Friendship ended with Broncos, now Dolphins are my best friend
Devs leave the Bronx stable and kowtow to the Phins in a landmark day for the cattle trading of female professional athletes
After 15 years, the Northern Suburbs Rugby League Football Club are ending their feeder arrangement with the Brisbane Broncos. From 2024 until at least 2027, the Norths Devils will be a feeder to their nothern neighbours and local rivals, the Redcliffe Dolphins (NRL).
Between this and signing away Brayden McGrady, I guess that’s one way to cope with the loss of the 2022 grand final but it doesn’t take a genius to see how this came about (emphasis mine from the Devils’ press release):
Dolphins NRL chief executive Terry Reader, who was previously Devils CEO and a Devils board member until 2021, said he was delighted with the new partnership.
As you would be, if you had the idea and put the deal together and sold it to people who you formerly shared a boardroom table with.
It might be an annoyance to the Broncos and a boon to the Dolphins but it’s hard to see anyone getting too bent out of shape about this change. Any meaningful repercussions will only be felt years into the future.
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Pete Badel’s breathless reporting, which is how almost everyone will engage with this story, largely revolved around making the story legible in Sydney rugby league cliches, instead of understanding it on its own terms. Badel could barely conceal his horniness for the TURF WAR FOR THE CONTROL OF THE NORTHSIDE and the AFL RUTHLESSLY TARGETTING BRISBANE’S NORTHSIDE, while conflating players who the Broncos (or previously the Storm) had identified, signed and designated for assignment to Norths, with actual Norths juniors1.
This undermines the true reverberations this will have across the state, even if the last big shake-up ended up being background noise to the covid crisis and the NRL expansion race.
Dolphins + Capras, Devils, Hunters
The Dolphins will go into 2024 with Redcliffe, Central Queensland and now Norths under their arm, and the Hunters at arm’s length2. Redcliffe (NRL) will probably never be able to lever away the Sunshine Coast from the Storm, given the latter’s investments in other areas on the Near North Coast and a recent contract extension that keeps the Birds in the purple fold until 20273, leaving the Dolphins unable to complete their Monopoly set of properties from the Brisbane River to Yeppoon.
The Capras’ recent run of decent results may be poised to come to an end when talent has to be spread more thinly. We are already getting a preview of what this might look like next year. The Goats’ campaign is starting to look shaky as the fringe Dolphins they had earlier in the year have been sucked up into the NRL side to cover injuries. Still, as Central are well aware, better to have one-third of the Dolphins than nothing.
I doubt this materially changes the outlook for the QCup Dolphins or the Devils - who trade Broncos fringe guys for Dolphins fringe guys - in the medium term. In the short term, the Devs are struggling in 2023. The decamping of Broncos players from Nundah to West End or Manly West is unlikely to help the Pitchforks’ quest to close a three game gap to the top eight. The year became a write-off when they failed to find any traction or results in the first months of the season.
There’s nothing here that impacts the relationship (i.e. the occasional training session with the NRL team for selected Hunters) with PNG.
It’s the first time I can recall that women have been mentioned in one of these agreements, a landmark day for the cattle trading of female professional athletes. The Dolphins have not yet entered the QRLW in its current format and Norths had worked with Valleys and Wests in recent years, only entering a Devils-branded team for the first time this season. Presumably, the Dolphins will be a part of future expansion of both QRLW and NRLW competitions and will need the infrastructure underneath from both the Devs and the Caps to support the latter.
Broncos + Magpies, Seagulls, Jets, Clydesdales
The Broncos appear to be pulling their players from the Devils effective immediately. The regular assignees are Xavier Willison, Brendan Piakura and Jock Madden. There will also be players in the usual top squad that, were they ever to be dropped to reserve grade, would have played at Norths. They will all be re-assigned to either Souths Logan or Wynnum Manly.
Souths Logan are genuine contenders for this year’s premiership and are already fielding Jordan Pereira, Tristan Sailor, Jesse Arthars, Blake Mozer, Cory Paix, Benjamin Te Kura and Logan Bayliss-Brow.
Wynnum sit just outside the top tier of teams and have played Deine Mariner, Delouise Hoeter, Tyson Smoothy, Brendan Frei, Josh Rodgers, Keenan Palasia.
Strangely, Kobe Hetherington has appeared for both the Mags and the Gulls this year.
Wynnum is the better landing spot for Madden, although he would displace the sometime Seagulls captain, Brendan O’Hagen4, but he would partner with another Bronco in Josh Rodgers. Given Souths Logan are already playing two Broncos props, Wynnum would also suit Xavier Willison. If Piakura returns to reserve grade, which seems unlikely now that he’s hit a hole off Reece Walsh to score a try, then either destination could find space for him.
Longer term, the Broncos may choose to pursue a standalone team in Cup, as the Cowboys and Titans are reportedly doing. They may stick with their two affiliates in Souths Logan and Wynnum-Manly and concentrate their efforts there. They may wind back the clock to reunite with the Clydesdales, reviving a relationship that dominated the first half of 2000s Queensland Cup, or the Jets, and crowbar them away from their Sydney pathway agreements with the Bulldogs and Roosters, respectively. A renewal with Ipswich seems unlikely, given recent frictions between that club and others, but Western could be a fun opportunity.
Tigers + NRL18
Interesting to note that Terry Reader, current NRL Dolphins CEO and ex-Devils CEO, is also joined at the NRL Dolphins by Hanan Laban, ex-Wynnum CEO, as Head of People and Governance. Giving LinkedIn a quick browse, the Dolphins’ Head of Membership is mostly recently ex-Knights and the Head of Events is ex-Broncos. It’s not just about tracing the movements of playing talent, there’s also an administrator angle to keep in the back of your head.
With the Dolphins taking over so much rugby league heritage5, people and infrastructure in SEQ, a lot of which was surplus to the Broncos’ needs (and/or outbid for by the Dolphins), one wonders whom the Tigers would be able to scrape together if they became NRL18. Were they to become successful in their bid, then I imagine they would target the Jets, the Clydesdales and maybe the Magpies to be feeders in addition to the Tigers, but they may find the Broncos are already in their territory.
Then the turf war really begins.
Does this matter?
As a kid, I was aware that Queensland Cup existed and that the Clydesdales had an arrangement with the Broncos but, like many rugby league things happening while I was ages five through fifteen (or twenty-five, even), I doubt I could have explained to you what that was or why it mattered.
I’ve only been following Cup closely since 2017 and my allegiance to Souths Logan and geographical marriage of convenience with Norths isn’t going to be affected by which NRL team they’re associated with6. Naturally, for other people who are more marginal in their commitments, this may form part of their mental calculus but it’s also the sort of detail that is usually concealed so far from view that if you were the kind of person that understands the situation, then you would almost certainly already have some fairly strident opinions on who to support.
I’ve also been thinking about my kids. Our closest club is part of the Dolphins’ network. We’re equidistant between Norths and Redcliffe, which is now irrelevant as they both feed into the same NRL team. My eldest has been to Davies Park twice and sleeps with a Broncos teddy bear, although it would be lucky to crack the top ten of her favourite toys. My youngest was born in Redcliffe Hospital earlier this year.
There’s no guarantees that they show any interest in footy. While we have some odds and ends of Broncos merch around the house, with Souths Logan orienting more towards Logan than Souths, and being more than a few years away from a family outing to Suncorp, it’s not hard to envision a future where most of their tangible exposure to rugby league is filtered through the Dolphins. It’s then by no means a sure thing that they would follow their old man to the Broncos.7
So while it seems unlikely this deal would affect any set-in-their-ways adults, it could be the start of something for the next generation of fans.
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The Norths Devils played a key role in the development of the career of Clive Churchill. Mr Churchill was unavailable for comment.
I‘ve been wondering whether to put the Hunters in the unaffiliated category of the Affiliates Premiership or with the Dolphins. I’ve been doing the latter but next year they will move down to the slums.
Somehow this is not a front meriting Badel’s deeply serious coverage of the TURF WAR.
Better than displacing the Italian representative duo at the Magpies.
The Devils have affiliation agreements with Wests and Valleys in BRL, meaning there’s a throughline for half of the BRL’s Big 8 marques to the NRL just in this deal.
Unless it’s St George Illawarra.
If they decided to bog themselves down into this sport, provided they stuck to the Maroons (they’ve already been branded accordingly) and clubs located in SEQ, I don’t really care who they get on board with. It’s not that big a deal.