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THE WEEKLY: An inconsiderate German at Derancourt
Origin debris in the NRL, Bryce Donovan, Oliver Gildart and Brandon Roberts, thanks for reading, Las Vegas and the 1924-25 Toowoomba Galloping Clydesdales
The entertainment value of Origin floatsam and jetsam
This is my least favourite part of the season. The next six to eight weeks are a write-off as squads are routinely disrupted for Origin. For those of us in the content game, it’s also when the fatigue of a long season can really set in. I don’t think there’s a lot of information to be gained from watching these games1, especially if you follow Cup closely and already know some of the names that are getting their shot at the big time. I’d love for the season to be restructured to avoid or minimise this floatsam and jetsam but if we’re realistic, we’re never going to get a sensible approach to the calendar that would involve a rep weekend in each May, June, July and August and shortening the NRL season accordingly.
But if there’s a dearth of information and a surplus of empty calorie football, there’s still entertainment value to be found if you go looking for it.
Entertainment value can be found in the Dragons falling flat on their face in front of a tiny crowd by local standards but one they’d cut their arms off to get at Kogarah. St George Illawarra are a team captained by a man that a court heard engaged in non-consensual sex but was acquitted, so is legally Not A Rapist. You’re free to drawn your own conclusions as I remind you that “not guilty” is not the same as “innocent” and neither a court of law nor a jury make any guarantees about character, morals or humanity when passing judgement2. For the good of those who cannot parse these concepts, blinded by their loyalty to the least convincing facsimile of a sports club in the country, the NRL really should wrap up the Dragons before perpetual licencing is introduced.
Then to watch the Dragons celebrate their first try like they were going to walk in the rest of the game, not understanding that the Dolphins of round 13 are not the Dolphins of round 5, was neither justice nor karma - rugby league does not deal in such concepts - but it was entertaining. Redcliffe duly punished their opposition’s arrogance with three tries in ten minutes, capped by their captain being binned for the most clueless dipshittery.
Entertainment value could also be found in the bright lights of prime time being focussed on the 5-7 Eels, as they hosted the 5-7 Cowboys. Two franchises that finished in the top four in 2022 and were expected to echo that in some fashion in 2023 but found their laces tied together in the first few months of the season and have spent some time trying to untie them. I like to imagine the meeting where Nine and Fox thrash out which games they want. The mind’s eye sees Nine excitedly breaking the sound barrier to get their auction paddle in the air fast enough to secure this fixture, confident in the surefire blockbuster in an otherwise bland round, while Fox smiles to themselves as they collect Broncos-Warriors and Rabbitohs-Raiders to furnish Super Saturday.
The loyal were rewarded with a 6-all half time score in a game that was proficient but lacked spark. Maika Sivo, as he is wont to do, broke the deadlock and it was never really in doubt from then on. While the Eels attempt salvage their season and look they might have enough to contend for the finals, the Cowboys are relegated to the bottom four - a cellar they will likely remain locked in for the remainder of 2023 - while their erstwhile companions all have games in hand. Normally, we’d expect the Cowboys to get better when those on Origin duties return but this result was exactly in line with their form shown in the year to date, if not a little better.
Entertainment value could also be found in watching a team try to out-energy the most energetic team in the league. There are two known paths to victory over the 2023 Broncos. The first is letting the Broncos beat themselves and capitalising on it (Raiders). The second is waiting for them to be missing a key piece or two and out-classing them (Storm, Rabbitohs, Panthers). The Warriors lack the class to be do that, even when the Broncos are missing five key pieces in Haas, Walsh, Flegler, Cobbo and Carrigan, so they tried to bring the heat, mainly through Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. That wasn’t going to work and it didn’t. The Broncos are made of that ceramic NASA uses to tile the nose of space shuttles for atmospheric re-entry. It’s ultra-resistant to heat but will fail spectacularly when mechanically damaged in precisely the wrong way.
The Warriors did come close to winning - I think a reflection of the Broncos’ second stringers’ lack of polish than anything else - and if the Wahs had prevailed, then there’d be entertainment value in that too. If you can’t win and bring your own fanbase joy, then you should try losing in the most comical fashion possible to bring other fanbases joy and there would have been a lot of happy folks if the Warriors had gotten up.
Failing that, there was Adam Reynolds handing over a Broncos away jersey in a pre-game gift exchange and, despite those retailing for $170 Aussie, it looks a lot like the Broncos forgot to bring something. Then there were the pitch invaders.
The Tans had the bye, which was probably a relief for their fans. For them, here’s an excellent break down of the Titans’ woes, courtesy of the Rugby League Eye Test.
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Moment of the Weekend
The moment of the weekend was not Bryce Donovan knocking over a late field goal to put the Devs in the lead, 25-24, over the Caps in Rockhampton.
While this was a real high water mark for English rugby league in 2023, it wasn't even Oliver Gildart's spectacular put down in the corner with less than two minutes on the clock to put Central up 28-25.
It's the celebration after Brandon Roberts scoops and scores in the last minute of the game to put it beyond all doubt.
Final: Central Queensland 36, Northern Suburbs 25.
An honourable mention to Brandon Finnegan of the Mackay Cutters, who missed a sideline conversion on the siren that would have seen his side draw with the Tigers to get them off the mark in 2023. It was his only miss of the day. It's a tough game sometimes.
Thanks for reading and sharing
The newsletter has finally ticked over 250 subscribers, presumably following on from the marathon piece about the NRL’s next expansion move:
Thank you all for reading and subscribing. In particular, I want to shout out Cowboys’ fan u/Tunza for sharing select pieces on Reddit and helping spread the word. You can always hit forward on an email to share it with someone who you think might find it interesting or share through the usual social media channels. Any shares are appreciated and they help keep The Maroon Observer going.
V’Landys in Vegas
It’s time for Peter V’Landys to finally crack the American market. Stinky Pete Badel reported - although it is not yet officially confirmed but may be by the time you read this - that the NRL has secured a five year deal to play the season opener at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium.
If you’re not familiar with the NFL, Allegiant is home to the Raiders, sits at the end of The Strip near Mandalay Bay and Luxor, is one of the newer stadiums and draws aesthetic comparisons to the Death Star. The NRL will be lucky to break a quarter of its capacity but it beats the UNLV stadium, which has a slot machine on the sideline.
If you’re not familiar with Las Vegas, I’m not sure where to start. Maybe try The Godfather, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the album Sam’s Town by seminal 2000s pop synthesiser band, The Killers. Or if you’re a bit older, the Elvis Presley song, Viva Las Vegas. Or if you’re a bit younger, I have nothing for you because you broke the monoculture.
From a Grow The Game perspective, it would have made more sense to take national teams to Vegas (and/or some women’s teams). Australia, England, New Zealand, et al are better known and understood as concepts, but the NRL can only view rugby league through the lens of its own clubs. At least they seem to be picking the clubs with actual city names - Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and South Sydney - attached to them for the inaugural event.
But as a thousand people attempting cynicism for the first time will point out, it’s not about growing the game. It’s an attempt to grow the revenue for the NRL by chipping open the US bookmaking market. If you’re not familiar, around half the states in the US have recently legalised sports gambling and it’s going well for the bookmakers. Australian bookie PointsBet just sold its (somehow) unprofitable US arm to multi-billion dollar operation and sometime purveyors of trading cards and merchandise, Fanatics, for $225 million. There is money in them there hills.
The NRL season kick-offs in a dead spot in the US sports calendar, so really, why not? It’s a five year deal, so it won’t be like previous one-off attempts that have fallen flat with no follow-up. There will be some time to build it up. It’s in-house, so there will be minimal undermining from media and minimal interference from administrators. The timezones with the western US work out well with Australia. V’Landys probably isn’t going to lose money on this. It’s hard to really come up with a critique that isn’t just robbing fans of a home game that they weren’t going to go to anyway and, in any case, all of the clubs will reportedly end up in Vegas over the cycle of the deal, a thing I’m sure everyone will hate.
Taking a step back, as we come up on three and a half years of V’Landys’ chairmanship, we can take a look at his whole body of work with some perspective. The praise for the Greek god-like figure - part of which I’m willing to chalk up to covid-inspired madness - ebbed over the last two years and reached nadirs during the Magic Round crackdown of 2021 and when the NRL clubs realised just how badly they’d been hosed when the AFL’s new deal was announced last year. Time and the tide have washed away those sins and his coverage has returned to a more even tone.
Consider that the clubs are profitable and will soon have perpetual licences. The clubs will be guaranteed to exist forever, something that has absolutely not been guaranteed for most of rugby league’s history. The NRL itself is profitable and investing in its future. Two new men’s clubs will have been added in the space of five years, the women’s game has exploded and now we’re taking games to America. If anyone else had pulled that resume together, we’d be lauding them. It’s a Hall of Fame career.
Still, he acts like CEO, not chairman, and treats Abdo like his assistant. A bunch of people lost their jobs during covid. Money is being diverted from state and grassroots funding to the professional clubs. Rule changes should be tested before being implemented and enforcement should be less reactionary. Everything looks and feels so cheap. The TV deals stink and everyone knows it. They killed off the digital arm to placate broadcasters who patently did not pick up the slack. The six again still sucks. One referee makes officiating much worse. Perpetual licencing is the ARLC giving up the means to leverage clubs into accepting sacrifices for the good of the game. The “investment in assets” is going to be a slush fund that will undoubtedly be used more favours than yield. There’s no planning for the future. Suburban stadiums in Sydney were always a dead-end and we’re still stuck with Accor. They blew off Perth for no reason. They still haven’t finalised an EA with the players, six months after the last one expired. They failed to get all three grades off the ground. V’Landys can’t stop being the biggest weenie in the media when it comes to Code Wars. That, too, is a Hall of Fame career but a very different kind of Hall.
On the balance, he’s still seen as a net positive and each big, easy to understand achievement he stacks up makes it harder to prosecute the argument that V’Landys is actually a net negative. So much of what he’s done wrong is some combination of obfuscated, complicated or will have consequences over the long term. It’s all too subtle, so he’s probably going to get away with it.
Programming - You should get Quick Wraps this week for Clydesdales versus Magpies from yesterday, and for both men’s and women’s Origin games. I’m just not sure about which day each of those will appear in your inbox.
You might have thought I'd pivot hard to Origin content this week but most of it is make-work for self important journalists that you can get anywhere. There's space for some mate against mate, state against state, but I just don't personally find a lot of the build up that interesting. That said, the Blues a) choosing to play in an alternate strip in a two team competition, which is b) a strip that everyone hates, and c) may cause a colour clash with the Maroons, and d) rejecting a call for sanity from the NRL to wear their traditional sky blue, while e) some unidentified NSW NRL clubs lobby for shorter Origin camps, sure is something from the Cockroaches. Definitely not the moves of a state that gets Origin for mine.
“The NRL has confirmed a possible 1-1 series draw in Ampol Women's State of Origin will see the winner decided by points aggregate in 2023… If, at the conclusion of the series the two teams are equal on aggregate score (total points scored across the two matches), a series winner will be determined according to the following criteria from the two matches: Most tries scored. Then if equal, most goals kicked. Then if equal, most drop goals kicked. Then if equal, least amount of penalties conceded across the two matches. Then if equal, the team that scored the first try of the series. Then if equal, The team that scored the first goal of the series. Then if equal, the team that scored the first drop goal of the series.” Great work team. If only there was a simpler way to resolve this tie-breaker. Perhaps by playing a third game?
Ethan Quai-Ward is reportedly leaving the Broncos/Souths Logan to join the Bulldogs. Quai-Ward wasn’t going to be getting serious first grade minutes any time soon, with Deine Mariner poised to take over from Farnworth when the latter departs for Kippa-Ring, so good luck to him.
NRLW signings: The Cowboys have signed Libby Surha, Lily Peacock, Lillian Yarrow, Shaylee Joseph and Krystal Blackwell. Lavinia Gould, Jasmine Fogavini, Toni Hunt and Grace Griffin sign for the Broncos. It’s good to see Fogavini back.
Tina Turner passed away, which you'd know because the rugby league media drowned you in hagiography for an ad campaign, less so the actual woman. The distinction is important because a promo from thirty years ago, that was an insignificant part of her life, is vital formwork for the nostalgia that dominates the sport’s coverage. Israel Daramola of Defector did a great piece about the actual person.
It is important to have a passing familiarity with the world of rugby league outside of Queensland because this is a parochial, but not an insular, newsletter.
The ramifications of the cancellation of the 2025 World Cup are being felt. The European Rugby League has canned the Euros scheduled for the end of this year and the Middle East-Africa and the Americas Championships have followed suit. For nations outside of the 2022 quarter-finalists, who have already qualified, these tournaments are the keystones of the qualifying process for the ‘25 Cup.
Treize Mondial wrote:
Ce qui est bien, c’est qu’avec le rugby à XIII, on n’est jamais au bout de nos surprises. À la surprise générale, l’ERL a annoncé l’annulation de l’Euro prévu en fin d’année qui devait aussi servir de qualifications pour la Coupe du monde 2025. Pour justifier son annulation, Dean Andrew a probablement donné la pire raison possible puisqu’elle ne fait aucun sens.
What is good is that with rugby league, we are never at the end of our surprises. To everyone's surprise, the ERL announced the cancellation of the Euro scheduled for the end of the year which was also to serve as a qualifier for the 2025 World Cup. To justify its cancellation, Dean Andrew probably gave the worst possible reason since it makes no sense. (Google translate)
I assume the risk is two-fold. One, as the IRL scrambles to find a host for the World Cup, it is uncertain how many teams will actually compete. France’s promises of three tournaments, with 16 teams each, would have been very expensive to accommodate. Now, with two and a half years to go, the IRL needs to find a host - any host - and that host may not be as forthcoming with euros, pounds or dollars. Running two tournaments, with say 12 men’s and eight women’s teams, is a much cheaper, and therefore a more palatable proposition if funding is limited. Until a host and budget are agreed, those numbers cannot be finalised, so it’s not clear how many places are available for qualifying nations.
Two, these tournaments don’t make money. The organisers are holding them solely so nations can go through the qualification process for the World Cup. If the Cup is delayed or shrunk down or cancelled altogether, then there’s no point wasting money on qualifying tournaments, or at least not in this specific format, when the limited resources available could be used for something else.
Meanwhile, Treize Mondial also reports that Luc Lacoste has won a vote of confidence from the FFR clubs and will continue as president for at least the remainder of his term.
There’s a tendency to equate Brisbane’s footballing history with that of Queensland. I’m as guilty as anyone, but we should remember that Queensland is a big place and one of its differentiators from the other states, is that relatively few people live in the capital city. Of the 20 largest cities in the country, six are in Queensland. I would love to learn more about the rugby league history of other parts of the state but records get sparser the further you move away from Brisbane.
Toowoomba claims to be Australia’s largest inland city, although Canberra might have something to say about that. It sits on the other side of the Lockyer Valley from Brisbane, down the Warrego Highway at the end of the stretch that is - no joke - called Darren Lockyer Way3, at the top of the Great Dividing Range. Toowoomba is a nice enough country town, usually a couple of degrees cooler than the lowlands, and is known for its annual flower festival.
Toowoomba is also one of great centres of rugby league. Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba contested the Bulimba Cup from 1925 to 1972. Brisbane won the Cup the most - 19 times - but the Clydesdales won it 16 times, last in 1970 and finishing runner-up in its final two editions. The Clydesdales competed in the Queensland Cup from its inception in 1996 through to their bankruptcy in 2006, winning two titles in 1996 and 2001, and serving as the Broncos’ feeder team from 1999 onwards.
In 1924, Toowoomba’s representative team beat a touring Great Britain side, 23-20, on 18 June, provoking much celebration in the town. The mayor of Toowoomba dubbed the team the ‘Galloping Clydesdales‘ and it stuck. Proving it was no fluke, Toowoomba beat New South Wales on 3 September, 16-0, and then carried this form into 1925.
Not only did Toowoomba win the inaugural Bulimba Cup, but it would be easier to list the teams that beat them - no one - than list the teams they beat, which were Brisbane on 2 May and 20 June; Ipswich on 27 June4; New Zealand, 16-14, on 12 August; and on 19 August, Sydney premiers, the Rabbitohs of South Sydney, who had just won the first of what would become five titles in a row, 12-5.
There was no one in the world left to beat. The 1924-25 Clydesdales of Toowoomba is one of the greatest teams in rugby league history. It was even significant enough to merit recognition from the south. Tom Gorman, Duncan Thompson, Herb Steinohrt, Dan Dempsey, Vic Armbruster and Peter Madsen are all NRL Hall of Famers and all played in iterations of those ‘24 and ‘25 Toowoomba sides, alongside the unfortunately nicknamed Edwin Brown5.
Thompson was overlooked to be a pre-war Immortal, despite playing for the only North Sydney sides to ever be successful, on top of his achievements with Toowoomba, a glittering interstate career in which Queensland won multiple series and doing this while having a bullet lodged in his chest, placed there by an inconsiderate German at Derancourt. Steinohrt and Madsen never played anywhere but Toowoomba, proof that you could be a world class player in pre-war rugby league without heading to what passed for the big city.
Here’s the first part of a three part series on the history of Toowoomba rugby league. Made by Lonnie Gilroy, who I believe subscribes to this very newsletter, it starts in the beginning and reaches a crescendo in 1925. It is extremely well made and absolutely worth your time.
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The informational void and the grind of week-to-week content are two reasons why no NRL Quick Wraps this weekend, plus you got 5,000 words on expansion last week. I plan to try and pace myself because this is not my livelihood.
A fact that applies to Tristan Sailor, among others that featured this weekend.
As far as I can tell, Darren is unrelated to the valley.
Ipswich managed a 3-3 draw in the Bulimba Cup, which is the closest anyone got to beating Toowoomba.
You can Google it and the UN’s condemnation of a stand bearing his nickname that was only demolished in, wait for it, 2008.