THE WEEKLY: A brief introduction to the Queensland Cup finalists
The entire Queensland NRL contingent lost so let's talk futures and Cup
NRLM Round 25 & NRLW Round 5
COWBOYS: The Cowboys had both their asses kicked by the Sharks. The men gave a better account of themselves than their female compatriots, but the end result was the same. Given the relatively fishy credentials of both of the Sutherland’s squads, this is not a promising outcome.
The men now sit 11-11 with the Dolphins trapdoor and an almost certain head-on collision with a brick wall in Penrith ahead of them. The price of admission to finals is going to be about 13 wins, so it looks like the boys from Townsville are done unless they can take care of business against the Phins, the Panthers rest their best and a few prayers get answered. In the real world, the post-mortem of how this season started so slowly, accelerated to a breakneck speed in the Origin phase and then came to a screeching halt is going to be a fascinating one.
The women are one of five teams with a 2-3 record, theoretically only a game out of the finals, but the points difference tells a story. At a minimum, the Cowboys would need to pick up three wins with some serious points padding out of a schedule of Eels, Dragons, Raiders and Roosters to have a look at the post-season. The more likely outcome is one, maybe two, wins. I only watched the first half and the lack of ball, the lack of metres and the lack of belief was evident. The intrigue in what’s left of the season is how Ben Jeffries handles this. What kind of shape the team finishes in will tell us a lot about the kind of coach he is.
DOLPHINS: Congratulations Dolphins fans, your team is now good-bad. Good-bad is a superposition of two different states. The underlying state is that the team is fundamentally not competitive but the overlaid scores indicate that there is promise. The waveform of results only collapses, revealing the true form of the team, under the close observation that only a blown save can yield.
There is probably no more frustrating experience than supporting a good-bad team. A bad-bad team has no expectations, no hope and no baggage. A good-good team wins. A good-bad team is so close to posting wins and transitioning to the good-good state but can’t just quite get there.
The Dolphins have lost three of the last four games by two points or less. The Red Fish’s record is 8-14 and had they closed out the games against the Bulldogs, Knights and Tigers more capably, their record would be a more respectable 11-11. Then again, if the price the Phins have to pay for their early season success is some poor fortune now, then they’ll pay that debt with a credit card and worry about it next year.
TITANS: I don’t think anyone expected the Titans to beat the Panthers and given the Des-olution on the horizon, there’s little value in trying to extrapolate a future from this performance. The Titans franchise is defined by the marking of time and seasons in which nothing in particular is accomplished, and as is their nature, we’re just marking time until this Titans’ season can end with the vague hope that Jayden Campbell hasn’t ruptured his ACL.
The women’s team had a comparable statistical performance to their avian opponents but still lost by 22 points. What was a league-leading defence is now middle of the pack, leading to a points difference that is only better than the bottom two teams. Adding to a growing injury list, Emily Bass left the game with a shoulder injury and no news on whether she will be sidelined from future fixtures. The season is far from lost, especially now having cleared the two most difficult fixtures, and .500 in the run home might be enough to play semi-finals but the sparse points scored and the talent sitting out might be too much to overcome.
BRONCOS: I said that if the NRLW Broncos had any aspirations, they could win this game and with as little as seven minutes to go, it looked very much like Brisbane would indeed win the game and set themselves up for a solid back half of the competition. However, conceding tries at 2’, 57’, 60’ and finally 67’ have all the hallmarks of a deeply unserious, borderline pathetic, team.
I realised watching this game that there is very little that is even particularly likeable about the side as currently constituted. Broughton is NRLW Guy Hamilton, Hufanga takes ball security as seriously as lateral agility in defence, Maddick shouldn’t be starting in the NRLW, Gray’s form is not at all reflective of what she showed in Origin and Werner got sent off for biting, an incident I apparently will not be getting over any time soon. I’ve got time for others - Mariah Denman has been fantastic - but take away the veneer of success of 2018-20 and it’s dire.
The men’s Broncos, and future premiers, had the bye.
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Moment of the Weekend
Trai Fuller scores on debut. Astonishing that it took the Dolphins this long to realise that one of the best guys in Cup might be able to handle the rigours of a late season Wests Tigers.
A brief introduction to the Queensland Cup finalists
The Queensland Cup plays the same top eight finals system as the NRL. Two time defending premiers, the Norths Devils, everyone’s second team, them PNG Hunters, the hilariously inept Townsville Blackhawks, the newbie Western Clydesdales, the abandoned Mackay Cutters and the hapless Ipswich Jets had all been eliminated from contention before this weekend. They are joined by the Tweed Heads Seagulls, who copped an absolutely brutal 37-12 beating in a win-and-in game against Sunshine Coast. That leaves our finalists as we enter the most exciting four weeks of football on the calendar.
Note: due to injuries and the vagaries of selections and form, the guys listed might not actually play in the finals. Some guys have been picked on stats and not eye test. Apologies in advance for misplaced expectations.
Home: Miami, Gold Coast
Finished: 1st, 15-4-1, +171
Feeder to: Titans
Current form: 3-1-1
Guy to remember: Tyrone Roberts (half)
Guy to watch: Tony Francis (winger)
Back-to-back minor premiers and looking for their first major title since 2019 (the Jamal Fogarty game). The Bears are one of two on-field powerhouses that have been consistently successful in the competition. Last year’s campaign ran out of steam with about half an hour to go in the preliminary final against Redcliffe. In 2023, Burleigh have lost twice to the Falcons, once to the Magpies and once again to the Dolphins (after refusing to take any good players to Miles) and that’s it. Can take care of the rest of the comp, but what about the best?
Souths Logan Magpies
Home: West End, Brisbane and Browns Plains, Logan
Finished: 2nd, 14-4-2, +196
Feeder to: Broncos
Current form: 3-2
Guy to remember: Karmichael Hunt (coach)
Guy to watch: Rory Ferguson (middle)
Finishing second after topping the ladder for most of the season would seem disappointing if this club hadn’t gotten a wooden spoon as recently as 2022. A strong pack and a stable roster, including an international-level halves pairing without NRL contracts and a bevy of hooking options, have been the key drivers to the top of the table. It’s been 15 years since their first and last title and this is a rare patch of success for a club that is traditionally middling at best except for the first half of the 80s and the years following World War II.
Home: Coorparoo, Brisbane
Finished: 3rd, 14-5-1, +141
Feeder to: Storm
Current form: 4-1
Guy to remember: Corey Thompson (fullback)
Guy to watch: Solomona Faataape (centre)
Easts, or Brisbane as they insist on referring to themselves, have never won a Queensland Cup. The Tigers have lost five grand finals, the most recent being 2018 with Scott Drinkwater at fullback. This year’s vintage of Tigers have left me a little cold in the aesthetics department but there’s no questioning their effectiveness. Could it be sixth time runners-up for the Black and Gold?
Central Queensland Capras
Finished: 4th, 12-6-2, +124
Feeder to: Dolphins
Current form: 4-1
Guy to remember: Nixon Putt (edge)
Guy to watch: Bailey Butler (middle)
The Capras had a great start to the season, maximising the talent handed to them by the Dolphins, and had a soft draw to run into the finish. Despite NRL-contracted players returning to Kippa-Ring to address an ongoing injury crisis, the Goats still managed to finish above their fellow Dolphins affiliate in what would be a real renaissance under Lionel Harbin had the club had any prior success. This is only their fourth finals appearance since 1996 and we’ll see if they can make it to the preliminary final for the first time since 2009.
Home: Kippa-Ring, Moreton Bay
Finished: 5th, 11-6-3, +121
Feeder to: Dolphins
Current form: 3-2
Guy to remember: Cameron Cullen (halfback)
Guy to watch: Let’s pretend Trai Fuller (fullback) and Brayden McGrady (winger) haven’t debuted
You might remember these guys as the new team in the NRL but did you know they’ve actually been around since 1947 (establishment)/1961 (inaugural first grade season)/1996 (inaugural QCup season)? In that time, they won a premiership in 1965 and the nothing until the Dolphins came to dominate the Queensland Cup so hard the NRL were forced to give them a licence. The Phins have had a quieter year, assembling some results in the background before the return of homegrown hero Cam Cullen from real estate to lead them to a finals berth.
Wynnum Manly Seagulls
Home: Manly West, Brisbane
Finished: 6th, 12-8, +112
Feeder to: Broncos
Current form: 1-4
Guy to remember: Gideon Gela-Mosby (winger)
Guy to watch: Caius Faatili (middle)
Bonus guy to watch: Kitron Laka (edge/interchange)
Wynnum have come right off the boil at the wrong time of the year. Luck of the draw might extend their stay in the finals and they generally have plenty of points in them but changing rosters in response to the availability of Broncos-contracted players has not been helpful. The Gulls lost the 2019 and 2021 grand finals, scoring only ten points on each occasion, and missed the finals completely last year after being crushed by Burleigh in the final week of the regular season.
Finished: 7th, 11-7-2, -79
Feeder to: Cowboys
Current form: 3-1-1
Guy to remember: Ty Williams (coach)
Guy to watch: Feao Tongia (interchange)
The Pride were the only team in the top nine to finish with a points difference of less than +100; their points difference was -79. Abandoned by the Cowboys and receiving a single appearance from a NRL-contracted player (Kyle Feldt in round 19), the Pride hilariously dusted the more favoured Blackhawks, sweeping them in the regular season, and duly made the finals while Townsville washed out. That in itself is a huge achievement, which is good because they are almost certainly going to exit in week 1.
Sunshine Coast Falcons
Home: Sunshine Coast
Finished: 8th, 11-8-1, +117
Feeder to: Storm
Current form: 4-1
Guy to remember: Ryan Papenhuyzen (fullback)
Guy to watch: Sua Faalogo (winger/fullback)
My gut tells me the Falcons are a better team than their record reflects, a poor run of results mid-season including back-to-back losses to the Blackhawks and Cutters, nearly consigned them to the dustbin. The Falcons play an entertaining style and have taken a slew of big scalps on their way to a mid-table finish. The squad is increasingly stacked with Melbourne Storm players, including Justin Olam and half their forward pack.
The Dolphins have welcomed leading global miner Anglo American to the team, as its newest Premier Partner from 2024, as well as the club’s official Mining Partner, and a Community Partner. Let’s see what Anglo American gets up to: “The Dolphins significant geographical footprint extends from Brisbane’s northern corridor, to the Sunshine Coast and up into Central Queensland regions where Anglo American’s five steelmaking coal mines are located.” Ah, cool. Taking a leaf out of the Bravus/Adani playbook. Between the Knights, Cowboys and now the Dolphins (and probably others), possibly a conversation to be had about the sports-washing of mining or at least rugby league not serving as doormats for climate change, especially for a club that is literally based on the water’s edge?
Norths won an exciting shootout with PNG, sending Jack Ahearn off a winner, 40-30 (Norths, PNG). Sunshine Coast crushed Tweed Heads to deny them a place in the finals, 37-16. Mackay powered home against Western, 38-18. Poor conversions made Burleigh’s win over Townsville look closer than reality, 20-12. A strong second half from Central overcame Souths Logan, 18-14. Northern held out against Redcliffe to book a spot in the eight, 28-26. Easts were far too strong for Wynnum, 41-20.
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I may work out a full history of the Affiliates Premiership over the off-season.