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THE WEEKLY: Let’s remember some… gals
Broncos win and lose, Titans win and lose, Cowboys lose and win, Dolphins bye, Ali Brigginshaw and some programming notes
NRLM Round 21
There’s a certain meatheadedness to this iteration of the Broncos. It would be unfair to say it starts at the top, although the genetic flow from the coach into the team itself is indisputable. Between this and the lack of clinicality, a facet of the game that has not improved as the season has progressed, it makes it hard to believe the Broncos really can do this. Sick back flips while sick demonstrates the Ponies’ obvious athleticism, Marty Taupau’s attempt at QWOP aside, and should the opponent be intent on dropping the ball approximately 40,000 times, then the inability to plan more than three tenths of a second into the future might not actually matter. This is a world in which logic, planning and taking one’s time to reason to a decision is not considered a viable strategy to winning at life. Relying on the opponent in any future top four clashes playing as poorly as South Sydney did in their home game on the Sunshine Coast is probably also not a viable strategy, and neither is relying on either Walters or Smoothy to have a passable game from dummy half each week from now until October, but this team has nothing if it doesn’t chance its hand.
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NRLM Round 21 (continued)
Gold Coast turned in a classic Titans performance. That is to say, you may as well have turned it off after 20 minutes and that is exactly what I did after Suaalii crossed for the third easy Roosters try. Were the Titans up by 30 at half time, the result might still have some jeopardy attached, and therefore hold some entertainment value, but the reverse does not hold. This is a team whose season is finished and are now awaiting the Hasler era. Their fans, such as they are, can see if the women's team can do a better job of representing the southernmost part of south-east Queensland.
Semi Valemei has been revelatory for the Cowboys. I have no love for Kyle Feldt, but even the most ardent supporter would recognise his time had come. For North Queensland to pick up a cast off from Canberra, of all places, and turn him into a world beater is quite the coup. As of last week, Valemei has rocketed into the top 20 NRL players by TPR. While it might be easy to catch the passes of the Shadow of Terrigal, one still has to be in the right place at the right pace to turn that into a try. In 80 minutes against the Eels, he scored a pair, ran for 99 metres, made four tackles (one ineffective) and defused one kick. That’s pure, uncut winger. This streak won't last forever but it's come at the perfect time for the Cowboys.
Moment of the Weekend
The Ali Brigginshaw chip and chase. Even in terrible losing sides, Brigginshaw is still out there competing.
Honourable mentions to Reece Walsh for this pass to Selwyn Cobbo and Jeremiah Nanai smashing Ryan Matterson. It’s the acceleration on the last one that does it for me.
NRLW Round 1
It's only the first game but this is proof, if any was necessary, that I shouldn't ever be optimistic about anyone. Naturally, if I'd been optimistic about the Titans, then the Cowboys would've won. There's probably something quantum at work - a maroon observer effect, if you will - although I did admit at least no one would have a good grasp of what's going on.
The Titans out-muscled the Cowboys and it turns out the pack was a problem after all. Were it not for a classic opening game case of the dropsies, it's not hard to imagine the Titans having won by more. Kirra Dibb's long kicking game kept North Queensland in touching distance, as did the occasional explosive play from Shaniah Power. Tahliah Fuimaono copped an ankle injury and young Kiria-Ratu struggled with kicking duties, a secondary aid to the Cowboys. Mia Middleton should consider herself lucky not to be sent off. There's plenty for both sides to work on but, with the hindsight of a sample size of one, I'd be inclined to swing a star from the Cowboys to the Titans.
Chelsea, buddy, I just called Reed Mahoney a bitch for doing exactly this.
I still laughed because fuck the Roosters and them buying the comp. Maybe we should just be glad she didn't slap the imaginary baby out of Corban Baxter's arms.
Speaking of things I regret writing in the preview, who gave Ash Werner a contract? I thought we were past giving novelty athletes - a bobsledder in this case - a shot. This isn’t the Perth 9s. Mele Hufanga lived up to the hype, as long as you watched her with the ball, but she was a pillar of salt on defence. The comparison to Valynce Te Whare is unfair because at least Te Whare tries to move. It’s one thing to bowl over Fetu Samoa while playing for the Kiwi Ferns but this is the big leagues. I tried to be nice about Hayley Maddick but barring the last fifteen seconds where she whacked Jess Sergis hard enough to prevent 40 being put on, Maddick managed to realise all of my fears without justifying any of the niceness. While not every team is going to be good as the Sydney ex-Broncos, it’s still going to be a long season with this roster.
A big part of this launch year of The Maroon Observer was trying a few formats of newsletter to see what was and wasn’t sustainable to produce regularly. We’re now three-quarters of the way into the season and it seems two to three newsletters a week is doable, especially now that I don’t brain dump on Twitter. Only a cowardly few have scurried for the unsubscribe button, suggesting that its not an overwhelming firehose of Queensland rugby league content.
What I have noticed is that, aside from the occasional feature length piece that is interesting and long enough to break containment from the subscriber list into what’s left of the wastelands of social media, The Weekly and Stats Drop are more popular than the Quick Wraps. Feature match reports where I physically attend the game tend to be a bit more variable, because they tend to be more interesting, but the gap between a standard QW and the other kinds of content is about 10-15% of clicks. It’s not huge but it is noticeable and suggests there’s less interest in a write-up about a random QRLW game for reasons that, as I write this, are now apparent to me and probably were to you.
The irony is that the Quick Wraps actually take more resources to produce - an hour and half to watch a game uninterrupted plus time to turn notes into words and GIFs and then trying to turn that around in a timeframe where it is relevant - whereas I can do other formats piecemeal around my day1. That kind of breakdown analysis is also not my strong suit, although I at least proved to myself that I can do it, but Rugby League Writers do it better.
The other issue I’ve noticed is that by the time Monday rolls around, the kind of news that runs third or fourth in The Weekly is stale, having been at least a weekend or more removed from when it broke.
All of which is a long-winded explanation as to why there will be some changes to your regular programming for the rest of this season. You’ll basically be getting two versions of The Weekly, weekly. On Monday, you’ll get more of a footy flavour, talking about stuff that happened on the weekend to the Queensland NRLM and NRLW sides and in the statewide comps, possibly with a few graphical elements of the Quick Wrap carrying across. On Friday, you’ll get a more news analysis flavour of what happened during the week and a bit of preview for the weekend ahead. There will be a fair bit of overlap between the two. Both will have Notes and GIFs, and I’ll just put the padders (Rewind, A Half-Baked Theory, Not Queensland, etc) in as required. If there’s time, Stats Drop or a feature will come mid-week.
I haven’t decided on names yet, but if you notice a change, that’s why. Please pay attention because there will be a test (reader survey) in the off season.
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It’s funny watching Manly meltdown over a) Anthony Seibold being head coach and, surprise surprise, it’s not going great and b) Isaac Moses’ invasive species of plodder infesting the roster. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice and I need to see a doctor for the massive brain injury I’ve clearly suffered.
It’s been a leaner few years for the non-Sydney conference but they’re on track for four or five non-Sydney teams in the top eight. The last time the non-Sydney conference outnumbered Sydney was in 2016.
People will complain about the NRLM and NRLW running simultaneously but for sickos like me, split screening games is like crack. If we could get Kayo to carry all QCup, I'd never have to endure a lull in action ever again. Then again, why does Kayo bury the NRLW? I shouldn’t have to navigate to it any differently to the NRLM.
The Australian government is throwing $5 million at PNG for rugby league pathways that will definitely make a long term difference. Apparently, this puts some pressure on the NRL to greenlight the Cairns Pasifika Bears.
Darryn Schonig, currently of the Western Clydesdales and Canterbury Bulldogs, and formerly of the Melbourne Storm, has signed for Limoux in France. Le gros gazole will join le gardien du temple, Pat Templeman. I sense a trend.
Two Hall of Fame inductions last week: journalist and historian Ian Heads and South Sydney administrator George Piggins. Seemed to be very little ceremony around it. Did good players stopping retiring or something? Cooper Cronk should be up next year or the year after.
Forgot to include this last week: Players staying silent and a game in ‘shambles’: Inside rugby league’s brutal pay war. Headline aside, not a reasonable summation.
Not Queensland and, sadly, Dean Ritchie but somehow, not bad: the violence of the 1973 Sydney grand final.
With the QCup on a bye week and the return of the NRLW, let’s remember some… gals.
I made the point in the NRLW season preview2 that a substantial portion of the roster chaos is simply that the younger players coming through are better, all other things being equal, than their forebears and clubs are clearing space for them.
Going back and watching the highlights of the first women’s NRL grand final make it abundantly clear just how far the women’s game has come.
The 2018 Broncos won all three regular season games and the grand final at a trot. Brisbane beat St George Illawarra by 263, Sydney by 10, New Zealand by 22 and then Sydney again in the grand final by 22. They were miles ahead of their competition and these were the best players in the women’s game. Many of them, less than five years on, have left the NRLW.
Some have left because they were veterans and their time had come. Heather Ballinger retired in 2020 and moved to Winton, where she is now a coach and sometime match official in the Central West. Rona Peters is still playing football but for the Tweed Heads Seagulls in the BMD. Peters played two games for the Titans in 2022, after missing 2021*, but doesn’t have an elite contract for 2023.
Some seem to have been victims of covid, the NRL’s spinelessness and miserliness, especially the refusal to play the 2021 season as planned. Maitua Feterika and Amber Pilley were two players that I had completely forgotten about but I thought were shit hot in 2018. Pilley’s leg exploded (only a slightly exaggeration) in early 2020. It’s not difficult to imagine with no contract security and a raging pandemic that the thought of doing physio to not only put the leg back together but get back to an elite level may have been too much. Feterika was one of a number of New Zealand players who were stuck in Australia after the NRL delayed the season start. The Warriors left the competition, Feterika played a couple of games for the Knights and then never came back. Why waste your time on this lot? Be to be a teacher. It’s small, less obvious, examples like this where the NRL has really let the women's game down.
But some are in between. I have to mentally upgrade my opinion of Chelsea Baker, who clearly had better speed and footwork than I remember. Baker played for the inaugural Capras team in the QRLW before retiring in 2021, scoring a hattrick in her final game, a 56-6 victory. Baker then got into coaching (her husband’s reggies team in Gladstone). The corollary of that is that I might have to downgrade my memories of Amelia Kuk, the first female PNG player in the league, who is now a clinical nurse. Kuk was one of the protagonists of the excellent Power Meri, a documentary following the 2017 Orchids at the World Cup. Kuk played through 2020, first in the QRLW and then the Holcim Cup after the QRLW was cancelled, for Souths Logan and had her first child in March 2021. Meg Ward officially retired in 2022, although I think her body had given up on her prior to that4. She now seems to be on the sideline of literally every women’s game I watch, either in a trainer, coach, broadcast or administrative capacity.
Brittany Breayley, now Brittany Breayley-Nati5, Steph Hancock (Titans), Ali Brigginshaw, Chelsea Lenarduzzi and Julia Robinson (Broncos) are all still in the NRLW. For the Roosters, Tazmin Gray (Broncos), Brydie Parker and Isabelle Kelly (Roosters), Nita Maynard (Knights), Zehara Temara and Simaima Taufa (Raiders) are in the league too.
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Generally while procrastinating at work and then the finishing touches usually applied between 7pm and 9pm after my responsibilities for the day have been discharged.
Which, speaking of what’s been clicked on, disgustingly few of you read. Tough luck because women’s football deserves to be written about whether you care to read it or not.
That stood as the record margin of victory until the Dragons beat the Knights by 36 in 2021*.
I vaguely remember her suffering a bad leg injury and just never coming back but it’s been a hectic few years and that could be very wrong.
Kimiora Nati and Brittany Breayley were not even the only couple on the pitch with the Roosters fielding Karina Brown (now in her third year with the Titans) and Vanessa Foliaki (on a two year deal with the Sharks).