Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Moral High Ground Agenda (2016)

Today the Australian Rugby League team was selected for the Four Nations tournament, with two notable omissions, Andrew Fifita, who was near best on field in the Grand Final and Semi Radradra.

The reason given is that both players have tarnished records off the field. Todd Greenberg stated today during the team announcement regarding Fifita, “selection for the Australian team requires standards on and off the field and as he is currently under investigation by the Integrity Unit, we believe he still has some way to go to meet those off field standards.”

He went on to say that, “we believe that to wear the Australian jersey, the most prestigious jersey in our game, you should have to distinguish yourself both on and off the field.”

Firstly, I want to say that I fully agree with Greenberg’s statement. We should have only the best role models wearing our national colours. You are on the world stage and you should be a prime example to all people everywhere to earn that jumper, so as to set the best possible example for every child out there who wishes to wear that jumper in the future.

Fifita was handed a paltry $30,000 fine and a one year ban from the Penrith District Junior Rugby League and a six week suspension from the NRL for abusing a referee. This year he landed in hot water again for publicly showing support for convicted one punch killer Keiran Loveridge.

Meanwhile Semi Radradra has been charged with two counts of common assault and one count of causing actual bodily harm to his then partner, which he has pleaded not guilty to.

The problem with the decision to prevent these two from playing, based on the grounds of their off field indiscretions, is that it’s not a rule that has been applied to all players.

Blake Ferguson was found guilty of indecently assaulting a woman in 2013 and handed a two year good behaviour bond. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

Darius Boyd inflicted over $1500 worth of damages to a hotel room that he single-handedly trashed before admitting himself to rehab. He paid for the damages he caused. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

Josh Dugan was sacked by his former club for a string of off-field incidents, most notably binge drinking with Blake Ferguson instead of attending a recovery session. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

Sam Thaiday was one of three players who was punished by his club Brisbane, for his alleged involvement in sexual acts and the unauthorised recording of them in the 2008 off-season. The Broncos fined him $20,000, while he lost a third party sponsorship deal worth around the same amount as well. He also had to attend counselling. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

Greg Inglis was even charged with assault but the charges were later dropped. He accepted to undergo a diversion order that meant he had to attend a behavioural change program and pay a fine of $3,000 to a women’s health service. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

If the NRL want to be serious about this, and they most certainly should be because they are most definitely taking the right stance, then it should apply to all players. Anything less is only a mockery of the game and makes team selections and omissions farcical.

Worse still, it provides grounds that can justify the inclusion of players whose off-field demeanour should prevent them from ever being selected. That is what this rule should set out to achieve, but today, it has failed itself.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Jim Devereux - The Other "Master" (2016)

While the legacy of the great Dally “The Master” Messenger has endured the tests of time, and rightfully so, there was another great pioneering centre who many argue was as good as Dally.

Jim Devereux.

James Devereux was born in 1887 in the St.Leonard's. He had 7 siblings - brothers Timothy and Michael and sisters Mary, Madge, Norah, Anne and Kathleen.

James played lower grade Rugby Union in the North Sydney competition, before eventually making his debut in their first grade side in 1906, shortly after turning 21.

The following season, Jim watched on as a rebel New South Wales outfit took on a professional New Zealand visiting side who were en-route to England to play against the rebel Northern Union sides.

The hosts lost the first game in a close battle. A number of changes to the NSW line-up were made for the second game, with Devereux getting called up to play on the wing in what would be his first representative jumper in just his second year of top grade Rugby.

The Kiwis were again too good in game two, but Devereux impressed, dubbed in the press as the “hero of the day,” to retain his place in the third match, which was another hard fought victory to New Zealand.

Three weeks later, Devereux, along with all the other men who played for New South Wales in the three games against the professional New Zealand side, were handed life bans from the Metropolitan Rugby Union.

During the summer of 1907/08, 8 MRU clubs decided to break away and form their own competition, playing Northern Union rules. One of those clubs was Devereux’s own North Sydney, who on February 7, 1908, officially became a Rugby League club, with Jimmy elected as a committee member at the inaugural meeting for the iconic club.

After a strong start to the inaugural 1908 Rugby League season, Devereux was selected at centre, alongside Dally Messenger, for New South Wales against the returning New Zealand side in 2 games before earning a place at centre alongside Messenger in Australia’s first ever Rugby League game and Test, against New Zealand. Despite the narrow loss, Jim was retained for the second test before being moved to the wing for the third.

Devereux’s form saw him earn a place in the Pioneering Kangaroo tour of 1908-09 to England, where he became the first player to score a try in Tests between Australia and Great Britain, when he crossed for the first of 3 tries in the first test played in London.

Team mate Tom McCabe described one of those tries:

He raced for the corner, finding no opening in that direction he wheeled almost at right angles, and beat man after man, and scored between the posts.

Devereux played in 2 of the 3 tests against Great Britain and a mammoth 31 games on the tour, with a total of 17 tries, more than anyone else in the squad.

Another team mate, Peter Moir, revealed in a letter to the Evening News that “Devereux (was) the champion three-quarter.”

Harry Dannatt, a director on the board (and former president) of the Hull Rugby League club managed to secure the services of Devereux and his North Sydney colleague Sid Deane for “a fair price” at the conclusion of the tour in 1909.

Devereux played in 4 games for Hull at the end of the 1908-09 season before staying on for the following season which saw him picked in the York representative team. Hull made it to the final of the 1909-10 Challenge Cup against Leeds which ended in a 7 all draw. Devereux lined up for Hull in the replay just two days later, however Leeds were too strong, running out 26-12 victors.

Jimmy played the first half of the 1910-11 season with Hull before deciding to head back to Australia, accompanying the 1910 Great Britain touring side. He again turned out for North Sydney in just two matches before returning with the British tourists to Hull.

After making a good start to the 1911-12 season, Devereux suffered a series of injuries which hampered him for the rest of the season. He again returned to Australia, this time sharing the ship with the returning 1911-12 Kangaroos, who had just completed a successful tour of Great Britain. Once in Sydney, he played the last 5 games of the year for North Sydney.

1913 saw Devereux earn selection for New South Wales for the first time in 5 years. He played in two games against the visiting New Zealand side, with the hosts winning both games. He then set sail for England yet again.

Once back in England, Jim again played for Hull, playing a starring role in their 1913-14 Challenge Cup victory over Wakefield Trinity, despite playing out of position at halfback.

Devereux scored an impressive 21 tries in just 19 games for Hull in the 1914-15 season before the outbreak of war. Devereux enlisted with the British Army in 1916, earning himself selection in an Australasian Servicemen Rugby Union team later that year. Devereux rose to the rank of Lance Corporal. At the conclusion of the war, he married Daisy Heath, a local lady whom he had known prior to enlisting.

Hull won their first ever Championship in the 1919-20 season in a hard fought 3-2 victory over the mighty Huddersfield side. Hull won back-to-back Championships when they defeat nearby rivals Hull Kingston Rovers 16-14, in a match which saw Devereux score the match winning try.

Devereux and his wife travelled to Australia in 1921, where Jim again made himself available to play for North Sydney, but was unable to break into the all-star backline of Blinkhorn, Peters, Rule and Horder, thus only appeared in 3 games in reserve grade, before retiring from the game.

Jim took on the role of coach of the back-to-back premiers North Sydney in the 1923 season. With his side sitting third and only a slight hope of reaching the final two, the club suffered a cruel setback when legendary halfback Duncan Thompson was wrongly suspended for kicking a player. Thompson was aghast at the accusation and sentence that he vowed never to return to Sydney again. Norths lost all of their remaining games.

Devereux’s team slid again in the shortened 1924 season, winning just 3 of their 8 games and finishing second last. They turned their fortunes around in 1925, running second to the dominant South Sydney outfit right up until the last round, where a loss to Western Suburbs saw them finish the season in fourth.

Jimmy retired from coaching at the end of the 1925 season and went to work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. On December 3, 1929 he suffered horrific injuries when he was struck by a 35 ton girder that had fallen off a truck. He suffered fractures to his pelvis, left shoulder and right leg, as well as receiving severe head injuries. He miraculously survived, however he had the lower half of his right leg amputated.

Unable to work, the disability and accompanying medical costs almost forced Devereux and his wife into destitution. In 1932, upon learning of the despair of Jimmy, his old club North Sydney donated £50 to help him out. After amassing nearly £500 in medical costs and unable to earn any money, the donation was gratefully accepted. However it wasn’t enough and before the end of the year, he sold his house and decided to return to England with his wife to live a more relaxed life, in an attempt to get away from the hardships that had befallen him since his accident.

Sadly, he passed away just two years later.

He was made an honorary life member of the New South Wales Rugby League in 1914 and was named in the North Sydney Team of the Century in 2008.

Despite weighing just 60kgs, Devereux was described as “an aggressive centre in every sense of the term” by Tom McCabe.

He was fast and agile with a big side-step, was a ruthless tackler and a smart ball-player with great hands. He was constantly regarded as one of the best three-quarters in the world during his time as a player, some even suggesting he was better than Messenger.

Playing Career:
Australia – 1908-09 – 5 Tests, 3 tries, 1 goal

1908/09 Kangaroo Tour – 31 games, 17 tries, 2 goals
New South Wales – 6 games, 3 tries

North Sydney – 1908, 1910, 1912-13 – Played 17 games, 9 tries
Hull – 1908/09-1911/12, 1913/14-1920/21 – Played 172, 102 tries, 4 goals

(also played 37 games in War Leagues from 1915/16 til 1918/19, scoring 25 tries, 9 goals which are not included in official records)

***This article appeared in the Rugby League Review Magazine***

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Super 8's Is Super Silly (2016)

Last year the English Superleague competition cut its competing number of teams down from 14 to 12 and reduced the regular season from 27 games to 23. But they came up with a bold new concept to make up for the missing games and called it Super 8’s.

The top 8 sides at the end of the regular season would play every other top 8 side once more, thus creating an extra seven games. The competition points they accrued in the regular season would remain and for the Super 8’s and teams would be playing to accrue enough points to reach the top four after the Super 8’s had ended, so they could then play in the finals to determine the Champion side.

The problem with this concept is that it’s stupid. In the two seasons that it has been in place, the eighth placed side has had to somehow win at least 4 games more than the fourth placed side, just to match them on points. While it is a possibility, it’s a very slim one given their only opponents are all sides better than them.  In 2015 the Super 8’s confirmed that the top 4 sides after the regular season were still the top 4 sides after Super 8’s. In 2016 the exact same thing has happened again.

This raises the question; why have the Super 8’s? Why not go straight into the finals and save the players bodies?

Furthermore, with 12 teams competing, why have 23 rounds. It means one team will have to play another three times in the regular season. It’s just nonsense and not a fair system at all. The competition would be better served by having 22 Rounds and a top 5 finals series.

Given that Rugby League in England on a weekly basis doesn’t draw large crowds, flooding the market with more of the product only serves to devalue it further and at the risk of shortening player’s careers. In short, longer seasons are doing more harm than good for the game.

This Super 8’s concept is also used in a slightly modified manner to determine which teams are relegated and promoted across divisions. Again this is unnecessary. Why not have the bottom four sides of the higher division play the top 4 of the lower, with all games elimination matches.  

For example:
Superleague 12th v Championship 1st
Superleague 11th v Championship 2nd
Superleague 10th v Championship 3rd
Superleague 9th v Championship 4th

When you consider that all these teams also compete in the Challenge Cup competition, which can see some sides playing 3 or 4 games as well, the toll on players and clubs starts to become absurd.

If a top side in the Superleague played in the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup Final they would play 23 regular season games, 7 Super 8’s games, 2 finals, 4 Challenge Cup and 1 World Club Challenge game for a total of 37 games. That is simply excessive and absurd.

The game needs to find a way to ensure that the dramas that have besieged once great sides like Bradford don’t become commonplace. Cutting down in the number of games will go a long way to alleviating some of those concerns, not to mention reducing the impact on players and would make the game a slightly more rare treat which would have a positive effect on crowd figures.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

NRL Title Contenders: Gold Coast Titans (2016)

The Titans have all but fallen into the finals on the very last day of competition, but not entirely through their own good work. However, of the last three sides vying for the last place in the top 8, the Titans were arguably the most consistent and deserving.

Why They Can Win

The Underdog Tag – The Titans play a relatively simple and composed style of football. They are a patient side who aren’t afraid to work hard. Because they’ve only just snuck into the top 8, they will be seen as the weakest link and easy beats, compared to the other 7 sides. Complacency is a killer in finals football, and the Titans are a side who do make the most of opportunities provided from teams not taking them seriously.

Why They Can’t

Form. The Titans have just 2 wins and a draw from the 11 games they’ve played against the seven teams above them on the ladder. They beat Canberra back in Round 4 when the Raiders were very inconsistent, and a four point win over Penrith in Round 11. They pulled off a hard fought and very impressive 18 all draw with then competition leaders Cronulla, who had won 15 straight games prior to that game. Since that game though, they have struggled, winning 2 of 5 games, against the Tigers by 1 point and the last placed Newcastle by 20.

Key Player

Ashley Taylor. The rookie halfback has been nothing short of impressive this year. Thrown in the deep end at the start of the season when first choice half Kane Elgey suffered a season ending knee injury before their first game, the young half has improved immensely this year and has steered his side around the park very well. He has formed a good combination with new recruit Tyrone Roberts.

Squad Health

The Titans have a few injuries to key playmakers, however some of them have been missing all year and they have managed to reach the finals largely without them. Nathan Davis (leg), Kane Elgey (knee), Karl Lawton (leg), Daniel Mortimer (hamstring) and Matt Srama (knee) are all out for the season.

Finals Record

The Titans have only appeared in 4 finals matches to date, losing two games in the 2009 series. They last appeared in the 2010 series where they won their opening game against the Warriors before losing their last finals game to the Roosters.

Run Home

The Titans come up against Brisbane on Friday night to open the finals series. Their record against the Broncos is very poor, having won just 5 of their 20 clashes. It’s even worse when playing at Suncorp, where despite winning their first game against the Broncos there, they have lost the last nine straight, with the last seven losses all being by a margin of at least 14 points.

**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**

NRL Title Contenders: Penrith Panthers (2016)

The Panthers boast the second youngest side in the competition this year (behind only the last placed Knights) and had an inconsistent season up until Round 19 when their win against rivals Parramatta was the start of a strong surge towards the finals which has seen them clinch seventh position and qualify for the finals.

Why They Can Win

Utility Value. The Panthers have had arguably the most disruptive season to their spine of all clubs this year. They’ve used 4 different fullbacks, 5 five-eighths, 3 halfbacks and 4 hookers. Since they finally found a combination that worked, they have won 6 of their last 7 games. They boast some of the best young talent in the game who are very versatile players, headed by Bryce Cartwright, they also have Tyrone Peachey, James Fisher-Harris, Zak Hardaker and Matt Moylan.

Why They Can’t

Inexperience. Just 4 members of their current squad are aged older than 26, with Peter Wallace the only player in his 30’s (he turns 31 in October). Nathan Cleary is only 18 yet has had a stellar season at halfback. His five-eighth is the supremely talented 21 year old Bryce Cartwright. Such inexperience in the vital playmaking positions is their biggest hurdle in the most vital area.

Key Player

Bryce Cartwright. The youngster is a back rower who has really found himself at home at five-eighth. He runs straight and hard when he needs to, but has the deft passing game required of any genuinely talented five-eighth. He has also helped to sure up the Panthers edge defence. 10 of their first 16 games saw the Panthers concede 20 points or more. The most they’ve conceded in the last 7 games is 20 points against the Warriors.

Squad Health

Penrith have been without their starting centres for most of the year. Dean Whare and Peta Hiku both suffered season ending knee injuries. Front rower Sam McKendry is also out for the rest of the year with a knee injury while last weekend saw talented young back-rower Reagan Campbell-Gillard cop a heavy knock which has broken two discs in his back.

Finals Record

The Panthers have played 21 finals matches. They have won 10 and lost eleven. This year is just their third finals appearance since 2004. In 2010 they lost both matches and in 2014 the beat the Roosters first up before going down to the Bulldogs 18-12 the following week in what is their last finals performance.

Run Home

Penrith play the last game of Round 26 against the 12th placed Manly who have lost their last four straight games now. If the Bulldogs lose to Souths and the Panthers beat Manly, Penrith are a strong chance of finishing sixth on the ladder.

**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**

Just How Bad Are The Knights? (2016)

The Newcastle Knights have endured a horror season, but have seemingly been given a free ride from the media. They have been severely hampered financially, which – along with poor salary-cap management – impacted their recruitment.

This has seen a dearth of established talent available at the club, coupled with a horror injury toll and woeful form of experienced players, forcing new coach Nathan Brown to draw upon local juniors. Brown has used 35 players this year, 16 of whom have played less than 10 games this year.

While these are all legitimate issues, it should not excuse them from criticism. Western Suburbs Magpies were the laughing stock of the 1998-99 seasons despite suffering many of the same issues.

On win percentage alone, this Newcastle side is the worst since the 1984 Western Suburbs side, who won just one of their 24 games. It ranks the side at ninth for worst win percentage in a season. Their points difference is currently the fourth-worst in the game’s history, behind the 1999 Wests side (-659), the 1982 Canberra team (-593) and the 1935 Bulldogs (-510), but with a game still to play, this could change.

So just how bad, historically, is this Newcastle outfit?

When compared to every side since 1908 that won three games or less in a year and calculating the average points difference per game in conjunction with the win percentage, it is now possible to see.

There have been 108 sides since 1908 that have won three games or less in a season, with seven going through an entire year winless.

Let’s have a look at the top seven, worst of the worst.

1935 – University – Played 16, Won 0, Drew 0, Lost 16, For 109, Against 529 
The 1935 season is chiefly remembered as Eastern Suburbs superstar Dave Brown’s season. ‘The Bradman of League’ racked up pointscoring feats never seen before or since – and poor old University were on the receiving end of his magnificence. The season started promisingly with a tight five-point loss to Souths, but it was all downhill from there. The next week Balmain beat them 47-7, and two weeks later, the Dragons won 43-5. Round 5 saw the ‘Students’ square off against Easts, who won 61-5. Rod O’Loan scored 7 tries, Fred Tottey three and Dave Brown crossed twice. In Round 10 University lost 42-5 to Souths and their return match against Easts in Round 14 saw Dave Brown score 22 of his sides points from four tries and five goals in a 40-5 rout. The following week they lost 45-14 against Wests.

1937 – University – Played 8, Won 0, Drew 0, Lost 8, For 41, Against 309
The Students’ last season was their worst. Thankfully for them, the shortened season only lasted only eight games. But those eight games probably felt like an eternity. They lost their first game to Souths 63-0 before having a bye. In Round 5, University lost 52-5 to the near-unbeatable Easts side and were probably lucky that score wasn’t vastly worse. They went down 48-3 against Newtown the next week and a fortnight later were thumped 65-5 by St.George.

1921 – University – Played 8, Won 0, Drew 0, Lost 8, For 82, Against 292 
The second season for the Students was just as bad as their first. They opened the season on the end of a 57-0 flogging from the champion Balmain side. In Round 4 they went down to Souths 45-7 and followed it up with a 45-16 loss to Glebe the following week. In the penultimate round, they lost 55-11 to Easts.

1920 – Annandale – Played 13, Won 0, Drew 0, Lost 13, For 59, Against 382
The ’Dales last season in the top grade was their second winless season. They were kept scoreless in 3 of their opening 4 games and managed double figures just twice in their 13 games. They lost in Round 1 to Glebe 43-0 and after the opening five rounds had been played, they had scored just five points and conceded 118. In Round 6 they lost 42-10 against Easts before a return match against Glebe in Round 10 saw them thumped again 44-11. The following week Wests belted them 52-3 and their second-last game resulted in a Norths win by 44-3. Annandale’s last ever game was a 15-0 loss to Easts.

1918 – Annandale – Played 14, Won 0, Drew 0, For 73, Against 316
Annandale’s first winless season wasn’t one full of blowout scorelines, but it was one where the club averaged barely over one try a game and exactly one goal per game. In Round 2 they lost 36-15 to Souths and in Round 4 they lost 21-0 to Newtown before Balmain belted them 43-0 the following week. A fortnight later they lost 42-3 against Wests, followed by a 29-0 loss to Glebe. This horror period destroyed their season and was the beginning of the end for the club, who would be dead in two years’ time.

2016 – Newcastle – Played 24, Won 1, Drew 1, Lost 22, For 305, Against 800
Newcastle has conceded 33.33 points per game, the worst since Souths’ 33.83 in 2004. The Knights have conceded 40 points or more seven times so far, including two 50-plus totals and a season-high 62 points. They have been held to nil three times and failed to reach double figures a further four times. The modern game is a vastly more even competition than those of the past, so to be this far behind the field is truly woeful.

1966 – Easts – Played 18, Won 0, Drew 0, Lost 18, For 147, Against 346
The last team to go through a season winless, but despite that, the Tricolours were rarely disgraced by blowout score-lines. A Round 14 loss to Manly by 53-0 was the only time they conceded more than 35 in a game. Seven of their 18 games had a margin of less than 10 – but they did lose all 18 games.

1946 – South Sydney – Played 14, Won 0, Drew 0, Lost 14, For 124, Against 353: One of the lowest ebbs for the ‘Pride of the League’, the Rabbitohs were the first of only two sides to go winless in the post-WWII era.

1984 – Western Suburbs – Played 24, Won 1, Drew 0, Lost 23, For 244, Against 620: Given a stay of execution by the NSWRL to remain in the premiership, the Ken Gentle-coached Magpies’ only win was a 13-10 defeat of fellow strugglers Illawarra. Wests leaked 40-plus points on four occasions.

1993 – Gold Coast – Played 22, Won 1, Drew 0, Lost 21, For 229, Against 572: The last team to win only one game in a season, Wally Lewis’ Seagulls side managed an upset of Newcastle in Round 6 before losing 16 straight. A 46-0 loss to Manly and a 50-6 defeat in the return clash with the Knights in the latter rounds capped a diabolical campaign that saw ‘The King’ abdicate.

Worst Points difference in a year
1999 – Wests (-659)
1982 – Canberra (-593)
1935 – Canterbury (-510)
2016 – Newcastle (-495)
2002 – Souths (-432)
1998 – Wests (-431)
1935 – University (-420)
2013 – Parramatta (-414)

Worst Win % in a year
1966 – Easts 0% (18 games)
1935 – University 0% (16 games)
1918 – Annandale 0% (14 games)
1946 – Souths 0% (14 games)
1920 – Annandale 0% (13 games)
1937 – University 0% (8 games)
1921 – University 0% (8 games)
1984 – Wests 4.17% (24 games)
2016 – Newcastle 4.17% (24 games)
1993 – Gold Coast 4.55% (22 games)

**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**