THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN
By DAVID MOASE and BRAD GREENSHIELDS
BIG-TIME rugby league arrived back in Coffs Harbour yesterday ? two years to the day after its last venture ended in the Bulldogs sex scandal that made headlines around the world.
Newcastle Knights players, led by superstar Andrew Johns, trained at the International Stadium yesterday morning ahead of Saturday night's trial match with the Cronulla Sharks.
Last year's NRL wooden-spooners were happy to enjoy themselves soaking up the sunshine and taking part in a Kids to Kangaroos clinic for 140 primary school students.
They were less comfortable when asked any questions linked to the events of two years ago.
Johns showed a sidestep as impressive as anything he has ever produced on the field when asked what people may think about NRL players returning to the city in light of what happened last time.
"I don't want to touch that mate, I just don't want to go anywhere near it," star halfback Andrew Johns said.
Australian hooker Danny Buderus, Knights coach Michael Hagan and club media manager Stephen Crowe also went quiet when the Bulldogs were mentioned.
None would say if they had been given specific instructions about their behaviour or if players would have to meet a curfew while in Coffs Harbour.
The club put up a united front in stating that they are here to promote the game in the area just as they did last week in Alice Springs where they played a trial against Penrith.
It was after a similar trial match in February, 2004, that the Bulldogs, the NRL and Coffs Harbour were linked in a story that saw some involved lose or leave their jobs, including NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Dave Madden.
A 20-year-old woman made allegations that she was raped by up to six Bulldogs players at the Novotel Pacific Bay Resort in the early hours of February 22, the day after the trial match.
Many of the first grade squad were questioned by police, led by Coffs Harbour's Detective Chief Inspector Jason Breton, but no charges were laid.
The players came under widespread criticism for their casual dress when attending police head-quarters in Sydney.
Bulldogs officials and legendary players Steve Mortimer and Garry Hughes left the club soon afterwards, Mortimer stepping down as chief executive and Hughes sacked as football manager.
The scandal returned to the headlines last year when the Police Integrity Commission recommended charges be considered against Mr Madden and Assistant Commissioner Peter Parsons for breaching phone tap laws.
No charges were laid but Mr Madden resigned from the NSW Police.
This afternoon some of the Knights players will be participating in school visits in the Nambucca Heads area before tomorrow embarking on a hard day of preparation and training for Saturday night's en- counter.
The Sharks are due to arrive at Coffs Harbour Regional Airport at 8.30am today.