Panthers cry foul as Eels get jump on grand final tickets

Penrith have taken a stand for clubs throughout the NRL amid concerns next Sunday’s grand final could turn into a Parramatta party 36 years in the making.

Penrith expressed their concerns to the NRL that Eels fans had a 24-hour head start on Panthers supporters when it came to buying grand final tickets with certainty.

The Panthers didn’t get to play last year’s decider in front of their fans, but they know the importance of the support from the stands amid concerns Accor Stadium could be a sea of blue and gold on grand final night. Given the cost of a seat and the desire of the Eels army to see their team play in a decider that could end a 36-year drought, the Panthers wanted their concerns heard.

“[Penrith district chief executive] Matt Cameron was in touch with the NRL about this because we don’t think it’s fair for the two teams who played in the second prelim,” Panthers group chief executive Brian Fletcher said. “The Parramatta fans get the jump – a chance to buy seats knowing for certain their team is in the grand final. It will enable them to have an edge too in support, and I think it’s something that needs to be looked at in seasons to come. Ticket sales should be blocked off completely just before the first preliminary final and opened again on the Monday morning.”

The Panthers even contacted Souths about their concerns, but the Redfern outfit was happy with the NRL’s explanation.

The biggest impact of a one-sided grand final crowd I’ve witnessed was in 2016 when Cronulla fans screamed their team to victory against the Storm, ending another lengthy title drought.

Penrith players celebrate during Saturday night’s victory.

Following Penrith’s complaint, the NRL spoke with the club and Souths on Saturday night to address their concerns. The NRL said a limited allocation of tickets was made available after Friday night’s preliminary final. The same allocation of tickets was also available after last night’s preliminary final, allowing both winning teams access to the same allocation. However, Parramatta fans can actually access both those ticket allocations.

The NRL says members of both grand final clubs will get an exclusive window to an additional allocation on Monday morning, followed by a general public final release. The NRL says the ticket process is consistent with previous years and ensures parity across the competing clubs.

Parra flying high

If the Eels were uptight in the lead-up to their courageous win over the Cowboys, they certainly didn’t look it as they disembarked from their private jet in Townsville. The players didn’t wear the traditional team kit, instead opting for a casual approach. It had an American sport feel to it, but some will no doubt say it was unprofessional. Whatever your view, you can’t argue with their dedication or the result.

Red V Charity Shield

If you thought the Dragons have been disappointing on the field in recent years, they have at least matched those efforts with their sluggish performances off the park in the community.

While all the focus is on their results, their playing roster and the survival of coach Anthony Griffin, other areas have suffered.

In between dealing with Jack de Belin’s legal challenges and Paul Vaughan’s COVID regulation-busting barbecue, the Dragons have not put forward a nominee for the Ken Stephen Medal for the past three years. The medal will be awarded on grand final day and 13 of the 16 NRL clubs have nominated a player who has done great work in the community; going above and beyond in charity work, youth development or community support.

In 2022, St George Illawarra were one of only three clubs that did not nominate a player. In 2021, St George Illawarra did not nominate a player – one of only three clubs not to. In 2020, the Dragons did not nominate a player – the only club that did not do so.

The Dragons are blaming pandemic protocols for their lack of community work.

The last time the Dragons put forward a nomination for the award was in 2019, when Corey Norman represented the club.

If ever a club needed to work on its off-field image and reputation, it’s the Dragons. They have provided too many negative headlines in the past few years with the de Belin story on the front and back pages. They have struggled on the field also – missing the finals for four straight seasons – and they are fortunate to have a loyal band of sponsors.

“St George Illawarra can confirm the Dragons did not nominate a player for the 2022 Ken Stephens [sic] Medal,” the club confirmed in a statement. “The challenges and consequential protocols that the COVID-19 pandemic presented did not allow for players, through no fault of their own, to go above and beyond in the community space in 2022.

It has been a long season for St George Illawarra Dragons fans.Credit:Getty

“At its core, going above and beyond is a key principle that this prestigious award demands; essentially it would have been a disservice to the club’s previous nominees to put forward a candidate this year.

“That’s not to say Dragons players didn’t engage with the community in 2022. There were a vast number of instances where players, primarily, visited schools and junior clubs (following NRL Apollo approval). It’s worth noting that the Dragons will not present a Community Award at its upcoming presentation evening due to the same rationale.”

Fullback to future

Perhaps the “art dealer” Steve Nasteski knew what he was talking about when he said Joseph Suaalii desperately wants to play fullback.

Nasteski told this column a few weeks ago the Roosters would need to lose fullback James Tedesco or Suaalii, such was the rising star’s desire to wear the No.1 jersey in the NRL.

Six weeks ago, Suaalii was pencilled in to play at the Rugby League World Cup with Australia, but he says his strong connection to his Samoan heritage is the reason he chose instead to represent the Pacific island nation. It’s a serious change of heart, and comes with a twist: Suaalii will play fullback for Samoa.

It gives him the opportunity to show the rugby league and rugby union worlds how capable he is in that position.

Chad Randall.Credit:NRL Photos

Cam lands first signing – and it’s another blow for Hasler

Cameron Ciraldo’s first official signing as head coach of the Bulldogs is his “bubble buddy” Chad Randall, the now former assistant to embattled Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler. Randall is seen as key to Ciraldo’s success, and Hasler fought hard to keep him, but a desire to make his name away from the club where his dad, Terry, was a legend led Randall to the Bulldogs.

“Cam and I got to know each other up in the team’s bubble on the Sunshine Coast,” he said. “We were neighbours up there in the bubble last year.

“After we’d finish our day’s work we would sit around and discuss all things footy and soon realised that we were on the same path. We’d talk about some of the simple stuff in footy and what you want out of your recruitment and things like that. We are definitely aligned in the way that we want to play the game and the way that we feel the game should be and could be played. I feel a real responsibility because I was his first recruit and I feel honoured to be working at the Canterbury club.”

Randall’s departure will be seized upon as a sign that Manly are falling apart after the inclusivity jersey fiasco.

“I was talking with Cam about coaching with him when the Tigers were talking with him, well before all of the Manly media started to take hold,” he said.

“This has not been the result of the rainbow jersey or how the season finished up – anything but, to be honest. Des wanted to keep me at the club, but for me it was always about my personal development as a coach. Des and the Manly club have been great for me and to me.

“I have learnt so much from Des. We’ve had some big conversations for some time and especially over the last six weeks about it and in the end he was very good to me – he put his arm around me and said congratulations. I look at what Dean Young has done at the Cowboys. He took himself out of a familiar environment [St George Illawarra] and he has had success at his new club. I have obvious ties with Manly, and I would never shut the door on a club like that, but for now, this is a huge opportunity.

“The other reason I went there was to work with Gus [general manager Phil Gould].”

As for being a first-grade coach?

“I’m not 100 per cent there yet. I still have a lot to learn.”

PVL punting on USA

The NRL’s planned US venture will be discussed next week, with ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys still keen to plough ahead with the idea of playing the opening round of the 2023 season in America.

Chicago is the likely venue and teams such as Melbourne, the Roosters and Manly are being suggested. The key is covering the cost of the venture, which is all about tapping into the US sports betting market.

Rabs in prime time

Ray Warren has watched most of the television special that has been put together on his life and he is said to be chuffed with the result. Ray Warren: Calling Time will screen on Friday, September 30, at 7.30pm on Channel Nine.

Stream the NRL Premiership 2022 live and free on 9Now.

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