Subtle changes to Cronulla’s squad mean they won’t be decimated by any potential player bans over fallout from the club’s 2011 supplements program.
From the 2011 squad only six players – Paul Gallen, John Morris, Wade Graham, Nathan Gardner, Nathan Stapleton and Anthony Tupou – remain. Ricky Leutele and Sam Tagataese – who were at the club in 2011 – have already been cleared by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority. Fellow 2011 players who played at the club this year are no longer part of the squad; they include Stewart Mills (Brisbane), Jayson Bukuya (Warriors), Ben Pomeroy (Catalans) and Matt Wright (released).
Sharks boss Steve Noyce has already said no players have a get-out clause in place in their contract should Shane Flanagan not be the club’s coach. Club officials opted against giving the players an early end to pre-season training after considering giving them the final Friday away from training with the thinking that the squad needed to get away and freshen up given all the turmoil in recent weeks. Instead, players were put through their usual field and strength training with Peter Sharp taking charge. Meanwhile, the Sharks have been dealt another off-field blow with the club’s impressive development manager, Tyrone Collins, finishing up at Cronulla recently.
Collins was largely responsible for reshaping Cronulla’s junior development program while juggling recruiting, staffing, budgeting and logistics as he tried to match the programs of rival NRL club’s despite a shoestring budget. He also oversaw the club’s NSW Cup team, which won the premiership this year. The long hours eventually took a toll on his young family, and he has opted to take a council-based job in the New Year.Dragons miss outA change in the coaching box at one NRL club put an end to any chance of a St George Illawarra junior returning to the Red V next year. The Dragons were hopeful player unrest would lead to a welcome homecoming of sorts.
Instead, the incoming coach was quick to show the importance of the player to his side long-term. Meanwhile, Kyle Stanley impressed plenty at St George Illawarra as he made his return to the training paddock after his 2013 season was written off with a fourth knee reconstruction. If Stanley can’t cement himself as the club’s No.1 halfback, expect him to become a useful bench utility after spending plenty of time training at hooker, in a similar role to that of retired stalwart Nathan Fien.
Bubka on the rise after fall
There will be a fascinating name listed to play qualifying at the Australian Open when the draw is announced on January 6 – and he has a fascinating story. Sergei Bubka jnr, the son of the greatest ever pole vaulter, was on the way to a top-100 ranking in 2011 when the following year he had a terrible accident, falling three stories from a window after he’d become locked in the bedroom at a friend’s place in Paris.Bubka broke multiple bones, had eight hours of surgery, six months on crutches and lost 10 kilograms. His ex-girlfriend, tennis star Victoria Azarenka, travelled from Monaco to be by his side. When he attempts to qualify for the Australian Open, Bubka might draw inspiration from his father, who won six world championships, an Olympic gold medal and broke the world pole vault record 35 times.
South Africa in running
South Africa has emerged as a genuine candidate to host the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. The Rugby League International Federation will meet next month to decide on the host nation. South Africa will compete against a joint bid from Australia and New Zealand. Following the success of this year's tournament, organisers will decide if it's too early to take a risk and head into uncharted waters. If it's not the next tournament, then definitely expect a lesser-known league country to host the 2021 edition. The meeting will finalise the venues for next year's Four Nations with Australia, New Zealand, England and either Fiji or Samoa competing. Fiji and Samoa will play off for the final spot in the tournament on May 3. A double-header – probably in New Zealand – will launch the tournament. The cash-strapped English Super League is also set to cash in on the success of the World Cup with a naming rights sponsor close to being secured.
Billy Slater took time out from his holiday in north Queensland to take a happy snap of a sign dedicated to Australian and Queensland teammate Nate Myles in the star forward's home town of Gordonvale. Slater posted the image on his Instagram account along with the message “my favourite sign in North Queensland”.
Inu tipped for No. 1
Kiwis enigma Krisnan Inu has emerged as the most likely candidate to wear Ben Barba's No. 1 jersey at the Bulldogs as a switch by Josh Hoffman from the Broncos becomes increasingly unlikely. The Broncos have stood firm in making Hoffman honour his contract, despite Barba's arrival. Had Brisbane secured Anthony Milford for next season, a move to Belmore may have eventuated for Hoffman, who spent plenty of time with would-be clubmates in Inu, Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano during the World Cup. With Josh Morris and Tim Lafai the likely centre pairing at Canterbury, Inu will fight for a spot at the back along with other candidates, including Sam Perrett, Pat Templeman and Corey Thompson.
Marking time on Elkin
Parramatta won't move to secure a long-term replacement for Trent Elkin until the club's performance director's future prospects are known. Elkin was given at least a two-year ban by the NRL earlier this month for his role in Cronulla's 2011 supplements program. While NRL boss Dave Smith didn't announce a time limit on the ban, he said it would be unlikely Elkin would be allowed to work in rugby league within the next two years. In the short term, former Wests hooker Ciriaco Mescia will step up from his assistant role as the club considers an interim replacement for Elkin. Elkin has until January 15 to appeal the NRL's findings.
Duff still in play
Former Sydney Thunder coach Shane Duff is looking on with interest at the team's fortunes this season. Duff said coaching the Thunder in the first two Big Bash League seasons had been “a great opportunity” but also “a hospital pass” – and it's hard to disagree. Duff had to make the best of recruitment challenges and a lack of resources. He said it was “great to see Cricket Australia and Cricket NSW have attempted to address both of these issues”. Duff still coaches at Sutherland DCC and works at Mount Carmel Catholic High School as the senior pastoral care co-ordinator. He was recently short-listed for the head coaching role with Sri Lanka, where he had worked as strength and conditioning coach, but missed out to the former Sri Lanka assistant coach Paul Farbrace. “I feel I have plenty to offer should another opportunity arise in professional coaching,” Duff said.
Cheer squads split
Some Sydney Swans players were double-booked for weddings last Saturday after assistant coaches Stuart Dew and Henry Playfair held their big respective days on the same day. Dew and Playfair were engaged to their long-term partners last year and, despite working three doors apart, didn't mention to each other when their weddings were scheduled – both on December 21, Dew's in South Australia and Playfair's on the NSW south coast, leaving several players unsure which one to attend.
Ellis to Sydney?
The Ellis name is synonymous with basketball in Perth. But we are starting to think Mike Ellis should take the hint and just move across to Sydney. The former Wildcats 300-gamer flew over for Christmas to be with his two sons, who now call Sydney home and don't look like leaving any time soon. Boomers forward Cody has just returned from the US to join the Kings, while Ellis' other son, Skyler, attends Kensington's National Institute of Dramatic Art.
Basketball legend Shane Heal believes the NBL should go where no other sport has been willing to go by scheduling matches on Christmas Day. It's the last taboo in sport, now that Anzac Day has been taken over by AFL and rugby league, and New Year's Eve and day regularly feature cricket and soccer games. Heal tweeted “Nbl needs 2 live games next Xmas. Syd v Melb then live Perth v adel. No sports in Aust prepared to play on Xmas day. We should . . . ” While Heal acknowledged the games would be unlikely to attract big attendances, he said having the matches on television on a day when everybody is at home would be a unique opportunity to showcase the sport to a large audience. The NBA, where Heal spent two seasons, plays five games on Christmas Day.
Danny Weidler is on leave