THE WEEKLY: The monosyllable that pre-dates Shakespeare
Titans lose, Cowboys win, Dolphins lose, Broncos win, Jordan McLean, Reece Walsh suspended and Ben Hunt (again)
As the three non-Broncos Queensland sides all vie for a finals place from outside the top eight, the Titans and the Cowboys gave us an interesting contrast in approaches - i.e. winning versus losing - to Endgame 2023.
The Titans lost a winnable game against the Raiders. With more ball and more metres, Gold Coast only needed to stop one of any of the eminently stoppable Canberra tries to win the game. Not conceding in the first minute of the game should go without saying. Plenty of Titans assigned themselves to escort duty (and didn’t even do that well) on a Jamal Fogarty kick while forgetting to actually compete for the ball, allowing Seb Kris to come down with it. Brian Kelly gesticulated to the referee as the referee correctly played advantage on a Khan-Pereira knock-on and Matthew Timoko receded into the distance.
After all that, and even though Kasey Badger incorrectly denied David Fifita a try before half time1, the game still could have been won in the last minute. With 25 seconds left on the clock, the Blue and Yellows go for a Tino hit-up, followed inexplicably by Verrills going right to Boyd who lets Randall die with the ball. When every single game-breaking Titan plays on the left, this is as inexcusable as it is a perfect demonstration of the Tans’ shortcomings. The Titans may be capable of playing a more settled style than Holbrook’s panic ball but until they start thinking, they’re always going to be outside looking in.
The Cowboys game was filled with plenty of records, most of which you will have heard about already. Undoubtedly, a 122 point turnaround in the space of six weeks might be the most impressive repair job in the history of the sport. Copping the biggest win in Tigers history and responding by handing out the biggest loss in NRL history must be stevia sweet.
While these kinds of blowouts are prone to commentators bloviating about the sparkling offence when really a sclerotic defence is to blame, the Cowboys’ offence really was sparkling. The lines, the flicks, the runs and the simple desire to put the awful first half of their season behind them were genuinely impressive. If you needed a visual definition of the phrase “pouring through a gap”, a number of tries in this game would have sufficed for Macquarie Dictionary. The North Queensland defence was not tested, largely because the Tigers simply did not get the ball and when they did, they dropped it, and it may be that these new and improved Cows still have that to work on but with the links these guys have across the ground with the ball in hand, every game has the potential for points points points.
Naturally, the Blue and Greys aren’t going to score 70+ every week but this form will not only carry them into the finals, it’s not hard to imagine a repeat of 2017, albeit in remarkably different style. Should that happen, it will be very interesting to contrast last year’s damp squib exit, this year’s abysmal start and searing finish and try to draw conclusions about the varied nature of Payten’s coaching.
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Moment of the Weekend
I mean you can absolutely take your pick. I chose the one that put the Cowboys over the top. We stan an historically embarrassing loss for a Sydney team. Makes you wonder how many more historically embarrassing losses would've been handed out had there been Queensland teams in the Sydney comp earlier.
Selwyn Cobbo’s individual magic against the Dolphins.
Komati, Morea and Wabo combine for the Hunters.
An outrageous pass, if that’s what you want to call it, for Rotavisoro to open the scoring for Ipswich.
Vendetta on Vulture
I got some nice feedback about The Oldest Derby, even though the piece generated the regulation number of views, which suggests I’ve dialled in my content to the audience of absolute sickest of freaks that subscribe to this newsletter. Even though this is my seventh season writing about rugby league, I'm still trying to work out what I should be writing week to week.
The content of Vendetta on Vulture had been pencilled in since I sorted out my tickets to the game two months ago. I doubt I’ll get as good a lay-up to even introduce the topic again, let alone dive deeper into it, which I’d like to do but it’s way down the list.
I will note that it was surprisingly hard to find any photos of actual football played at The Gabba in both Our Game and A Centenary of Rugby League by Ian Heads and David Middleton, which had plenty from the Sydney Cricket Ground (and England) but none from the Brisbane Cricket Ground. While that book gives the BRL et al a more appropriate place in rugby league history than most, and even has a feature on the Foley Shield, it’s still a relatively shallow coverage next to the Sydney comp. Our Game is important for that reason, but then what about the rest of the state?
The NRL’s Stalinism-lite
The NRL wanted three weeks. The NRL got three weeks. Why they decided to waste four hours on a show trial in a kangaroo court is beyond me. If you’re going to be fascists and dispense with due process and legal niceties like juries, at least be efficient about it. Watch the footage, reach the conclusion you were always going to reach, and send everyone home in time to make their flights back to Brisbane.
I didn’t care enough about the actual incident to re-watch it and form an opinion as to whether Walsh was abusing the referee, which seemed entirely likely, or Carrigan, or God himself for cursing Walsh with such talent and looks. The decision was always going to be the decision.
It was clear from the stands that Walsh was exploding and it seemed likely that something bad was going to happen and if not abusing a referee, then take your pick of things players do when the red mist has descended. If he has to sit for a few weeks to (hopefully) learn a lesson about his behaviour on the pitch and its connection to results, so be it. He’ll be better for it. Queensland have already wrapped up the series and Tristan Sailor was enough for the Dolphins and should be enough to push over the Bulldogs, so its even less of a punishment than it seems.
However, when Luai pushes a touch judge and gets a fine, and Brandon Smith calls a referee a “cheating bastard” and gets two weeks, it’s not clear why an explosion of frustration and profanity merits a harsher punishment than those two incidents. The reason is that the NRL has no clue what it’s doing from minute to minute, let alone week to week, and so implementing any sense of consistent justice across the league is not possible.
The suits at head office will try to gauge the media response, or that of the mythical rugby league mums at home, to any incident and they would rather be seen to be doing something about it, rather following a pre-determined procedure with a basis in logic. That’s the culture of Peter V’Landys’ and Andrew Abdo’s NRL and understanding this undermines any credibility that the NRL might try to have in insisting this is about respect for referees and an associated Crackdown. This prevents us from having a sensible discussion about what, if any, punishment was merited for Walsh or Luai or Smith or any of the countless other examples of referee disrespect.
The media has traditionally been quite happy to sling their excrement at the referees, with certain elements being responsible for the elimination of the second ref and the subsequent drop in quality of officiating. That this hasn’t plunged the NRL into #Crisis tells you a lot about the manner of their analysis and you should then be able to draw some conclusions about the sincerity2 of their crusade against a young man using the monosyllable that pre-dates Shakespeare, and from there divine whether the outrage from the gerontic public is justifiable or proportional to what’s actually happened3.
Badel gave the game away by comparing Reece Walsh, a 20 year old rugby league player, in a suit with an earring, to Justin Bieber, a 29 year old former pop star whose peak was a decade ago but I guess wore a similar suit a couple of years ago that made Bieber look like a lesbian4. Walsh could see that headline and might not know who Bieber is because the former was barely 10 when the latter was actually famous, but if you’re 35+, then Bieber, despite being a grown man, represents a certain kind disrespectful teen-ish youth that has countless precedents back to Holden Caulfield.5
If you see your job as to pander to boomers (or middle aged millennials with newsletters) for clicks, which Badel is very good at, instead of informing the public with appropriate context, which Badel is very bad at, then this how you’d start your journey to become Paul Kent’s replacement6.
The reason I keep writing about the NRL’s Stalinism-lite as it affects the Broncos is three-fold: 1. I seem to be the only person writing about process, and not outcomes, in rugby league; 2. I care about the Broncos more than any of the other teams; 3. the Broncos are the highest profile team in the media, and therefore there is plenty of material to work with.
There are numerous recent examples of what we might call weird, one-off incidents (if we were being generous), whose consequences range from minor (on-field referee inserting himself into The Bunker’s reasoning process because he didn’t like the conclusion they were going to reach) to medium (Walsh having to sit for a few weeks in the naughty corner to think about what he’s done) to high (Carrigan missing even more time for a hip drop that wasn’t a hip drop, Taupau being penalised in a two point game because of blood spilled and not technique), but taken together paint a picture of the disorganisation running the sport7.
Other teams may or may not have similar examples but the point I want to stress is that if the process is broken, then that affects everyone eventually. If you want to gronk off about the Broncos, far be it from me to infringe on your prerogative, but you should also understand what’s actually happening.
Even more Ben Hunt
Dave Donaghy, Broncos CEO: “Ben is contracted to the Dragons and we respect that and we move on.” Sure.
You can interpret this one of a number of ways depending on your particular perspective:
“We asked and they said no, so that’s it.”
“We asked and we're going to get him but decorum dictates that we pretend otherwise.”
“We asked, the NRL told us to back off and because we’re big wusses, we complied.”
“We asked, the price is too high but we think we can negotiate them down, it’s just going to take time, so don’t hold your breath.”
“We asked, we might be able to get him but it’s pretty unlikely a deal gets done in time, so don’t get your hopes up.”
“We and the Titans asked and then the Titans chickened out when the Dragons wanted Tino.”
“No one has any idea what’s going on right now.”
“Turns out Rupert Murdoch really hates Ben Hunt and has since 2015 and ol’ Rupe pays my salary.”
“They called Allan Langer ‘ALF’ because it was like he was from another planet, Ipswich in this case, but that’s actually true of Ben Hunt. He is from one of those exo-planets that you sometimes hear about and they call it ‘Earth-like’ but actually has twice the gravity of Jupiter, with a ten hour day and is really close to its sun. He’s weird. Him and Will Power. It’s the radiation. Off the charts.”
That this press release seems to have settled down the chattering classes, who moved on to Reece Walsh discourse, and now are sniffing around for the next thing to turn into red meat for their subscriber base - Adam O’Brien having temporarily saved his job by crushing the Bulldogs, the odds-on favourite is Benji Marshall taking over from a fossilised Tim Sheens a year early - tells you a lot about the inquisitiveness of the so-called journalists.
Tallisha Harden and Kirra Dibb will captain the NRLW Cowboys.
Nixon Putt (CQC) is off to Castleford next year on a two-year deal.
The SMH published Titans’ title hunt: Why Gold Coast must be Queensland’s powerhouse by 2026 which contained very little of interest but did observe, as I have previously, that having a bunch of contracts coming to a head in 2026 might prove problematic. Of course, no one will care if the Titans do win a premiership between now and then but what are the odds of that?
Tesi Niu gets a one-year extension with the Dolphins. Astonishing.
The Broncos seem intent on referring to the Dolphins as Redcliffe in official communications. Not only is it the right thing for Redcliffe, it's pettiness is inspiring.
Despite their best and valiant efforts, Mackay beat Ipswich in the spoon bowl and notched their second win of the season. Now two wins adrift of the rest of the field, the Jets are morals for the wooden spoon. The Jets are winless through 15 and might be the first winless team since the ‘03 Panthers8. And for reasons known only to the QRL, this was the Sunday feature game. In case someone is reading, QRL, please, enough Jets games on Sunday. There are so many other teams to choose from.
You might have seen a headline that apparently the Broncos are going to have a feeder relationship with Burleigh Bears, because the Titans have looked at this year's Blackhawks and decided they wanted a piece of that with their own team of branded failsons. This story, which seems like it should have a standalone section in this newsletter so potentially momentous as it is, is in no way confirmed or has anything further information, so I decided Ben Hunt is an alien would be a better use of space. Let’s wait and see if someone serious suggests it.
You might have also seen a headline suggesting Fa'asuamaleaui and Fifita are definitely going to leave the Titans because their contracts are supposedly null and void after the firing of Holbrook. Assuming such a clause exists, which is a big if, that would give the players the option to terminate their contract. It would be surprising if they extended to ‘26 expecting Holbrook, a guy who acted like a real ass at times, would still be there. I refuse to believe that management didn't consider also this if this clause actually exists, because this is Gold Coast, and not St George Illawarra, and management aren't planning on paying their demands for gross overpayments under the table and/or using the cap space to sign Ben Hunt.
The kickoff of Norths and Tweed was delayed by half an hour because of an ambulance on the field. I went back to the stream of the previous Colts game and found out why. Let’s hope Jotham Russell, Tweed Heads’ Colts #15, is rubbed out of the game for a long time.
Not Queensland: Luc Lacoste is stepping down as president of the French rugby league. Also, “Word from the antipodes is the NRL is willing to put enough of their copious money on the table for Australia to host a pared back, men’s only [World Cup] tournament for eight teams to plug the gap.” Good lord, what a bunch of weenies the NRL are. Even putting aside the selfish, cowardly and parochial eight team format, surely we're past the point where we do men’s only rugby league? This is pathetic from an organisation that loves to tell you how many tens of millions it made and how much it cares about the women’s game.
NRL North Standings
Titans and Dolphins meet next week and a win there probably moves Gold Coast into second. The Broncos only have the Cowboys remaining on their divisional schedule and if they win that, they’ll win the division. North Queensland (or Redcliffe!) could still win out and snatch the title at the death on points difference.
The Hunters won a physical, low scorer, 14-8, in Port Moresby over a Capras side featuring a number of Papua New Guineans. Norths went behind early and late against Tweed and repeatedly threw chances over the sideline, Seagulls winning 30-16. The Tigers handled the Pride with ease, 36-10. The Falcons staged an upset of the ladder leading Bears, 24-18, to put themselves 1.5 wins out of the eight. The Dolphins and Blackhawks inexplicably finished level, 24-all. The Magpies were too strong for the Clydesdales, 48-22. The Cutters defeated the Jets in the spoon bowl, 36-20.
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There being some irony after last week’s Broncos try denied by Badger identifying an irrelevant Fifita obstruction. It giveth, it taketh away, etc, etc.
Andrew Webster's column dared to be entitled “Reece Walsh will be OK but what about the referees who are being abused?” Remember it's not abuse if you have a national media platform and it's only trolling if you're on social media.
It is may be justifiable but it is definitely not proportional.
Reece is very pretty but not that kind of pretty. Anyway, you'll see the picture if you do a Google image search for “Bieber drops defamation suit against sexual assault accusers”. What a charming young man to use as a comparison.
In a far more serious context, we might call this “dog whistling”.
Remember when Paul Kent was charged with domestic violence?
They’re not smart or organised enough for conspiracy. That’s laughable.
The 2004 Brothers-Valleys conglomerate did secure a single draw in their first game of that season against… Ipswich and then lost 21 in a row. Besides the 2003 Western Suburbs Panthers (0-22), other winless teams are 1996 Ipswich (0-15), 1997 Logan City (0-17-1), 1998 Bundaberg (0-22) and 2002 Logan City (0-22).
There’s probably a rich debate to be had as to which was worse out of the 02 Scoprions and the 98 Bears. Even if this year’s Jets go winless, they’re currently “only” losing by an average of 26 points per game. The 2002 Scorprions lost by an average of 40 points per game in a 12 team competition and were taken over by an almost as bad Southern Suburbs to form Souths Logan in 2003, who would win the comp in 2008. I’m sure there’s a silver lining there somewhere.