Ricky’s View: Top 10 2014 NRL Low-lights

Jarryd Hayne

For all the good, wonderful and exciting things that happen in rugby league – and more specifically, the NRL – there are unfortunately bad things that also happen and detract from the good elements of the game.

Whether it be indiscretions of some sort that land a player in hot water, foolishness from a player that sees them potentially throw away a league career or a departure of a popular player that shocks many fans, low-lights are always prevalent.

Suffice to say, 2014 was a year of a good number of low-lights and here is a top 10 list – in no particular order mind you – of the low-lights that had everyone talking.

1. Kirisome Auva’a’s suspension – His indiscretion was well-documented and with the NRL’s hardball stance on domestic violence involving their players, their hand was forced. Auva’a copped an indefinite suspension from the game as the NRL came down hard on him after he was found guilty of causing reckless injury. With a multitude of counselling issues, anger management sessions and alcohol abuse meetings ahead of him, Auva’s suspension and crime itself, were perhaps the most hotly talked about NRL low-light in 2014.

2. Jarryd Hayne’s shock departure – Ask any rugby league and they would tell you of their shock that one of the game’s best players in Jarryd Hayne would leave the sport in any capacity. Eels fans were especially hit hard by the announcement, as Hayne left the game to pursue a dream of playing in the NFL. Perhaps the part that shocked Eels fans the most was the sudden departure of the move, as they only learnt of what was happening via a statement released from Hayne himself. In many respects, you cannot hold it against him for wanting to test his ability in another sport. He is, after all, an elite athlete that has a build and skill level to play any of the major competitive sports. That said, it was talked about for ages and even now, stories are emerging on he and his journey in the NFL.

3. Todd Carney’s #UrineGate – This one needs no introduction. Everyone knows what happened, how it went down and what it eventually led to. It all started with one innocent photo that spread like wildfire, thus ending the NRL career of talented star, Todd Carney. The graphic and disturbing nature of the photo, one that had him peeing into his own mouth at a urinal, had fans around the world disgusted and shocked at the nature of the content. It ended up being the death-knell for Carney’s career in the NRL, as the Cronulla Sharks – his then club – opted to terminate his contract, as a result of numerous indiscretions over the years at their club and at other clubs. All was not lost for Carney, though, with the half now signing at Super League side, the Catalan Dragons.

4. Paul Carter and his drink driving – Young, naive and frankly, stupid. Two incidents within a year that both involved drink driving was the downfall for a Paul Carter, a promising Gold Coast Titans player. The first incident resulted in a suspended licence and a heavy reprimand from the club, as they hoped it would just be a one-off. When the second incident occurred, though, it was the final straw. The Titans hand was forced and they terminated the contract of the promising utility. As in all cases of this ilk, the club will stand by him and offer him counselling and support but for the short-term at least, his career is stagnant.

5. Bird’s wee near the cop car – Getting married is liberating, exciting, thrilling. You certainly would not expect it to get you in trouble either but Greg Bird found himself on the wrong side of the law just after his. Too many drinks can lead to silly things and Bird was charged with public urination when he inadvertently did a wee ‘on’ a police car – even if he claimed it was in between two cars and not on the police car. Though his inebriated state may have clouded his sight and judgement, he was eventually fined by the club, issued with a criminal infringement notice and stripped of the club captaincy. Bird was apologetic about the incident and asked for forgiveness but ultimately, it was a bad look for the NRL. Again.

6. Jamil Hopoate, like father, like son – The Hopoate name. Synonymous with incidents, trouble and violence in rugby league and rugby league fans thought they had seen enough of it with John. Think again. Young son Jamil has emulated his father’s acts and further brought the NRL brand and image into disrepute. The incident, a violent one, proved to be the end of yet another rugby league chance, after he was sentenced to prison for 12 months as a result. Jamil has never learnt over the years, sacked numerous times from the Manly Sea Eagles and the Parramatta Eels. At only 20 years old and with so many discretions behind him, it would take a brave man – or team for that matter – to take him on board.

7. Tetevano’s domestic violence – Unfortunately, it seems to be a theme in the NRL – players departing the game due to being suspended or banned for domestic violence. Zane Tetevano was another casualty of the NRL’s hard stance – and rightfully so – with his Manly Sea Eagles contract terminated after a domestic violence incident. There are counselling sessions galore, rehabilitation practices and a long time away from the game for Tetevano, who again, will be hard-pressed to find another NRL team upon his rehab completion.

8. A rugby league death – Rugby league is supposed to be full of happy, uplifting moments, so when the community is forced to deal with news of a death, it his home hard and affects everyone. In what was a tragic accident, former player Blaine Rozs was working in Jaspers Brush when stacking rolls of turf with a tractor went horribly wrong. It hit the Dragons community hard especially, as Rozs was a former player with the club in their junior ranks. The rugby league world went into mourning after hearing of his passing with fans, clubs and friends galore all sending out their condolences. Blaine, RIP, Buddy.

9. Paul Gallen’s Twitter tirade – Arguably the incident that led to the most people talking – and not in a good way – was a one tweet Twitter tirade by Cronulla Sharks and NSW captain, Paul Gallen. A tweet that is not about to be repeated here in this article, in nicer, layman terms, the tweet highlighted a clearly frustrated Gallen criticising the NRL and CEO Dave Smith for the way in which then Sharks CEO Steve Noyce left the club. The tweet was obviously deleted but only after some fans urged the forward to do so. Gallen felt the full brunt of the punishment, though, fined $35,000 for the outburst.

10. Iconic Jets player dies – The Newtown Jets. A team with a rich, proud history, and a team that has produced some fantastic players over the years. 2014 was a year that will have them in mourning and remembering the date each day, after club legend Brian ‘Chicka’ Moore passed away. He played for the Jets, coached the Jets and was named in their team of the century. His name will long be remembered within the proud club, as they honour the service that one of their greatest ever players provided and the spectacles he put on for the fans.

Former NRL forward signs with Bradford

Ephalahame Lauaki

In search of greener pastures, players often seek out a move that will benefit their career. For former NRL forward Ephalahame Lauaki, he has done that, signing a 2-year deal with English Championship side, the Bradford Bulls.

In a handy Christmas present for Bradford fans, the forward joins the Bulls from NRL club Manly and has enjoyed previous stints with the New Zealand Warriors, Super League side Hull FC and internationals as a Tongan representative.

Having also played for the Wigan Warriors and with two representative games for the Exiles team to his name, Lauaki is excited about the challenge that lies ahead.

“I am so excited to be joining such a big and well-known club like Bradford,” said Ha’apai-born Lauaki.

“I believe I will bring some experience and toughness to our team and I cannot wait to get started.”

His goal is to start in the 17 but he knows that there is hard work to be done.

“The Championship is a challenge I am looking forward to. We will be going up against some good teams, who will be certainly looking forward to playing us,” said Lauaki.

“There is a really solid squad in place at Bradford but I want to be in the 17, which means I have plenty of hard work ahead of me.”

Knowing what he is capable of, the signing also excites Bulls coach, James Lowes.

“He has an explosive approach and comes with an ability to wreak havoc in short spells,” said Lowes.

“Epalahame gives us something I believe we don’t currently have. He certainly adds to an already impressive squad and will prove vital for some of our young and upcoming forwards.”

With several young forwards at the club, signing Lauaki gives them an experienced mentor to follow.

“We have a young roster, so the experience he brings will certainly help aid the future progress of the likes of Dan Fleming, Samir Tahraoui and Karl Davies,” said Lowes.

Western Suburbs hooker signs with English side Gateshead

Dayne Craig

A new challenge awaits now former Western Suburbs hooker Dayne Craig, who has just arrived in Tyneside to play for English Championship side, the Gateshead Thunder.

Craig, who enjoyed a successful stint with Wests, was named the 2014 Ron Massey Cup Player of the Year and after arriving at the club and viewing the facilities, the hooker is very impressed.

“I’ve just arrived and seen the place for the first time but it looks amazing and I’m very impressed,” said Craig.

‘I’ve been told all about the stadium, the gym, the pitch but to see it up close, shows this is a serious team with real ambitions.”

Craig was only introduced to the game of rugby league in his late teens and not in his junior days like many others, so his development has been a hard slog but a worthwhile one.

The Wests hooker is keen to make a name for himself in the world of English rugby league.

“I’m really excited for a new fresh challenge, having played in Australia for a while and achieved quite a bit and feel ready to come over here and try and make it in the UK,” said Craig.

“Last year was probably my best year to date and was certainly my first solid year at Hooker, things went very well with a good coach who helped me out.

I’m hoping to keep that momentum going hear for Thunder and work towards getting the club as far as it can go.”

Roosters back-rower signs new long-term deal

Aidan Guerra

In an early Christmas present for Sydney Roosters fans, the club have announced that fan-favourite Aidan Guerra has re-signed with the club for a further three years.

The new deal will see the back-rower remain with the Tricolours for a further three seasons, in a move that Roosters fans will be cheering about given the departure of some forwards this off-season.

After making his debut for the club in 2010 and with 87 first-grade games to his name – all for the Roosters – re-signing with the club was the only option for Guerra.

“Playing for a club like the Roosters is an honour I don’t take lightly,” said Guerra.

“This a great club and I’m really happy that I’ll continue to represent the Roosters and be a part of this team over the next three years.”

2014 was perhaps Guerra’s best ever season, as he represented both QLD in the State of Origin and the Kangaroos in the Four Nations tournament.

For the club, knowing that they are able to keep a player on the rise and performing so well, is a great boost for them.

“Aidan made his NRL debut at the Roosters and has matured into a player chosen to represent his state and country,” said Roosters Recruitment Manager, Peter O’Sullivan.

“Aidan’s coming of age during this year’s Origin Series was a just reward for his dedication and hard work. He certainly brought that experience back to his club football, and we were proud to see him complete the year by making his Australian debut in the Four Nations.

“Committed, strong and talented, Aidan plays an important role within the team and it’s great to have secured his services until the end of 2017.”

Ali’s NRL Rumour Mill Pt 1.

In a new fortnightly segment for NRLNEWS, Ali joins us to provide the latest NRL rumours, signings and news, sure to cause some discussion.

This article will be formatted as a series of questions that have arisen in the last fortnight in regards to: players, signings, dramas, and of course rumours.

In the last fortnight, there are still a ton of rumours are floating around the Rugby League universe despite the 2014 NRL season being done and dusted.

So, without further adieu, here are this fortnights NRL questions and answers:

Q- So two players were reported to be leaving the Bulldogs, we know one is Dale Finucane but who is the other?
A- Featherstone Rovers have signed former Canterbury, Cronulla and Parramatta forward Reni Maitua on a two-year deal.

Q- What is the latest on Trent Merrin and who is most likely to sign him for season 2016?
A- Well, I know for a fact that Trent Merrin’s manager Wayne Beavis has begun talks with with rival NRL clubs in bid to secure a contract for Trent for season 2016 and beyond. The two favourites to sign Trent are the Broncos and Roosters.

Q- Is Luke Lewis injured and will he play more than 8 games next year for the Sharks?
A- It’s hard to determine how many games a NRL player will play each season but Luke Lewis is still recovering from an injury he suffered this season and regarding his playing future, a few rival clubs are interested in signing Luke Lewis. He WILL leave the Sharks if the price is right because the Sharks are looking at signing Tongan international Samisoni Langi.

Q- Will the Mata’utia brothers stay at the Knights or will they leave to join the Bulldogs?
A- The latest news on all three Mata’utia brothers (Sione, Chanel and Pat) is that they WILL be staying at the Newcastle Knights and will reject the Bulldogs offer.

Like my facebook page – Ali’s latest Nrl rumours
Link: https://www.facebook.com/alislatestrumours

Storm utility back heads North to Townsville

Justin O'Neill

Originally a junior with Brothers in Townsville, Justin O’Neill will return to the city where it all began after signing a 2-year deal with the North Queensland Cowboys.

Playing most of his career at the Melbourne Storm so far, the premiership-winning utility back will provide the Cowboys back-line with a much needed boost.

It was back in 2010 when O’Neill made his debut for the Storm, playing in 67 NRL games during that time and scoring 34 tries.

O’Neill will have some players he knows at the club already, having played with Matthew Wright and Cameron King in the 2010 Junior Kangaroos squad.

For the club, they are excited to bring one of their own back and look forward to his impact in 2015 and beyond.

“It’s really pleasing for us to be able to bring Justin back to North Queensland to continue his NRL career,” Cowboys general manager – football Peter Parr said.

“He’s only a young man but he’s had plenty of first grade experience and should have the best years of his career still to come.

“I’m sure our members and fans are going to enjoy having him as part of our club.”

O’Neill, who came up through the Storm U20’s ranks, will be missed by the club and they wish him farewell.

“On behalf of everyone at Storm, I’d like to thank Justin for his contribution to the Club,” said Storm CEO, Mark Evans.

“Justin was an Under-20’s graduate who went on to become a Premiership-winning winger in 2012 and he will always be welcome at Storm.

“We wish him and his partner well for the future.”

Nick’s View: Dave Smith’s tenure as CEO – just how has he performed?

Dave Smith

Passionate NRL and Brisbane Broncos fan Nick (@nicklocke87) joins us for his first article for NRL News, as he casts his eye over how CEO Dave Smith was appointed in the role and how he has performed since.

Dave Smith as CEO of the NRL. Who would’ve thought that 3 years ago as an ex lawyer and survivor of the Super League war, David Gallop, controlled the game with seemingly an iron fist, that we would end up with a Welsh Banker with a passion for our country?

I certainly didn’t. Let me start by saying that I rather enjoyed the performances of David Gallop as CEO of this great game for a number reasons. Not least of which was his ability to make the tough decisions whilst displaying the emotions of an iPhone assistant whose name rhymes with ‘miri’. David struck me as a logical man who analysed a situation and selected the most appropriate action available at that point in time. For this reason, the man appeared to make a perfect enemy to those who make their decisions with that old thing we call ’emotion’.

Rugby league is an emotional game. There isn’t a supporter out there that doesn’t act based on his desires to see his or her team, player or coach succeed or be advantaged.

Enter David Smith.

In a vast and calculated recruitment process, the net was cast out for the NRL to find its own version of the financially entrepreneurial Andrew Demetriou to take this great game from the suburbs to the CBD. Someone that could implement a real ‘strategy’ to grow our great game to dominate the Aussie sporting landscape. We wanted the best of the best, a man or woman that could at long last professionalise this game and make the decisions that were
not always wanted by the games stakeholders but were needed. We now have this man.

When you think about the best CEOs from around the world, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, how many of these came without criticism? The answer is none. Now please don’t think that for one moment I compare our NRL CEO to the world’s best.

But please recognise that there are similarities. Each of these great leaders have the ability to both dream
big and listen to the demand and create a supply. Dave Smith has so far made changes based on the voice of the fans demands such as increased focus on the referee pathways, grassroots funding, live Sunday games, more footy such as the Auckland Nines and the WCC.

He has provided the supply (including amending a $1billion TV deal in the process). He is also employing people with the ability to fulfil their position descriptions. These are those who are being referred to with the ‘dirty’ connotation of ‘non rugby league people’.

Ladies and gentlemen, these very people are exactly what this great game needs in order to take it to the next level or professionalism. ‘Professionals’ with no club bias or hidden agenda. Those with the capacity to make decisions based on the greater good as opposed to the personal good.

This is not politics people. We don’t need staff making decisions based on what is the best decision for keeping their position. What is best for business is best for Rugby League.

Embrace it.

Australian utility signs with the Coventry Bears

Pauly Ivan

There has been a recent influx of Australian-based players heading to the numerous English Championships and that has continued, with former Brisbane Broncos and Redcliffe Dolphins utility Pauly Ivan signing with the Coventry Bears.

Adept at back-row and centre, the 27-year old Dutch descendant has played over 100 games for the Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup with Bears head coach Tom Tsang well aware of how crucial Ivan’s experience will be.

“Paul is a player we have been in contact with for a while now and we are overjoyed to have confirmed his signing.” said Tsang.

“We wanted to add a bit more size to our pack and at 6ft 5in and 17 Stone, Paul certainly fits that criteria. He is a big guy but from what we have seen also very mobile and skilful meaning he can play in the back-row as well as centre.

“He has spent time at some very prestigious organisations including NRL club Brisbane Broncos where he was very close to breaking into the NRL side. He has a heap of experience having played several seasons at Redcliffe Dolphins in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup.”

With Dutch heritage, the process to gain a UK work visa will be easier, as the club awaits the final approval.

“As Paul’s Grandparents are from Holland, he is eligible to apply for a Dutch passport and he is currently working through that process to allow him a work permit to play in the UK,” said Tsang.

“We can’t wait for Paul to arrive and link up with the squad – he will be a big presence in all meanings of the word.”

Currently enjoying a stint with Limoux in the French Elite 1 competition, Ivan said he is looking forward to joining the Bears once his stint in France is over.

“I am excited about joining the Bears and being a part of the club’s historical first season,” said Ivan.

“I have seen that the league has been re-structured and it will be great to be part of a new era for Rugby League in the UK.”

Eldest Fifita brother signs with Workington Town

Latu Fifita

He may not have the profile that brothers Andrew or David have but he is a strong, solid rugby league player nonetheless, as a new challenge awaits the eldest of the Fifita brothers, Latu.

Coming off a successful campaign with the Northern Pride that saw them win the Intrust Super Cup and the NRL State Championship, the hulking prop forward will join English Championship side, Workington Town.

It was a hard slog for the club to sign him as coach Phil Veivers admitted they were chasing his signature for quite some time.

“We’ve fought pretty hard to get him and I’m over the moon that we’ve finally signed him,” Veivers said.

“He will add some size and ability to our pack. He’s got good feet, good leg speed and a fast play of the ball.

“Latu will bring some leadership qualities with him. He’s a Tonga international and has played at a very good standard.”

The delay was a result of visa issues and whilst some might think they have signed him because of his last name, Veivers re-iterated that Fifita was signed to give them some starch and punch on the field.

“He’s got good stock in his brothers,” Veivers added.

“And he will offer the club something off the field too.

“But that’s not the reason I’ve signed him. I’ve signed him for what he will give us on the pitch.

Correspondence with a former Northern Pride coach Jason Demetriou gave Veivers some solid insight into the play and style of Latu Fifita.

“I spoke to his old head coach Jason Demetriou who told me that he believes Latu is an NRL player in the waiting,” said Veivers.

“Jason thinks the Championship should be a walkover for him. I believe Latu will have a little bit more freedom at our level to play the style he wants.”

Bulldogs veteran off to England after signing with Featherstone

Reni Maitua

For the Featherstone Rovers fans, they must be stoked with their player signings to date and it has only gotten better, with NRL veteran Reni Maitua signing with the club.

Maitua, who has vast NRL and representative experience has played in 174 NRL games for the Canterbury Bulldogs, Cronulla Sharks and the Parramatta Eels, as well as international caps for New Zealand and Samoa.

Although he has had his fair share of issues in the past, his experience will be invaluable for the Rovers side, with the 2-year deal subject to a visa clearance.

The previous issues were well documented and at one point, Maitua was suspended from the game for the use of a banned substance but he has since bounced back and performed well for numerous clubs since then.

Knowing how experienced he is, the club cannot wait to get him on board and on the field.

“This is a massive signing for Featherstone Rovers and a statement of intent by the club. His playing record speaks for itself and he brings a wealth of experience to our dressing room,” said Featherstone Rovers coach, Andy Hay.

“He is a uncompromising leader both on and off the field and will be big asset. We’ve done our homework and talked to people who have been working with him recently and he was highly rated.”

Having already made contact with Maitua, Hay looks forward to seeing the veteran get stuck in at the club. Additionally, with Maitua knowing about the club after discussions with Hay, they know he will help to promote the club.

“I’ve spoken to Reni and he is really eager to join Featherstone Rovers and help us achieve our ambitions of bringing top flight rugby league to the town,” said Hay.

“He has made it clear that he does not see this as a holiday but he wants to prove himself in the UK with Featherstone Rovers. He is excited about the new structures in place in our competition and wants to play Super League with Rovers.

He will not only be an asset on the field but he will be helping to promote the club and lift the profile of Featherstone Rovers.”