How hoodoos end, with a bang
Broncos win and win, Cowboys lose, Titans win, no more Dolphins, Tigers and Bears through to the Queensland Cup final and NRLW expansion
NRLM Qualifying Final
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
-William Wordsworth, who apparently never saw the Broncos defeat the Storm, 26-0 in a qualifying final at Suncorp Stadium, The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement
There’s been plenty of analysis offered about this game in the aftermath and none of it has hit the exact point in terms of describing what actually happened.
This was the worst possible form of the Melbourne Storm. The Storm slew themselves. First with team selections: expecting Young Tonumaipea and Marion Seve to hang with Kotoni Staggs and Herbie Farnworth seemed optimistic at best and futile at worst. Then with a game plan: slowing the ruck down didn’t do the Broncos offence any harm, given their strength less a traditional swarming, rolling offence and is more the abruptness of acceleration and deceleration and impulses of momentum they can inflict on individual plays, and if the Raiders didn’t manage to unseat the Broncos, then Harry Grant’s best impression of a prick was unlikely to do so. Then with errors: there's a certain irony in the Melbourne Storm being unable to handle a heavy south-east Queensland shower. And then, finally, with injuries.
This was the best possible form of the Brisbane Broncos. Everyone played to their best and even I, one of their more critical fans, couldn’t fault any individual for their effort, their contribution or their gameplay. As usual, the forwards based down the door and the backs walked through it, a simple enough game plan that you have to wonder why every club simply doesn’t have three Origin-calibre middles on the roster. Billy Walters got a bit excited early on and Reece Walsh committed a few basic errors but none of that mattered because the Broncos’ put up a stone wall in front of the goal line, as they have all season, and the Storm only brought slings with which to bring it down. Jahrome Hughes, Cam Munster and Nick Meaney were all non-factors. Xavier Coates did his best to vault over but everyone at Red Hill knows his limitations. The Broncos pitched a shutout.
Normally, even with this disparity in performance, the Storm would still find a way to beat the Broncos. Sometimes, it would be Brisbane inviting Melbourne to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, presuming the Broncos could even manouevre themselves into a position where their mandibles could be conceivably said to be oriented in any way towards winning. More often, the Broncos would be horribly outclassed, as has been the case in recent meetings.
But that’s how hoodoos end, with a bang, because they finally did it.
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Moment of the Weekend
And then whatever these two are doing.
NRLW Round 8
BRONCOS: A huge statistical surplus in the first half wasn’t capitalised on by the Broncos, taking a slender 6-4 lead into the break. The statistical discrepancy attempted to right itself - as nature abhors a vacuum, so rugby league abhors lopsided possession - and the Tigers came back into the match. It looked like a dispiriting loss was on the cards, just as the season hung in the balance. Then Nu'uausala was binned, the Broncos grossly simplified their game plan and started punching holes through the middle and the Tigers could not respond. Even with only 12 on the pitch, the Broncos scored some shockingly soft tries past a gassed Wests to win 22-18.
The quality of wins are irrelevant at this time of season, it just matters that they won and put themselves in the box seat to make the semi-finals. While this side has not shown the class of Newcastle or Sydney, and the length of the competition means teams are more settled in their identities, reducing the chances of a ‘22 Eels-style smartassing through the semis to the grand final (or the ‘21* Roosters), they are at least within shooting distance of a team that looks like it could compete next year.
COWBOYS: From The Sportress1
The Canberra Raiders remain a chance in 2023. They’re still stuck in fifth spot, with a negative points differential. But they’ve done enough to make sure they have some input into their destiny in round 9.
The Raiders needed to win big, and while they certainly laid on their biggest margin of the season there was still a weird feeling that it may not have been enough.
TITANS: Chantay Kiria-Ratu scores a simple try off a scrum play at almost exactly 28 minutes into the match. The ball exits the scrum to Brittany Breayley-Nati (9), flies to Lauren Brown (7) at first receiver and she has Pelite, Chapman and Kiria-Ratu from nearest to farthest. A short ball goes to Pelite (1) as Chapman (3) cuts underneath. The three Eels defenders were already in trouble, outnumbered as they are, but two converge on Brown, too late, leaving one to mark Pelite and Kiria-Ratu. Pelite shovels the ball on and Kiria-Ratu (6) scores in the corner. I have no idea who drew that play up - it was simple and still more than the Eels could handle, a recurring theme of the afternoon - or why the nominal five-eighth was the one to cover for Destiny Mino-Sinapati’s HIA, and not the bench utility, but it worked.
Queensland Cup preliminary finals
BEARS vs SEAGULLS - Wynnum Manly were never in this match in any of the usual senses of the word “in”. Involved, perhaps, but not in contention. The Burleigh machine chewed them up, swallowed them and then regurgitated them, just for good measure. After a hard fought double overtime win against the Pride, and a single score win over the Magpies last week, the Seagulls had very little to offer by way of resistance. The score was 20-0 at half time, and unlike week 1, there would be no bizarre or hilarious comeback. The Bears piled on two more tries after the break before the Gulls got their first points on the board. At 49 points, this was the biggest win in a Queensland Cup final ever, breaking the old record by five points (Norths 56 d Mackay 12 in 2010), and the first time in QCup a score of 57 had been posted.
TIGERS vs CAPRAS -
That’s right, old man. No one wants Easts in the final and yet here we are.
The Tigers really struggled to put the Capras away, despite being the superior team. Central’s only points came from a chargedown returned to the house by Kurt Donoghoe and the Caps never looked like they were really capable of repeatedly threatening the Tigers’ line, especially as time began to expire, and building pressure towards a victory. Easts responded with what felt like two quick jabs, one a flick pass to George Jennings and the other a power run from Sol Faataape. A final try to Kane Bradley after several Capras misfielded a Jack Miers kick sealed the deal.
With the men’s Broncos on rest, and the rest of the Q4 NRLM teams on holidays, there’s only four games of maroon interest this weekend.
The biggest is naturally the Queensland Cup grand final between the minor premier Burleigh Bears and the third placed Easts Tigers. Kickoff is 5.30pm on Sunday at Dolphins Oval in Redcliffe, City of Moreton Bay, and will be broadcast exclusively on Fox/Kayo.
The Bears conceded roughly 18 points per game through the regular season, up on the 13.2 conceded in 2019 en route to third on the ladder and a grand final victory, but they’re still the best defence in the competition. Burleigh are a big and well coached team traditionally constructed around a core of hardened veterans, like rake Pat Politoni and centre Sami Sauiluma, although the veterans of the late 2010s are slowly moving on. The core is accented with Titans fringe first graders who are in no danger of a call-up to the big leagues, like fullback Keano Kini - in electric form - and second rower Jacob Alick and giant winger Ken Maumalo. QCup journeyman, Guy Hamilton, has hit a rare patch of form and appears to have lost his trademark overplaying of his hand. He’ll be joined in the halves by Tyrone Roberts, attempting his third grand final win in as many years. The Bears have only lost four games all season; twice to the mercurial Falcons, once to then in-form Magpies and a calamity in Country Week against the Dolphins. Those foes have all been eliminated and very little stands - only one team - between the Gold Coast side and the 2023 Queensland Cup.
The Tigers’ attack has been lacking in flair but it has been productive, scoring 29 more points than the Bears in the regular season. A rotating cast of characters in the halves may be a proximate cause for the pedestrian approach and currently Ryley Jacks and Jack Miers, who are fine but not exceptional, are named in the halves with Jonah Pezet, who is good but perhaps underwhelms against his potential, in the reserves, pending whatever the Storm decide to do in their final against the Roosters. Tristan Hope at hooker has been the enthusiastic engine driving the team forward in 2023. Unless he makes the journey for the NRL State Championship should the Tigers win, this will be Corey Thompson’s last game of footy and he’s been a handy addition for the Tigers at the back, creating solid starts for each set. Easts find themselves a few Storm affiliates short, missing the likes of Reimis Smith and Tariq Sims, who have helped put the Tigers over the top.
If we’re lucky, we’ll get a bruising battle between the packs as the Tigers’ unexacting offensive strategies are tested against the Bears’ resilient defence and Burleigh’s less productive offence is given more space to move against Easts’ second tier defence. If we’re unlucky, Burleigh are going to destroy Easts. I’m tipping a clear Burleigh victory but am hoping that Easts will either make a fight of it or get horribly embarrassed.
Given that the final will be played in clear broadcast air on Sunday evening, here’s some stuff to watch out for:
Every year, some guys get plucked out of the relative obscurity of Queensland Cup, are offered NRL contracts and disappear into real obscurity in Sydney, sometimes returning afterwards. Think Jayden Berrell and Jack Campagnolo from 20212. My bet is Bears fullback Keano Kini and Tigers centre Solomona Faataape get their first whiffs of national attention (bearing in mind that Kini has already played NRL and is signed to the Titans for a million years) from good showings here.
A win for the Bears would be their fifth Queensland Cup title, and their first since 2019 and one fewer than the Dolphins. A win for the Tigers would be their first title on their sixth attempt, with the last major trophy coming to Coorparoo in 1983 in a 14 round BRL season. Quite the drought!
Tyrone Roberts is attempting to win his third Queensland Cup grand final in a row, having played for Norths in the last two. Roberts is the Cooper Cronk of Queensland Cup.
Since the reintroduction of Colts proper in 2017, no team has won the Colts and the Cup final in the same year. Easts have a chance to do this in the final year of the Colts competition, taking on perennial conenders and defending champions, the Townsville Blackhawks. Colts final preview (k/o 3.15pm):
In the NRLW, it’s the last round of the regular season. The Cowboys (k/o Saturday 6pm) have been more than eliminated from contention and face off against a second placed Roosters side, smarting from a loss against the Knights last week, so it hardly bodes well for North Queensland. A win for the Broncos (k/o Saturday 8.10pm) over the Dragons will secure at least fourth place on the ladder and a ticket to the finals. The Dragons, bar a handful of players, are not a good team and should not trouble the Broncos but undoubtedly the Broncos will struggle to really put it together, despite having the superior talent. The Titans (k/o Sunday 3.15pm), already 6-3, should be home but they have a 23 point buffer in points difference over their opponents, so they just need to not lose by a lot to the Raiders (or they need a Broncos loss).
There’s a bit of scuttlebutt about whether the NRLW will expand again next year, as South Sydney are reportedly keen for a licence. I think it’s likely to just be filling column inches as the NRL season winds down and the generation of news slows to a crawl, but nonetheless I have managed to have generated some opinions.
In an ideal world, we’d have a timetable for getting the last 7 teams into the NRLW, so clubs could make preparations accordingly. But we live in the real world and for all their faults, Peter V’Landys’ administration has been on the money around expansion. For every concern about the dilution of quality of the competition, there has been a new fanbase engaged in the game, whether that be the Dolphins sweeping up a bunch of marginal, casual fans in south-east Queensland disaffected by previous NRL options or existing fanbases making the leap into the women’s game, that has elevated their respective competitions.
The NRLW is past the point at which comparisons with the AFLW are valid. After all this time, the scores in the AFLW grand final are more reflective of pre-WWI VFL grand finals, than the scores racked up by the men in the 2020s. It’s suggestive that there’s a disparity in the very fabric of that sport between the way the men and women play that will take them much longer to bridge. We don’t seem to have that problem in rugby league, where the NRLW is a little lower scoring due to the shorter game lengths3, and the rosters and fields are a little smaller, but 32-12 or 16-4 or 20-10 wouldn’t be out of place in either competition’s biggest game.
I don’t put a whole lot of stock in the fact that “established” teams make up the semi-final spots this season, as proof of much of anything. The Raiders are brand new and could still qualify, and two of the top three teams hadn’t played a game until 19 months ago. The Dragons have been here the whole time and still suck. The more precise challenge with incoming teams is not in getting a team off the ground per se, its that with multi-year contracts, it’s not as straightforward to simply arrive and sign the most geographically convenient talent as prior NRLW operations have.
In terms of disparity across this season, the best team in the NRLW is 7-1 and the worst is 1-7. After eight rounds in the NRLM, the best team was 7-1 and the worst team 0-7. There’s a pretty staid spread of teams. Even with the massive round of expansion just undertaken, the average margins we’re seeing are higher but not out of tolerance for what we’d expect for a typical level of parity in the top tiers of rugby league.
There would be some sense in bringing the Warriors back into the fold, even if noted moron Cameron George doesn’t want to pay for it, because there’s undoubtedly a substantial talent pool in New Zealand that is untapped because the athletes simply cannot commit to moving to Australia for a few months and accordingly upending their lives. That would be a natural partner should South Sydney really be that desperate.
A more realistic but still seismic change would be getting the state competitions to align with the NRLW season, so that there is a reserve grade pool of players to draw from. This would perhaps be opposed by the players, some of whom prefer to play in both competitions and earn accordingly, and the states, who would see a serious diminishment in not having e.g. Ali Brigginshaw play for Norths or Emma Manzelmann for Mackay or Jaime Chapman for Tweed while they play their trade in the NRLW. It would also require some conciliatory overtures from the NRL to get what they want from the QRL and NSWRL. Irrespective of timing, the calendars will have to align at some point, for the same reasons they are aligned in the men’s game and to prevent the Roosters having to offer contracts to trainers to allow them to submit a full team list, especially as the extension of the NRLW season makes it unfeasible to compete in both.
After all the chat of the first week of sell-out finals, the final in Brisbane attracted fewer attendees than Conflict on Caxton did earlier in the year and about 2,000 shy of capacity. The weather may have played a role here.
I would like that Telstra country footy ad (I assume there's an AFL version for the southern states) a lot more if I hadn't just seen it approximately 4,000 times this weekend and I didn't even watch the Panthers-Warriors game. “Lithium ion power in a trimmer? That's insane” areas. Speaking of, I'll be happy to not have to see the knowingly horny boomers in the Shell V Power ad as well.
A close up of Tyson Gamble’s saliva covered arm was what a Knights-Raiders final deserved.
Jamayne Isaako cleaned up at the Dolphys, Redcliffe’s night of nights!
A good profile of Kirra Dibb. Interesting: “‘We would prefer to be called the Cowboys,’ Dibb said. ‘Our girls are very strong on that. We love the fans for thinking that’s not what we might want but we want to play for the Cowboys as a brand, company and team we grew up watching.’”
Awful news for both Toni Hunt and Lavinia Gould. Help if you can.
Hasler assembles his support staff for the Titans, which will include keeping Jim Lenihan on.
If you’d like to get the Burleigh supporters’ bus, call Tarnz.
Meant to include in last week’s newsletter but further Colts thoughts from Rugby League Observer.
Not Queensland: A bit of insight into the live broadcast of rugby league
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I did not watch this game, only the highlights. I am desperately trying to stave off rugby league burnout for at least two and a bit more weeks. This wouldn’t be an issue if the NRLM season had been 24 weeks long.
2022 is a less compelling example given most of the players on display were either going to end up at the Warriors, Dolphins or Broncos. Still, Tyson Gamble, Daejarn Asi, Trai Fuller, Brayden McGrady, Valynce Te Whare and Brendan Piakura.
I’m not sure whether women’s internationals should be shortened to 70 minutes or if NRLW and Origin games should be extended to 80. ~Half baked theory~ what if both men’s and women’s games were shortened to 60 minutes so we could get through more broadcast inventory each weekend?