Cash-strapped Sharks consider taking games to Tonga or Fiji


The Sharks ran at a loss even during their premiership year and lose money every time they open the gates at a home game.

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‘‘We have to grow our brand and our membership and a potential way to do that is to explore other areas to play,’’ Mezzatesta said. ‘‘By no stretch of the imagination are we saying we’ve done that this year but it’s something we have to look at seriously. The break-even number for us is about 16,500 [at Shark Park]. It’s another way of saying that we need to get people here, that’s the push.

‘‘Last year the biggest crowd we had was the Broncos game and that was 14,800 people and then about 14,000 for the Cowboys [for Johnathan Thurston’s Sydney farewell]. [Fans from] those two teams don’t travel, they were just our people, so it can be done. We’re just saying we need to get back to getting 18,000 to 19,000 people.’’

The Sharks are just about the only Sydney side that doesn’t take games out of its region. Panthers take a home match to Bathurst, the Dragons to Mudgee, the Roosters to Gosford, Manly to Christchurch, the Rabbitohs to the Sunshine Coast and Parramatta to Darwin.

While the Sharks claim they won’t be relocated, they conceded they must now consider taking games to more profitable locations.

‘‘We just need to find an area where we can grow our brand and support the Sharks,’’ he said. ‘‘It could be Orange or Bathurst or Mudgee or interstate. ‘I’d love to explore the Pacific Islands. That would have to be heavily subsidised but we’d look at that. If the Fijian or Tongan rugby league community [were keen], it would be unreal. We would need support from both countries for … that to happen.’’

Ex-Rooster donates his brain to science

Eloni Vunakece, the last player forced into premature retirement due to repeated concussions, has pledged to donate his brain to science through the Australian Sports Brain Bank. The former cult figure Roosters forward has encouraged other players to follow his lead and the recently retired Isaac de Gois — another player forced to due to a head knock — is considering doing likewise. Thankfully, Vunakece and de Gois have transitioned successfully into careers post-football without any ongoing concussive symptoms.

Grey matters: Eloni Vunakece is encouraging greater awareness of the risks of concussion.Credit:AAP

Both began playing in an era where it was a badge of honour to remain on the field even if knocked senseless and have praised the NRL for implementing protocols that protect players’ welfare. How repeated concussions affect the grey matter is still a grey area, with researchers only really able to assess the relationship between head knocks and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in dead people. Vunakece has taken an interest in the subject and happily subjects himself to testing that may help understanding of the issue. Only this week, the Fijian international got in touch with specialists to pledge his brain for research.

‘‘I’m not expert in the space, but if Ican help progress the area then I will put my hand up and do so,’’ Vunakece said. ‘‘If I can add 10 years to someone’s life by donating to help the next generation, I’d encourage that.’’
Former Parramatta hooker De Gois added: ‘‘We haven’t had the chance to know what happens to the brain, so if it’s going to make the game more educated it’s something I would definitely consider.’’

Chooks’ plan to defend title

The Bulldogs have long been known as the ‘‘family club’’, but the Roosters may soon have something to say about that.

Coach Trent Robinson knows it will take something special from his players to win back-to-back titles and they won’t be able to do it alone. That’s why he is bringing their entire families – partners, parents, siblings and kids – into the inner sanctum in a bid to provide a competitive edge.

A bonding night two weeks ago at the SCG included all of the players’ loved ones. Everyone was treated to a special screening of The Dawn Wall, which tells the story of American rock climber Tommy Caldwell, who captivated the world with his effort to climb the seemingly impossible, near one-kilometre high rock face in Yosemite National Park.

Inner sanctum: Going back-to-back is a family affair for the Roosters.

Inner sanctum: Going back-to-back is a family affair for the Roosters.Credit:NRL Photos

It was the ultimate against-the-odds tale of a man who overcame obstacles, including being taken hostage by rebels in Kyrgyzstan, losing a finger in an accident and recovering from a marriage break-up. The setbacks didn’t prevent him from attempting the climb, a mission he had planned for six years.

Robinson addressed the gathering and spoke about how Caldwell didn’t embark on his journey alone, that it was only possible due to the support of his friends and family. And that the Roosters would need that same support to defend their title.

Everyone left with a keepsake: a pin with a Rooster superimposed on a sheer cliff face, pictured above.

Billy causes a storm

Billy Slater may have to give up his role as a consultant coach at the Storm if he is to take up an offer to become an ambassador for BetEasy.

Slater called time on a glorious career at the end of last season, but his influence on Melbourne remains. Coach Craig Bellamy is utilising Slater as a mentor for his backs, particularly custodians Jahrome Hughes, Scott Drinkwater and Ryan Papenhuyzen.

Taking a punt: Billy Slater has been offered a contract to join Ricky Ponting as a BetEasy ambassador.

Taking a punt: Billy Slater has been offered a contract to join Ricky Ponting as a BetEasy ambassador.Credit:AAP

However, that arrangement is under threat after Slater was tabled a contract to join Ricky Ponting as a BetEasy ambassador. Under NRL rules, registered participants are prohibited from having ties with betting operators.

The Storm are sweating on a decision from the NRL and Slater will be left with a tough call if the governing body prohibits him from holding both jobs.

Rugby League Central has already blocked Laurie Daley from joining Wests Tigers as a halves coach because his radio presenting job has ties to the betting industry. The Tigers are hoping the NRL will reconsider their position.

The Storm are hoping the NRL won’t stand in Slater’s way, given one of their co-owners, Matt Tripp, is the BetEasy boss and that relationship doesn’t preclude him from running Melbourne. James Packer is also permitted to be a Souths owner, despite his myriad gambling interests.

Peni to pay price

Peni Terepo is likely to be spared the axe over his drunken behaviour on a flight from Tonga to New Zealand.
The Eels initially considered tearing up Terepo’s contract after he failed to inform them of this latest incident.

However, it appears a heavy fine is now most likely.

Parramatta are yet to come up with a final determination, which is expected in coming days. However, the Tongan prop could be available as soon as next weekend if he accepts the Eels’ terms.

The Tongan international knows he is on his last chance.

Hodges picks a fight

Justin Hodges will step into the boxing ring again in May as another stepping stone towards a State of Origin-themed superfight against Paul Gallen. Hodges needed only 75 seconds to finish off Ipswich furniture removalist Rob Baron in his boxing debut, although Gallen is a huge step up in class.

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The former Maroons centre is eyeing off a series of fights this year with a view to gaining the experience needed to take on Gallen at the end of the season.

NYC bid gets wings

Plans to start a team in New York from next season are well progressed with entrepreneur Ricky Wilby securing an airline partner prepared to fly opposition teams in and out of the Big Apple for home games should they get a start in League One, two levels below the English Super League.

‘‘Our airline partner has agreed to fly 30 people to the games, home and away teams, in their premium cabin,’’ Wilby said. ‘‘It’s a deal that is worth up to $1 million.’’

Playing away

Which very high-profile former NRL star was recently banned from a brothel? It hasn’t stopped his former teammates from frequenting the establishment.

Eyes on the prize

The most coveted prize in women’s football, the FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy, will make a whistle-stop tour to Sydney next Sunday.

Fans will be able to view the hand-crafted trophy up close from midday at First Fleet Park next to Circular Quay at an event that will include current and former Matildas, as well as Australian football great and FIFA Legends Squad member Mark Schwarzer.

Freddie backs Blake

Brad Fittler has welcomed news that Blake Ferguson wants to return to State of Origin. Ferguson snubbed a Blues bonding camp in December to train with his new Eels teammates. That decision had the potential to end Ferguson’s colourful interstate career, but he could catch up with Fittler as soon as this week. ‘‘It’s great news that he wants to play State of Origin,’’ Fittler said.

Danny Weidler is on leave.

Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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