Michael Devere awaits Cap Decision

Michael Devere Brisbane Broncos NRLRetired Bronco Mick De Vere is all set to return to the playing ranks; however De Vere and Brisbane are waiting for the NRL to OK his cameo season after potential salary cap issues could derail the plan.

De Vere and Brisbane have been in talks with the NRL to disregard De Vere’s current job as a coaching staffer with Easts Carina from any salary cap calculations. Without the OK from NRL and cap officials, De Vere’s comeback looks unlikely. The workhorse De Vere now 32 years old, has remained in good fitness and kept close ties with the Brisbane club since returning from the UK.

De Vere called it quits after playing for Huddersfield in the UK in 2006 returning home to Australia to take the Easts Carina coaching job, which is partly funded by the Brisbane club.

Working closely with the Broncos has reignited De Vere’s hunger and he wants to achieve the dream of being a 10-year player with the club – which could be done with a single return year in the NRL.

Regardless, De Vere wants to remain in the coaching ranks – with or without acceptance into the NRL with the Broncos in 2009.

“The No. 1 reason I’m playing is because I love the game and I love the Broncos and I want to come back and help the club,” he said.

“I also miss competing. Being out of it probably helped me get my desire back because I had achieved everything I wanted, winning premierships, playing State of Origin and playing for Australia.

“I wanted to go and play in England and I did that. So once I had achieved all my goals I didn’t have the same passion or desire I had when I was younger. But being out of it and getting into coaching and development, when you coach it gives you a new perspective on the game and it probably ignited that passion in me. I didn’t really get to finish the way I wanted to here either.”

Broncos chief executive Bruno Cullen said the club had submitted a detailed case to salary-cap auditor Ian Schubert and they expected an answer early in the New Year.

Reni Maitua in talks with Storm

Reni Maitua NRL Rugby LeagueSacked Bulldog Reni Maitua has shunned offers from the UK Super League as he tries to rebuild his career locally with Melbourne making a late entry in the race for the former Belmore boy.

While Cronulla and Souths are still the favourites to snag Maitua, the Storm are juggling salary cap issues to fit the talented utility in. North Queensland Cowboys are the unknown quantity with some corners saying they have pulled out of the race and others saying they are still a chance and keeping their moves close to their chest.

Maitua is believed to be chasing a short term possibly single year deal and to link with a leading club and give him a shot at his representative goals. A successful year could then land Maitua big money and the prized rep jerseys on offer.

Maitua’s manager Sam Ayoub said that two of the four clubs had made offers, the Sharks a one-year offer and Souths weighing in with a three-year deal.

Maitua has apparently put to bed, the idea of playing in England for now.

“He’ll be playing somewhere in the NRL in 2009, at this stage it’s more about him weighing up what’s going to be best for him,” Ayoub said.

“It’s one of those decisions that Reni’s struggling with at the moment in the sense he wants to make the right one.

“The intention is to make a decision (this week), he wants to be training with a team when they resume in the New Year.

“At this stage we’re leaning towards a one-year option because Reni’s got his heart set on having a really big year and it would be in his best interests.”

The Storm have emerged as the latest contenders, but only if they can find salary-cap room.

Melbourne after losing prominent scrum forwards Michael Crocker and Jeremy Smith, also lost big man Antonio Kaufusi – and would naturally benefit from the skill of Maitua at a potential bargain price.

The Storm may need to push another player out to allow Maitua in and it’s understood are prepared to offload flanker Steve Turner.

“We haven’t had a financial offer from them at this stage, but they’ve spoken to us two or three times,” Ayoub said of Melbourne.

“They haven’t been in a position to make a financial offer just yet, but they tell us that they’re working on making some funds available.”

Storm official Frank Ponissi didn’t deny they were seriously looking at Maitua.

“Down the track, if something did happen with our salary cap we would look at it because he’s an excellent player,” said Ponissi.

“After losing a few back-rowers he’d be a good acquisition for us, but at this point in time we couldn’t entertain it. The big thing would be what (money) he’d be prepared to come for, so that’s why it would be difficult for it to happen. Never say never, but it would be highly unlikely.”

Dogs get Stagg, looking good

The Bulldogs have continued their impressive rebuilding, snaring another prize recruit in Queensland State of Origin utility David Stagg. The former Bronco has locked in for a 2 year period – the Dogs having more room under their cap after sending Reni Maitua packing.

New coach Kevin Moore was very keen on Stagg and pushed hard to get the second rower on the books at Belmore.

Stagg will have some friendly faces in former team-mates Ben Hannant and Michael Ennis at the Dogs.

“He will slot in for Maitua nicely. He was a key recruit for us for several reasons. For what Todd (Greenberg) and Kevin Moore want to do at the club, he’d fit right in,” Bulldogs talent manager Peter Mulholland confirmed.

“A good off-field representative, footy-wise, he is ideal. He and Kevin Moore hit it off in talks at the club last week. He has made a point of wanting to play 13 (lock) and we feel we can provide that.”

After some horror off-field headlines in recent years, highlighted by Sonny Bill Williams’ controversial walk-out at the Bulldogs to join French rugby union ranks and Maitua’s saga last month – Stagg met with Moore, Mulholland and club chief executive Todd Greenberg in Sydney last week to discuss the proposal. The relocation of SBW and the loss of former big names Willie Mason, Mark O’Meley and now Reni Maitua has provided the club with the ideal finance position to rebuild from scratch.

Broncos chief executive Bruno Cullen was open to releasing Stagg if the rising star was keen to relocate.

The Broncos done some recruiting of their own – nabbing Ben Te’o from Wests Tigers and Lagi Setu from St George Illawarra, adding to their backrowers for 2009. It seems Stagg’s best chance of a starting spot was by joining the Bulldogs.

Meanwhile, Maitua’s odds of returning to the NRL next season lengthened further with word that North Queensland, despite showing interest, can’t fit him under the salary cap.

Maitua is understood to have an option to continue playing football in the UK or join Williams in French rugby, but the 26-year-old’s preference is stay in Australia. Cronulla and South Sydney remain his best options for an NRL return.

2009 NRL Season edges closer

NRL 2009 Trial MatchesThere’s not long to wait now until the 2009 season gets underway, however early in the New Year – NRL trials will help whet the appetite for fans who just can’t wait. While the full list of trial matches is yet to be confirmed and finalized, each NRL team have given a guide to their early season trial campaigns.

The Bunnies and Wests have been locked in to play the first official NRL trial match of the year on February 8 at Redfern Oval.

And the most talked about and traditional pre-season game is the Charity Shield with the Rabbitohs and the Dragons, set to fire up on February 28.

At the same time on the Central Coast, the Eels and Sydney Roosters will square off at Bluetongue Stadium and also on the same night, the Cowboys and Penrith in Cairns and the Knights against Cronulla in Cessnock.

Melbourne will start the new year with a trans-Tasman excursion, when they take on the Warriors at Waikato Stadium on February 12.

The Cowboys will also go overseas to prime themselves for 2009, meeting with New Zealand on February 22 in Auckland.

Manly are set for a world-wide pre-season tour, with matches around the globe. The Sea Eagles will make a special appearance in the UK and play the London Broncos on February 22 in an exhibition match at The Stoop before their World Club Challenge match against Leeds on March 1.

The Foundation Cup between the Roosters and Wests Tigers will be played on February 22. The Tigers are also due to head north on February 28 to face the Titans in Lismore – a match that should prove to be an interesting encounter for hooker Robbie Farah.

Video a masterstroke by Souths and Crowe

South Sydney Rabbitohs LogoRussell Crowe and South Sydney should be commended. As advised by Shane Richardson and insiders at Souths, Crowe released a video urging true Souths fans to step up and support the club through membership and merchandise.

In true Crowe style, he was able to stir up the hornets nest in the video and score his NRL side valuable off-season newspaper coverage. Headlines that give the Rabbitohs a massive edge in the drive for sponsorships, memberships and season tickets.

Russell Crowe knows how to pull a headline and by mentioning the fact that Souths need to stand on their own feet, hinting at possible future reductions of his cash injections – he knew the critics and doomsayers would come running, giving the club the exposure it needed.

Naturally, vocal Souths man George Piggins couldn’t resist a swipe at Crowe and the new Souths officials. George Piggins has been waiting for nearly 2 years now for the new syndicate to fail; when things are going well for Souths you can never find George, or he doesn’t have much to say – but at the first hint of trouble, he rushes to hammer his successors in the medai.

Real Rabbitohs supporters will understand the smarts behind the method of this media release and the impressively growing team at the Bunnies. Already the possessing the largest membership base in the NRL, Souths are hungry for headlines and will no doubt benefit from this off-season membership drive – all from a free scoop.

In an address to the nation style setup, Crowe delivered his speech from a Hollywood mansion – sent out to all South Sydney football club members – Crowe asking fans to pitch in and financially support the Rabbitohs – in a video that was always going to stir up a news storm.

Saying he simply couldn’t pour money into the Souths forever, Crowe asked fans to dig deep, buy merchandise and continue their memberships. “I’ll tell you this. I won’t continue to put in the type of cash I’ve had to (put) into Souths, so far, forever,” Crowe said. “The business has to stand on its own feet.

“We have to be what we’ve always been.

“Self reliant.”

Piggins was immediately on the attack after the release, saying Crowe’s speech about reduced money into Souths brought an unwanted air of instability and uncertainty to the club. “Obviously he’s finding the football club is more of a financial drain than he expected,” Piggins said.

“I could have told him that. No one makes money from a football club.” roared Piggins.

Piggins said the potential unpredictability of Crowe’s acquiring of Souths always worried him. “I worried about what would happen if the novelty wore off,” he said. “If you let someone in with money to help your football club and they eventually walk away, you still have the football club. But if the new owners walk away I don’t know what will be left.”

While the bickering from the likes of George Piggins isn’t ideal as it divides Souths fans, it still scores headlines for the club – meanwhile, the club has improved out of sight in all aspects over the past 2 years. Now boasting the likes of Jason Taylor, John Lang and Gordon Tallis on the coaching staff – along with a respectable playing roster and much improved facilities – even the doomsaying of Piggins can’t hide the progress the old club has made in a few short years.

Crowe and offsider Peter Holmes a Court won a vote for control of Souths in 2006 after a long and bitter fight with then club boss Piggins. Crowe did predict a possible premiership in 2008, but the club fell short of the semi’s after a stellar 2007 season.

The latest message of progress from Crowe aims to unite the fans and see a possible increase in funds. Souths membership numbers while the most impressive in the NRL, need to reach an eventual target of 15,000 members, up from the current enrolment of 5855.

If this target could be reached, it would mean liquid injections of funds ultimately before the season had started – a dream come true for any football club. The off-season is harder for NRL clubs as the regular gate takings remain on hold until the new year, just a few weeks ago Cronulla saw tough times as their liquidity ran dry during the baron off-season months.

Boosting ticketed or season members will introduce a much needed guaranteed fund source for Souths and is a model all clubs should follow.

“We need 15,000 paid-up members, preferably season ticket holders, renewing year after year to keep us heading in the right direction, to fill the hole between major sponsors, an NRL grant and the true cost of doing business.” snapped Crowe in his video.

During the clip, Russell Crowe used the word “progress” as a repeated message. Saying Souths have made plenty of progress as a club despite dropping from 7th in 2007 to 14th in 2008. Crowe also confirmed that the newly redesigned Redfern Oval which is the club’s new training facility would be paid out on time with the aid of sponsors and funds from Crowes pocket. ”

Crowe also mentioned upcoming projects and large invoices, including one for gym equipment , then $50,000 or $60,000 for an interior work and fit-out costs at the new Redfern Oval, player labelled lockers and lockyer room ice baths,” Crowe said.

“Don’t worry about the costs. Between supportive sponsors and me we’ll get it done, this time.”

Have no fear Souths supporters, these headlines are ideal and memberships should receive a boost – and theres more positives to come, with Redfern Oval a sellout for a early season exhibition match and the newly refurbished Leagues club soon to open.

Rebels win seats at Parramatta election

Parramatta Eels club board directors votingAs the dust settled on voting at the Parramatta Eels club, former players from the rebel ticket including Brett Kenny, Eric Grothe senior and Ray Price have all won spots on board the rugby league club.

The rebel ticket dubbed ‘Parramatta Pride and Passion’ managed to secure 4 of the 7 available spots, with the surprise of long time club man Alan Overton missing a seat.

Brett Kenny headed the overall voting with 203, then Grothe with 201 and Ray Price, 194.

Their rebel push also locked in a 4th member in John Chidiac.

3 standing board members were re-elected, Michael Johnson and two former players Geoff Gerard and Ron Hilditch.

1. Brett KENNY – 203 votes
2. Eric GROTHE Snr – 201 votes
3. Ray PRICE OAM – 199 votes
4. Ron HILDITCH – 176 votes
5. John CHIDIAC – 172 votes
6. Geoff GERARD – 168 votes
7. Dr. Michael JOHNSON – 165 votes

Mr. Ron Hilditch was elected President of the PDRL Board of Directors at a special meeting of the Board following the Annual General Meeting.

Dr. Michael Johnson was elected to the role of Deputy President.

Also at the meeting, players Luke Burt and Daniel Wagon were admitted to the rank of Life Member, in recognition of ten years service to the club.

Nigel Vagana takes NRL official role

Nigel VaganaAfter parting ways with South Sydney, former Kiwi flyer Nigel Vagana is set to join the NRL as an education and welfare officer from the beginning of 2009.

Vagana, who has had playing stints at the NZ Warriors, Canterbury, Cronulla and South Sydney, will take the role vacated by former Sharks prop Jason Stevens.

With the NRL still working had to rid the game of off-field drama, Vagana’s role will be critically important, trying to ensure the players focus on off-field education opportunities and areas in their life away from football.

Now 33, Vagana said he was very lucky to have had on-going guidance by his surrounding players over the years – starting at the Warriors.

“I was fortunate to be mentored by a number of senior players early in my career at the Warriors and this helped set me on the right path,” he said.

“When I came to the Bulldogs I decided to take up an architectural technology course which both gave me a sense of security for the future and ensured I had a balanced perspective about football.”

Vagana’s departure at Souths is believed to have freed up a decent portion under the salary cap – allowing the Bunnies to move on the likes of Reni Maitua and other talent as it becomes available.

Wests want Todd Carney in 2010

Todd Carney Wests Tigers Huddersfield Super LeagueIt seems the Wests Tigers are preparing for life after Benji Marshall as they prepare to launch a bid for Todd Carney in 2010 – or possibly sooner, should Carney decide to fight his de-registration from the game.

As the Tigers replace Steve Noyce with Scott Longmuir, the new boss confirmed on Friday that the Wests Tigers had been in touch with Carneys management.

After being deregistered by the NRL mid-way through this year – apparently Carney will fight for a 2009 return if his visa to play in England is blocked.

When sacked, Carney linked with the Huddersfield Giants in the UK Super League – signing a 1 year deal to tie him over until allowed to continue NRL employment in 2010.

But continued problems with his English visa have kept Carney in Australia while Huddersfield began pre-season training on Dec 1st.

Carney’s agent David Riolo confirmed his player would seek to fight to the NRL ban should visa problems persist.

“Our first priority is for Todd to play in Huddersfield, where he has signed next year,” Riolo said.

“But if he doesn’t get his visa, then he can’t work in England. If that were to be the case we’d certainly be willing to go back to the NRL to argue his case for registration in 2009.

“Todd is a professional footballer – this is his career.”

Saddened by the death of his father Daryl in Goulburn on Friday, Carney was unavailable for comment. Riolo confirmed there are several clubs on the hunt for Carney -  the Tigers chasing his signature confirms they are looking for alternative options should Benji Marshall leave at the end of 2009.

“There have been initial discussions with the Tigers for 2010 and beyond,” Riolo said.

“(Coach) Tim Sheens has talked about using Benji (Marshall) there, but we’ve got to look at all the options.”

The Tigers are still in the process of trying to re-sign Marshall, who is off-contract at the end of next season and firmly in the sights of cashed-up European rugby clubs.

Longmuir refused to speculate on whether the club could afford to have both playmakers. “It’s too early to comment on that, but we are hoping to have Benji’s future sorted before the start of the season,” he said.

Sterlo backs changes at Parramatta

Peter Sterling NRLProminent former Eel Peter Sterling generally only adds his opinion when he is passionate about something, when Sterlo speaks almost all listen and the well respected former half has declared his support for the new Ray Price and Eric Grothe ticket for control of the Eels.

Sterling’s ability as an astute and straight talker is well known, he smartly and quietly parted company with the Channel 9 Footy Show as the programming became a little stale and struggled for ratings; it was ultimately a masterstroke by Sterling and his departure saw the shows ratings plummet even further.

It seems Sterling has a similar feeling about the current Parramatta Eels board of directors – who must surely be nervous for the first time in years, as the groundswell of media coverage and public scrutiny continues around them.

Speaking in support of the rebel ticket, Sterling said the comments relating to Grothe and Price lacking business nous was a desperate attempt by existing directors and the aging CEO Denis Fitzgerald to keep a grasp on the old guard.

There are few in Rugby League circles that respect Denis Fitzgerald, however it seems when it comes time to vote the Eels faithful haven’t been active enough – meaning things have remained stale and without any future roadmap from the old guard. The rebel ticket is hoping for a strong turnout and will surely want the complete voting process monitored and double checked after allegations of abnormalities in relation to suspisciously registered names and voters.

“The one thing that has really disappointed me is where people said Ray and Eric had experienced unsuccessful business careers,” Sterling confirmed.

“What does that mean? Does it mean they can’t put bread on the table for their families? I don’t think any comment could be further from the truth. I thought those comments were particularly harsh.

“No one could ever question their passion or work ethic.

“The last thing in the world this ever needed to be was personal.

“The most important thing is that everyone who is running is doing so out of the right motivation. I’m looking at who is best individually – I think there needs to be some change.” Sterling said.

Sterling also said he will only be backing portions of the new 7-man challenging ticket, however he made it known it was definately time for some changes.

Reigning emperor Denis Fitzgerald has also enlisted former star players of his own to sing his praises, with bookends Peter Wynn and Bob O’Reilly pledging support for the struggling leader.

“I just can’t see how (the rebels) are going to improve the place,” O’Reilly said.

“We might not have won a premiership for a while but we’ve been in a position to do so about 6 or 7 times. Denis can’t do it himself. It’s up to the players once they get that close.”

But apart from the lack of premierships in the last 20 years, it seems most of the Parramatta faithful are concerned at the poor financial management from Fitzgerald and his team, not to mention the damaging comments the outspoken veteran comes out with on an almost monthly basis.

Sterling said the financial management of the current team needs to be “taken into account”. Losses around the $20 million mark were flagged this week regarding failed investments in other sports teams and a rent-poor property development, Baker’s Mews.

“Everything has to be taken into account – there’s been a lot of money lost out of that club,” Sterling said.

“Denis has probably been the driving force behind a lot of those decisions. He’s always said the buck stops with him for every club decision. The question now is when the buck will stop.

“I can understand how this could be seen as an anti-Denis Fitzgerald thing – but I’ve always prefaced everything I say about Parramatta by admitting I don’t have a great relationship with Denis.”

On the football front, Sterling said recruitment needed attention.

“It’s a bit of a shame at the moment, with the side finishing 11th last year,” he added.

“I’ve got a big wrap on Daniel Anderson as coach, but we lost six or seven players of first-grade standard and I think the only one we’ve picked up is Kevin Kingston.

“I’m not sure if there’s a great cause for optimism for 2009. There’s areas that need to be addressed like recruitment and retention. With the pressures of poker machine taxes and smoking laws on the licensed club, there needs to be some decisions made.”

Tradie gets shot at bigtime with Knights

Jimmy Fawcett KnightsOnly a few years back, Jimmy Fawcett was laying tiles for a living and wasn’t even able to play with his beloved Umina Bunnies.

Now all of a sudden the Central Coast tradie is training with Newcastle Knights, after being offered a contract that most only dream about.

A 20-year-old Central Coast junior, Fawcett now has a 2-year deal with the Knights and says he still thinks it’s all a dream as he trains with Newcastles best each week.

“Big shock, big shock,” he said. “Even now, I’m training with guys like Ben Cross and I’m just pinching myself.

“I’m just thinking ‘What am I doing here?’ I’d be happy watching them train, let alone training with them.

“It’s just out of this world.”

Fawcett’s achievement is even more notable when you consider two years of his career were virtually written off after suffering the injury all footballers dread a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

“I was only playing club footy, so I had to get the reconstruction done on public health,” he said. “I was waiting 18 months to get the op done, and then I did physio every day for five months to get back and play last season.

“I was pretty much out for two years, but the good thing is I’ve had no problems with my knee since.”

When he finally returned to action for Umina, Fawcett figured the closest he would ever get to NRL football was watching it on TV.

“I knew I was going to play footy again, but not at this level,” he said. “I thought I was destined to just be a club footballer and play local first grade. That’s pretty much what I had my mind set on.”

The stringbean fullback, who stands 191 centimetres and weighs 89 kilograms, may have been out of sight, but he was far from out of mind.

Bulldogs recruitment officer Keith Onslow, who lives on the Central Coast, was well aware of his potential and brought him to Belmore for the first season of the National Youth Competition in 2008.

Onslow then joined the Knights and had no hesitation in recommending Fawcett to head coach Brian Smith, who was quickly sold 15 tries in 20 NYC games for the Dogs underlined Fawcett’s credentials.

“Keith said, ‘He’s your sort of player. You’ll like coaching him,’ ” Smith said.

“We watched him a bit on video and knew he could score a try. He can run. He’s got a really good motor and pretty good support play.

“He’s a bit green, but he’ll get some intense coaching, and he’s got a great role model in Kurt Gidley.

“The world’s his oyster, that boy, because he’s prepared to do anything. He’s just so dedicated.”

Fawcett is realistic about his prospects of top-grade action in 2009 but hopes opportunity might come knocking when Gidley has representative duties.

“Hopefully I can get a game in first grade,” he said. “I guess I just have to take my chances and rip in at training. If I don’t play first grade this year, I’m not going to be disappointed.

“I’ve still got a year up my sleeve and I just want to learn and develop as much as I can. My chances will probably be limited, but I’m not just a fullback, I can play outside backs if they need me.”

Smith said Fawcett’s rise was a “bloody miracle” but warned he would need to bulk up to become a genuine first-grade option.