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REVIEW: 2023 Queensland Cup - Part 2
The grand final is in the books so it's time for a look back on the finalists of the 2023 Queensland Cup
It was a weird old year for the Pride. Our Cairns friends managed a seventh placed finish on the ladder with a respectable 11-7-2 record but a horrifying -79 points difference. 48 of those points came from a shutout thrashing at the hands of the Devils. Their only double digit victories coming against Tweed, Townsville, PNG and Ipswich, leaving seven one score wins.
Conversely, and ignoring the Norths pounding, the Pride lost by an average of 19 points, or three scores. While Northern conceded a typical number of points for a team in their position on the ladder and only ten more than premiers Easts, they scored the third fewest points in the league, only better than Ipswich and Mackay. There’s something about their attitude that kept them in contests that they could keep low scoring, which is why Wynnum were shocked to be taken to double overtime in the first week of the finals. The Pride lost that one, only just, but can hold their heads up high with the season they’ve had.
Guy of the Year - Daniel Hindmarsh-Takyi is a name I’m sure I’ve never heard said out loud before. But then I didn’t watch a lot of Pride football this year, partly because they were included in only two feature games (a mid-season rendezvous with the hapless Jets and the other a low-scoring draw with the Capras two weeks later) and the Pride were otherwise relegated to the commentator-less Qplus.
Hindmarsh-Takyi is an English middle who played in Cairns A-grade for Brothers last year before making his Cup debut this year off the bench in round 2. The beauty of stats is that it can unearth some people you might have missed: Hindmarsh-Takyi finished top in both TPR (.155) and WARG (1.6) of all Pride players and in 21 appearances, averaged 47 minutes, 143 metres, mostly on hit-ups, and generating 60 metres post-contact.
Highlight of the Year - From all the way back in round 4 and featured in the Laybutt piece, a wobbly old field goal from Evan Child wins the game for the Northern Pride, 13-12, over Cowboys pets, the Townsville Blackhawks. In round 15, the Pride were even more unequivocal in their domination of their rivals, winning 26-6 in Townsville.
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The Dolphins had a disappointing season by their own standards. It took three games to register an actual result (a loss), a fourth to register a win and that was promptly followed by an absolute thrashing by Souths Logan, 60-4. Things got better from there with a seven game winning streak, brought to an end by a one point loss to northern rivals, the Devils, after the grand final rematch had ended in stalemate in round 2. The season petered out from there, with a lot of close losses and wins over teams that Redcliffe would normally have crushed. The Dolphins did smash the Bears in Country Week, in a game that Burleigh sent no one important to Miles, and extended their decade-long winning streak over the Capras, now their stablemates with the NRL Dolphins. It was brought to an end with a whimper in the first week of the finals, in a game that was over by halftime and whose final scoreline flattered the Dolphins immensely. That said, it was a good season for seeing young guys getting on the pitch and weighing up how far they might get, including Harrison Graham, Max Plath and Mason Teague, so that’s something.
Dude of the Year - Where Trai Fuller falls on the Dude/Guy spectrum remains to be seen but he nailed his NRL debut and absolutely dominated Cup from the back of the Redcliffe Dolphins, so it seems more he’s to the Dude end of things. The dimunitive 26-year-old Eidsvold Eagles junior scored 14 Cup tries (and one NRL try in a frustrating loss to the Tigers) and made 20 line breaks in 17 appearances. He finished top of the league by WARG (on pace for a full 4 Wins Above Reserve Grade had he played 20 games) and 22nd by TPR.
Guy of the Year - Normally I’d lean on the stats for this section, as we want to consider the body of a Guy’s work over the course of the season, but Cody Hunter just looked right out there, especially when burdened with carrying an even less experienced half and Colts captain in Connor Williams during a brief period in which the Dolphins ran out of players. The 20 year old halfback is the first full blooded Redcliffe junior to be given a contract with the NRL Dolphins. His development is one to keep a close eye on, as is how well he might potentially partner with Isaiya Katoa, as he moves towards Dude status.
Highlight of the Year - Long time Cup stalwart and Dolphins halfback, Cameron Cullen, had retired before the 2023 season but with a mid-season injury crisis at Kippa-Ring, came back from the exciting world of Moreton Bay real estate for one last mission. In the first minute of the round 21 contest against the Capras, Cullen charges down a kick, the ball goes sky high, he collects and scores the easiest try of his career. FT: Dolphins 32 - Capras 26.
Sunshine Coast Falcons
I’m going to play the schedule game because the Falcons had the weirdest resume of any Queensland Cup team. Eleven wins included the Jets (twice), Clydesdales, Magpies, Bears (twice), Devils (twice), Tigers, Pride and Tweed. That’s the scalps of the top three on the ladder, two of the bottom three and the two-time defending champs. Nine losses included the Blackhawks (twice), Dolphins (twice), Cutters, Hunters (on the Sunshine Coast), Magpies, Wynnum and the Capras. That’s three of the bottom five, and most of the mid-table teams. There’s neither rhyme nor reason to be found at Bokarina.
That’s why an eighth placed finish could have done literally anything in the post-season, a position only secured with a last round thumping of Tweed. As it was, they went to Redcliffe and upset the Dolphins in week 1, in a 42-36 shootout that the Falcs led 34-6 at half time and left both teams bloodied and bruised, and following that up with a meek week 2 exit against the Capras, a team they did not beat in three attempts, after their best players spent Thursday night at Suncorp in purple jerseys. The availability of those players partly explains the rollercoaster of a year Sunshine Coast had. There’s a foundation of a good club in there but building on that foundation to get to the highest level has not been the club’s strongest suit (compare the all-time great 2019 side and their damp squib preliminary final loss).
Dude of the Year - Sua Faalogo. See below.
Guy of the Year - Scott Galeano spent last season with Tweed Heads and missed the Jamayne Isaako game because of food poisoning and one wonders whether the Seagulls might have been better served with a sick Galeano on the wing than Isaako’s final minutes. For 2023, the Began moved up to the Sunshine Coast to play 19 games for the Falcons. The tall winger managed 1.8 WARG, second best in the club behind Faalogo, and a TPR of .153, seventh best in the club. In a workmanlike season and a rare spot of consistency in this chaotic side, Galeano scored 13 tries and averaged 138 metres per game.
Highlight of the Year - I rest my case.
Souths Logan Magpies
Womp womp. The 2023 season for Souths Logan won’t be defined by the ascension of coach of the year, Karmichael Hunt, or the shift to Logan Metro Football Fields in Browns Plains, moving ever closer to leaving Davies Park behind as a relic of the past, or the vast improvement from a wooden spoon in 2022 to second place on the ladder in 2023, losing just four games. The season will instead be defined by three consecutive losses: 18-14 against the Capras in round 22 to cough up the minor premiership to Burleigh, 34-26 against the Tigers in week 1 of the finals and then a straight sets exit, 30-24, against Wynnum in week 2. As Cory Paix stared pensively into space from the sin bin, one wonders what might have been.
The Magpies had the right mix of talent that was good by Cup standards but not so good that it would be interfered with by the Broncos. Tristan Sailor helmed the back, a falling out between Paix and Kevin Walters meant that Hunt had a plethora of hooking options and often played three between Paix, Mozer and an equally productive Callum Eggerling (or Issac Luke), and dual Italian reps Jack Campagnolo and Radean Robinson steered the halves. Young forward Ben Te Kura, a breaking out Cruise Ten and old hand winger Jordan Pereira ensured they could get down the field. Even as late as round 21, when the Magpies were absolutely rolling over Wynnum on Stradbroke Island, they looked set for a deep finals run. Then it all fell apart in three weeks with three consecutive single digit losses and the season was over.
Dude of the Year - Lest these Dudes all become outside backs, let’s go with a big boy and acknowledge the superb season that Benjamin Te Kura had. The under 19 Maroon played a full season on the front line for the Magpies. 1.7 WARG, third best in the club behind Sailor and Pereira, is an impressive achievement for such a young player who averaged fewer than 40 minutes in his 20 appearances. He’s still got developing to do but there’s a bright future for Te Kura.
Guy of the Year - Another big boy: Rory Ferguson. The 25-year-old from the far, far south of New Zealand has been around the Souths Logan setup since 2018 and has now played 80 games for the Magpies. Ferguson produced at about the same rate as the Dude of the Year and set career high marks for running metres and tackles. What more could you want out of your forwards?
Highlight of the Year - Ah, the much needed confirmation that the Magpies might actually be for real. That worked out real well.
Wynnum Manly Seagulls
Wynnum are one of those clubs you assume will be in the mix before the season starts, even if they are down from their absolute all-grades domination of peak around 2020. So it was mildly surprising to see them struggle to compete at the apex of the competition, putting together a solid 12-8 season but looking very much like they’d be on the outside looking in come a week, two at the most, into finals.
Making it to the preliminary final was then a stroke of luck. Wynnum managed to get seeded against the worst team in the eight, the Pride, and got taken to double overtime to finish them off. The Gulls were then were gifted the removal of all of Souths Logan’s talent in the following elimination final, allowing them to see the Magpies off for the first time since 2019. It was all house money thereafter but they were duly annihilated by Burleigh in the biggest finals loss in Queensland Cup history, which is not what you want.
Dude of the Year - Despite the season still going, there are plenty of Broncos fans already upset at the prospect of losing Herbie Farnworth to the Dolphins next year. They needn’t fear because Deine Mariner is the real deal. In four NRL games in 2023, Mariner scored five tries and while that’s impressive, it’s the improvement he showed when he played for Wynnum later in the year. He can and did routinely embarrass notional first graders like Reimis Smith and Tesi Niu with minimal fuss. The Broncos have a ready made replacement, albeit in a very different mould, for when Farnworth departs.
Guy of the Year - Josh Rogers is 27 and was born in Perth and those are two facts that stood out to me when I first paid him any attention in round 27 of this year’s NRL season. He was given the opportunity to play for the Broncos (and kick five goals) because he put together an incredibly good season at Wynnum Manly. Sitting fourth in the Broncos’ depth chart for halves, Rogers played 19 regular season games for 2.3 WARG, the most accumulated by any half in the league and 0.3 better than Guy Hamilton and a whole win ahead of Jayden Nikorima and Adam Cook.
Highlight of the Year - Only five minutes into an elimination final against a team with which Wynnum have some history and they were streaking away to score the easiest tries you can imagine. The Magpies rallied but the Seagulls finished them off in the final five minutes and broke a four year drought against the black and white club. FT: Seagulls 30 - Magpies 24.
Central Queensland Capras
The sophomore year under Lionel Harbin delivered another successful season. While the Capras will be disappointed with how their preliminary final played out, to go from where they were just two years ago to being one of the most consistently competitive clubs, built largely on non-NRL talent, and edging closer to the grand final is nothing short of amazing. A little nudge from the Dolphins has taken the Caps from week 2 finals to week 3 and not that far off week 4.
Last year, we looked at the guys that pushed the Goats up the ladder from the cellars to the finals. What’s interesting is how much of that squad has turned over. Robinson and Jennings both left for West End and Leonard for Toowoomba. Hubner was signed to the Dolphins, although spent most of the year in Rocky. Szepanowski only played four games off the bench at the end of the year. Yei, Dansey-Smaller, Simbiken and Pearson all disappeared from the face of the earth1. The core of this club are middle Bailey Butler, fullback Blake Moore, hooker Trey Brown, winger Brandon Roberts, halfback Jack Madden (not to be confused with Jock) and edge Nixon Putt, which might not sound impressive but the proof is in the results. They were joined by the experienced JJ Collins, a mid-season transfer of Nicholas Halalilo from the Warriors, former Knight Kurt Donoghoe and former Hunters Samuel Yegip and Bob Tenza.
It’s that solid core overlaid with savvy recruitment of otherwise unheralded guys who can do a job but might only pass through Central Queensland for a bit, that I don’t think the Capras have had in the past but is the nucleus of keeping this streak going.
Guy of the Year (I) - No one wants to hear about the Lee cousins or Milford or Nikorima fart-assing their way around in Cup or the disappointment that was Oliver Gildart’s time down under, so I’m giving you two guys for the price of one club. The first is Blake Moore. The Mackayite fullback finished the season with a 2018 Drinkwater-esque 2.9 Wins Above Reserve Grade and was one of the three best fullbacks in the competition by that metric. Moore scored seven tries (of a career total of ten), assisted in 23 and busted 61 tackles in 23 appearances.
Guy of the Year (II) - The second is Bailey Butler. The triangular Capricornian and debutant Indigenous All-star absolutely demolished the field for middles by WARG, accumulating 2.6 over the season with the next best in the entire league, Souths’ Rory Ferguson, on 1.6, a full win behind. Butler averaged 147 metres per game, took an average of 12 hit ups for 4.5 tackle breaks and scored an astonishing ten (10) tries.
Highlight of the Year - While there’s nothing particular spectacular about this put down from Brandon Roberts and, yes, Kane Jackson and Jason Gillard get it incredibly wrong, however, this score puts the Capras up 18-4 over the Falcons in week 2 and booked their entry into their first preliminary final since 2009 and only their second ever. The four points Sunshine Coast had scored were from two penatly goals in the first five minutes and they didn’t score again until the last two minutes of the match. Even noting the lack lustre lineup from the Falcs, this is a momentous achievement for the Capras. FT: Capras 38 - Falcons 10.
It was about two minutes into the grand final that I realised we were going to have a ball game. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising but Burleigh had been doing it so easily all year, sweeping aside the competition barring a few bizarre capitulations, once to the Dolphins in Miles and twice to the Falcons, and a genuine loss to the Magpies. These were aberrations for a team that seemed destined to win it all. But as so often happens, reality smacks these kinds of teams in the face when the other guys simply want it more and are willing to play accordingly. The Bears had the statistical win and perhaps even a moral victory, given how Tristan Hope played, in the final but no one is going to remember that.
Burleigh will no longer being one of two Titans’ feeders and are switching allegiances to become one of three Broncos’ feeders. There are question marks over the halves jerseys next season and we wonder how much longer can the likes of 30+ year olds Politoni and Sauiluma continue. It’s potentially a time of transition for the Bears and may well be the closing chapter of an era at Burleigh.
Dude of the Year - Jacob Alick finished the year with the top rating by TPR, a full 23 pips clear of Norths’ Dude of the Year, Brendan Piakura. This was good enough for ninth best WARG across the league in 17 regular season appearances. Alick, a bruising second rower from Brisbane with PNG heritage, looked like he’s ready to take the next step in his career if he can find a slot in the Titans’ starting lineup.
Guy of the Year - Keano Kini is a Guy for this year but won’t be next. Kini made his NRL debut this year with six apperances, mostly coming from the bench. The Aucklander made little impact in a mediocre Titans team but demonstrated the speed that served him well through the remainder of his Cup campaign. With only 12 regular season appearances, Kini was still one of the top five fullbacks in Cup by WARG and was putting up similar pace to competition leader Fuller. Kini threatened throughout the grand final in a passable impression of Reece Walsh and was rewarded with the Duncan Hall Medal.
Highlight of the Year - This was the kick that made me believe that Guy Hamilton had grown into a premiership winning halfback in what would not be the biggest flogging of Wynnum by Burleigh in 2023. FT: Bears 35 - Seagulls 6.
All year I’ve struggled to articulate what the Tigers have been. Their style of play was neither engaging nor domineering but Easts managed to string together the wins to be in contention and when it mattered, won the games, and the moments within those games, that mattered. After winning the grand final, coach Matt Church said, “Would've preferred it not to be that close but we've done that all year so why make the grand final any different,” which I think is as good a summary as any. It hardly made sense that a club as wealthy and generally successful as the Tigers have been, would not have won any silverware for as long as they hadn’t, so I guess it was inevitable we’d end up here, sixth time lucky for Easts.
Dude of the Year - I feel like Jonah Pezet had another couple of cards in his hand to play at this level but he’s also destined for greater things, with the Storm or elsewhere if he gets sick of waiting for Munster and Hughes to move aside. The halfback played a steady and reliable football, if not obviously flashy, and in that way, was a microcosm of this Easts side. Kudos to Melbourne for allowing Pezet to play the grand final when he probably would have been more use at AAMI Park.
Guy of the Year - Corey Thompson goes out a winner. The difference at fullback was immeasurable: the Tigers lost one game in ten with Thompson in the number 1 jersey, which was in round 2 against Wynnum by all of two points. By contrast, when playing on the wing and Tahj Wood played at the back, the Tigers were 4-3.
Highlight of the Year - Drought ended.
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