Young gun impressing the right people to make a play for Tigers numbre 7 jersey

With the impending court case of Robert Lui, and quite a possibly a years suspension as a result, a bright young star has emerged as a real chance to partner Benji Marshall in the halves for the 2011 season at the Wests Tigers.

Jacob Miller, who is an 18-year-old boom player from Ocean Shores on the NSW North Coast, has impressed the Wests Tigers coaching staff, as he aims to beat out both Robert Lui and Tim Moltzen for first crack at the number 7 jersey.

Peter Gentle, who is the Tigers current assistant coach was Miller’s coach in the NSW U18’s side and he was very please with what he saw of the young player.

“Jacob virtually won us the game. He handled the ball more than anyone, he kicked five goals from five attempts and set up a couple of tries,” Gentle recalled.

“I was very impressed with his leadership qualities in camp in the week leading up to the game and that’s why I gave him the captaincy.

“He was a natural leader at that level. He understood the game plan. When you talk football to some players, you need to draw it or show them. He sees it in his mind.

“Jacob has two years in the 20s ahead of him but if he knuckles down, I feel he has a big future here.

“He is a confident kid and you need to be if you are going to be a decent half-back. You need to be confident in your own ability.”

The decision to move to the Tigers for Miller was easier than many people would have thought.

With the Roosters halves, Todd Carney and Mitchell Pearce excelling, Miller saw a better opportunity at the Tigers and he also couldn’t pass  up the opportunity to play again under Gentle.

Perhaps the biggest reason behind Miller’s move to the Tigers however was the chance to play alongside one of the games best halves in Benji Marshall, who is known for his razzle-dazzle football, as well as his trademark sidestep.

“I wasn’t planning on leaving the Roosters,” Miller confessed. “I enjoyed playing under ‘Gents’ (Peter Gentle) for NSW and his coaching style really suited me.

“I am more of a half-back than a five-eighth. Playing half gives me a bit more of a pull over the six but that will change if I play next to Benji.

“Everyone at Wests Tigers have made me feel very welcomed. The first few weeks here have been really good and I have taken it upon myself to not just sit back at training but get stuck in. “I really want to be a part of this NRL squad. I can’t wait to start playing.”

The Wests Tigers were delighted to have secured the services of Miller, after spotting his talents when he scored five tries and kicked six goals for Newtown in a SG Ball semi-final against Balmain at CUA Stadium in 2009.

“There is an opportunity here for him. He has two years in the 20s and his opportunity might not come for another 12 months but when it does, he needs to be ready,” Gentle said.

“With the half-back options we have here, I’d say he would start the season off in the 20s but it is not where you start the season, it is where you finish it. He could be an 18-year-old playing first grade.

“Jacob’s style of football suits the way Wests Tigers play. He sees that. One reason or another, the Roosters were not keen to keep him beyond next season. They have got Todd Carney, Mitchell Pearce, Braith Anasta and some good players in the NSW Cup that were ahead of him, so in the pecking order over there, he was down the list.

“He saw more of a chance here and knowing the way Tim gives young blokes an opportunity, he decided to join us.

“I have a high opinion of him but he can’t come here and just expect to get the first grade job. He has Tim Moltzen, Rob Lui and a few decent half-backs ahead of him, so it is a good challenge for him.”

Week One finals set to be played at ANZ and SFS

In what has been a contentious issue in the past two years, the venue for the first round in the finals has finally been put to rest, with the NRL deciding that the first round of the NRL finals will be played at ANZ and SFS.

The decision, which came from the National Rugby League chairman and the chief executives of the NRL clubs, means that all Sydney teams who get a home final, must play the game at either ANZ or the SFS.

The decision which was made at the NRL Annual Conference and agreed to by the clubs chief executives on the basis that clubs fans would become aware of where their team would be playing in the finals at the start of the NRL season.

“A big part of the growth in membership in the game has been the need for members to be assured of the chance to get the best seats at the big games at the end of each year,” NRL Chief Executive Mr David Gallop said today.

“The commitment we have made to them all along is that we will not move matches at the last minute and this move allows them to buy their membership packages knowing what to expect.

“Importantly, the move will allow ‘away’ team members greater opportunity and will be able to better accommodate those clubs that have memberships spread across multiple venues.”

The conference, which serves as a medium for possible future changes to be made to the game had several points raised, including the length of NRL games, representative football, and new ways in which to generate more revenue for the NRL as a whole.

“The CEO’s have already been part of key sub-committees that have made significant enhancements to the structure of the NRL draw, to Collective Bargaining and to the Under 20’s and they have shown they can play a valuable role in policy development,” Mr Gallop said.

“Proposals today ranged from lengthening the season significantly to reducing it.

“There was a lot of focus on the impact of Origin and representative matches in the years ahead and on the future location of teams.

“If the game was to expand to eighteen teams at some time in the future there would be strong support for adopting a conference style draw.

“There was a strong message though that the profitability of the existing clubs needed to be ensured before expansion and that new teams had to be linked to new revenue.”

NRL ask for more information about Inglis deal

Yet again, the Inglis saga takes another twist, with doubt being raised as to whether or not the deal will actually be approved by the NRL, after David Gallop and the NRL have asked for more information in relation to his third-party deals.

With that in mind, there is no severe doubt as to whether or not Inglis will be playing in the NRL next year, as the NRL seeks more information about the deal, which any regard as controversial.

“We have received the contract but requested more information in relation to the third-party deals,” Gallop said.

An NRL source said: “It will be a dogfight this deal. Those saying that it will get through might have spoken too soon.”

Gallop was unwilling to comment about some controversial and contentious comments made by Inglis’s manager Allan Gainey, as the plot thickens in this lingering saga.

“This kid could walk away from the whole game [if the NRL blocked the deal], it would be the greatest disgrace ever,” Gainey said.

“Greg is absolutely sick of it. Like everyone, he is fed up with the whole thing. The NRL has now received all the third-party and marquee player agreements.

“I put them to Souths for approval, they have approved them all and now it’s been sent to the NRL.”

English League star Roby rejects NRL offers to stay in ESL

Regarded as one of the games best hookers, James Roby has made the decision to remain in the ESL for another 4 years, after he signed a new deal with St Helens.

With several NRL clubs circling the 25-year-old, Roby decided that it was best for his career to remain in the ESL, as he is impressed with the direction that St Helens are going in.

With Roby’s decision to stay in the ESL, new Saints coach Royce Simmons is hoping that Roby will be able to convince the ESL’s best prop in James Graham to remain at the ESL club.

Graham, who is off contract at the end of next season as approximately 8 clubs reportedly chasing him, but he has vowed to discuss his future with St Helens also.

Roby has been given that No. 9 jersey, after club stalwart Keiron Cunningham retired, a player in which Roby idolised and looked up to for advice in his own career.

It was a big but ultimately easy decision for me,” said Roby, a former Super League Man of Steel winner, who has scored 58 tries in 203 appearances for his home-town club.

“The Saints have been my only club and are only going to get stronger.

“We are moving to a fantastic new training facility this season and to a new stadium the next. We’ve got a top new coach in Royce Simmons and have made some great new signings for next season.

“The next few years will be more than exciting for the club and at a time when I should be reaching my own peak.”

Eamonn McManus, the St Helens chairman has said: “This is a big boost for us and a clear endorsement of the future of the club.

“James is one of the best players in the world and crucial to our continued success. Having come through our academy and been at the heart of our success in recent years, he represents all that we strive for and produce at the club.”

Central Queensland bid gaining in stature

For quite some time, it has been believed that a team should be based in Central Queensland, and this belief is one step closer to becoming a reality, after David Gallop announced that the region was a serious contender on the NRL’s expansion list.

Despite the fact that an Ipswich team has not yet been ruled out, Gallop concedes that the it would be a silly decision to not consider expanding the league to include a team based in Central Queensland.

When it’s come to the issue of expansion, Gallop has remained somewhat quiet, but as he successfully completed a 2-day tour of the area, what they have to offer, and the facilities on hand, the NRL boss came away from the tour confident that there legitimate merit behind the Central Queensland bid.

Whilst the broader issue of expansion won’t be discussed further until 2011, it gives the chance to rival bidders from QLD in Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast to mount a bid despite only having 7 months to do so before a decision is made.

The other major expansion areas have long been touted as the Central Coast and Perth, but David Gallop was visibly impressed with what the Central Queensland bid had to offer, and he was impressed by what they were bringing to the table.

“We may well be at the start of something special for Central Queensland,” said Gallop, who visited CQ strongholds Rockhampton, Gladstone, Emerald and Mackay during the trip.

“Passion is great but you need to put meat on the bone and that’s what Denis (Keeffe, CQ bid chief executive) and Geoff (Murphy) have been doing.

“To take us over Gladstone, show us the massive infrastructure that is going in up here and the industrial growth, it makes you realise that there is meat on the bone in this area.

“We would be mad not to have a serious look at Central Queensland.”

The one roadblock standing in the way of the Central Queensland bid is the lack of a rugby-league built stadium, a situation in which current QLD Premier Anna Bligh is seeking to rectify as she commits to a 20,000 capacity stadium for the region.

“It’s certainly a big part of this bid’s attraction that the people up here are looking for a team in a national sporting competition,” Gallop said.

Cowboys chasing hard for Anasta

With Jonathon Thurston has the only recognised in-form half at the Cowboys, the North Queensland side are believed to be pushing hard to get a deal through for Roosters lock Braith Anasta.

Peter Jourdain, who is the Chief Executive Officer at the Cowboys, confirmed yesterday that the Cowboys have in fact expressed their interest, and have formally written to the Roosters as they seek permission to talk to the Roosters star.

Greg Willett, Anasta’s manager is believed to be eager to discuss a possible move to the Cowboys for his client, but given that Anasta is still contracted to the Roosters for season 2011, he is unable to discuss a possible move unless the Roosters agree to discussions taking place.

As a result, a formal letter requesting permission to begin talks with the Roosters has been sent by Jourdain as they seek to add to their already strong recruitment drive.

“His manager has approached us,” Jourdain said.

“We’re not allowed to talk to him or make any offers because under the rules of the NRL you need written permission.

“I have made a written request to see if we can talk but until we get that permission we can’t do anything because he’s contracted.”

With the Cowboys firmly etched in attempting to get Anasta at their club, it’s bound to set up perhaps one of the most deadly halves combinations in the NRL with Anasta, a former NSW and Australia five-eighth with the current incumbent QLD and Australia halfback, Jonathon Thurston.

“He is someone we are interested in because of what he does on the field as well as off the field,” Jourdain said.

“But we don’t even know if the Roosters want to release him or not.

“Until we hear back, we can’t do anything.”

Further developments are unlikely to come early in the week, with club CEO’s attending the annual NRL conference from today.

Orford’s return to the NRL looking slim

It was the partnership that took them to the grand final in 2009, and it could very well be the partnership that leads them into the 2011 season, as the Eels officially terminate discussions with Matt Orford.

Jeff Robson and Daniel Mortimer were two of the unsung heroes of the Eels miracle run in 2009, which saw them make the grand final on the back of a large number of wins on the trot.

Now, after coming off a 2010 season most Eels players and fans will want to forget, it looks like it’ll be happening all over again, with Mortimer and Robson the favourites to start in the halves for the Parramatta Eels in 2011.

On the subject of Orford, the Eels have long been considered the favourites along with Canberra to sign the aging halfback, who is desperate to return to the NRL after just 1 year in the ESL with Bradford.

Parramatta however, have officially pulled themselves out of the race, and have terminated any discussions or contract talks with Orford, his manager and the Bradford Bulls.

The move by the Eels, now means that the Canberra Raiders are the only team committed to making a play for Orford, in light of their lack of experienced halves due to Terry Campese’s injury.

In a move that some may not have expected, it is believed that Matt Orford may also be considering a year off in 2011, in an attempt to play for the incoming franchise, the Central Coast Bears in 2012.

Such a move seems unlikely though, given Orford’s age, and the money that he would be demanding.

Eels coach Stephen Kearney has already spoken to both Mortimer and Robson, informing them that the halves positions are theirs if they want them.

Former Canterbury great and Mortimer’s father Peter, has said that it’s now up to his son to repay the faith shown by Kearney, and to make the most of the opportunity.

“Time will tell,” Peter said of his son’s ability to shine next season.

“I haven’t spoken to Stephen Kearney, but everyone I’ve spoken to speaks very highly of him.

“So if he’s made the decision to go with Daniel and Jeff, then they’re going to have to perform up to his expectations.

“The ball is in both the boys’ court now.

“I can see Daniel’s attitude just in the last four weeks has been a little bit more driven.”

Osborne set to meet with troubled centre Timana Tahu to discuss future

Despite being on a family holiday, Eels Chief Executive Paul Osborne will cut it short, as he attempts to find out what is troubling Tahu in a turbulent time in the players career.

The Eels boss was set to spend the weekend in Byron Bay with his family, but he decided against it to work out the problems affecting Tahu.

It’s believed that Osborne has said that Tahu has a “done deal” for the 2011 season, but that the club is willing to give the star centre as much time as he needs to get his head back in the game.

Since Monday, when Tahu first had the car crash that started the chain of events, thus resulting in the club giving Tahu the time off that he needs to fully recover.

“We’re supporting Timana Tahu 100 per cent,” Osborne said last night.

“It’s been a tough year for him off the field and our priority is for him to get himself right before coming back to training.

“We’ve done a deal with him for next year. It’s sorted. But, obviously, right at the moment he needs a little extra time away from footy and we’ve given him permission for that. At the end of the day, we’ll keep supporting him until he’s ready to come back and play.”

There is speculation that Tahu is set to leave the club, but that speculation has been dismissed by Osborne.

“No, I don’t. You have to remember the bloke has been through a real tough year. I know the stuff surrounding the Aboriginal knockout was tough on him. It’s affected him hard. Our only concern is getting his head right and getting him happy . . . we’ll provide whatever support is required to make that happen.”

The chain of events goes as far back as the NSW Origin series, after he had a spat with former Knights, NSW and Australia great Andrew Johns, resulting in Tahu omitting himself from the rest of the series.

Tahu’s career with Eels in doubt

With the ‘complex’ issues that Timana Tahu is facing, Eels coach Stephen Kearney is refusing to guarantee the star centre’s future as he he gets a week off to face his personal demons.

The coach was unable to determine a specific time-frame for the centre’s return, as constant speculation is mounting that both Tahu and the club may part ways.

Tahu made a request last week to obtain leave from training, a request which was granted by Kearney.

Despite rumours emerging yesterday that Tahu and go AWOL (Absent Without Leave), Eels CEO Paul Osborne quickly denied that, despite his Eels team-mates unaware of his location.

Tahu wasn’t present at Thursday’s training session, and he may not be at training for some time yet.

“We are working through a few things with him,” Kearney said.

“He’s contracted to the club but has a fair bit on his plate.

“We need to sit down and talk with him. We have to look after his welfare.

“We’re concerned and want to make sure he is in good health and looks after himself.

“We will do what we have to do. Hopefully we can resolve T’s issues. The issues are pretty complex.”

While there is a possibility that Tahu may return to training in the future, Kearney said: “We haven’t gone that far. I’m not going to comment on that.”

The issue started on Monday after Tahu’s car broke down on Monday, in which he hasn’t been seen at the club since.

Eels veteran Nathan Hindmarsh acknowledges that Tahu does have some issues he needs to overcome, but he expects to see him come back better than ever.

“He was back last week (at training) but some things have come up. He’s got to sort those out before he gets back to training again.

“We’re hopeful he will be back. We haven’t heard any different. He has missed a few days this week to sort some stuff out but he trained hard last week.

“It’s hard to get hold of Timana at the best of times but we haven’t spoken.”

Asked what Kearney’s message was for next season, Hindmarsh said:

“If you want to be here, fine, but if you want to hang around you can piss off now, pretty much.

“It’s about working hard for these eight weeks leading into Christmas. If you’re not up to it, you might as well go now.”

Tigers to take game against Dragons to the SCG

The Sydney Cricket Ground has been announced as the venue for the clash between the Wests Tigers and the St George Illawarra Dragons next season.

The Tigers who have traditionally been the journeymen of the NRL in that they use several different grounds over the course of the year, will continue that trend in 2011.

Leichhardt Stadium, Campbelltown Stadium, the Sydney Football Stadium, and the Sydney Cricket Ground are all set to host Wests Tigers home games.

The game, scheduled for Rd 22 of the NRL season will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Grand Final between Wests Magpies and St George.

Stephen Humphreys, Wests Tigers CEO believes that the club has managed to achieve perhaps the best split between the four venues that they could have come up with.

“It’s great to see Campbelltown and Leichhardt have four matches once again and there are some exciting clashes at those grounds, Humphreys said.

“I’m really looking forward to celebrating our historical rivalry against the Dragons at the SCG. This is such an important part of our history and it will be an exciting time for the club.”