ANZAC clash to have special significance for SKD

ANZAC Day means a lot to many Australians and New Zealanders, but for New Zealanders especially, it will take on an added significance this year, in light of the horrific earthquake in Christchurch.

For Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who had cousins and an uncle lose their home, he is still coming to grips with the devastation that they suffered from the natural disaster.

Kenny-Dowall, who was assisting with the launch of ticket sales for the Roosters, spoke of the personal pain that he is feeling for his family members in Christchurch.

“I’ve got some family in Christchurch and they were unfortunate to lose their house so that’s a pretty tough time for them,” he said.

“I’m just very fortunate that they’re all right and they’re safe, they’re fine, but it’s still a sad time and we remember all those that weren’t so lucky.”

The centre, who enjoyed his career-best season in the NRL, following the move from the wing, into the centres, said that his large family in NZ and other places, have all donated money to help family members affected by the earthquake.

“They have a bit of a problem with the insurance companies because there’s been a lot of damage there,” he said.

“So they have to wait and they reckon it’s going to take up to four years to rebuild their houses and their lives.

“They’re just fortunate, we’ve got a good family, we all look after each other over there in New Zealand and I think they’ll be all right.

“Anzac Day’s a good time to remember both countries and, with all the stuff that’s going on in New Zealand, it will be a good time to reflect on that as well.

“(My) family and friends in Christchurch keep telling me what an amazing job the New Zealand Defence Force is doing to help out people affected by the earthquake – it’s a lot like the way the Australians helped here during the Queensland floods and the Victorian bushfires.”

Refs provide first buzz term for 2011

We welcome to NRL News passionate Manly supporter Phil Whitehead who will be discussing ruck infringements, and the changes that have been made by referees bosses to improve these areas.

The winner is… Ruck Infringements.

It seems that every recent NRL season in memory has begun with a public announcement from the Referees’ Boss that a certain area of the game will be targeted in a “crackdown on ill-discipline”. Starting over a decade ago, with the farcical policing of the play-the-ball action, through to season 2010’s mission to “protect” kickers by making almost any contact on a kicker worthy of a penalty. It has often seemed that the referee’s get together at the start of the season with the aim of making long-time fans of rugby league scratch their heads in bemusement in the first few rounds. These same fans now take some relief out of knowing that area singled out for special attention in the early rounds will not be refereed with the same stubborn intolerance in the second half of the year.

In 2011, Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper have decided that the ruck is going to be the source of high early-season penalty counts.

Hear that, you two? That was every fan of every NRL club collectively groaning.

Fans don’t turn up to watch the referee dominate a game, and if trails are to provide a sign of what is to come, then that is exactly what is going to happen. Last season saw the average penalty count reach a record low of 11.33 per game. This is something that should have been embraced by all concerned. Instead, this move threatens to take the game back into the 1980’s, when 25 penalties a game was nothing out of the ordinary.

No. Thank. You.

NRL footballers are getting faster, stronger, more skilful and more athletic every season. The game of rugby league should be naturally allowed to follow suit. However, it seems that the NRL is reluctant to let it happen. Week after week over the last few seasons, fans have been driven to ever-increasing levels of frustration at the way the Video Referee has managed to bring the momentum of a game to a grinding halt. Perhaps this could be excused if the correct decision was always made… but last season proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that 27 slow-motion replays from 3 different angles, which all show a clear knock on… can still result in a “Benefit of the Doubt” try.

The NRL needs to be more mindful of the fact that their success, above all other factors, is reliant on constant production of an entertaining spectacle. State of Origin is perhaps the greatest example of this fact. Everyone knows and accepts that State of Origin matches are not refereed as strictly as regular club games. The players are allowed to play and their skill is all that determines the flow and result of the game. In contrast, any referee who would dare to blow 25 penalties in an Origin match is likely to be ducking projectiles from the crowd at full-time.

Fans of the game will agree that all we really want from the referees is consistency… and perhaps, if it’s not too much to ask, a more common sense interpretation of the laws. The game does not need these pointless 6-week crusades against minor infringements. Ultimately, rule crackdowns do nothing for the good of the NRL or rugby league. If they really need to change something before the start of the season, then how about restricting the time it takes to review a possible scoring play? That might actually be a move that fans, coaches, players AND commentators universally applaud.

Then again… perhaps that makes too much sense?

A Kiwi’s Musings on New Zealand League

We welcome to NRL News passionate NZ supporter Stephen Gallagher, who discusses Rugby League in New Zealand, and how it has changed over the years, and what effect individuals have had on NZ Rugby League.
It’s been long overdue an era like this for New Zealand Rugby League. A successful period of year in which New Zealand League has been making more headlines than its Australian counterpart. For too long there have been one-sided clashes, to-nil defeats and now things are starting to even out. Things are looking up for the Kiwis.

It started back in 2005. A casual bloke by the name of Brian “Bluey” McClennan took the Kiwis to a Tri-Nations tournament in England and brought home some much overdue silverware. It was a remarkable victory for the Kiwis who for decades have underperformed and have never quite lived up to expectation.

Skip forward a few years and an emphatic World Cup win later under Stephen Kearney and the Kiwis are really starting to make a name for themselves. Rugby in New Zealand took a dive after the All Blacks flopped in the quarter-finals against France in 2007 which led kids growing up idolising Benji Marshall and wanting to play the other rugby. Rugby League.

Then the Kiwis did the unthinkable and made an unforgettable finish in their last set of six to win the Four Nations tournament. Capping off a new beginning for them. Five tournaments played in six years, the Kiwis had won three of them. Which lead the Kiwis and their loyal supporters to a period of which New Zealand league has never seen.

The development of league in New Zealand is slowly getting where it should be. Secondary schools have a national league competition held each year. Auckland and Wellington are two regions which do run a successful rugby league tournament for schools in the region.

Scouts are becoming more and more frequent. Every NRL team is represented at the national tournament as well as some scouts from England too come to see the up and coming talent growing in New Zealand.

It was once a rare occurrence, having a New Zealand born player in an NRL team. The national side was mainly picked from mens’ competitions around the country. Now, in 2011 there is almost the same amount of Kiwis as there are Aussies.

Especially in teams such as South Sydney Rabbitohs, where there’s a big contingent of Kiwi’s living. On the Gold Coast when the Warriors play, there’s always a massive number of ex-pat Kiwis donning their black colours and getting behind the Warriors. Sometimes the chants are louder then those of the home team’s fans.

Benji Marshall, West Tigers play-maker, Golden Boot 2010 winner and now face of the NRL. A Kiwi proud of his Maori heritage is making the biggest of waves in the National Rugby League. People are growing tiresome of Rugby which seems to dominate the headlines regardless of the success of League. To even think about a Kiwi being the face of an Australian competition is bizarre, but it’s a sign of the times.

What could be done differently though, is to harness the success, and flow it through the veins of mainstream media. Time after time the League results will get little or no mention at all on television and radio. Kids love the All Blacks, and kids now are learning to love the Kiwis.

Not to belittle other codes, but to give the kids growing up an option. I was forced in to playing rugby union at a young age. There was Rugby, or Soccer. Yet Soccer in the late 90s was not on the grand scale of what it is today in Australasia.

New Zealand has proven themselves at the international level. The New Zealand Warriors are becoming more of an option to players. With the likes of superstar Feleti Mateo joining the Warriors ranks this season, as well as veteran Australian Shaun Berrigan it shows that the Warriors are becoming more of a consistent franchise, and a team players want to play in.

Tuqiri feels he still has more to offer

Many thought that he would be a flop upon his return to the NRL, but he proved those doubters wrong with a stellar season for the Wests Tigers, and now, Lote Tuqiri says that he is only going to get better.

After missing out on pre-season last year, Lote Tuqiri has one message for any people that think he won’t get better.

“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” says Tuqiri.

Arriving in Australia only five days before the Tigers first game, Tuqiri was awarded with an Australian berth for his stellar efforts, but he vows to improve in 2011.

“I’ve trained really hard and just getting the structures right and the calls right [will make a difference], rather than coming in cold like last year,” Tuqiri said.

With Tuqiri coming off strong trial form, he maintains that he is as hungry as ever to ensure that he plays well, and improves on his 2011 season.

“People [ask] ‘are you right’, but I still feel as vibrant and wanting to play footy as I ever have,” he said.

“Last year I was reborn, in a sense, when I came back and played rugby league. I feel great. The body’s not slowing down at all. I think the sky’s the limit.”

With the Tigers having more self-belief this year, Tuqiri is confident that the Tigers can win the premiership.

“Definitely [we can win it],” he said.

“You always want to improve every year and I think we’ve got the squad here to win.”

Peter Doust Q & A

ST: You said recently that the World Club Challenge should be played in Australia, why?
PD: It’s a tough ask for an Australian team to the Northern Hemisphere and I thought that with the support the Dragons brand had and Wigan’s brand also in the Northern Hemisphere, that it might be a good quality event to promote in Australia.

The NRL season is less than 14 days away. How confident are you that this trip won’t affect how the Dragons start the year?
I’ve got the utmost confidence in the professionalism in our management. It’s a challenge, but they have shown their skill in planning, rehabilitation and preparation here, as well as in the NRL.

The Broncos, under Wayne Bennett, were the last team to build a dynasty. Can the Dragons go back-to-back?
I think our roster and playing strength puts us in a good position to do that. I’m just not sure anyone can talk about dynasties in Rugby League, the way the salary cap is structured. In 2011, we’re in there with a chance to do that, and we’re quietly positive about our opportunities.

Two years ago, ‘Oust Doust’ signs flew at Kogarah. Were you close to walking away?
No Dave, I think anyone who knows me knows how the red and white flows through me. I take a great deal of confidence and guidance from the board of directors about our club, and people who have been around our club for many years. I wouldn’t criticise people for their opinions, but a lot of the times, they don’t have all the information.

How long did you think you’ll keep going at the Dragons?
I don’t have any plans to take on any other challenges. I spent 25 years involved in Rugby League, running hospitals, private and public. That was a challenge. My challenges now, are continuing to grow this Dragons brand and continuing to deliver for our members and stakeholders.

What about the challenge of keeping Wayne Bennett at the Dragons?
We’re keen to re-sign Wayne. We’re out there doing our best. But at the end of the day, it’s his decision. We know Wayne is a careful and considered person, so while we’re keen to re-sign him, that’s going to be his decision. That will be made in due course and at the end of the debate, people are accountable for long-term success at the Dragons and we’ll deal with those when they’re made.

If he moves on, would you agree Wayne doesn’t owe the Dragons anything, now that he has delivered the Dragons a premiership?
I don’t know if I’d put it exactly like that. I think he’s grown a lot of brand equity in association with the Dragons. In two and a bit years, he’s been here giving his best, and we respect that. I think he respects it. He often talks about his enjoyable time [here] and how it’s been a very valuable experience for him.

Do you think we will ever see Nathan Brown back at the Dragons?
I haven’t got a point of view on that subject to be honest. I’m keen to see Nathan continue to succeed in coaching. I believe he’ll make a career coach. He’ll make decisions where he develops his career.

So you’re ruling out the prospect of him being back at the Dragons?
I think he’d have an ambition to be back at the Dragons in due course. He’s another person who has red and white flowing through him. I always maintain his success was much greater than what people gave him credit for. Wayne even acknowledges that himself. He’s said many times how the club was in such good shape when he arrived, so who knows where these coaches will go or finish up.

Do you want all the coaching sorted out before round one, given the speculation?
Speculation goes with the territory. That’s part of rugby league; be it coaches or players, you can’t expect to not have speculation. The players know where we all are in relation to this, and therefore, I can’t see any real downside.

So Peter, when you say the “players know”, by that you mean you’re not worried about what everyone is saying outside the club, so long as the inner-sanctum has all the information?
That’s the way we do business Dave. The players are a special part of our business, so I communicate through the senior players, the captain in particular, and we’re all confident that if they need to know, they will know.

One player who has made known his affection for Wayne as a coach, is Darius Boyd. If you read between the lines, it appears that if Wayne leaves, then Darius will too.
That’s speculation. Darius is a great footballer, no doubt about it. He’s an intelligent young guy, who will make a decision on where he sees his future, and I’d be very keen to open discussions with him about his future. We don’t know if Wayne is going and we don’t know where Darius will go either.

Have you begun discussions with Darius about staying?
Yes. We’re currently working on our roster, and those players who are off-contract are a key part of what you do in the first part of the year.

Johns settling into new consultancy role with Knights

The saying goes ‘ A picture is worth a thousand words’, and for Knights fans, this rings true, as they get to see one of their favourite sons return to the foray at the club, as a consultant coach.

That man, is one Matthew Johns.

In what is sure to add enthusiasm to the Knights group, Johns has said that he is looking forward to his new role, and is delighted to be back at the place where his career took off.

‘I really enjoyed it,” Johns said.

”The first session up there I just had a look at the team. I didn’t have much to say to the side at all tactically. For the first few sessions I just want to go around and see how they’re doing things and go from there.

”It’s a satisfying thing, it’s great. The Newcastle club have always been great to me. I was holding the stop-go sign working for Cessnock City Council [before coming through]. I didn’t see a big future in that. When people asked me what I did, I told them I was in traffic control.”

Johns is in charge of mentoring Knights players such as Jarrod Mullen, Ben Rogers, Kurt Gidley on occasions, as well as young guns Beau Henry and Tyrone Roberts.

Myself and [brother] Andrew were incredibly lucky coming through at Newcastle – it was a matter of the right place at the right time.

”There were some really top-notch educators there to give you a strong football education, none more so than Alan Bell. Belly continues to do a bit of work with Tim Sheens whenever Sheensy needs a hand and he was involved with Newcastle for years [and] Warren Ryan way back in the day. Belly was an encyclopaedia. Every day he would sit with myself and Andrew and teach us, show us things.

”You’ve got a moral obligation not to sit on that education and do nothing with it. You’ve owe it to blokes like Allan Bell, who did it for you, to go and help others out.”

For Knights captain Kurt Gidley, he is over the moon to have Johns on board at the club.

”It’s great to have a former player of Matty’s calibre involved with the club in a coaching position,” he said.

”From our fullbacks to our front-rowers, I think we will all benefit from his knowledge of the game.”

Whilst he does not want to single out certain players that need improvement, Johns admits that the Knights are a team on the rise, and he is enjoying being a part of it.

”All I’ll say about Newcastle is that they’ve had a tough few years but there are signs that there is a good crop of players coming through,” he said.

”We’re very similar to sides like Canberra – a good, young squad are about to come out of a few lean years.”

Keith Onslow was the man responsible for getting Johns back at the Knights, and not for the first time either.

”I have to give a rap to Keith Onslow, the bloke who got me there,” Johns said.

”Keith was the bloke who found me when I was playing in a second-division team in the under-16s at Cessnock.

”He identified me and brought me into the Knights system. Without him giving me a chance, I might still be working traffic control at Cessnock.

”When he rings and asks me to get involved, I’m in no position to say no.”

Prince hits last minute goal to give Titans a 2-point win

In what has been perhaps the closest trial game so far, and despite stellar performances from the Cowboys old guard in Matthew Bowen and Jonathon Thurston, a Scott Prince conversion after the siren has handed the Titans a 24-22 win.

In a match played in abysmal decisions at Barlow Park in Cairns, it was a last minute try to Titans winger Clinton Toopi that gave Prince the chance to win the game for the Titans, a kick in which he slotted home.

It was the Bowen and Thurston show for a while however, as they look to re-kindle their previous partnership following some injuries to Bowen, who is now back at full fitness.

Cowboys coach Neil Henry, who has been given 6 weeks to stake his claim to remain as Cowboys coach was pleased with the performance of Bowen and Thurston, one he knows is needed more for the Cowboys to win games.

As would be expected, Cowboys new recruit Dallas Johnson was tireless in defence in what is a good sign for the Cowboys heading into Rd 1.

Henry was incredibly pleased with his side’s performance, and hopes for more of the same as the season goes on.

“They had a nice little combination there and they were both busy and Matt had some typically aggressive carries in wet conditions,” Henry said.

Despite wearing the number 6 jersey, Greg Bird spent a fair bit of time in the second-row, but he will be looking to shore up that five-eighth spot, as his own.

“He kicked well, tackled well and he’ll be pushing hard for that spot,” Coach John Cartwright said.

Despite a stellar performance from the young and livewire centre Shannon Walker, Cartwright said that the young gun would have to bide his time.

“Everyone expects him to be an automatic NRL star but he’s got to do an apprenticeship like anyone else. We have a lot of strength at fullback but it’s nice to know he can do the job,” Cartwright said.

Hodges suffers another injury as Broncos win trial game

It is the news that Brisbane fans did not want to hear, again, but Justin Hodges has gone down with a hamstring injury in the Broncos 26-6 trial win over the Melbourne Storm.

Having been named as replacement midweek for former Broncos coach Ivan Henjak, Anthony Griffin would have been pleased with the win, but displeased at seeing Hodges limp off.

It is believed that Hodges injury is a strained hamstring, which places him in some doubt for the Broncos Rd 1 clash against the Cowboys.

Whilst scans will be an eventual option, the Broncos will have Hodges ice his hamstring over the weekend, as they aim to get him fit in time for Rd 1.

“We’re not going to rush him back just because we think we need Justin Hodges to win one game of football,” he said.

“We’re going to treat it as a season decision.”

Despite the injury to Hodges however, young guns Jack Reed and Dane Gagai put in a strong performance, and should Hodges be out, both will be adequate replacements.

Both teams, were resting or had injured personnel not playing in the clash, but both teams remain confident that those players will be fit for the teams respective Rd 1 clashes.

Robson the star as Eels dish out drubbing to Panthers outfit

If ever there is a way to quieten your critics, then Jeff Robson has managed to do so, after putting in his second straight stellar trial performance, as the Eels romped home in the Battle of the West against the Penrith Panthers.

Robson, who has been on the receiving end of unwarranted criticism for much of last year, and even this year, showed that experience does come in handy, as both he and halves partner Daniel Mortimer showed that they are a good team.

Whilst the Eels victory was comfortable, the match also had spiteful and physical elements to it.

It was a late hit by Panthers halfback on Eels five-eighth Daniel Mortimer that sparked a huge brawl on the field, with players having to separate Luke Walsh and Jarryd Hayne from clashing.

On the game itself however, another player that has shone, when perhaps he was not expected to, has been Taniela Lasalo.

Lasalo, who has scored two tries in the last two trial games might just be an outside chance for a bench spot, given that he is in good nick at the moment.

In a good sign for Panthers fans also, young fullback Lachlan Coote played for 40 minutes in the game, as he returns from injury.

Unfortunately, for Eels new recruit Chris Walker, he left the field after just 9 minutes with a foot injury. The severity of it is not yet known.

Despite young five-eighth Arana Taumata showing some flair and promise in attack, the Panthers just could not penetrate the Eels defence, and their cause was not helped with both Michael Jennings and Michael Gordon not playing.

Panthers coach Matthew Elliot said that his side’s performance was lacklustre, and that the Eels deserved to win, having outplayed his side.

“The opposition were far superior,” he said.

“I can’t really take too much constructive out of the way that we played … we were outplayed in all departments.”

Walker’s dislocated toe is believed to not be too serious, and the 30-year-old expects to be fit for round one, while Mortimer suffered a slight concussion from the Walsh hit.

“I’m a bit rattled, I got a head knock there but it’s starting to all come back to me,” Walsh said after the game.

“I can’t remember a thing (about the hit) at the moment, but it’s starting to come back to me.”

Stephen Kearney, in his first season as Eels coach praised his side’s sturdy effort in defence, and he may just make changes to the Rd 1 side that takes on the Warriors.

“There were a couple of periods there defending our tryline and the Panthers had a fair bit of possession and we kept them out, which was pleasing,” Kearney explained.

Lui the star as Tigers prove too good for Roosters

It was not long ago that Tigers halfback Robert Lui was close to missing out on the entire season, and even his career following assault charges last year.

Despite that however, the young halfback has bounced back, and made a huge statement to Tigers coach Tim Sheens as if to say, the halfback spot is mine, and I’m here to stay.

With Tim Moltzen, who is returning from a knee injury in 2011 breathing down his neck, Lui knew that he had to deliver, and he did just that.

It was his deft skills with the ball that set up tries to Robbie Farah and Liam Fulton, before his own individual brilliance got him in the scoresheet, as he overshadowed his more renowned team-mates in Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall.

The 19-8 win gave the Tigers their first Foundation Cup win in five attempts.

The Roosters seemed to miss the skill of Todd Carney, as he deals with another alcoholic setback, one that might just derail his NRL career.

There were a mountain of penalties in the first half, in light of the rule changes put in place by the NRL, and this game was no different.

Nate Myles may find himself in trouble with the NRL Match Review Committee, after a dangerous lifting tackle resulted in young Tigers player Wade McKinley landing on his head.

Lui was praised by Tigers stalwart Robbie Farah, and hopes that performance happens more often for the young halfback.

“For me he was best on ground tonight,” Farah said.

“He’s real dangerous when he takes the line on, he’s really quick and he’s pretty powerful for a halfback as well – if he can keep playing like that we’ll be real happy with him.

“Obviously after last week (trial loss to Parramatta) we were pretty disappointed in the way we played and we expect better than that from each other.

“We knew this week was important – not the win but the performance heading into round one.”

Following their loss, Roosters coach Brian Smith acknowledges that his side has work to do before Rd 1, but hopes that this loss is gone from the minds of players as soon as possible.

“I hope that’s well below our best,” Smith said.

“I’m not too worried about what (the problem) was, it’s what we do about it that matters – we’ve got 12 days left to get our stuff together.”