Australia deny 'binge drinking' led to humiliation in Tri-Nations

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The Independent Online

Australia have denied that it was a binge-drinking culture that led to their Tri-Nations defeat and the resignation of Wayne Bennett as national coach.

The Australian Rugby League's chairman, Colin Love, said that a leaked manager's report, which seemed to suggest a persistent problem, had been quoted out of context. "Players and officials have told me that it was the quietest tour of all time," he said. "There was no regular binge drinking and limited alcohol consumption during the entire tour."

The teetotal Bennett has bridled at suggestions that his successor, Ricky Stuart, will be better at keeping the players in check by virtue of being "one of the boys. Just look at the Sydney Roosters' track record over the last four or five years for some of their bad behaviour and tell me whether that approach works," he said

Love has also spoken out in Bennett's support. "No one in rugby league has been firmer than Wayne Bennett on the need to curb binge drinking by players," he said.

It was one of Stuart's Sydney players, Anthony Minichiello, who was involved in the main incident of the tour, when a restaurant window was broken in France. The ARL has accepted that the damage was accidental, but has ordered Minichiello to do community work with junior clubs in Sydney.

Stuart is an intriguing appointment in another sense, as he is already on record as asserting that next year's Tri-Nations should be postponed until after the 2008 World Cup.

Stuart has also revealed that the Roosters will not release Adrian Morley to play for Bradford against Wests-Tigers in the World Club Challenge in February. Morley spent the latter stages of the season on loan to the Bulls and helped them to win the Super League title.

The Great Britain prop, Paul King, is likely to miss the start of next season with Hull while he recovers from surgery on his wrist. King is making progress with his other problem, however, after working with a hypnotherapist on his fear of flying.

Hull will play two away games in France against the new Super League club, the Catalan Dragons, and their coach, John Kear, is anxious that King should overcome his phobia to be able to travel for those fixtures.

The former Test winger, Karl Pratt, has cast doubt on whether he will play for Doncaster, despite joining them last week following his retirement at Bradford because of a persistent shoulder injury. Pratt has ambitions to coach and is likely to concentrate on that.