NRL News: Graham goes into bat for Stuart, Walker defends Fainu show of support, Barrett joins Eels

James Graham thinks the NRL should now be supporting Ricky Stuart after coming down hard on him last week for his infamous “weak-gutted dog” rant.

The Raiders coach was fined $25,000 and suspended from all coaching duties for a week for his attack on Penrith’s Jaeman Salmon after the loss to the Panthers two weeks ago.

Graham was asked on ‘The Bye Round’ podcast about the death of Paul Green, as well as the comments of Stuart and the support available for coaches in the NRL.

“It’s interesting that a coach can express his feelings, and perhaps not on the correct platform, but obviously it still bothered him. Then he is suspended and fined for having that response,” said Graham.

“The narrative has been around how many games suspension, and what monetary fine he should get, and should he sit out the rest of the season. The talk hasn’t been ‘this guy has got an issue, and he needs some help’. I think there is almost a discouragement of men talking.

“When you talk openly and you talk with passion and emotion, it can land you in trouble. But then we see the damaging effects, the permanent effects of not talking.

Ricky Stuart (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

“I hope it’s not just ‘here’s your suspension, and your fine’, I hope it’s ‘lets’ put some support around Ricky and help him deal with this.’

“I trust that, whether it’s the NRL or the Canberra Raiders, they are putting in the support needed. Not just to get Ricky back into the job that he does so well, but to help him deal with this issue.

Graham also had a different view from many in the media about the saga at Newcastle surrounding Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Mann being removed from a toilet cubicle.

“I don’t know the full story of what was going on, they may have a legitimate excuse,” said Graham. “The optics of it aren’t great and people are going to jump to conclusions.

“I’ve been no angel throughout my sporting career, while at different points as captain I’ve made some errors of judgment. But Kalyn deserves the right of innocence before being found guilty.”

Graham paid tribute to St George Illawarra prop Aaron Woods in the lead-up to his 250th NRL game this weekend.

“It’s a magnificent achievement to play that many games in the front row,” said Graham.

“He’s been at a number of clubs now but seems pretty settled down there at the Dragons. Hopefully, he stays and the boys should get up for that one.

“He’s done a lot for the game, played for NSW and played for Australia. Knocking up 250 is not a bad effort.”

Walker defends Fainu postcode show of support

Manly star Dylan Walker claims support of convicted teammate Manase Fainu has been misconstrued and the Sea Eagles should be able to back the troubled hooker in whatever way possible.

Fainu was last week found guilty of stabbing a youth leader at a church dance in 2019, before being denied bail and placed behind bars while awaiting sentencing.

Sea Eagles second-rower Haumole Olakau’atu raised eyebrows on the weekend when he gave a hand symbol of “61” after crossing for a try against the Gold Coast.

The number reference is believed to be a nod for the 2161 postcode in which he and Fainu grew up together, having been close since childhood. Former Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake also did likewise while playing for the Warriors.

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo confirmed on Wednesday the integrity unit had spoken to the clubs, particularly after the postcode gang wars in Sydney in recent years.

But Walker said Manly players would continue to stand by Fainu and should be able to back him in any way.

“Haumole and Nas have been best mates since they were little kids,” Walker said. “I would interpret that (symbol) to something completely different to someone that wouldn’t be a part of that close-knit group.

“That could be anything from when they were eight or 10 years old.

Manase Fainu (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

“That’s just Haumole showing his support behind him, which he needs because for the last few weeks we talk about mental health.

“This is a kid that was touted to be the next superstar and turns have taken the wrong way for him.

“As a playing group, we’re showing as much support as we can.”

Walker also claimed it was unfair to compare the celebrations to the decision of seven Manly players – including Olakau’atu – to not wear the rainbow jersey against the Sydney Roosters on religious grounds.

“I just think it’s their choice (to support Fainu),” Walker said. “That’s what the whole inclusion jumper was about. It’s a choice of yourself and what you want to support.

“That (symbol) is a choice that he (Olakau’atu) has made for a best mate that he’s had for the last 15 years.

“So I support him in that way because Nas supported me through a lot of stuff.”

Barrett revives coaching career at Eels

Trent Barrett will revive his coaching career as an assistant at Parramatta after signing a two-year deal to be Brad Arthur’s deputy.

Barrett, who left Manly and Canterbury mid-contract in his two head coaching roles, has been on the lookout for a new gig since he abruptly fell on his sword at the Bulldogs after Round 10 with Mick Potter taking over for the rest of the season.

Arthur said he identified Barrett as an ideal fit for his coaching staff. Barrett was credited with reinvigorating Penrith’s attack a few years ago in an assistant role to Ivan Cleary but his efforts to get the Bulldogs firing fell flat.

“Trent has a wealth of football experience which he has harnessed over almost three decades as an elite player and coach, I’m sure he will contribute significantly to help enhance our football program,” Arthur said in a club statement.

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

RLPA demand answers over targeted drug tests

The players’ union have issued the NRL’s integrity unit with a please explain over the handling of the Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Mann investigation, furious the pair have been drug tested.

Rugby League Players’ Association bosses contacted the NRL on Wednesday unhappy with the situation, also questioning why the pair were even being investigated at all.

Ponga and Mann remain in the spotlight after they were filmed being escorted out of a toilet cubicle at a Newcastle pub on Saturday night, while both are sidelined through injury.

The pair were since drug tested on Tuesday, with Ponga’s father claiming his son had merely been celebrating the purchase of a house when he fell ill and required Mann’s assistance.

RLPA CEO Clint Newton conceded the pair had brought the issue upon themselves, but questioned why the NRL was investigating.

“We’ve said (to the NRL) we think this is completely flawed,” Newton told AAP.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

“What rule have they broken to warrant a code-of-conduct breach or some interview or that this warrants a target (drug) test? We are conflating the two issues here.

“One is the team cultural code that teams and club leaders plug into with regards to drinking whilst injured.

“That’s for the club to work through with players.

“The other is the process and the confidentiality of this test. They’re completely separate debates that are conflating into the same debate.”

Under NRL rules test results are not published, but players who receive a second strike are banned for 12 matches.

But Newton said the fact the Newcastle pair’s tests had gone public put pressure on the duo to announce their results.

The game’s in-season policy allows for players to be subjected to drug tests while at their clubs in a bid to deter the illicit use of substances and help players rehabilitate if they are using.

The policy of random testing also attempts to ensure players are role models for the game and that the sport’s image is protected.

But Newton said he did not believe targeted testing of Ponga and Mann fitted that bill.

“It has to be to protect the health and safety of the workplace (and that is) if a player is looking like they are turning up under the influence and they are presenting a risk to the workplace and the players. This is not it.

“The players opt into a policy that is meant to be health-and-safety related. We don’t opt into a policy for a catch, kill and chain.”

Newton’s comments come after NRL CEO Andrew Abdo insisted on Wednesday the policy had been followed.

He also insisted it was right for the integrity unit to look into the case given the public interest.

“No-one is saying that they have breached the rules, but clearly there’s been a lot of talk and a lot of media publicity around the incident,” Abdo said.

“Our job is to get all the facts and then make the determination. And not to prejudge anything.”

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Munster to test the market

Cameron Munster is set to go to the open market with the Queensland State of Origin star wanting more money out of Melbourne before recommitting.

Munster is off contract at the end of next year and will technically become a free agent on November 1, when he will be cleared to take up deals from other clubs for 2024.

The Storm have been desperate to wrap up the five-eighth all season, with his contract becoming one of the ongoing storylines of 2022.

The situation has also played out publicly, with Munster’s manager and regular media talent Braith Anasta  and the Dolphins publicly admitting they have commenced talks to lure him north.

Anasta claimed on Wednesday night up to four rival clubs had already made contact about his client and unless things changed Munster would remain off contract come November 1.

“Cameron is still negotiating with the Melbourne Storm at the moment. They have been unbelievable throughout the process,” Anasta said on NRL360.

“(Melbourne owner) Matt Tripp is doing everything in his power to keep Cameron at the club.

“But as it stands right now it looks most likely at this point that we will go to the market in November. But things could change between now and then.”

League

Anasta also claimed Munster was willing to take less money to stay at Melbourne, compared to what he will likely have on offer from the likes of the Dolphins.

But he is also not ready to settle yet.

Melbourne still find themselves managing one of the most difficult salary caps in the NRL, with Jahrome Hughes, Harry Grant and Xavier Coates all re-signed earlier this year.

Ryan Papenhuyzen also inked a new deal midway through last season while the club has had to release Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich, Brandon Smith and Felise Kaufusi at the end of this year.

“I think ideally Cameron and myself would like them to move more on the salary cap than where they are at right now (to stop him going to market),” Anasta said.

“When they signed Papenhuyzen, Hughes, Grant and Coates that unfortunately limited their ability to move on the cap because they prioritised those players.

“That is where we are at the moment.

“Hopefully they may be able to move somehow between now and November 1.

“It doesn’t mean that he won’t sign before then because he loves the club. He may sign after November.”

Munster has been named at five-eighth for Friday night’s clash with Brisbane, but is every chance of starting at fullback after starring in the role for the past fortnight.

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Grand Final saga finally over 

The 2022 NRL grand final will be played in Sydney after a last-minute pitch from the NSW government kept the event in its traditional home.

The NRL confirmed on Thursday that the October 2 season decider would be played at Accor Stadium, opting against taking the match to Queensland.

The news ends four months of speculation around the hosting rights, after the NSW government and NRL clashed over funding for suburban ground upgrades.

At a packed press conference, ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys revealed that Queensland had been front runners to secure the event as recently as Wednesday evening.

However a late offer from the NSW government meant it was no longer a clear financial winner for the match to be played at Suncorp Stadium, leaving it in Sydney.

“After extensive negotiations we have made a decision which we believe is in the best interest of fans, and that is to hold the game in Sydney this year,” V’landys said.

“Up until last night’s commission meeting, if you asked me at that point of time it would have gone to Queensland.

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“And if we didn’t have discussions with the NSW government yesterday afternoon, it probably would have gone that way.”

Crucially, V’landys said that the decision was only in the form of a one-year deal, leaving the NRL free to take the decider elsewhere from 2023.

It means that the initial deal signed in 2018 to keep the game in Sydney until 2042 is no longer in place, after the NSW government opted against an Accor Stadium upgrade.

It means the match could be treated as a Super Bowl-type fixture and sold off to cities each year, or shared between NSW and Queensland on a rotating basis.

“This is solely a one-year deal for the grand final and the rental terms for the grand final,” V’landys said.

“It’s got to the situation now where out of negative is a positive.

“And the positive here is we have four clubs in Queensland. If you look at it pro-rata, one in every four years should be in Queensland, by rights.”

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