THE WEEKLY: Gorgeous Rockhampton sunsets
Misère, Jayden Nikorima, Valynce Te Whare, women's Origin teams announced, Ikin's first press conference, the 1987 BRL grand final
It took a lot longer than I thought it would but here we are, the first day after all four Queensland NRL clubs registered losses in the same round. Misère!
After last week’s game against the Storm, the Broncos’ game against the Panthers on Thursday night once again excelled in the arts of referee innovation. It is extremely exciting to see the whistle-blowers work out what they’re doing, which is often quite different from what they’re supposed to be doing, in real time. If I may digress into teeing off on the referees, it is painfully apparent that while people may prefer the new auto-review system for tries, it has turned the referees into absolute dullards.
If the fear deep in the eyes of the Australian referees at last year’s World Cup any time an actual on-field decision had to be made wasn’t sufficient evidence, consider this. Kobe Hetherington loses the ball at 53’. The ball leaves his hands, hits the Panther tackling him and richochets to land behind him. A simple application of the kind of every day physics everyone is familiar with by virtue of having eyes and a brain and more than half a dozen years experience on this Earth, along with a textbook application of the rules of the National Rugby League, would suggest that the only way the ball comes out with that angle and velocity from that impact is the result of a loose carry. The ball is scooped up by Pat Carrigan, Cory Paix finds space in the broken play that follows and puts Reece Walsh over. Referee Adam Gee claims this is a try. Despite this patently not needing a replay to arrive at the correct decision, it is correctly deemed not a try by the Bunker. The expression “what are we doing here?” springs to mind. This is but one example of an obvious decision that should be made live being overturned by the Bunker and it occurs in every single match.1
Ten minutes later, Gee would interrupt the Bunker’s deliberations on his no try call when it appeared they were preparing to overturn his decision. Not only is this a flagrant disregard for established protocol - the thing referees are ostensibly there to be enforce - it suggests that Gee lacks the courage of conviction to simply rule no try and continue with proceedings. If the referees lack this courage, then what purpose do they serve?
Gee would also lose two captain’s challenges from Nathan Cleary, taking his year to date record to 8 unsuccessful to 7 successful captain’s challenges, which suggests a coin might be as effective as adjudicating a game.
I’ve long been a defender of the referees - mostly on principle and partly out of allegiance to what Steve Mascord would call the left wing of rugby league - but this was embarrassing, following hot on the heels of the previous week's embarrassment, following on all the previous embarrassments. It seems nothing has been learned and the dinosaurs who would normally shout to all and sundry that the refs are in crisis are unusually silent, perhaps more focussed on their totally unsurprising assault charges.
Anyway, the Broncos lost because giving your opponent the ball for 12 minutes more than you have it is a sure fire way to lose games of rugby league football.
There were multiple moments on Saturday night where I thought the Dolphins might really do it. That we might live in a world where if one Brisbane team can seemingly never beat the Storm, perhaps as penance for the 2006 premiership, then maybe the other one could. The Dolphins were down 20 by half time, which is usually the death knell for any teams not playing the Titans, but if Euan Aitken weren’t the mentally densest man on earth and if Isaako nails all of his conversions, that’s a 24-all ball game and things are a lot more interesting. There’s a universe in which all of that happened and I hope they’re happy.
I don’t envy the person who has to write the Titans emails after a loss, especially because the Gold Coast’s rugby league team insists on repeatedly losing in the most embarrassing ways possible and it must be hard to find words for that every other week. That is to say that the Titans succumbed to yet another second half collapse. Leading 14-0 at the half and losing 18-20 is not quite giving up 26 unanswered points but it’s yet another dot point in an unflattering dossier that Holbrook seems to be intent on compiling about his side, which could have multiple Origin representatives, and their inability to close out games.
As for the Cowboys? The 2020 Broncos only conceded 48 to the Tigers. If North Queensland can improve from here, we’ll consider letting them stay in the state because in a weekend of losses, at least the others showed something.
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Moment of the Weekend
Sunshine Coast Falcons Jayden Nikorima and Luke Polselli shred the Capras’ defensive line with only a few minutes left in what was a see-sawing and extremely heated affair. The try and subsequent conversion tied the game between two of the contenders for this year’s premiership. We wait with bated breath to see if these two will meet again in the finals.
We were also treated to a gorgeous sunset over the Rockhampton skyline.
An honorable mention to Valynce Te Whare for this effort. It’s not the intercept.
Women's origin teams announced
Queensland’s women’s Origin team is Aiken, Bass, Brigginshaw (c), Brill, Ciesiolka, Elliston, Gray, Holyman, Joseph, Manzelmann, Mato, Pelite, Polata, Power, Robinson, Teitzel, Temara and Upton.
It’s not a terribly surprising line-up, although disappointing to be reminded of those who have left Queensland clubs to play down south. The absence of both Brealey-Nati and Lenarduzzi are strange, doubly so when coach Tahnee Norris said, “We’ve picked in-form players on the back of a really strong BMD Premiership competition.”
Lenarduzzi scored two tries in the grand final and averaged 128 metres per game while never playing more than 53 minutes (sometimes as little as 23). Brealey-Nati was the hooker for the team with the best regular season record and a team that averaged 32 points per game. Lauren Brown is also MIA, although she did not play in the BMD Premiership and that would not help her case if that was indeed the selection criteria, which would at least explain the total lack of Norths Devils in the team.
I don’t know if those non-selections will make a difference either way but I think it highlights an interesting wrinkle in the women’s calendar. Elite women, i.e. those who should be full-time professionals but aren’t due to the ineptitude of the administration, are playing a state campaign in Queensland (7 games plus finals) or New South Wales (10 games) and using that as a form building exercise going into the two hardest matches of the year in June (presuming there are no season-ending internationals) before attending to NRLW club duty from late July onwards.
The Blues will line up pretty much with who you’d expect. The Tweed Ocean Pigeons’ Jaime Chapman, the Wynnum Chipthieves’ Shaylee Bent and the Titans’ (via Illawarra) Taliah Fuimaono were all selected.
The form of individual players, given said calendar wrinkles, will be hard to get a read on. The rapidity with which the top of the women’s game have been supplanted by younger, more capable players coming through a system that now provides a complete pathway from kids to open age women also makes it hard to gauge. Names that were the top of the pile last year might not be quite so top of the pile in this year.
Given the fine margins on which Origin is typically decided, these two variables will have an outsized impact on the final result. On the balance, I’d be inclined to tip the Sky Cockroaches2 - which I guess are just normal cockroaches because those can fly - solely on the basis that winning one game, irrespective of their rhetoric, is easier than winning two. I also think tipping Origin is a fool’s errand.
The men’s lineups will be confirmed today and analysed in Stats Drop.
Ikin’s first presser
On Friday, Ben Ikin held his first press conference as new CEO of the QRL. I watched it so you don’t have to. The main takeaways were:
Claims no hard feelings with the Broncos organisation
Planning to extend Slater as Maroons coach (which is fine if Fittler is the best NSW can do) and will provide support to transition to a NRL role if that’s what he wants
Creating coaching pathways to ensure that there are capable coaches ready to step in the Maroons role if required - may involve Bennett
“I love Peter’s [V’Landys] energy. He has big ideas… some of the changes he has made to the game, that’s his wheelhouse. He is a big thinker, a big dreamer and he drives the game hard to be better. But I take a more slow and steady approach. I am sure there is some merit behind [the proposed season opener in Las Vegas], but once we see the details and why they are going to do it and why it would benefit from the broader game and we get to see the actual product, then I can get excited.”
Firmly against national reserve grade
Not in favour of the standalone Cup clubs for the Titans and Cowboys if it threatens the fabric of the statewide comps
Behind the Tigers bid to become the NRL’s 18th team - more on that another time
In short if you like the gist of my rhetoric but want it presented in a more politically palatable tone, you couldn’t go past what Ikin’s putting forward for his tenure.
The Storm are adding the North Sydney Bears as a feeder club. Over the weekend, the Falcons announced an extension with the Storm to 2027 and the Storm have an additional presence on the coast thanks to their netball team, which would suggest they’re not leaving Queensland any time soon. The Tigers, however, are contracted only until the end of next year. Whether that continues probably depends on if the Tigers get a NRL licence. The Broncos didn't go back to Redcliffe after covid, leaving them with the Warriors for 2021-22, after which the Dolphins linked up with the Dolphins, the Capras and the Hunters (sort of).
Josh Papali’i has “retired” from Origin, which given how last year’s series played out and his unlikely selection this year, means he was probably on the outs with Slater anyway. Papali’i can focus on representing Samoa moving forward.
According to Code, “Saturday night’s clash against the Storm at Suncorp Stadium features the last available tickets3 for Dolphins games in their home region until they return to Suncorp Stadium on August 25.” Meanwhile, the two biggest teams in Sydney playing in the city's newest stadium with the home team on top of the table was expected to draw 40,000 patrons through the turnstiles and managed to get 27,432. It's not exactly the Conflict on Caxton or even the crowd that wants to see this week's referee innovations on a Thursday night.
Apparently it was not a joke and a Burgess is really playing for Cairns Brothers.
If we do end up with SEQ4, I think the ideal stadium arrangements would be something like Suncorp hosts Broncos home games, any SEQ club home games against the other Queensland teams and Magic Round, provided the state government continues to fund that. The Titans, Dolphins and SEQ4 would take their remaining home games to their own stadiums at Robina, Redcliffe/Sunshine Coast and I guess Coorparoo/Logan Metro Sports Complex/redeveloped North Ipswich Reserve/redeveloped QSAC/Clive Berghofer (?). Union would be exiled to Ballymore, which is somehow getting Olympic funding because its going to host climbing, and the Roar can play wherever they want in summer because who cares.
Cowboys sign Sam McIntyre from the Titans. Hull KR signs Peta Hiku from next year. Luciano Leilua is back. Dropped charges don’t make for innocence or a good person.
Our ABC’s Nick Campton wrote that, “Last month Hunt was forthright in his belief the club should keep Griffin and indicated he had little interest in starting all over again with another rebuild given his age. Despite re-signing last year, it's hard to escape the feeling his future is now up and the air and the vultures will be circling in an effort to pick him off.” If Hunt has had enough with the Dragons’ completely braindead administration, all four clubs in the State of Queensland could use him. Neither Reynolds’ nor Foran’s body are going to hold up that much longer and Hunt would be a major upgrade on any of Boyd, Townsend or O’Sullivan/Nikorima/Milford at half, or Walters or Verrills/Randall at hooker. I was going to pitch this as a Dolphins marquee signing, a step up on Flegler and Farnworth for sure, but I think the Titans need him more. Only problem is they’ve been throwing the chequebook around recently, so who knows if they have the cap between now and ‘26?
At almost the halfway mark of the competition, the Cup is starting to take shape with teams falling into four groups: the extremely bad (Jets, Cutters and, to a lesser extent, Clydesdales), the merely bad (Hunters, Devils, Blackhawks), the chasers (Pride, both Seagulls, Dolphins, Tigers) and the leaders (Bears, Magpies, Falcons, Capras). There’s plenty to recommend each of the leaders and there’s an affiliate for each of the NRL clubs represented, except for the Cowboys, and we all know what they did and why they deserve what’s happening to them.
There’s only eight finals places with nine teams in the hunt and naturally, teams will move between the groups as NRL contracted players come and go, and form waxes and wanes. The first Queensland Cup stat pack will feature in the next Stats Drop.
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 2025 World Cup in France is off.
You can read the IRL’s statement for yourself but it’s a pretty telling summation of where rugby league, and international rugby league in particular, sits in the world sports pecking order. It is such an odious property, after decades of being undermined by the clubs and its own national federations, that France would rather cop the hit for not proceeding with it at all than have it drag down the union World Cup or the Olympics into the mire. While the myriad levels of French government are to blame for the demise of this specific tournament, rugby league as a whole, and its club and administrators in particular, are the root cause. Fortunately for them, each action to undermine the value of the international game is a metaphorical grain of sand, none individually are particularly important, but they all add up to a beachfront of shit.
Lest this turn into another tirade against the parochial and cowardly NRL, this does not bode well for either Luc Lacoste or Troy Grant. Lacoste became head of the FFR in December 2020 and Deputy Chair of the IRL last year. He began by saying the right things - that Elite 1 was going to be a streamed product, that the French national team will be competitive with the big nations and that France will host the World Cup. If anything, France has gone backwards on all three fronts. Elite 1 is barely on the regional network viaOccitanie anymore and I see no evidence of a league-wide platform, other than the occasional game on Facebook. Both national teams got flogged by England a few weeks ago, after being bounced from the World Cup with a lone victory over Greece for the men and five losses between the two teams. France is now no longer hosting the 2025 World Cup. Add to that Toulouse’s reversion to part time to make ends meet after a pointless season in Super League and domestic clubs winking in and out of existence and it’s a pretty grim picture for the future of jeu à XIII.
Troy Grant’s tenure hasn’t advanced the international game at all since becoming Chairman of the IRL over two years ago. While he spoke about being more collaborative and communicative with the clubs when he took over, the actual results haven’t borne any fruit. The 2021 World Cup was postponed due to the intransigence of the ARLC and the NZRL and no matter how much organisers tried to spin it, the tournament suffered for it (except wheelchair, which seems like a hit). We are still waiting for the long awaited international calendar that was going to set events into concrete for the next decade. Instead, national federations are just going to organise among themselves, because they can and there’s no other structure and the IRL has no power and the EA bargaining seems like a convenient cover for all of the above.
The second attempt at hosting the 2025 World Cup has fallen over - remember when it was going to be in the US? - about 30 months out from when the event should be held. It will likely be postponed to 2026 and will once again return to tepid responses in either England or Australia4, and the IRL will have no one to blame other than themselves and the French.
The sport is richer for having an international dimension but it cannot reconcile its vested interests for long enough to do anything with it, which is why idiots, both journalistic and administrative, are talking up Manly playing South Sydney in Vegas for five years, and not the Kangaroos or Kiwis or even Les Chanticleers and the Hawks.
The last Maroons to be selected from the Redcliffe Dolphins were forward Bryan “Horse” Niebling (FOG #34, 9 games) and rake Greg “Turtle” Conescu (FOG #21, 20 games) in 1987. Both played for Australia in the 80s, the former as part of the ‘86 Unbeatables and the latter as part of the ‘82 Invincibles. Both formed part of the early Broncos, after losing the 1987 Brisbane Rugby League final to Brothers.
That final was the last before the Broncos entered the Sydney comp in 1988 and forever changed rugby league in Queensland5. A crowd of 25,000 - a far cry from the 36,000 that attended Brothers’ last premiership win in 1968, or the 38,000 that saw Brothers lose in 19746 - turned up to Lang Park on a sunny day in late September to see the Redcliffe Dolphins (3rd, 11-5) play Past Brothers (1st, 13-3) for the last top flight BRL premiership.
It was Smokin’ Joe Kilroy’s premiership, a title he had been chasing for a decade. Kilroy was partnered on the opposite wing by a young Mark Coyne, a member of that ‘95 Maroons side and a 200 gamer for the Dragons. Brett Le Man, the Broncos’ first ever try scorer, was in the Brothers pack with Trevor Bailey (56 games for St George) and Tony Rea (120 games for North Sydney). Five-eighth Peter Gill, and fullback Clinton Mohr would both end up at St George and then make their way to the Gold Coast. Centre Robert Grogan might be better known for his time in Halifax and Rochdale than the 17 games he played for the 1990 Seagulls.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Dolphins had the aforementioned FOGS; Rohan Teevan, another early Bronco; Robin Thorne, who would play 83 games for the Dogs, Giants/Seagulls and a single game for the Reds; Dave Brown, an accomplished Dave Brown, but not that Dave Brown, with five caps for Australia and ten for Queensland; and captain Steve Bleakley, future coach of the Crushers and current Dolphins board member.
Redcliffe were coached by Darryl Van de Velde, a club stalwart and key figure in the creation of the Broncos. Brothers were coached by the immortal Ross Strudwick, probably more famous among people my age for vague memories of ads for Struddy’s Sports World7 than his exceptional footballing exploits in the 70s, which included scoring five of Valleys’ nine points to sink Brothers (2) in that same, tryless 1974 final. Time is a flat circle.
Brothers would win the 1987 final, 26-88. Only 8-0 at half time, the Fighting Irish’s outside backs, Mohr, Kilroy and Coyne, absolutely destroyed the Dolphins and their chances of competing for the grand prize.
In the end, Redcliffe would only win a single BRL premiership, at least while that competition mattered, in 1965. The Phins would have the last laugh, winning six Queensland Cup titles and then being granted a NRL licence for 2023.
Brisbane’s Past Brothers9, a far more historic and successful club than Redcliffe with nine premierships through their tenure of 1929 to 1987, left the Queensland Cup after 1998 due to long standing financial issues. The club was apparently $3 million in debt by the end of 198710 and Kilroy was paid one Harley Davidson motorcycle for his efforts that year.
Brothers would attempt a brief merger with Valleys in the early 2000s, only for that to fail. Valleys, the club with the equal most first class Australian rugby league premierships with South Sydney, and Brothers both disappeared into the dustbin of history. Brothers’ home ground of Corbett Park on Kedron Brook is now suburbia, although Valleys has been revived and plays at the nearby Emerson Park.
It’s sad that we lose clubs with the colour and history of the Brethren but such is the price of progress, a price that seems to only be paid by some and not necessarily those who deserve it.
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The commentators play along and it drives me nuts because they have to be seeing what I’m seeing, provided they are actually watching the game.
I hate that NSW separately branded the men’s and women’s teams. If you play for your state in this format, you’re a Maroon and you get paid accordingly. That’s the way it should be. It helps that Queensland just gets Origin.
For the record, both of Australia’s teams should be the Kangaroos and both of New Zealand’s teams should be the Kiwis but it’s apparently too late for that. Still, if the appeal of a RLWC is that both men’s and women’s tournaments are run side-by-side, then having uniform branding for rep teams should be a no-brainer. You know, like they did in the NRLW and QRLW.
Of which there were many, given the crowd was announced as a healthy (but nowhere near sellout) 28,325.
Qatar is a pretty stupid host for a RLWC, because it offers nothing other than money and venues on short notice, and comes with a huge amount of political baggage and interference that not even FIFA was able to deflect. It’s probably pretty telling that the current ideology of rugby league - especially in Australia, the only place in the world where LIV Golf seems to be popular - is somewhere within the Qatari Overton window of acceptable positions. Consequently, in the space of 24 hours, I’ve gone from “it will never happen” to “of course it would happen”. Wonder how DFAT would view this, given their involvement in pushing the Pasifika 18th team?
I would say for the better, others would disagree.
Featuring a young Wayne Bennett at fullback.
Which is still a going concern.
Redcliffe also lost the Winfield State League final to Wynnum, 36-14.
Important to distinguish from the other Brothers clubs around the state that are still very much with us today.
That was up a million on the start of the year, or about $8.2 million total in 2022 dollars, or about 40% of a Western Reds.