Folau saga ends as he decides to take up union overseas

Israel Folau

It lingered and lingered and lingered, but the saga is finally over, as Israel Folau has made the decision on his future – one that has left many Eels and NRL fans disgruntled, for varying reasons

Initially, reports suggested that Folau was keen to play with his mates at the Parramatta Eels, and after tough negotiations with the NRL to have that eventuate, when salary cap auditor Ian Schubert had things finalised with the Eels, Folau bailed.

Some believe that the game will miss him next year, whereas others do not – as Folau will now play in his third footy code, this time in the game of rugby union, somewhere in Europe.

As the tense negotiations went on and on, interim NRL CEO Shane Mattiske said that the NRL worked constantly with the Eels to have his contract registered, and it is a shame he chose to go in a different direction.

“It would have been nice to see Israel back in the NRL because it is the game he is most suited to and the one that I think would have given him the biggest challenge in facing the best athletes in the most exciting contests week in and week out,” Mattiske said.

“Ultimately though it is his choice and we have to respect that. I think Parramatta has done everything possible and we have certainly worked closely with them in that process.”

One individual who was left befuddled by the decision from Folau, was Eels CEO Ken Edwards, who thought that a deal was always going to be brokered at some point, despite the ongoing negotiations – without thinking Folau would choose a different option.

“This has come as something of a surprise to us today,” said Edwards.

“Our offer to Israel was unconditional. We have worked closely with the NRL and have always been confident that salary cap issues would be resolved.”

Despite the change in heart by Folau, however, Edwards says that coach Ricky Stuart is pleased with the squad at his disposal for 2013.

“It is disappointing that at this stage, Izzy has chosen to pursue another path, but we've also been clear that we are about having players who are focused on what we are trying to achieve as a club,” said Edwards.

“It is why we previously ruled out short-term appearances with other codes. We are comfortable with our playing roster ahead of the 2013 NRL season.”


Former NRL coach embarks on a new challenge

Graham Murray

In the world of rugby league, very rarely does a coach in particular, remain in one role for the duration of their careers – and for former Sydney Roosters and North Queensland Cowboys coach Graham Murray, this rings true.

A well-respected figure off the field, Murray will embark on the next step in his coaching career, as he takes over the reins at Intrust Super Cup side, the Wynnum-Manly Seagulls, following the departure of last year's coach Paul Green.

Murray, who was at one stage the Chief Executive of the Seagulls from 2010 to the start of this year, now returns to the cub in a head coaching capacity, one that he is looking forward to immensely.

“I have enjoyed my time at Newcastle they are a great club but I am excited about returning to Wynnum,” Murray said.

“I am looking forward to being a hands on coach again. The club is in good shape and hopefully we can continue to have similar success.”

Current Chief Executive of the club, Scott Thornton, says that the club are excited to have someone with the vast experience of Murray, as their new coach.

“We're fortunate to have someone of Graham's calibre leading our club. It is a great result and will set our club up for many years to come,” said Thornton.

“Our entire club will benefit from having a former NRL and Origin coach to mentor, not only our players but our coaches and support staff as well.

“Muzz is highly respected in our community and knows the culture of the Wynnum Seagulls”.


Talented player leaves Titans due to contract dispute and joins the Roosters

Players do not generally aim to leave a club in such a manner, but when extentuating circumstances are at the forefront, much like they were in the case of talented Titans winger Jack Goodsell, contract disputes are had, resulting in the player's departure.

In this case, it was a contract dispute with the Titans, that saw Goodsell ultimately depart the club and sign on with the Sydney Roosters for the next two seasons.

His departure comes following claims that the Titans failed to pay a required fee of $1800 to the Queensland Rugby League, that resulted in Goodsell's grandmother having to pay the amount, in order to have her grandson play for Queensland and the Australian Schoolboys team back in July.

With Goodsell compared to Broncos great Michael Hancock, the incident has left Goodsell's mother Kim, far from impressed.

“The Titans let us down badly,” Goodsell's mum Kim said.

The saga lingered on, with Ms Goodsell saying that it was only after she approached salary cap auditor Ian Schubert that the club paid the amount required, allowing for the release of Goodsell to the Roosters.

“I saw the way the Titans treated Scott Prince and I wasn't going to let the club treat my son like that,” Ms Goodsell said.

“Jack wasn't being treated well by the Titans and he can't be happier to be with the Roosters, they have been fantastic and so professional.

“There was no way I wanted him to miss out on playing for Queensland so we paid the $1800 out of our own pocket, my poor mum had to use her credit card.

“The Titans promised to pay me back but it dragged on and on.

“They were all talk, no action … they only ended up reimbursing me after I went to the NRL and made a complaint to Ian Schubert.”

“As soon as he got involved, I got some action.

“I think it's important to tell this story because I don't want it happening to another kid on the Gold Coast.”

With the club on the back foot once again following the Scott Prince saga, Scott Clark, the Titans Football Manager, defended the way the club handled the situation.

“The Queensland fee was paid slightly late, but we have since sorted the situation out,” he said. “I'm a bit dismayed as to what their gripe is because I met with them a month ago and I felt we parted on good terms.”

“We didn't have to release Jack but we did so because of his welfare. I suspect the Roosters offered Jack a good deal but we wish him all the best.”

For Goodsell himself, he is just pleased that the ongoing ordeal is finalised and over, paving the way for him to represent the Roosters at the Under-20's level, something he looks forward to doing.

“I was hoping to play for the Titans next year but it felt to me like they weren't interested,” he said.

The Roosters themselves are excited to have Goodsell on board, with the club's Recruitment Co-Ordinator Jamie Mathiou excited to have the young talent on board.

“We're very excited about him, he's one of the best kids on the Gold Coast,” he said.

“He has the potential to be anything. He is very raw but he has great athleticism.

“He reminds me a lot of Michael Hancock in the way he plays, he's very tough and physical, he doesn't shirk the tough stuff for an outside back and Hancock was a lot like that.

“With the development our kids are getting at the Roosters, Jack will really benefit from it.”


Bosnian RL on the rise and close to forming a Federation

With rugby league rapidly gaining notoriety all around the world, one country in particular that is working towards officially becoming a Federation, is that of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It was earlier this month on November 3, in the Open Championship in the Republic of Srpska, that saw 2 Bosnian teams and 4 Serbian teams take part in a RL 9’s tournament, before the Bosnian side the White Rabbits, played against Serbian second division side, Novi Beograd.

With the game on the rise in Bosnia, these clashes helped to increase the public awareness of the sport in the country, with many hopeful that this is the platform to bigger things in the sport.

“This is a huge development,” said SRLF Official Radoslav Novakovic.

“The Bosnian side made a very big improvement in the last few months, and I can say that all three coaches from Bosnia who passed the coach education with the Serbian Rugby League in mid-August, learned a lot and utilized their knowledge to improve game awareness.”

Rugby league in Bosnia would not have been possible, were it not for the continued commitment of one Sreten Zec, the man behind the recent push to have rugby league become a top sport in the country.

“The last few months, we worked a lot,” said Zec.

“At the moment, we have two official registered rugby league clubs in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Republika Srpska region.”

“There are also signals of interest in the Bosnian Federation, in the areas where Bosnjaks and Croats live; to form a club and we hope that will happen in the very near future. We need three clubs to form a federation and that is our main goal in 2013.”


Young centre joins uncle Greg at the Bunnies

Keeden Kelly

The family connection among players is always strong, and at just 15 years old, St Paul's College student Kaeden Kelly has signed a contract with the South Sydney Rabbitohs for the next 3 years.

Kelly won't head to the club not knowing anyone, however, with his uncle and star fullback Greg Inglis already at the club – with the young Macleay product investing his own time into training as hard as he can.

“I’m doing training on my own at the moment, some weights and boot camp,” he said.

“I go to the gym and do it all myself.

“I’d rather be out playing footy, but it’s still good.”

Kelly, who is mainly a centre, and has played for the Smithtown Tigers is currently on crutches due to damaged ankle ligaments, but the injury should not keep him out of action for long.

The famous family ties to rugby league do not stop at Greg, however, with Lewis Kelly, Keeden's grandfather, a member of the 1980 Clayton Cup-winning Narwan team.

“He had three clubs interested in him – the (Wests) Tigers and (Newcastle) Knights,” Lewis said.

”His mum lives in the Rabbitohs area and that’ll make it easier for him to train.”

At just 15, Kelly already has rep honours to his name, selected for the second straight year for the NSW Indigenous U16 side to take on QLD in February.

Steve Hall, a NSWRL Indigenous Rugby League Development Officer, says that the added experience Kelly has at that representative level, will aid the side during the game.

“This is Keeden’s second year in our development side,” he said.

“This is an elite program which has produced players like Jamal Idris so Keeden is definitely on the radar when it comes to playing in the NRL in the future.”

Kelly has his hopes set high in the game of rugby league – one day planning to play State of Origin for NSW and for his country, Australia.

“I would love to play for Australia and NSW,” he said.


Cairns to play host to annual Bunnies and Titans clash for the next 3 years

Residents in Cairns love their rugby league, but rarely do they get to see the very best of what the game has to offer in the flesh, until now – with the QLD Government announcing that for the next 3 years, Cairns Stadium will play host to an annual South Sydney Rabbithos v Gold Coast Titans clash.

In news that will bring a smile to all rugby league fans in Cairns, Jann Stuckey, the QLD Minister for Tourism, Major Events, Small Business and the Commonwealth Games, was more than happy to make the announcement official.

“We know Queenslander's love rugby league and they'll love this announcement,” Ms Stuckey said.

“I am pleased to say with the support of Events Queensland, the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Gold Coast Titans clash will be held in Cairns as part of a three-year agreement, with the first match taking place on 16 June 2013.

“The Newman Government is committed to supporting tourism in Cairns and the addition of the Regional Cairns Fixture to the city's major event calendar is set to deliver significant economic returns for the region.

“Tourism and events are intrinsically linked and with Queensland's major event calendar growing to feature 45 major events in 2013, up from 30 this year, we will be able to maximise our share of the domestic and international visitor markets.”

Another member of Parliament looking forward to the annual clash, as well as thrilled for fans who get to see Cairns host the clash, is Member for Cairns and Assistant Minister for Tourism, Gavin King.

“To have secured another major event in Cairns is a fantastic coup. It demonstrates our ability to host high quality events, while showcasing the great experiences on offer to a national audience,” Mr King said.

“This event joins a growing calendar of major events for the region including the Cairns Airport Adventure Festival featuring Ironman Cairns, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair and the AFL Fixture between the Gold Coast Suns and Richmond Tigers.”

With Cairns slowly building their rapport as an area capable of hosting a variety of sporting events, Bob Manning, the Cairns Regional Council Mayor, says that this fixture for the next three years increases the profile of Cairns as a sporting city.

“This is great news for the people of Cairns, who can look forward to seeing home-grown hero Nate Myles play on his home turf,” Cr Manning said.

“Cairns and Far North Queensland have long been among the NRL's great 'nurseries', having produced many Australian and State of Origin players.

“I have no doubt that we will pack the house out for the fixture.”


Eels sign new 5-year partnership with Parramatta Stadium

There was recently conjecture over the long-term future of Eels home games, but such thoughts can be cast aside – as the Pirtek Parramatta Eels agree to a new 5-year deal with Venues NSW and Parramatta Stadium, to keep the majority of their home games at Parramatta Stadium.

With the Stadium regarded as the Eels spiritual home, given the history behind it, Eels CEO Ken Edwards re-iterated these feelings, saying it was a win for the club to have the majority of home games played there, for the next 5 years.

“This is an important part of our strategy, is to lock in the spiritual home of the Eels, Parramatta Stadium, for the next 5 years,” said Edwards.

“It gives us a really rock-solid base on which to build our future, to develop our cauldron.”


Titans winger in no rush to commit to the club

David Mead

Off-contract at the end of the 2013 NRL season, and in no rush to commit to the Gold Coast Titans at this stage – winger David Mead will explore all of his options, including staying at the Titans, but salary cap issues may prevent him from remaining on the Gold Coast.

Whilst Mead is happy on the Gold Coast, at the age of 24, now is the time when a player considers their worth in the NRL, chasing a contract that they believe suits them best.

With the uncertainty about Mead's future, who was on a rather small deal – the preference for the winger is to remain somewhere in Queensland, if not at the Gold Coast.

“It's a hard one. I'm 24 now and the next two contracts I sign will bring me close to 30,” he said.

“I'd like to stay in Queensland and the Titans preferably.

“I've been here a while and feel good on the Coast.

“I'd like to stay committed to the Titans because I'm still young and have really enjoyed my time here.”

Like with any player, personal friendships play a big part in whether they remain at a club, and with the close bonds Mead has formed on the Gold Coast over the years, it will play a big part in his possible decision to stay.

“I've developed friendships with my teammates and want to help this club win a premiership,” he said.

“That's the first thing I'd think about but I'd have to assess all the options down the track.”

Although the desire to eventually play fullback is something Mead wishes to explore, he said it will play no part in the decision that he ends up making, surrounding his future.

“As long as I'm out there (I don't mind),” he said.

“If Carty (coach John Cartwright) puts me anywhere — centre, wing, fullback or five-eighth even — I'll just do it.”

Despite all the speculation on his future, however, Mead has not put a time-frame on when he wants the deal sorted – instead, he plans to let negotiations take their course.

“I could get a contract at the start of the year and have some security or I could play really well and get my player value up a bit more,” he said.

“But I could get injured at the start of the year and my negotiating value will go down.”


Lloyd's International CEO named the new NRL CEO

Mr. Dave Smith

With so many candidates linked to the role, there will now be no further speculation on who the CEO will be, with the Chief Executive Officer of Lloyd's International Mr. Dave Smith, named the new CEO of the Australian Rugby League Commission

John Grant, the Chairman at the ARLC, said that the appointment was made after a careful process of deliberation and thought that led to the appointment of Smith, who Grant believes is the right man for the role.

“This is a person who knows business, who knows how to lead, who loves sport, who is culturally suited to our game and who has a very strong sense of community.

“We’ve spent a lot of time talking with Dave and I can tell you that we are certain he will do a fantastic job for our game.”

Smith has a big task ahead of him and has some goals of his own for the role, with some key areas to be assessed for the future of the NRL, including expansion, finalising the salary cap and overseeing the shoulder charge decision, among other things.

“I've probably get the best job in Australia, and I'm very excited about it,” said Smith.

“Sport and business go together these days and I think I have a set of skills built up over a number of years across national and international businesses, and hopefully I can add a lot of value to the growth and ambition set out by the Commission.”

Smith is originally from Wales and moved to Australia 9 years ago as part of his role with Lloyd's International, has served in the British army, has held numerous senior positions at global banking organisations, and is a keen sportsman.

“I'm not a traditional financier or banker, I'm a Welshman, and I come from a working-class Welsh family,” said Smith.

“I spent a number of years in the army and that was a good formation in terms of some of my core values, and I've spent 25 years managing big businesses both nationally and internationally.”

In a sign that Smith is eager to commence in the role, he believes that the role of NRL CEO position, one that he will begin in February, is among the top jobs in the world.

“I just think there's so much opportunity with this code. It matters to people, it's a great sport, it's got great athletes and from what I've seen, the administration is pretty strong as well.”

Being a keen sportsman himself, Smith is excited by the game of rugby league, what it represents, and what the game means to fans.

“I'm absolutely a rugby league fan,” said Smith.

“Probably like most people, I watch it on the weekends, my travel schedule has been pretty horrible for the last 6 months, but what I can say is that I really enjoye the grand final and that the State of Origin series was some of the best sporting competition of I've ever seen.”

“I happened to be up in Queensland, so I got the double whammy of the real passion up in Queensland, which was just fantastic.”

With big shoes to fill following the departure of former CEO David Gallop and a weight of expectation on his shoulders, for Smith, long-term goals for the game are crucial.

“I'm a Chief Executive and part of what I bring to the table is bringing people together and bringing business opportunities together,” said Smith.

“And I think the combination of that, is the vision and the skill that I can hopefully bring to bare, and I'm looking forward to in February working with the Commission and all the stakeholder groups to apply those skills.”

One point of significant conjecture up until it was finalised, was that of the TV deal, but with a billion dollar deal now done and dusted – for the game of NRL, it is about continually moving forward.

“I think that's a crucial component and I think any funding deal is crucial, but I think more importantly, a partnership like that, I think that's a world-beating TV deal and I look forward to being able to work with our partners,” said Smith.

With most CEO roles based around business and management more than anything else, Smith's extensive experience in the world of banking and finance in many ways, may aid in the strategic development of the NRL moving forward.

“I'm not a traditional banker in many ways, but I think what's really important is that we combine the business of sport with business, and I think I can do that,” said Smith.

“I've got a set of skills, that I think can help us do that, but I'm pretty good with numbers.”

With so many points of conjecture for the new CEO to approach in such a short space of time, the key is coming to terms that will satisfy not only the desire of fans, but terms that will make the game better in the long-term.

“The truth is I haven't dealt with them, because I haven't been involved today, and I look forward to getting on top of the detail when the time comes, when I'm CEO in February,” said Smith.

“What I would say though, as my observation, is that there are fairly strong processes that have been run and the right people seem to have been involved.”

“From what I can see, the NRL has done a reasonable job and I think those processes are really important to any decisions that I'll make in the future.”

Ultimately, Smith put down his exact role as one that involves people, working with people, and making the best decisions possible for the game with those people.

“My role is about people and bringing people together and bringing a mix of business ideas, the emotion of sport and that combination, and applying it to a strategic vision,” said Smith.

“And I think all of those things, I bring from my corporate background. My empathy and passion for sport is incredibly strong, and I've played competitive sport my whole life.”

“It's something that's in my blood and my family's blood, so I hope that combination makes me different.”


Draw for 2013 finally released

It was a long time coming, but fans no longer have to ponder and speculate as to when it will come out – with the 2013 NRL season draw released (that is, the first 20 rounds of the year).

With the Roosters and Rabbitohs to kick things off on Thursday March 7, Round 1 promises to set up some block-buster clashes, as teams look to set the tone for the season early.

As the kick-off to the 2013 season gets closer and closer, and just 104 days remaining until Thursday March 7, any plans that fans had in mind to attend interstate games, can now be made.

With Thursday night fixtures and Sunday night games becoming regular occurrences in the first 20 rounds, for the NRL, it was all about trying new things and testing out methods that work.

“This has been the most extensive draw process we have ever undertaken and the result is a great outcome for the game,” said Interim CEO Shane Mattiske.

“Not only do fans now have certainty around when their team is playing but we have also managed to deliver a schedule of week in week out blockbuster games and new trial timeslots.”

The draw will not be limited solely to games in capital cities, however, with Cairns, Darwin, Mackay, Perth and Mudgee, all set to host games at some stage during the season.

With the draw now finished, the NRL's General Manager of Football Operations is excited for the new season coming up, particularly the games to be held in regional rugby league areas.

“We are all very excited about this draw which better assists fans to make plans for much of the season for the first time,” said McGuirk.

“Our Club Season Structure Committee (which includes representatives from the Dragons, Bulldogs, Wests Tigers and Broncos), broadcasters and NRL Marketing and Football Operations departments have agreed upon a thrilling spread of matches that enables clubs to maximise crowds and promotional opportunities.

“The opening game between traditional rivals, Rabbitohs and Roosters, on a Thursday night is a great way to start the season, which will also feature four other key matches in this timeslot as well as 13 twilight Sunday night matches.

“In addition we have some of the season’s key clashes in regional centres, as well as the inclusion of the NRL-free Representative Weekend and Good Friday afternoon match following their successful introduction this year.

“Special mention must go to the NRL’s Shaun Wendt and Rick Stone from the Canadian company, Optical Planning Solutions, who worked tirelessly through what was an enormous logistical exercise involving a wide range of variables to produce such an exciting draw.”

Some features to the 2013 NRL draw include:

•13 twilight Sunday night matches and four Thursday night games
•Matches scheduled for Perth (Rabbitohs v Warriors), Darwin (Titans v Panthers) and Mackay (Bulldogs v Knights) – all in Round 17 (July 5-8) – as well as a game in Mudgee (Eels v Titans, Round 11)
•The season-opening round on March 7 also featuring a Broncos v Sea Eagles clash which marks the 25th anniversary of their first premiership match
•A Good Friday afternoon game (March 29) between the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs as well as the Good Friday night game between the Broncos and Storm.
•Men of League Heritage Round (Round 6, April 12-14) featuring the Wests Tigers v Dragons match which marks the 50th anniversary of the trophy photo (Norm Provan and Arthur Summons); and the Manly v Sharks clash which is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Grand Final and 30th anniversary of the 1983 KB Cup Final
•An NRL-free Representative Weekend (April 19-21) featuring the Australia v NZ Test in Canberra and Country v City Origin in Coffs Harbour
•An Anzac Day double (Thursday, April 25) featuring the Roosters and the Dragons in Sydney and the Storm against the Warriors in Melbourne
•The ‘Pink V’ Dragons hosting the Eels during the Harvey Norman Women In League Round which will be played earlier in Round 10 (May 17-20)
•Origin matches in Sydney (June 5 and July 17) and Brisbane (June 26)
•Rivalry Round (Round 20, July 26-29) kicking off with the Cowboys v Broncos in Townsville and Bulldogs v Eels at ANZ Stadium.

The full NRL draw is available here:

Fans got what they were after, with the first 20 rounds of the season released in order to make future plans to attend games easier.

“It is very exciting to be able to give Rugby League fans certainty around almost the entire season for the first time,” Mattiske said.

“Knowing exactly who is playing, when and where for the first 20 of the 26 regular rounds of competition is a major coup for our fans.

“No doubt games such as the Round 3 Grand Final replay between the Storm and Bulldogs; the Wests Tigers v Sharks clash in Round 9; and the many traditional rivalries and local derbies will provide thrilling contests full of surprise and drama.

“With only 104 days until the season starts and, with so much to look forward to as revealed in the draw today, the countdown to kick-off truly starts now.

“Our Football Operations and Marketing teams have worked closely with clubs and the game’s scheduling committee to construct a draw that will enable clubs to continue to build on their strong crowds and record membership figures of 2012.

“The message to fans is simple. This is what you have been asking for and we strongly encourage you to act now … secure your club membership and your seat at home games, circle the big matches on your calendars, make the most of flight specials and get behind your team wherever and whenever they play.”