Monthly Archives: July 2019

SEVEN DAYS: April 24-30

HAIRY WEEK: Benji Marshall playing Super Rugby for the Blues.

Thursday, April 24

BENJI Marshall arrives back at Sydney airport, having blown full-time on his brief dalliance with the game they allegedly play in heaven.

Personally, I smell a rat.

I simply can’t accept that Benji was not good enough to make the grade in the 15-man code.

Let’s face it, you hardly need to be an elite athlete to play rugby, as Matt Dunning proved during his 45 Tests for the Wallabies.

Take my Seven Days substitute of the past two weeks, James Gardiner, as a case in point. Jiggy bears an uncanny resemblance to Winnie the Pooh yet played his fair share of first grade in the Newcastle and Hunter competition, including featuring in a premiership-winning squad with his beloved Wanderers. I remember once asking one of his teammates what were Jig’s attributes, and he replied: ‘‘He’s a good scrummager.’’

Enough said.

Benji, presumably, is not much of a scrummager. But he certainly ticks every other box that should have made him a rah-rah superstar – he can kick penalty goals, field goals, boot it over the sideline on the full and looks good in a tweed jacket with chinos.

Yet here he is, back in Sydney, apparently ready to start filling out forms at Centrelink.

Somehow I can’t buy this speculation that he wants to join Cronulla. The Sharks are stoney motherless and ASADA haven’t even started rubbing blokes out yet. My suspicions are further raised when Sydney Swans loose cannon Buddy Franklin crashes his Jeep into four parked cars.

Strikes me as a blatant publicity stunt to sabotage the imminent announcement that Benji has signed for the GWS Giants.

Friday, April 25

ST George Illawarra are reduced to the role of cannon fodder in their annual Anzac Day battle with the Chooks, who come out all guns blazing in a 34-14 blitzkrieg.

In Brisbane, South Sydney’s Greg Inglis leaves seven Brisbane defenders in his wake in a devastating surge to the try line that starts deep in his own end of the field.

Commentators and fans are soon debating other memorable individual tries of modern times. A few stick in my mind – Brett Mullins racing the full length of the field against the Knights in 1994, a remarkable 65-metre effort from Danny Wicks against the Roosters in 2008, and an iconic Eric Grothe special in a 1983 semi-final.

I was sitting on the SCG hill, cheering for the Bulldogs, when the man they call ‘‘Guru’’ ploughed through six defenders to score.

It is listed on Youtube as ‘‘the greatest try ever scored’’ and for 31 years I have held a similar opinion. Now GI gives me cause to reconsider.


Saturday, April 26

I’M listening to Triple M’s commentary in the car and Joey Johns, Girds and company reveal that the word ‘‘Manu’’ is Tongan for ‘‘animal’’ or ‘‘beast’’.

Hence, Manu ‘‘the Beast’’ Vatuvei.

It also seems appropriate in their discussions about another fearsome figure, Penrith’s Sika Manu, and the new Parramatta forward, Manu Ma’u, who has an equally wild look in his eye.

On the subject of large, dangerous creatures, they call Tony Williams the ‘‘T-Rex’’ but too often he seems more like a brontosaurus, lumbering around and apparently intent on avoiding confrontation.

Williams is one of the most maligned players in the NRL, but one split second of Canterbury’s 16-12 win against the Knights at ANZ Stadium is a reminder of how much damage a T-Rex can wreak when in the mood.

With scores locked 4-all, Williams receives the ball, looks up, and for once does not pass it, instead making a beeline for the smallest defender in front of him, Jarrod Mullen.

It is hardly a fair fight. T-Rex, with a 30-kilo weight advantage, powers straight through Mullo’s attempted tackle.

He then kindly donates a ‘‘meat pie’’ to the only beast in the NRL jungle bigger than a dinosaur, Sam ‘‘Dogzilla’’ Kasiano.

Sunday, April 27

I READ with interest in the news pages of a Sunday paper about a bloke who has paid $8000 to have a ‘‘facial hair transplant’’ because he believes his beard is ‘‘too patchy’’.

This gets me to thinking about the return of whiskers as a rugby league fashion statement.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the game was blessed with some outstanding beards.

Crusher Cleal, Graeme O’Grady, Ray Price, George Peponis, Geoff Robinson and Kerry Hemsley, for starters.

Sadly, during the ’90s and early 2000s it seemed the razor gang ruled supreme. A bloke like Kirk Reynoldson was considered a crazy character simply because he adopted the bushranger look.

Then a few years back Manly’s David Williams became a household name simply by transforming into the ‘‘Wolfman’’.

Nowadays it seems there are more players in the NRL sporting facial fuzz than ever. If you don’t have a beard and a sleeve tattoo, you need to play a different game.

Monday, April 28

ARL chairman John Grant wears a beard but that is apparently his lone connection to the game he once played.

That is the only logical conclusion to be drawn after a news bulletin highlights Grant’s performance in announcing the Aussie team for the trans-Tasman Test.

He declares Paul Gallen plays for the ‘‘Cronulla-Sutherland Hawks’’ and Daly Cherry Evans for the ‘‘Manly-Warringah Seagulls’’.

One of your best, John.

The foot-in-mouth faux pas draws unflattering comparisons with last year’s blooper from NRL chief executive Dave Smith, who didn’t know a Benji Barba from a Ben Marshall at the season launch.

But at least Smithy is just a Welsh banker (that’s not rhyming slang, by the way) who had never been to a footy game in his life before he replaced David Gallop, not a former Test player.

Tuesday, April 29

CHAIRMAN Grant sheepishly admits he has ‘‘no idea’’ how the Hawks and Seagulls popped into his head to make a goose of him.

“It’s ridiculous,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s no explanation other than to acknowledge a total error.

“I feel very uncomfortable about it in terms of Manly and Cronulla. It’s just an error that I’m sorry I made. It’s not where I want to be as a person.”

Meanwhile, on the subject of ‘‘total errors’’, the Knights stand down young prop Zane Tetevano indefinitely after police charge him with allegedly punching a taxi’s windscreen.

Knights officials announce in a statement that ‘‘the club will review Tetevano’s position internally’’.

Sounds painful.

Wednesday, April 30

SEVEN Days has received a truckload of abusive, hand-written letters over the years from a reader I call the ‘‘Maitland Maniac’’, but today’s takes the cake.

Apparently livid that yours truly (unsuccessfully) tipped the Knights to beat the Bulldogs last weekend, the Maniac mails me a redbelly with the instructions: ‘‘Here’s $20 those f—ing [expletives] the Newcastle Knights DON’T make the finals this year.’’

He proceeds to refer to your columnist with a barrage of adjectives that do not bear repeating in the pages of a family newspaper.

There are a few fundamental problems with The Maniac’s $20 wager.

First, I’m not expecting the Knights to make the finals this year. And even if I was, I’d have to say the Maniac’s odds are a tad stingy.

The bookies are offering $3.25 for Newcastle to make the top eight, and $1.30 for them to miss out. The Maniac seems to reckon an even-money bet is fair and square.

So without wanting to disappoint my old mate, I’ll be giving Maniac TAB a wide berth.

I’d put the $20 in an envelope and return it but, as usual, the letter is unsigned and includes no address.

I guess that means I’ll have to donate it to a worthy cause – such as Dan Murphy’s, for instance – and just hope that ICAC don’t find out.

Lower grades fly flag for Knights

Mick CrawleyTHE Knights are stuck at the wrong end of the NRL ladder with two wins from eight games but the club’s two lower-grade teams are flying high at the top of the table.

Unbeaten after eight rounds with seven wins and a draw, Newcastle’s under 20s (15 points) are three clear of their nearest National Youth Cup rivals Parramatta and St George Illawarra (both 12), and already defeated 2013 runners-up Canberra twice and premiers Penrith once.

Sports betting agency TAB苏州美甲美睫培训学校.au installed the Knights as $4.50 favourites to win the NYC premiership, ahead of the Eels ($7), Dragons and Roosters (both $8) and Panthers ($9).

In his third season at the club, coach Mick Crawley has a star-studded line-up to work with and three of his players – fullback Jake Mamo, centre Sione Mata’utia and halfback Jaelen Feeney – will show their skills in the interstate under 20s game at Penrith on Saturday.

Mamo, who filled in for injured winger Akuila Uate in Newcastle’s past two NRL games, and Mata’utia were named in the NSW backline, while Feeney will steer the Queensland ship.

Knights halves coach Kevin Walters will be in charge of the young Maroons.

A South Newcastle junior, and the youngest of four brothers who still play (Pat and Chanel) or used to play (Peter) for the Knights, 17-year-old Mata’utia is chasing a winning hat-trick in NSW colours.

He was a member of the NSW under 16s side who defeated Queensland before the State of Origin series-opener at Etihad Stadium in 2012 then scored two tries in the Blues’ 56-6 mauling of the Maroons in the under 18s curtain-raiser before Origin II at Suncorp last year.

The Knights signed 19-year-old Feeney from the Bulldogs at the end of last season.

Coach Rick Stone’s NSW Cup team surged to the top of the table on points difference with a 44-12 rout of the Dogs at Belmore on Saturday.

Newcastle are in a three-way tie with Wentworthville Magpies and Wests Tigers on 12 points but have a superior for-and-against points differential of plus 69.

The Knights have lost just twice this season, to Canberra’s feeder team Mounties and will try to consolidate their share of the lead when they take on Wentworthville in a top-of-the-table tussle at Ringrose Park at 3pm on Sunday.

Paying $6, the Knights are third pick for the NSW Cup title with TAB苏州美甲美睫培训学校.au, behind equal favourites Cronulla and Penrith (both $4.50).

It will be a busy weekend for Stone, who will coach Fiji in the Pacific Test against Samoa at Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday before backing up with the Knights on Sunday.

■ Knights forwards Korbin Sims (Fiji) and David Fa’alogo (Samoa) will get the chance to bang heads in the Pacific Test at Penrith.

Coming off the bench and playing 33 minutes each, Sims (17 runs for 146 metres) and Fa’alogo (16 runs for 150m), were two of Newcastle’s more effective forwards in their 16-12 loss to Canterbury at ANZ Stadium last Saturday.

Speaking before the Bulldogs match, Sims said he would have liked to have appeared in more than the 12 games he played in his debut season last year, but with hindsight appreciated the way coach Wayne Bennett used him sparingly.

‘‘It made me more hungry coming into this season,’’ Sims said. ‘‘I think I’m starting to show that with my impact off the bench.’’

Friends and former Knights teammates Kevin Naiqama (Fiji) and Peter Mata’utia (Samoa) will also square off in the Pacific Test, which will determine which team join Australia, New Zealand and England in the Four Nations at the end of the season.

■ Harold Matthews (under 16s) minor premiers Newcastle will play Canterbury at St Marys at 2.30pm on Saturday for the right to play either Souths or Penrith in the grand final.

The Knights had a week off after they beat Canberra 38-24 in a qualifying final and the Dogs qualified when they beat Balmain 20-16 at St Marys on Saturday.

Newcastle bowed out of the SG Ball (under 18s) finals when beaten 36-28 by Penrith in an elimination semi-final at St Marys last Saturday.

■ The Carlson Club fund-raiser for Alex McKinnon, scheduled for Newcastle Jockey Club tomorrow week, was pushed back until late next month. Some of the club’s major sponsors could not attend the original date.

REAL NRL: Coalfields rivals unite to honour lost miners

GOOD CAUSE: Cessnock’s Al Lantry and Kurri’s Justin Peterkin hold up the fundraising jersey. THE Kurri Kurri Bulldogs and Cessnock Goannas are intrinsically linked to the coal industry. Many of their fans, sponsors and players rely heavily on the black rock and the money it generates.

So when Austar’s Paxton mine collapsed on April 15 and killed Jamie Mitchell, 49, and Phillip Grant, 35, it cut to the core of both clubs.

On Saturday the Bulldogs and Goannas will set aside their intense rivalry to launch a combined jersey to raise money to support the Mitchell and Grant families.

Two half-Kurri, half-Cessnock jerseys have been created. One will be signed by first-grade players from both sides and auctioned after Saturday’s game at Kurri.

The other, signed by coalfields sons and Knights legends Mark Hughes, Andrew and Matthew Johns and St George great Eddie Lumsden, will be raffled.

The deaths of Mitchell and Grant have been particularly emotional for Kurri prop Justin Peterkin.

The man they call ‘‘Bump’’ worked in the same crew as Mitchell and Grant.

‘‘It is quite close to home,’’ Peterkin said.

‘‘I’d swapped shifts to play football on the Thursday night against Maitland, so I was actually on night shift and I was on the surface when the calls were coming in.’’

Three-quarters of the Kurri and Cessnock first-grade squads on Saturday work in the mining industry.

Cessnock president David Woodbury also works at Austar and has been personally affected by the tragedy.

‘‘When you’re on different crews you don’t have a lot to do with them, but I’ve known Jamie for over 20 years,’’ Woodbury said. ‘‘He played junior footy at Cessnock and was a keen supporter and would come and have a beer and follow the players.’’

The usually spiteful rivalry between the clubs has been replaced by a spirit of co-operation this week.

‘‘David Woodbury from Cessnock has been excellent in the support he’s thrown behind it,’’ Peterkin said.

‘‘Obviously I know [Cessnock coach Steve Kidd] Kiddie personally and he’s been right behind it as well.’’

Woodbury said he hoped to continue the fund-raising effort when Cessnock Sportsground host the second derby on June 28.

Rachel Jones chases world titles berth


NEWCASTLE BMX rider Rachel Jones will take a nothing-to-lose attitude into her campaign today for the last position on the Australian team for the world titles.

Jones will debut in the elite open division of the Australian championships when they begin at Shepparton in Victoria today after two days of practice.

The 18-year-old needs a standout performance at nationals to have a chance of gaining the fourth and final place on the Australian team for the world titles in July in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

If she gets on the podium, Jones will likely head to Berlin in June for a World Cup event to satisfy world titles selection criteria and hope she gets the nod.

Despite facing a make-or-break test at Shepparton, Jones said she was not feeling under pressure.

‘‘I’ll need to do quite well but this is my first year in the elite women’s division and I’ve really got nothing to lose this week,’’ Jones said. ‘‘I’m just going to go all out, give it everything and, if I get a result, well then great. The experience I get will always be a win.’’

She is in her first year against the likes of world champion Caroline Buchanan, but the 2013 national junior champion has recorded second and fifth placings in national series rounds in Queensland and Western Australia.

‘‘I know my capabilities,’’ she said. ‘‘I may not have the experience of the other girls, but I now have the ability and I’ll be aiming to get on the podium.’’

Her results are reward for the sacrifices the Lake Macquarie BMX Club rider has made over the past two months since moving away from her family and friends to train full-time on the Gold Coast at the Australian Institute of Sport.

‘‘It’s a big move and it’s not easy, but I needed to do it to do what I want in the sport,’’ she said.

After this weekend, Jones is aiming to gain more international experience as she builds towards her ultimate goal, an Olympic Games berth.

ABILITY: Rachel Jones on the track during the junior world championships in Auckland last year. Picture: Getty Images

NHRU: Coull leaves with head high

FENTON Coull remembers people suggesting he would be bored when he was appointed general manager of the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union.

Coull spent 16 years at Tennis Australia where, among a host of roles, he was Davis Cup team manager in the golden era of Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and the Woodies.

‘‘They thought going from a national/international role that I would be bored,’’ Coull said. ‘‘It has been anything but boring.

‘‘It doesn’t matter what level of sport you are at, everyone wants the best, everyone wants answers and everyone wants improvement.’’

Coull blew full-time yesterday after almost six years at the NHRU.

During his tenure the union improved its financial position, hosted the region’s first Test match, moved into new headquarters at the redeveloped No.2 Sportsground and won five straight country championship titles.

‘‘When you look back, there have been a number of achievements, but you always want more,’’ Coull said.

‘‘I am fairly pleased with the financial shape the union is in. Sponsorship is way up.’’

‘‘It was good to have the first full Test in Newcastle and then the British Lions.

‘‘We only missed out on a high-level game one year.

‘‘Moving into No.2 Sportsground, I was a small part of that project.

‘‘I guess one of the aims I had was to try and get the NHRU closer to the clubs.

‘‘It is a very difficult task. The governing body is always looked at suspiciously.

‘‘I might have ticked some of the boxes with some of the clubs, but I feel I haven’t ticked that box completely.’’

Coull admitted the bitter battle between Easts and the NHRU, which resulted in the club being axed from premier rugby then reinstated after mediation ordered by the Supreme Court, was the biggest and most testing issue.

‘‘It was my first day on the job,’’ he said.

‘‘I went to the board meeting that night and premier rugby went from 11 teams to 10. I didn’t realise the magnitude of the decision at the time.

‘‘I thought we will just get on with it, but there were a few hurdles.’’

The increased vitriol and animosity between clubs recently has also caused Coull concern, but overall he has enjoyed the role.

‘‘I have been fortunate to work with and meet the great majority of local rugby people, who are supportive of and hard working for our local game,’’ he said.

After helping new general manager Shelley Youman ease into the role this week, Coull is looking forward to playing more lawn bowls and travelling with wife Judy.

‘‘I nearly went to a Davis Cup tie this year,’’ Coull said.

‘‘I want to go back and be a spectator.’’