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THE WEEKENDLY: The darkly hilarious situation in Norway
Apologies in advance for this one - it was a bit rushed
NRLM Round 25
SATURDAY IN SYDNEY: I received two emails from clubs this week advising of men’s players who have been sent to surgey and ended their seasons early. One was from the Titans (Tanah Boyd and Erin Clark are done) and the other from the Dolphins (Jeremy Marshall-King is having shoulder surgery). For a team that was already pretty light on talent and had gone through the wringer with injuries and didn’t have a great deal of depth to lean on and now is dealing with even more injuries and unless Trai Fuller is planning on smashing the NRL to smithereens and travel to Sydney to play a Tigers team that have showed a bit of spine in their last couple of losses, it doesn’t look particularly promising. I had pencilled in a Dolphins W until I received that advice and now, if I was Wayne Bennett and Kristian Woolf, I’d be saving my ammo to pants the Cowboys next week and finish with a respectable (for a first season) 9-15. Expect a solid Tigers win to inaugurate the Benji era.
SATURDAY ON GOLD COAST: lol, I’m not even going to bother. The Titans obviously aren’t.
It is, however, U.S. themed Round, which seems to be an initiative of the Los Angeles Rams, who have marketing rights in Australia under a complex strategy that the NFL deploys internationally. We share the Rams with China (including Taiwan), so that all seems about right and makes total sense.
The Cowboys have already been spanked in a game I did not watch because I have a job, a family and other commitments. We’ll revisit that on Monday, along with the Cowboys’ exceptionally dire prospects for September.
The Broncos have the bye, which is probably all that prevents this from being a true Misère.
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Nothing special this week but this run by April Ngatupuna drew in five Tigers defenders and made me literally take a note. It's one of those compressing the defence around the posts moves to allow them to take advantage of stretched lines either side. I had my eye on Ngatupuna earlier in the year when she was busting tackles for Souths Logan and it's great (read: for my ego) to see her establish herself at the top level.
NRLW Round 5
SATURDAY IN TOWNSVILLE: This is the real litmus test of whether the Cowboys are serious about this year. The Sharks have not had a particularly strong start to the season and the Cowboys, under Dibb, have shown the capacity to compete with the best, even if they can't necessarily do it week-to-week. Still, North Queensland will want a reasonable shot at making the finals and that requires a win here. Such a win would require a minimal level of defensive competence against one of the least effective attacks in the league: a true challenge for these Cowboys. Expect the Cowboys to win but they're probably going to make it look harder than it needs to be.
SATURDAY ON GOLD COAST: The men’s Titans are not the only ones with an injury problem. As pointed out earlier in the week, the women’s Titans are well down on troops. The Titanides face up to the Roosters, one of the two best teams in the league on paper and currently sitting atop the ladder. While both the Chooks and Tans are both 3-1, Sydney are a more respectable +62 and the Gold Coast is a more lean +1, which is reflective of the first month of this season. The Titans’ defence has been a real strength, conceding the equal fewest points in the comp but they simply don't have any points in them. Expecting the Roosters to somehow cruise home in a low scoring affair and Tarryn Aiken to have a fun day.
SATURDAY IN NEWCASTLE: In theory, this is a game that Brisbane could win and if they have any actual aspirations for 2023, but I simply do not believe they have the mechanical, killer instinct that the Knights play with. Newcastle should be able to dismember the Broncos’ defence, which, given the Broncos’ propensity to play more like a collection of players than a team, has not been especially difficult for other teams to do, and should be able to shut out the handful of individual attacking outlets the Broncos have used. Expect the Knights to cruise home and Tamika Upton to have a fun day.
Proprietary vibes-based tips
NRLM: Dolphins lose, Titans lose by a lot
NRLW: Cowboys win by a bit, Titans lose by a fair bit, Broncos lose by a lot
QCup: Wins for Hunters, Falcons, Cutters, Magpies, Bears, Dolphins and Wynnum in a round full of toss-ups
Tino is a Titan Forever
There must have been some truth to the rumour that Fifita and Fa'asuamaleaui had contract flexibility in the event of Holbrook’s firing, so credit to those who reported it. Even so, it never seemed particularly likely that they would leave the Gold Coast but their respective agents have used to this get a pay upgrade for Fifita to keep him in the ‘26 Gang and provide career certainty for Fa'asuamaleaui.
If you were in the Titans’ place and had to keep these two vital organs of your premiership-aspiring body, then you only have two things to offer: dollars and time. Both have to fit under the salary cap in some fashion. Fifita took dollars and, presumably unable to offer more dollars, Tino got time.
Tino is good but he’s not late 2010s Jason Taumalolo or even young Daly Cherry-Evans good. While those deals have more or less worked out for their respective clubs, I don’t think anyone is that high on this version providing appropriate value over that timeframe. Fa'asuamaleaui is at least notionally the kind of guy you could build the club’s culture around and certainly a step-up from centring on convicted sex offender, Jarryd Hayne.
Of course, if Operation Premiership 2026 comes off, no one will care about the deal or the culture.
What passes for planning in the NRL
Not sure why this non-story required a byline of three different reporters but here’s the high level stuff that you almost certainly would have heard before:
The NRLM is expanding, first to 18 and then probably on to 20. The NRLW will eventually have the same clubs as the NRLM. Apparently, going to 20 is Nick Politis’ vision and not the natural outcome of the need for ever increasing revenue, something that any crank on the internet with a Substack could have pointed out.
There is a potential NRLW Magic Round in NZ but NZ is also apparently interested in buying an Origin game. Not a lot of detail other than “Queenstown”.
The NRL is intent on spending your money to buy assets to make the code “unbreakable”. Not clear on what this means, other than there will almost certainly be a lot of meme-able purchases in the near future.
“Pathways” are a talking point again and, like “forward pass technology”, there’s nothing about what this might actually mean. Just “pathways”. If the clubs are happy with the status quo and given the NRL’s aversion to spending money on actual football, I don’t know what the NRL hopes to achieve here.
The main item, which was buried last presumably because it is the least interesting, was that the club agreements expire this year and their replacements have not been negotiated. For all the noise about perpetual licences, it’s (a little bit) surprising this hasn’t already happened but the delay on negotiating the players’ bargaining agreement presumably needed to conclude (as only the master negotiator could - by conceding to the players’ demands) to fix some parameters for the clubs. That is, the sticking point for the clubs will be dollars. If you were sick of the RLPA negotiations, the threat of a breakaway REBEL LEAGUE every three weeks isn’t going to get tedious at all.
Given this league is entirely funded by the attention of fans, either through time or eyeballs, it’s a sad state of affairs that this is the best half-plan the NRL can come up with for the future and the best way they can think to communicate it is via a paywalled article in the News Corp papers. They’ve cleared over $100 million in profit over the last two years and I’m none the wiser on where that money is going to go.
That the administration hasn’t learned any lessons from the last few years vis a vis planning - see how much better the sport is with as few six agains as possible, something that was entirely foreseeable - and communications is not surprising and likely a result of a captured and compliant media who have failed to hold them to account for their decisions but are happy to be fed tidbits like this.
Now the NRL have $300 million to spend. I’m sure this will end well.
Limited in time? Here’s what’s good in Queensland rugby league this weekend.
There are three NRLM and three NRLW games featuring Queensland teams this weekend and I have only picked the women’s Cowboys to win theirs and the rest to be comfortable losses. That’s not great. It is definitely a weekend to tune in to Saturday afternoon’s slate of games in the Queensland Cup to decide who will play who in the finals. Here’s my setup from last weekend and potentially this weekend (not pictured: baby on the floor):
There will be seven games going on the watch list at about 4pm on Saturday, so I may not have enough screens or bandwidth.
Quality (Q) is rated by the average of the team’s Elo ratings - the higher the average, the higher the quality of the match. Competitiveness (C) is rated by the difference of the team’s Elo ratings - the smaller the gap, the more competitive the match. Matches are rated in each category from very high down to very low and given a star rating from one to five accordingly. Bonus stars available for Queensland derby in the NRL (+1), statewide feature game (+1), PNG home game (+0.5) or the involvement of the Dragons (-0.5).
There’s a bit going on in the international game at the moment.
The long awaited calendar of international football through to 2030 was confirmed and looks pretty thin the further out you go. The focus now switches to the end of year Pacific Championships (vale Oceania Cup, which already re-directes to Pacific Rugby League Championship on Wikipedia), which I will watch but it’s hard to get invested in as an event in its own right given rugby league’s own recent history, and Tonga’s tour of England. It seems the Australian government is chucking some money at the PRLC, which makes a lot of sense given what has been said lately but not sure if that satisfies their appetite or if PNG as NRL 18 is still a serious prospect.
There’s the darkly hilarious situation in Norway1, which is suggestive that if the IRL is going to abdicate responsibility to the NRL, then it’s time we consider whether a traditional organisational hierarchy of an international federation comprising member national bodies and two-quasi continental confederations actually works for rugby league, or whether we’d be better off accepting that the Olympics (and government funding) is not going to happen and never will, accepting that organising along those lines doesn’t make sense and it would be more efficient to run things in-house at Phillip Street.
Matt Parish has resigned/retired as Samoa coach and it looks like the Rugby League Samoa board is being (peaceably) turned over.
Jack Ahearn is retiring. If the QCup had a Hall of Fame, he’d be in it. Ahearn is a two time premier, long time Cup stalwart (particularly at Norths, but also at Souths Logan and Redcliffe) but never quite got to the NRL, which makes his QCup palmares all the more valuable. The competition won’t be the same without his makeshift fullback-halfback play.
Interesting analysis: The case for a smaller ball in the NRLW
I haven’t had a chance to read more than the first few paragraphs of this yet but if you’re reading this, then you’ll probably enjoy: Checking all 16+ million finishes to the NRL season to see what your team needs to make finals
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Wait until World Rugby finds out the South African Rugby Union also runs the South African Rugby League.