Koukash completes takeover of Salford

Dr. Marwan Koukash

It was a long time coming and it was fraught with potential complications, but all Salford fans and those involved with the club can breathe a sigh of relief, as Dr. Marwan Koukash completes his takeover of the Salford City Reds.

Dr. Koukash, who is the owner of the global executive training company EuroMaTech is of Palestinian descent, is thrilled to have completed the takeover – keeping long-serving Salford Chairman John Wilkinson with the club, as their Life President.

“It gives me great pleasure to confirm that my purchase of Salford City Reds has now been completed ahead of the start of the 2013 Super League season,” Dr Koukash said.

It was only after a chance meeting with RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood in Dubai, that saw Koukash gain a stronger interest in the game of rugby league – with Koukash to pledge funds towards additional signings for the club, as they prepare for the upcoming season.

“This is a very exciting day for Salford City Reds and a momentous day for rugby league,” the new owner added.

“No other club in the sport has the potential of Salford City Reds and I give a firm commitment to do all I can to help realise that potential.

“It will not happen overnight and I urge our fans to be patient as we set out on an amazing journey. My message is that the hard work starts now.

“I have not purchased Salford City Reds just to save the club, I have done so because I want it to succeed.”

Someone who is equally excited about the officialdom of Koukash’s takeover, is Ian Stewart, Salford City mayor.

“I am delighted that Marwan Koukash has stepped in to rescue the Reds and take over ownership of the club.

“It is the culmination of months of extremely delicate negotiations which the city council has been hosting in an attempt to save the club.

“I am sure that, with Mr Koukash’s new dynamic leadership, his wide business experience and long-term investment plans for the Reds, the club can now go from strength to strength.”

NRL and Holden confirm game-wide sponsorship

It was news that was coming for a while given earlier reports and it has finally been confirmed, with the National Rugby League and one of Australia’s biggest motoring brands in Holden, in a game-wide sponsorship that will give competitions in the NRL a fresh new look.

With a 3-year partnership confirmed by both Holden and the NRL, the car manufacturer will provide support to all levels of the game including grassroots footy, all the way up to the Australian Kangaroos side.

The partnership will cover all aspects of the game, including:

• Holden will become the major sponsor of prizes for the game’s annual Monster Raffle, which has raised more than $2 million for grassroots clubs across Australia. This year Holden will donate two cars as the first two major prizes;

• The Under 20s competition will become the Holden Cup and Holden Under 20s State of Origin and will remain focused on developing not only the incredible playing talents of the players but also their off-field career education;

• State of Origin – the biggest, most breathtaking and most watched annual series in Australian sport – will become the Holden State of Origin Series;

• On the international stage, Holden will partner with the Australian Test team, with the Holden Kangaroos embarking on an exciting season that includes Canberra’s Centenary celebrations Test against New Zealand and the Rugby League World Cup starting in October in the United Kingdom, Ireland and France.

The NRL’s interim Chief Executive, Mr Shane Mattiske, said that the deal is a sign of the NRL moving forward for the future, with the partnership one that can provide opportunities galore.

“This is such an exciting time for Rugby League. We have in place a strong foundation for growth and there are tremendous opportunities ahead for everyone in the game, including our corporate partners,” Mr Mattiske said.

“It’s significant that Rugby League now has two of the biggest and most respected brands in Australia, Telstra and Holden, as its two biggest corporate partners in a sponsor family that supports all levels of the game.

“The opportunity to develop strategic partnerships with people and organisations who share Rugby League’s breadth of community involvement is an important part of our vision for the game and in Holden we have a partner who embodies that commitment.

“This is a real partnership that works across the game and it is one that all fans can get behind.”

Mr Mike Devereux, who is the Holden Chairman and Managing Director, is also looking forward to the future partnership with the NRL, as he looks forward to what is ahead for the venture.

“This sponsorship is the strongest indication yet that Holden is back, bigger and better than before, with a long-term commitment to building and selling cars in Australia and investing in Australian talent,” he said.

“Holden has committed to help Rugby League develop in local communities through fundraising opportunities for local clubs and assisting in developing NRL stars of the future through the Under 20s competition.

“The Holden Cup has a fantastic approach to preparing young players for life beyond sport – no work or study, no play.

“The Holden State of Origin is the jewel of Australian sport – an amazing game, millions of viewers, interstate rivalry and supreme athleticism.

“And I’ll be heading to one of Australia’s favourite games in one of Australia’s favourite cars, the new VF Commodore.”

Representative back-rower re-signs with the Titans

Ashley Harrison

Any uncertainty about his future can now end, after QLD, Australian and NRL All-Stars representative back-rower Ashley Harrison re-signed with the club for a further 2 years, a deal that will see him at the club until the end of 2015 season.

Whilst he was contracted to the club for the current season, the decision was made to put pen to paper, giving Harrison the chance to join the illustrious 300-club over the next few seasons.

For Harrison, it was the ability of the club to move forward, as well as his condition, that convinced him to sign on for a couple more years at the club.

“As long as I feel I can keep contributing to the club, I’m happy to keep playing,” said Harrison.

“I have got through the pre-season really well coming back from groin surgery and my body is feeling great.

“I’m really excited by the direction of the club, so I’m more than happy to commit to the Titans for a further two years.”

With the potential threat of Harrison departing, Titans CEO David May is thrilled that the representative back-rower has re-signed with the club.

“We’re obviously delighted that ‘Harro’ has re-signed with the club. I’m one of his biggest fans – the way he trains, plays and leads by example, he’s an absolute professional,” said May.

“No doubt he’ll be one of the first people on Mal Meninga’s team sheet when it comes to State of Origin, so we are very happy to have a player of his professionalism decide to play out his last few seasons with the club.”

At 31, Harrison is a veteran of the club, with coach John Cartwright of the belief that Harrison is one of the club’s true leaders.

“Harro is still in career best form and he’s one of the most professional players we have at the club,” said Cartwright.

“We’re expecting him to again be involved in State of Origin this year. He’s been here since 2008 and has turned into one of the true leaders at the club.”

Veteran Titans prop seeks new contract

Luke Bailey

He might be a veteran of the game and currently 33 years of age, but Luke Bailey still remains an integral part of the Gold Coast Titans forward pack – as he chases a contract extension at the club, seeking that elusive premiership glory.

After suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon last season, thus ending his year, Bailey is eager to return to the field as soon as possible, and is expected to do so in the club’s final trial against the Cowboys.

The man nicknamed ‘Bull’ Bailey, underwent both surgery and significant rehabilitation on his injured tendon, but he is enjoying getting back into the swing of things.

“I’m loving training. I had a bit of a break and freshened up a little bit and I’d like to get another year out,” he said.

“The club wants to see me play first, which is common sense, (but) I’d like to have another hit-out next year.”

With the veteran off-contract at the end of 2013, whilst he wants a contract extension, the club wants to see him play consistently, something that Bailey has had no problems doing in the past.

With a keen desire to win that premiership that has so far eluded him, it is that desire that has Bailey intent to continue playing for the club.

“Each year for me is probably more important,” he said.

“I want to try to get a grand final. Last year was frustrating getting the injury three games out (from the finals).

“It’s motivation for the following year.”

With the Titans forward pack quite formidable overall, Bailey has no intention of playing a reduced workload or a lesser role at the club.

“I still really enjoy that sort of role, playing as long as I can and staying on the field as long as I can,” he said.

“It’s probably going to be difficult with the calibre of players we have now. Carty (coach John Cartwright) hasn’t asked me about doing anything different.

“He wants me to do what I’ve been doing.”

Whilst the aim is to be fit and back for the club’s opening NRL game against the Cronulla Sharks in Rd 1, if Bailey is not ready for the game, he will not rush back to play.

“I wouldn’t risk it. We’ve got the team now and the players to not risk it and push it,” he said.

“It’s probably wise to look after it. If I’m not right I won’t play.

“It’s sort of funny because I’ve had a bit of tendonitis in the left one from overcompensating. That’s been the problem for the past couple of weeks.

“It’ll probably be a couple of weeks before I get full confidence but so far, so good.”

Young Wigan fullback signs loan deal with Salford

Jack Murphy

When you happen to be the understudy to perhaps the best fullback in the English Super League, game time is often hard to come by – and for young Wigan fullback Jack Murphy, that has been realised, so in order to gain first-team experience, the youngster has signed a 1-month loan deal with the Salford City Reds.

Training with his new team-mates today, Wigan have allowed the youngster to play against them during his loan-spell at Salford.

“Jack will be in the squad,” said Salford coach Phil Veivers.

“I’ve watched him develop. He’s a fine player and has been a good understudy to Sam Tomkins for the last 18 months.”

For Murphy, he is excited at the opportunity with Salford and goes to his new club eager for first-team opportunities.

“This is a good chance for me to get some first-team games under my belt,” he said.

“I am looking forward to meeting the Salford boys and competing for a place in the side.”

Wigan have given Murphy their best wishes in the loan move to Salford, with Wigan’s Rugby General Manager Kris Radlinski, giving his blessing.

“This loan move is a great opportunity for Jack to gain some more Super League experience and we are more than happy for him to head to Salford on a one-month loan deal.

“We have an excellent relationship with the Reds and their head coach Phil Veivers and we feel this deal will benefit all parties.”

Bulldogs forward announces immediate retirement to focus on commercial opportunities

Corey Payne

Whilst he may have been able to play for a few more years in the game of rugby league, for some players, they know when the time is right to retire – and for Canterbury Bulldogs forward Corey Payne, the right time was now, as he announced his retirement from the game, effective immediately.

Payne, who is a local junior from the Chester Hill area, made the decision to retire as he has numerous commercial opportunities off the field, thus choosing to focus on those.

The 28-year old played in a total of 131 NRL games (47 for the Dragons, 41 for the Tigers and 43 for the Bulldogs), with his debut coming back in 2005 for the Dragons.

Whilst still physically able to continue his rugby league career, Payne has other goals in life, and his retirement allows him to achieve those goals that he has set.

“Growing up as a Bulldogs supporter and a local junior, I always dreamt of playing first grade for the Club,” Payne said.

“To say that I have been a member of two Jersey Flegg premiership sides, a winning NSW Cup side and to play in an NRL Grand Final all for the Bulldogs, is quite unbelievable.

“The Bulldogs Club has always been a big part of my life and I would like to thank them as well as the Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra Dragons for all the opportunities they have provided me, and acknowledge all the players, coaches and staff members that I have been associated with over the past 14-15 years.”

“2013 will be a year where I finish my Master of Commerce at the University of Sydney, complete a Churchill Fellowship, maintain the positive momentum of the Future Direction Network which assists disadvantaged students reach their academic potential at university and carry out the responsibility of being NSW Young Australian of the Year. ”

“I intend studying for an MBA abroad in 2014 and transition to a business career, which I hope is as challenging and rewarding as my rugby league career has been.”

“I would also like to make special note of the support, encouragement and sacrifices my mother and father have made in helping me achieve so much through the sport of rugby league.”

With the decision not an easy one to make, Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg congratulates Payne on making the decision as well as his rugby league career.

“Corey has a very wise head on his shoulders and I admire him for being so open and honest throughout this process,” Greenberg said.

“He has a number of opportunities outside of the game which he has worked hard at developing, so we wish him well with that.

“He has worked tirelessly on setting up his Future Direction Network and the work he has done with the local community is something that not only he can be proud of, but also something that we at the Club are very proud of.

“Corey will not be lost to the Club and we look forward to seeing him back here in the future, whether it be through presentations to the playing group or just simply for a visit.”

Hull FC appoint Ellis as their new captain

Gareth Ellis

It is an important honour to be bestowed upon a player and many accept it graciously as they look forward to the added responsibility, and for Hull FC back-rower Gareth Ellis, who has been named as the captain of the club, it is an honour for him personally, to be in such a position.

Hull’s season opener against Leeds will be the first game that Ellis captains, with the back-rower labelling it as one of the proudest moments in his rugby league career.

“It is a fantastic honour and one I won’t take lightly,” Ellis said.

“I’ve seen already what this club means to the players, the staff and the fans and to be named captain is a special achievement.

“You only have to look at some of the names who have done it before to realise what sort of company you’re in – people like Johnny Whiteley, Clive Sullivan, Steve Norton, David Topliss – they’re all legends of the club and the game.

“Even more recently I recall the likes of Jason Smith and Craig Fitzgibbon as captain and these are some of the game’s best players, so to be on the list is very humbling.

“It will be a very special moment to lead out this team at Headingley but that is something I can reflect on in years gone by.

“The only thing we’re thinking about right now is the match, producing our best performance and claiming our first two points of the competition.”

The decision as to who would be made captain was not an easy one for Hull coach Peter Gentle, but with the club headed in a new direction, he felt the time was right to change captains.

“It has been a difficult decision,” said Hull coach Peter Gentle, who has appointed Hull-born hooker Danny Houghton, 24, as vice-captain.

“Andy has done a great job for us in a testing year at times, but we felt that we were going into a new era for the team and a fresh start for everyone, and Gareth seemed like the perfect candidate.

“We’ve been watching all the players closely over pre-season and his leadership qualities and experience stood out, having played in Super League, the NRL and internationally.

“He is a strong character, a natural leader and instils a culture around the club that we feel is very important and, having seen how he has fitted into the squad, we felt he was a natural captain.”

Eels halves visit girls detention centre to discuss hope and family

Chris Sandow

The opportunity for those youths in any form of juvenile detention to hear rugby league players talk and discuss future options for them is few and far between, but for the girls at the Juniperina Detention Centre in Lidcombe, they were offered the chance to listen to Parramatta Eels halves Chris Sandow and Luke Kelly.

For Sandow, who was raised in the Queensland town of Cherbourg, approximately 3 and a half hours from Brisbane, he has vivid memories as to when he turned his back on getting on the wrong side of the law, with help from his family and friends.

“I do have a lot of friends who have been in and out of jail from Cherbourg,” Sandow said.

“I chose not to hang around them while they were doing stupid stuff, you know. It’s not easy, because all your friends are doing it and you want to do it too. Sometimes you’ve got to step back and realise the consequences of what you’re doing.

“When I had the opportunity to come to Souths, my mum sat me down and said: ‘What do you want from life? You’ve never worked a day in your life.’ I said there’s always footy. She said: ‘If you put your mind to it, you can make it.'”

“I had to be home before dark at my house and if we weren’t, we’d get a big flogging. That’s something I was really scared of, my mum and dad. You don’t want to get a flogging. That’s something me and my brothers had. That’s why I’m here today.”

Life was not all rosy for the Eels halfback – as a teenager, he got mixed up in a life of drugs, unemployment and domestic violence.

Now, however, Sandow has come a long way, and has distanced himself from those in Cherbourg who continue to get into severe trouble.

In light of the visit to the detention centre, Sandow hopes that both he and Kelly managed to give the girls some hope for the future.

“Yeah, mate, it was really welcoming. The girls welcomed us with open arms and hopefully with me and Luke coming here today, the girls can see something different outside of here,” said Sandow.

“That’s what Luke and I planned to do when we came here, and we just finished a game of touch footy with the girls.”

Sandow focused on the early struggles he faced in life and the bad influences that he had growing up. delivering important messages to the girls.

“You know, to just stay focused and follow the right people when you’re outside here,” Sandow said.

“You don’t have to do the things that they do, you can still be friends – but just go home early and do the right things and listen to your mum and dad.”

Adversity was something that Sandow faced a lot of, with his key motto in life something rather simple – just be yourself.

“100% mate. If you want to be somebody else, and it fails, it lets you down, you know?” said Sandow.

“You know that you can be yourself and fail at things, but you learn from that and hopefully it’s a learning curve for these girls here, so hopefully when they get out, things can start changing in their lives.

Young Roosters prop keen on representing Fiji at 2013 Rugby League World Cup

Kane Evans

It will come as a boost for Fijian rugby league, as well as illustrating that for some players, their roots are where they feel most comfortable – as Sydney Roosters prop Kane Evans, expresses a desire to represent Fiji at the upcoming Rugby League World Cup, later this year.

Evans, 21, knows that whilst making the Fijian side will not necessarily be easy, given the calibre of players Fiji has to choose from – he intends to work his backside off and his hardest, to get into the side.

For Evans, it would be a dream come true to play for the Fijian side, with the prop eligible for the Island nation, with a Fijian mother and two Fijian grandparents Vanuabalavu and Nabitu.

My dream is to play for Fiji and I will try all my best in the RLWC,” Evans said.

“I want to play for Fiji because I’m a proud Fijian so playing for Fiji should be an honour.”

“I am still a junior and we are allowed to go and play for our country of our choice because I am half Fijian and half Australian.

“It is true there is really big money if you play for the Kangaroos but to be honest about myself, it will be more fulfilling to play for Fiji.

“There are many good Fijians out there and I know there will definitely be big competition for me to make the team, but I will do my homework.”

Evans idolises Fijian legend Petero Civoniceva, and has played in two representative teams in the past – the Under 20’s Fijian side and the Australian Fijian side.

Koukash outlines ambitions to reverse the fortunes of the Salford City Reds

Dr Marwan Koukash

All teams face some nervous waits and problems in their time, and with Salford, who had a court hearing adjourned until the 4th of February, it gave the club time to find a new investment to keep the club above water.

Enter Dr. Marwan Koukash, a Kuwaiti-born mulit-million dollar businessman and a St Helens-based racehorse owner, as the man who plans to transform the Reds previous misfortunes, to create a strong, healthy club.

It was after Nigel Wood got in touch with him about the opportunity with Salford, that got Koukash intrigued – prompting him to outline his ambitions for the Salford club.

“Nigel [Nigel Wood] rang me up and introduced Salford to me, and I’m very glad to be involved,” said Koukash.

“What is the bigger deal, is creating a team that could compete and win trophies, for a number of years to come.”

With several problems facing the club in several facets, the key for Koukash, is to go about rectifying these problems and introducing the techniques to overcome them.

“The problem we faced here or the problem Salford would face, is that it has no home – it’s a tenant in a stadium,” said Koukash.

“The income that clubs generate is far less than the expenditure – that’s provided you want to spend the full cabin and compete at the highest level.”

“So rugby or Salford, must look at ways of generating extra income from other commercial ventures. Here, around this stadium, there are many opportunities for it to develop such ventures.”

With the opportunity present to expand and get involved with more commercial ventures, Koukash sees a world of good and improvement for the Salford club, if they immerse themselves among these ventures.

“Part of the deal we’re looking at, is for Salford to have a share or an interest in the stadium, as well as being able to develop some of the surrounding land,” said Koukash.

“Not just for commercial activities, but also to develop some facilities for the players as well, such as – we talked about high performance gym, we talked about possibly a hostel for the young players, the academy players.”

“We need to look after such young ones, so that’s why the deal is taking longer to arrange than was expected.”

One of Koukash’s main focuses, is the introduction of extra development processes and techniques to improve Salford across the board, as well as generating additional income for the club as a whole.

“By the way, when we talk about a development, we’re talking about a development for the club that will generate or inject extra cash to its income, for many years to come,” said Koukash.

“Like I said earlier, Salford and many other clubs need that extra income from outside the league and unless you have a sugar daddy [which I’m not] – but I am someone who will facilitate that income, and hopefully we can achieve it.”

With negotiations still ongoing to keep the Salford club afloat, there are many who are watching with keen interest as to how the situation will gradually develop, over the course of the negotiations.

“It is very tough negotiations and at the end of the day, everybody knows this is about Salford, about the Reds,” said Koukash.

“It’s not about us, and everybody is interested in the future of Salford. It’s a matter of coming up with the right deal to suit all.”

Tough times can often result in people leaving, especially in cases like these, but Koukash is pleased that those involved made the decision to stick with the club during the tough times.

“I just wanted to be grateful before the game. I said before to him how grateful I was, that they stuck around and they’ve not walked from the Reds,” said Koukash.

“It must have been horrific and very, very difficult, as they could have easily walked away. The fact that they stuck by us and stayed, and you could see their determination there.”

“They were young boys out there, then I guess big men. But they fought and that’s all that I expect from them, and I expect a lot of improvement.”

With the opportunity present to potentially buy new recruits before the season starts, Koukash is looking forward to that possibility, but given that he is not yet the Chairman of the club, he knows he has to tread carefully.

“I have to be very careful in the way that I answer this, because I’m still not the Chairman of the club,” says Koukash.

“By going and approaching other players at this stage, is a bit dodgy, to say the least. I had meetings with Phil, Phil had meetings with Graham and we have identified a number of players and I don’t know if it’s wrong of me to say this, although we haven’t signed the dotted line, we have been speaking to a number of players.”

“Players that will bring the crowd in as well and players who could win matches. I believe they could blend very well with the young players who we saw out there today.”

As the process continues, Koukash admits that whilst he may not be the most knowledgeable about rugby league practices, he believes his past experiences in business can help him and the club – as he works with Graham Lowe and all the staff involved, to ensure the club’s longevity.

“I’m not going to sit and here and pretend to tell you that I’m an expert in rugby league, but as a person, I have a good ability to judge people by meeting them,” says Koukash.

“I’ve met Phil on a couple of occasions and he comes across as a very, very nice guy, and I could tell everybody here that Graham is not here to replace Phil – Graham is here to work with Phil and assist Phil to recruit the right players.”

“We have full confidence in Phil and I think he will do a wonderful job. Once the pressure is over, I think Phil could sit down and start concentrating and motivating the players and recruiting the right players – obviously we do need to recruit some.”