Think before you tweet

By Jack Brady

More often than not nowadays when you look at the back of a newspaper there is bound to be some sort of sporting controversy splashed across the page.

Sex, drugs, assaults, brawls, racism and common indecency – the National Rugby League specifically has faced it all in recent times.

A new phenomenon of controversy though has made itself prevalent lately in the form of the spoken word or the haphazard uploading of images on social media – where rugby league players are making a name for themselves for all the wrong reasons.

Instances like New South Wales and Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah suggesting to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard that she should consider buying a noose for her birthday or Josh Dugan losing his Canberra Raiders contract and the punters respect for a myriad of reasons involving social media has essentially led to tweets, Instagram photos and Facebook statuses becoming news.

In an era where NRL clubs are continuously warn their players of the pitfalls of social media, the question is – is it fair that personal thoughts of individuals should be spun into back page news or should players, in their privileged positions as role models in society become accountable for their actions?

Retired Parramatta, New South Wales and Australian Kangaroos representative Eric Grothe Jr. believes at the end of the day it all comes down to the individual, believing those who use social media need to be accountable for their actions. Grothe, who has since signaled his intentions to return to the NRL next season, attributes his use of social media as a way to connect with the masses of people he never meets.

“I never put anything on social media that I’m not willing to back up. In case I put something up there and it got in newspaper the next day and people were saying, ‘why did you tweet that?’ Everything is pre-thought with me. I don’t just blindly tweet things,” Grothe said.

“It comes down to how the individual feels about what they put out there on Twitter. Personally, I probably look at more things than not and cringe about what people put out. I don’t think some people realise until they actually send it and see the reaction, and what big a mistake some of the things they tweet or put on Facebook can make.

“One of the best pieces of advice you could give someone I reckon is when you’ve had a few drinks – put your phone away. It’s probably the smartest thing to do. Try and ask yourself is this going to be regretted in the morning, if so, don’t do it. You have to be accountable… if you put things out there in the world for people to see you have to expect the repercussions.”

Grothe isn’t fazed about the current media landscape’s use of social media interactions as news either or as he puts it “off the back of something tweeted from a footballer that’s stuffed up”.

“[Back when he played] there were programs where people would come around and show you what to and what not to do on social media. It’s pretty much common sense with me – I just never get to personal or never get to deep on there, I don’t see it as diary for everyone to read,” Grothe said.

“With the Josh Dugan stuff, for example, he has to be open to it if he’s going to put photos up or if anyone is going to put photos up of them with their shirts off, drinking drinks and doing gang signs, they have to be ready for it to be in the newspaper nowadays – it’s just the way it is.”

So much of an influence that social media has had on the reporting of rugby league and the NRL in the media that up-and-coming and recently graduated journalists are beginning to add social media experience to their journalistic arsenal.

Ricardo Ascenso, for example, recently graduated from Sydney’s Macleay College, has racked up a social media repertoire that others can only dream off.  For those not savvy with his achievements, Ascenso runs the ever so popular @NRLNEWS Twitter handle. The most popular unofficial news account dedicated to the National Rugby League, an account followed by over 23,000 individuals.

“@NRL_NEWS was basically all part of that process I guess to just get involved in anything to do with the media and social media side being that’s what it is basically about these days. It was kind of the first step… to eventually go into more exciting things,” Ascenso said.

“To be honest, when I first started taking over it all I was expecting a couple of thousand [followers] tops if that. For it to get to 23000, I’m pretty sure it’s the single biggest amount of followers for an independent NRL news account on twitter and that’s awesome. It wasn’t really anything that I would’ve been expecting when it all started up.”

Boosting an impressive social media resume appears to be an important aspect to Ascenso’s future success considering his thoughts on social media in the realm of journalism.

“Nowadays media can’t exist without social media. I guess I sort of just started doing it [@NRLNEWS] because you could kind of see where things were heading,” Ascenso said.

“In some aspects, online media has probably and will continue to overtake the newspaper sort of stuff. There’s always a place for the written side of things when it comes to newspapers and magazines and I think in how they’re presented is basically down to interpretation and how someone sees the effect that one has on the other.

“Things break on social media quicker these days then they do on any other media because it’s right there and accessible so really if you wanted to you could say it is the fault of media these days because the minute something happens it’s on social media before anywhere else.”

With Twitter handles, like Ascenso’s and unofficial NRL blogs becoming increasingly common it appears in some instances it is up to the club to educate those they employ, the players. If ever a club was to be diligent in the face of controversies surrounding social media and the aftermath of it played out on a grander scale then the Newcastle Knights are trying their absolute hardest to avoid such things.

Former Newcastle Knights first-grade player, Marvin Karawana is proof that such lectures on social media etiquette are working. That accountability, in light of the ever present forms of online and social media’s continued growth, is a lesson that appears to have stuck solid with most players upon hearing what their club has to say about matters concerned with social media.

While he may have retired from the NRL back in 2011, Karawana, who played 34 games for the Newcastle Knights over five years, describes his social media use as casual thing to do but understands that it is just another aspect of being responsible in the public eye.

“We had people that the NRL had organised to come in and speak to us as a group on the dangers of social media. Personally, I think it’s just common sense that if you are going to be on a social networking platform then you should know that certain things you put out there could get you into trouble… the people who came in to speak to us reiterated all of the dangers and things not to do,” Karawana said.

“[Players] just need to think what they are about to post before they do it. If you think it is going to be something that could get you in trouble, then either don’t post it or ask somebody else before you do. I think it can be a good thing for a player [though], as long as they are responsible and think about things before they post.”

Ironically, Karawana, who noted that if he had a few spare minutes during the day he would read through his Twitter timeline to see if there is any news going on, isn’t a fan of news being produced from social media occurrences.

“People just have to accept how things are now, and that if they are saying things or posting pictures on a public forum, then anybody can see it and it could end up in the newspapers,” Karawana said.

On the same note, James Elias, a current reserve-grade player for the Knights, resonates with the same lessons learnt by Karawana during his time at the club. Elias, unlike a lot of players, is not on Twitter but still understands the pitfalls involved on other platforms of social media.

“They [Newcastle Knights] do social media sessions every year, one or two sessions just before pre-season. It’s more like a lecture, a lecture where they just hammer everything into you about what they expect from you and what not to put up in social media,” Elias said.

“They give you advice to obviously watch what you put up on Facebook and all that sort of stuff. Putting photos up of you in Knights clothing – you’re not allowed to do it. Make sure what you’re putting up isn’t rude or isn’t going to bring the club into disrepute.

“When they do have instances through the season, like the Josh Dugan stuff, they’ll bring us in and talk about it and highlight why it’s a good idea not to put stuff like that on social media.”

So what has Elias taking from his time in the lectures involving social media etiquette?

“I definitely try and keep everything I have on the internet at a minimum and write stuff that isn’t out there. I keep it generic. Even if I wasn’t a football player, I would definitely keep as much personal details as possible off social media,” Elias said.

“If you’re putting yourself out there by saying all that sort of crap like Josh Dugan was… well then you know he pretty much deserved it. I think there’s a certain line you cross. It comes back to an individual being accountable.”

Accountability is a word that has been mentioned a lot. As social media grows and expands into news media, such stories are going to come from these platforms if a rugby league player isn’t careful.  Nicholas Janzen, a journalist at Big League and NRL.com, believes that social media use is the same as driving a car or walking the streets or doing anything else that requires some level of responsibility in society.

“There’s a proper way to use it and there’s an improper way to use. Obviously some people take time to understand how to use it correctly… people have lived and learned and suffered consequences from what they’ve said on social media,” Janzen said.

“At the end of the day, you are essentially saying these things and they can still be used in a court of law, they’re still potentially defamatory these comments… and people need to think before they say things and type things.”

As for its role in journalism, Janzen believes that while it is useful it is not an imperative when it comes to the profession.

“It’s [Social Media] a great tool to undertake research because you can immediately delve into the thoughts and beliefs of your subject without even getting dressed. On the whole it is a supplementary tool that can help you shape your article and help you on the path to help you researching the subject… and educating your audience,” said Janzen.

While his tweets may be news-oriented, Janzen insists this is because of the privileged position he finds himself in within his role as a journalist.

“If on the off chance I receive a press release and I’m in front of a computer and having a look at Twitter and I know that I’m going to be one of the first few people to reveal something I’ll happily pop it up there. It’s just a way of giving people news first and allowing the pure facts to get out there straight away.”

We may have dismissed those who said social media was going to affect journalism but now no matter which way you look at, whether from a rugby league perspective or in a general news sense, social media is only going to continue its expansion into journalism – whether we like it or not.

As social media expands, accountability has perhaps become nothing but necessary.

2013 NRL Season Preview: New Zealand Warriors

By Brady Foray Writers

The Warriors were an absolute debacle last season. The 2011 runners-up were expected to bounce back and threaten other premiership heavyweights.  Nope. Their coach was sacked. Key players left. Many went down with injuries early and never returned and now they go into the competition this year with an eight-game losing run to their name. Enter Matthew Elliot. The former Bradford, Raiders and Penrith coach is the man earmarked to get the Warriors out of their rut and maybe lead them to a maiden premiership.

All was not lost for some in the Warriors camp last season though. Take for example Ben Matulino, who won the Warriors’ Player of the Year. In his 22 games, Matulino averaged 18.3 tackles and 127 metres per game. The big man solidified his place in the New Zealand Test team and became the first ever Toyota Cup graduate to play 100 NRL games.

This season will be somewhat of a transitional year for the club with Lewis Brown, James Maloney and Ukuma Ta’ai moving elsewhere and tireless workhorse Michael Luck retiring. In their place, the Warriors signed former Storm players Todd Lowrie and Dane Neilson and experienced halfback Thomas Leuluai.

Signings: Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Dane Nielsen (Storm), Todd Lowrie (Storm), Dominique Peyroux (Titans), Harry Siejka (Panthers)

Departures: Peta Hiku (Sea Eagles), Lewis Brown (Panthers), Krisnan Inu (Bulldogs, mid-season), Michael Luck (retired), James Maloney (Roosters), Toka Likiliki (Knights), Ligi Sao (Sea Eagles), Omar Slaimankhel (Japanese Rugby), Ukuma Ta’ai (Huddersfield), Jordan Meads (French RL)

Key to Success:

The Warriors’ key to success has nothing to do with their on the field performances. The club’s management, players and coach need to concentrate on club harmony before even considering their season prospects. As soon as Matthew Elliot was signed up as coach in October last year, several players spoke of the appointment with disdain. The Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Webster summed it up brilliantly, that Elliot had lost the dressing room before seeing inside of the dressing room.

Player to Watch:

In his three seasons at the Warriors, five-eighth James Maloney was the most influential player at the club. In his 75 games with the club he scored over 500 points. He is a Rooster now. His role now lies in the hands of halfback Thomas Leuluai who returns to the club that he debuted for as a fresh faced 18-year-old. Now 27, Leuluai returns with almost 200 games, a Challenge Cup trophy and Grand Final win at Wigan Warriors, a game where he won Man of the Match.  Leuluai (pictured left), a 30-Test veteran for New Zealand is an important figure for not only the team this season but one in the career of expected halves partner Shaun Johnson.

Erratic Eddy says:

“It wasn’t that long ago when Elijah Taylor (along with others) voiced their opinions that interim coach Tony Iro was the man for the Warriors coaching job AFTER Elliot was made coach. Confidence must be sky high at the Warriors. Elliot did come back later and say that most of the team are terrible trainers. Eye for an eye I suppose?”

“Good luck to Jerome Ropati too. An injury-free season in NSW Cup would be a success for him at this stage. A trifecta of season-ending injuries would see the end of him.”

Strongest 17: 1- Kevin Locke 2- Bill Tupou 3- Dane Nielson 4- Jerome Ropati 5- Manu Vatuvei 6- Thomas Leuluai 7-Shaun Johnson 8- Ben Matulino 9- Nathan Friend 10- Sam Rapira 11- Simon Mannering (C) 12- Feleti Mateo 13- Todd Lowrie Interchange: 14- Elijah Taylor 15- Ben Henry 16- Russell Packer 17- Jacob Lillyman. 18th Man: Sione Lousi.

Predicted Position: 13th

Mid-Season Madness

By Jack Brady

It’s the 2nd of July.

June 30 is behind us.

Sure it means that the financial year has ended and sure it means that the Carbon tax in Australia has begun but for NRL coaches, club administrations, the players and even fans of all 16 NRL club, they are simply relieved.

The June 30 deadline will now come into play, the mid season signings of players is over for another year as each team can now knuckle down and concentrate on their final charge towards September football.

This season alone saw 18 players switch their club colours midway through the year.

Out of the 16 clubs in the National Rugby League, only the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Gold Coast Titans remained unaffected by the mid-season signing rollercoaster, however, if the June 30 deadline of mid-season player movement failed to exist, the rumoured departure of Knights player Junior Sau to the Rabbits just may’ve come to fruition.

Many fans of rugby league are critical of mid season transfers. It is just another example that loyalty in the sport nowadays is wavering. However, is it the players who want to leave or is it the coach and/or administration of the club pushing the player out the door?

Of course there are many different reasons as to why a player leaves one team for another, for example, this season such transfers have occurred because of disciplinary reasons, salary cap pressures and the better opportunities that a player may gain through their switch albeit for financial, footballing and family reasons.

These latter reasons demonstrate the necessity of the June 30 deadline.

It gives these players another chance before the season ends to strike a deal with another club for whatever reason whilst also preventing coaches and clubs alike to release all their unwanted players after the deadline comes into play.

I’m sure Wayne Bennett would’ve loved to free up some space in the salary cap for next season by releasing Sau and Wes Naiqama elsewhere but alas the deadline now prevents this. The same thing goes for players as well. Eels front-rower Justin Poore, for example, was prevented leaving the club before June 30. With the deadlines existence, Poore must stick it out with the Eels for at least the rest of the season.

Sure it has been a bit of a merry-go-round of player movements in the last week or so with all the different signings, but it is what makes this game unique. With the deadline intact, these signings shall never get out of hand and in that, they allow for another exciting niche of the game to exist, for fans to enjoy, and even mourn, the signing of a new addition to their club, controversially or not.

List of the 2012 Mid-Season Signings

Mitch Brown: Wests Tigers to Bulldogs

Ray Cashmere: St George-Illawarra to Wests Tigers

Masada Iosefa: Penrith to Wests Tigers

Shane Shackleton: Parramatta to Penrith

Sandor Earl: Penrith to Raiders

Drury Low: Raiders to Bulldogs

Samisoni Langi: Bulldogs to Roosters

Sam Perrett: Roosters to Bulldogs

Michael Lett: Bulldogs to St George Illawarra

Nafe Seluini: Penrith to Roosters

Lloyd Perrett: Roosters to Bulldogs

Dane Gagai: Broncos to Newcastle

Richie Fa’aoso: Newcastle to Melbourne

Luke Kelly: Melbourne to Parramatta

Krisnan Inu: Warriors to Bulldogs

Albert Kelly: Sharks to Newcastle

Willie Mason: Unattached to Newcastle

Anthony Mitchell: Roosters to Cowboys

Shark Attack!

By Jack Brady

While the Port Stephens Sharks, the newest addition to the Real NRL competition this season, aren’t quite at ‘Great White’ status yet, think more along the lines of a baby shark, they are nonetheless the most important team in the Newcastle competition at this point in time. The club at this point in time is attempting to secure the area’s rugby league nursery and support for the game north of Newcastle for seasons to come.

With the introduction of Raymond Terrace into the Real NRL in 2001, the Port Stephens area has been well represented in some capacity through the Northern Blues (Nelson Bay) since the competition’s inception in 1910. However, this hasn’t stopped the Port Stephens Sharks being touted as the saving grace for rugby league north of Newcastle this season as it looks to go far and beyond the now defunct Northern Blues and Raymond Terrace senior clubs within Newcastle’s premier rugby league competition.

This however will not come without its challenges. Without the significant financial support needed for a rugby league club to survive, the dire lack of senior players willing to play and the non-existence of a contributing leagues club, the Port Stephens Sharks are barely swimming let alone striking as fears that the club could fold as quickly as it was established are not far from becoming a reality.

Wayne Humphreys, the president of the Port Stephens Sharks, has labelled the club as the most important project there is for senior rugby league to exist in the area.

“Is it getting the level of support that it needs? No it’s not, not corporately and sometimes even the player base is a little bit slack,” Humphreys said.

John Teaupa hits the ball up. Photo by: Emily Elias

Unlike every other club, the Sharks were allowed the concession of not fielding a third grade side this season. Yet only three weeks ago the club couldn’t even manage to field a reserve grade side.

This, plus the lack of finances that saw the Northern Blues and Raymond Terrace drop out of the competition only a couple of years ago, could end up haunting not only the Port Stephens Sharks but the existence of senior rugby league in the area: regardless of its importance to the region and the Newcastle rugby league.

John Fahey, the General Manager of the Newcastle rugby league competition stressed the significance of the Port Stephens Sharks existence and the club’s importance in tying up the area’s rugby league nursery for the sake of a quality competition and the rugby league region as a whole.

According to Fahey, the Port Stephens Sharks were positively received by the board before mentioning that the “well over”  one thousand registered players floating around the Port Stephens area could’ve been left with nothing without the existence of the Port Stephens Sharks.

“The importance of the Sharks boils down to the future of rugby league north of the Stockton Bridge and to be frank the number of players that have dispersed from up there [Port Stephens] to other clubs in the last ten years with the Northern Blues in existence is a pretty clear sign of the importance of rugby league in the area,” Fahey said.

“The strength of Raymond Terrace as a club is something that also needed to be secured and to make sure that it remained viable in the future.”

In the end though it all comes down to money and without the backing of either a leagues club or significant sponsorship the Sharks could be left floundering as early as the end of the season.

“The biggest problem with rugby league in the Port Stephens area is that there is no registered leagues club, and that’s where the problem still lies…there is significant financial support for the club this season from the Newcastle Rugby League and now we’re just waiting for the baby and taking it from there,” Fahey resonates.

Having struggled from its inception off the field the Port Stephens Sharks have not fared much better on it, the club beginning its inaugural campaign, while competitive, in an abysmal fashion, having not won a game in both of its senior grades.

Beyond all this though, the club’s committee have still managed to lay the foundations in attaining the future of rugby league in the Port Stephens region for years to come.

From this, in a move that president Humphreys labelled as a “principle philosophy of the project,” the Sharks have attempted to bridge the gap between the area’s rugby league community by including a 16’s, two 17’s and an 18’s junior team under the senior Sharks emblem.

President Humphreys explains that the inclusion of the juniors under the Port Stephens Sharks banner was the cornerstone of the project and that was it an absolute essential to the success of the club.

“The Port Stephens Sharks was always going to be about developing our juniors to play senior football in our competition,” Humphreys said.

“We identified from the youngest age, the 16s, where we could start to teach them senior league effectively.”

This decision and the importance of the junior Sharks hasn’t been taken lightly throughout the club as junior coaching co-ordinator Ric Astorini reiterates the importance of the juniors’ relationship with the senior Sharks.

Astorini signalling that the most appropriate action for rugby league in Port Stephens involves having the juniors under the Sharks banner.

“The Sharks are very important for those kids who want to play first division and proceed through to the senior ranks,” explains Astorini.

“It’s essential that [the Sharks inclusion of juniors] be in place for something that the kids can strive for.”

Ric Astorini (Back Row: 2nd from the right) with future Sharks first graders. Photo taken by: Jack Brady

Among all this it is now up to the Sharks to rekindle the area’s support towards senior rugby league and attempt to unite Port Stephens fragmented rugby league community that is Nelson Bay, Stockton, Raymond Terrace and Mallabula into the one entity.

President Humphreys notes that the Port Stephens Sharks longevity relies on the philosophy of incorporating and encompassing all of the shires through the Port Stephens Sharks.

While it may be a tough ask for the Port Stephens Sharks to get the whole community behind them in their first season, the area is not uncommon to success in Newcastle’s ‘Real NRL’ senior rugby league competition in the past.

In the last decade, a club from the area has reached the competitions’ grand final four times: Raymond Terrace in 2003 and the Northern Blues in three consecutive years: 2004, 2005 and 2006.

While only the 2005 Northern Blues managed to win on the day, the unbelievable support has all of those involved in the Sharks, including Ji Hill, convinced that the support for the ailing club will only grow stronger.

Hill, a lynchpin in the Northern Blues side for the best part of the last decade speaks of the Blues grand final run as the most memorable times and the best years of his footballing life.

Hill, who is now the assistant coach of the Port Stephens Sharks first grade side, describes the Blues grand final run as absolutely unreal.

“It was awesome, mate,” Hill said.

“The boys always loved playing at home especially if we got a home semi-final… the hill would always be packed full of blue shirts.”

When quizzed about whether the Sharks can ever reach these previous heights of support Hill is realistic about the matter.

“I do think it’ll happen although in saying that I think the club probably needs a more mature coaching staff to come in and of course for them to bring in some new players to come into the side and mix in with our local guys,” Hill said.

“I think that’s what it’s going to take.”

Like Hill, James McCabe managed to also play throughout the Blues grand final run in the mid-2000s. After beginning his senior rugby league tenure in the area in 1999 before being rewarded the captaincy of the Northern Blues in 2007, McCabe has forayed into unknown territory this season after becoming the Shark’s inaugural captain-coach.

While he says it has been fun, McCabe realises there’s still a whole lot of improvement to do.

“Coaching has been good, it has been difficult because we haven’t had a great start results-wise, but I’ve still enjoyed it,” McCabe said.

While 2004 may have seemed an eternity ago, McCabe still has fond memories of the three consecutive grand finals with the Northern Blues.

“While we didn’t win when we made our first grand final in 2004 it was very special because the area had never been in such a major grand final before,” McCabe said.

(L-R) James McCabe, Wayne Humphreys & Ji Hill

“I remember running out for that first grand final and the hill at the sportsground was just a sea of blue.

“It was something that I’ll never forget.”

Fast-forward eight years and the area’s rugby league landscape has completely changed. The Port Stephens Sharks are thus far the cellar dwellers of this year’s competition, and yet, McCabe isn’t fazed.

“This year was always going to be tough, everyone knew that,” McCabe said.

“I think we can turn it all around come the back end of the year; I think we’ll be better placed than where we’re at now.

“It’s a building process.”

While there have been some positive signs for the Sharks thus far the club is still floundering in the paddling pool. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of the club have been established this year allowing for the club to eventually become the aspired ‘Great Whites’’ in seasons to come.

While the club is still searching the waters for their first win, the Sharks will continue to swim in the Newcastle rugby league ocean, readying itself to attack everyone else in the competition.

In due time, the Sharks will strike.

Tinkler Seals Positive Future for Knights: A Retrospective

By Jack Brady

Halfway through last year I wrote an opinion piece about Nathan Tinkler’s successful takeover of the Knights for a University assignment.

After re-reading this opinion piece,  I certainly jumped the gun with some of things I emphasised within it.

My previous opinion was based on the hopes and dreams of a premiership-winning Newcastle Knights teams.

The financial backing Tinkler provided for Newcastle has undoubtedly impacted them positively but this, as my past opinion emphasised, will not ultimately guarantee success.

Sure, Tinkler has eliminated the clubs debts and promised a guaranteed $10 million over the next decade but this will have no impact on whether they are a successful force in the 2012 National Rugby League season.

I noted in my previous opinion piece that I was bewildered by the three per cent who voted against the Tinkler privatisation of the Newcastle Knights, even going to the extent of questioning the naysayers legitimacy as true fans.

But now I have stopped viewing this through my ‘blue and red’ eyes.I’m facing the reality that having money and coach Wayne Bennett does not mean, unfortunately, the Newcastle Knights will win a premiership anytime soon.

The Knights brought back three former players last year in Timana Tahu, Kade Snowden and club legend Danny Buderus which worries me because they could very well be past their prime.

Take into account too the unknown signings of Alex McKinnon and Robbie Rochow.

Bar Darius Boyd, the Knights’ recruits and how they play in 2012 will be a mystery until they play the St George Illawarra Dragons on March 1.

I may be looking at the Knights 2012 campaign from a cynical perspective but with all these expectations, to the point they’re joint premiership contenders in numerous betting agencies, I won’t be surprised if this season is a complete failure.

Only time will tell.