Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Kangaroos and Wallabies, oh my!

December 15, 2006

It seems like only yesterday. The Australian Rugby Union had stars in their eyes, overlooking the evaporating skills of their disintegrating forward pack and instead poaching League (the 13-man code) backliners with tantalyzing contract offers. Andrew Walker, Mat Rogers, Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuquiri all changed codes and dressed in the gold Wallabies jersey. All have certainly been successful to a degree -- Walker was a success on the field, but mostly a dysfunctional alcoholic mess off it, and went back to league several years ago. Rogers, Sailor and Tuquiri were all prominent members for the Wallabies in their extra-time loss to England in the final of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. But a year out from the 2007 RWC, only Tuquiri remains from that foursome, and there's a possibility he'll return to the 13-man code shortly as well.

What happened [part one]?

[Wendell] Sailor withdrew his appeal against a two-year ban yesterday - but continued to deny he was a drugs cheat.

The Australian rugby union star, suspended in July after testing positive to cocaine, gave no reason for the sudden withdrawal of his Court of Arbitration for Sport appeal.

"I cannot stress enough that I did not and would never have attempted to cheat in sport through any means," the dual international said in a statement. "Nothing in fact would be more against my beliefs than doing so through the use of drugs.

"Unfortunately I, like many other young Australians, fell to the off-field temptation of a so-called 'party drug'. I will pay a heavier price than most for this, but I hope my experience serves as some lesson to others about the dangers of these substances." ...


What happened [part two]?

The Gold Coast Titans have put their faith in Mat Rogers, trusting the football convert to honour his word and give what he says he can't give rugby union: 100 per cent commitment.

Rogers walked free of the golden shackles of the ARU yesterday afternoon, although rugby's governing body will continue to pay his $500,000-a-year contract until December 31. The veteran of 45 Wallabies Tests, contracted to play for Gold Coast in 2008, will then be free to start his career as a Titan a year early.

Titans managing director Michael Searle said yesterday he would give Rogers a month's break before sitting down to negotiate for next season but was adamant the former Shark and Queensland State of Origin star would have to accept a package significantly less than his 2008 contract and his current market value. Searle will wait until the New Year, with a view to having Rogers training on the Gold Coast by mid-January. ...


What's happening [part three]?

The tricky art of code-breaking

It seems money can't buy happiness when you are warming the Wallabies bench.

There is a feeling in rugby union circles that the decision by Mat Rogers to find a way out of the code is indicative of the blinkered attitude of footballers in the big-money era.

That is, Rogers couldn't get what he wanted, which was a guarantee of the No.10 Wallabies jumper, and wasn't prepared to accept what might have been a better role for him for the sake of the team, which was as a bench player. He considered that role beneath him, so, with his cards marked, he sought an escape route rather than soldier on.

... [T]he feeling in rugby is that had Rogers returned from the recent Wallabies tour of Europe with the No.10 jumper firmly under his arm, there would have been no talk of his seeking a release. He would have played on into the World Cup year, giving himself one last shot at union glory before returning to league and a farewell with Gold Coast. ...


What's happening [part four]?

Spotlight on Giteau

Mat Rogers's exit has shone the spotlight on the worrying lack of depth in the Wallabies midfield heading towards next year's World Cup.

Australia's selectors yesterday named a 47-man training squad for the World Cup in France that includes at least three players per position, save for the centres.

With Rogers now preparing to play for Gold Coast in the NRL, Matt Giteau may be forced to remain at inside-centre even if he's considered a better halfback or five-eighth.

Test coach John Connolly admitted as much due to the dearth of alternatives. Connolly also lamented the back-up stocks at outside-centre, where an injury to Stirling Mortlock would be a huge blow to Australia's hopes.

"Some of those back-line positions are the most open of them all," Connolly said. "We're definitely concerned about some areas there." ...


[UPDATE:] What's happening this second [part five]?

Tuquiri in talks with Rugby League


'It's a big attraction to go back'

Australia star Lote Tuqiri has left the Wallabies on tenterhooks by declaring that he will not sign an extension to his central Australian Rugby Union (ARU) contract until he has weighed up his option in Rugby League.

The wing's formal ARU offer - believed to be worth AU$1m ($783,000) per year - landed in his lap on Thursday; since then he has held informal talks with Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney Roosters and Cronulla.

And Tuqiri is not only offering himself to NRL clubs - the Waratahs star revealed he has spoken with Reds coach Eddie Jones about a possible return to Brisbane.

"If there's an NRL club keen on me, I will be happy to talk to them," Tuqiri told Australia's Daily Telegraph. ...


FWIW -- I reckon Wendell Sailor got a raw deal, suspended from his livelihood when the window for him to earn a good salary as an athlete is already squeezed. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) needs to update is prohibited substances lists. There's no good reason for cannabinoids to be on their banned list, and cocaine is a party drug. A dangerous one if used irresponsibly, yes, and like cannabinoids certainly illegal in many countries. But neither are performance enhancers. Dick Pound is supposed to be catching drug cheats, not legislating morality.


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