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THE WEEKLY: The Gold Coast is a land of constrasts
Titans lose, Rashaun Denny, Heilum Luki and Cowboys win, Broncos lose, BMD Premiership final, Gold Coast's recruiting strategy, the Queensland Cup draft and I left Twitter
The Gold Coast is a land of constrasts
To borrow a cliche, the Gold Coast is a land of constrasts. The Gold Coast is Australia’s sixth largest city by population, smaller than the five mainland state capitals but larger than the national capital. It still votes as blue as Wentworth and Higgins used to. The Coast is painted as a place for transience, somewhere to go and leave but never to live, but is as defined by the boundless stretches of suburbia that straddle the M1, home to hundreds of thousands of very real people, as the glittering high rises perched precariously on golden shifting sands or the theme parks in the hinterland. Despite a significant place in mainstream Australian culture, if that’s what we want to call Schoolies, it has never really produced its own culture, that being the preserve of real cities, although that is changing, if that’s what you want to call Balter. It has hospitals and universities and world class sporting facilities, just like anywhere else in this country.
A comparison to Las Vegas is apt: a place known for its bright lights and vices but whose real stories are in the invisible working and middle class people whose job it is to keep those bright lights on and those vices flowing. They’re both pretty sandy as well.
In the current too big to fail financial environment that does not allow clubs to be anything but profitable, the NRL would probably love for the Titans to be a success on the pitch as well. It’s the second city of the State of Queensland, the home of the Maroons and the heartland of rugby league. But they just cannot seem to make it stick.
On paper, this is not a bad squad. It’s a little piecemeal in its construction, and I’d say it lacks a consistent sort of identity as to who they are and how they are meant to play, but the individual components are fine, even if I would replace the coach. But they just cannot make it stick.
With a little over thirty minutes to play on Sunday afternoon, the Titans led the Knights by 18-12. If you’ve paid even the most cursory attention to this ball club over the last few years, you know that six points was never, ever going to be enough. Because they just cannot make it stick.
In many ways, the Titans are the team that the Gold Coast deserves, even if the Burleigh Bears are the team that the Gold Coast wants. The Gold Coast and the Gold Coast rugby league football club are an incoherent mishmash that look like one thing, are actually another, flimsy and ephmeral, and should be more glamorous and successful than is the reality.
If nothing else, get David Fifita running and get him the damn ball.
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Moment of the Weekend
Newcomers to the Queensland Cup, Toowoomba’s own Western Clydesdales, came incredibly close to winning their first Cup game against a team other than Ipswich on Saturday. The Horses led 12-0 very early in the game but ultimately succumbed to the Northern Pride of Cairns, 32-30.
In this try shortly after half time, Evan Child throws a huge pass in broken play to Dantoray Lui whose grubber is almost cleaned up by the defence but an error allows Rashaun Denny to score.
Honourable mention to Heilum Luki. The second he got the ball, I knew there was a try in that play. One little shift of his weight to his right and it was all over.
Are the Cowboys back? It’s inconclusive but boy they had a great time for that ten minutes.
One simply cannot ride a man like a horsey against his will
I thought I might do a Quick Wrap of the Broncos-Storm game if the Broncos won. As it was, by full time and irrespective of the actual result, I had no idea of how to even begin thinking about writing about that match and hadn’t really taken any notes out of sheer bafflement.
For the Broncos, teams don’t go through seasons undefeated. The last Australian clubs sides to go undefeated were Valleys in 1955 (18-0) and St George in 1959 (17-0-1).1 The Panthers’ recent dominance is an aberration, not the rule, and even they lost the occassional game. Under normal circumstances, even very good teams might lose one in four to one in three of their outings. After next week’s game against Penrith, the Broncos will come out either 9-3 or 8-4 at the halfway mark of their season.
The loss is frustrating. The Broncos didn’t play especially well, although the game was there for them to win if they could get hold of the ball and put a few more sets together, but they didn’t. Putting aside Adam Reynolds’ absence2, the natural waning of the hot form with which Brisbane started the season and the bizarre decision to leave Cory Paix off until the last ten minutes while down eight, if there’s any cause for concern3, it’s the capacity of the younger guys - Walsh, Cobbo, Mam (less so in this game specifically, but other matches) and, yes, Paix throwing a wild pass for the game-sealing try - to make mistakes under unfavourable, high pressure conditions. The night wasn’t at the standard of finals football but the hoodoo, the atmosphere and the crowd were leaning that way.
Farnsworth’s try didn’t seem like the kind of interference for which the NRL normally awards tries, even though he was undoubtedly interfered with in a clear try scoring position. Moreover, I maintain that one simply cannot ride a man like a horsey against his will and that should be a send off for Harry Grant.4
Hughes running in to be third man in a fracas seems like the kind of thing that the NRL would normally bin someone for, as possibly was Walsh’s shoulder charge on Olam and ditto Farnworth’s dipshittery late in the first half, or maybe they would all be penalties normally. Carrigan didn’t drop his hips so much as slip down, and therefore didn’t deserve a bin, a view the Judiciary agreed with even if the Bunker did not, but the NRL still clearly has no idea what to do there. It was extremely confusing as to which unwritten ruleset was in play.
That some of these refereeing decisions led directly to points (or the denial of) should be cause for some sort of reflection by the powers that be but because this is two teams no one cares about in Sydney, those people will be distracted by the shininess of the next thing to happen, like the Roosters getting flogged. It’ll be touched on in Annesley’s briefing on Monday, which few will watch and even fewer will care about the details.
Mostly, Broncos fans are sick of losing to the Storm. It’s been within reach to end the streak and ripped away more than a few times, compounded by receiving some absolute drubbings. That’s sport for you.
Burleigh Bears win the 2023 BMD Premiership
It was a simple question of class. While styles make fights and Wynnum-Manly's style was evidently the kryptonite of the Songbirds of Souths Logan in the semi-final, they didn't have the surplus of class across the pitch that Burleigh managed to assemble. After capping the Cutters the week before, the Bears were victorious on Saturday, 24-10, winning the 2023 BMD Premiership.
The margin stood at only two points at half time but it was not a particularly convincing argument for the closeness of the teams, given that Burleigh were denied a buzzer beater try that would have put them up by at least six, a huge margin at this level and intensity with only 35 minutes to play and against that defence. It would be as close as the Seagulls got to the Bears, who had played valiantly but Chipthieves failed to land a glove, or feather, in the second half and the Ursines blew the game open.
Zahara Temara, playing in #16 as if she didn’t decide to play the match until the day before, was a class above and appeared when she needed to. Her sister and fellow Canberra Raider, Chante, found the right big body at the right times. The Bears forwards had a field day, scoring three of the four tries, including the match winning pair, both scored untouched in the middle of the pitch by Broncos stalwart Chelsea Lenarduzzi.
It was a good afternoon if you like your second rowers. Tazmin Grey (Broncos), Rilee Jorgensen and Shaylee Bent (both Titans) were all critical to their sides but Shaniah Power (Cowboys) was the real standout on the eye test.
Julia Robinson (Broncos) spent time on the sidelines. Emily Bass (Titans) tried her best but it was beyond one player to swing the trajectory of the match. The Gulls bench dummy half, Emma Barnes, looked sharp. All I could find about her online is that she’s managed by Mat Rogers, played halfback for Beenleigh State High and is in her second season with the club. Maybe one to file away for later.
Burleigh have now won two of the three QRLW premierships, breaking a drought that stretches all the way back to 2021. This was the largest margin of the three finals. Only Lenarduzzi, Gray and the sisters Temara played in both of Burleigh’s grand final victories, which I think speaks to their respective abilities and the brutally rapid turnover of talent in the women's game at both ends of the spectrum: Upton stolen away by Newcastle or Faifua moving on up to North Queensland, and the never-weres that only two years later are not good enough for this Burleigh side anymore. We’ll see how many survive to 2025.
It’s back to square one for Wynnum-Manly after back-to-back finals appearances in ‘22 and ‘23. In both cases, they were dark horses for the premiership out of the final four. Who can possibly foresee what next year will bring?
Jayden Campbell extends to 2026. He joins Khan-Pereira, Fifita, Fa'asuamaleaui, Brimson, Kini and Fermor as medium-term Titans to ‘26. I, for one, can’t see how all of their future stars’ contracts coming up for renewal at the same time is going to bite the Gold Coast in the ass. Perfect roster management. No notes.
The question is do Titans management see this group as the core of a premiership winning roster over the next three years? The same Titans that made emergency signings from Super League this year. The same Titans that have coughed up a record number of big leads in the last two years. The same Titans that don’t really have a long term plan in the halves: Foran’s not going to last forever, Boyd is probably better suited to a first drop role and Brimson should be a fullback, except the Titans have Kini and Campbell on the same tenure and I think both of those are preferable options, or maybe centre. But if they win the big one, none of that matters.
Looking at the year-to-date production, the Toons have got a good pack (and stitched up its two most important components for the long term), a decent bench and I think the back five will come along in time, but the playmaking platoon is still one of the least productive in the league. While you can carry playmakers with average output, as the Broncos are doing, doing it with a group that’s only just been shading their counterparts at the Knights and Bulldogs is an uphill battle to say the least.
If the Titans get their pathways humming - and there’s no reason they can’t do that, irrespective of my views on how they do it - there could be a bunch of 18 year old Keebra Park and Palm Beach Currumbin alumni coming over the hill before 2026 that could patch the holes in the roster. It’s a gamble because they might not ever eventuate.
Still, stranger things have happened than the Titans getting something right. The Gold Coast must get cracking if they’re going to make good on their wall before it gets painted over out of embarassment.
Scottish international Lachlan Coote is retiring at the end of the year. Despite being a Blue, Coote won a premiership with the Cowboys in 2015, a couple more with St Helens in England and is rounding out his career with a good stint at Hull KR. He has played 166 NRL games and will go close to 100 Super League games by the end of the yer.
Make sure if you’re from out of Queensland, and you get sent a link from the NRL to complete a post-Magic Round survey, that you do it because I assume the non-Queensland team with the fewest responses doesn’t come back next year.
The Cowboys finally unveil a slew of NRLW signings, including Tallisha Harden, Jetaya Faifua, Bree Chester, Makenzie Weale, Mia Middleton, China Polata and April Ngatupuna. Harden is obviously the biggest name but the latter two have stood out to me in the QRLW, so I’ll chalk those up as good signings even I’m personally very disappointed Nagtupuna didn’t sign for the Broncos. Faifua has been playing for Tweed the last two seasons and is 0-10, having missed the one game they’ve won in that time. She was 5-0 at Burleigh in 2021, so there’s some real extremes of the rugby league experience there.
The Titans have re-signed Georgia Hale to complete their top 24 for the NRLW season. It’s really hard to judge the relative merits of each of the NRLW rosters, as there’s been so much turnover, so many new and returning faces, and each side has strengths and weaknesses, which is what you’d want. I’m going to try and resist the urge to put the rosters into tiers from “seems good” to “probably meh” but will inevitably fail.
Cowboys signs former Raider and Fijian international, Semi Valemei
A non-exhaustive list of people who should stop talking: Hamish McLennan. It’s embarrassing you’re trying to be a union PVL-lite and you can’t even do that properly.
Roy Masters stated in his most recent column, “NRL club CEOs were told at a recent meeting that the decision on an 18th team will be made in 12 months’ time, with the new club entering the competition in 2027/28.” This was in between claiming Te Whare’s debut is evidence that the Warriors should have their pathways paid for by the ARLC, even though the Dolphins did the work and minted a first grader at the cost of a year and a half in Cup, which literally anyone could do, and wondering why there isn’t a second NZ team in the mix.
This, however, explains the WA government looking at funding a franchise, North Sydney Bears’ ongoing persistence with consultants and Nick Livermore popping his head out last week to warn the NRL are at risk of losing western Brisbane to AFL because the Lions built an AFLW ground/training complex at Springfield5, and position the Jets as underdogs. I don't think that SEQ 4 is the best choice for the long term future of the NRL but it will undoubtedly be the easiest to just pick the Firehawks and tell them to move west, unless the NRL can convince the Bears to go to Perth or Christchurch or Cairns, sign a bunch of Polynesians and Melanesians and convince themselves its going to add at least $20 million per year to the TV deal. Anything else is going to require financial investment, which V'Landys and co are reluctant to do unless it's buying a hotel as a favour to a politically connected family in Brisbane.
Alternatively, the NRL could follow the Blue Wiggle’s dream of him buying the Wests Tigers (or forcibly selling it to him), de-merging the operation and (respectfully) telling the Magpies to piss off to Perth while he tries to CPR the Balmain Tigers back into the NRL, slowly, or probably quickly, flushing all of the money made from selling The Wiggles and/or winning the Italian lottery into the players’ coke habits and NFT pyramid schemes. Sure, why not? Is it that much stupider than any other idea floating around at the moment? It’s all tribalism.
A Half Baked Theory
That the Cowboys and Titans got a story in the Courier Mail that they were applying for standalone Cup teams next year in the same weekend as Ben Ikin was confirmed as the new QRL CEO is suggestive of a brewing civil war. Both North Queensland and Gold Coast have suggested - anonymously - that they will leave Queensland Cup for NSW Cup.
I say let them go. We’ll manage with the Queensland Cup Draft instead.
Here’s my pitch: pool the NRL money, pool the players and let the QRL clubs choose their affiliations from the top 30 of the Dolphins, Broncos and Storm in a draft. 90 players divied up 15 ways makes for six rounds and the perfect TV summer event to be held somewhere outdoors in the early evening where I can drink a lot of alcohol - I’m thinking the amphitheatre at Roma Street Parklands - in a throwback Magpies jersey while watching a bunch of men in club polos hand their selections on napkins to Ben Ikin. Keep the picks up at a decent clip and it would shit all over the Dally Ms.
Even though Cameron Munster and Harry Grant are probably contractually barred from actually appearing in Cup, the sales of Munster #6 and Grant #9 Central Queensland jerseys could fund the Capras’ entire operation for the next year, or at least pay for the women’s team to have an alternate strip.
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.
If you're scratching around for something to watch, I can recommend Leeds, coached by former Devils coach Rohan Smith, versus Wigan from the weekend. They'll be talking about that one for a while.
In case anyone noticed that I’m not on Twitter anymore and wanted to know why
I'm not dead and I didn't get banned but I have had enough. I was on my way out as Twitter has been decreasingly useful and increasingly annoying, even before the Musk takeover. While the site's slow crash into outright malfunction has had some of the intrigue of an incipient car crash, finding out Twitter has become the go-to exchange for animal torture videos because Musk stripped out the infrastructure that had previously kept a lid on that grade of content was the last straw6. Their indifference and stupidity means all they can do is turn off autocomplete on searches instead of doing a minimum level of moderation to prevent the propagation of content I rate just above snuff films and CSAM for how quickly it should put you on a watch list. As unimpactful and meaningless an action as it may be, I am out.
While I work out how to get my news without having to scroll the Courier Mail sports section everyday and until I turn on the subscriber chat, which is not an appealing prospect at this stage because of Substack's own incredibly problematic approach to what used to be called community standards, the best place to talk footy is the Boom Rookies Discord. Sign up on Patreon today.
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In England, the 1940-41 Wigan side went 15-0-1 in the Lancashire half of the Northern Rugby Football League Wartime Emergency League. That’s their only undefeated regular season team since 1895. In a unified national competition, there are 14 teams with two loss seasons. The two with the highest winning percentage were 1986/87 Wigan and 1994/95 Wigan, both 28-2.
Just as I was starting to wonder if the Broncos really needed Reynolds to succeed, we got a good glimpse of a post-Reynolds Broncos. It could use improvement. Mam needs a bit of polish on his kicking game.
A concern that might actually get addressed in any case, not like my concerns about the ongoing involvement of Kurt Capewell, for example.
You can tell people don’t really hate the Storm like they hate the Broncos. Brisbane’s been back for all of two months and all of a sudden, it’s poor widdle Melbwouwne CONTROVERSIALLY getting a penalty try against them.
Echoing Phil Gould’s dire warnings in 2011 that the NRL would lose western Sydney to the AFL. The NRL did precisely nothing over the subsequent decade and then, three weeks ago in the SMH: “Frustrated Sydney club chiefs have pleaded with the AFL to lift its game in NSW, pointing out that Australia’s biggest state has lost significant ground to the NRL over the past decade.” It’s almost like these guys don’t know what they’re doing!
It was something of a surprise to me too that was where my line was.