Quinn the unlucky man as he looks for injury-free season

Whilst most of his team-mates are eager to get back on the paddock and get wins in order to accrue competition points legally, for Anthony Quinn, the long road to recovery is finally complete.

Quinn, who has spent the last two seasons almost on the sidelines with a range of injuries, is looking at getting back to the form that saw him rewarded with a wing spot for NSW, back in 2008.

In 2010, the Storm as we all know were found guilty of rorting the cap, but for Quinn, after Round 9, he played no games at all.

An operation on his back prevented him from doing so, coupled with the fact that the back injury was sustained whilst he was recovering from thumb surgery.

Quinn, who is now 28, says that he feels refreshed after a lengthy spell out of the game, and is looking to make his mark for the Storm, and NSW if he gets the chance.

“The last two years have freshened me up a fair bit,” Quinn said.

“Last year I only got to round nine and the year before there was that neck issue.

“Everything’s been resolved now, I just have to monitor the workload I’m doing.”

Quinn, who played on the wing in three Origin games in 2008 for NSW, knows that he faces stern competition from a sea of younger players in Justin O’Neill, Matthew Duffie and Chase Stanley, in order to keep his Melbourne starting spot.

“I don’t want to give up my spot at all.

“Since I’ve been back at training I can see I’ve definitely got a job cut out for me to regain that spot in the backline.

“I think I’ve got the knowledge and I’ll definitely be putting in the hard work to regain that spot.”

The Storm, who were forced to shed a large proportion of their team as a result of the cap breach, are yet to discuss their primary ambitions for the 2011 season, according to Quinn.

“We haven’t thought about that yet.

“We’ve had such a large turnover of players in the club, we’re just focused on performing to the standard we feel we should be at and whatever comes from that, so be it.”

Suzuki extend their deal with Storm for another 3 seasons

Suzuki have officially renewed their sleeve sponsorship with the Melbourne Storm for another 3 seasons, as the Storm look to rebuild following their cap scandal in 2010.

For Suzuki, they believe it is a strong and valuable partnership, and one that they are proud to be continuing for the next few years.

Suzuki Australia General Manager Tony Devers said on the announcement:

“Just as Suzuki weathered the recent global financial crisis and came back with a record sales year in 2010, we are confident Storm will re-establish itself as an NRL power.

“The NRL remains one of the highest profile sports in the country and Melbourne Storm is the perfect vehicle for Suzuki to promote its rapidly growing image.”

Storm CEO Ron Gauci also highlighted how important the Suzuki sponsorship is to the Storm and the NRL, as well as how much they value Suzuki’s commitment to the team.

“We are thrilled that Suzuki has signed with us for another three years,” said Gauci.

“Not only have they invested in the club throughout our long partnership, but importantly they have demonstrated exceptional support through both good and tough times.

“We return this support through unrivalled brand exposure and integrated marketing opportunities.

“Storm members and fans have every reason to be excited about the future of this great club and, with the ongoing commitment from a business like Suzuki, we are confident of a remarkable season ahead.”

Jamal Idris is the shape of his lifeI

It would have been rather embarrassing if you will for Idris when pictures emerged last year and the year before of him with what people regard as ‘puppy fat’.

Now however, it is Idris who is having the last laugh, as he is in the best shape of his life, being fitter, stronger and faster then he has ever been, weighing in just 0.5 kg above his target playing weight at 114.5 kg.

Idris has also sent a warning to other teams and players that they would do well to pay attention to.

“I’m ready for my best year,” says Idris.

Idris, who is also 190cm tall, has run his fastest sprint time of his career, as part of the Bulldogs lengthy sprint training drills, as he is focused on another Origin berth.

What is perhaps the biggest improvement on his play from last year, is the fact that his vision is now fully restored, following laser surgery, a procedure which Idris says will make him better than ever.

His ball-handling skills last year were quite poor as a result, and he was one of the worst offenders in dropping the ball, but now with the surgery, Idris is eager to play in the Bulldogs first trial against the Bulldogs in just 12 days.

“I’m coming into this season a lot fitter than last year,” he said.

“I’ve run my best times ever at training so everything is feeling good [and] my eyes are great. I’m 20/20 now and I’m seeing everything. I can’t wait to start playing.”

For Idris, he can already sense the rapid improvement in reaction time both at the Bulldogs, and across the board in the NRL.

“It would take a good five to 10 seconds [to know who it was before] and in footy that’s a lot of time,” Idris said. “Now I’ve got that extra time it will make a big difference.”

Bulldogs coach Kevin Moore says that a combination of the laser surgery, and his best off-season to date, will mean that Idris has his career best season.

“You would like to think it will make a difference, and certainly his handling will improve,” Moore said.

“He had some issues right through the season. His errors were up there with some of the highest in the game and you can certainly attribute that to his vision because he’s got good hands.”

Idris, who can play at both centre and in the second row, will perform in both positions throughout the trials, before coach Kevin Moore decides which position he wants the young star to play.

“He probably learnt a bit from the previous season where he came back a bit overweight,” said Moore.

Independent Commission no closer to becoming a reality

You thought March did you not? Be honest. The Independent Commission in March seemed a reality yes? Unfortunately, it is not to be, at least according to NRL Chief Executive David Gallop.

Gallop has dismissed hopes of the Independent Commission being ready in time for the season 2011, with the final phase of the idea not being ready until for at least another year.

”I think it’s still going to take a bit longer,” Gallop said.

”I don’t think there is a fixed timeline.”

”I think we are in a good position where we have the new building on the way and when that’s ready in 12 months’ time it will coincide with the end of the transition to the commission. So that’s been a good piece of timing and I think it’s going to be great for the game.”

With the unexpected delay for the Independent Commission, fears may be cast over the future of the TV Rights deal, however David Gallop says that the talks for the next TV rights have been fast-tracked and could be ready as early as June.

”[The rights] expire at the end of 2012 but I would have thought by the middle of this year we’ll be a long way down the track,” Gallop said.

”Maximising the dollar is obviously critical but we have to be conscious of how the game is exposed and we want it to be exposed in the best possible way. All indications are that we will do really well and that’s exciting for the game.”

The NRL’s current agreement is $500 million over 5 years, but with a 60% increase on the market share, $1 billion might just be a very real possibility.

”It’s hard to put a number on it but I’m really confident that we’ll do really well,” Gallop said.

”My ideal outcome is pretty simple – it’s big dollars and a level of exposure and promotion that the game deserves. I’ve been talking to the TV networks for over a year now, staying in touch and reminding them of our position and the progression of the commission.

”Years ago there was a view that there was one or two big games every weekend and the rest were pretty much the also-rans, but now our competition is at a point where there are no easy games and every team is a contender.”

Gallop has also not ruled out the possibility of all the games returning to free-to-air television, but should that materialise, many would not be pleased, given the poor coverage we have seen in the past from commercial networks and their NRL coverage.

”There’s a possibility it could all be on the one network,” he said.

”Digital television has opened a lot of doors and apparently Channel 10 is starting a rugby league program as well.

”But the good thing is, there are a lot of possibilities.”

Gallop concedes that the Independent Commission has become a drawn-out saga.

”It’s been important that things haven’t ground to a halt waiting for it either,” he said

”My job has been to keep everything ticking along and then it’ll be ready when it happens.

”There’s no fixed timeline for the independent commission. But there are various people working on it at the moment. Obviously, identifying the eight commissioners is imperative and I can tell you that process has just started. At some point in the next few months it will start to get up and running.”

Gallop has also dismissed any claims that the Independent Commission should have been up and running by this time.

”It was naive to think it would happen really quickly,” he said.

”One of the best things to come out of it will be a greater connection between the professional end of the game and the grassroots, but merging those entities is a very complicated exercise. And I think it was naive to think that would be done in the space of weeks or months.”

The selection process to pick the board’s eight commissioners has also begun, with NSWRL, QRL, News Limited and NRL representatives all being considered to fill the spots.

”The NRL people are the most buoyant I’ve seen them at the end of a season about what’s coming up,” Gallop said.

”The wish is that it will allow the game to articulate its strengths and then leverage what we all know is great about it, but I think from time to time the game hasn’t been very good at demonstrating.

”It’s going to be great to have eight well-credentialled, experienced people from different aspects of business to help guide rugby league.

”My aspiration for it is, you take an idea to them and they say, ‘Yeah, that’s good but have you thought of this because I come from this industry and we did this …’

”So you can pull down experience from across the community and finetune what you’ve been working on. And they sign off on what the game’s position on something is going to be.

”But at the same time I think we need to be careful not to expect that they are going to have the answers to everything. There’s a renewed confidence in the fact that we are going to have a more efficient, co-ordinated organisational structure and that’s going to rub off on sponsors and broadcasters.”

Kearney destined to become the next supercoach

When you think of support for a coach, you think it would come from within the club, or a friend of the new coach, but opposition player and fellow New Zealander and Wests Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall, has paid Stephen Kearney the ultimate compliment.

Marshall believes that Kearney will down the track, join the coaching elite of Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheens as “one of the legends of the game”.

Whilst Kearney is yet to officially coach an NRL match yet, Marshall believes that his tactics and nature will just be some of the factors that will see the Eels as legitimate premiership contenders in 2011.

”In my opinion, he has a great future as a coach and he will become one of the legends of the game,” Marshall said.

”I’ve been coached by Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheens, two of the greatest in the game, and I definitely think he’s got what it takes to get to that level and have the same respect as those guys.

”He’s proved he’s more than capable with the Kiwi team in the World Cup and the Four Nations last year.

”His strengths are that he knows how to get the best out of players. Some of the Islanders find it hard when they get a kick in the bum, they need to be nursed through. He’s good at picking out personalities and picking who needs a kick up the bum and who needs a pat on the back.

”The thing that impresses me the most is how he does a lot of video work and how he observes what the other team is doing.”

Marshall, who was worked closely with Kearney in the New Zealand team, the pair which are responsible for masterminding World Cup and Four Nations victory for New Zealand.

”I think he will be a very good coach,” Bennett said.

”He’s a young coach with lots of energy, good discipline and he cares about his players. He’ll go great. Caring about players isn’t the whole key, but it’s certainly one of them. We still stay in contact, we have a good relationship. He does a great job. He’s done a great job with the Kiwis as Benji would have alluded to.

”He may well end up being one of the greats of the game. He’s got lots of wonderful qualities about him.”

Marshall added: ”When he speaks, everyone shuts up and listens. As the captain of the team he’s got great interaction with myself, talking about what’s best for the team. He’s very understanding and takes a lot on board. Away from football he gets along with everyone.”

Whilst Wayne Bennett received a lot more of the praise than Kearney did for the NZ victories, Marshall believes that Kearney deserves just as much praise for the effort he put into the wins.

”In the 2010 Four Nations everything was pretty much Steve Kearney. Wayne came in and talked to the boys once and Steve did all the hard work. Steve deserves all the credit.”

The Eels are ranked as outsiders to win the premiership in 2011, and with no heavy expectations on them, Marshall thinks that the Eels can become a premiership threat with Kearney as coach.

”He definitely changed the culture of New Zealand rugby league with his discipline,” Marshall said. ”I’m sure he could do the same at Parra and get the best out of them.”

Pressure all on the Dogs as Moore knows best

2010 is a year that many Bulldogs players and fans will want to forget, given their preliminary final berth in 2009, and the Dogs fans are relying on Kevin Moore to deliver the goods in season 2011.

As the Bulldogs enter the 2011 season with several new additions to the side, both the players and coach are under pressure, and the fans will most likely not expect anything else but a finals berth in 2011.

Whilst 2010 was a disaster year for the Bulldogs, with several new additions at their club, the expectations are now on the Bulldogs to perform with Greg Eastwood, Frank Pritchard, Kris Keating, Trent Hodkinson and Aiden Tolman just some of the new additions.

“I’ve been around this club for a long time, and my expectation is we’ll be successful year in, year out,” said Moore.

“I think the expectations we have as individuals, and as a group, is what’s important. We have to put pressure on ourselves to perform.”

The fans are an integral part of the Bulldogs club and culture, and they have been doing what they can in areas like Bankstown and Lakemba to keep the footy spirit well and truly alive.

“I know,” he said of the fans.

“We have wonderful supporters – they’re passionate, very passionate – but it is important we stay focused and control what we can. If we do that, and we win games, I know the supporters will be very happy.

“The thing about Canterbury is we have the same culture [as 30 years ago]. The game has changed a hell of a lot, the hours the players spend at training and preparing for games has changed and there is also a much greater professionalism, but the philosophy here remains the same; and that is ‘it’s a simple game, but work hard, train hard and play for each other and you’ll get results’.”

The Bulldogs players and their new recruits are prepared for a gruelling 26 week season as always, and both the players and Moore are more than ready to take the bull by the horns and play some good footy.

“It’s a long process,” he said of helping a squad with new faces and a glut of National Youth Cup players appreciate what being a Dog means. “The pre-season is trying to get guys fit enough to play and perform week in, week out for the entire season. That’s the important part.

“There’s been many opportunities to build the club spirit, we’ve had a few functions and team-building exercises to bond us as a unit. I’m lucky to have a great support staff. Jim Dymock is my right-hand man and he’s been a great foil for me … Brett Kimmorley has come on board as our halves coach and Andrew Patmore is in charge of our NYC team. We’ve also bought good players and … we have a group of young players who’ve performed well in the NYC.”

Gallop pleased with salary cap and the concessions

The NRL Chief Executive David Gallop says that both he and the NRL have no intentions of altering the salary cap, or the concessions involved with it, in light of a new saga, this time involving Braith Anasta.

Gallop also says that there are no plans by the NRL to to increase concessions for the long-serving players, with an extra $200,000 allowed to be allocated who have spent their careers at one club.

Gallop did say however, that in Anasta’s case, it appears unlikely that similar concessions will be made in his case, despite the players constant loyalty to the code.

”There isn’t a veterans system like the AFL has but there is a fund for rep players and you forfeit that if you leave the game for another code,” Gallop said.

”Generally, if you’ve stayed in the game more than 10 years you are a rep player anyway and you get that payment once you leave.

”We have increased concessions for long-serving players at one club from $100,000 to $200,000 already.”

What’s the rationale for the one-club player concession as opposed to an NRL stalwart who has played at two or three clubs?
David Gallop: ”The view for some time from the clubs has been rather than introduce more and more concessions, we should be aiming to lift the cap ourselves. And I think we’ve done a reasonable job of both.”

Is that a possibility in the near future?

”Clearly there is going to be more money brought into the game over the next few years through broadcasting rights and that will benefit the clubs, players and the grassroots of the game.

”So I guess that’s something for everyone to look forward to in the near future – players included.

”There’s certainly more money to come into the game which will put clubs in better positions. It’s a tough industry because it’s a very elite competition where not everyone can be part of it forever.

”There’s going to be changeover and that’s why when you look at Nathan Hindmarsh and Darren Lockyer, you have to be pretty in awe of their longevity.”

So there’s a method to the madness?

”Well, it’d be nice to get to a point where rather than talking about how the salary cap is always forcing players out, that we actually talked about how it’s actually giving the clubs the opportunity to be in the market for the best youngsters and to be able to pick up players who in two or three years’ time will be the superstars of the game.

”If we didn’t have a salary cap then the clubs with the most juniors would keep them. It would be nice if the game got to the point where we talked about the benefits of the cap.”

What are the benefits for fans from the NRL’s point of view?
”We’re going into potentially the closest competition ever; just consider the teams that missed the eight last year – real powerhouse teams like the Broncos, Bulldogs, Parramatta and Souths. Those kinds of teams didn’t even make the eight so I think the fans, when I talk to them when they come up to me at the beach, I think they now get the importance of the cap and how good it is to have eight close games each weekend.

”It’s probably just a few old hardheads who don’t want to accept it. And it does have some difficult aspects, like third-party deals. But if you didn’t have restrictions on what associates of the club could pay players, then you may as well not have a salary cap.”

JT admits that he will be disappointed if he is not captain

Jonathon Thurston says that he would be overly disappointed if he was no longer the Cowboys captain, but the star halfback wholeheartedly supports the changes made by the Cowboys, and believes they can be a team to beat.

The talk that Thurston would not be the Cowboys captain emerged when Rugby League magazine Big League, the NRL’s official magazine, put together their season guide, but Thurston was not named as the captain of the Cowboys, prompting Thurston be unsure as to whether or not he would indeed be captain.

‘They are taking their time to announce the captain, so I’ve just got to sit back and wait,” Thurston said.

”It is a position that I am very proud to have had and it is a huge honour. You are representing North Queensland, the heartland of rugby league, and it is a position I would like to stay in.

”But I haven’t spoken to anyone about it, my focus has just been on preparing myself to play the best I can and making sure that the other boys have been doing that as well. The direction the club are going is one I really want to be on board with and I am really looking forward to what lies ahead.”

Thurston says that there is a strong leadership group for the Cowboys is strong with Dallas Johnson, Brent Tate and Matthew Scott all a part of the leadership group.

JT does however admit that he would be disappointed if Cowboys coach Neil Henry chose a new captain within the club.

”I would have to say I would still be shitty but I won’t know how I would feel until it actually happens,” Thurston said.

”It is a position I am very grateful to have but if the club wants to go in a different direction, then I am on board with that, too.”

In Thurston’s view, he feels that the Cowboys have improved in the areas that they had to, and that they are a new club, but most importantly, he is eager to be playing again following a broken ankle in August.

”It just feels like a breath of fresh air at the club and everyone looks forward to training,” he said.

”The attitude is good among all of the boys and also the staff as well. We had a good six weeks training before Christmas and it has been a good start to this year. There are a lot of new faces obviously and we are still training hard, but it is different.”

Former Cowboys and Queensland Origin star, Paul Bowman, has been appointed to commandeer a new high-performance unit that aims at improving players speed and awareness, and Thurston says that the new regime is already paying dividends.

”There is a lot more sports science now and we are doing power-based training now, and speed and everything like that,” he said. ”We probably didn’t use that up at all really last year but we are doing it now and the boys are really responding to it.”

The Cowboys are the one team that has let go of a large proportion of their players, paving the way for a new-look Cowboys side, one that Thurston is looking forward to playing.

”From our top squad of last year we have only got 11 players remaining, so when we weren’t able to make the finals, having all the guys who knew they were going made it a bit tough for everyone because they had signed contracts elsewhere and probably their attitude and stuff wasn’t right,” Thurston said.

”But it is hard just to finger-point one thing and we played some poor football as well. We’ve just got to learn from that and improve, and I’m pretty sure that we will.”

Gordon set for a mid-game switch to the halves for a spark

They call him Flash, and whilst he is known for playing on the wing, a plan has arisen by Panthers coach Matthew Elliott to play Gordon in the halves, to add to his attacking flair.

Gordon, who played quite a bit of fullback for the Panthers in light of Lachlan Coote’s injury, will not be in that position in 2011 with Coote returning, but there are some other surprises in store for both Gordon, and Panthers fans.

”The challenge for us is, with the form that Flash [Gordon] showed us last year, regardless of the position he plays, we need to get that level of involvement out of him,” Elliott said.

”It is a good headache to have.

”Having Flash on the wing allows us enough flexibility to show up in different spots.

”Lachlan Coote has the ability to play in the halves and I think Michael Gordon has got that in him as well.

”I don’t think I’d play [Gordon] there at the start of games at this stage but he could certainly spend some time there.

”Wests Tigers did it a little bit with [utility Daniel] Fitzhenry.

”We certainly need to increase his involvement. We could look at him being a centre but we don’t get enough involvement out of him in the centres.

”Flash played a fair bit of hooker when he was a young bloke as well, so there’s a fair bit of stuff going through our heads.

”Certainly we don’t want to see him play a conventional winger’s role. It’s about getting that fullback play out of him regardless of where he plays.”

Despite whatever number the Origin winger may have on his back, Elliott has insisted that Gordon can get as involved with the play as he feels, in order to create opportunities for his team.

”Nathan Blacklock did it better than anyone else I’ve seen,” Elliott said of the former Dragon.

”He did it naturally. He played on the wing and then he’d pop up and play like a fullback or spend his whole time at the ball or an inside half.

”I don’t want Flash playing like Nathan Blacklock – I want Flash playing like Flash. But that sort of commission is what we want to give him an opportunity to do.”

For Gordon, many have always seen him as a solid winger and an ever-reliable goal-kicker, but since his move to fullback, and his Origin berth, his game has gone to another level, and the only way is up.

”What Michael needed was confirmation that he was a good player,” Elliott said.

”It’s OK for me to say ‘You’re good enough to be a rep player’ and that’s nice to hear.

”But he went and played at that level and realised he is a good player and that he belongs at that level. It’s given him a lot of confidence.”

AFL a possibility for Hayne after 2013

His heart has forever been a part of the Parramatta Eels since he was 12 years old as he has been playing for them since that age, but several factors are making him think about the future.

A sticking point in the whole situation is given that Hayne has seen two former league players in Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau leave to play in the AFL, and it has prompted Hayne to believe that the NRL’s players do not come first.

“Let’s not beat around the bush,” Hayne said.

“Quite frankly, it’s obvious that the NRL comes first, then the leagues club, then the players. That’s the pecking order. It’s becoming more and more clear.”

Hayne intends to fulfill his contract until the end of 2013, but he says that the prospect of a new challenge after that time is intriguing, and it may just pull him away from the NRL.

For Hayne, he feels that once he has achieved everything in the NRL that he can, and depending on how Hunt and Folau go in the NRL, then that will ultimately determine his final decision.

“For sure, 100 per cent [I will closely watch how Karmichael and Israel go],” Hayne said. “It’s something I’ve obviously thought about, too.

“I’m not blind to the situation. I will have to see how they go, what happens with them, how I am feeling, what I want to do, it’s all about how I feel at the time.

“If I feel satisfied with what I’ve done in league, I’ll have to be the judge then. At the moment, my full focus is on Parramatta and my contract until 2013.”

For Hayne, the constant criticism and blame that was heaped upon him in season 2010 following the Eels up-and-down season did not perturb him.

“It wasn’t really much for me, you know,” Hayne said. “At the end of the day, you have to remember why you are playing rugby league.

“As some players get older, they tend to forget why they do it – they think about the money, the media, the pressure and impressing people rather than having fun. I’m all about having fun. I enjoy playing with mates and that’s why I’m still at the Hills.”

Hayne, who started out as a junior and has been with the Eels for a decade is becoming increasingly frustrated with the salary cap, in light of the drawn out Greg Inglis saga, and now the more recent Braith Anasta saga.

“It’s the salary cap,” Hayne said. “There’s no other reason. If you ever see people walk away, changing clubs, that’s the way it is.

“If more focus was put on the players, you’d see more players staying in the game and you would see more players wanting to come to the game … there are a lot of people in rugby who would love to play rugby league, but I guess it’s the money factor.”

In Origin, Hayne has praised the NSW Rugby League and NSW football in general for appointing a sole coach, as both he, and the other players aim to end their dominance.

“[Queensland] are an awesome team,” Hayne said. “An awesome group with an awesome cohesion in everything they do.

“But with Ricky Stuart being appointed full-time NSW coach, he has a lot of time to help us gel and methods now to mix and match before the Origin starts.”

Hayne is also more than aware that he has competition for the NSW Fullback jersey with Josh Dugan and Lachlan Coote breathing down his neck for Origin 2011.

“It’s great to have people fighting for positions,” he said.

“Especially in Origin, it makes you become a better player. In 2009, when I was having that good run, I remember Billy [Slater] saying that seeing me go good made him want to do better.”

“You don’t want to rest on your laurels and think it is a given. I have to work hard. Josh is a great player coming through and Lachlan Coote is there also.”

Whilst he was eager to play in the Four Nations, it was a hamstring tear that ruled him out of the competition, but for Hayne, he sees it as a “blessing in disguise”.

“It really just stopped me in my tracks and it gave my legs and body a chance to freshen up,” he said.

The star fullback is also excited about Stephen Kearney being at the helm as Eels coach.

“I am really excited about him being the coach. He’s been good. He hasn’t come in and tried to change my game or anything. He’s tweaking it. He’s a normal coach. I get on with every coach,” he said.