THE WEEKLY: Enjoy your rebuild, champ
Broncos win, Cowboys win, Dolphins lose, Titans lose, Valentine Holmes, Interstate Championship and Tino is a free agent?
For the Broncos to be missing Haas, Carrigan, Walsh and Oates, cop a sin bin and to leave Belmore with two points and a +20 boost to the for and against, is an unqualified good result. The path to said result was wobbly but dubs be dubs.
Two of the soggiest middle defences that have ever graced a NRL pitch contested the first half and both attacks traded blows. It never felt particularly in doubt and while the margin was four at half time, Brisbane kicked on and put a solid buffer between them and Canterbury in the second half.
Perhaps more concerning for the Bulldogs is just how badly they got handled by a below average, second string Broncos side but at least they managed to confirm that Reed Mahoney is an even bigger bitch than Eels fans believed him to be.
Billy Walters - probably the last Bronco prone to an obnoxious overcelebration - scored his second try of the season and his footy selfie contributed $5,000 to the recovery efforts of Nathan Stapleton and Daniel Anderson via Sportsbet and Try July. It’s hard to know if Mahoney was annoyed by this, that he was outplayed by Walters or the palpable sense that he was just moved down one spot in the Maroons depth chart. Possibly there's a way he can blame the fans for this but either way, enjoy your rebuild, champ.
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Round 20 (continued)
North Queensland’s turnaround in form within the 2023 season is only slightly less implausible than their rapid improvement from 2021’s 7-17 to 2022’s 17-7. The Cowboys have notched up consecutive wins over the Storm, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Tigers and now the Sea Eagles. In the last three, they’ve conceded a grand total of 14 points while scoring 124. If you told me eight weeks ago that the Cowboys would be in the kind of shape that could see them make a grand final, I probably would have assumed that the clunkiness that had beset their attack would have resolved itself (it has) and the forward pack would have pulled their fingers out to start winning the yardage battle (they have). Jason Oliver of Rugby League Writers had more on exactly this at NRL dot com: The 122-point swing: Inside the Cowboys' correction that turned season around.
But I would have also said that their goal line defence might be what separates them from participating in a grand final and winning a grand final and they might paper over that crack with a surplus of possession. Despite North Queensland’s ill-discipline doing its best to dissuade me (+3 errors and +6 penalties), I held that opinion through until the last ten minutes of this game. Manly aren’t the sharpest team in the league, but the resolve, the scramble, the coordination and perhaps most importantly, the gas to keep the Seagles at bay gives the Cows something to build on.
With a 10-8 record and six games left, North Queensland need at least three more wins, preferably four, to even make the finals. With a schedule of Eels, Titans, Broncos, Sharks, Dolphins and Panthers, it’s not going to be easy - even the softer-looking opponents are almost certainly traps - but if the Cowboys are serious, then they’ll have to find a way.
The Dolphins stretched their good half of football to straddle halftime, starting it about 25’ and concluding at about 65’. Unfortunately, while even the Dolphins can handle Jarome Luai turning the ball back inside once a set, the Panthers did manage to eventually turn a 200m+ advantage into some points and realistically, the Dolphins were only in touching distance because Jack Cogger can’t kick.
Redcliffe turned in a better than expected performance, even if Fox were trying to sell you on the prowess of Penrith in dispatching an opponent that should have been well beneath them. Plenty have written off the Dolphins as finished, consigned to the doldrums, while looking at those above them on the ladder without considering the wins column. Is a points difference of -91 good? No. Is eight wins more than the seven the Knights, Titans and Sea Eagles have? Yes. With the Bulldogs, Knights, Roosters, Tigers, Cowboys and Warriors left on the schedule, a double digit win total isn’t out of the question, which would be a fantastic success for a team most wrote off as spooners before the season started, even if finals are an extremely long shot.
Here's an interesting play from the Titans game:
Simonsson’s run back in field involves an obstruction by Lane and another by Hands. It is customary that if the attacking player surrenders after an obstruction, that is considered no advantage1 and play continues. In this specific situation, with the scores level and only five minutes left in the game, being able to run to and then surrender in the middle of the field, 20 metres out represents a huge, potentially game-winning, advantage. The referee, by not making a call, has helped decide the game.
Naturally, no one is going to care about this because the Titans were on the receiving end and no one cares about the Titans. There’s also much easier refereeing scenarios to get angry about, even if they were adjudicated correctly. It also would have helped if Gold Coast had a halfback with a semblance of a toolkit for dealing with these situations. Still, when I say the NRL’s judicial inconsistencies are bad because they affect everyone, I’m not just being a gronk even if my example citations are almost entirely Broncos-related.
Moment of the Weekend
Normally, the moment of the weekend is a try because they're easier to go back and find when I pull these newsletters together on Sunday night but I happened to have my hands free when Holmes absolutely demolished Olakau'atu in the Macquarie definition of a bell ringer.
An honourable mention to the Assassin of Bundaberg, Felise Kaufusi.
Hang the banner: Queensland wins the first seven game Interstate Championship.
With victories in the first two men’s games, the first women’s game and the espoirs femmes, the Maroons claimed four wins out of seven to take the Championship. Queensland scored 134 points over 510 minutes of football, while conceding 122.
I’m giving player of the Championship to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, with honourable mentions to Lindsay Collins, Tazmin Gray and Emily Bella.
The Tino Gambit
There are moments writing about this sport that I feel like I’m going insane.
Every time there’s a reference to Hugh Jackman as a Manly fan and being some ace in the hole of marketing rugby league in America, despite neither him nor his management ever seeming to actually confirming that, makes my head spin because it’s just been memed into existence by hacks.
When every fan convinced themselves that the NRL was going to do something nice for the Warriors after spending a couple of years in Australia and then got disappointed when the NRL didn’t do the thing that they never said they were going to do, was another example.2
Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and David Fifita supposedly becoming free agents because the Titans fired Justin Holbrook is mind-bendingly crazy. If it was any club other than the Titans - even if it was the Dragons - it’d be too stupid to be real.
The media has managed to manufacture this into a whole cycle. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that this clause exists but expecting evidence, like on the record quotes or copies of the contract, in rugby league media is a fool’s errand. While I am choosing to kind of just roll with it, it does mean I look at a lot of headlines and don’t bother clicking because the article is inevitably just empty calories.3
The clause then turned into a mega offer from Canterbury, including shares in a pub (or guaranteed returns for said shares, which, if not cap rorting, is definitely illegal), for Tino to go to Belmore. For what it’s worth, Tino’s agent hosed down speculation that they would accept that offer that plainly broke the rules. Phil Gould and Cameron Ciraldo supposedly met with Holbrook to bring him across and sweeten the deal, despite it being clear that Holbrook made getting the Titans competitive look a lot harder than it is. Now Tino is “going to market” (presumably for his contract, not to sell his pub shares), which could probably mean a lot of things.
The underlying story is that various journalists and Phil Gould all hate each other and this is their way of taking pot shots. I could write out what that means in more detail but I got a quarter of the way through and decided it was too boring to waste your and my time with.
Let's just wait and see. Crazier things have happened but not by much. I’d be surprised if either left Parkwood.
The only NRL game in Queensland this week was at Redcliffe, following the under 19s Origins. It was also Country Week in QCup and here’s the approximate driving time according to Google Maps from Brisbane to each of the host towns: Kilcoy 1h30; Stanthorpe 2h45; Wondai 3h15; Miles 4h; Biloela 6h30; Proserpine 12h30; Weipa 29h. The same basic thing happened last year, except the only NRL game in Queensland was in Townsville. In 2019, while the QCup went to Wabag, PNG, and Thursday Island, neither of which can be driven to from Brisbane, all three Queensland NRL teams played home games. There’s no point to this - just thought it was vaguely interesting.
Payne Haas is testing his market value, as is his right. You would too if you had anything to offer that someone might conceivably pay you a $1m+/yr. In fact, making him a "million dollar man”, as the hacks insist on referring to it, is probably unders in an expanded salary cap.
Jo Barrett has joined the Titans NRLW staff.
Former Wynnum half, Pat Templeman, has extended for another year with defending Elite 1 champions, Limoux. The Maroochydore Swans junior was their meilleur joueur (best player), le métronome de cette équipe (the metronome of the team) and «gardien du temple».
“It’s understood the Pride do intend to launch a bid for a BMD Premiership licence in 2024” Nice story of Genavie Tabuai as well. It’s the stuff we want to see in coverage of this sport.
I think I know the answer why but in the last week, I’ve seen newspaper hacks make references to Hogan’s Heroes and Gone With the Wind in columns ostensibly about rugby league. Colonel Klink appeared in Homer’s dream in an episode of The Simpsons that first aired in 1992 and that was a twenty year old reference even then. Still, it’s probably less painful than watching them try to make references to any movie released in the last decade.4
A Half-Baked Theory
It’s not mine this week! Steve Mascord penned a piece called “NSW should stop accepting Queensland's narrative and re-embrace their own 116-year history”. This fell under his Discord column, where Mascord is provocative about rugby league shibboleths but, in the interests of keeping the piece under 400 words, usually falls a couple of logical steps short of a satisfying conclusion.
It seems obvious to me that New South Wales embracing their century of dominance of the Interstate series would only then present Queensland as the underdog. If allowing your opponent to set the terms of engagement gives them an upper hand psychologically, you could hardly make a greater tactical error given the Maroons’ love of being the underdog. Indeed, redressing this imbalance is the origination of the chip on the shoulder that inspires the current success.
Moreover, Messenger played for Queensland in 1908. Churchill won a premiership at Northern Suburbs and coached Queensland in 1959. The offspring of Bozo - literally the nickname of a clown - are currently ruining not one but two Sydney clubs, while the Dolphins have swanned in and have more wins than the Dragons and Tigers, a combined three centuries of supposedly first grade experience, put together.
Arthur Beetson played for the Blues because he was paid to do so. No one begrudges him that because this is rugby league and things were different then. It follows then NSW’s victories are hollow, even to Blues apologists, because they are bought with an economic disparity so great that the games offered little jeopardy or sporting value5, serving more as selection trials for Kangaroos jerseys. Even the NSW rugby league establishment and their fans get Origin enough to understand this.
As a work of trolling - sorry, provocation - this is weak stuff. The best trolling is both simple and cuts close enough to the truth that it passes at first glance. This is neither.
Country Week: Wynnum clawed back a 20-12 half time deficit to take the lead briefly in the second half, before ultimately going down 44-32 to Norths in a shoot-out in Wondai. Central were never troubled by Ipswich, 46-6, in Biloela. Redcliffe surprisingly belted an out of sorts Burleigh, 38-6, in Miles. Tweed were too strong for Easts, 38-12, in Kilcoy. A late try to Daniel Woodhouse restored some respect for the Pride, going down 24-8 to the Falcons in Weipa. Souths Logan struggled to get over Mackay, scoring the winning try with ten to go, 14-12, in Proserpine. Townsville had no trouble with the long road trip to apple country, beating Western, 42-12, in Stanthorpe. Hunters had the bye. The competition takes next week off.
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It is patently an advantage to not have to turn the ball over for breaking the rules but that’s rugby league for you.
The nice thing the NRL did for the Warriors was to provide conditions to allow them to continue to exist and earn their respective pay packets. If living away from home for a couple of years sounds rough - and it is - wait until I tell you how the economy works.
The hint here being that if I have some of these alleged facts wrong, that I haven’t read anything about it might explain why.
Roy Masters: “using the hackneyed cliche, ‘a fish rots from the head.’”
I don’t think you want to be throwing stones in a glass house made of cliches, Mr Greek God.
As with most of the history of integrating Queensland into the New South Wales system, I believe this is an anachronism of projecting the situation in the 80s back through time and is not true in a historical sense.
Mascord claims Queensland had a “success rate was 3.8 per cent between 1956 and 1981”. I’m not sure how he arrives at this number, unless it is a typo. Queensland won 13.8% of the residential selection games in this period and won two series in those 25 years, according to Rugby League Project, but Mascord chooses 1956 because that’s when poker machines were legalised in New South Wales. Considering the received wisdom about the Blues’ purchasing power of Maroon talent, losing that frequently represents a mediocre return on investment. But Queensland only wins about a third of the games pre-1956, which suggests some of the dominance can be explained by New South Wales having more people, a demographic truth that is as mythologically unsatisfactory as having a significant economic advantage thanks to a difference in state legislation.
Mascord makes the observation that “only one NSW resident was in the Maroons’ starting team on Wednesday night” as if the Maroons sides that dominated through the 80s weren’t majority BRL-contracted. The rapidity of the financial collapse of the BRL in the 80s - and my contention is that this was largely fostered by television and a national dismantling of interstate cultural and commercial barriers, rather than pokies per se - is flattened to “pokies make Sydney good” in traditional rugby league history. He also claims that people lost interest in the Interstate series but this appears to only be true of Sydney, especially after the move to Leichhardt Oval, as Brisbane’s average attendance through the 1970s was better than the previous decade.
Given the myth is completely useless to the NSWRL, engaging with a more nuanced history would be the more interesting provocation.