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THE WEEKLY: In the bin and staring pensively into space
Dolphins lose, Cowboys win and lose, Titans lose and win, Broncos win and win and the Tigers and Bears are through to the prelims
NRLM Round 26
DOLPHINS VS COWBOYS: It took less than 20 minutes for the Cowboys to win the game. The Dolphins were still scoreless when I turned it off in the second half. In what should have been a game for Redcliffe to cap off their first NRL campaign with a final derby win, they barely had the ball to open proceedings and were summarily dacked by the Cowboys in front of their home crowd. A 63% completion rate isn’t going to win many NRLM games against a compentent opposition.
North Queensland, importantly, keep their season alive. The Cowboys have to play the Panthers next week and the game theory of who is going to try in the last round of the season and who is going to rest ahead of finals is complicated. The Steel Greys have no choice but to try - a win and a Raiders loss would be enough - but whether the Panthers also try may depend on how the Broncos fare against the Storm on Thursday and whether there is anything left for Penrith to play for. The Cowboys could win even if the Panthers do try and the Panthers could win even if they don’t, but it clearly changes the percentages one way or the other.
TITANS: Like the Ipswich Jets, the Titans got to play background scenery for Papen-mania:
After that try, the crowd seemed to get into the game, raising the volume when the smallest lock forward in the history of the Melbourne Storm entered the field in the 62nd minute. It wasn’t so much that Paps looked a little lost on the front line in the middle of the field, but it was amusing to see him trying to work out where he needed to be in defence. After 405 days it was just nice to see Paps back on the field in Melbourne Storm colours.
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BRONCOS: “Everyone’s got a plan until you get hit in the face”. What Tyson didn’t note in his quote is what happens when the punch in the face is ineffectual.
If it’s news to you, and I was surprised to discover this last year when Canberra played exactly the same way at Suncorp in round 14, but the Raiders are the grubbiest team in the league. Their fans will try to gaslight you into believing that this represents passion or intensity or whatever, but its the tactics of a team short on talent, both on the pitch and in the box, and like all bullying mediocrities around the world, to get their way they rely on violence and daring authorities to stop them.
Corey Horsburgh’s performance was only the second most embarrassing thingon the field on Saturday, exceeded only by Adam Gee’s inability to rein him in and punish him for not one, not two but three shoulder charges. Ironically, the least offensive of these occurred in the 79th minute, after the game was lost and the Raiders had been rolled for more than 500 metres by the Broncos, but it was the one picked up after the game, triggering a well deserved three game suspension.
There is no conceivable way Horsburgh plays football again this year and were I a Raiders fan, I’d be pretty pissed off this is how an Origin representative and one of the mainstay players decided to conduct himself, considering his disciplinary record, with a finals spot still very much up for grabs. However, the meme player’s time on the field was well worth it when Ezra Mam, a real football player who can lawfully axe a dude, ran past Horsburgh’s too-late swinging arm to score right in front of him.
It reached the peak of comedy when the Red Pig decided to clumsily attempt to draw a penalty from Tom Flegler, also a real football player, for the crime of taking a hit up. The faux-hardman theatrically rolled around on the ground, without it ever being clear what injury he suffered as he stood up 15 seconds later and continued playing for another ten minutes.
There’s always plenty of excuses for the Raiders - I grant you it is hard to recruit to a dusty sheep station of an overpriced suburb with the weather of a pie half-thawed in the microwave, when there are also teams in real cities that don’t cause seasonal affective disorder and have access to the ocean - but never any actual addressing of these issues and consequently, no improvement:
Missed 2018 finals, finishing the season by picking fights with other teams
Lost 2019 grand final, 14-8
Lost 2020 preliminary final, 30-10 (down 18-0 after 15 minutes)
Missed 2021 finals while the 10-14 Titans went to play week 1
Lost 2022 week 2 final, 40-4
Will (probably) make 2023 finals with a points difference worse than -100
This is the most success Canberra has had in three decades. Three finals losses in five years and a grand total of 22 points scored against 84 conceded.
The Broncos rolled with the punches, and other than a brain snap from Kotoni Staggs, managed to resist the urge to get into the gutter. The ghosts of Broncos Past returned and we were treated to centres not making tackles and directly conceding tries, lazy/slow Kurt Capewell sans doing one good thing that is usually enough to keep him in the team and an offensive approach that showed absolutely no respect for the ball.
None of it mattered because even though the Broncos played poorly, the Raiders were more intent on violence than the game. All it took was the middle to bash down the door and then swing the ball right and the points came. Had Staggs or Farnworth made their assigned tackles or Staggs kicked anywhere near a NRL-level of accuracy, an 11-point win becomes 20-plus. It would have been richly deserved.
Refreshingly, Madden, Walters and Smoothy all played well enough. I’m not prepared to annoit them the second coming and I am definitely not walking back previous criticism but even I can see that not only are they playing better than their debuts (or in Walters’ case, entire career until about six weeks ago), I am no longer concerned about any part they might play in a premiership tilt.
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Moment of the Weekend
Wynnum’s Brendan O’Hagan has a field goal attempt charged down on the previous tackle. The recovery by Josh Stuckey set the Seagulls up in ideal position to go out the back to Josh Rodgers to put through a field goal that hit the scoreboard. The relief of the crowd was audible.
NRLW Round 6
COWBOYS: The way this newsletter works is that I develop a theme as I’m watching the game to be transcribed into digital ink at a later time. I watched the last third of the game first and then went back to watch the middle third.
The initial theme was outrage. The referees denied the Cowboys a final shot to win the game by following their inane definition of what constitutes an intent to strip. Then I went back and watched the two tries scored by the Eels either side of half time, which were absolute perfect kicks for Kimberley Hunt from Rachael Pearson. Sometimes, there’s just not a lot you can do about that. The Eels won and deservedly so.
Parramatta were very likely to win a game eventually and that it came against the second or third worst team in the competition (that somehow handed the Knights their only loss so far while copping two 40-12 floggings) is less surprising still. As finals disappear over the horizon of 2023 - the Cowboys would need to handsomely win out from here, and they still have to play the Roosters - the positive of this defeat is that North Queensland didn’t give up. They lost Shaniah Power for the year but the women on the field kept playing. That, at least, is something to build on for 2024.
TITANS: Another week, another Titans field goal to win golden point. When I read the news that Sienna Lofipo had been benchedand Lauren Brown was rotating into the halves, an experiment I thought we were done with, I mentally shifted what should have been a comfortable Titans win to doubtful. Were it not for Teagan Berry, it’s doubtful that the Dragons would have scored and certainly would not have made it a contest.
The halves are the key to this Titans team. The defence seems fine, provided the Titans aren’t picked apart by Tarryn Aiken or Tamika Upton or Teagan Berry, and there’s seemingly little anyone can do to stop that right now. Fuimaono as the main half, with Kiria-Ratu playing sidekick, accompanied by the kicking excellence of Lauren Brown at hooker and the NRLW’s most damaging ball runner at fullback in Evania Pelite, that’s a team that’s going to score points.
But with Fuimaono out and now a shifting sands approach to the 7 jersey and the disruption at dummy half, that’s a team that’s not going to score points or, at least, is going to rely more heavily on other parts of the team doing the heavy lifting. There will come a point, probably in the finals, where that won’t be enough.
BRONCOS: The current running joke is that the Raiders’ women’s team are playing the same, close score, heartattack-inducing style as the men’s. Less funny was Petesa Lio doing her best Corey Horsburgh impression by flattening a ball-less Romy Teitzel. And like the men’s team, the women’s Raiders got their asses handed to them by the Broncos.
The side looks immeasurably better with Julia Robinson occupying a wing. Perhaps all that was separating my grousing last week as the side was dismantled in 15 minutes by the Knights, from a relatively optimistic outlook this week was a bit of yardage on the start of sets and someone who can reliably finish. That more positively colours my observation that almost all of the Broncos top 24 is signed for next year as well, so we’re stuck with this for a while.
Clock management is an underappreciated aspect of the women’s game. Scoring a try can be artfully used to chew up three minutes of clock. Score tries in quick succession and ten minutes of a 70 minute game has evaporated. Without too much trouble, an insurmountable lead of 14 points can be built and the half the game gone simply by dilly-dallying with the conversion. The Blues got this very wrong in Origin II but I think a part of the sizeable gap in this game, and some of the more extensive margins in other games this season, is explained by a Vlandoball-esque approach to game management, as the frittering away of precious time and the consequent destruction of confidence only leads to more point scoring and more frittering. Or maybe the defence and resolve just isn’t that good in a semi-pro competition that just expanded by 66%.
Brigginshaw broke her nose towards the end of the game and will surely miss the next few weeks as that heals. The run of the Sharks, Tigers and Dragons is not especially challenging but the team needs its best troops if it is to turn 3-3 into 5-4 or 6-3 and make the final four. The Broncos could pay the price for a slow start.
Queensland Cup Finals week 1
MAGPIES VS TIGERS: Cory Paix, in the binand staring pensively into space, as Souths’ season went down the toilet, briefly regurgitated back up before being permanently swallowed by the porcelain was the perfect encapsulation of what it’s like to follow the Souths Logan Magpies. No one on the black and white side enjoyed their afternoon.
The Magpies actually led at half time and looked poised to continue in the second half. Whatever Matt Church said at half time (or Karmichael Hunt didn’t say) worked as the Tigers scored four tries in 15 minutes. Souths rallied, scored three of their own in 10 minutes, with two coinciding with Paix in the bin, whiplashing the game from an unfathomable abyss to an inch from victory with four to go. The Birds threw everything into those last few minutes and were one Jack Smith finish away from snatching the unlikeliest of wins.
Then the final thirty seconds of the game was insane.
BEARS VS CAPRAS: As predicted, this was a one-sided affair with Burleigh fully in control for 80 minutes. A narrow lead for the Bears steadily blew out in the second half to a comprehensive victory. Burleigh dominated the ball (54%) and field (a massive +604 metres) and despite handing out an additional five penalties, never looked troubled and after a week’s rest, may well have a fingertip on the Queensland Cup already.
DOLPHINS VS FALCONS: This was one of the weirdest games I’ve ever watched. The half time score was 34-6 and the final score was 42-36.
The Falcons (I knew I should’ve stuck with my tip) scored some of the most strangely soft tries you’ll ever see as the Dolphins’ defence took the first half off. Grant Anderson and Tyran Wishart both had field days. Then the game inverted at half time and Redcliffe started piling up points and injuring Sunshine Coast players - there was talk of playing with just 12 - and then it was close again. I didn’t know what was up or down, time had no meaning and if this was a final round game between two teams with no finals aspirations, and not an elimination final, I still don’t think that this game would have made much more sense.
The Dolphins are done for the year. What’s left of the Falcons, after they sort out who’s healthy and who’s going to fill in at the Storm, will travel to Rockhampton next week.
SEAGULLS VS PRIDE: This was meant to be the blowout. Wynnum should have cleaned up Northern and sent them home without breaking a sweat. Evidently, the Pride did not share that view. Those that tuned in were rewarded with a see-sawing arm wrestle, as each side struggled to break down the other. There were brief moments, slivers into which tries were inserted, but the battle was fought in the midfield. It took a second period of golden point to split the teams. A fantastic contest.
Wynnum Manly get to play Souths Logan, a team that they haven’t beaten since 2019, in Logan while the Northern Pride get the exit we expected but not what they necessarily deserved.
Putting the very racist tone of Rod Churchill’s text message aside, inserting the sentence “I hope you and family are well” between “He is a complete myth who has the aboriginal cause paramount and south sydney second, if at all” and “Nothing was done and now this cancer that is Mitchell has ruined the club” is chef’s kiss-level drunk boomer communication. Congratulations to Mr Churchill on ruining his family’s reputation more thoroughly than Puig Aubert.
NRL North Standings
With their comprehensive win over the Dolphins, the Cowboys claim their second divisional win, and have performed well enough out-of-conference to move above the Titans in the standings. There are no more Queensland derbies, so the Broncos win the NRL North divisional title, the first of what will surely be many, equally valuable accolades this year.
The Cowboys’ win also delivers them the Lineal Queensland Championship, a title they started the year with before losing to the Broncos and have now regained to finish 2023.
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Also embarrassing: Matt Frawley’s defence, Matt Frawley’s inability to deal with a kick-off (twice), Ricky Stuart swearing at a cameraperson for doing their job, Fox then apologising to Stuart for “getting in his space”, Stuart delaying the press conference for over an hour to have a big sook, Stuart blaming a blatant escort by Hudson Young for losing a game that they never actually looked like winning, Joe Tapine deciding to turn up to the game with ten seconds to go, Jarrod Croker making a brief cameo appearance in a game a serious football club would treat as must-win, whatever they did last time they tried to make a big deal out of Croker, Kurt Capewell.
If Gee had had a third successful captain’s challenge, I believe seppuku should have been on the cards.
It is not intent to strip if you wrap yourself around the ball and uniformly move the arm behind the tackled player such that they cannot physically hold on to the ball any longer over the course of three to five seconds of slo-mo replay, but it is if you get a hand in and make a jerking motion.
My anecdotal observations were that she was doing fine, maybe as well as Kiria-Ratu and certainly better with the boot, but sure, they’re paying more attention than I am.
Which, again, the main referee missed somehow. The referee also missed Tyson Cleal’s hit. Both were picked up by touchies. It wasn’t a great weekend for it.
A fact I did not realise until writing this. Thank you, children. Dissent? Lol, wouldn’t be the first time, huh? Huh, Kevvie? Huh?!
He also clearly injured his shoulder and none of his teammates came to check on him, which I thought was weird.