Australian side named to face England

Under pressure Broncos utility Karmichael Hunt has received the call up for the Kangaroos World Cup Campaign; the livewire back will square off against England in Melbourne on Sunday, filling in for the luckless Kurt Gidley. Coming off the bench, Gidley has been cursed when taking part in representative games – the flashy utility having to sit out part of the NSW Origin campaign earlier this year.

Hunt’s is the only change made by the Roos, the side remaining the same in terms of starting players – after putting in an impressive showing against the Kiwis on Sunday night at the SFS.

No. 7 Johnathan Thurston remains in the lineup regardless of pressure surrounding him and his family. Its reported that JT is also suffering from some shoulder problems.

Flanker Brent Tate has recovered from heavy concussion sustained in the win over the Kiwis, and will start.

This will be the first test for fullback Hunt since 2007.

The 21-year-old originally missing his spot in the World Cup team but was called up after Broncos teammate Justin Hodges was ruled out with a shoulder injury.

But his inclusion was not without controversy, as he, fellow Cup squad member Darius Boyd and Brisbane forward Sam Thaiday are still under police investigation for an alleged sexual assault last month.

Hooker Cameron Smith said the loss of Gidley was a blow for the utility and for the Kangaroos.

“It’s very disappointing for Kurt and obviously our team as well,” he said.

“He certainly deserved his spot in our team, he’s been one of the best players in our comp this year and he was really looking forward to playing this week.

“But he got the advice from the medical team that it was better that he pull out now and get his knee cleaned up to make sure his future is secure.”

Smith said the inclusion of Hunt illustrated Australia’s depth, and was confident the Brisbane star could provide the side with flexibility, like Gidley.

“Karmichael is a very good player, he’s similar to Kurt where he can fill a lot of positions and if needed he can go into the forward pack as well,” he said.

“I think he’ll do a good job for us.”

Smith expected Thurston to overcome any doubt to play.

“He’s quite a tough character and he’s a competitor as well, so I’d say he’d like to be out there against the Poms this weekend,” he said.

Team: Billy Slater, Joel Monaghan, Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, Brent Tate, Darren Lockyer (capt), Johnathan Thurston, Petero Civoniceva, Cameron Smith, Steve Price, Glenn Stewart, Anthony Laffranchi, Paul Gallen. Interchange: Brent Kite, Josh Perry, Anthony Tupou, Karmichael Hunt.

Sammut breaks rules, plays Union illegally

Jarrod Sammut Malta Rugby UnionPanthers wayward rookie Jarrod Sammut has been hooked and banned from participating in a rugby union international after he illegally ignored his NRL agreement by playing in a Rugby Union Cup qualifier for Malta a week ago.

Panthers boss Mick Leary was amazed and furiated upon hearing the news; apparently Leary had agreed to release Sammut for the international games believing they were ‘Rugby League’ matches.

Sammut was a revelation for the Malta Rugby Union side putting on 11 points for his side but going down 18-16 to Croatia at Valletta and was named in the Maltese side to play Sweden in Vanersberg on Saturday.

“I received a letter from the Malta Rugby League on August 25 saying they wanted him to go over there for international commitments,” Leary told The Daily Telegraph.

“He was to do coaching clinics, promotions and public relations to promote rugby league.

“They also sought releases for internationals against Croatia last weekend and Sweden in Sweden on November 1.

“Now, since it was on a Malta Rugby League letterhead, how was I to know he was going to play rugby union?

“We have pulled him out of the game this Saturday.”

Leary originally told the MRLA he could play in Sweden.

But NRL chief operating officer Graham Annesley revealed it would be another breach of contract.

Tonga beat Ireland in heartstopper

Darkhorse World Cup hope Tonga managed to weather some tough calls on and off the footy field to pip Ireland 22-20 in a heart stopping rugby league World Cup match at Parramatta Stadium.

Unable to field leading NRL players Fuifui Moimoi and Taniela Tuiaki, Tonga was forced to player with 12 men in an action packed match up with the Irish.

Unknown flanker Damien Blanch nabbed a hat-trick for the Irish, almost netting the Ireland side a massive scalp in the tournament.

But it was big Esi Tonga who got his team going with a punishing 73rd minute touchdown.

It was villain to hero for the aptly named Tonga, the firey star sin-binned by British referee Steve Ganson.

Ireland didn’t waste their chance and laid on 14 points while Tonga had men in the sin bin.

Trailing 6 zip in the early periods, following a converted try to Tonga’s Penrith star Michael Jennings, Ireland fully capitalised when Esi Tonga was binned for repeated infringements in the 23rd minute.

Blanch nabbed the first of his bag of touchdowns 3 minutes later and custodian Michael Platt send the underdogs to the front despite what appeared to be a blatant forward pass by halfback Karl Fitzpatrick.

With their full complement restored, Tonga hit back with a try to winger Cooper Vuna and led 12-10 at the break following a penalty to halfback Joel Taufa’ao.

The see-sawing encounter took another twist in the 49th minute when Tongan five-eighth Feleti Mateo was sin-binned for back chatting.

Blanch scored his second try before Mateo returned to put Ireland back in front, but Tonga hit back to regain the lead with their third try.

Blanch completed his hat-hat-trick to snatch the lead back for Ireland, but Tonga’s late four-pointer prevented the Wolfhounds from causing the upset.

Tongan coach Jim Dymock said he thought the luck of the Irish was going to get his team but credited his side for winning despite being outnumbered for so long.

“In that respect, out of adversity we did well, but I thought our execution was pretty poor,” Dymock said.

“Although we dominated, we sort of showed a lack of respect for Ireland and full credit to them, they came out and stuck it to us.”

Questioned about Ganson’s decisions, a diplomatic Dymock thought some penalties against his team could have been caused by a difference in interpretation.

He said was disappointed with some backchatting by his side and felt most of the penalties were warranted.

Dymock said he hadn’t been thinking about this morning’s court decision involving Moimoi and Tuiaki.

Mateo, who crafted a crucial 40-20 kick shortly before the decisive score, said he felt the responsibility to step up in the closing stages of the game.

Ireland coach Andy Kelly was disappointed with the result, but immensely proud of his side.

“We played with a great deal of passion and pride, but didn’t get the result,” Kelly said.

Hat-trick hero Blanch said Samoa could throw his team a lifeline by beating Tonga next Friday, but had hoped his team wouldn’t have to rely on that.

“The boys are gutted, we went so close and to lose by two points is really disappointing,” said Australian-born Blanch, who was playing his fourth Test for Ireland.

The former Penrith lower-grader, who now plays for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in England, qualified for Ireland through a grandparent who was born in Belfast.

Storm hot property with sponsors

Melbourne Storm sponsorshipFinishing on top of the NRL ladder three years in a row has cemented Melbourne Storm’s standing as an elite sporting organisation in this country. Now it would seem the club is the benchmark off the field as well.

 

In the latest S-Comm report, produced by Australia’s leading sponsorship research and evaluation company, Repucom, the Melbourne Storm jersey is the most valuable property across both the NRL and AFL, with more than $4.2 million generated in media return in season 2008.

 

This figure takes into account only the front of the jersey, and the top of the back of the jersey, however when all five key commercial partners are joined together, the media value returns are even more stunning.

 

The Storm’s five key sponsors, HostPLUS, Medibank Private, Suzuki, Jayco and Reebok, all enjoyed outstanding commercial success in 2008 in their association with the club.

 

Media exposure value generated for Melbourne’s five key sponsors was in excess of $15.8 million, an increase of nearly 40% compared with 2007, 65% compared with 2006, and a staggering 250% compared with 2005.

 

“This is an outstanding result considering we operate in an extremely tough market,” said Storm CEO Brian Waldron.

 

“But it is clearly the consequence of a combination of strong on-field performance, and commercial partners who work with us to leverage their sponsorships.

 

“We are a brand now that can deliver tremendous exposure for our commercial partners.”

 

New sleeve partner Suzuki were the big winners compared with the sleeve partners of the other 15 NRL clubs, finishing $3.2 million higher in media exposure value than the second best NRL club.

 

However, not only is the Melbourne Storm’s jersey the most valuable in Australian football, but television audience numbers prove they are also one of the most popular viewing teams in the country as well.

 

Across all four football codes, the Storm ranked fifth in relation to television audiences, and third when only NRL clubs are taken into account.

 

And to top it all off, a whopping 49% of the Melbourne television audience tuned in to watch the 2008 Grand Final.

 

“If you combine these results with our consistent increase in our supporter base which has grown by 50% over our last two years, our brand is really well positioned to continue the growth of rugby league in both this market and the rest of Australia,” said Waldron.

 

French show early form, beat Scottish in ACT

The French Rugby League outfit have held out a gutsy Scottish side to the tune of 36-18 in the other Rugby League World Cup match last night in Canberra.

Featuring a dozen stars from the UK Super League Catalans team, the French had too much experience and firepower for their smaller opponents.

Five-eighth Thomas Bosc led France effectively and with the occasional show of attacking flair but the foundation was laid by the strong running of forward Adel Fellous.

French full-back Jared Taylor scored the first try of the match when he was on the supporting end of a bustling 40 metre line break from Adel Fellous in the 16th minute.

Catalans star Bosc converted and the semi-final hopefuls were away.

Three minutes later Scotland struck back via a slick backline movement that ended with a try in the corner for Jonathan Steel.

But the first half was dominated by dropped ball, ill-disciplined tackling and strong running forwards with some big hits from both sides.

The Bravehearts came out a different side in the second half with prop Oliver Wilkes grabbing a try in the 46th minute to bring the difference back to a converted try.

Scotland were denied an opportunity to tie the game up at 24-all in the 66th minute when video referee Phil Cooley opted not to award a try to five-eighth John Duffy.

It didn’t matter in the end with France’s Jerome Guisset and Christophe Moly both scoring tries in the final ten minutes to run away with the win.

The game was the opening match of Pool 2, which also includes Fiji.

Defiant Australia roll Kiwi’s in opener

Kangraoos Rugby League World Cup 2008The Australia v NZ clash was a huge test for this 2008 Rugby League World Cup, which was crying out for a competitive match-up between two of the three most powerful teams involved.Even though it was the third fixture of the tournament, last night’s match also featured the opening ceremony – but for a while, it would have been appropriate to hold the closing ceremony as well, such was the apparent inevitability about the winner.

Let’s face it, the same teams are highly likely to meet again in the November 22 final in Brisbane. That might be being slightly unfair to England, but they will have to show far more than they did on Saturday night in the true opener against PNG.

So will New Zealand, really. They did their best to ensure the tournament began predictably, and the bookmakers, who have posted the Kangaroos as $1.20 favourites to win the entire tournament, were proved correct (as Craig Bellamy would attest, the odds don’t lie). At half-time, the Kiwis were clinging to this game with one little finger, and tournament director Colin Love was joining them.

The Kiwis appeared to leave their aggression in a particularly fearsome haka, which began in a huddle. As soon as the game started, they were in a muddle.

As early as the eighth minute, the Australians showed their hand – a left one – by spreading to that very side in a slick play which only broke down when centre Greg Inglis lost possession in a tackle. But they kept going the same way, and scored their two first-half tries on the left side.

The first came after 14 minutes, three minutes after Johnathan Thurston’s penalty goal opened the scoring, when Inglis redeemed himself by stepping Steve Matai.

Their second went a little wider, left winger Monaghan scoring on debut.

The Australians were exploiting even the smallest chinks in the Kiwi defence. In this case, it was just the slightest hesitancy from Matai, who was suffering from a thumb injury and also the knowledge that he had been placed on report for his 13th minute high hit on Australian lock Paul Gallen. Matai’s menace was sorely missed.

In between, there was a spark of hope for the Kiwis through a flash of brilliance from five-eighth Benji Marshall, who was all tongue and terror during the haka. After 27 minutes, he terrified the Australians by sending New Zealand back-rower Sika Manu, the Kiwis’ only debutant, on his way to the tryline. It was brilliant but brief.

Eight minutes after half-time, normality resumed and the Australians scored through Israel Folau, his first of two tries. Lockyer was creating havoc with every touch, even if at 31 he was one of the oldest on the field, and the two players who made up the youngest ever Australian centre pairing had both scored.

Halfback Thurston, playing despite his uncle being killed over the weekend, played with the carefree nature which suits him best, even though it was clear he was entitled to have more than one care in the World Cup. His flick to Billy Slater on the hour was audacious, if a little fortuitous after the ball cannoned off the fullback’s thigh.

Not long before that, the Mexican wave had started. Next, the Kangaroos travel to Melbourne, Australia’s Mexico, to take on England. It will be kind of appropriate: the tournament hosts and the tournament bosses fleeing south over the border, wondering about the damage that was done the previous night.

AUSTRALIA 30 (I Folau 2, G Inglis, J Monaghan, B Slater tries; J Thurston 4, C Smith goals) bt NEW ZEALAND 6 (S Manu try; S Matai goal) at Sydney Football Stadium. Referee: A Klein. Crowd: 34,157.

England do it tough against PNG

England were headed towards an embarrassing first-up loss to the Kumuls when they trailed 16-12 at half-time but scored four tries to one in the final 40 minutes to secure the victory. The English side eventually getting home 32-22.

World Cup contenders England were expected to make easy work of the underdog Kumuls, but they were made to fight all the way before securing the win. Smith scored in the 29th minute and again just 11 minutes after half-time as England drew level at 16-all.

The Leeds flyer completed his hat-trick on debut in the 73rd minute as the Lions eventually cruised home to take the Pool A encounter.

Fellow winger Ade Gardner also got among the tries to score twice and centre Martin Gleeson was England’s other tryscorer in the six tries to four win.

Despite the loss PNG will be buoyed by their opening effort when they really threatened one of the top-rated teams in the tournament.

Rod Griffin levelled scores 6-6 in the 20th minute before late first half tries to Jason Chan and George Keppa, in the final seconds of the half, gave the Kumuls an unlikely four-point lead at the break.

But the Kumuls were unable to keep up the intensity in the second half, and Penrith hooker Paul Aiton ended the English domination by scoring a consolation try in the 75th minute.

England’s win means they take the early lead in the pool ahead of today’s heavyweight clash between Australia and New Zealand at the Sydney Football Stadium.

The Lions will need a huge improvement to threaten Australia in their next game at Melbourne’s Telstra Dome next Sunday. The Kumuls head to the Gold Coast to face the Kiwis at Skilled Stadium on Saturday.

ENGLAND 32 (L Smith 3 A Gardner 2 M Gleeson tries K Sinfield 4 goals) bt PAPUA NEW GUINEA 22 (P Aiton J Chan R Griffin G Keppa tries J Wilshere 3 goals) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Referee: S Hayne. Crowd: 10,780.

Joey Johns: Hagan a big loss to NRL

Andrew Johns on Michael HaganAndrew Johns has declared the NRL will be worse off without the likeable Michael Hagan, referring to Hagan as one of the few remaining ‘honest blokes’ left in the game of coaching at the moment. Joey also confirming Hagan as his most influential coach during his playing days.

Johns chatted at length with Hagan during the recent charity walk Joey was hosting for NIB and The BlackDog Institute.

It was during the walk; where Hagan opened up to Johns and discussed the stress of the Eels role and how the distance and commute was hurting him and his family. Michael Hagan’s wife Sue and his daughters Melissa, Lauren and Danielle all still live in Newcastle.Despite the concerns, Johns still didn’t believe Hagan would pull the pin with 12 months remaining at the Eels. In saying that, Johns also felt the weight of the world would be lifted from Hagans shoulders and the former Knights and Eels coach could get his life back to some extent.

“He was obviously sick of the constant grind of coaching, which is the main reason I will never take it up.” said Johns.

Joey also felt that one of the reasons for Hagan quitting could have something to do with how the NRL has changed in recent years; with methodical, ruck-dominated games the norm.

“Rugby league is going to miss Hages. For one thing, it’s going to miss his honesty and his easy-going nature.” declared Johns

Joey sticking up for his former mentor; confirming that in the day and age of cut throat coaching – Hagan remained an honest and easy going guy.

Michael Hagan always put the players first; a players coach – a strong endorsement from Johns. However, it may have been this honesty and support for players that landed Hagan in trouble at the Eels. His decision to keep more experienced Eels on the park during the tougher times this year, was frustrating the younger players at Parramatta – players that didn’t like to be told what to do or held back.

Johns also declared Hagan the most influential coach he played under; a massive call considering the ability and coaches that Joey played under during his time at the Knights, NSW and Australia.

“With all my off-field dramas, he had a lot to deal with and he probably aged quite a bit because of me. But he was able to bring out my best because he understood me so well and was such a great people manager.” said Johns

Without doubt, his greatest triumph was obviously the Knights’ premiership win in 2001. Joey and Hagan combining to topple the seemingly unbeatable Eels that year.

That was Hagans first year as coach and the whole environment at Newcastle that season was ideal, which culminated in the premiership win, an atmosphere totally created by Hagan.

“The thing with Hages is it didn’t matter how good or bad the team was going, his relaxed and steady temperament never changed. We loved playing under him and it wasn’t just me he brought the best out of.” recalled Johns

The game has lost a great coach but even more, it has lost a great bloke.

Daniel Anderson to bring Eels into line

Daniel Anderson Parramatta Eels Head CoachLeading Super League and former NRL coach Daniel Anderson is the hardliner coach that Parramatta want to put things back together after a horror 2008 season on and off the field. With Hagan quitting the post, the Eels are set to appoint their former local man to the job of head coach.

Anderson has the required heavyweight backing from within the club. It’s believed that unless there is a major hurdle during negotiations, he will get the job.

Anderson knows the Eels infrastructure well and knows what it takes to succeed at the top level. It’s believed that Anderson has the right skills to mend broken bridges among dissenting juniors and senior players at the Eels; an issue that gave Hagan such a hard time during his reign.

Anderson is currently in the US after retiring from his recent post at English club St Helens. He was highly successful during his UK stint, similar to his time with the New Zealand Warriors, getting the Kiwis into the 2002 NRL grand final. He has also coached the NZ national team.

But it was at Parramatta that Anderson began his coaching days – starting in the junior grades and working under the highly experienced Brian Smith, and he remains well respected by most Eels senior officials.

Insiders at the club say Anderson, who has a reputation as a strict disciplinarian as well as being an excellent tactician, is exactly the type of coach it needs to lead Parramatta to a recovery after a year in which there were consistently poor performances on the field. The off-field problems were highlighted by representative star Jarryd Hayne being shot at Kings Cross at 4am.

Hagan, who cited family and health reasons and a loss of passion for coaching as the reasons he quit with one year left on his contract, was loath to criticise his players, but he said in leaving yesterday that there were some young players at Parramatta – as there were at other clubs – who, by their actions, had shown a lack of respect for the game.

Anderson is returning to Sydney to live, whether he has a job or not. He will settle with his family near Parramatta. His manager, Jim Banaghan, phoned him yesterday to tell him that Hagan had quit and opened up one of the most sought-after jobs in the competition.

“Daniel felt sorry for Michael Hagan, under the circumstances,” Banaghan said. “But it is only natural that he was extremely interested in the job, now that it has become vacant. He described it as a tremendous opportunity, and asked me to tell [Parramatta chief executive] Denis Fitzgerald that he wants to be considered.”

Banaghan spoke to Fitzgerald yesterday, and said he planned to speak to him again in the next couple of days. He said Anderson was due to return to Sydney on November 4.

“Daniel and Parramatta would be a match made in heaven,” Banaghan said. “He grew up in the district, he went to Parramatta Marist [High School] and he did very well as a coach at Parramatta, before the Warriors picked him up. He describes himself as a true-blue Westie. He’s been to New Zealand and England with his family, but he told his kids that as soon as the first one was ready for high school, they would all head home to Sydney. That’s what he’s doing now.

“It’s only natural that he has always held an interest in the Parramatta job.”

Fitzgerald said Anderson, Parramatta assistant coach David Fairleigh and Eels Toyota Cup coach Matt Cameron were all contenders for the job. He said Sharks assistant and former Parramatta lower-grade coach Shane Flanagan could also come under consideration and that experienced coaches who did not have positions next year, including former Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes, were welcome to register interest.

Asked about Anderson, Fitzgerald said his experience in coaching first grade was an advantage and that he intended speaking to him when he returned to Sydney. Banaghan said he was confident that, if talks began, Anderson and Parramatta could work out a deal.

Hagan told Parramatta’s star player, Nathan Hindmarsh, of his resignation by phone on Monday. night. Hindmarsh, who is holidaying in Bali, said yesterday Anderson, Fairleigh, Cameron and Flanagan were all terrific contenders.

“Daniel was my first coach at Parra, in SG Ball,” Hindmarsh said. “I got on well with him. He’s a good bloke and he’s got that bit of mongrel in him, where, if you get out of line, you’ll quickly hear about it.” Hindmarsh said he was sad to see Hagan leave the club.

Knights chase Souths’ Nadira

THE Knights are in negotiations with journeyman South Sydney hooker George Ndaira in the hope of using him as a back-up to Cronulla recruit Isaac De Gois next season.

If Ndaira agrees to terms on a one-year deal, Newcastle would be his fourth NRL club in as many years after stints with the Dragons (2006), Roosters (2007) and Rabbitohs (2008).

The 23-year-old Lebanese international would also join former teammates Chris Houston and Danny Wicks as the third member of the Dragons’ 2005 premiership-winning Jersey Flegg (under-20) team at the Knights.

Though Matt Hilder is already on their books for next season, Knights coach Brian Smith would like to have Ndaira on board to avoid using skipper Kurt Gidley in the dummy-half hybrid role the dynamic fullback was forced to play several times this year.

“We want to avoid that if possible,” Smith said.

Smith’s preference for Hilder is to use him as a utility player off the bench as a back-rower and to cover the hooking and halves roles.

The coach said 16 members of the Dragons’ 2005 Flegg squad, including Wicks and Houston, Josh and Brett Morris, Jason Nightingale, Beau Ryan and Lee Te Maari, were now playing in the NRL. The Knights have little room to move under their salary cap for next season. But if Ndaira agrees to terms, it is understood he would be included among second-tier players and not among the top 25 considered under the NRL salary cap. Knights strategic development manager Keith Onslow denied speculation Ndaira had already agreed to terms or signed a contract with the Knights.

An Arncliffe Scots junior, like Knights and former Dragons centre Wes Naiqama, Ndaira played 14 games for the Rabbitohs this year. He did not play an NRL match with the Roosters last year and made his senior debut among three appearances for the Dragons in 2006.

Onslow said negotiations with Ndaira would have no impact on discussions to retain veteran outside back Adam MacDougall.

The former Test player and his manager, George Mimis, have said they were satisfied with the status of their talks with the Knights.

The Knights are waiting for chief executive Steve Burraston to return from an overseas holiday later this month to finalise salary cap calculations.