Ruck'n Maul
Tahs may consider cut-price Benji
Greg Growden
July 19, 2013

It's a tough assignment, but New South Wales Waratahs are still hopeful of boasting the big-name backline trio of Israel Folau, Benji Marshall and Kurtley Beale next season. Our Waratahs insiders tell us the Beale signing is "imminent" and Folau is "almost a done deal". Marshall originally appeared to have little chance of heading to the Waratahs from the West Tigers NRL club, but our well-connected Tahs insider informed us: "He was a no-go, but now with the price dropped there could be a spot as [coach] Michael Cheika looks closely at possibly releasing a current fringe back." Melbourne Rebels seem likely to provide Marshall with the most lucrative offer, especially after directing James O'Connor and Beale towards their exit door. The close relationship between Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive Bill Pulver and Rebels CEO Rob Clarke should not be underestimated. Another suggestion is that Marshall may play ITM Cup rugby for Auckland and then move back to Australia to play Super Rugby.

Meanwhile, it is clear that O'Connor and Beale won't be missed in Melbourne. As one Rebels official said: "It was like having to look after two school kids." Force and Waratahs officials take note.

Marshalling troops against Benji

The debate over whether Marshall would be a good rugby signing is simmering. Former Wallabies fullback Greg Martin did not hold back on Brisbane radio this week, arguing that Marshall was a "spoiled brat", and there are many in New Zealand less than enthused about the possibility of him appearing in the Blues colours. The New Zealand Herald listed four reasons why the "Blues shouldn't touch Marshall with a barge pole". They were: 1. there are better available options; 2. he is a player on the wane; 3. his lateral running game is ill suited to rugby; 4. he comes with baggage. They could provide only one big reason for signing him: bums on seats. The NZ Herald said next day the Blues should instead go for Beauden Barrett.

Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the Super Rugby finals

Follow live text commentary of the Super Rugby qualifier between the Crusaders and the Reds on Saturday, July 20, from 7pm (NZT), 5pm (EST), 7am (GMT)

Follow live text commentary of the Super Rugby qualifier between the Brumbies and the Cheetahs on Sunday, July 21, from 5.45pm (NZT), 3.45pm (EST), 6.45am (GMT)

Michael Cheika continues to make enemies

The relationship between certain Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels officials is a bit tender after NSW coach Michael Cheika's public complaints over how the Melbourne province handled the Beale departure. We've heard that Rebels officials rang the Waratahs demanding that Cheika cease making comments about Beale. This only inflamed the situation further, prompting several very fruity conversations. Meanwhile, a Sydney premiership club coach has written to several others requesting support over lodging an official complaint about the coming two-match tour of Argentina by the Waratahs, under the name of the NSW Barbarians. If Cheika learns the name of the coach, there is bound to be drama.

Sydney shenanigans

Changes at the Sydney premiership grade level appear inevitable, with a strong push to cut first-grade back to 10 teams. Penrith is one club under serious pressure, and there is a push for a former powerbroker to be brought back to be the face of Sydney club rugby. ARU officials are also calling for a ban on player payments at club level. This hasn't met with widespread approval, with one North-of-the-Harbour club explaining at a recent Sydney Rugby Union club presidents meeting that it would not accept "non-payment of players". A draft criteria model for premiership teams is also prompting debate, especially as it proposes that clubs should have among a long list of requirements: a full-time head coach; full-time general manager; juniors/development officer; business/development plans for three, seven and 15 years; a functioning website; and be committed to a "minimum financial capability of $550,000 per annum (not including payments for playing and or training which the ARU strongly advocates should not be made for players at the third tier)".

Video of the Week

Canberra mug lairs provide good gags aplenty.

Rumours of the Week

Who is the high-ranking rugby official earning a reputation for attending more functions than Tim Mathieson? That is until Matheson's partner lost a crucial ballot vote.

The British & Irish Lions have long since returned home, with the Tom Richards Cup in their keep, but we hear team officials remain less than impressed with the logistical work and programming during their Australian stay.

The conduct of two high-ranking Australian officials at the after-match function following the third Wallabies-Lions Test in Sydney has also led to official complaints. ARU criticism of the International Rugby Board judiciary process has also not helped north-south relations.

Which Australian provincial media officer was sent home "tired and emotional" last week?

Now we hear former Waratahs assistant coach Todd Louden could be sighted at the Brumbies next season.

Finally a disenchanted former sponsor has let it be known that the province with which they were involved was an embarrassment as it was run by officials who were, in the sponsors' opinion, "the worst in history".

What rugby rumours and gossip have you heard? Contact Greg Growden on Twitter @greggrowden to share your news.

© ESPN Australia / New Zealand

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