Blake Ferguson’s decision to pull out of the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII game on the morning of the team flight has cost the Parramatta winger a Kangaroos recall.
Ferguson had originally been selected in the Australian Test squad for the games against New Zealand and Tonga, however he was scratched on Monday morning after he pulled out of the PM’s game citing a leg injury.
Australian officials were perplexed with the phone call from an Eels official, not Ferguson himself, given that only a few days earlier the winger had been medically cleared to play in the game and was fitted for a jersey.
The disappointment around Ferguson’s withdrawal from the game was focused around the timing of it, with his teammates heading to the airport to board a flight to Brisbane when he pulled the pin.
Ferguson was on the verge of earning a recall into the national side for the first time since 2017, however his name was omitted by the time the official team announcement was made on Monday morning.
His withdrawal triggered a number of changes for Mal Meninga, with South Sydney’s Campbell Graham called into the PM’s team for the game against Fiji in Suva on Friday.
It also presented Canberra winger Nick Cotric with an opportunity to make his Test debut this year, promoted from the Australian under 23s team to the main side.
Ferguson was superb for the Eels in 2019, and equally impressive in his return to the State of Origin arena this year.
The Eels were shocked to hear he had withdrawn from the game in Fiji, having been told he had been excited about playing in the match in the lead-up.
Meninga's main mission at Titans over
After months of helping the Gold Coast Titans get back on their feet following the sacking of Garth Brennan, Mal Meninga has moved back to Canberra with his family.
It’s understood Meninga is still renting a place on the Gold Coast and will be travelling back and forth, however most of the heavy lifting has now been done at the club.
Meninga has helped the club with its mid-season review and conducted the interviews that have led to Justin Holbrook being appointed as the new coach.
His role will no longer be as time consuming when Holbrook arrives in the next fortnight, allowing him the opportunity to go back to the position he was originally hired to do.
The Australian coach had assumed the role of the club’s general manager of football over the past few months, however he was hired as the head of performance and culture.
Meninga, who recently extended his tenure as Kangaroos coach until the end of the 2021 World Cup in the United Kingdom, still has another two more years to run on his deal with the Titans.
Ryan's acknowledgement of 'stuff-up'
Titans captain Ryan James has described his grand final brain fade as "the best stuff-up of all time" after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison invited him into the NRL’s VIP suite to mingle with some of the country’s biggest names.
James was the centre of attention before kick-off in Sunday’s grand final after forgetting the final six or seven words in the acknowledgement of country.
Morrison was impressed with the way James conducted himself and asked to meet him, with the NRL subsequently inviting the prop to the corporate boxes to watch the second half in the company of some of Australia’s most esteemed men and women.
The list included the likes of former Prime Minister John Howard, Australian cricketer Steve Smith, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, actor Bryan Brown, Foxtel CEO Patrick Delaney, Nine chief executive Hugh Marks, Governor General David Hurley and NSW Governor Margaret Beazley.
"The prime minister said it was great that I owned it," James said.
"He said it was the realest thing that he had seen all night. I’ll claim it as the best stuff up of all time. I literally practised it a million times, and I got the majority of the stuff out but I couldn’t get the last six words. I got lost and that’s the first thing that came to my head so I said it.
"To be fair everyone was very supportive. The said ‘you owned it’. I got messages from people like Brad Fittler and Phil Gould. The funny thing is that I wasn’t even nervous.
"I practised it three or four times while they were running out. I just had a mind blank and the words didn’t come out. But everyone seems to be happy about the fact I stuffed up."
Brown admitted even he would’ve needed a teleprompter to remember the lines.
Bateman's hopes take a hit
John Bateman’s hopes of earning a contract upgrade next season have been further dented by the impressive performance of the Raiders this season.
NRL.com understand the Raiders were already struggling to upgrade the Englishman’s contract in 2020, and now have a number of representative clauses that have been triggered as a result of the team’s breakout season.
Nick Cotric and Jack Wighton have been named in Mal Meninga’s Australian team, triggering bonus payments for the pair. The Raiders have 10 players who will be part of representative games, including the selection of Corey Horsburgh and Emre Guler in the Kangaroos under-23 team.
The Raiders are happy for Aidan Sezer and Joseph Leilua to look for new homes next season, however there is a strong chance they remain in the nation’s capital.
If they stay, which the Raiders are happy for them to do, the club’s salary cap will all but be full for next year.
Tigers players peeved at Matterson
Ryan Matterson didn’t turn up to the club’s recent player get-together at a bowling club, and didn’t reply to messages from some players in a WhatsApp group wondering where he was.
The majority of the players feel let down by the back-rower, who may not have many options given the salary cap predicament at several clubs.
The Titans are keen on luring him to the Gold Coast given Justin Holbrook’s long-standing relationship with him that dates back to his junior days at Parramatta, however the Titans need players to move on before they can bid for his services.
Retired hooker Robbie Farah told NRL.com that he would be stunned if the former Rooster was at the Tigers next year.
"I think the way it has been handled, it has been quite poor from himself and his management," Farah said.
"I love Matto and I get along with him really well. He had a great season, no doubt. The thing is, he thinks he’s worth more. He came to us as really a bench back-rower and he had an outstanding season. He shouldn’t be upset with us at the Tigers.
"If anything, he should be upset with his manager, because his manager said ‘this is what you’re worth, this is the contract I think you should sign’.
"If he believes he is worth more, play another great year and halfway through next year the club will be looking to upgrade and extend him anyway … I think it’s beyond the point of return and Ryan Matterson will be at another club next year.
"I’m a bit old school, I think you have to have more than one good season in the NRL before you can start to demand big money. You signed a contract … the money will come down the track."
Farah's business kicking goals
Speaking of Farah, his sports event company Two4Seven has just landed a major deal with English Premier League giants Manchester City.
The ink is still drying on the deal that will see Farah’s company become the official Australian hospitality partner of Manchester City for all game day experiences at Etihad Stadium.
Farah will this month fly out to the United Kingdom to meet with a number of the world’s biggest sporting clubs, including Manchester United and his beloved Liverpool.
After his business trip, the retired hooker will dust off the boots to play rugby sevens in Dubai in a charity match alongside former teammate Pat Richards.
Farah has big plans for next season and doesn’t appear likely to take up the controversial ambassador role the club offered to him when he first departed the Tigers at the end of 2016.
Under the terms of the ambassador agreement, Farah doesn’t have to take up the role as soon as he retires.
Sivo set to sign with Eels
Parramatta are close to upgrading and extending the contract of winger and cult hero Maika Sivo.
The club is also scheduled to meet with Dylan Brown’s manager in the coming weeks to sort out a long-term extension for the rookie, who is free to hit the open market on November 1.
Spudd fears for Sam's shoulder
One of Sam Burgess’ close mates, former South Sydney player Mark Carroll, has provided an insight into the severity of the injury that threatens to cut short the Englishman’s career.
It was first reported by NRL.com a fortnight ago there were fears the Rabbitohs captain was on borrowed time, with Burgess’s withdrawal from the Great Britain tour on Wednesday highlighting the severity of the concerns.
Carroll spoke to Macquarie Sports Radio on Thursday morning and admitted things didn’t look good for the 30-year-old Rabbitoh.
"I actually had a beer with Sammy last week and mate his shoulder is a mess," Carroll said.
"He can only raise that left shoulder to a 45-degree angle. He’s got arthritis in that shoulder and it’s pretty hard playing with one arm. He’s a massive piece of the jigsaw puzzle at the Rabbits but it’s very hard playing injured.
"I don’t know what you can do, do you go to the [United States] and try something amazing over there. He’s in a really serious position and I really feel that. His movement is horrible."
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.