Matt Johns holds aces before return

matt-johns-rugby-league.jpgFormer League player and Channel 9 presenter Matt Johns is set to return to TV screens in 2010, but it seemingly will not be with Channel 9.

After being hung out to dry by much of the media, including Channel 9 during last season – Johns could go head to head with his old stations if a deal with either Channel 7 or Channel 10 materialises.

The move would be yet another crippling loss for Channel 9. Ever since the network has been without Kerry Packer it has lurched from one problem to another, they have long lost their Number 1 ranking in the TV game and it seems their lack of support for Johns during his hour of need will ultimately cost them dearly.

Now working with John Singleton, Matt Johns has plenty of appeal and rival networks are keen not only to have him in a Rugby League panel-show capacity – but also to potentially host a variety show to extend his reach.

In the background, Singleton is believed to be working on possible movie or series deals that can additionally enhance the profile and capacity of the former Newcastle and Cronulla Rugby League star.

The remaining piece of the puzzle seems to be around brother Andrew Johns. Will the brothers link to form a strong partnership on a rival network or will the new move for Matt force the siblings to go head to head?

Greg Bird escapes Jail, eyes Cowboys, Titans

Ex-Sharks playmaker Greg Bird dodged a bullet today – escaping jailtime as a judge wiped his conviction for allegedly glassing partner Katie Milligan over a disagreement some months ago.

Ms Milligan received shocking wounds from the situation, including a broken eye-socket and gashes to her eye region at Birds appartment in August 2008.

Earlier this year when facing court, the Cronulla representative star was convicted of recklessly wounding his partner and in June was sentenced to at least 8 months in a prison, with a maximum of 16 months.

Five-eighth Bird, who is now on the books for the Catalans Dragons in the UK Super League (ESL), was allowed bail right away after lodging an appeal following the initial hearing.

Bird now free is reported to be in talks with NRL clubs the Cowboys and Titans to get his local career back on track.

Walker cries foul over Orford Super League deal

Chris Walker NRL Super League Bradford Matt OrfordMatt Orford’s signing by the Bulls has hit rocky waters as departing Titans flanker Chris Walker announced he is going legal on UK Super League club Bradford after they confirmed the deal with the Sea Eagles number 7.

Orford, who only went public with the Super League agreement last week, may now be stuck in limbo-land after the Bulls chose to shelf the previous Walker deal so they were able to snare the available Orford.

Even before ‘The Ox’ was signed, the Bulls were already at their 5-man international player quota-limit. For the Gold Coasts’ Walker it was a nightmare – after he was signed last year and obviously didn’t renew with the Titans because of his UK Deal.

Manager of Walker – agent Chris Orr confirmed he has asked a legal team to immediately get in touch with UK Rugby League officials to overturn the Orford signing.

“We will be looking at all options and the players association will be looking at all options and until Chris Walker’s situation is resolved I can’t see how they can sign Matt Orford,” Orr confirmed.

“It sets a terrible precedence if clubs can stockpile contracts sat on their desk and pick and choose who they want to activate.

“There has got to be a duty of care.”

If there are no short-term developments both players could sit idle as the NRL season got underway.

Storm announced new NRL signings

Melbourne Storm has completed the signings of former Parramatta Eels forward Todd Lowrie and ex-Newcastle outside back Luke MacDougall.

The Storm can also confirm it has signed former Bulldogs prop John Kite.

Kite and MacDougall have already begun pre-season training with Lowrie to kick-start his Storm career on November 30.

The trio will add further depth to the Storm’s ranks alongside fellow signings Chase Stanley and Atelea Vea.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy said: “We’re confident these players can make a positive impact here in Melbourne next year.

“Todd and Luke are both accomplished NRL players while John is a big body with huge upside.

“We’re very comfortable with where we’re at with regards to our squad for next year.”

Lowrie and Kite have both signed two-year deals that will keep them in Melbourne until the end of 2011.

MacDougall has signed a one-year contract.

Lowrie, who played for Parramatta in this year’s grand final, said moving to Melbourne presented an exciting challenge for him.

“I’m thrilled at being able to join such a successful club, particularly given the way the Eels ended last season,” said Lowrie, who began his career at Newcastle.

“It’s a new beginning for me and I’m excited about the challenge that lies ahead.”

Bellamy has also promoted seven members of the Storm’s premiership-winning under-20s side into the NRL squad for the coming season – Luke Kelly, Jesse Bromwich, Matt Duffie, Billy Rogers, Sam Joe, Dane Chisholm and Gareth Widdop

Storm started pre-season training on Monday with the first group of 19 players returning from the off-season break.

Storm’s Greg Inglis wins Golden Boot Award

Superstar centre Greg Inglis has created history by being named the 2009 Golden Boot recipient – the third successive year a Melbourne Storm star has received the coveted international award.

Inglis received the award given to the world’s best player shortly after being named Player of the Tournament in the Four Nations series won by Australia early Sunday morning.

The 22-year-old was lauded ahead of five of the best players in the world – including fellow Storm stars, skipper Cameron Smith and fullback Billy Slater.

Inglis joins previous winners Smith (2007) and Slater (2008) in capping off a phenomenal trifecta for Victoria’s National Rugby League team.

No team has ever before had three Golden Boot recipients on its playing list.

“It’s an incredible honour,” said Inglis, who joins the likes of Wally Lewis, Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer and Mal Meninga in claiming the award.

“I’m very humbled by it to be honest. To see the names of the players who have won this award before me makes this very special.”

The award, the brainchild of Rugby League World Magazine, was voted on by some of the best players to have ever laced a boot, including Lewis, England’s Garry Schofield and New Zealand’s Hugh McGahan.

Inglis’ stunning season has now seen him claim the Golden Boot award, the Mal Meninga Medal for Player of the Series in this year’s State of Origin, as well as the Player of the Tournament award in the Four Nations.

Additionally, he was awarded the Harry Sunderland Medal as the best Australian player in the Four Nations, an award that was revived in 2004.

Inglis also played a pivotal role in the Storm’s premiership triumph this year – scoring a brilliant try and kicking the game-winning field goal in Melbourne’s 23-16 win over Parramatta.

After starting 2009 at five-eighth, Inglis scored 13 tries in 21 games, thriving after reverting back to his favoured centre position.

2009 NRL Premiers Storm resume pre-season training in Melbourne today with the first returning group to tackle a time trial at the famous Tan Track from 9.00am this morning.

Kangaroos beat Poms; win Four Nations

Australian Kangaroos England Rugby League 4 Nations Final 2009 ResultThe Kangaroos held strong in the Four Nations tournament in Leeds, turning on their attacking prowess in the backend as the home side fell away after a solid start.

Slater bagged 3 tries in the 46-16 win over the English, helping erase his bad memories from his last major outing in a finals scenario for the Kangaroos.

A respectable crowd of just over 30,000 at Elland Road turned out, with Billy Slater’s ability proving the difference only 12 months after he was hammered for potentially costing Australia the World Cup win over the Kiwis.

It was a close affair in the first half, but Slaters 3 tries in the second stanza really help the Australian side run away with the match.

The score didn’t reflect the game, with the Kangaroos only really able to step on the gas in the final 15 minutes.

The opening minutes saw some physical clashes, with Englishman Adrian Morely sending a clear message after smashing Hennant in the early confrontations.

England probably had the better of the early clashes and minutes, but despite this – the Australian side was the more likely to touchdown for a try. Despite switching Eels Jarryd Hayne to the opposite flank to get more ball, it was the opposite side of Justin Hodges and Brett Morris which saw much more ball early on.

Cameron Smith showed good fleet of foot in the opening stanza, running down a narrow blind side, the raid ended with Morris, who crunched by Pommie Ryan Hall, with the Australian winger not able to touchdown in the far corner. From the possession changeover, England powered down into the Aussie redzone, and Sam Burgess did very well to angle around Petero Civoniceva and then dummy around Billy Slater to get the first try of the match.

The Kangaroos were a little stunned after this, and Cam Smith sent the restart out on the full. The Poms nearly making the tourists pay – and should have touched down immediately after, with Burgess trying the dummy again and choosing not to link with an open Sam Tomkins who would have surely scored.

The failure by Burgess crucial, as Hodges setup Morris soon after to get the Kangaroos in the frame.

Hayne again struggled to get involved, the Dally M player of the year unable to spark things away from his natural position of fullback. He was caught out on the flank when Peter Fox out-jumped him off a Kyle Eastmond’s high kick – to give the English yet another try.

The try coming after an unusual call from Kiwi whistle blower Leon Williamson, who somehow called ‘held’ on Civoniceva when he was still making progress. Civoniceva continued to surge forward and it costs the Australians a penalty. The Kangaroos blew up, but it didn’t matter – the points chalked up for the English.

Not long before half time Hayne got his chance as JT set him into open spaces off an inside ball. However, the Parramatta fullback had an unmarked Billy Slater off his hip – but instead chose to chip ahead. Fortunately for Hayne and the tourists, Greg Inglis’s ability saved the attacking raid. Replays suggested some uncertainty over Inglis getting the ball down but video official Phil Bentham, green lighted it on the benefit of the doubt rule and the tourists hit the lead.

After 30 minutes the Kangaroos were without Justin Hodges – the injury-prone centre forced from the field. This must have been a frustration for coach Tim Sheens having to throw Knight Kurt Gidley into the centres. But regardless, the tourists kept up their strong surge in the game, just after the half hour mark JT potted a penalty goal to edge them further ahead and the confidence was growing.

It was 14-10 at the break and the Kangaroos were now much more settled and had the run of play in the backend of the half.

To their credit, the Poms kept coming. Incoming NRL star Sam Burgess smashed over the line after 10 minutes to keep his men in the hunt.

The Kangaroos eventually broke away on the score board at around the 1 hour mark, with try scoring machine Morris diving over off a neat Thurston kick. The play setup by a lightning quick Hayne play the ball.

Concern soon after for English centre Michael Shenton after he came together in a horror clash with prop Ben Hannant. After a long delay, the Englishman was taken from the field – the head clash knocking him out for a long period.

Hannant copped a return serve soon after, after himself getting a head knock and needing immediate attention.

At times the Kangaroos began rushing plays, probably too keen to shut the game down.

But Storm custodian Billy Slater remained a constant, cool-force, with his triple at the backend ensuring the tourists got the win and there would be no repeat of the horrors of the World Cup.

AUSTRALIA 46 (B Slater 3 B Morris 2 J Hayne G Inglis C Smith tries J Thurston 7 goals) bt ENGLAND 16 (S Burgess 2 P Fox tries K Sinfield 2 goals) at Elland Road. Referee: Leon Williamson.

Coach Sheens to unleash Jarryd Hayne

Jarryd Hayne 4 Nations Rugby League 2009As the Kangaroos prepare to faceoff against a physical English side in the 4-Nations Cup Final; Australian coach Tim Sheens has hinted he wants to shuffle Jarryd Hayne in the backline in an effort to get the worlds best player more involved 

Easily the best player in the NRL in the final months of the 2009 comp and more recently winning international awards – Hayne is starved of involvement at the moment in the current team.

Coach Sheens thinks shifting Hayne to the opposite wing to link with explosive centre Greg Inglis will set the sidelines alight as the two talented stars join forces.

Hayne spent the past few days working with Inglis on the left, as runaway rookie Brett Morris working on the right wing.

Sheens all but confirmed the Eels fullback would start on the opposite wing for this weekends Final.

”I had decided to move him,” hinted the veteran coach. ”I probably wanted to stack that side a bit more, it gives us a bit more firepower. I am looking to try and get him more involved.”

The Wests Tigers and Australian Coach said the move was his idea and he wasn’t listening to outside critics who have been screaming for Hayne to get more action in the side.

Sheens was also quick to praise the Morris boys for their involvement so far on the edges.

Hayne hasn’t been a standout in the tournament, but with limited opportunities and a team full of stars – that can happen. The Australians have done most of the damage down the left edge. Hayne lined up for NSW in State of Origin during 2009 on the left and was untouchable. Interestingly, it was Hayne who chose the right edge as his 4 Nations position, offering specialist winger Morris the choice of playing on the side he prefers, where he usually lines up for St George Illawarra.

Sheens’ line of thinking is that if he can unleash Hayne – there is yet another attacking option in a team that is already doing fairly well.

Wendell Sailor Retires from NRL

Veteran flanker Wendell Sailor has today hung up his boots – retiring from the Dragons and his sporting career, thanking his NRL club St George Illawarra allowing him to earn “redemption”.

Sailor, 35, while hinting he could have gone round another year – felt it was a good time to bring down the curtain.

With regular work in the media during his career, the life after football for the popular icon will almost certainly start with a Channel 9 or potentially Foxtel in League coverage.

Sailor bounced back into League circles in May last year after serving a 2 year ban from recreational drug use. Previously playing Union, Wendell was grateful at the opportunity the NRL offered him after his horror exit from the rival code.

The return of Wendell Sailor to Rugby League saw a major about face from several League stars that were recruited to Union in a high profile raid several years ago. The likes of Rogers,  Sailor, Tahu and now Tiquiri who have all returned to their roots after unhappy stints in the 15 man game.

“I think everyone realises I went through a tough couple of years there. The Dragons were great, giving me a (career) lifeline,” said Sailor, who played 33 games for the club, taking his first grade tally to 222 matches since debuting for Brisbane Broncos 16 years ago.

“A 33-year-old has-been at the time. A lot of people wrote me off and, me being me, I was pretty confident I could come back and finish on the right note and I think I have.

“Redemption happened for me on and off the field.

“I just love the game, I love what it has given me throughout my career.

“I have got to see the world – a skinny little dark kid from Sarina at the age of 17.”

Big Dell said he had made his mind up several weeks ago after much thought, that he was going to walk away from League for good.

“I knew that I could probably go another year but I just think that the timing was right,” he said.

“We have got some great young (winger) talent at the Dragons in (Jason) Nightingale and (Brett) Morris.

“Personally for me I’m content and I’m happy and I’m just happy with the way people responded to me.”

Dragons coach Wayne Bennett, who was in charge for most of Sailor’s career with Brisbane and St George Illawarra, said the winger’s retirement timing was “impeccable” and he would be remembered for his “charisma, professionalism and playing ability”.

Sailor will play one final match provided he is voted onto the Indigenous team scheduled to play the NRL All Stars at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast on February 13.

Penrith Panthers lure Travis Burns for 2010

The Panthers have managed to ink a deal with former Manly and Cowboys pivot Travis Burns , continuing their trend of purchases leading up to the 2010 season.

The Penrith club has now introduced 5 new players for the 2010 roster after an aggressive recruiting drive.

Burns will link with the club for 2 years and Panthers boss Michael Leary said he was extremely excited at the prospect of having the likes of Burns on the clubs books.

Still only 25, Burns showed good promise at Manly but was rarely given enough opportunity. The diminutive pivot defends well in the middle and provides good spark with the ball in hand – if the pairing with Luke Walsh takes off, then the Panthers will have an envious attacking arsenal.

“Travis is a specialist five-eighth and brings great experience to our halves. His recruitment bolsters an area where we have been particularly lean in past seasons,” said Leary.

Burns left Manly to join the Cowboys in 2007 after making his first grade debut for Manly in 2005. A Queenslander by birth – it seems the move North didn’t really agree with the livewire playmaker.

The Penrith club have already recruited promising Tigers bookend Daine Laurie, Eels rake Kevin Kingston and Canberra duo Nigel Plum and Adrian Purtell for their 2010 campaign.

Dallas Johnson quits Melbourne Storm

Melbourne Storm has today agreed to a request from Dallas Johnson’s management to grant the premiership-winning lock a premature release from his contract.

Johnson, who has been an integral part of one of the most successful team’s in National Rugby League history, will join English Super League club, Catalans, from next year.

Johnson reluctantly sought a release from the Storm after Catalans, known as the Dragons, put together a three-year deal that proved enough to convince him to shift to France in 2010.

Dual Premiership player Johnson described the decision to shift to the northern hemisphere as the toughest of his career.

“The Storm, as a club, has meant so much to me,” said Johnson, who has played in the last four State of Origin series’ for Queensland.

“This was without doubt the toughest decision of my career.

“I made my debut in Storm colours, represented Queensland and Australia while playing for them, and have made some life-long friends.

“Storm members and supporters are the most devoted in rugby league and I want them to know that I am indebted for the support they have shown me throughout my career.

“But there are other areas of life I want to explore and living abroad and travelling is absolutely up there on the list.

“The opportunity to continue my rugby league career with the security of a long-term deal and in such a beautiful part of the world was one that I couldn’t refuse.

“I’m now looking forward to making a new start in France and experiencing living overseas.”

Melbourne CEO Brian Waldron joined the club’s head coach, Craig Bellamy, in lauding Johnson’s contribution to the Storm.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we’ve agreed to the release request,” said Waldron.

“Dallas has been an integral part of our playing roster since making his debut in 2003.

“His outstanding record speaks for itself and his contribution to the club was recognized when he was awarded Life Membership in 2008.

“His selfless approach has been integral to our success and his leadership on and off the field will be greatly missed.

“This is a great opportunity for Dallas and his wife, Mel, and as a club we would never stand in the way of such a great life experience that awaits.

“He departs with our absolute best wishes and sincere thanks.”

Bellamy, who made his debut as coach on the same night Johnson played his first NRL game, described the hard-hitting lock, previously contracted until the end of 2011, as the toughest rugby league player he has seen.

“For a guy his size, to do what he does on the field, week after week, is simply incredible,” said Bellamy.

“He’s the toughest player I have ever seen.

“He’s a popular guy amongst the players and he will be missed by all.”