Toovey set to dropTaufua after high-ballblunders

Manly Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey is likely to drop Jorge Taufua after the winger’s horrendous opening finals game.
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The normally reliable Taufua has been having an unhappy September.

On Friday he struggled under the high ball as South Sydney followed North Queensland’s game plan of targeting him on the flank. Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds continued to pepper him, resulting in veteran Lote Tuqiri successfully leaping for a try.

The Rabbitohs had watched Taufua struggle against the Cowboys in the final game of the regular season.

Either Cheyse Blair or Clint Gutherson will come into the side for Taufua, who was on the verge of NSW selection earlier this year.

Toovey will make a final call on Taufua’s inclusion and finalise other selections before the captain’s run on Friday.

Hookers Matt Ballin (broken leg) and Jayden Hodges (neck) will have fitness tests on Friday.

Ballin is unlikely to be cleared to play. Hodges is expected to play dummy half against the Bulldogs, who are expected to be unchanged, at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.

Manly prop Jason King is one loss away from retiring.

“I can’t be thinking along those lines,” King said of retirement. “I don’t want to be side-tracked about my last game.

“We had some points scored against us on the weekend. We’ll have to be strong in the middle. [South Sydney] grabbed that momentum. It’s hard to put a stop to it.

“A lot of areas we’ve looked at [to improve them]. Our kick defence was one, the other was our kick chase – and a lot of things about our defence. This week the focus has been our defence.”

King will need to lead an inexperienced Manly forward pack. He has told his young teammates not to get caught up in last week’s big loss to South Sydney.

“I’m a leader at the club,” King said. “I do every thing I can do be a leader, not just of the forward pack but of the team in general.

“It’ll be along the lines of encouragement and focusing on the positives and not dwelling on our past performance and doing everything you can in your preparation to play the best you possibly can.”

Meanwhile, at Allianz Stadium on Friday night, the Roosters will welcome back No.9 Jake Friend from a chest injury and Aidan Guerra from suspension. Boyd Cordner (knee) will also play against the Cowboys.

North Queensland have named veteran Glenn Hall to replace the suspended Tariq Sims in the back row.

Waratahs face tough battle defending their Super Rugby title in 2015

No one said it would be easy but a gruelling 10 straight games and two defining clashes on South Africa’s highveld say going back to back will be a challenge for the Waratahs next year.
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After byes in round three and eight, well before the season reaches its halfway point next year, and no awkward break for the June Test series, the Waratahs face a long road to a potential second consecutive finals campaign.

The reigning Super Rugby champions will finish their season with a two-week tour to Johannesburg and Bloemfontein to play the Lions and Cheetahs at altitude before heading home for a final-round home clash with the Reds.

There was also good news in the 2015 Super Rugby draw, which has been rejigged to accommodate next year’s World Cup.

All three conferences start in the same week in mid-February, and the Waratahs kick off their season with a Sunday afternoon home clash against the Western Force on February 15.

It will be one of two home games held in the popular 4pm timeslot. In a coup for NSW administrators, who struggled to capitalise on the benefits of afternoon football without commercially attractive opposition teams, the Waratahs will host the Brumbies in the second game on March 22.

But fans face a long wait between home games early on. After hosting the Force, the Waratahs will not play in Sydney for a month until their Brumbies homecoming at the end of March.

There will be a grand final rematch – the Crusaders fly across the ditch to play their newly minted bogy team on May 23 – but then Michael Cheika and his team hit the road to tour South Africa in round 16.

The Waratahs will not play the Bulls or two-time champions the Chiefs next year but play every other New Zealand and South African team once and every Australian team home and away.

McCabe realised the worst

Pat McCabe has opened up about the moment he knew his rugby career was over in a television interview this week.

The 24-Test centre retired last month after suffering his third neck injury in two years in the Wallabies’ 51-20 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park.

Wearing a heavy neck brace on Rugby HQ on Thursday night, McCabe said he had a “fair idea” he had played his last Test.

“Having done it twice before, I knew exactly what that pain felt like,” he said. “I probably stayed on there a little bit longer in that passage of play, which in hindsight maybe I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t really want to submit to knowing that that was probably the last time I’d walk off [a rugby pitch].

“As I was sitting on the bench watching it was a pretty dark time knowing I was heading to the hospital again to have scans. There was a decent chance they weren’t going to be too good.”

Now seeing out his contract in the corporate arm of the ACT Brumbies while he finishes off a dual commerce-law degree, McCabe also headed off speculation he had put his long-term health at risk by returning from the previous two injuries.

“Each of the times, if anyone said I was taking a ridiculous risk in terms of potential paralysis or anything like that, then I wouldn’t have come back,” he said.

“But I still had a really strong, burning desire to come back. I felt like I hadn’t achieved the things that I wanted to, and while I’m sitting here in this [neck brace] I’m still very glad that I did come back each of those times.”

Robinson dressed to thrill

Waratahs fans would have been delighted to hear of Benn Robinson’s return to the Wallabies squad for the Test team’s two-week tour of South Africa and Argentina.

Let’s hope they give him the full kit this time.

When the veteran prop was called up to join the squad on the Gold Coast last week, all he was handed was one set of training gear.

“I was there hand-washing my gear after every session in the sink. I was scrubbing away … I wanted to make sure the front-rowers knew I wasn’t too smelly,” he told Fairfax Media.

Asked on Thursday, after his tour call-up, if he expected the full monty this time, he said, laughing: “I shouldn’t have said that … I hope so. We’ll be in camp three or four days. Hopefully I’ll get kitted up.”

Making the grade

If the National Rugby Championship is struggling, in its first four weeks of operation, to put bums on seats at stadiums around the country, it cannot be questioned from a talent development perspective.

North Harbour Rays back-rower Michael Wells became the latest player to be snapped up from the third tier competition, earning a full-time contract with the men’s sevens squad after coming to the attention of new coach Geraint John.

Wells, Northern Suburbs captain and former 2012 Australian under-20s representative, is set to be followed into the professional sphere by the likes of Andrew Kellaway(NSW Country) and Jack Dempsey (Rays), who look to have been picked up by the Waratahs next year.

Busy year in the job

Happy anniversary to Tim Walsh, coach of Australian rugby’s top-ranked team, the women’s sevens squad.

Walsh marks a year in the job on Friday and has been a busy man, lifting Australia from mid-table in the world series rankings to No.2 behind New Zealand and helping produce Australia’s very own IRB women’s sevens player of the year, Emilee Cherry.

Not at all bad. Now there’s just the small matters of qualifying for the Olympics and winning a gold medal. No bother!

Buddy as Lockett once was: Sheedy

Headline act: Lance Franklin. Photo: Nic WalkerKevin Sheedy says Lance Franklin is a worthy recipient of the baton once carried by Tony Lockett and will follow in the footsteps of the goal-kicking great by becoming one of the AFL’s most important figures in Sydney.
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As Franklin prepares to spearhead the Swans’ charge to the grand final in his debut season in the red and white, Sheedy said the superstar forward would prove as significant to the game in Sydney as the late Tom Hafey, Ron Barassi and Lockett were before him.

The Swans, who play North Melbourne on Friday night, are one win away from booking their fourth grand-final appearance in 10 years and though they were successful in 2005 and 2012, interest in the club has spiked this season after landing Franklin in a stunning recruiting coup nearly a year ago.

The club has posted record membership numbers this year, breaking the 40,000 mark for the first time, and their home crowds are up 15 per cent on last year and at their highest since 2007 when the Swans were coming off back-to-back grand finals.

“We all need superstars playing in the teams because that’s what attracts people, people like to watch superstars,” said Sheedy, who won four premierships in a 27-year coaching reign at Essendon before becoming Greater Western Sydney’s inaugural coach and now a club director.

“You have your tough, ruthless types like [Glenn] Archer, people love watching those people play, but at the other end of the ground you have your dynamic goalkickers – players that turn the lights on and make people energise, players like Buddy, Barry Hall and Tony Lockett.”

One of the game’s greatest ambassadors, Sheedy said Franklin deserved to be mentioned alongside former key Swans Hafey, Barassi and Lockett for their impact in Sydney.

Hafey helped put the Swans on the map in the city after their move from South Melbourne in 1982, leading the team to consecutive finals series in 1986-87, while Barassi’s move in 1993 lifted the club from rock bottom.

But the arrival of Lockett, the game’s greatest goalkicker, turned the Swans into one of the glamour sides of the competition.

Sheedy said a grand-final appearance for the Swans this year with Franklin on board could even trump the Lockett era.

“You can look at it that way, ‘Plugger’ [Lockett] was so important for the game up in Sydney at that stage,” Sheedy said.

“Hafey, Barassi and Lockett were the most important steps, one after each other and keeping the flame alight.”

Sheedy also wanted the contributions of Mike Willesee, Basil Sellers and Peter Weinert, who were key financial backers during the club’s dark days of the late 80s and early 90s, acknowledged by the AFL with life membership.

“Those guys are like the disciples of the game in Sydney,” Sheedy said.

Although ensconced in the Giants camp, Sheedy said he wanted to see the Swans win this year’s flag because of the benefits it would bring the game in NSW.

“If Buddy ended up running out there in the grand final, the Swans win the premiership and he kicks four, gives away three, that’d be the perfect ‘fairy time’ story for Swans fans,” Sheedy said.

“I’ll be barracking for the Swans, I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. We just need the game really going well in NSW, in Sydney and getting kids like [Craig] Bird, Kieren Jack as captain, Jarrad McVeigh – this is exactly what we want.”

He even acknowledged the Swans had succeeded with Franklin in doing what the Giants had hoped to achieve with code-hopper Israel Folau.

“[We were] trying to get a place in the market in Sydney and Buddy’s done it,” Sheedy said.

“If Sydney lose a grand final and Buddy plays terribly then that will be a different example because you have to perform on the big day. They’ve still got to there yet but you have to perform on the big day, simple as that.”

How Pearce became the NRL’s No.1 halfback

Mitchell Pearce readily admits the nightclub incident that cost the Roosters star his place in this year’s NSW team was a catalyst for him becoming the No.1 halfback in the NRL on recent form.
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Pearce, who was stood down for the round 10 thrashing in North Queensland after being arrested outside a Kings Cross nightclub, heads into Friday’s semi-final with the Cowboys at Allianz Stadium as the best-performing halfback of the past five weeks.

According to a detailed analysis provided by Sportsdata, Pearce is in career-best form. At present Pearce ranks as the top halfback in the game, ahead of South Sydney’s Adam Reynolds, North Queensland’s Johnathan Thurston and Penrith’s Jamie Soward.

It is a massive turnaround from earlier in the season, when Fairfax Media revealed on the eve of Origin selection that the 25-year-old  was ranked 15th among halfbacks, based on Sportsdata’s contributor value rating system.

 

Pearce was subsequently dumped from the NSW team of which he had been a regular member since 2010. There is little doubt he would be recalled if a team was chosen now, as his recent performances have been far superior to Canterbury’s Trent Hodkinson, who ranks as the ninth-best halfback in the NRL for both the season and the past five weeks.

The 2013 premiership-winning halfback said the fallout from the off-field incident in May had been a turning point for him this season. “After that incident it was definitely a big focus for me,” Pearce said. “I knuckled down and ended up working real hard, as the whole team has. The reason you play well is because you work hard, so that is what we have all done as a team. And that is why we are in a finals position now.”

Undoubtedly a key reason the Roosters are still in contention to become the first team in more than 20 years to win back-to-back grand finals is Pearce. In his past five games, against Wests Tigers, the Warriors, Melbourne, South Sydney and Penrith, he has committed two errors, while scoring three tries, being responsible for six try assists and making 20 tackle breaks, five line breaks and eight offloads.

He has also made 112 tackles, including a try-saving effort when he chased down Greg Inglis in the 26-22 win over the Rabbitohs that secured the minor premiership for the Roosters, and missed just 12 tackles.

Such statistics show great composure, given the amount of times that Pearce touches the ball in a match as first receiver for the Roosters. Pearce said his relationship with Alan Bell, who worked with Warren Ryan at Newtown and Allan McMahon at Newcastle as a mentor to playmakers such as Andrew and and Matthew Johns, had helped him to become better at decision-making.

“He has been around the game a long time and he is really smart,” Pearce said. “He is one of the smartest guys I have spoken to about footy and my individual game. A lot of stuff with the mind and preparation has been really helpful for me and I feel like I have been playing a bit better footy, so it has been great, and I am really grateful for the time he has given me.”

Legendary boxing trainer Johnny Lewis, who worked with the Jets in the early 1980s, introduced Pearce to 71-year-old Bell about three months ago.

“I have been talking to him on the phone a fair bit. It started off we just had a bit of a brief chat and he has been really passionate, helping me out and giving me advice here and there,” Pearce said.

“As a halfback, if you can keep getting pointers from guys who have a smart analytical brain, you would be silly not to open your ears and listen.”

Pearce has also been working closely with Roosters assistant coach Jason Taylor, a former leading halfback with Western Suburbs, North Sydney, the Northern Eagles and Parramatta, and club insiders say his recent upturn in form had coincided with him becoming more decisive about when to run, pass or kick.

Fairfax Media was told whereas Cooper Cronk was a structured halfback who played within a system devised by the Storm coaching staff, Pearce plays more off-the-cuff. But his decision-making can be confused as he considers the best option.

However, in recent weeks Pearce has been sticking with his initial decision.  When he has chosen to run the ball, he has caused havoc with opposition defences – as evidenced by the try he set up for Daniel Tupou against Souths and the one he scored last Saturday night to put the Roosters ahead 14-8 against Penrith.

While Pearce ranks eighth overall among halfbacks this year, his season can be broken down into three parts: before Origin, until round 22, and the past five weeks, including the 15-14 qualifying final loss to Panthers at Allianz Stadium.

His CVR per match for the season is 322.42. Thurston, who will play opposite him on Friday night, ranks as No.1 overall with a CVR of 420.26. But until round 23, Pearce’s average CVR was a mere 260.1. He scored as low as 61.3 in round one, 66.4 in round seven and 124.3 in round eight. Before round 14, he had only recorded a CVR above 300 – considered a good score for a halfback – on one occasion, but since then he has had just three matches below that figure.

 

In the past five weeks Pearce has had a CVR above 600 – 704.5 against the Tigers in round 23, 601.2 against Souths in round 26 and 646.8 against the Panthers last weekend, while in the other two matches he had a CVR of 401.8 against the Warriors in round 24 and 442.7 against the Storm in round 25.

In comparison, Hodkinson – who ousted Pearce for the NSW No.7 jersey in this season’s historic Origin series win – has a CVR of just 263 per match in the past five weeks, which has been boosted by a score of 403 in last Sunday’s surprising 28-4 elimination of Melbourne – his highest score since round eight. Soward’s average for the past five weeks of 323.1 is well below Pearce.

Given a free hand, David Gallop tackles his FFA role with zest

David Gallop says football’s ticket to the big-time depends on grassroots
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There was something presidential about FFA chief executive David Gallop’s “State of the Game” address in Sydney on Thursday, a US-style declaration of national goals achieved and those still to be kicked.

It was also a City Hall tub thump aimed at his rivals in the middle of their finals, an “up yours” to the NRL, the game that sacked him, and the AFL, the code he seeks to overtake as No.1 in the country.

The gaunt Gallop’s speech was not quite Abraham Lincoln; more akin to the slim former US Senator Trent Lott who once said that uniting all his fellow Republican Senators in a vote was “like trying to load bullfrogs into a wheelbarrow”.

Gallop has done what Lott could not – unite soccer’s once-warring factions.

Significantly, it was he who made the speech, not Frank Lowy, the FFA chair.

When Gallop left the NRL two years ago, it was primarily because he suspected he would be merely a chief of staff for an ego-driven ARL chairman, John Grant.

The irony that Gallop’s predecessors at FFA, Ben Buckley and John O’Neill, complained they were not CEO’s but chief of operations for a billionaire autocrat, was presumably assuaged by Gallop swapping his $300,000-a -ear job for a $1 million one.

Yet none of the above transpired. Grant has withdrawn, allowing the limelight to shine on his chief executive, Dave Smith, while Lowy has stepped aside for Gallop to deliver Wednesday’s “National Plan for Whole of Football”.

Lowy, after all, has only a year left before mandatory retirement age and unless the shopping-centre czar anoints son Stephen, Gallop is in a position to fulfil his dream of eclipsing the AFL and NRL.

(Gallop, who once worked for Rupert  Murdoch, would be aware of the tricky intersection between big business and family politics. As North Korea’s Kim Jongs and the Clintons have also demonstrated, succession planning can be an all-in-the-family affair).

But Gallop had his eyes on his code rivals on Thursday, saying soccer’s opportunities “can only happen in a game based primarily on skill, not those based on collisions”.

Ten years ago, his code was No.4 in the pecking order of the national football, described by Gallop on Thursday as a “sport [then] on its knees”.

The Australian Sports Commission initiated reform via the Crawford Report, which recommended stripping away state and ethnic loyalties.

Gallop acknowledged this, indicating more has to be done. He said, “It’s fair to say that the game’s governance structures have been a work in progress since the reform process of the Crawford Report in 2003, and the inauguration of the FFA under the leadership of Frank Lowy in 2004.

“Frank Lowy and his board have done so much – starting new national competitions, qualifying for World Cups and joining Asia.

“Our chairman’s energy and commitment is a source of inspiration to so many people and I want to personally acknowledge his guidance and wisdom.

“FFA could not have done this in a decade without the support of so many companies, broadcasters and governments. There are too many to name individually, so you’ll see our acknowledgement on the video screens.”

Not recorded in actual words was crediting the ASC which, in consultation with then prime minister John Howard and federal sports minister Senator Rod Kemp, handed over $25 million for the reform process.

The Crawford Report did not address the governance problems of the grassroots and its alignment with the professional game – a whole-of-game approach that will be announced at the conclusion of summer’s AFC Asian Cup in Australia.

Gallop told Thursday’s audience, “The first phase of the national plan is to listen to the game’s key stakeholders – clubs at all levels and their members, our state and territory member federations, sponsors, broadcast partners, governments and stadium managers.”

But how much money will Gallop extract from government for this purpose?

As deputy chair of the ASC, Gallop must know his code has had more than its share of the public purse, as, indeed, has AFL.

He began his speech by stating: “Everywhere you look at the moment, you can see that Australian football [or the ‘beautiful game’ as he also called it] is enjoying a golden period.”

Your sport has joined the big boys now David. Time to dig your own gold.

Canberra cyclist Alex Nicholls seeks home advantage in National Capital Tour

ACT Suzuki Brumby’s team from left, Alison Rice, Chole McIntosh, Alex Nicholls, Emma Viotto, and Laura Darlington training at the Arboretum ahead of the Canberra Tour that starts on Friday.She juggled schoolwork and illness to make her mark on the world stage, now Canberra cyclist Alex Nicholls wants to teach the locals a thing or two at the National Capital Tour.
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Despite battling recurring bouts of tonsillitis and completing year 12 studies last year, Nicholls showed her potential by collecting silver at the world junior time trial championships in Italy last September.

The 18-year-old will start as one of the fancies for the second running of the tour, which begins with a time trial on Friday.

She is one of five Canberrans riding for the ACT Suzuki Brumby’s women’s team, with teammate Allison Rice also tipped to be one to beat.

“It [the silver medal] was a great surprise,” Nicholls said. “I was stoked to be there, let alone get a medal. I had tonsillitis on and off through last year and it made it really difficult to try and stay fresh. 

“It would crop up in stressful situations, because I was studying year 12 and racing overseas, I had to balance everything. It wasn’t great going into competitions, or coming out of races trying to recover.”

Nicholls is still hitting the books part-time at university, studying to be a primary school teacher.

She said the lessons learnt from Canberra stars Michael Matthews, Matt Heyman and Gracie Elvin when training had inspired her.

“Canberra produces a lot of riders at the professional level, it’s the best training ground in Australia,” she said. “It’s so awesome to see those guys achieve, you see them on the bunch rides [in Canberra] over the off-season and they’re so generous with their wisdom.

“It’s nice to see them get some good karma.”

After a tough initiation in Europe last year racing against seasoned pros, Nicholls has stayed in Australia this year to develop into a strong enough rider to compete with the world’s best.

“I’ve just been racing around the NRS [National Road Series], trying to be consistent and getting a few podiums here and there,” she said. “Europe opens your eyes, going from a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond.

“I loved every minute of it. It’s just a matter of getting stronger so I can be more competitive in that type of environment.”

Rice, 20, believes the race could be won and lost in Friday’s time trial and the gruelling finish to Saturday’s road race.

The tour will conclude with two road races on a flatter course on Sunday.

“The winner of the tour will be someone who can time-trial and hill-climb well,” she said. “Saturday’s race finishes with a 7-kilometre climb, so there’s potential for massive time gaps to open up there. It’s a Canberra-run team and winning our home event is a big goal, and knowing the courses really well is definitely an advantage.

“We know where to put the pressure down, the descents and technical bits of the course, having trained on it before.

“It’s great to have all our friends and family there to support us, so we’d like to come away with a great result.”

Avanti Racing’s Mitchell Lovelock-Fay is Canberra’s standout hope in the men’s event, with Commonwealth Games gold medallists Scott Sunderland and Alexander Edmondson also to compete.

NATIONAL CAPITAL TOUR

Friday: Time trials (women 10am, men 10am)

Saturday: Road race (women 7.30am, men 1.30pm)

Sunday: Road race (women 7.30am, men 1.30pm); Criterium (women 1.50pm, men 3pm)

For stage maps, visit www.nationalcapitaltour南京夜网

Morris ‘deal’ under investigation

Talented twosome: Josh and Brett Morris during their time in the NSW State of Origin camp. Photo: Steve Christo Talented twosome: Josh and Brett Morris during their time in the NSW State of Origin camp. Photo: Steve Christo
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Talented twosome: Josh and Brett Morris during their time in the NSW State of Origin camp. Photo: Steve Christo

Talented twosome: Josh and Brett Morris during their time in the NSW State of Origin camp. Photo: Steve Christo

The NRL is set to investigate St George Illawarra’s claims that a rival club approached Brett Morris despite the winger being contracted to the Dragons for 2015.

The Dragons released a statement earlier this week accusing another club of enticing Morris to break his contract after Fairfax Media revealed the Test flyer had sought a release from the final year of his deal to join twin brother Josh at the Bulldogs next season.

Part of St George Illawarra’s statement read that the Dragons: “are aware that another club has offered Brett Morris more money than his contract sum at the Dragons for the 2015 season”.  The Dragons also said there were “no rules that prevent player managers from talking to other clubs about contracted players”.

While rival clubs are allowed to negotiate with Morris for the 2016 season, they are not able to entice him to break his contract a year early.

An NRL spokesman said they had “noted” the Dragons statement. “We are making inquiries with the Dragons to determine whether the matter needs to be taken any further,” a NRL spokesman said.

Bulldogs officials would not comment about the Morris situation. It is understood the Bulldogs plan to reunite the brothers, offering about $150,000 more per season for Morris to play fullback at the club on a four-year deal. Canterbury have been linked to several fullbacks this season following the controversial departure of former Dally M Medal winner Ben Barba to Brisbane this year. The likes of Wallabies stars Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau, Manly veteran Brett Stewart and Brisbane’s Josh Hoffman.

Recently appointed full-time St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor has inherited a squad with salary cap woes. McGregor met his playing squad individually for end-of-season reviews last week.  It is expected Morris’ future will be decided by McGregor. He handed Morris the captaincy for two games late in the season when regular skipper Ben Creagh was injured.

Already representative forward Trent Merrin has spoken out as his frustrations at not being able to secure a long-term deal at the club, as the cap bites hard.

Merrin, who is contracted until the end of next season, has had no joy in his quest to ink a long-term deal at the club where made his debut in 2009.

St George Illawarra forwards Jack Stockwell and Dan Hunt, and centre Dylan Farrell are believed to have been told to find new clubs. Cronulla, who are sorely in need of extra firepower in their backline, have been mentioned as a possible destination for Farrell. The Sharks have secured highly rated St George Illawarra’s utility Jack Bird on a two year deal.  Canterbury have been linked to several fullbacks this season following the controversial departure of former Dally M Medal winner Ben Barba to Brisbane. The likes of Wallabies stars Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau, Manly veteran Brett Stewart and 

TONY BUTTERFIELD: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

PUSHING IT: Nigglers like Michael Ennis are thriving under the no-punch rule.IN the reflective light of the fading NRL season I would like to revisit a topic from earlier in the year that spoke of unintended consequences resulting from the multitude of rugby league rule changes in recent times.
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In pursuit of a commoditised version of the professional game that would maximise mass appeal, have we tampered once too often with the very fabric of the game?

But, I hear you say, without the critical mass of appeal there would be no huge broadcast deals, no major sponsorships, no packed stadiums and no big pay days for the players.

To a large extent this may well be true, but those charged with rule changes should bear in mind their actions are indeed having an impact on the very appeal that has sustained the game for decades.

I expect there are many reasons fans have voted with their feet this year. Some of that, anecdotally at least, relates to the many new rule changes and interpretations.

Take the interchange, the scrums and the no-punch rule as three examples of, on the face of it, commendable, contemporary amendments. But it’s how the players and game exploit and adapt to these changes that has created something of a disconnect between fans, players and referees.

● With 10 interchange options available to a team, endurance and stamina, at least for most forwards, is a thing of the past. This factor alone has a huge impact across the game spectrum from participation to the increase in collision forces.

● The scrums are a joke and are nothing more than gathering points at which players (any players) link arms and chat. Alas, the rule masters have no idea what to do with them so they remain like royal guards outside Buckingham Palace – no idea what we’re doing here but it looks good. There was one bright moment earlier in the year when the Warriors won a scrum against the feed against Parramatta and scored as a result.

● In relation to the no-punch edict discussed last week, we saw how a player defending himself by way of retaliation may also find himself in the sin bin.

Another slant on this enforced armistice sees players now able to take far greater liberties in the heat of an erupting disagreement.

Bravado and jersey grabbing is the order of the day, with the odd short one to the chin the worst you will see.

This new “more bark than bite” trend was on display on Sunday when Bulldogs captain Mick Ennis condescendingly tapped Cameron Smith on the head after a costly and uncharacteristic error.

Howls of disrespect arose from Smith’s supporters.

Others claimed King Cam to be well within his rights to snot the experienced upstart.

But the rules say you can’t punch, and Ennis knows the rules and he sensed weakness, vulnerability, so he did what he had to do to win.

No problem.

I understand the safety aspect of our game and I’m all for eliminating time wasting and less attractive features. But I’m not so sure all of these rule changes have had the positive effect on the game at the senior professional level that the game’s architects envisaged.

Indeed I often wonder if it’s even a better game to watch.

Maybe I’m just getting old and not the target audience any more.

■ Meanwhile, hypersensitivity of another rule change has caused some consternation in the Sims household this week with the NRL citing Cowboys enforcer Tariq for an alleged “shoulder charge” on Broncos fullback Justin Hodges.

Most may disagree, but I think Sims was very hard done by and the Cowboys were completely remiss in not challenging the entire case, much less arguing for a downgrade. In the end, Sims accepted a five-week ban rather than risk seven weeks.

As an aside, what a hopelessly inadequate and crazy system we have where you face a penalty if you dare to challenge the match review committee view of things, and fail.

But I digress.

The outrage from some commentators at the collision was a little over the top but set the mood nicely for the carve-up to follow.

Gus Gould immediately called it a shoulder charge. Matty Johns said it was “a shocking shoulder charge” that left Hodges “unconscious” on the ground. Now, I’m not a doctor and neither is Matt, so only the Broncos trainer and Hodges knew whether he was unconscious, and that has not been reported.

As ugly and awkward as the contact was, it cannot by any objective examination of the footage be called a “shoulder charge”. I’m not even sure it was “reckless” – whatever that means. But the match review committee determined otherwise.

If you have a slow motion look at the action on YouTube you will see Sims’s defensive rush from the back field was beautifully timed. His concentration total and narrowly focused. I bet he could not believe his luck when he thought he had Hodges in his sights.

But Hodges is a dangerously skilful mover and thinker.

Suddenly, all Sims’s calculations went out the window when Hodges, not wanting to be sat on his bum, passed to a support player earlier than normally expected. By this stage, Sims was in no man’s land with milliseconds to re-evaluate and reposition his hurtling frame.

Match review committees would do well to consider that this is not an easy thing to do pulsing 170 beats per minute, 60 minutes into a home semi-final. Where finer motor and cognitive skills are impaired due to blood being diverted into the parts of the brain that control emotion, and the actions that result.

In the event, I think Sims was so wrapped up in his assignment that he nearly missed the fact Hodges had passed. When he did realise, he was only two strides out, closing fast and past the point of no return. Collision was now unavoidable, even though both players attempted last-ditch evasive action.

Hodges’s movement in particular had the effect of thwarting Sims escape plan, and they collided.

Further, immediately before impact you will notice Sims finds himself so inside out and tied in knots that the two players clumsily bumped the sides of their heads anyway. A real botch-up. These things happen.

But no shoulder charge.

More to the point, given the Cowboys’ weak response to the charge, the Knights will inherit the residual weeks left to serve when Sims joins the club next season. This is hardly satisfactory.

When you consider a forward of Sims’s ilk will average perhaps 20 games per season and four of those, or 20 per cent, may be spent peeling oranges, you can see my point.

Should the Knights have had a say in how this matter was managed given they are paying the bills next year? Imagine if Sims faced 10 weeks. The Knights could have lost him for most of the first half of the season.

A shabby outcome all round that does not reflect well on the game’s administrators.

■ The Knights’ NSW Cup team are playing for a berth in a grand final on Sunday and our under 20s are playing to survive into the penultimate week of the season. What an amazing time for these blokes.

For many of the NSW Cup guys, this represents their last chance to feel the satisfaction that few know but every player believes he deserves – a premiership.

For the under 20s, the hubris of youth will ensure they won’t be as concerned about tomorrows.

But I can assure them, for most, it may well also be their final chance at the senior level.

So leave nothing in the dressing room fellas and good hunting.

Tim Chidgey gives underdogs Southern Beaches shot at NHRU title

UNCOMPROMISING: Tim Chidgey at Southern Beaches training last night at Allan Davis Field. Picture: Simone De PeakTIM Chidgey thought it was a joke when told pre-season training at Southern Beaches consisted of a game of cricket.
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Beaches had seemed content to tread water near the bottom of Premier Rugby when the two-time premiership winner at The Waratahs was appointed in 2011.

Four years in Premier One had yielded a meagre 13 wins, one in 2007, two in 2008, six in 2009 and four in 2010. Their best finish was eighth.

“The major issue was that they still had a First Division mentality, not a Premier Rugby mentality,” Chidgey told the Herald. “That is not being derogatory to anyone. That is just fact.

“People like saying clubs have a winning culture, but they don’t like to use the term losing culture.

“Losing was acceptable to Southern Beaches. A lot of people won’t like hearing that.

“There was an attitude of, ‘Oh well, we were competitive, or we were competitive up until half-time.’ You don’t get points for being competitive in the first 40 minutes.

“The first thing we had to do was change that.”

Similarly, as big an achievement as it is for the relative new boys, playing Wanderers in the grand final at No.2 Sportsground tomorrow is only half the job.

“Making the grand final is not enough,” Chidgey said.

“You have to win it.”

Chidgey knows how to win.

He guided The Waratahs to a premiership in his first year at the helm in 2003 and backed up with another in 2006. He has also tasted defeat, losing to Wanderers 10-3 in the 2005 decider.

Aside from the premierships, he guided Newcastle to successive Caldwell Cup titles.

Over the years he has crafted a winning formula and rarely diverted from it.

“Being really honest, if you had kids coming through Southern Beaches junior ranks five years ago, you wouldn’t want them graduating into a first-grade team that is losing by 100 points,” Chidgey said.

“The club lost Jay Strachan, Blake Creighton, the Gibson brothers, Brad and Mitch . . . they were Beaches juniors.

“You can’t blame them. As a parent I wouldn’t want my son playing first grade and getting his arse towelled week in week out.

“We had to change that and make sure kids wanted to stay and play for Beaches.

“We put structures in place around training, taught them about the culture of rugby, and said, ‘This is what you have to do to win.”‘

Chidgey also worked the phones. He recruited Charl van Niekerk, Nathan Tule and Kane Quinlan in his first year, adding muscle and experience to a group of talented youngsters headed by Andrew, Michael and Marty Delore, Hayden Gavin and Tyler Ostle.

Bang. They won 12 games and climbed to third, but they went out in consecutive finals games.

In 2012, Welshman Bleddyn Gant, experienced tall timber Mark O’Brien and point-scoring Kiwi Tim Riley arrived and they climbed another rung, but they finished in the same manner.

Undoubtedly the biggest coup has been the addition of two-time Anderson Medal winner and captain tomorrow Va Talaileva.

“You have to attract a few players,” Chidgey said.

“Picking up Va. It is not just what he does on the field – don’t get me wrong, he is a key player – but off the field he comes into his own.

“There are players you want to play alongside and players you want to play for. Va fits both bills.

“He is a hell of a leader and ideal for this club.”

Along with Talaileva came Central Coast quartet Matt Lanzini, Glenn Stone and Marshall and Logan Hemopo.

Long-term injuries to Talaileva and Delore brothers Mick and Andrew meant they missed the finals, but the building blocks were laid.

This season, Chidgey was sidelined after he and president Mitch Ostle copped a three-game suspension for their involvement in then suspended prop Willie Fraser playing in the Gunnedah 10s in the pre-season.

After beating Merewether 10-9 in round one, they dropped three games on the bounce to Hamilton (31-13), Wanderers (42-12) and The Waratahs (31-29).

Since then they have won 14 of 16, including the last eight.

“The pressure was on,” Chidgey said. “There was some self-doubt in the team, and a feeling of, ‘Is it going to be another tough year?’

“But you don’t win a competition in June; you have to be here in September.

“We have done the hard work and can reap the rewards now. I actually think it is harder to make the grand final. On the day it is whoever turns up and handles the pressure better.

“If we turn up and play the footy we can, especially the way we have improved the past three months, I think we can upset them.”

Moseley ready to fire again for Panthers

CLONCURRY’S Kierran Moseley will be out to go one step closer to winning back-to-back premierships with the Penrith Panthers on Sunday.
Nanjing Night Net

LEADING FROM THE FRONT: Kierran Moseley will be counted on to lead his Penrith NSW Cup side around the park on Sunday.

After leading the Panthers to glory in the Under-20s Toyota Cup last year, Moseley will line-up in their NSW Cup side in a preliminary final against the Wentworthville Magpies.

After taking out the minor premiership, the Panthers head into the match as favourites, sporting a host of players with first-grade experience as they aim to earn a grand final berth.

The 20-year-old hooker, who made his first grade debut against Manly a couple of weeks ago, says his team is prepared for the match.

“We all had last weekend off which re-charged the batteries a little but have had a big week on the training paddock starting from Monday,” Moseley said.

“Our coaches have made sure our sessions have been sharp and intense, as to prepare us for the match on Sunday.”

The Panthers and Magpies are the first match at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday starting at 1.10pm, followed by the Newcastle Knights and Illawarra Cutters match.

“We might go into the match as slight favourites but as our first grade side showed against the Roosters last week, that means nothing in the finals,” Moseley said.

“The coaches have emphasised that we can’t become complacent in the match and the importance of going in with a positive mindset.

“If we play to our potential, and in the structure set out by the coaches, we all know we can get the job done.”

With Parramatta’s first grade side out of the finals, many players with NRL experience such as Luke Kelly and Justin Hunt will line up for the Magpies.

“Wentworthville have a few boys coming back into the side this week with NRL experience, which will no doubt help their side,” Moseley said.

“In particular, their forward pack is massive and will be a handful.

“It’s up to our forwards to rise to the occasion and stick it to their forwards, because if they can hold their own, it should go a long way to helping us win.”

Penrith has plenty of first grade experience of their own including Wes and Kevin Naiqama, Nathan Smith and of course Moseley.

“Us younger boys will be looking to the more experienced guys in the team for leadership on the field,” Moseley said.

“Having tasted first grade myself, I know the level of intensity I need to bring each week.”

“The coaches pulled me aside after my debut and told me that now that I have experienced first grade, it’s up to me to prove that I can consistently play at that level, each in week out.”

Moseley was last week named in the under 20’s Australian squad, which will be finalised after grand final day.

“It’s a privilege to be in the squad once again, because anytime you have a chance to represent your country is an honour,” Moseley said.

“It’s not something that I’ll take lightly and one that I’ll grab with both hands.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.