THE WEEKLY: The Kevolution gets two more years
Kevin Walters' contract extension, rugby league pâté is going to make you uncomfortable from time to time, expansion chatter and no good tweet.
The Kevolution gets two more years
When the Courier Mail broke this news not two months ago, it was met with howls of laughter online. Then the Broncos started the season 5-0 and when a two year extension for Kevin Walters was officially confirmed on Friday afternoon, there wasn’t a whole lot of mirth.1
Unlike those jokesters on the internet, out for their cheap japes and likes, I am a truth knower. The truth is that they were probably right to crack wise the first time around - I preferred to groan a bit and roll my eyes - because nothing had changed to merit an extension.
The Broncos won five in a row to start this season, but they also went on a seven game streak last year on the way to missing the finals after playing some of the world's worst football to start the season. Whether the 2023 streak ends with the same listlessness as 2022’s remains to be seen, but the signs against the Raiders weren’t especially encouraging. Whatever he may or may not have learned from 2022, Walters is probably still a below average coach.
However, he has the keys to a roster that a better coach could probably turn from a good team into a clinical winning machine.2 Having a good fullback for the first time since 2017 makes a huge difference, as does the week-in, week-out excellence of the best prop in the game, and everything (usually) falls into place around that.
I’m not writing off Walters. He might get lucky and never have to face a slew of suspensions or injuries that might require a decision to be made, and vibe his way to a premiership. Sometimes it happens and I won't be complaining if it does.
I’m also not death riding him. I don’t hate Walters, not in the way that I hated Seibold’s faux-intellectualism, his delusions about developing Croft where the Storm had failed and his media lapdogs. Walters, for whatever you want to say about him, is not getting a spoon. Seibold was a vacuous chasm in which to pour all of the week's frustrations, aimed at one multi-millionaire that was completely at sea in his own pathetic incompetence.
The reason I italicised “merit" is because we also need to consider the reality. The actual details, as reported by News Corp, are that Walters gets a $100k/yr pay bump (inflation ain't nothing), isn't actually paid that much in the first instance (he's on less than, say, Tom Flegler) and has a set of financial incentives if he should actually win something.
This is all pretty standard stuff. Any coach needs a degree of security to have the authority to run the team. The club has given Walters that security for up to two more years. The only club that doesn't do this are the Dragons, who would be the worst run club in the NRL if the Tigers didn't also exist.
If it doesn't work out, a mil or a mil and a half payout to fire him and get someone else in is nothing compared to the $5 million payout Seibold got for doing a much worse job.
Coaches don't often leave on their own terms and deciding when their time comes is a complex calculation of payouts, instability and hurt feelings versus the potential upside risk of whoever else happens to be available at that time. Walters' payout is nothing in the grand scheme - maybe 2% of annual revenue and unlikely to require a mention in the annual report - but his primary advantage is that there might be fewer than a dozen options that are better, none of which are currently available. Until the results get bad, Kevvie is staying put.
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Moment of the Weekend
No QCup or QRLW this weekend, so we’re forced to dig into - ugh - first grade.
I absolutely love this kind of try. The simplicity of the kick caught on the full and put down. It could only be better if Katoa put it directly on Isaako’s chest.
A tangible fabric of pâté and a geyser of haemoglobin
There’s just a little something about the Titans this year. I don’t think they’re necessarily in the good half of the league but they might occupy the fun quadrant. Any time you can go into a 70+ point shootout with the Storm, you’re a team that’s capable of many things. Execution remains questionable, but they try hard enough and can play with a bit of grit. There’s four three-quarters of interesting guys (Sami, Kelly, Khan-Pereira and Schoupp), questions like `whether Sexton is going to be good or if Foran is going to play double digit games or if Tintin can really play rugby league, Jayden Campbell finally hitting his straps, weird mid-season imports from Super League and at least two genuine stars of the game, all of which is enough threads to form a tangible fabric of something that might entice the neutral to turn on the TV when the Gold Coast are playing. Anyway, they beat the Dragons.
We got a little sneak peek into what could become a nice little rivalry over the next couple of years. The Dolphins, against the odds, successfully pulled off the Battle for the Bruce: Highway Robbery, in what was the most compelling performance of the Queensland teams this weekend for all the reasons I outlined in the Quick Wrap. The Cowboys might actually be bad but they still give the air of competence with their performances. It’s like they’re about 2% short of what they need to be winning games consistently. Can they sign another Chad Townsend?
It doesn’t take a real genius to predict that a team will lose eventually and while I think I successfully managed to identify the manner in which they’d lose, I really thought that if there was going to be a loss before round 11 against the Storm, the Broncos would save this kind of performance for the Eels.3 The defence was bad, the offence clunky and the pack got pantsed. It's not panic stations, although the manner of the loss is concerning given what happened last year, but it is a timely reminder that the collective Broncos still have this in them from time to time. It's not clear exactly where the ratio of games where it sticks or where it comes unstuck is going to land.
I didn't think it was worth commenting on the Taupau penalty in the Quick Wrap because the Broncos weren't scoring a try so what does it matter? I was far more incensed the Raiders managed to turn a six again into a penalty by dropping the ball untouched.
Plenty of people seem convinced Rapana deserved a penalty, either because there was lots of blood or because it took the referees a good couple of minutes to decide it was careless, a word that I don't think had crossed anyone's mind prior and the MRC decided was not applicable in any case, neither of which seem to be particularly compelling reasoning but did set off a race to see who could clutch their pearls the hardest, culminating in those who thought the home crowd was booing Rapana and not the unfathomable machinations of The Bunker.
That Taupau’s knee hitting Rapana’s head was the rugby league equivalent of a racing incident - an unfortunate accident that occurs when lots of large bodies, including the bony bits, get thrown at each other at speed, i.e. the sport is played by its rules - is anathema. It would mean recognising that Rapana's blood is not only the cost of doing business for him and the Raiders, but also that his blood is part of the reason why you're watching. The physical risk the athletes place themselves at is part of the spectacle. The jeopardy is not only what makes rugby league, and sport in general, entertaining, it's what separates the athletes from us cowards at home. If anyone could do it, it wouldn't be worth watching. The pain, the injury and the long road to recovery are things mere mortals are not willing to countenance and like all men whose bond is violence, theirs is a different code and to them, and for us vicariously, there is no reward without risk and the understanding deep in their bones that sometimes the consequences are bloody.
When you say “no one wants to see that” what you're really saying is that you want your violence but it also has to be sanitised and controlled. You want your meat pre-packaged, you don't want to think about the long chain of unfortunate events to get the petrol into your car or the impact of burning it, you don't want to really know what reconciliation with Indigenous people might mean for white Australia and a million other morally fraught decisions otherwise Good People make every day. The line between the controlled violence in a clean sport and ugly, brutish, visceral, bloody chaos is nowhere near where you think it is, nor as clear as you imagine it to be.
All of this is a long winded way of saying that I don't think it was a penalty and you just read the three most interesting paragraphs you're going to about it. Look, if you're making up rules, just give the Raiders the ball back because Rapana only drops it after Taupau tries to sieve his brain through Rapana's skull and gets pâté and a geyser of haemoglobin for his trouble, and play on.
Even though the Dolphins hype train has had its wobbles, we’re still talking about putting another team in Queensland. Some claim Team 18 is going to be the Pasifika conceptual nightmare, others are angling for SEQ 4:
"I have a lot of empathy for the fact that rugby league has an Ipswich connection and that area is our heartland," [ARLC Commissioner, Kate] Jones said.
"We have to always make sure we keep our heartland in our decision making. We won't rush decisions. We are ambitious, but we will make sure we do this sustainably and we do it in consultations with the clubs.
"We are going to look at all options, but as I have said in the past and as the chairman (V’landys) reiterated today, Pasifika is very strongly in our mind.
"The Federal Government is very keen to see that expansion and want to put their money where their mouth is. We also have 50 per cent of our players from Pacific nations, so that's a great talent base."
Jones said there was "no reason why in the future we can't have 20 teams".
"Our goal is to be a truly national competition and that means expansion," she said.
"It won't be at the expense of existing teams. We want to grow sustainably, so it will take time, but we are investing in the pathways to create the talent to keep our game strong.
"I think Peter said 2027 (for the 18th team to be added). He will be restlessly devoted to growing the game."
Kate Jones is a former state minister and member for Ashgrove, so yeah, she’s going to back more teams in SEQ, although I’d say, even from these comments, the focus is very much on the Pasifika-PNG Bears of Cairns.
None of it means anything because no one knows what they’re actually trying to achieve yet or why. It’s all going to be faffing about until Fox decide they want to lever even more Broncos games away from Nine and prod V’Landys into hitting the go button. Then the team will be assembled in less than four months, ready for 2025, with some of the most replacement level first graders you’ve ever seen start a National Rugby League match.
There’s four markets the NRL could have new teams with realistic commercial prospects, which are Perth, Adelaide, a second team in New Zealand and a fourth team in south-east Queensland. To then make room in a 20 team league, it would mean only one Sydney club has to be taken out the back and put out of its misery and/or be relocated to Perth4.
With the NRL intent on introducing perpetual licencing for reasons only Peter V’Landys understands5 and under current funding arrangements, there’s absolute zero chance of any Sydney team going under, relocating or doing anything other than what it’s doing right now. Newtown, Valleys, Brothers and Wests (both of them) could only have dreamed of such treatment6. This is likely to be a long term commercial and cultural drag on the league but it’s beyond my meagre rhetoric to actually convince anyone that this is the case.
SEQ 4 seems like the easiest to execute but is also the least urgent, so of course it’s the first or second priority. It feels pointless to say “if”, so I’ll say when SEQ 4 happens, it means we’re not getting at least one of Perth or Adelaide or NZ2. They will be a western-ish team7 to offset the northern-ish Dolphins, the southern-ish Titans and the central Broncos. It could be the Jets, despite everything about that franchise and its relationship with Ipswich, or it could just take a few million of marketing from the Firehawks to convince everyone of their 4300-series postcodes credentials.
While this plan has a certain neat geographical symmetry to it, it would have made more sense to simply have an actual Brisbane 2 now, instead of the wishy washy lack of commitment from the Dolphins, and let the Broncos and their new rivals play Monopoly across greater Brisbane, instead of forcing Sydney-style suburban Risk on them. With the Titans firmly in the City of the Gold Coast, then it would have been a matter of waiting a decade or two for a City of the Sunshine Coast franchise to become viable. Then you’d have two teams in the third largest city in the country and one in each of the sixth and ninth. Instead, we’ll end up with 2.7 teams in Brisbane, one on the Gold Coast and a fraction on the Sunshine Coast and an annual game against a small market team at Clive Berghofer. Your choice of the Panthers, Knights or Raiders.
Where would a western-ish SEQ 4 play though? The Lions just got a new facility built at Springfield but it’s an oval and not likely that the AFL will let anyone near it for anything other than the Olympics. Ipswich City Council will put up funding for a redevelopment of North Ipswich Reserve but they need commitments from state and federal governments. Given Peter V’Landys’ recent track record in getting stadiums built, it’s hard to see there being any appetite to build a $300 million-plus non-Olympic sports facility to be a western counterpart to Dolphins Oval, Sunshine Coast Stadium and Robina Stadium8, even then noting that Dolphins Oval is barely NRL standard.
That means SEQ 4 is either a western-ish team playing solely out of Suncorp until sometime in the late 30s or it’s the Brisbane Firehawks or maybe the NRL can wedge the Pasifika Bears in there somewhere.
Whatever is the stupidest option, the NRL will probably do it.
There are more NRLW signings, which we'll revisit in more depth some other time:
Broncos: Shenae Ciesiolka, Brianna Clark, Jada Ferguson, Mele Hufanga, Tazmin Gray and Chelsea Lenarduzzi
Titans: Taliah Fuimaono, Emily Bass, Dannii Perese, Kaitlyn Phillips, Zara Canfield, Laikha Clarke and Hailee-Jay Ormond-Maunsell
Cowboys: Emma Mazelmann and Tahlulah Tillett
England's Fran Goldthorpe is rumoured to be linking up with the Titans.
Connelly Lemuele extends with the Phins, joining Jeremy Marshall-King as two longer term prospects at Redcliffe.
Kalyn Ponga will return to play in round 8 and will have a hell of a job keeping his Maroons jersey ahead of Reece Walsh and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. (citation: NRL Physio)
Titans are doing a Magic Round jersey with the tagline “Bringing GC to BNE”, a journey of approximately 60 minutes on the M1. There is also an incredible Anzac jersey, which I can only assume is highlighting the increasing militarization of police in society (it's obviously not but jeez wouldn't that be something!). Both now available in the Titans shop if you want to gawk.
I’ve put a bit of work in to making the stats tables a bit clearer for mobile. Not sure how many people actually try to read them but hopefully it’s easier now. If you are that kind of person, keep an eye out for Stats Drop coming later this week.
NRL North standings
A Good Tweet
I’d like to share a good tweet but Elon has disabled Twitter embeds on Substack because he’s a giant bitch. I lifted “A Good Tweet” straight from Garbage Day, where you can read a write up about the dispute that made me laugh out loud.
This reinforces my point that you can’t rely on Twitter to distribute content anymore. If you’re reading this online and not in your inbox, find a subscribe button and sign up.
I will meanwhile think about how I should’ve set up this newsletter last year.
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Of course, once the Broncos fell flat on their faces on Saturday night, it began again.
That hypothetical coach might also make some roster changes in order to achieve that clinicality.
You know, drop the kick off and Eels score in 7 seconds and the Broncos don't get within 10 for the rest of the game and Mitch Moses dances on their graves. You've seen it.
If it were up to me, they’d all be taken out the back but that’s just me being sadistic.
I assume it has something to do with his love of the taste of boot.
The Dolphins have, at least, proven the idea that the existing clubs in Sydney just mean more to their communities than anywhere else is capable of, is the pile of bullshit it always was.
Logan is not the western suburbs, so please stop including it in your western corridors. Please also stop referring to the western corridor because it sounds stupid. What about the Lockyer Valley bid?
The soccer freaks also want a small stadium built in Brisbane. And where’s this Cairns team playing? Barlow Park? It’s a good thing the state government is going to spend $10 billion on hospitals over the next six years (or three Gabba redevelopments) or else someone might complain about all these stadiums.