Sonny Bill Williams: I’ll be better; Toronto Wolfpack have to learn fast

Toronto Wolfpack’s dual-code star Sonny Bill Williams looks back upon a challenging introduction to Super League both personally and as a team in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports Rugby League.

The 34-year-old, who was featuring for the All Blacks in rugby union as recently as the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, surprised everyone by signing on with Super League’s newest inductees in November 2019: Toronto Wolfpack out of Canada.

Having joined on a mega two-year contract, the start to the campaign has been far from smooth for the serial winner though – the first six fixtures have seen six defeats.

“It’s been tough,” Williams says of this Super League season. “Obviously from a team point of view, we haven’t been playing the type of footy that we’d aspire to play.

“But at the same time, I’ve really enjoyed it. The competition, the grind of it, and I felt like we were kind of just starting to hit our straps.

“Obviously with this break, it’s unprecedented times that we’re in and it didn’t come at a great time for us. In saying that it gave us time to rebuild and look at what we were doing wrong because you can’t just lose six games on the trot and think you’re doing something right.

“We’ve been trying to work on that, and at the same time, I think the thing for us as a team is a lot of the boys need to understand that we’re not playing in the second division anymore, where you can get away with vital moments in the game where you lose a little bit of concentration.

“The teams we’re playing and the quality of players we’re lining up against will make you hurt, and we definitely found that out in the first month and a half of footy.

“I hope we can learn our lessons, keep growing and move forward.”

Known for his power in contact, strong carrying game and a wondrous offloading ability, Williams has struggled to stand out in a team that has only known defeat at the top level so far.

How would Williams grade his own start to life in a Toronto jersey?

“I know I can play a lot better than I’ve been playing, but at the same time, when you’re losing by 40 points each week and you’re making 30 to 40 tackles, it’s hard to get off how you want to play.

“But my mindset hasn’t changed, I’ve just got to keep doing the hard work. If I concentrate and put my mindset into doing the little things that you probably can’t see on the TV, like the defensive points and working hard and pushing for my team-mates, the pretty stuff will come afterwards.

“Hopefully we can start getting a few wins on the trot and then some of that magic can come out.

“But at this stage, that’s the self-assessment I’d give myself: I’m working hard but I haven’t been able to do the stuff that I know I can do.

“I just have to have Sabr, as we say as Muslims – which means patience and to keep working hard.”

Having begun his remarkable sporting career with the NRL’s Canterbury Bulldogs in 2004, he would play in the premier of southern hemisphere’s rugby league until 2008, when a move to French club Toulon tempted him to rugby union.

In 2010, he moved back to New Zealand but remained in rugby union as he signed for Canterbury and latterly the Crusaders, making his All Blacks debut the same year.

He remained in Super Rugby with the Chiefs – albeit he spent 2012 in Japan with Panasonic Wild Knights and the 2013 season and beginning of the 2014 campaign back in rugby league with the Sydney Roosters.

He returned to Union to represent New Zealand at the 2016 Olympics in Sevens and at the 2015 Rugby World Cup for the All Blacks – ultimately lifting the trophy.

Williams remained in the 15-man code for another four years with the hope of clinching another World Cup, before joining Super League for the first time after New Zealand’s semi-final exit to England in Japan.

As a man who has encountered and experienced so many different sporting environments, what has he made of Super League so far?

“I’ve always loved playing in the UK, whether the 13-man game or the 15-man game, I’ve always had a lot of support here,” he says.

“And from a spiritual point of view, the Ummah, the Muslim community is very strong there as well, and I love all of that.

“The biggest thing is the amount of support. You go away from home, and as a Toronto side, we’ve played all our home games away from home also, the amount of support I’ve got from a personal point of view has been really uplifting.

“For me, I’m just me. Humbly, I’m a Muslim. Humbly, I’ve been blessed to have been gifted to play sport.

“Rugby League doesn’t define who I am as a person or as a man, and for me, I try to treat everyone how I’d like to be treated, and that’s how I try to move.

“Sport has allowed me to move in a way where all ages from a five-year-old boy to an 80-year-old man can come up to me and say: ‘How are you Sonny?’, so I try to be a good person and give them a bit of time too. I quite enjoy that.”

At the moment, Williams is regarded as the biggest name in Super League, but next year he may have some competition for such a mantle.

That is because last week, Australia, Queensland and NRL legend Greg Inglis was confirmed to be coming out of retirement to join the Warrington Wolves in 2021.

What does Williams make of such a signing?

“Great signing. I’ve always admired GI (Greg Inglis). He’s a once in a lifetime type of player.

“I think where Super League has struggled over the last 10-15 years has been in not getting big-name players across the pitch over here.

“And whether it be GI or myself or other players, it brings eyeballs to the game and that’s what we need.

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Scott Morrison reacts to NRL drugs scandal

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has responded to the news NRL star Bronson Xerri was caught up in controversy after his positive test to performance-enhancing drugs was announced yesterday.

The 19-year-old centre, who plays for Morrison’s favourite team the Sharks, faces a four-year ban after anabolic steroids were found in his system from a test undertaken in November.

Speaking on Today, the PM said there should be “no tolerance” for drugs in sport.

"It's very disappointing. That process is still ongoing with ASADA so I will let that play out,” Morrison said. “He’s a very talented young player. There’s no doubt about that.

“He’s as quick as lightning and this is very disappointing. I feel for the players and the club but there is no tolerance for drugs in sport and ASADA should do their job and should follow that through.

"There are no exceptions and it would appear — and I hope it's not the case — but it would appear that he (Xerri) has made some very poor decisions."

Xerri will wait to have his B-sample tested but if that too comes back positive then the teenage flyer faces a lengthy stint on the sidelines.

Xerri tested positive to four banned substances when tested last November, but was only notified and provisionally banned on Tuesday — just two days out from the season’s resumption.

The exciting talent did not play a game in that time, after missing the opening two rounds of 2020 due to a shoulder injury.

RELATED: Xerri’s boast before drugs bombshell

Bronson Xerri’s positive test is just what the NRL didn’t need.Source:News Corp Australia

A six-month delay in the notification process of Xerri’s positive sample has been questioned by former Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen and NRL veteran James Graham, as they queried why it took so long to return a result.

Gallen, who was at the Sharks during the 2011 peptides scandal and was one of 10 players stood down by ASADA in 2014, accused the body of chasing headlines and said the situation should have been dealt with in November when the positive sample was given.

The timeline is also confusing for Dragons prop Graham, who said he could not understand why ASADA would let an athlete with a positive sample potentially play for six months.

“Personally, I’ve probably got more questions for ASADA than I do Bronson Xerri at the moment,” Graham said on NRL 360.

“I’m struggling to get my head around how they let a player who has provided a positive test potentially play for six months.

“I’m dumbfounded for that. I’d have plenty of questions for ASADA.”

Xerri was set to be named for the Sharks to play the Wests Tigers on Saturday.

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Ponga set to sign multimillion-dollar deal with the Knights

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Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga is set to ink a new deal that will see him remain in Newcastle for as long as five more years.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the 22-year-old is on the verge of signing lucrative deal of $1.1 million a season. The club is reportedly finalising the exact length of the contract, but it could be up to five years, keeping him a Knight until 2025.

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The deal — which is expected to be announced this week — means Ponga’s dream of representing the All Blacks will be put on hold and he will become one of five highest-paid players in the NRL.

Ponga shocked the rugby league community when he made the revelation that he’d like to switch to union and play for the All Blacks in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The Knights are keen to lock down their star fullback who is off contract at the end of the 2021 season.

Ponga’s father, Andrew took the reins of contract negotiations after his son parted ways with former manager Wayde Rushton.

Originally published asPonga set to become $1m player: reports

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NRL 2020: John Bateman Canberra Raiders contract twist

Canberra chief executive Don Furner has confirmed star forward John Bateman has been given permission to field offers from rival clubs despite remaining contracted through to the end of the 2021 NRL season.

Furner’s comments come after Bateman broke his silence on his ongoing contract saga over the weekend, denying reports he has on four occasions asked to be released from his Raiders contract.

Follow up reports claim Bateman’s manager Isaac Moses has requested releases for his client since grand final week last year when Bateman’s contract situation was first brought to light.

The 26-year-old is reportedly halfway through a unique four-year deal with the Raiders that allows him to renegotiate the financial terms of the contract at the end of every season.

After a breakthrough season where he was awarded the Dally M Second-Rower of the Year Award, The Daily Telegraph reports Bateman’s manager wants a contract upgrade worth around $800,000 per season — a significant upgrade on the $600,000 he is scheduled to earn in 2021 under the terms of his Raiders contract.

The prickly situation exploded on Friday night when Bateman angrily hit out at Fox Sports reporter James Hooper over the first report of his release requests.

“You better stick to polishing that bald head big fella because your (poo emoji) at being a journo. Never once have I asked for a release. Bullshit story #fakenews,” he posted on Twitter.

Bateman refused to back away from the comment in interviews with The Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday.

John Bateman has his hands full.Source:Getty Images

The reports indicate Furner has already told Bateman the club has accepted that it is not in a position to match some of the rich deals Bateman is expected to receive from rival clubs this year.

Despite remaining contracted until the end of 2021, Bateman is now expected to leave the club at the end of 2020.

Bateman, however, claims he wants to stay at the Raiders long term.

“If I wanted to ask for a release, I could have done,” Bateman told smh.com.au.

“I don’t want to leave. I want to extend. I’ve never once asked for a release. I told Isaac, ‘Listen, don’t rush into anything because I’m not in any rush’.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Phil Rothfield revealed a twist on Saturday night in a segment on Fox League, revealing the Raiders would be prepared to up their offer towards Bateman’s reported $800,000 salary demands — if the star player and his agent were prepared to extend his deal beyond 2021.

He reports Bateman and Moses do not want to sign a long-term deal.

“I think Canberra would be more than happy to upgrade him, but they want an extension,” Rothfield said.

“At this stage, Isaac Moses has knocked that back.”

WESTS TIGERS APPROACH FOLAU

Israel Folau hasn’t been forgotten.Source:Getty Images

Israel Folau was reportedly sounded out over a possible return to the NRL with Wests Tigers.

The Sydney rugby league club was said to have put out the feelers to see if the former Wallabies star would be interested in returning to Australia but were told it was not an option for the 31-year-old.

However, the club did not make a formal offer, the report says. “Wests Tigers were just feeling out the situation. It didn’t go too far and nothing will come of it,” a source close to Folau was quoted as saying by The Daily Telegraph.

Folau is said to prefer remaining in France with Super League club Catalans, whose president Bernard Guasch has said he expects Folau to sign a new one-year deal with the Perpignan-based club.

The former dual-code international, sacked by Rugby Australia last year for controversially posting religious tweets which some found offensive, has also rejected approaches from French rugby union clubs, including Top 14 outfit Montpellier.

— AAP

RAIDERS FALL FLAT ON FREE TO AIR

Canberra have learned the hard way that success doesn’t always pay, their free- to-air television games slashed from eight to three in the revised NRL draw. Riding high after reaching last year’s grand final, the Raiders were given their most free-to-air exposure in a decade in the original 2020 draw. However, the revised schedule has forced a rethink, with the loss of six rounds and broadcasters having slightly more influence given the lack of crowds and competition stoppage.

It means Canberra aren’t guaranteed a game on Nine after round 10, with the possibility of playing no home games on TV at their own GIO Stadium. Canberra have long been frustrated by a lack of free-to-air time as they fall out of the five-city ratings market, but had been relieved to finally be rewarded last November.

Raiders boss Don Furner claimed at the time that the extra exposure would earn future financial rewards with increased sponsorship value on jerseys. It comes after the club was handed the toughest travel itinerary in the NRL on the competition’s restart, asked to play their home games in Campbelltown. The south-west Sydney ground is 230km north of their normal base, with the club weighing up whether they are better off flying to “home matches”. Manly and the Warriors are among the other big losers when it comes to TV exposure in the draw.

John Bateman and Nick Cotric will get just three games on Nine.Source:News Regional Media

After moving across the Tasman to ensure the commencement of the campaign, the Warriors will appear on Nine just once in the regular season. And even then those who have jumped on the Warriors’ bandwagon will have to wait until round 17 when the play Parramatta to see them on free-to-air TV. The Sea Eagles also suffered a reduced free-to-air television schedule, with their games dropping from 11 to six.

In comparison, the likes of Brisbane and Parramatta have 15 and 13 free-to-air games each.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo claimed this year’s discrepancies were also a result of the desire to schedule blockbusters to relaunch the season. “It’s really complex because it’s made up on a number of factors,” Abdo said. “This year is really different because we wanted to focus on giving fans blockbusters at the start of the year and we have been able to achieve that.” Brisbane’s free-to-air games are all on the high-rating Thursday and Friday nights, with the club not scheduled for a day game in the regular season. South Sydney have 12 free-to-air games and the Roosters 11.

All figures are based only on the Thursday, Friday and Sunday afternoon fixtures.

It is possible Nine could regain its Saturday night simulcast of the 7.30pm game in the final six rounds when a new TV deal is signed.

If that is the case, the Roosters would pick up an additional three free-to-air games.

One of those would be against Canberra, taking the Raiders’ tally to four. Meanwhile, the NRL has introduced a Sunday night prime time slot for the first nine rounds to replace the 2pm game.

EACH NRL CLUB’S FREE-TO-AIR TELEVISION COUNT

Brisbane: 15

Parramatta: 13

Melbourne, South Sydney: 12

Sydney Roosters: 11

Newcastle: 9

North Queensland, Penrith: 8

St George Illawarra: 7

Manly, Wests Tigers: 6

Canterbury: 5

Canberra, Cronulla: 3

Gold Coast, Warriors: 1

*Excludes yet-to-be-confirmed Channel Nine Saturday night simulcast in final six rounds.

— AAP

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Mark Geyer excited by ‘All Star pack’ as Broncos close in on Ben Te’o signing

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Ben Te’o is set to be signed by the Broncos after the club created room to move in their salary cap due to the departure of Andrew McCullough to the Knights.

According to Triple M’s Ben Dobbin, the former Broncos back-rower and South Sydney premiership star’s signing is imminent.

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Salary cap set to remain unchanged

NRL: In a win for the players, ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys has revealed next year’s salary cap is set to remain unchanged.

“The big story to come out of this (Andrew McCullough’s departure) is that while Brisbane have been training on the main field at Red Hill over at the old field where the Broncos have always trained Ben Te’o has been training with some Broncos trainers,” Dobbin told Triple M.

“The rugby union player has been training for the last three weeks on his own.

“I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he said I am still contracted to the Sunwolves. Well the Sunwolves are folding because of Super Rugby.

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“I’ve spoken to the Broncos and they have been to the NRL to see how much they could put him under there and now Andrew McCullough has gone there is room in the cap for Ben Te’o to join the Brisbane Broncos.

“It will happen. It might not happen this week, but in the next two weeks Ben Te’o at 33 years of age will finish his career at the Broncos.

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“What a handy bloke to have for a bit of leadership. he can play in the centres. He can play on the edge. A great bench player and it will strengthen their bench.”

Mark Geyer believes Te’o is the ideal fit for the Broncos boom young pack.

Ben Te’o during his stint playing rugby for England.Source:Getty Images

“He’s exactly what they need,” Geyer said.

“That is an astute signing for McCullough at the Knights and Te'o’ at the Broncos. That is a win, win for both clubs because now you put Lodge, Haas, Carrigan, Flegler, Fifita, Pangai Jr, Ofahengaue and skipper Alex Glenn. It is almost an All Star pack.”

Originally published asGeyer excited by ‘All Star pack’ as Broncos close in on Te’o signing

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NRL warns there are still ‘plenty of hurdles’ to ensure uninterrupted season

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The end of a dispute between referees and the NRL was the final major hurdle to be cleared before next week’s resumption of the 2020 season.

But some bumps still lie ahead for the competition according to NRL head of football Graham Annesley.

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NZ approved to loan a forward

NRL: New Zealand Warriors coach Stephen Kearney is talking on Fox League Live about how much of a boost the NRL’s approval of loaning a player is to the squad.

The threat of legal action by referees was canned on Friday with the NRL getting the go-ahead to scrap the pocket official for 2020.

A decision on whether the game would revert to two referees or carry on with one in 2021 will be made at a later date.

That resolution was the last big obstacle to resuming the season after the COVID-19 crisis, clearing the path for round three to kick off on Thursday when Brisbane host Parramatta.

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Annesley however says there’s no room for anyone in the game to relax if the season is to continue without further interruption.

“We’ve still got lots of hurdles to overcome,” he told AAP.

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“We’ve still got to maintain our protocol procedure. We’ve still got to try and ensure our players stay fit and healthy and don’t get exposed to any danger from either the virus or sickness generally.

“There are still plenty of potential humps in the road ahead for us.

“Everyone wants to see us get through the whole season without interruption and they want to see crowds back and they want to see us get back to normal. That’s what we’re all focusing on.”

Buzz breaks down Bateman saga

NRL: Phil Rothfiel joins Fox League Live to discuss John Bateman’s contract negotiations with the Canberra Raiders.

Another issue to be finalised in coming days will be signing off on new broadcast deals.

The ARL Commission on Tuesday approved a deal to be sent to both Nine and Fox Sports, with approval still required from both their boards.

The proposed deal has Fox Sports remain as the game’s Pay TV broadcasters until at least the end of 2027 while Nine’s deal will at this stage run until the end of 2022, however it could still extend.

Both deals are expected to be finalised before the season resumption.

Originally published asNRL warns there are still ‘plenty of hurdles’ to ensure uninterrupted season

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James Roberts firms for Rabbitohs return after passing coronavirus test

Rabbitohs star centre James Roberts trained with his teammates on Saturday in a sign he could be available to play in Round 3 against the Roosters.

Teammate Damien Cook confirmed that Roberts had passed his COVID-19 test and was free to train with the club and push for selection in the first round of the season restart.

The development puts an end to conjecture he could be forced to endure a 14-day isolation period after finishing his stint at a rehabilitation facility.

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Teammates back Latrell to fire against Roosters

NRL: Liam Knight has backed superstar teammate Latrell Mitchell to star against his former team the Sydney Roosters, after declaring the fullback to be happy and healthy.

“He was back at training today and it was great to have him back,” Cook said On Triple M’s Saturday Scrum.

“He had a big smile on his face and is happy to be back around the boys.

“I think he got tested yesterday and obviously all good that’s why he was there today and had the footy back in his hands and was happy to be playing some footy.

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“That’s all we wanted for James to take as much time as he needed and when he was ready to come back we were waiting for him, so we are happy to have him there.”

Roberts’ availability would be a massive boost for a backline that will be missing key playmaker Cody Walker who was suspended for two games for his role in a fight in his hometown of Casino.

The Rabbitohs take on arch rivals the Roosters next Friday night at 7.50pm.

James Roberts was happy to be back with his Rabbitohs teammates.Source:AAP

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Originally published asRoberts firms for Rabbitohs return after passing coronavirus test

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Stumbling block that dashed Josh Reynolds’ fairytale Bulldogs return

Hopes of a fairytale return to Belmore have been squashed for Josh Reynolds with the former State of Origin half to remain with the Wests Tigers.

Negotiations over a switch to Canterbury have stalled after the clubs failed to reach an agreement on how his salary, believed to be around $750,000 a season, would be divided.

While the Bulldogs are in the market for players, their former cult hero would command too much of their salary cap for 2020, with the Tigers unwilling to pay top dollar for him to play at a rival club.

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Teammates back Latrell to fire against Roosters

NRL: Liam Knight has backed superstar teammate Latrell Mitchell to star against his former team the Sydney Roosters, after declaring the fullback to be happy and healthy.

On Friday Bulldogs coach Dean Pay said it was difficult to make agreements with clubs for players on huge wages while keeping the salary cap in balance.

“From our point of view it’s something that’s gone off the boil to a certain degree,” he said.

“When there’s large sums of money involved it’s hard to manage that side of the cap and that’s where it gets really difficult to manage.”

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Reynolds was let go by the Bulldogs at the end of 2017 after seven years and two grand finals with the club. Injury has restricted him to just 14 games for the Tigers, primarily in the halves or as a bench utility.

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However, the Bulldogs have plenty of money tied up in the halves with million- dollar star Kieran Foran shaping to return to the field in round three and Lachlan Lewis, Brandon Wakeham and Jack Cogger vying for a spot.

The Bulldogs are also dealing with several injuries from their first-grade side for the season, while Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor have had their contracts de-registered.

Josh Reynolds at Tigers training.Source:AAP

These holes need to be filled, but only when it is the right fit says Pay.

“It’s one of those things where we’re always looking for quality players but you’ve got to be able to fit in with what we’re doing salary-cap wise with different players so there’s a lot of different restrictions,” he said.

Originally published asStumbling block that dashed Reynolds’ fairytale Bulldogs return

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Final domino falls as Referees Union agree with NRL on one condition

The NRL have secured a significant win, with the referees’ union dropping their threat of industrial action and the pocket official scrapped just as their feud threatened to go nuclear.

After a dramatic day where both sides fired shots at each other, the referees’ union eventually relented on Friday night and called off weekend arbitration.

Under the deal, 22 full-time referees will be employed both this year and next with the one-referee system to be a “trial” that is reviewed at year’s end.

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NRL to proceed with one ref

NRL: The NRL and the referees union have come to an agreement to continue the rest of the season with just one main referee.

A working committee of players, coaches referees and management will be set up, with their feedback handed to the commission before a call is made on 2021.

The development came after the union infuriated the NRL on Friday by accusing them of overlooking player safety and labelled them “arrogant” and like a “bull in a china shop” in rushing to make changes.

“It’s simple: Today’s game is safer with two refs,” the Professional Rugby League Match Officials said in a statement.

“On numerous occasions, the second referee has picked up potential causes of harm to players which were not detected at the same time by the other three match officials, nor the bunker.

“This includes tackles, holds and throws that can cause significant injury.

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“Identifying and responding to these incidents promptly is crucial in ensuring player safety, and in complying with concussion protocols where a head injury is suspected.

“But this does not appear to concern the league’s bosses.”

The union claimed that 80 per cent of ruck penalties are spotted by the pocket referee, who has been eliminated in the NRL’s new model.

They also said the NRL had ignored the pleas of coaches of players during a May 11 Project Apollo meeting in moving to the one-referee system.

“The league bosses were simply arrogant with this one ref decision,” the statement said.

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“They were like a ‘bull in a china shop’.”

The comments angered ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys, who immediately said the referees had lost all credibility through the claims.

He insisted that under his plan there will be extra qualified eyes on the ruck, with officials who have previously been pocket referees now acting as touch judges.

Both they and the bunker will be given license to communicate with the central referee on the ruck as part of the changes approved by the commission. He also attacked claims that the game would save “peanuts” by eliminating the pocket referee, arguing the figure would be close to $2 million in a full season.

Jimmy the jet may return

NRL: The Rabbitohs are hopeful that James Roberts will be healthy to play against the Roosters after he was suffering with mental health problems.

“I think the NRL knows what the cost savings are more than an association would,” V’landys told AAP.

“The commission should be allowed to change its rules and policies to maximise its revenues.”

Hours later V’landys had seemingly won the battle, with confirmation just before 8pm the PRLMO had called off a Fair Work hearing following meetings with the league.

“It is a constructive sign that the NRL have agreed to do this on a trial basis until the end of the year,” PRLMO chairman Silvio Del Vecchio said.

Foran has suffers set back

NRL: Bulldogs player Kieran Foran has suffered another injury set back as he was destined to return, this time hurting his hamstring.

“Our case in the Fair Work Commission will be resumed, if necessary, and can be revisited, following the ARLC Commission’s response to the working group’s deliberations at the end of the season.”

Vlandy’s praised the actions of “individual referees” following the news.

“It was heart-warming to see their desire that nothing stands in the way of the 28th May commencement of our great game,” he said.

Originally published asFinal domino falls as Referees Union agree with NRL on one condition

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Titans set for shock spine shuffle as anti-vax duo face uphill selection battle

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He’s not far off but Gold Coast forward Bryce Cartwright’s delay in getting a medical exemption to returning to training has put his place in the Titans’ line-up in jeopardy.

Cartwright was granted an 11th-hour medical exemption last week allowing him to train with the Titans despite not having an influenza vaccination.

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‘This year will mean more’

NRL: Interim NRL Chief Executive Andrew Abdo believes with everything the clubs have gone through in 2020, this year will mean more than others year, to whoever comes out on top.

The 25-year-old was reportedly facing a $450,000 salary hit if he had been stood down by the club for refusing the jab on non-medical grounds. The medical exemption came after earlier stating a moral objection to receiving the flu shot.

Both he and teammate Brian Kelly missed training with their teammates due to the situation, with Kelly receiving the shot last week to be cleared to train and play.

Titans coach Justin Holbrook said both players would need to prove next week they are at the same level as their teammates if they’re to be considered for selection for the NRL round-three clash against North Queensland in Townsville next Friday.

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“Bryce has missed a full week and Brian Kelly actually missed the week before as well. So he’s missed two weeks,” Holbrook said.

“Obviously they trained while they were off. Bryce trained really hard so he’s not a million miles off where the group’s at.

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“They’ll definitely come into play, whether or not they’ll be right for the game, I’m not sure yet. I’ll see how next week pans out.”

Regardless of Kelly or Cartwright’s eligibility, the Titans are set to take on the Cowboys with a much-changed line-up from the first two rounds of the competition.

Young fullback AJ Brimson is sidelined until at least August after a stress fracture in his back developed into a full fracture.

Bryce Cartwright is racing the clock to be fit for Round 3.Source:AAP

Holbrook is contemplating a backline reshuffle with new arrival Jamal Fogarty set to play at halfback while Ash Taylor shifts to five-eighth and Tyrone Roberts replaces Brimson in the No.1 jersey.

“It’s definitely probably a favoured option at the moment,” Holbrook said.

“We’ve still got a few more training sessions but with AJ being out a lot longer than we thought, obviously Phil Sami is good enough to play there, but we want to look at what’s best for our team.”

Originally published asTitans set for shock spine shuffle as anti-vax duo face uphill selection battle

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