2012 NRL Telstra Premiership champions – the Melbourne Storm

Cooper Cronk

This will be a grand final victory they will savour, one that cannot be taken away from them – as a clinical Melbourne Storm side muscled their way to victory, over an error-prone, inconsistent Dogs side, winning 14-4 at ANZ Stadium, in front of over 82,000 fans.

With all the pressure on the Storm to win a premiership, one that fans deem as legitimate, captain and hooker Cameron Smith, said that for the Storm in this one, it was not about what happened in the past, but about setting a platform for the future.

“We’ve been asked this question for three years – is it about making up for what happened?” Smith said.

“It’s not.

“Sure we were all down about what happened a few years ago – it was a tough period, don’t get me wrong – but I think you’ve got to look at the way we went about ourselves in 2011 and 2012.

“You could see that we didn’t look back – we were looking forward.”

Although it was a collective team effort, Storm coach Craig Bellamy refuses to undermine the efforts of his big 3, particularly Billy Slater, who pulled off a try-saving tackle on Bulldogs centre, Josh Morris.

“If he scores there she’s a four-point game and anything could have happened,” Bellamy said.

“But that’s what you expect those players to do, they keep coming up with the big plays.

“That might be why they call them the big three.”

The game was evenly poised just before the break, before some Cooper Cronk magic saw Justin O’Neill score in the corner – a try that Dogs coach Des Hasler admits, broke his side’s back.

“The try right on halftime was a tough was to have scored against us … Melbourne are very hard to run down,” Bulldogs coach Hasler said.

“They’re too good a side, too clinical, too polished.”

The Dogs were valiant to the end, however, as they attempted to put on some points in the second half with a huge home crowd barracking for them – but it was not to be, with the Storm’s resolute defending denying them.

“I honestly didn’t believe we could defend as well as we did the second half – they were outstanding,” Bellamy said.

“These guys are the ones that have got us to where we are, they’re the ones that have believed in the club and have worked so hard to get us back to where we are tonight.

“I couldn’t be more proud of a footy team than I am at the moment.”

NRL legend El Masri approached by audacious AFL

Hazem El Masri

He is an NRL legend, and perhaps the greatest goal-kicker in the history of the NRL, but he may soon change codes – with the AFL making a cheeky bid to have former one-club player and Bulldog legend Hazem El Masri, as the AFL ambassador for Western Sydney.

The AFL already got one-up on the NRL earlier, with the departure of Israel Folau to the Greater Western Sydney side, and El Masri is considering a proposal by the AFL – a proposal that may hopefully see the Australian Rugby League Commission to act swiftly, as to keep Hazem involved in the NRL somehow.

El Masri, who has represented both NSW and Australia, said that whilst the proposal by the AFL was flattering, he would consider it if the ARLC failed to offer him a bigger role in the NRL.

“[Rugby league] is the area I’d like to be in, for sure,” El Masri said.

“But in saying that, I’ve been retired for three years now and I’ve got a young family to look after as well. I don’t want to put a sour taste in anybody’s mouth, so I don’t want to speak about that too much. Obviously I want to be around spreading a positive message, not just in Sydney but around Australia.”

“I know I can be effective in the community and hopefully things will work out, and I can be here to make a difference for many years. I’m not the sort of person to go out there and talk about myself, but I know there’s a lot that I can go out there and do.”

The man nicknamed “El Magic” was a former recipient of the Ken Stephens Medal, and recently received honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Western Sydney, in recognition of his services to the Arabic and Western Sydney communities.

El Masri, who currently holds the point-scoring record for most points scored in the NRL, said that the success of clubs and the communities, including his own in Canterbury, had bonded.

“When I was young playing soccer, everyone in the area only wanted to talk about the Bulldogs,” said the Lebanese-born Australian.

“That gave me the inspiration to give up soccer and take up the game that everyone in this part of Australia loves.”

“For me it’s not just about the Muslim community. We used to go down to Burwood Road the day before [a Bulldogs] grand final and it used to be closed – that’s how many people went down … Everyone would come down together – all the Italians, the Greeks, the Lebanese – and no one would look at anyone as being different, just as Bulldogs supporters. It’s a great feeling to see the area buzzing again.”

Bulldogs team may be different, with only 9 players contracted beyond 2013

They may be in the 2012 NRL grand final, but the Bulldogs will find themselves in a bit of a predicament come the end of the 2013 NRL season, with only 9 players from their top 24 contracted, beyond that year.

It will be some tense moments for the Bulldogs coming into next year, and the changing of the guard has already started – with Jonathan Wright, Tim Browne, Bryson Goodwin, Luke MacDougall, Joel Romelo and David Stagg all either un-contracted, or headed to new clubs in 2013.

Dogs fans will be biting their fingernails, with Greg Eastwood, Dene Halatau, Steve Turner, Trent Hodkinson, Kris Keating, Aiden Tolman, Corey Payne, Josh Reynolds and Frank Pritchard, all free to table offers from rival NRL clubs in a month’s time.

Whilst Reynolds has already had offers on the table, his preference is to remain at the Bulldogs.

“I definitely want to stay,” Reynolds said.

“My focus is on the grand final and that is all I am thinking about, but all that stuff is just around the corner and I would hope the club would want to keep me there.

“Hopefully we can sort something out before the end of the year. I think it is massive for the club to keep these boys together.

“Going forward, we need to stay together. There is massive camaraderie between the boys, not only on the field but off it. There are boys that do things off the field, a guy like Dene Halatau is an example, who does things in the community every day after training.

“That is what sets the standard for a good club.

“I know the Bulldogs are a very smart club and they will make the right call in keeping the boys together for another few years hopefully.”

David Riolo, who is the player agent for 8 of the off-contract Bulldogs players, believes that the club will indeed find it tough to retain their current squad.

“They have a lot of guys coming off at the end of next year,” Riolo said.

“And they will face similar challenges to what the successful teams over the past couple of years.

“All our clients are very happy at the Bulldogs and they are certainly the first preference. There have been some talks, but there is a lot of uncertainty with the salary cap going forward, and the Bulldogs are not the only club with a lot of players coming off.

“I am sure there will be more discussions after the grand final.”

Storm forward on cloud nine, with one last chance to achieve glory

Jaiman Lowe

In the NRL, players sometimes feel like they have hit a crossroads in their career – a path where it seems like their rugby league journey is all but set to come to an end, only for one last chance to rear its head, and provide a moment of profound happiness.

For Melbourne’s interchange forward Jaiman Lowe, this was exactly the case, down to the exact situation.

It was back in 2009, when Lowe was not offered a new contract by his then side, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, resulting in the veteran forward moving to Townsville to play for North Queensland’s feeder side, the Northern Pride.

At that point in time, Lowe believed that his chance to continue his career in the NRL and win an elusive NRL premiership, had evaporated before his eyes.

“Yeah, I thought it was probably past me … I’d come to terms with the fact that was probably it,” he said this week.

“I was really enjoying myself in Cairns, loved living up there and I enjoyed playing with the Pride, but it was sort of like that was going to be the end of it for me until I got the opportunity at Souths again when they had some injuries.

“Then when the salary cap (scandal) happened in Melbourne there was an opportunity to go down there and it worked out well.”

As if it was right on cue, though, Storm coach Craig Bellamy came knocking on Lowe’s door, and offered him the chance to play a role in the Melbourne Storm team, one that the former Bunny and Cowboy gladly accepted.

For Lowe, who was so close to giving the game away, it was a breath of fresh air, and although he will play in his final game this weekend in the NRL grand final, Lowe knows that moments like that, are the reason why you play footy.

This is the reason why you keep playing footy,” Lowe said.

“You hope that one day you join a team that has success like the Storm. Having not played any finals footy at the end of my career at Souths was something that really bothered me, and one of the reasons why I wanted to keep playing in the NRL. To play in the finals series with the Storm and now get to the grand final on Sunday, makes it all worthwhile.”

With a move to Moranbah beckoning for Lowe after the grand final, he has one last thought on his mind – winning it.

“I hope so, it’ll either be a dream or a nightmare – one or the other,” Lowe said with a laugh.

In-form Bunnies fullback signs new long-term contract

Greg Inglis

He has had perhaps his best career season to date, and Rabbitohs fans will get a chance to see Greg Inglis potentially do that again in 2013 and beyond – with the QLD and Australian representative signing a new deal that will see him remain at the club until the end of the 2017 season.

For Inglis, he could not see himself moving anywhere else, with the destructive fullback looking forward to wearing the cardinal and myrtle colours of the Rabbitohs for years to come.

“I couldn’t be happier to have sorted out my future for the long term, and to be part of the Rabbitohs’ plans for the next five years or more is very special for me,” Inglis said.

“I came here at the start of 2011 and have really felt at home.

“All of the players, coaches, staff and Members have helped me make the transition to Sydney, as well as the change to my new position at fullback, and hopefully I can repay everyone through my performances on and off the field over the next five years.

“South Sydney is a very special Club, and I know we’re on the verge of achieving something equally as special here.

“I’m glad I can contribute to that and, as I said, I couldn’t be happier knowing I’ll be in the red and green for a long time to come.”

Bunnies coach Michael Maguire is just as pleased, saying that the long-term security of Greg’s contract, gives the club a boost as they prepare for the 2013 NRL season.

“Greggy is obviously a very talented player and he’s really matured and become a leader at South Sydney,” Coach Maguire said.

“He’s capable of some extraordinary things on the field, and he has an extraordinary effect on people off the field too.

“He’s told me that he’s fully committed to the Club, the team and the South Sydney district, and you can see that by the efforts he puts in on and off the field.

“He is a big part of what we’re trying to achieve here, and we’re all very excited to know he will be here until 2017 and hopefully longer.”

Broncos legend moves into new off-field role

Alfie Langer

He will forever remain a legend of the Brisbane Broncos, and now, perhaps their greatest ever halfback in Alfie Langer will move into an off-field position at the club, instead of being involved in a coaching role.

Langer, who was the captain of the first Broncos side to win a premiership in 1992, advised Broncos coach Anthony Griffin of his decison – with the club legend saying he has never said he wants to be a head coach.

“I’ve said from the start I don’t profess to be a head coach,” he said.

“I really enjoy the corporate role and it suits my style as well. This will give me a lot more time at home, and free me up to do the other things I do with the FOGS and in Papua New Guinea with Mal.

“I’ll miss the players, but I won’t be going too far. I’ll still be involved with the club as an ambassador, so I’ll be around training, I’ll do my training here so no doubt I’ll see the guys.

“I always enjoyed the camaraderie and I loved playing, but certainly coaching was never my forte.

“I spoke to ‘Hook’ (Griffin) after the season during our review. The last off-season I did some corporate work and missed the pre-season, so it’s been pretty much happening for 12 months.”

His playing days may be over, but Langer has a plan to ensure that he is always involved with the club in some capacity.

“It was fantastic, I was lucky enough to be captain in that game but the best thing is now we are doing a 20-year reunion – we are all going to Sydney,” he said.

“There will be more than 20 blokes going, so it just shows the mateship we have formed at the Broncos and what we are all about.

“I’ve been here as an assistant since Wayne Bennett, about three years – I’ve enjoyed it, but I missed the pre-season last year and I’ve been leaning towards this for a while now.

“I’m looking forward to my new role. At the end of the day, I love the Broncos. I’ve been here from the start and knowing a lot of sponsors and getting to know the fans.

“Corporately, I will still be at all the home games and away games with sponsors, so that suits what I love doing.”

Alfie’s tenure as assistant and as an on-field spearhead at the Broncos has not gone unnoticed, with coach Anthony Griffin praising Langer for what he has done.

“Alf has been great,” he said.

“We spoke about this last year and he’ll be missed by the players.

“Everyone loves him here, but the important thing he is not going anywhere – he will still be around the club and that’s important for everyone.”

Former Wildcats player handed off-field role

Ryan Hudson

In this day and age of rugby league, when players retire or step down from playing duties, more often than not, they are rewarded with an off-field role in some capacity – and for former Wakefield Wildcats player Ryan Hudson, he is in that boat.

The 32-year old, who recently retired from the Superleague, has been appointed as the new Youth Development Manager at Wakefield, a role that he is looking forward to.

Hudson is a qualified personal trainer, sports nutritionist and clinical hypnotherapist.

“I am really excited about the future,” said Hudson.

“I am looking forward to helping the kids and working with the youth development to see them develop into full-time, first-team players which will be great.”

Johns admits surprise at being named as the 8th Immortal

Andrew Johns

The wait would have been excruciating for all those with a chance to become the next Immortal, and it would have been made harder by constant speculation and whispers linking you to it – but for Andrew Johns, by no means did he think he would be the one chosen as the 8th RL Immortal.

Johns, who admitted surprise at being bestowed with the honour, has his picture appear on the Sydney Harbour Bridge to tell him that it was not merely a joke – but that he had actually won the award.

Johns now joins an elite category of players, that includes: Bob Fulton, John Raper, Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands, Wally Lewis and the late Arthur Beetson.

It was the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell who made the announcement, with Johns admitting a feeling of being overwhelmed.

“It’s just so overwhelming … those things like winning grand finals and playing for Australia, that’s all team orientated and that’s why you play footy but individual awards, you don’t play to win Dally M’s or Clive Churchill medals or anything like that,” Johns said.

“No-one ever thinks they are going to join this select group of players … an Immortal. I’m just blown away by it.

“You hear whispers, there’s no secrets in rugby league as we all know. I sort of didn’t really believe it.”

“I don’t know when it’s going to sink in. I’m going surfing in a couple of days, it might sink in then.”

“Those guys are like icons of the game and have done so much. I grew up idolising those players.”

Johns, who was perhaps the greatest halfback that the game has ever seen, played in 249 games for the Newcastle Knights, 27 Tests for Australia and 24 Origins for NSW.

Some feel he does not deserve the accolade, given his recent off-field admissions, but Johns would like to think that those events have been left in the past.

“I feel like the game’s forgiven me,” he said.

“I’d love to go back and change some things, but I unfortunately you can’t do that.”

“They were hard times but they shape the person you are. We all make mistakes, don’t we.”

Fellow Immortal Langlands, was pleased to see Johns named as the newest member of the Immortals.

“It’s bloody terrific to see him get it,” Langlands said.

“I hope he enjoys it as much as I did when I came into it. It’s great to see him in there.”

Dragons re-sign talented youngster

Todd Ryan

Depth in any position is always an added bonus for any side, and for the Dragons 2013 NRL side, they will have just that – with 20-year old five-eighth Todd Ryan re-signing with the club, on a 1-year deal.

Ryan, who is a Milton junior, was a key factor in the Dragons push towards the NYC finals series – before the side eventually lost out to the in-form Canberra Raiders.

Ryan will join the Dragons first-grade side pre-season train-on squad, when the training for 2013 commences later in the year.

“I want to pay the Club back for their faith in me and work hard throughout the pre-season, with the goal of playing a few games next season,” said Ryan.

“I’ve been able to train with the first-grade squad a few times this year and love the intensity that comes with it.

“The preliminary final result was disappointing as we had a slow start and struggled to get back into it from there.

“Overall though, I think the boys dug deep for the majority of the year.

“We started the season slow which put us on the back foot, but a credit to the team as the last month has been the best football we’ve played all year.”

Manly assistant off to rivals Parramatta

Matt Parish

The Parramatta Eels have again gotten revenge of sorts against the Manly counterparts, with assistant coach Matthew Parish making the decision to head west to Parramatta, to take up a coaching role under Eels new coach, Ricky Stuart.

Usually, it has been the other way around in recent times, with Manly taking Eels talent and playing them in their side – but with the signing of Joey and Darcy Lussick, Blake and Daniel Harrison, Jamil and William Hopoate, and now assistant Matt Parish, the Eels are slowly getting some payback.

For Parish, whilst the decision to leave Manly was not an easy one, given what Toovey achieved as coach this year – it is a new opportunity for him.

“It was a very tough decision, because I really admire Tooves and the staff and the players,” Parish said.

“I can tell you I had many sleepless nights about it.

“Manly have been really good to me and I appreciate everything they have done.”

Parish was pleased to have had the chance to work under Toovey, and he believes the club is in good hands under the Manly legend.

“He is terrific to work with,” Parish said.

“All the staff there are really good and I had a great time there.

“I think it is going to be a bit tougher than what it’s been,” he said.

“But while ever you have the players of the calibre of the Stewart’s, the Watmough’s and the Matai’s, you are going to be a force,” he said.