THE WEEKLY: Yasir Al-Rumayyan reprising the role of Rupert Murdoch
Competent Titans, historical Dolphins, Broncos coaching, Ezra Mam, Joshua Simm, Max Plath, changes to the Maroons and the demise of London Irish
The last time everyone’s favourite agents of chaos - the Gold Coast Titans - and everyone’s favourite incompetents - the Wests Tigers - clashed, the result was an 8-6 semi-classic. The game was notable for a halftime score of 2-2 - both penalty goals scored in the last three minutes of the half - that was followed by another scoreless 28 minutes. The Tigers thought they had sealed the game with two more penalty goals in the final 12 minutes, only to be denied at 78’ by a Toby Sexton kick, that hit the goal posts, that was recovered in the in-goal by Jock Madden, who then dropped the ball without grounding it, allowing AJ Brimson to apply momentary downward pressure and win the game. It was an utter drag to live through but, as is often the case with games decided at the last minute, very memorable.
Given how the Titans season is unfolding, a breakneck oscillation from occasional success to crushing disappointment, literally anything could have happened in the 26th meeting of these teams. Instead, what we got, was a relatively well rounded performance. The Titans profited from the Tigers’ poor defence, a real return to form for a team that looked to have found its feet and was going to move clear of the spoon battle. Dare I say the Gold Coast even looked reasonably proficient? While the Tigers didn’t test the Titans’ defence, the Blue and Golds did enough to avoid capitulating at the slightest pressure, despite the endless snickering of the commentators who have only now just noticed the Titans’ deficiencies, and hold steady.
Such a straightforward performance seems likely to be compensated by someone losing a limb due to an escaped circus animal in the next game, so its lucky the Titans have the bye to consider how they might eke out this kind of performance each week and turn into the top eight side they could be.
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Moment of the Weekend
Can I get a hell yeah for Kobe, Adam and Ezra?
Honourable mention to Joshua Simm’s banana kick to really put the boot into the Cutters.
And another honourable mention to the big men of Redcliffe combining to put Max Plath over and open the scoring against the Tigers.
Round 15 (con’t)
As predicted last week, Redcliffe versus Manly will be added to the slowly growing pile of refuse that occupies the Dolphins’ landfill of games to forget about1. For them, 2023 is already playing with house money. To go back to last week’s other post, plenty of chat on the Fox broadcast towards the end of the game focussed on Garrick’s and Manly’s statistical history but none on the Dolphins’ (only Wayne Bennett rated a mention), because of course they couldn’t2. The Phins have now played 14 NRL games and the rest of their history is invisible to Andrew Voss and co. They don’t have the data to provide any historical context around what it means for and to the Redcliffe club to lose by 40 points and, by extension, what any of that would tell us about rugby league in this part of the world.
For what it’s worth, from 1996 to 2022, the Dolphins only conceded a greater margin three times in the Queensland Cup3: against Burleigh in 2005, 56-6, against Wynnum in 2010, 59-0, and against Burleigh again in 2019, 48-0. Undoubtedly, there are other examples, definitely in the BRL and possibly in the Winfield State League or one of those mid-week Cups that people love the idea of reviving without considering why they went extinct in the first place, but I guess we’ll never know.
Redcliffe will bounce back after Origin, once their roster returns to something like full-strength and the team returns home. Their run to the finals gets dicier each week but when commentators start to pronounce the club dead on arrival, it’s clear that they’ve learned very little from what even this season has had to teach them.
Round 15 (con’t again)
Cory Paix was dropped last week. His crime was allegedly blowing up at Walters the Elder for Paix’s lack of minutes in favour of Walters the Younger, despite Paix’s clearly superior ball playing ability and his vibe being far more in tune with the Mam-Walsh-Cobbo axis that the side is building their premiership bid around.
Instead, Paix will be given all the minutes he wants in Cup4. While punishing a player for criticising nepotistic team selections has all the hallmarks of bad management, Kev has been piling up the wins. Cory has had a relatively minor role in those wins, especially as the gap between Billy and Cory has closed somewhat. Kev therefore holds all the aces, even if his ace of clubs is Tyson Smoothy, an effort merchant whose first chance at a red zone fifth tackle option was to go himself, instead of passing to one of the verified superstars on his left or right, i.e. not unlike one Billiam Walters.
For the Knights to score four tries, the week after much vaunted Cronulla attack could only manage two, would require us to believe that Jackson Hastings is a better playmaker than Nicho Hynes - which is possible but unlikely, given their respective career arcs - or that the issues lay elsewhere5. This triptych of poor defensive reads from Herbie Farnworth on plays that Newcastle scored tries should provide some evidence.
Farnworth has been an excellent player on a much worse team the last couple of seasons but now the team has gotten much better, his relative and absolute form has declined. He’s been selfish on offence, usually ignoring old man Oates or the serviceable Arthars when that’s been the play. Against the Knights, Farnworth was an absolute dunce on defence and doesn’t have the runs on the board that Staggs or Mam or Walsh have accumulated in 2023 to offset their dud games.
Ultimately, Farnworth was bailed out by the second stints of Carrigan and Haas demolishing what was left of the Knights’ middle and opening the game up to the Broncos’ strike weapons. Given his evident loyalty to the much worse Capewell, it would seem unlikely that Walters has the guts to drop Farnworth for an on-field performance bad enough to not just be dropped but also hooked and possibly released to the Dolphins early to make way for Deine Mariner. The upcoming bye will stop anyone from thinking too hard about it in any case. So while I think the Broncos can win the premiership, it’s this kind of juxtaposition that really stops me from believing.
The Cowboys had the bye, which they presumably used to try and work out whether they are any good or not.
Tom Gilbert heroically dislocated his shoulder in game 1 after seemingly threatening to skin Hudson Young alive. Selwyn Cobbo has a chronic case of (hip). Jai Arrow lost an ankle to the Titans, of all teams, and is out for four to six. Moeaki Fotuaika (GCT), Jeremiah Nanai (NQC) and Xavier Coates (MEL) come in to replace them. The rest of the team from game 1 will return.
Fotuaika is having a good season, either quietly, if you notice the usual talking heads not talk about him or the Gold Coast Titans in general, or more loudly, if you get information from the right kind of switched-on analysts. I’ll admit that I hadn’t really noticed either way but Fotuaika is now third of all middles by Wins Above Reserve Grade, which is pretty good if you put your faith in that sort of thing, and the hypothesis that Fotuaika’s rotation off is the cause of the Titans’ third-quarter woes merits further investigation.
Nanai is not having a good season and his drop off in production was one of the reasons the Cowboys were struggling for form earlier this year. His selection is puzzling. While Nanai was there for all three games in last year’s series winning team, Felise Kaufusi has played 14 games for Queensland, including five in the 2020 and 2022 winning sides, and he’s having a much better year for the Phins, before his suspension, than Nanai was having for the Cowboys, before his injury.
Coates is not having a good career. He burst on to the scene with the Broncos and looked great for the usual six to eight weeks required to hype a player. The league adjusted and he’s not found another level, even at Melbourne, and now his debut was four years ago. Coates doesn’t make yards and he lacks the clinical finishing ability of really top line wingers but he’s fast and can jump high and that’s apparently all people remember.
The absence of Cobbo was an opportunity for Slater to address the main problem the Maroons had in game 1: they could not get out of their own end. In a tense Saturday night clash where attention was drawn to Walsh v Ponga, Oates made 183 metres and Gagai made 148. Coates, running downhill in a Storm side that smashed the Sharks on Sunday, made 84.
In conclusion, the Blues can’t lose. There’s just no way little old Queensland can do it again. Backs to the wall.
Fletcher Baker signs for the Broncos. I’m sure he will thrive in a supportive and productive environment, like the one provided by Kevin Walters and unlike the one provided by Trent Robinson.
Broncos crack 40,000 members. There may be cause to consider the meaning of membership in rugby league and compare and contrast to other sports or we could just note the milestone and that memebership is a lot healthier than it has been in recent years and move on.
Dave Donaghy seems to be providing supporting quotes on a lot V’Landys’ doings these days. He's thrown his support behind Vegas and PNG as NRL18, which I guess keeps another team out of Brisbane and helps the bottom line. I don’t recall Paul White being trotted out to do likewise during the latter days of his adminstration.
Kobe Bone is Mackay Cutter #307, although he was dropped for this week’s loss after playing 14 in the previous week’s win. Was Bone the difference?
The Cutters lost by 62, so no, probably not. However, this is not enough to rule them out of the premiership as the 2010 Northern Pride lost 64-0 to the Falcons in round 12 before beating the Devils, 30-20, in the grand final.
One of the unfortunate things about this newsletter going out early on Monday6, is that you are first and then have to wait a week before you can link to back to other things published later on Monday. Both Behind the Goalposts and League Eye Test had nice pieces about the Broncos’ win over the Sharks, albeit from very different angles.
Similarly out of date and the NRL has published the length of all the NRLW contracts. It’s fascinating to have a flick through and look at the different recruitment strategies the clubs have used. At one extreme, the Roosters have effectively no one signed for next season while the Broncos will basically have the same team next year and the Knights have signed a few to very long deals.
Two things about Valynce Te Whare’s rise to prominence annoy me. 1) We had a nice cult going among us QCup freaks that’s now been blown open to all the normies. 2) The nickname ‘Val Meninga’. Terrible. ‘The House’ is better for obvious reasons, although I’d be partial to a more elaborate nickname along the lines of ‘The Rhino7 of Waikato’. Either way, you can workshop it. ‘Val Meninga’ is lazy and a poor comp.
I used to complain about the NRL scheduling games on public holidays in Sydney that aren’t shared elsewhere. Those games always seem to feature mediocre teams, so I stopped caring some time ago. However, it would be nice if the NRL stopped doing that for the fans of those mediocre teams in other places. It would also be nice if the NRL lobbied the Queensland state government to harmonise all show days across the state (or introduce a new public holiday) so the NRL could hold an all-Queensland double header (Broncos vs Titans and Cowboys vs Dolphins) at Suncorp Stadium. I think it would be neat. Neither of those things are going to happen.
Tweed put on a big enough win over Central to be concerned about the form of the latter. Sunshine Coast were beaten by Townsville, thereby confirming the fraudulence of the former. Wynnum absolutely whomped Mackay and PNG did a slightly lower degree of whomping to Western. Both Norths and Easts put up sufficiently good impressions of competitive sides, while still going down to Burleigh and Redcliffe respectively. The revenge game motivation for many Jets wasn’t enough for Ipswich to overcome Souths Logan.
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.
This is not even rugby league but a third rugby union club in England’s top flight has gone bust in less than a year. London Irish will be joining Wasps and Worcester in being punted into financial oblivion. It’s enough to make Super League look like a staid and professional organisation by comparison.
Putting aside the slightly different case studies and the obvious ineptitude of rugby union authorities, if you are concerned about rugby union or even the institution of rugby as a whole, then this is bad news. If you are exclusively concerned with rugby league, as I am, then this should be good news, however, it is far more likely to be irrelevant.
In short, there is no way rugby league fills the void left by the demise of rugby union clubs. Putting aside the slightly different case studies and the obvious ineptitude of rugby league authorities, the cap in the Premiership is - somehow - increasing to three times that of Super League’s in the next couple of years. Neither of the London RL clubs are close to being able to afford a full-time team on the pitch and Coventry-slash-Midlands are further away still. There simply aren’t the resources to make it happen. If anyone is going to benefit (and that’s a big if), it’s likely to be Harlequins and Saracens.
It’s far more likely that professional rugby is losing its foothold in London. While soccer is dominant by orders of magnitude, the NFL looks like a stronger contender to carry football with an oval ball and full contact in that city into the future.
While we’re on other sports, if you want to Google the PGA-LIV “merger” that’s currently making waves through men’s golf8, you’ll find some absolutely stunning parallels with rugby league’s own Super League civil war, with Yasir Al-Rumayyan reprising the role of Rupert Murdoch. Time, flat circle, etc.
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On which, no doubt, a future Dolphins Oval will be built.
Maybe Nine was different but somehow, just somehow, I doubt it.
There was a fourth this year, after the Dolphins had entered the NRL, with Souths Logan winning 60-4 in round 5.
Paix, Mozer and Eggerling all played for the Magpies on Sunday.
Again, the commentators couldn’t tell you, which is why you subscribe to this newsletter.
Not this week obviously. My excuse is an acute lack of energy.
Te Whare and rhinos are both big and surprisingly fast.
Which I am listening to hours of podcasts about because while I do not care about golf, I find this kind of thing really interesting.