Blast from the past to breathe new life into The Footy Show

The creative genius of Gary Burns - the man responsible for The Footy Show and The Matty Johns Show - is about to go full circle and make a stunning return to Channel Nine.

As revealed by Fairfax Media this week, Nine is turning The Footy Show on its head with founding host Paul "Fatty" Vautin being shuffled on after 24 years, with his co-host Erin Molan heading a new program on Thursday nights.

Burns was a Packer lieutenant for many years, including two decades as head of sport, before moving to Fox Sports in 2011. Last year, he was effectively sidelined when Steve Crawley left Nine and joined Fox.

He walked earlier this year and has been in negotiations for some weeks about returning to Nine. The deal isn't yet done but he has a close relationship with Nine chief executive Hugh Marks and an announcement is expected soon.

He will advise Nine sports boss Tom Malone as the network navigates a new beginning for its rugby league programs and given the heady events of the past fortnight he can't arrive soon enough.

The way Vautin and fellow panellists Darryl Brohman and Beau Ryan have been treated is appalling. You'd never see this kind of treachery in the newspaper business ???

Long-time Footy Show executive producer Glenn Pallister told them the Thursday night show had been axed. Vautin, who has been in holidays in Las Vegas, was informed he would be commentating for the final year of his contract. News quickly filtered through Nine.

We're told the decision to make sweeping changes came from Marks, who this week has been ducking and weaving after the shock departure of Lisa Wilkinson from The Today Show.

Malone was left to mop up the mess in sport, assuring staff The Footy Show brand wasn't going to be abandoned.

The 11-time Logie-winning show certainly requires an enema. It needs to strike the right balance again between engaging footy talk and the odd bit of gibber. In its pomp, The Footy Show was must-watch TV as former players became stars who weren't afraid to have a crack about relevant footy issues.

Now it's caught between being a footy show and a bad episode of Hey! Hey! It's Saturday. I couldn't care less for Beau Ryan interviewing The Rock.

Some claim the revamped program will try to take on The Matty Johns Show, which would be ludicrous because it doesn't have Matty Johns and his unique brand of humour and knowledge. Nine says this isn't so.

A new Monday night show also won't take on Johns. It will be aired from 10pm, doesn't have a name and won't necessarily be hosted by Molan.

Some have framed Nine's new direction as a showdown between Molan and Fox Sports' hugely popular Yvonne Sampson, who Nine inexplicably let go at the end of last year.

Knowing both of them well enough, they would loathe the comparison because of their gender and the different roles they play. They are competent sports reporters/hosts in their own right, not because they are women.

You don't need female hosts to drag in female viewers. And surely the game has matured enough to see them as something other than "good sorts talking about footy". Maybe not.

There's also much speculation about the future of Fox Sports' Andrew Voss, who is off-contract. He's been linked to a possible return to Nine. The noise out of Fox Sports is he could be swapped with Nine's Mat Thompson. We're also told this isn't on the cards.

Voss will not be coming back to Nine, where he was understudy for many years under Ray Warren, at all.

You might recall Voss once sued 2GB leviathan and Nine caller Ray Hadley, who tore strips off Voss for criticising the statue erected of Warren in his home town of Junee.

Voss hired celebrity QC Stuart Littlemore, whose legal team subpoenaed private emails between Hadley and former Nine chief executive David Gyngell. The matter was settled on the steps of the court but it had a dire impact on Voss' career.

Hadley has just re-signed with Nine for three years. Gyngell is a non-executive director. So, no, Andrew Voss is not coming back to Nine, despite reports elsewhere that he wants back in.

Despite this, Voss' colleagues at Fox Sports fear he is out of favour and might not be renewed. Which is a shame because he is a very good caller.

Coaxed coaches

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga and England counterpart Wayne Bennett will eyeball each other at a fancy World Cup luncheon at the Crown Palladium next Friday.

Hours later, they will square off in the tournament opener at AAMI Park. Good on both of them for agreeing to speak at the function on game-day.

The animosity between the iconic figures has been ramped up in the media in recent times. Both men will bat it away as newspaper talk but we're told it's very real and very raw.

Meanwhile, Rugby League World Cup chief executive Andrew Hill has defended the decision to bring all of the referees for the tournament into camp in Brisbane, revealing match-day officials have taken a pay cut so they can all be together.

The squad of 26 match-day officials, three coaches, a high-performance manager and refs boss Tony Archer will stay in the one hotel. Accordingly, they're calling themselves the "15th team" of the World Cup.

It's cocked a few eyebrows with some wondering how much this is all costing. Last week, the NRL retrenched 25 employees amid a cash flow crisis.

Hill said the international federation funds World Cup refs.

"And they've decided to play for half their match fees so they can all be in camp together," Hill says. "They also play a vital role for us. The tournament is different to the NRL; we are playing across three countries in 13 different cities."

Taking new Liberties

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of NRL players looking for one last contract before they retire ???

Apparently, that's what it now says on the plaque at the Statue of Liberty in New York City. What a time to be alive.

We'd all like to wake up - or finally go to bed - in the city that never sleeps but claims from player managers about a possible exodus of rugby league talent to a prospective third-tier UK Super league team in New York sounds far-fetched.

It sounds suspiciously like the exodus of ageing superstars looking to bump up their superannuation with a final fling in French or Japanese rugby.

We're told Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith wasn't entirely pleased about being linked this week as a potential signing. Manager David Riolo was quoted as saying Smith was his client, which he isn't. He's in the stable of leading manager Isaac Moses.

Smith does not like the idea of being used as leverage for something he has no interest in.

The quote

"Because the players are always changing you're actually rooting for the clothes. You're standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city." - An old but timely quote from Jerry Seinfeld for all those fans demanding the Roosters stay loyal to Mitchell Pearce instead of signing Cooper Cronk.

Thumbs up

Last Saturday, your humble correspondent walked from the carpark in the middle of Royal Randwick, under the track and straight into a heaving throng of racegoers. It wasn't mid-afternoon. It was 11.30am - half an hour before the first. Fair to say The Everest - with a final crowd of 33,000 - was a thumping success.

Thumbs down

It's an EXCLUSIVE-a-thon over there at The Daily Telegraph, which has started lavishly using the big red EXCLUSIVE stamp on sports stories the Sydney Morning Herald has already broken on-line. Next they'll be doing it on EXCLUSIVE press conferences and EXCLUSIVE press releases. Play fair, boys.

It's a big weekend for ... Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers in the derby at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night. Ticket sales have been sluggish. Get amongst it, Sin City. Fire up.

It's an even bigger weekend for ... jockey Craig Williams, who needs to get down to 51kgs to ride Amelie's Star in the Caulfield Cup on Saturday after stablemate Admire Deus sadly broke down during the week.

Q&A: Tim Tszyu

We speak to the 22-year-old ahead of his WBC Asia Continental super welterweight title fight against Wade Ryan as part of the Johnny Lewis Ultimate Fight Night at The Star on Sunday.

Tim Tszyu, son of boxing great Kostya.

Tim Tszyu, son of boxing great Kostya. Photo: Supplied

You're down a weight division and this is your first 10-round fight. Tell us about your preparation.

My last fights have been six-rounders so for this I went to Thailand, where I trained four times a day. Train, eat, sleep. It was very intense. Here in Sydney, we do two sessions a day. Over there, I was surrounded by just fighters. There was a morning run, then some boxing, then strength, then more strength. My legs were shaking, there was the heat ... But I enjoyed it. Then I came back and got into some sparring for the last six weeks.

You haven't been afraid of a challenge since turning pro, heading interstate to take on fighters in front of their home crowds.

Every time I've fought away from home I've had the crowd come up for me. I feel like I'm winning over the crowd. I don't know why but they've been really behind me. That's good. That's a way to build fans and represent your nation.

There's talk you'll be on the undercard for Jeff Horn's next fight if you get past this one ...

There's plenty of possibilities. My job is to just train and fight.

And you could be off to Russia at the end of the year?

It's not confirmed but if the opportunity to train or even fight in Russia came up, I'd be silly not to take it. My Dad [Kostya] lives over there in Moscow. We shot a TV commercial for a vitamin company the last time I was there. It was weird because wherever we went people came up to my Dad but knew me as well. It's good to know I have Australian fans and Russian fans. I can represent two countries

How good is Russian vodka?

I keep away from that as a professional athlete. You can enjoy yourself, though.

What can we expect from your opponent on Sunday?

He's very experienced. He's had two more fights than me but I'm up for a challenge. You prepare well and no matter how hard they are they all drop. The game plan changes once they get hit in the face.

Johnny Lewis's Fight Night at The Star is the first of a six-event series. The main event features former WBC World Champion Sakio Bika contesting the WBC International Silver Title against Geard Ajetovic.

This story Blast from the past to breathe new life into The Footy Show first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.