Garry Schofield’s verdict on NRL return

Loved it, loved it, loved it…

The NRL is back with a bang, and what a fantastic advert for our great game those round three matches provided.

Hopefully Super League can now follow suit whenever the season resumes over here.

Brisbane and Parramatta set the benchmark at Suncorp on Thursday in what was the first NRL match in almost ten weeks.

The ‘Electric Eels’ took up where they left off, and, by making if three wins from three, people are already wondering whether the trophy will end up at Parramatta, so denying the Roosters that hat-trick of Premierships that they crave so much.

And there were plenty of other talking points, all of them positive.

As I said last week, I’ve already had to eat humble pie over my pre-season prediction that Huddersfield would finish bottom of Super League.

And I’ll hold my hands up again, since I thought the second round of the NRL, which was played behind closed doors back in March, was a real damp squib and feared a repeat.

But how wrong was I?

Credit to the players, because they seem to have got their heads firmly around performing before an empty stadium, and the intensity, pace and quality of the matches was spot on.

The subtle addition of crowd noise by the TV people was also a masterstroke, and you almost forgot there were no fans present.

And I thought the reduction to one referee and new ‘six-again’ rule of a restarted tackle count, rather than penalty for a ruck infringement, really helped speed things up.

As the commentary team pointed during the Brisbane-Parramatta game, the referee was hardly mentioned, which shows he did a great job and coped with the changes without any problems.

I don’t really like copying the Aussies, but I’d certainly like to see the ‘six-again’ rule brought into Super League, along with a maximum of two opposing players in the tackle, because the wrestling and delaying tactics which have come into our game have been a big frustration.

Over here, tackles can sometimes take up to eight seconds, just what the defending team wants, but when I was counting during the NRL matches, the longest was five.

Given that there isn’t much other live sport around at the moment, millions of people all over the world tuned in and will have seen just what a fantastic product Rugby League can be.

Bateman’s dilemma

HE’S not expected to return from shoulder surgery until Canberra head to Wests the weekend after next, but that hasn’t stopped John Bateman making the headlines.

It’s all down to where he will be next year, with the Raiders reportedly giving him permission to talk to other clubs, and St George, Canterbury and Gold Coast said to be sniffing around.

That’s no surprise, because John is a talented player who made a good impression in his first season Down Under last year, and he is still only 26.

It would certainly be interesting to see him link up with Justin Holbrook at the Titans, given their recent Wigan-St Helens rivalry.

If the rumours are to be believed, John is pushing for a pay rise at Canberra, where he is contracted until the end of 2021.

He’s said to earn a salary of A$600,000, which equates to around £325,000 and is certainly not too shabby. But he wants A$800,000, around £430,000.

When I was at Balmain back in the 1980s, Manly came in with an offer to double my money, but I stayed put.

My reasoning was that the Tigers had given me my opportunity in Australia and treated me really well, and I felt a loyalty to them.

Obviously, I don’t know the exact ins and outs of John’s situation at the Raiders, but Ricky Stuart has given him his chance in the NRL and also the freedom to flourish out on the pitch.

As I’ve said, John did really well last year, but there’s a thing called second-season syndrome, and I’d like to see him reproduce his form of 2019 when he returns to the field following his operation.

Having proved his resilience and consistency, he can complete his Canberra contract and then see what offers are out there for 2022 and beyond.

Player power?

SO, the salary cap remains at £2.1 million, which should help maintain the quality of the European game as that crucial new television deal is negotiated.

But I found it curious that after all the talk of around half of the dozen Super League clubs seeking a reduction to £1.8 million, the retention vote was unanimous. So what changed?

And if I’m being honest, I found it pretty laughable that the GMB union, representing the players these days, thought there was any chance of having a say.

Players have always been commodities. There is always someone else who will take your place, and in my view, there is no chance of players dictating what happens in Rugby League.

Obviously, players want to secure the best financial terms they can. But at the end of the day, like it or not, the owners and chief executives control the purse strings and have the power.

How about Melbourne 1992?

IT WAS good to relive the last win by a Great Britain or England team over Australia, 23-12 in Sydney in 2006, via the TV screen on Friday evening.

But come on Sky, do the decent thing and show the second Ashes Test of 1992, when we won 33-10 to equal our biggest winning margin over the Aussies.

I was so proud to skipper the Lions at Princes Park in Melbourne, and the presence of thousands of our fans who followed us throughout the tour made it all the more special.

We certainly celebrated afterwards, and I know Sky showed the match, because they were all out drinking with us!

Eddie Hemmings and Mike Stephenson, with his memorable ‘go McGinty, go’ comment, were on the mikes, and Neville Smith was the producer.

Billy McGinty was part of an all-Wigan pack, while Shaun Edwards was alongside me in the halves because Andy Gregory was injured.

I did make one mistake during the match – giving Aussie prop Paul Harragon some verbals, in the belief that the referee, Kiwi Dennis Hale, was close by.

It turned out he was nowhere near, so I had to go toe to toe with the big man… not!