THE WEEKLY: Let the thicc kings have their day
Cowboys win, Mitchell Butler, Dylan Chown, Norths join Dolphins, Brisbane Red win, Moneyball Act, RFL experiment with the rules and the cost of doing business
North Queensland’s round 16 encounter with Penrith gave us a prototypical first half of 2023 Cowboys football: dashes of sparkling attack mixed in with the dullest defensive minds rugby league has to offer. The Cows were behind 12-20 at half time and the second half began ominously. It appeared as if the Panthers would have a glut of possession and slowly asphyxiate the Cowboys, as is their wont.
Surprisingly, this quasi-reserve grade, quasi-first grade Penrith side opened the door with repeated errors and an inability to score more than a penalty goal. More surprisingly still, North Queensland took the offer. Finefeuiaki crashed over an inch of the goal line at 53’, with a conversion by Townsend, and then Feldt took advatange of a car accident of a Panthers right side defence with a pinpoint finish at 62’. Feldt, having been mercilessly dropped for Semi Valemei, took the opportunity to celebrate leveling the scores and deservedly so.
The mark of a team is how well they organise for a field goal. The Cowboys were fatigued to the point of barely standing, and panicky to the point of being unable to get to their assigned places. Townsend didn't stand far enough back and risked the charge down. The inevitable happened but Chad got lucky, with a knock-on by Scott Sorensen, and was offered a second chance. Accepting the incredibly rare second invitation from the Panthers, the ball sailed over the posts, albeit with a margin of a few inches from being charged down again. This left Penrith a full 90 seconds and despite better opportunities seemingly on offer to win the game outright, the Panthers also had to settle for a field goal. Off to golden point, locked at 23-all.
Tyrone Peachey made an error with slightly more than two minutes left in the game. If the set up for a field goal tells us about a team, then this was far more encouraging. The ball went to Townsend who didn't like what he saw, then to Dearden who didn't like it any more and then to Drinkwater, who took advantage of the Panthers’ sawtooth defensive line to find a hole and score a try. That’s why they pay him the big bucks.
North Queensland won. Everyone else had the bye.
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Moment of the Weekend
Let's go full sicko mode. We got to Clive Berghofer in Toowoomba for the XXXX League Championship semi-final (more below).
David Quinlin of Beenleigh puts up a perfect kick for Mitchell Butler of Carina who scores for Brisbane Red with a somersault.
In the dying minutes with the game well out of reach, Trae Bennetto of Goondiwindi chips and chases over the defence, regathers, puts in another kick, which Dylan Chown of Valleys grounds in the corner for Toowoomba.
Deal with Devils
(h/t Moreton Daily for the headline “Dolphins do a deal with the Devils”)
In the unlikely event that you missed it, the Devils will be a Dolphins feeder starting next year. I was going to write about it for The Weekly but each time I kept adding an angle, I realised it was probably worth standing alone, especially given this is exactly the kind of story that is within this newsletter’s remit:
Because this is the second tier, things will probably go quiet for a while. Given this weekend’s timely match up between Redcliffe and Norths didn’t have commentary, we were denied the sizzling repartee of Warren Boland and Drury Forbes on the matter.
The next event will either be the Broncos announcing their plans for 2024 - presuming they make any changes from the status quo - or the QRL making a determination on standalone teams. We’ll probably only hear about either through the rumour mongering column in the Courier Mail.
XXXX League Championship semi-final
Brisbane Red, winners of the Chairman’s Challenge, and Toowoomba, winners of the 47th Battalion, played off in the semi-finals of the XXXX League Championship.
While watching representative football from district A-grade players might be considered the sickest of sicko areas1, I had a lot of fun watching this game. The commentators - Cameron Stallard and Taylor Brown - did a pretty good job without taking it overly seriously. There were no six agains. Richie Pandia (former Jet and Magpie, now of Wests) and Dilbert Issac (former Hunter, now of Bulimba) were the best known players on the field. A matchup of Brisbane and Toowoomba is straight out of the 70s, allowing me to roll around in a nostalgia that is not my own, and both sides played a similarly retro style. It’s obviously a lower technical standard than Cup, let alone NRL, as well as a lower physical standard, but I say let the thicc kings have their day. You can stream it on Qplus.
Red and the Clydesdales were in a serious arm wrestle for the opening quarter of the game, both sides struggling to find a rhythm on which to launch a serious offensive. Both defensive lines cracked only once and the score was a mere 6-4 at half time. Toowoomba forgot to come back for the second half and Brisbane Red put together a few sets, managed to find points, then find more and then more still. The game was over before the Dales managed to get their hands on the ball and they scored a pair of consolation tries. The final score was 46-14.
The final between Brisbane Red and Cairns will be played at Logan Metro on July 27.
You can skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to read 250 words of pie in the sky thinking -
I’m really enamored with the idea of this competition, although the structure makes it hard to follow, presumably a product of the lack of money available, working through regional carnivals. Still if money were available, the League Championship could serve an analogous function to the All-Ireland championships and the Challenge Cup. A straight 16 team bracket would be fun, with the first round match-ups drawn from pods set by latitude to suit travel. That would probably mean that some of the stronger southern and northern teams would knock each other out early, leaving some space for a central giant killer to chaos their way through as we embrace the magic of knock-out football. The last team standing in each of the divisions could be awarded the Foley Shield, 47th Battalion or Chairman’s Challenge2 as appropriate (I think you can structure the competition so there’s no need for playoffs, unless both Central teams are knocked out of the semi-finals - could be a curtain-raiser on grand final day). Playing eligibility could be something like currently playing in the A-grade competition, have previously played at least 100 senior games in the district and/or for the local QCup team, or debuted for a junior club within the catchment, with caps on ex-NRL players or contracted QCup players to allow the thicc kings their place on the field, but then there would be an interesting mix of talents across the teams. It’d also help if the branding for the rep teams was separated from the branding for the QCup clubs (e.g. Townsville should be playing as the Stingers, not the Blackhawks). Give it a few years to stick as a format, schedule the four rounds in the bye weeks of the Queensland Cup, duplicate it for the women, play the final outside of SEQ and slowly ramp up the broadcast. You’d have a decent property to sit alongside the statewide club competitions.
Reece Robson (NQC) replaces Nicho Hynes in the Blues’ lineup for game 2.
Josh Kerr has been released by the Dragons to join the Dolphins effective immediately and get an early start on his next contract.
China Polata (NQW) replaces Julia Robinson in the Maroons’ lineup for game 2: “It will be different on the wing but my main focus and goal is to get under the high ball, catch it and run straight. I don’t know any other direction than straight. I want to take those tough carries and run hard. I want to run through a brick wall – do it for Queensland, the girls and everyone at home.” Hell yeah.
The Cowboys announce 20,000 members and make note of their vast geographical footprint “throughout Australia, the Torres Strait, Papua New Guinea, Pacific Islands and New Zealand,” which I think you would do if you were worried the NRL was going to plant a Pacific team a few hours’ drive north. The Cowboys’ membership record was 23,437 in 2018.
The Dolphins also announced membership numbers last week: 28,500. Given I had to buy a membership to go to their first game against the Roosters, that number seems a bit dubious.
Finally someone else has noticed that a NRL expansion team that’s both PNG and Pasifika doesn’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps PNG’s - largely correct - sense that they should have their own team will be the biggest threat to this concept. Still, there’s a degree of delusion from the people on the periphery of this bid: "When PNG do get in the NRL, they'll have the largest home game crowds, the largest sponsorships and largest fan base of any NRL team to exist.” Righto, did the Broncos fold?
The dunces that stood by Jack de Belin and then made him captain, thought replacing Anthony “All Lives Matter" Griffin with noted cheater Shane Flanagan was a good idea. In an astonishing turn of events, Ben Hunt “hasn't settled” as a result of this brain genius change, has requested a release (which the Dragons denied - but so what?) and is looking for opportunities in Queensland. As noted previously, all four clubs could use him - Dolphins, Cowboys and Titans at 7, or Broncos and Titans at 9, or all of them as an expensive 14 - but the Dolphins and Titans are the most likely. A Dolphins spine of Marshall-King, Hunt, Katoa and Tabuai-Fidow (and a halves depth chart of Hunt, Katoa, O'Sullivan, Nikorima, maybe Milford, Cam Cullen and Cody Hunter) backed by suddenly good Isaako, Farnworth, Flegler, Gilbert and the husk of the Melbourne Storm is suddenly relatively potent, especially if they can pull a few more outside backs out of the system. The Titans, if successful, would find a way to mess it up so let's not spend any time on that.
"I don't remember the exact age but, you know, he spent the vast majority of his footy career without footy boots playing up in the mountains. To come here and the opportunities that we have, that we almost take for granted, there's just a sense of gratitude… knowing he'll be alongside you, playing for Brisbane [Red]” That quote was about Dilbert Issac, who will be following in the footsteps of fellow Hunter alumnus, Edene Gebbie, in playing in a XXXX League Championship final. Brisbane Red will play a Cairns side featuring a George Burgess. What a match.
Tigers are looking for a BMD Premiership coach for next year.
While reporting on what Braith Anasta said out loud where other people could hear about Fa'asuamaleaui breaking Korosiau's jaw, a commendation for Code for correctly lumping “trolls, ex-players and commentators” together as equally insufferable drains on society.
An update ahead of the resumption of divisionals this weekend.
The Dolphins, Cowboys and Titans all sit line astern on the ladder, having scored almost exactly the same number of points (which is a coincidence, seeing as they’ve all played different numbers of games).
A great opening half dozen paragraphs here: Dave Elliott’s team of school teachers, tradesmen, youth workers and a crane driver unleashed a second half that ranks up with some of Norths’ best moments in the club’s 90 years. Norths defeated Redcliffe, 23-22.
Townsville took care of Ipswich, 34-18. Wynnum powered home to just edge out Western, 42-32. Tweed won it at the death over Mackay, 32-28. Central dragged themselves back to level pegging with Northern in the second half, 12-12. Sunshine Coast held off an Easts side armed with a mountain of possession to win the battle of Storm feeders, 20-18.
It is important to have a passing familiarity with the world outside of Queensland because this is a parochial, but not an insular, newsletter.
The Moneyball Act is - surprisingly - not legislation currently before the House of Reps to outlaw rugby league commentators and journalists from using the term “Moneyball” without having previously read and understood at least the film, if not the film and book. The act is proposed legislation in the US that would attempt to make it more expensive for professional sports teams to relocate, specifically in the wake of MLB’s Oakland Athletics’ announced departure to Las Vegas.
For the rugby league expansionist, this is an interesting development. If you thought that Sydney has too many teams - a proposition I notionally subscribe to but it has become hard to argue in the current financial environment - then you could point to the historical success of American team relocations and the rewards that the leagues have reaped from the commercially-oriented mindset of their owners, in contrast to the stubborn suburban tribalism that has been a millstone around the sport’s neck since 1908. Take for example, the Athletics’ relocation from Philadelphia after 1954 to Kansas City and then to Oakland, California after 1968.
America seems to be rejecting the latest round of sports team relocations, as part of a wider milieu of being sick of being shaken down for every penny by billionaire sports team owners. It turns out that fans are people with an emotional investment in their team and not fungible consumers of content.
Australian sports has always had a mix of American and British dynamics, so the same situation is not in play locally but I think the legislation is interesting as a proxy for the cultural rejection of the concept of relocation. If you wanted the Sharks to go to Adelaide and the Tigers to Perth and the Bulldogs to Christchurch, it gets a lot harder to mount that argument if the rapacious home of global capitalism has decided they’ve had enough of the same. Also, there’s perpetual licences now.
The RFL are experimenting with reducing the height of a legal tackle to under the armpits and banning all contact with the heads and neck. The above is an academy game between Leeds and Bradford. Kickoff is 26 minutes into the video and there's 49 penalties for high tackles over the course of the match. If nothing else, it makes it almost impossible to stop the burrow over from a metre or two out.
I watched about ten minutes of it and was reminded of peak Vlandoball, so I'm not sure why people are so upset at this rule change. It looks equally poorly thought out, equally stupid and equally ineffective with equally large ramifications for how the game is played. I was told these were all fine in 2020!
Ostensibly, this is meant to reduce the concussion risk but only places tackling players’ heads closer to knees, hips and elbows that might render them a brain injury and obviously does nothing for any damage from sub-concussive hits that might occur due to running into a brick wall at top speed over and over again, nor does it address the fact that you could be wrapped up and thrown to the ground, or any other myriad risks one faces on the football field.
Reportedly, the RFL's insurance premiums have skyrocketed to hedge against legal action. Following the lead of rugby union is the best they can do to mitigate that risk. There's a real damned if you do (and the sport becomes impossibly stupid to watch and play) and damned if you don't (and the sport becomes impossibly expensive to run) dilemma here.
The trial is going for the next six weeks but I won't be surprised if it sees a quiet and early termination. Rugby league's problems might require different solutions to other sports.
Related: Gino Mader died during the Tour de Suisse. Mader joins Wouter Weylandt and a long list of cyclists who have died while competing and an even longer, far more horrifying list of cyclists killed while training. Grand prix motor racing has been improving safety relentlessly since Senna and Ratzenberger died in 1994 and even then Jules Bianchi, Anthonie Hubert and Maria de Villota have lost their lives in the last decade. This is without considering near misses from pick your driver or cyclist or favourite rugby league player.
A few weeks ago, I talked about the cost of doing business in sport, which requires risks to physical safety and health for it to be considered sport and to provide stakes that make sport compelling as entertainment. My rhetoric was glib to highlight the hypocrisy of the fans not wanting to know how the sausage is made but let's be clear: the cost is high and we're not the ones paying it.
What is an appropriate physical price for someone to pay for your entertainment, for your civic pride, for you to experience a vicarious thrill in strictly emotional terms? There's a perverse, grisly, macabre medieval logic in offering monetary compensation to those accepting this risk, and in doing so, negating any moral conundrum on the part of the consumer, especially when the work is so trivial.
Assuming you in fact live through this, it's not enough that you are paid to entertain me, you must also suffer painful, debilitating lifelong medical conditions, including some that will modify the very fabric of your soul for the worse and leave a trail of devastated people in your wake, as part of the bargain. If you don't like it, there's a life of almost equally shitty, risky work for far less pay ahead of you but you might not get dementia from your 9-5.
At the end of the day, none of us are getting out of here alive but I think there’s scope for the occasional societal soul search before the inevitable march of the sporting calendar renders these people memories, then trivia and then notes in ever-expanding and incredibly depressing Wikipedia articles. Are we really a society that wants people to die, to get dementia, to be disabled so we can have fun? Who wants to die at work?3
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Doubly so when you skip an actual NRL game to watch a replay of this.
Reviving the Bulimba Cup is presumably problematic because the competition was sponsored by Bulimba Gold Top, a beer you see very occasionally but a largely historic CUB brand they bought in 1961 (CUB is now owned by Asahi), although one with a much longer history in Brisbane, and almost all of Queensland’s rugby league is propped up by Lion’s XXXX (owned by Kirin).
If you were wondering whether I was trying to take the moral high ground here, after writing this, I watched a bunch of Canadian football highlights, while eating beef, on my big TV that definitely contains rare earth minerals mined by slaves and that was assembled by a different bunch of slaves, in my house powered by orphan tears. That it’s not possible to live free of moral contradictions (there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, etc) shouldn’t prevent you from at least thinking about them.