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THE WEEKLY: Scott Drinkwater was the man with the tap hammer
Just footy (and some Ben Hunt): Dolphins lose, Broncos lose, Titans win, Cowboys win, the Burleigh Bears mascot, Brayden McGrady and Queensland Cup
Round 17 - Saturday
The Dolphins played one (1) good half of football against the Eels, running out quasi-victors 16-6 after the second half. Unfortunately, the nature of rugby league is such that two halves are played. In fact, this is so widely believed that it's the premise of a common saying (“it was a game of two halves”). In that first half, the Eels ran up a score of 42-4. Therefore, doing some quick maths, the final score was 48-20 in Parramatta's favour.
The Eels scored a series of long range tries in the first 40, breaking the line at will. Andrew Voss speculated on whether Parramatta would break 60 or 70 if the ravaging pace was maintained, albeit while praising the offence for their ability to move around a team defending like they were collectively suffering from a series of exotic and horrible illnesses that directly attack the central nervous system and motor function.
The Eels targetted Kodi Nikorima, as if the NRL has now remembered that the path to victory against his teams runs precisely over his solar plexus. The Eels steered clear of the moderately competent Jamayne Isaako, preferring to exploit shortcomings elsewhere in the backline, specifically Valynce Te Whare, Brayden McGrady and Euan Aitken. It's no secret that the Dolphins are short of troops and while I'm obviously a big QCup guy, this is starting to get dire. Felise Kaufusi looked arthritic on his return from a long layoff, and there are harder camemberts out there than what the other forwards offered. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow was probably still hungover from Wednesday but considering his efforts, he's allowed a pass.
This seemed like an ideal game in which Bennett would sprinkle some more magic and stage an upset on the Dolphins' return to Queensland soil. Given the second half, it seems there's only so much he can do with the hand that's been dealt. While Redcliffe are playing with house money in their inaugural season, it looks like the campaign could end on a sour note, with a string of big losses through the rest of winter, if they don't get right soon.
The Dolphins will return next week in Vendetta on Vulture, playing the Broncos at the Gabba on Saturday.
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Moment of the Weekend
Sami Sauiluma being the nice boy here and checking on the mascot.
Honorable mention to Brayden McGrady scoring on NRL debut after, it cannot be stressed enough, breaking his arm scoring the match winning try in the 2022 Queensland Cup grand final for Norths.
Round 17 - Sunday
The North Queensland faithful have every right to ask a simple question: where the hell has this been? It is entirely reasonable to assume that Souths perhaps did not put their best foot forward on this day but on the other hand, I saw Scott Drinkwater making a try saving cover tackle with his own body, so who knows what is real and what is not?
While most of the opening half was a grind, with neither team applying consistent pressure in the kind of structured way that would suggest that points were all that far off, the half ended with the pleasingly unusual score of 5-0.
The Cowboys cracked the Rabbitohs’ defence shortly after the break and then repeatedly tapped various flaws only to see them fracture and yield points. Scott Drinkwater was the man with the tap hammer, his fingerprints all over each of the Cowboys’ second half tries.
There have been plenty of false dawns already in this Cowboys season. This could be yet another but while North Queensland have performed well below pre-season expectations, they’re now 8-8 with two byes up their sleeve. While a negative points difference does not bode particularly well, if Payten has just about got this team on track, then a finals appearance is still, somehow, not out of the question.
While we’re considering the immediate future of the non-Broncos Queensland franchises, the Titans’ last two performances suggest that they, too, could still make the finals. Like the Cowboys, they’re batting .500 (7-7) with a negative points difference but with no byes left. Once you’ve knocked off a full strength version of the team atop the ladder, the remaining schedule looks a lot more winnable than it did before the weekend.
I don’t know if 12 wins (and 11 seems more likely) with a negative difference gets into the finals this year so unless Lenihan works a miracle of potential achievement, I’d still expect the Titans to miss out. We will see what the next round of projections in Stats Drop bring.
More news from last week in a one-off Early Edition
Although I kind of like the format of dropping news on Friday, footy on Monday and stats/miscellaneous mid-week.
If you have a preference, send it in to Feedback Department, The Maroon Observer, Locked Bag 3206, in your capital city with a self-addressed stamped envelope.
More Ben Hunt
Current rumour seems to be Broncos for this year, Titans from then on. Neither the Dolphins nor the Cowboys seems to be in the Ben Hunt hunt. The clubs are trying to package a deal to prise him out St George Illawarra, so Hunt could stop over in Brisbane to win a premiership, achieve some much needed professional satisfaction and exorcise some demons (or drop the ball in another golden point grand final), before moving on to his forever home. I'll really only believe any of this is happening when the club statements come out, which will probably be 10 minutes after posting.
The Dragons’ refusal to release Hunt is entirely expected and is in no way an reflective of the likelihood of a future release. If you had a business valued at about a million dollars that was still operating and generating revenue, you wouldn’t give that away for free, even if you were no longer capable of operating that business. In the Dragons’ case, they’re better off letting it go to waste than making their rivals stronger for no gain to themselves. That there was anyone who expected the Dragons to not even do this bare minimum probably says more about some elements of the NRL fanbase.
It will come down to what the Titans, and maybe the Broncos, are willing to give up to get him. While the NRL does not have a trade framework like European soccer or American sports, a comparable effect can be achieved with considerably more risk that someone goes rogue and ruins the whole thing because you simply cannot trade player contracts like cattle. After all, this is Australia and rugby league, where there is still a semblance of labour rights.
It’s in the best interests of the Dragons, and perhaps the Broncos, that a deal is done as quickly as possible, especially with a looming deadline. The Titans can afford to wait if Hunt is not getting to Robina until 2024, which weakens the Dragons’ position given the Tans are willing to pay a higher price. There’s a fine line between expediency in concluding the deal and getting value for money.
The Titans do not have serious premiership aspirations in 2023 but Hunt could put them in the running for 2024. Gold Coast have a skewed roster and they could conceivably hand over a decent middle (like Liu), a promising young fullback (like Kini or Campbell), a depth hooker (like Randall or Verrills), a depth outside back (like Maumalo), the mild competency of Tanah Boyd, the remains of Kieran Foran, the promise of Toby Sexton or a combination of, to get Ben Hunt in return.
It would depend on what the Dragons see as their needs. They seem to be happy with the future potential of their halves and fullback and the existing returns from some of their backs, and it’s the rest of the team that needs work to make them competitive again. None of those suggested pieces are essential to the Titans’ premiership aspirations over the next couple of years, but Robina are not going to mortgage the farm and give up Fifita or Fa'asuamaleaui or Fotuaika or Brimson. That would be, at best, a like-for-like swap of production, instead of the win-win needed to get the deal across the line.
The fact that the Titans can be patient means the Dragons have to carry around this potential embarrassment until terms can be agreed. If the Dragons can exercise some patience themselves, they’re a chance of gaining some pieces to solve some problems but then, if Dragons management could do this, then they probably wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.
The Broncos really only want Hunt for the next three months, presumably as an upgrade on the overly mid combo of Walters and Smoothy, to get a premiership. He would have no place in the team long term unless Hunt has a change of heart about his position at club level. Brisbane don’t really need him to compete but Hunt moves them into pole position. If the Broncos do land Hunt and don’t win the premiership, that will be seen as a failure for this playing group and the coaching staff. Hard questions will be asked and I don’t know what the answers will be. All of which factors into the calculus that lowers Hunt’s value to the Broncos. Perhaps a Tyson Smoothy or Cory Paix heads to Kogarah but the Dragons are not getting Blake Mozer or Payne Haas or anyone of real value to the Broncos because they’re needed to win the title, if not this year then soon.
The negotiations will continue until the right combination of talent is stacked up on the side of the Queensland clubs, the releases will be granted, the new contracts signed and the club statements will be issued. Ben Hunt will then be a Bronco or Titan.
Also, according to Code, “The NRL has asked three Queensland clubs for details of any negotiations with Ben Hunt after the Dragons captain shocked the league by requesting a release from his contract.” Oh so the Sydney comp wants to investigate Queensland clubs for trying to repatriate some local talent. Is that a crime, is it?
I'll just wait here while we investigate the transfer fees never paid while Sydney clubs siphoned off the best from Queensland with their filthy, filthy lucre. Then I'll also wait for the subsequent investigation opened into Pangai going to the Panthers, Boyd to the Titans, Walsh to the Warriors, Oloapu to the Bulldogs, Dearden to the Cowboys, Nikorima to Souths, among a thousand other similar transactions. After being the Broncos have been pillaged the last few years and the Titans were a dumping ground for Penrith's least wanted, that either or both clubs might benefit from this transaction will inevitably be what gets rules changed. Typical.
Either you accept mid-season transfers or you don't. If you only accept them when it doesn't matter, who decides when it matters? Is your imaginary line even legal to implement? What will the RLPA say? You don't know those answers because you didn't think your position through.
If you only accept them at the instigation of management, then that's just bad praxis, comrade.
If you only reject them when they make a rival stronger, then that means you agree with St George Illawarra management. They also made Jack de Belin captain and wrote a character reference for Brett Finch but if that's the philosophical company you want to keep, so be it.
Kruise Leeming, one of Holbrook’s emergency signings from Super League earlier in the year, will be returning to England at the end of the year. Leeming (6 appearances for 144 minutes) and Thomas Mikaele (1 appearance for 12 minutes) were unusual signings and I think the timing and subsequent lack of utilisation undermine the narrative of confidence Holbrook has tried to project onto his time at the club.
Jaimin Joliffe, Chris Randall and Sam Verills are all extending to 2026 with the Titans. Earlier this year, Campbell, Khan-Pereira, Fifita, Fa'asuamaleaui, Brimson, Kini and Fermor all extended to 2026. One-third of their top 30, on a team that is currently 7-7, is locked for another three seasons. That’s really weird. What happens in 2026? Do they just run out of money then? Do the Frizelles reveal themselves as international cocaine smugglers in ’26 and have the licence stripped from the Gold Coast? Is there another one of those Mayan calendar things? No one can say.
Per my advice, both Xavier Willison and Jock Madden have been re-assigned from Norths to Wynnum. That’s two handy additions for a side that is already in the top four with a 10-4 record and the best points difference in the competition. I haven’t given the Seagulls much thought but the premiership contender slot I had pegged for the Falcons should probably re-assigned to Kougari.
I missed the Madden 23 back in April but Jack and the Central Queensland Capras defeated Jock and the Norths Devils, 34-0. Unfortunately, no rematch is currently scheduled.
Code keeps trying to push a line that the NRL has confirmed women's Origin will be expanded to a three game series… in 2025. This is not news. This is what was suggested when the two game series was announced. The point is that it should never have been two games and could and should be three next year. If you're worried a dead rubber won't sell, then you've got to make the product better. An easy way to do that would be to have Origin mid-NRLW season. Related: how those who have run the game have let women down with half-assing Origin and pathways
Apparently the (Newtown) Jets are bidding with Perth to be NRL18, although very little seems to be concrete at this stage. Newtown have only obliquely acknowledged the news in one tweet.
NRL North Standings
The Titans regain the Lineal Queensland Championship, having last lost it to the Broncos at the start of 2021, who themselves only took the title from the Cowboys in their meeting earlier this year. Gold Coast have held the title by far the least of the non-Dolphins clubs.
Note: Norths are now listed as unaffiliated, just to help the unaffiliates’ cause a little, although maybe that should mean the Cutters, Pride and Hunters are unaffiliated as well, but I think this works best if you just don’t think too hard about it.
Devils stun competition leaders in Ahearn’s 100th and Norths defeated Souths Logan, 40-6. Easts win the Battle of the Jacks Brothers with a second half comeback and Easts defeated Ipswich, 46-24. While Tweed fought their way back into the match following a slow start, the extra work required in defence early in the match caught up by the end and Burleigh defeated Tweed, 36-22. Lots of cool Morea GIFs as PNG picked up only their second away win of the season, defeating Sunshine Coast, 34-10. A huge crowd flocked to BMD Kougari Oval yesterday afternoon to witness one of the best rivalries the Queensland Rugby League competitions, as Wynnum fell behind Redcliffe early, clawed back to parity at half time, fell behind again and then came home strong to win 28-26. The Cutters took an early lead but weren’t strong enough to keep the Capras at bay, going down 30-22.
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