brocklehurst. Goals: Hodgson 2.Catalans Dragons (0) 0.Att: 4,660Referee: P Bentham (Warrington)
PAUL Sculthorpe made his long-awaited return to action as St Helens further enhanced their burgeoning engage Super League title credentials with a 44-8 win over Castleford.The Great Britain captain had been sidelined since last August following major knee surgery which forced him to miss the autumn Tri-Nations series.Having treaded the long, gruelling path to recovery, Sculthorpe delighted a bumper 13,528 crowd by playing a telling role as eight different players claimed crossed the line for Daniel Anderson?s side.Six of those tries came in the opening period to ensure the contest was effectively over by the interval as Saints mercilessly swept aside relegation candidates Castleford.When talented youngster James Graham crossed the line shortly after the restart, the spectre of serious humiliation loomed large for the Tigers.To their credit, however, Terry Matterson?s side refused to surrender and claimed two tries of their own through scrum-half Andy Kain and Gray Viane to restore some pride - before Jason Hooper put the icing on the cake for Saints.There was never any prospect of anything other than a resounding St Helens victory from the moment Jamie Lyon orchestrated a superb opening try after just three minutes.The Australian collected Sean Long?s neat offload and threw a delightful pass out wide to Ade Gardner, who scampered into the right-hand corner for his first second try of the season.Despite the improbable angle just inches from the touchline, Lyon added the extras before Saints? vibrant approach saw them cross the line again just six minutes later.A break from stand-off Leon Pryce, making his home debut along with Jason Cayless and Francis Meli, allowed Willie Talau to scamper over the line from 10 metres.Lyon again converted the touchdown to make it 12-0 but Castleford - with Sculthorpe?s brother Danny in their side following his close-season switch from Wigan - struggled to cope with St Helens? attacking flair.Saints skipper Sculthorpe soon heaped further misery on his brother after playing his part in a classic move which saw the hosts claim their third try after 18 minutes.The ball passed through seven pairs of hands in a bewildering array of inter-passing which culminated in Meli grounding in the left-hand corner.Excellent work from Sculthorpe allowed Long to race clear to cross the line with ease for Saints? fourth try, and moments later full-back Paul Wellens touched down for his fourth try of the season.Lyon converted to make it 26-0 before Castleford replacement Craig Huby was sin-binned for persistent infringement as the Tigers? frustrations began to get the better of them.Saints replacement Maurie Fa?asavalu crashed over the line on the stroke of half-time for his side?s sixth try before Lyon added the extras for the fourth time.Graham crashed home under the posts shortly after the break, Lyon again converting, before Kain?s neat dummy and dart over the line allowed Castleford?s travelling support a smile.The spirited Tigers continued to press and they exploited the absence of the sin-binned Keiron Cunningham after 61 minutes to cross the line again.Kain again failed to convert and the impressive Hooper crashed over the line before Lyon claimed his sixth conversion from eight attempts.St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli, Pryce, Long, Fozzard, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Sculthorpe, Hooper.Replacements: Roby, V. Anderson, Graham, Fa?asavalu.Castleford: Platt, Blanch, Dyer, Viane, Shenton, McGoldrick, Kain, Ward, Henderson, Nutley, Fa?aoso, Roarty, Bird.Replacements: Sculthorpe, Fletcher, Huby, A. Smith.St Helens (32) 44.Tries: Gardner, Talau, Meli, Long, Wellens, Fa?asavalu, Graham, Hooper. Goals: Lyon 6.Castleford (0) 8.Tries: Kain, Viane.Referee: R Laughton (Barnsley)Att: 13,528
LEEDS came from 16-0 down to snatch the points and condemn Wigan to consecutive opening defeats for the first time in the Super League era by 24-16.Skipper Kevin Sinfield scored the decisive try seven minutes from the end to dash the hopes of the home side, who had been in command at half-time, and silence the bulk of the 17,281 crowd, the biggest for an opening Super League home game at the JJB Stadium.Tries from teenagers Joel Tomkins and Chris Ashton and another from substitute Wayne Godwin helped Wigan establish a healthy, if flattering, 16-0 half-time lead.Leeds had dominated the first half but failed to apply the finishing touches and they were hit by two tries in a three-minute spell just before the break.Wigan, beaten by newcomers Catalans Dragons in their first match of the season, took their chances to establish what should have been an unassailable lead but they were over-run in the second half.Leeds? first chance came as early as the fifth minute when a half-break by full-back Richie Mathers opened up the home defence but Great Britain centre Keith Senior dropped his head-high pass with a try begging.Prop Ryan Bailey also looked all over a scorer until Warriors captain Sean O?Loughlin hauled him down short of the line and second rower Ali Lauitiiti had a try disallowed by video referee Gerry Kershaw for a double movement.Wigan took the lead after 17 minutes when centre Pat Richards palmed back Denis Moran?s high kick and 18-year-old substitute Tomkins followed up score with his first touch of the ball.It was very much against the run of play when they increased their lead six minutes before the break, with Godwin demonstrating electrifying pace to cross for a solo try.Leeds had barely recovered from that shock when another 18-year-old, full-back Ashton, swooped on Richards? grubber kick to score a third try and Danny Tickle kicked his second conversion.Leeds had not played that bad but they needed a quick score if they were to get back in the game and they got it courtesy of Shane Millard?s first try for the club.The ever-dangerous Lauitiiti set up the position with a determined run and former London and Widnes hooker Millard, a replacement for Matt Diskin, shot over from dummy half seven minutes into the second half.The Wigan defence was caught out again just two minutes later when Rhinos stand-off Danny McGuire cut through a yawning gap and Kevin Sinfield?s second successful conversion cut the deficit to just four points to set up an exciting final quarter.Leeds clearly had the momentum but it took them until the 74th-minute to take the lead for the first time.Sinfield took Diskin?s astute pass and sliced through for the try and scrum-half Rob Burrow applied the finishing touch when supporting McGuire?s break for the game?s last try two minutes from the end.Sinfield maintained his 100% record with his fourth conversion to send the 2,500 travelling fans wild with delight.Wigan: Ashton, Calderwood, Richards, Vaealiki, Dallas, O?Loughlin, Moran, Logan, Higham, Paleaaesina, Hargreaves, Tickle, Hansen.Replacements: Brown, Seu Seu, Godwin, Tomkins.Leeds: Mathers, Donald, Walker, Senior, Smith, McGuire, Burrow, Bailey, Diskin, Peacock, Lauitiiti, Ellis, Sinfield.Replacements: Scruton, Poching, Jones-Buchanan, Millard.Wigan (16) 16.Tries: Tomkins, Godwin, Ashton. Goals: Tickle 2.Leeds (0) 24.Tries: Millard, McGuire, Sinfield, Burrow. Goals: Sinfield 4.Referee: R Silverwood (Dewsbury)Att: 17,281
HERE it is Tigers fans! LeagueUnlimited.com's intrepid writer Daniel Ramus sits down and has a good old chin-wag with Balmain?s favourite son Wayne Pearce. They chat about detached retinas, hepatitis, beer can throwing, the Wok, meningitis, Ellery?s chin in ?88, knee reconstructions, extra time in ?89, falling off horses, the Tigers 2005 premiership and what Junior?s doing these days for a crust.You better buckle up, this one goes for a while!Rammo: You started out playing for the Balmain Police Boys junior club, could you tell us a bit about those early days?Junior: I guess my inspiration for playing rugby league was the Tigers? premiership victory in 1969. I was a nine year-old. Myself, and my two young brothers were pumped up so we signed up and started playing the next season for the Balmain Police Boys. Rammo: After being graded with the Balmain juniors in 1978, a severe bout of hepatitis threatened your career in its early stages. This would have been a tough way to start things off.Junior: Yeah, it was pretty tough. I was studying at university at the time and playing junior football as well. I got a bad cut in a game playing for the NSW Under 18s against Queensland. In those days they had the old bucket and sponge, they didn?t have the spray like they do these days, they sponged down the wound over my eye. Inadvertently the virus got into my bloodstream and 6 weeks later I became really crook. I was knocked around for the next 6 months, lost a lot of weight and was lucky to play rugby league again. On the upside, the good thing is, as a result of what happened to me, the governing sports medicine associations put a ban on the bucket and sponge and nowadays the bottles are used which are much more hygienic. Rammo: You were named as the best and fairest player for the Tigers in 1980. This was obviously a great way to begin your first grade career.Junior: Yeah it was a big plus because my only grade experience before I came into First Grade as a 19-year old in 1980, was when I came off the bench late in 1979 and played two Under 23 games, as they were then. That was my only grade experience. In the off-season, the first grade incumbent lock at the time, Neil Pringle, suffered a really bad virus in that off-season and they were looking for a lock. They threw me into the first grade training squad and I started first grade the next season. I had a pretty good year, made the City representative team, and at the end of the year I was given the best and fairest award for the club which was a real honour.Rammo: In 1981 you suffered a detached retina, delaying the start to your season. Was that one of the worst injuries you ever had?Junior: That was without doubt the most frightening injury I ever had. I got poked in the eye during a game and basically I was blinded straight away as a result of that. I went to hospital and I had to lie still for a couple of days while the blood cleared up so they could actually look inside the eye, or until the blood cleared so they could see what damage was done. A couple of days later they examined the eye and saw that it was detached so I had to have an operation, not knowing at that stage whether I?d play rugby league again. As it turned out though, the operation was a success and I ended up playing a lot more years of footy.Rammo: You had a stellar end to 1981 and an excellent follow-up year in ?82 resulting in selection on the Kangaroo tour at the conclusion of that season. Can you describe the feeling of pulling on the Green and Gold for the first time?Junior: I can remember standing there at the start of the Test match, listening to the national anthem and I had tears streaming down my face because to me it was a very emotional time. It was the culmination of a childhood dream to play for Australia, and I was fortunate to have a good game and I was named player of the match.Rammo: What was it like playing in the U.K.? What were the conditions and the quality of opposition like?Junior: The touring side of 1982 was the first side to go away and come back undefeated. We had a really successful tour. People talked about the quality of the opposition being pretty ordinary, and yes, by the standards of Australian rugby league they were a lot inferior. They were skilful players but they just didn?t match the speed at which we played the game. We went on and won all the test matches and club matches and went over to France to also win the games over there. It was a fantastic experience, the grounds were quite heavy, very different to play on but they actually suit my game because I had pretty good leg strength, and it helped my speed over the ground. It was one of the best experiences of my life.Rammo: What are your lasting memories of England?Junior: Just the great hospitality and the friendly people over there. I really liked the atmosphere, the people over there really embraced us as foreigners. We stayed at a pub in Leeds called The Hilton. It was an experience that taught me to come out of my shell as a person and as a footballer. The Kangaroo tours do a lot for people, not just because of their growth as a football player but as a person as well.Rammo: You won the Harry Sunderland medal at the end of 1984 for best player in the Ashes series. This must have been quite an honour for you.Junior: It was a great honour. You don?t go out there to win awards, but I did have a pretty good series that year, winning Man of the Match in two of the three tests. I was then awarded the Harry Sunderland Medal which was a real honour, the magnitude of it didn?t really sink in at the time and it probably wasn?t until a few years later that I looked back and realised what it meant.Rammo: Injury was a familiar foe throughout your career, and you suffered another detached retina during the minor semi-final in 1985 against Parramatta. You were awarded the Rothmans Medal for best and fairest player in the same season, this must have been a nice consolation after missing the majority of the semi-final through injury.Junior: This was another tremendous honour. In my opinion, the Rothmans Medal is the highest accolade any player can receive. That and the Players? Player award, which are both voted by your peers, are the two greatest individual honours the game has to offer. Being voted the player of the season, during what was then the ARL competition, was a real big honour, it was some consolation for not playing in the finals series, but I really wanted to play the big games because I was the club captain for the Tigers. Rammo: In 1986 you led the NSW side to the first ever clean-sweep in origin history in an incredibly tight series. What memories can you recall from that series?Junior: Just the fact that the matches in the series were all very close. It was a fantastic achievement the previous year to win our first Origin series ever against Queensland, something which I was also proud to be a part of. To go on and win 3-0 the next year went to the next level yet again. The contests were anything but easy, all the matches went down to the wire. We managed to come up on the right side of the ledger each time, the speed of the matches was phenomenal, the series could have gone either way, Queensland could have just as easily won 3-0 because there were only a couple of points in each game. Rammo: You were omitted from the 1986 Kangaroo Tour following a knee injury and there was a bit of controversy surrounding your non-selection. Please tell us a bit about that.Junior: I actually ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament, which is the main ligament of the knee in the 3rd Test against the Kiwis which was in July. The initial diagnosis didn?t look too good, but I had a subsequent diagnosis and an operation from a surgeon by the name of Merv Cross who was considered the number one knee surgeon in Australia at the time. He had a chat to me and said that the way I ruptured it, was the best possible way I could rupture it if I wanted to get back playing as quickly as possible. He said that provided I was prepared to put the physiotherapy and effort in, that I could be right to play on the Kangaroo tour. I was doing 3 to 4 hours a day of physiotherapy and rehab work, and he was astounded at how quickly my knee recovered. For some strange reason it never happened before. Prior to their selection of the team I was asked to go and participate in a fitness test. I went along there and the League Doctor had not even spoken to Merv Cross who?s the expert, to find out what shape my knee was in. They put me through a ridiculous test that went on and on. They were just trying to look for a way to rule me out. Les Davidson and Martin Bella were tackling me in the fitness test, both of them said that my knee was fine. Anyway, the League Doctor at the time found reason to rule me out, it shattered my belief in the system at the time. Rammo: In 1988 you suffered viral meningitis. How long did the recovery process take?Junior: That was a pretty ordinary experience as well. It knocked me around and made me very weak. It probably took me a good four or five weeks to recover fully from that. I got back on the playing paddock after two or three weeks but the first couple of games back I felt very weak, and it?s not a very nice illness to get. It was once again another opportunity for me to come back after a setback or hurdle. Rammo: You were involved in the infamous incident at Lang Park in 1988 where Maroons captain Wally Lewis was sent to the sin bin. The crowd started throwing cans of beer onto the field. Fellow New South Welshman Mark McGaw even asked you if the Blues should have left the field. What can you remember from that night?Junior: It was a pretty tough game. The game was delicately poised when Wally was sent from the field. The crowd just erupted because they were so parochial up there in those days, they?re still fanatical now but they were even worse back then, and they started showering the field with cans and bottles. I remember Mark McGaw coming over to me and saying ?Junior, the cricketers went off, so are we going to go off?? I said ?No mate, just go back out there, take a deep breath and we?ll get through it.? The crowd settled down, security came on and cleared the bottles, then we got on with the game. It was a bit intimidating but any experience of playing at Lang Park (now Suncorp Stadium) is different to playing anywhere else because the crowd is just so passionate and a lot more emotional than at other grounds. Rammo: You captained Balmain in the 1988 grand final against Canterbury. Unfortunately you went down that day by 24 points to 12. Obviously the Ellery Hanley incident was the main talking point from this match. How did you see the incident and the game in general?Junior: At the time I didn?t have a real good view of when the incident occurred, so I didn?t realise how bad it was until I looked back at video replay of it. It was very ordinary and there should have been a lot more action taken. It did cost us dearly in that game because I remember personally making a break not long after that on the right hand side of the field where Ellery plays in the centres. I came to the fullback looking for support and it would have been a try but there was no one there, and Ellery would have been there for sure. It was certainly a big blow to our chances of winning. Although, in 1988, we came from a difficult position to go through a playoff to get into the final, and through to the Grand Final. So I suppose making the Grand Final in itself was a big achievement. The bigger blow was the next year in 1989 when we lost in extra-time. Rammo: As you say there, you were also captain of the 1989 grand final side. This game will go down as one of, if not the greatest grand final in the history of the game. Balmain led 12-2 at halftime but were run down by Canberra, losing 19-14 in extra time. I would imagine that this would be quite tough to talk about but what can you remember from grand final day in 1989?Junior: It?s a bit of a blur to be perfectly honest. In fact, both grand finals were a bit of a blur because the games were so emotional and so fast, that the specifics of it, sort of elude you to a certain degree. I suppose we tried to wipe 1989 from our memories to a large extent as well, because it was back to back losing grand finals. When you put it in the context that we were 10 points up at halftime, leading 12-2, it was hard to fathom the loss. My memories of the game that particularly stand out were the fact that we had so many things that went against us. We had three or four scoring chances that were snuffed out by some good Raiders defence and some questionable options from us. Also a field goal attempt from Benny Elias that hit the crossbar, it couldn?t have come any closer. I guess it just wasn?t meant to be. Rammo: At the end of the match, you were quoted as saying ?It was disappointing, unbelievably depressing, I ached.? Do you think the fact that you lost the ball close to the line with a try-scoring opportunity beckoning had anything to do with these feelings? Or was it just a reflection of the overall pain in losing a grand final that the side had ample opportunities to win?Junior: Yeah well for years and years I was disappointed with the fact that I dropped the ball. I?m not sure whether I would have scored the try but I would have been a chance of a try. For the first time ever, about 12 months ago, I had a look at the replay with a few other players and I saw that it was a fairly poor pass which I had received. It was way above my head, and it made me feel a lot better to be perfectly honest (laughs). I guess the fact that I knew I was coming towards the end of my career, and the fact that I?d played in two consecutive grand finals without a win, I was doubtful whether I?d get that chance again. That was probably why I felt so devastated. Rammo: What was your take on Warren Ryan substituting strike forwards Steve Roach and Paul Sironen, and replacing them with defensive players Kevin Hardwick and Michael Pobjie late in the 89? grand final? Junior: It?s easy to be wise after the event, and say it was a silly thing to do. At the time Warren believed that we had a strong enough lead, I think we were 10 points in front, so he decided to close up shop and put a couple of defensive players on there. I suppose on the other side of the coin, Canberra saw two of our internationals leave the field, and in those days once a player went off he couldn?t come back on. They knew that Roachy (Steve Roach) and Siro (Paul Sironen) had a bit of size and experience so they probably lifted another gear. Rammo: What did you think of Warren Ryan as a coach? Who would you rate as the best coach in your career?Junior: There?s no doubt that Warren Ryan was a good coach, an astute tactician. He?s had a great deal of success. In terms of the influence on my career, and my development, the best coach I played under would be Frank Stanton. He coached me at the Tigers for a few years and on the Kangaroo tour when we went through undefeated in 1982. He was a very good tactician and a very good communicator, also a great motivator. Rammo: You were forced to retire prematurely at the end of 1990 due to injury, playing just 7 games that season, and 192 in your career for Balmain. Do you look back on your career with frustration given that you could have played for a few more years if it weren?t for some of those injuries?Junior: Yes and no. We could all be greedy and say that we?d like to have played for a few more years, but I was really happy I played 11 seasons at the Tigers. I also had the opportunity to represent New South Wales and represent Australia. At the end of the day I was just glad to have been given enough physical prowess and determination to do what I did. Sure my knee packed in, but I had a pretty good run. I would have been a lot more disappointed if my knee had have packed in after two or three years. Rammo: Succeeding Alan Jones as Balmain coach in 1994, the side unfortunately won the wooden spoon, but you commanded a great deal of respect from your players. How did your find your first season at the helm with the Tigers?Junior: It was pretty tough. It was a year where there were lots of players at the club who I don?t think should have been there. There was an attitude there that didn?t sit very comfortably with me. It was a year where we had to try and turn things around. It was a real struggle, we had very little money, and it takes money to build a winning team. So I guess it was difficult from that point of view, I suppose if I had have been an experienced coach I would have been a lot more disappointed. I was a bit na?ve as a coach as I thought we could turn it around overnight. We started to get some results the next year and we started to rebuild the club, but it took a few years before we got the club competitive because of the fact that there was very little money to work with. The Super League war hit the next year and that was a further drain, because the Tigers weren?t a part of the calculations of getting any big money from that so it was a really tough time. Rammo: You held the reins at Balmain until the end of 1999 when they merged with Western Suburbs. What are your thoughts on the joint venture?Junior: It was always going to be tough. It was hard in the early days because you?re bringing two clubs together with different cultures, and you?re trying to accommodate for the needs of two sets of supporters and officials. It was difficult for that first year, and it was difficult for a few years. The two sets of officials, from both Wests and Balmain, both stuck to their guns, and believed in a vision which was generated back in 2000. Courtesy of Tim Sheens, the club has come up with a premiership and I think it was a magnificent effort by Tim and the whole club to achieve that last season. Rammo: You coached the Wests Tigers in their first year, taking on a number of players that you hadn?t had much to do with previously. Was this challenging and how did you find the joint venture in general?Junior: We had a lot more resources to work with. We had a very good season in 2000. It started off fantastically well, I think we were leading the comp after 6 or 7 rounds. Halfway through the comp I think we were in about fourth position, the problem was that we had a devastating injury toll. We had a pretty good roster with about 15 decent players, but beyond that we struggled for depth. Once we got injuries to about 6 or 7 of our key men, who were out for the season, it really knocked our chances of going on from there. We missed the eight by a couple of points, I think we only won a couple of games in the last 7 or 8 rounds. Rammo: Would you consider taking the Blues to a clean sweep in 2000 over the Maroons the pinnacle of your coaching career? Tell us a bit about that.Junior: It stands out as a real highlight. For me it was probably the most satisfying or rewarding part of my coaching career because I was working with elite players. I was in an environment which was the cauldron of representative football. Coaching State of Origin is probably one of the highest profile coaching jobs in the country. It was very rewarding. The first series I coached was in 1999 and we had a drawn series that year, that was a bit of a nothing result for New South Wales or Queensland. To come and win 3-0 the next year, and break a lot of records along the way like the biggest winning margin in Origin football, meant that it was something which I was quite proud of. Rammo: Do you have any regrets about the nature of the Blues? bonding session which saw both Robbie Kearns and Brad Clyde sustain serious injuries? Would you have done things differently if you had your time over again?Junior: Naturally I wouldn?t have taken them horse-riding because we got a couple of injuries. The reasons I did it and the rationale behind it was to keep the players out of pubs, and get them in an environment where they could understand each other a little bit better and I think subsequent Origin coaches have found that it may not have been such a bad philosophy. The problem was that the activity I took them to do was out of the realms of the ability of some of the players. That meant that unfortunately there were a couple of injuries. You don?t need to get drunk to have fun, you don?t really get to know anybody because you?re slobbering too much. The guys still had a few drinks but they were in an environment where they got to know each other a little bit better than previously. Rammo: Since then you have become a prominent media figure, commentating on Fox Sports, how have you found that side of footy?Junior: I enjoy it. It?s certainly a completely different mindset to playing or coaching. You have to try to communicate with the viewers your opinions on the game. It?s quite different, challenging, it?s fun, and it keeps me involved in the game. I enjoy it.Rammo: Are you doing anything else in football, apart from your media work? Which other career activities have you undertaken?Junior: Commentating is my only involvement in football. In addition to that I run a High Performance Training business. I work with companies to help business teams and business leaders get the most productive results possible from their workers. That?s quite enjoyable, I take a lot of the skills that I?ve picked up over the years as a footballer and a football coach, and I apply those in the corporate sector. Rammo: I also hear that you?re in a band. What?s happening with that?Junior: Yeah I?ve got a bit of a band happening which is fun. We do about 20 gigs a year which is the limit that I have set on it because it takes a bit of time. It?s great, we get people up dancing and partying, for me it?s a good way to get away from it all, and real good fun.Rammo: You must have been impressed with the Tigers? 2005 premiership triumph, being one of the Balmain side of the joint venture?s all-time greats. What did you feel as you saw Scott Prince lift the 2005 Premiership trophy aloft?Junior: I was actually out at Telstra Stadium watching the grand final, and from my point of view the result was never in doubt. The Tigers really did dominate, it was level for the first 15 or 20 minutes or so but after that the Tigers took the ascendancy. When the final whistle blew, I felt a sense of relief really. Probably because the Tigers hadn?t won a premiership for so long, I was really happy, very proud of the guys. I went back to the club afterwards to rejoice with the boys and it was a fantastic feeling.Rammo: Rugby League continues to evolve. What have been the biggest changes since your coaching days? Where do you think the game is heading?Junior: Since I coached, the game has become even more professional. The resources for back-up staff are increasing in numbers. The game is becoming one now where you need 17 athletes in your squad. You cannot afford to carry players that aren?t athletes nowadays. As far as preparation goes, there is a lot more emphasis placed on getting the mental side of the game right, for years and years the players have worked on the skills necessary for the physical side of the game but I think the mental preparation is now the one that?s getting more and more famous. That?s probably the last facet of the game which coaches can work on and get a significant amount of improvement. Rammo: Your son Mitchell has signed with the Sydney Roosters. Can you tell us a bit about his game and will it be hard to watch him run around in anything other than a Black and Gold jersey?Junior: No. He?s his own person and he chose which club he wanted to go to. I had no influence on that and didn?t want to play a part in that, because I didn?t want him to regret where he went. He chose the Roosters, a little bit of my heart probably wishes he went to the Tigers but I?m just happy for him to go wherever he enjoys his footy most. He plays halfback or five eighth, a very skilful player, good kicking game and he has a fair bit of size about him. He?s only 16 years of age but he?s about 6"5'. He?s a promising young player but we?ll just have to wait and see how he goes.Rammo: Who had the biggest influence over your career?Junior: I?d probably have to say Frank Stanton. He was terrific in terms of the way he developed my footballing ability in the early days of my first grade career. Rammo: Best player you played with or against?Junior: Peter Sterling. He was an outstanding player in all conditions. Whether the ball was dry, or whether it was a fast track or slow track, a tight game or an open game, Peter always produced the goods. The best player I have seen would definitely have to be Andrew Johns. He?s got all the skills that Sterlo had, but he?s also got that physical strength and power as well.Rammo: Toughest player you played with or against?Junior: I would say Garry Jack, the former fullback with the Tigers. He was a fullback but he put his body on the line game after game. He was fearless, for mine toughness is one?s ability to absorb punishment and get up and go again and he was that sort of player.
BARLA Great Britain coach Chris Middlehurst is looking forward to his first game in charge of the side against the British Police on Wednesday evening at Stanningley ARLFC despite having only one training session with them. He said that it was a getting to know session but there will be more before future games.?We were just getting to know the lads that?s all, there were just a couple of lads that we didn?t know so we mixed everything in when they all trained together. Hopefully we can get some more sessions in before the other International games against the Prison Service and the Students.?At that training session Anthony Broadhead of Thornhill Trojans and Danny Kilshaw of Leigh East were named as captain and vice captain respectively and Middlehurst thought it was a big lift for the squad as they are both seasoned International players.?Yeah it was a big lift for the squad when they were named as well as for the two players selected. They went on the tours of Russia and Australia in 2004 and they are both seasoned BARLA International players so it was good for them to get the nod as well.??In those selections we have a leader in the forwards and a leader in the backs and that was the reasoning for it really. They have been involved in the set up and they know what is required at that level so hopefully they will lead the side well on Wednesday. It also shows a bit of loyalty to the players from the staff.?Last weekend Middlehurst was prowling the touchlines at Leigh Miners Rangers and Leigh East watching some of his charges fingers crossed that all selected players came through games unscathed. But Skirlaugh?s Simon Kilby with an ankle injury, Martin Johnson of East Hull with a shoulder injury have pulled out and Middlehurst will not be naming his team until the night of the game.?We will not be naming the team until the evening of the game because we?re not quite sure about the injuries, We have lost Simon Kilby and Martin Johnson over the weekend with injuries and brought John Woods and Richard Squires in from Leigh Miners Rangers and Shaw Cross Sharks We will wait for any further telephone calls but we will have twenty players stripped for the game. That?s the criteria and with those substitutions we can look at the permutations on the night. We will not be adding to the squad should there be any other late cry offs.?BARLA Great Britain will be going into the game as favourites and Chris Middlehurst realises that it is important to reach the final and become a force to be reckoned with again.?Yeah it?s understandable that we will be favourites but I don?t know anything about the British Police or the players in that side so we will have to be at our best on the night. We will put in a good performance on the night and we have two further games over the next three or four months to finish tip of the table and qualify for the final.?It?s important to reach the final to prove that we are still here. There was talk that we might be disbanded for various reasons but we are still here. When we get to this final that will prove to be the case and show that we are still a force to be reckoned with in the amateur game.?