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The Sydney Morning Herald


Author: Ian Heads
Date: 15/06/1988
Words: 1180
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 51
Like old Sisyphus, who was condemned forever to push a stone up a hill only to have it roll back down, Mike Mayer continues his single-minded campaign to get Rugby League going in the United States.

Mayer, a former American Football player with a vision, has been at it for a dozen years now. So far his only dividend has been disappointment and the dissipation of his personal finances.

He has been in town for the past week or so, although you may not have realised it. The Australian press, in the main, choose to ignore him these days. But Mayer, who nags away at the Australian Rugby League - a body for which he has little respect - may yet have the last laugh.

Working closely with the English League, Mayer and a group of American sportsmen-promoters have scheduled a major Rugby League match between Wigan and Warrington in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for June next year. He believes this is the watershed event; that this will be the foundation stone for the establishment of the game in the US.

During his stay in Sydney Mayer was typically caustic about some Australian officials. "Their only interest is their own personal aggrandisement ... they have no vision for the game," he said.

He and his partners were scathingly critical of the Australian-backed "LA Experiment" last year when NSW and Queensland played their State of Origin game at Long Beach, California.

In a recent magazine interview, Hal Edwards, a partner of Mayer's, called the game "a small time, poorly promoted minor League event, it was a farce which was fortunately the biggest kept secret in LA that week."

On this trip Mayer effectively torpedoed Australian claims that the crowd for that match had been more than 10,000. He produced a letter signed by Bob Sanders, co-ordinator of the Veterans' Stadium confirming that the crowd at the match had been "approximately 7,000".

For all the aggravation that exists, Mayer still seeks Australian involvement in his June 1989 promotion and this week had talks with ARL chairman Ken Arthurson, coaching director Peter Corcoran and John Lambie, the ARL agent who has been based in the US.

The gap between Mayer and the ARL is a wide one, however, with mutual hostility on both sides. They share the dream of a thriving Rugby League competition in the US, but it's about all they share.

And so to the Test. This may be an unfashionable line to take, but I reckon French referee Francis Desplas did a fair job in last Saturday's first Test match.

His whistle fantasia in the first half did nothing to help the game as a spectacle, but if you take a close look at the penalties you'll see the bulk of them were warranted.

Desplas got the big decisions right in the Tests - for example, his critical forward-pass ruling at 12-6 when Andy Gregory dived over - and showed even-handedness and strength.

He's no world beater yet, and is a rookie in many ways, unused to the pressures of big-time international football. Everyone will be hoping he can get better scrums in the next two Tests. But he's a listener and a learner, determined to improve his game by what he experiences here.

Criticism of the fact that he can't speak English, and therefore shouldn't be handling a Test match, only shows up the provincial nature of the game of Rugby League. World Cup soccer would never have succeeded had that been a problem.

With a uniform set of rules and signals, the inability to speak a particular language does not have to be any sort of drawback in the refereeing of an international game.

Last Saturday's Century Test match lacked a sense of history and occasion. Like plenty of others my family went along because it was the 100th Test. They came home pleased enough with the toughness and closeness of the contest but disappointed that such a day had given nothing special in the way of memories

In the area of promotion it was a lacklustre effort - a pale shadow indeed when compared with the festival of nostalgia, great men and great memories that surrounded the Centenary Cricket Test.

The British camp were bitterly disappointed with the effort, but too polite to say so. North Sydney Club took the promotional points of the weekend by a knockout with their Golden Oldies extravaganza on Sunday.

The old man in the grey fedora deemed it "no classic, but a good contest".

For countless years the observations of Tom Goodman on the games of Rugby League and cricket filled the pages of this paper.

Tom is 85 now, with a memory that leaves him posted now and then. But he was there in the mob last Saturday, looking on at yet another Test in a remarkable career of sports watching.

Tom has a faint recall of seeing the famous Rorke's Drift epic, way back in 1914, and has missed very few Australia-Great Britain Tests over the years. To him, the game of Rugby League has never lost its thrill.

The great coach Harry Bath had a phrase for it. He reckoned that as older stars faded out of the game new ones would emerge in clusters "like mushrooms after a shower of rain".

Boy, there sure are some mushrooms blooming in Sydney at the moment. Whiz-kids like Geoff Toovey (Manly) and Steve Carter (Penrith) have already grabbed their share of the headlines, and they're only the tip of the iceberg

Get to the ground early for the under-21 games and you'll see some striking talent. Last Sunday from my eyrie atop the western stand at the Sydney Football Stadium I had my second look at the exceptional young Eastern Suburbs fullback, Rod Silva.

Silva is a mate of Easts centre David Smith who decided he'd like to try his luck with the Roosters. Easts signed him on the recommendation of another gifted fullback, Russell Fairfax.

Fairy watched him in a trial match against Cronulla and saw him make a spectacular try-saving tackle on a big forward.

"I decided then and there we had to have him," Fairfax said.

Slim and fast, Silva is one of those players who seem to glide effortlessly over the turf. Against Penrith a few weeks back he ranged into the attack to score as good an individual try as I've seen all year.

Last Sunday he was in fine form again, loving the ball with an easy grace. Against him in the Newcastle side the Knights captain and halfback Darren Forward threw passes which would have done Alex Murphy proud, picking up supports with pinpoint accuracy. The future is in good hands.

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