Knights board votes for Brian Smith

Brian Smith Newcastle Knights NRLNewcastle Knights officials have confirmed they want to re-sign coach Brian Smith; the only detail yet to be confirmed is how long they want to secure the veteran coach for.

Newcastle’s board all voted in favour of Smith on Wednesday night ensuring a contract extension for the well respected NRL coach. It’s believed negotiations with the coach and his management will begin next week.

After parting ways with the Eels mid-2006, Smith signed on for 3 years with Newcastle. However after a torrid first year where he was in the firing line, his clean-out has proved very successful – allowing the club to now be in a solid position with a quality roster of players.

It’s believed Smith was keen to establish a ‘post-Andrew Johns’ mentality at Newcastle, something that was ingrained in some of the veterans minds it seems. Since bringing several new faces on board and asking several to leave, the Knights are now considered a genuine threat – having speed and skill to burn across the park.

An interesting statistic remains; should Brian Smith be resigned for an additional 2 years; bringing his total time to 5 years at Newcastle – this would mirror the time frames it took Craig Belamy and Des Hasler to rebuild their outfits and secure their NRL premierships.

After coming under such pressure in the first year, a 12 month period where even John Singleton and powerful knights figures such as Jack Newton all pushed for the removal of Brian Smith – it seems worlds away now, with the successful coach proving his ability yet again and giving the Knights a genuine shot at the title.

Ideally, the Knights would have liked to sign the deal several weeks into the 2009 NRL season so they could gauge how Smith and the team are tracking, however this looks unlikely.

Some have asked why should Smith be re-signed when the Knights missed the finals series again in 2008. The nine-placed Newcastle side missed the finals by a single victory and considering injuries to key players at various times, few could argue the level of improvement in the side.

It’s believed the Knights may move to offer Brian Smith an incentive based deal, ensuring they have a ‘get-out’ clause should things get tough at stages in the future.

His current deal had a “trigger” clause within the paperwork, where additional years work were guaranteed if the Knights went Top 4 in either 2007 or 2008.

A similar offer may be added to the latest deal for Brian Smith; however the other factor working for Smith is that there are very few quality top line NRL coaches waiting in the wings. One option could be Steve Folkes who has said on radio in the past month he is keen for the door to reopen for him at NRL level and would be happy to leave his West Indies Cricket Fitness position.

Burraston of the Knights confirmed “various tenures were discussed at the board meeting” and it would be his job to find “common ground” with Smith.

“It may be that it’s just a five-minute meeting and a shake of the hand, but if we’re apart we’ve got to work out some sort of compromise and how we can get together,” Burraston said. “It needs to suit him and it needs to suit us.”

Burraston said it would be premature to speculate on tenure but confirmed that trigger clauses were likely to be mentioned in negotiations.

“There’s a whole lot of things that go into the contract and it’s fairly complicated,” he said.

“Once we get an understanding of all that, we’ll know exactly what the terms will be and how many years that is, and if it has triggers for new years or whatever.”

Klein wants top NRL ref spot

Ashley Klein Rugby LeagueNew NRL referee Ashley Klein has confirmed this morning he has set his sights on the number 1. referee ranking in the NRL competition.

The former Super League whistle blower who led the European pack in terms of ability has proven himself not only in the UK tournament but also on the International stage with several major World Cup billings.

Speaking candidly this morning on Radio 2KY, Klein confirmed his goals for 2009 – aiming for State of Origin billings and potentially a Grand Final if things work out for the talented whistle blower.

With Sean Hampstead retiring from on-field duties in 2009 to focus purely on the video box, the NRL referee stocks continue to lose experience – with leading officials such as Bill Harrigan, Tim Mander, Steve Clark and Paul Simpkins all hanging up the whistle in recent years.

Standing out from the current crop is Tony Archer and Shayne Hayne, with the latter showing promise in recent years but never really capturing the consistency to launch him into top spot. However, the introduction of the dual-referee system may also impact on the abilities and rankings of the whistle blowers.

For example, referee Ben Cummins who tends to ‘over-referee’ at times and frustrate players, may be helped by a new whistle blower working in tandem with him to help keep a lid on things – without resorting to constant penalties and player lectures.

For new recruit Klein, he comes in at the perfect time. Once he gets up to speed with the dual referee system, he has every chance to take top billing this year. When compared with leading referee Tony Archer, Klein has youth and experience on his side – along with a strong respect from leading players in Rugby League.

Forget the beat-up over the Rugby League World Cup, the top NRL players who have played under Ashley Klein do not have a problem with him. Klein’s ability to allow a Rugby League match to flow, while at the same time keeping the infringements in check and retaining the respect of the players – should see him climb the ranks quickly. will introduce a new ‘Referee Power Rankings’ for the 2009 NRL season to go with our popular ‘Power Rankings’ system that so many others have tried to copy.

As the NRL season for 2009 draws closer, be sure and stay tuned to for the most complete and hard-hitting NRL stories, reviews and rankings. If you’re not already subscribed to our free email list, be sure and add your address from the main page – allowing you to receive every new article instantly via email updates, fast and free.

The Nathan Hindmarsh re-invention

Nathan Hindmarsh EelsParramatta Eels veteran backrower Nathan Hindmarsh is working hard to re-invent himself in time for the 2009 NRL kick off.

The former NSW Origin and Australian backrower has confirmed new coach Daniel Anderson has pushed him hard in pre-season training, asking the experienced Eels forward to shed some kilos in an effort to re-invent himself.

Hindmarsh, 29, is edging closer to the end of his NRL career and in recent years has suffered a similar fate to former representative mate Craig Fitzgibbon – both being branded ‘tackling machines’, players that are too busy in defence to have any impact with the ball in their hand.

But just like Fitzgibbon did in 2008 at the Sydney Roosters, Hindmarsh believes a fresh outlook with assistance from a new coach could be the turning point for him to give the Eels the edge and possibly see him return to representative circles.

It took a new coach in Brad Fittler for Fitzgibbon to find his groove and shirk some of his heavy defence workload; and for Hindmarsh the arrival of Daniel Anderson probably comes at the ideal time.

With only a few years of the big time left, Hindmarsh knows times running out to grab that elusive NRL Premiership. Anderson has asked his leading backrower to strip 5 kilos from his frame in the hope more mobility will be the answer to attacking woes.

A self-confessed ‘Cadbury Chocolate’ man, Hindmarsh has had success so far in stripping 4 kilos of body weight and while he confirmed that coach Anderson is working the team overtime compared to recent pre-seasons, there remains a buzz around the club.

“It’s been tougher than it has been in the last couple of years,” Hindmarsh said.

“I think, he (Anderson) can be a bit cranky every now and then.

“So he’s got us training very hard and the hours are a bit longer than what we’re used to.

“It’s a good challenge.”

The Eels have lost several players for 2009 including Mark Riddell, Tony Williams and Chad Robinson to name a few – however officials have refrained from any heavy recruitment drives; preferring to focus on developing junior talent at their disposal.

Jarrod Mullen quizzed by Racing NSW

Jarrod MullenCurrent Knights no.7 Jarrod Mullen has been quizzed along with Racing identity Allan Robinson, along with a Mr. X who has been winning big consistently on bush races. Racing NSW boss Ray Murrihy spoke with the Knights no.7 after his mobile phone number came up in investigations that were being conducted into the racing winnings.

Early reports also suggest a lower grade Rugby League player may also be quizzed as the probe continues.
“To be honest, I was surprised when I got a call about all this,” Mullen said last night. “I know Allan Robinson quite well and have done so for a few years now. He lives in Newcastle and has a strong affiliation with many of the Knights players and officials. In fact, pretty much everyone in Newcastle knows who Robbo is.

“He is a well liked character and a supporter of rugby league. In fact, he is a Manly tragic. I ring him occasionally as a mate and that’s it. We socialise occasionally.

“I know nothing about the allegations against him and, to be honest, I haven’t even followed what’s been happening.

“I was informed my number has appeared in his phone records and I’m not afraid to say that’s more than likely correct. We ring each other from time to time as good friends do and I am sure other people call him regularly and he calls people as well.”

As Mullen’s conversation suggests, the case of the phone calls may simply be ‘friendly’ catchups with the larrakin ‘Robbo’ – however, the buzz remains regarding the discovery of Mullens number.

Racing NSW boss Ray Murrihy wouldn’t elaborate on Mullen’s involvement and refused any further comment on the Knights half at this stage.

He said: “It’s our policy for an interim inquiry, whether a charge has been levelled or not, that stewards do not release the identity of any party, whether those parties are under investigation or witnesses.

“That’s done for good reason because those persons are entitled to their name not being joined in the matter, if ultimately it’s found that there’s no charge to answer and no findings.”

However Robinson remains under investigation by Racing NSW, but as yet no charges have been laid.

NRL chief executive David Gallop was unaware of the situation when contacted by media last night – but apparently intends to delve deeper today.

Gallop confirming he will ring Knights officials to get a clearer understanding of the situation.

Manly could lose prize recruit

Tony Williams Manly TRexThe Sea Eagles could be without their prize signing Tony ‘T-Rex’ Williams for up to 2 months after the raging wingman tore his hamstring in training recently.

However, Manly are confident Tony Williams will be OK for the Eagles in their Rugby League World Club Challenge at the end of February.

After being snared from Parramatta, the giant winger ripped his hamstring in a pre-season hitout not long after Christmas, tests initially confirming at least 2 months on the sidelines.

However, a faster recover may be likely – with Manly insisting that the 20-year-old will play a part in Des Hasler’s squad to tour England in several weeks time.

The Eagles have lined up a warm-up game against the London Harlequins in London first befire World Club Challenge square off with powerhouse Leeds at Elland Road on March 1.

“He hurt it about three weeks ago, it was a grade two tear and it was going to be between six to eight weeks,” Manly’s Grant Mayer confirmed.

“His rehab’s been really good and it’s more than likely that he’ll be coming to the UK – whether he’s ready for the first game we don’t know, but certainly the medical team expect that if he stays on track he’ll be right for that game against Leeds on March 1.”

Early indications from Manly officials suggest Tony Williams has settled in well, proving to be a strong trainer and likely to force his way into the already talented Manly squad. Manly are blessed for wingers at present, with another former Eels flanker – David ‘Wolfman’ Williams bursting onto the scene in 2008 and proving a real handful for opponents.

Michael Roberston finished 2008 in strong form, bagging a triple in the Grand Final and ensuring he won’t be a pushover for wing spots this season either.

However coach Des Hasler is believed to be warming to the idea of Tony Williams in the backrow. The bulky flanker has size and speed, which is all the ingredients needed to make a strong impact at the back of the scrum.

“Des recruited him as a backrower when he first came across but obviously the fact he can play wing and centre is a bonus,” Mayer said.

Manly while blessed for talent, remain in the tough position of trying to keep their playing group together under the salary cap – with several players making rep teams in 2008, the situation is only going to get worse if the Sea Eagles continue their strong rise.

SBW mentor Umaga out of retirement

Tana UmagaFormer Dog Sonny Bill Williams has survived the cut at French outfit Toulon, after coach Tana Umaga was thrust from his coaching position to now on-field captain. Many felt former All Back Umaga would be sacked today, and as he was a key player in snaring SBW, some felt Williams’ position at the club could be weakened.

Now Umaga, 35, will hit the playing field again, just under 2 years after putting the cue in the rack.

Assisting with the coaching side of things, former France captain Philippe Saint-Andre will come on board as an advisor, or director as they call it in NRL circles.

Insiders felt the Frenchman Saint-Andre was simply replace Umaga as coach of Toulon.

Regardless of the coaching change, Sonny Bill Williams’ could still be in jeopardy.

As he was in the NRL, Sonny Bill Williams remains constantly injured. Having only played in 5 of Toulon’s regular season matches, locals and officials remain frustrated at the expensive star.

William is in the first year of a two-year, $3 million deal and club owner Mourad Boudjellal remains frustrated.
He has been quoted as saying: “Father Christmas is going to buy train and airline tickets for some players.”

“Umaga is a natural leader and the team has an enormous respect for him,” said Boudjellal, adding that Umaga had been training for two months
”(He) feels ready in his head … and will make his return when he’s ready.”

Saint-Andre’s duties would include player recruitment with millionaire Boudjellal expected to take a back seat on football matters next season and concentrate on the club’s economic development.

“I said after our defeat to Dax that I was totally responsible for the mistakes in recruitment and that I was searching for a mastermind,” Boudjellal said.

“I’ve found that mastermind: Philippe Saint-Andre.”

With the club facing a quick return to ProD2 after just one season in the elite Top 14, Boudjellal has also again opened his cheque book.

He has brought in South African outside-half Conrad Barnard from Super 14 side Cheetahs as well as Clermont’s France international scrum-half Pierre Mignoni while Saint-Andre will bring Sale’s French hooker Sebastien Bruno with him to the south of France.

Umaga guided Toulon into the top flight last year but the team are second from the bottom of the Top 14 table despite investing huge sums in high-profile players including Williams, Jerry Collins and Joe van Niekerk.

Saint-Andre, a former France international winger, led Sale to the English championship title in 2006 and the European Challenge Cup crown a year earlier.

He arrived at the English Premiership side in 2004, having previously performed an identical role with Gloucester and in France with Bourgoin.

Saint-Andre won 68 caps for France, 34 of them as captain, and is second in France’s all-time try-scorers list with 32, behind Serge Blanco (38).

Punters back Cowboys, Dogs for 2009

NRL season bettingPunters have jumped on the Cowboys and Bulldogs to perform in 2009, both clubs initially showing value after poor seasons last year. For the Dogs, it was their worst showing in their 73-year existence – made worse by the departure of marquee player Sonny Bill Williams.

For the Cowboys, they also had a horror run. Besides coaching dramas, which saw them dump highly successful coach Graham Murray, they were hit hard by injuries to fullback Matt Bowen and backrower Luke O’Donnell, slumping to cellar dwellers at season end.

With only 45 days until 2009 season kick off – punters have shown faith in both clubs, feeling that their additional recruits and new coaches can improve their results considerably.

The Bulldogs have firmed from $34 into $29, after recruiting classy Brisbane players Michael Ennis, Ben Hannant and David Stagg along with the major signing of no.7 Brett Kimmorley.

The Cowboys are considerably lower, coming in from $13 to $12, grabbing storm big man Antonio Kaufusi, former Souths monster Manase Manuokafoa and former Queenslander Willie Tonga along with the late signing of Shannon Hegarty.

Punters seem to like that fact that leading NRL coach Neil Henry is now on board at the Cowboys along with leading Queensland fitness guru Billy Johnstone, both men helping Queensland win last years Origin series.

Enforcer Carl Webb was also hit hard by injury in 2008 along with a regularly missing halfback Johnathan Thurston who struggled without his major forwards powering over the ad line.

Apart from 2008, the Cowboys have been a regular finals contender and many expect them to once again challenge at the back end of this season.

“It’s not often you have two teams who finished last and second last so well backed to win the premiership,” said Sportingbet Australia’s Bill Richmond.

“But the Cowboys have recruited some quality after they were cruelled last year by injuries.

“Changing coaches mid-season didn’t help their cause much either.”

The other major off season recruit in the coaching stakes was Wayne Bennett’s shift to the St George Illawarra Dragons where many feel his experience and patience could finally bring joy to the Red and White joint venture club.

“They are into $15 to win the premiership. We’ve written twice as many bets on them as any other team which could be because of the Bennett factor,” Richmond said.

“We’re happy to lay them at that, we can’t see them winning.”

Manly are early favourites at $4.25 ahead of Melbourne at $5.50, Cronulla at $9 and Brisbane and the New Zealand Warriors next at $11.

Piggy explodes into Super League

Mark Ridell Super League WiganMark Riddell has proved he has plenty of quality seasons left in him, after successfully debuting in the UK Super League with Wigan.

After pressure in recent seasons from juniors at Parramatta, Piggy immediately put his mark on the Super League with two classic Riddell tries from close range.

Wigan getting home 28-24 in the trial match hit-out against former Saints coach Nathan Brown and his Huddersfield outfit. For Piggy it was much like his first taste of NRL, back in 2001 the stocky hooker scored a double on debut for the Dragons to ignite his local career.

Piggy barged over the line in the 20th minute for first try of the game, the Giants seemingly not doing their homework on the trademark move of Riddell.

With Wigan behind in the backend of the game, Riddell smashed his way over again as his side put on two tries in the last 4 minutes to get themselves home by 4.

“We did some good things but we didn’t do them for long enough or with enough consistency, which is the key to being a good team,” losing coach Nathan Brown said.

“We were negative and that played into Wigan’s hands. The disappointing thing was conceding two tries from dummy-half.”

One of Browns best players was former NRL custodian Brett Hodgson who played solidly for his new club.

Canberra win trial, pee on field

Canberra Raiders NRL Team LogoIt was a throw back to Rugby League days from a by-gone era at Seiffert Oval the other night as the Raiders squared off against the Sharks.

New Canberra coach David Furner kick starting his coaching career, and Ricky Stuart taking the sideline for the first time since his Australia / New Zealand World Cup loss.

While only an unofficial trial – this first match for 2009 was more a case of getting to know the ability of potential fringe and junior players. Both coaches wanting to see who could be the next big thing to bring into their squads.

What was amazing about the game, was how unofficial it actually was. Before a ball was kicked, a Canberra player raced to the sideline and took a pee before play got underway. Instantly bringing back memories of Julian O’Neill who took a fancy to relieving himself before a game got underway; even if it was a casino game of blackjack.

There were no conversions taken during the game and the players were tossed a bag of oranges during 3 short breaks in the play. The few spectators on hand could be forgiven for thinking they were at the Under 10’s game on any given weekend around the country.

For the Sharks, there were few if any of their big names.

No Trent Barrett. No Anthony Tupou. No Reni Maitua. All the new faces were kept away from his early match – Stuart preferring to test the skills of his younger brigade.
One name that brought back memories of former NRL glory was Tony Caine. Previously playing for the Sharks and Dragons he was a hooker destined for bigger things

But a trademark Steve Price charge down smashed the leg of Caine, forcing him out almost for good.

While retiring some time ago, Caine has reappeared and got through the game with no visible problems.

First touchdown went to John Mannah for Cronulla, who appears to be as good a prospect as his brother, Parramatta NYC captain Tim.

While Canberra won the match; they would be frustrated with a serious injury to one of their squad.

Cy Lasscock was sent packing after 10 minutes. A solid prop, Lasscock suffered an unlucky fall where his knee was rocked badly – dislocating and forcing him off the paddock.

Final score to Canberra 32-12

An understandable result given Canberra fielded slightly more NRL talent on the day. Coach David Furner was happy to get through his first game and keep a 100% record, something he will want to hang on to as long as possible.

“It signals the comp is just around the corner,” he said. “I was pretty excited. I know some of the players were looking forward to the game and the coaches were, too.”

Asked about getting one up on his old teammate Stuart, he said, “It is only a trial.

“It would be nice to be in a situation to take a proper two points.”

The Raiders laid on 4 tries in a hot period of 8 minutes, two by prodigal son Josh McCrone. The young half returned to the Raiders after a stint at Penrith and appears worthy of future opportunities.

Raiders prop Daniel Joyce attempted to shoulder charge everything in sight, with mixed success. The kid is a monster.

Such was the comeback of Tony Caine, he could have easily been the best player on the day. A fitting reward for the man that has comeback from the dead.

It’s nearly time; the unofficial trial reminds us that real NRL is only a few short weeks away.

Sharks and Raiders in trial tonight

Terrence Seu Seu cronulla sharksIt will be an inexperienced Sharks outfit tonight to line up against the Canberra Raiders in the first pre-season trial for 2009.

Getting underway at Seiffert Oval near Canberra, only 1 player from the Sharks – former Knights badboy Terrence Seu Seu has NRL experience, Cronulla choosing to throw in a bunch of juniors and lower grade players for the early season hitout.

Aware of the heat factor so early in the year, the trial game will consist of 25 minute thirds, with Canberra also choosing to blood several youngsters in this match. New coach David Furner taking the reigns for the first time as he embarks on the clipboard career.

While Canberra are giving game time to their rookies; they will still have at least 7 players with NRL experience playing in the trial game.

For the Sharks, Seu Seu will be out to cement a starting spot for the year. After getting a lifeline in the Shire, Seu Seu made 15 appearances in NRL 2008 and got a run with Samoa at the rugby league World Cup at the backend of the year.

Excited Raiders utility; himself a former Shark – Brett Kelly will be a new face in the Raiders squad – keen to prove himself and get some game-time so early in the year.

“I couldn’t care less who we play, as long as we play well that’s the main thing,” Kelly said.”It really doesn’t matter who is playing we could be playing the Australian side and it wouldn’t matter it’s still just a trial.”

The Raiders are blessed for talent on the fringes with Adrian Purtell, Phil Graham, Justin Carney and Joel Monaghan all chasing positions in the outside backs.

Kelly said the trial would give him an opportunity to show the Raiders coaching panel what he has to offer.

“There are a few spots in the side where a lot of blokes are going for the same position.

“I just have to play well we’re playing three thirds and I’ll play one third in the centres and one third in the back row I used to play there, it’s only since I came to Canberra that I’ve been on the wing.”