They just gotta eat someone every so often
Complete the 2024 NRL Rivalry Survey for the good of RUGBY LEAGUE SCIENCE
REMINDER: Please complete the 2024 NRL RIVALRY SURVEY.
Bonus reminder this week because I’ve already bumped the Rewind essay for two weeks running and before I knew it, what was mean to be next week’s post was already 4,000 words.
Thank you in advance.
Andrew Abdo has the full support of the board
I’ve run out of genera of invertebrates to describe Abdo. Even though he’s done exactly what’s been asked of him by PtGtS and the clubs, he seems - in the not very subtle Vlandian way of communicating “anonymously” through the media - on the outs. Abdo’s not gone gone but he is getting a little heat internally.
That Abdo comes across as ineffective is because he can’t move without approval, a very unappealing situation for a top executive. That this is a cage the NRL clubs and PVL devised for him, perhaps without realising it, is immaterial to the outcome. One might be inclined to describe it as unfair but that would require sympathy I do not possess. One could also draw a very long and continuous line from the laggardly administrative pace of the last couple of years, starting with the covid cuts and epitomised in the RLPA negotiations that took forever and only ended when PVL decided it was time to capitulate, to this point.
But then, these guys also just can’t help themselves. It doesn’t matter what’s happening or how well things are going, they just gotta eat someone every so often. What a shame.
We also get to play the fun game of guessing whether this quote was from Ben Ikin or Dave Trodden:
One state executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the threat of legal action over funding cuts, said: “The chances of us abrogating our constitutional veto in order for PVL to become executive chair are somewhere between zero and Buckley’s.”
While the constitutional change seems unlikely in the extreme, we would at least get to see what PVL is really made of (very little).
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More QRL funding rejected
This is probably more of a note but the ARLC aren’t chipping in $50k for the Foley Shield, an inter-city rep comp in North Queensland that dates back to 1948. Add this to the pile with the Clydesdales, pre-season Origin camp and the Titans/Cowboys in QCup last year.
Apologies in advance to Nic Davrienza for extensive block quoting but there’s this from Bob “Let 1,000 blossoms bloom etc, torn apart by a crocodile etc” Katter and his (presumably large) adult son, Robbie:
Maverick MP Katter accused V’Landys of promoting himself in the United States while allowing the game in Queensland to fall into a state of disrepair.
“While the chairman of the ARLC (V’Landys) will be running around in America making a big man of himself … it’s about time he realises kids are not playing rugby league in schools,” Katter said.
“As is anything in regional Queensland, we’ve got another Sydney corporate who has very little background in rugby league taking away from a region which has given so much to the game.
“Slater, Myles, Boustead, Williams, Bowen, Hodges, Flegler, this is just a short list of the talent that’s come from North Queensland – home of the Foley Shield. And now we’ve got a commission effectively starving the potential of adding to that list.”
Katter’s son and Queensland State MP Robbie doubled down, accusing the Commission of “gambling away the future of grassroots football.”
“They rejected a funding application from the QRL to support one of the longest-running, foundational football competitions in North Queensland, but still found the millions to send teams to Las Vegas,” Katter said.
“Bleeding regional competitions dry while indulging in junkets overseas goes to the heart of a severe cultural problem at the heart of the ARL.
“We’re in a fight to keep these historic competitions alive in regional Queensland in the face of dwindling support from the guardians of the game based in Sydney.”
Ben Ikin was also quoted:
“The QRL’s 2024 funding position with the NRL still remains unresolved three months into the rugby league financial year, which is an awful way to treat the organisation that manages participation and pathways in the game’s most parochial market,” Ikin said.
“Having 50k worth of support rejected for the Foley Shield, while the NRL spends 10 times that on training fields for NRL teams in Las Vegas, is a real kick in the guts.”
It’s possible it’s more deeply felt on the ground instead of the ivory tower I inhabit where I don’t talk to anyone but I don’t know if this is having any cut through, e.g. it’s filed under the QRL vertical on the Courier Mail.
Still, it’s better to be out there, banging the drum than staying silent and hoping someone notices because no one will.
The more chat there is about a new PNG NRL team being a done deal, the more convinced I become that it’s not going to happen. The chatter has the vibe of people trying to will it into existence because the thought of sticking it to China gets them hard.
“[There is] so much talk about creating a National Rugby League team when it’s quite obvious that the need for basic services, schools, hospitals, infrastructure, job opportunities, and police force should be top of the priority list,” [David] Mead said.
The major hurdles to me are:
Broadcasters - there would be no meaningful additional funding from Australia or PNG broadcasters, other than for the ninth match each week which you would get with an Australian team anyway, plus the costs to arrange broadcasts from Port Moresby.
Roster - who is playing for this team? The Hunters, a mid to lower tier Cup team, are not at NRL standard. That means imports and if the Dolphins had a hell of a time getting people to move to Brisbane, who’s going to Port Moresby? Or Cairns? It’s still not clear which it is. Imagine playing the “home” game in Cairns and being booed by a full house of Cowboys fans at Barlow Park or being pelted with bottles at the similarly-sized Santos Stadium after going down 46-0 to the Bulldogs.
Operations - a NRL club contingent on government funding is then contingent on the whims of that government. How does this fit in with a perpetual licence and how does the NRL ensure the funding is there in perpetuity? How does the NRL ensure the money actually keeps the football club in operation and doesn’t just disappear? Do we just end up with the PNG Bears relocating back to North Sydney in a few years?
As with all things, these can be overcome with money and will but there are other avenues that would provide a similar degree of benefit for less, e.g. playing more internationals against the Kumuls/Orchids, getting the Hunters in the junior and women’s statewide comps and building a pathway structure under that brand to feed into the national teams, taking pre-season matches to PNG, etc, with a substantially lower risk of it all collapsing in a highly embarrassing and entirely foreseeable fashion.
Whoever is drving this - and its not clear to me if its the brain child of the ARLC, or the Albanese Australian government’s desire to be fair dinkum in tandem with the Marape PNG government’s desire for junkets or both - is hell bent on getting the NRL licence. The next Australian federal election is in 2025 and the next PNG election is in 2027. The former may end the bid but the latter will come too late, given the new team will be in the comp for ‘26 or ‘27.
Coincidentally, I referenced Rising Sun in passing earlier in the week. Written by noted crank Michael Crichton, the major theme was the West’s fears of a Japanese takeover that permeated the 80s and early 90s and, to a lesser extent, the West’s need for an existential enemy to replace the Soviet Union as a way of finding unity and purpose. The movie, which was both bad and also deeply problematic in its depiction of Japanese people (African-Americans copped a metaphorical drive-by as well), came out in 1993, the Japanese economy collapsed in 1994 and has never really recovered. No one in the West worries about Japan taking over anymore. The parallels between Japan 30 or 40 years ago and fears about China now are hard to ignore and if showing the Reds who’s boss is the impetus for the new team, then that could collapse quite a lot quicker than any of us thought.
I’ve lived long enough to see plenty of things that don’t make any sense happen, so I know I’m wasting my breath. If it does fall in a heap, the above questions will suddenly rise to the surface as sticking points that simply couldn’t be resolved, so the NRL has no option but to Bring Back The Bears.
This is what the 90s were like, kids.
The next Immortal is imminent, to paraphrase the headline. Behind the paywall:
The subcommittee met some time ago and I want to recall that committee to start the process. I will get that subcommittee back together again in the next couple of weeks to develop the criteria and the way we can move forward. There has already been a lot of work done.
Sounds like its only three action items away from being a done deal to start looking at investigating the feasibility of inducting another Immortal. The ceremony will undoubtedly look like it was put on at your local high school by the grade 9 students, as is appropriate.
People are definitely going to be normal about this. To that end, the first step should be to remove Andrew Johns and then replace him with any of the following: Dave Taylor, Duncan Thompson, Darren Lockyer, Allan Langer, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston, Preston Campbell, Jayden Campbell, Ben Kennedy (grossly overlooked in the 2001 grand final), any early 90s Bronco really, Mat Rogers, Kane Linnett, Kyle Feldt, Jason Taumalolo or Tevita Pangai Jr (for about 45 minutes total of his career that was really, really good).
Given the allegations against Graeme Langlands shortly before his death, the bar for off-field stuff is evidently pretty low. So once the point has been made about how ridiculous this all is, put a couple of real candidates in and sell a limited run of a boxed set of port, as per tradition.
Some actual takes:
Lockyer should be in but they’ll ignore him
Thurston will probably get in at some point
You’re off your meds if you think that anyone should be inducted for coaching before Bennett
It’s 2024, are we going to induct some women into the Hall of Fame?
Qplus is back. Finally. Sign up with QRL2024 for $10 off a year. An annual sub is like two months of Kayo now and the football's better quality. Can’t miss.
Tamika Upton is coming home and bringing the Southwells with her. As the season gets closer, we’re getting some real big swings from otherwise smaller clubs. Some great battles in the offing.
‘Scandal’, ‘debacle’, ‘fiasco’: ‘Canter-beery’ Bankstown’s disastrous visit to Brisbane in 1947. Redcap’s work on The Roar is always worth a read.
The All-Stars are coming up. More on that next week, unless Andrew Abdo gets fired or I actually starting writing season previews.
Pangai turning out for the Magpies? Here's an artist's impression of what that would look like:
Not Queensland but interested to see how it plays out: Macarthur Rugby League rejects NRL rules on tackling and junior finals. “Macarthur is the first association to stand against the NRL’s policy but now face the very real prospect of running an unsanctioned competition.” Insurance seems to be a key problem. After reading Buzz’s support for the NRL’s policy, I’m wondering if we can introduce more tackling somehow.
Non-stories: sub-Abdo execs leaving the NRL for other jobs (unless you really wanted to stretch a connection to a previous essay on the topic), player visas into the USA, USA TV deal, anything related to the Vegas games, Luciano Leilua blowing .052, Adam Reynolds taking a paycut, Ben Te Kura being really tall, whatever Mitch Kenny gets up to on his own time (within reason), whatever Danika Mason gets up to on her own time
I’ve been watching a bit of 90s footy. This isn’t a nostalgia trip per se. I honestly can’t directly recall much of that decade, despite living every minute of it, so it is hard to spend much time rolling around in the muck of my own memories. Mainly it’s a continuation of an exercise begun during the pandemic. In the absence of new football, I spent a lot of time watching old football. I figured there was never going to be a better opportunity to study the game by - and this is a radical notion - actually watching it. I went back to the mid-60s and worked through as much as I could find through to the end of the 80s. By then, life had kind of got back to normal and there were other things to do.
Here in 2024, I’m ready for the off-season to end but we’re still a month clear of real football. I’ve also been spending a lot of time on Zwift and 80-ish minutes of rugby league is consistent with the time I want to spin the pedals. Rather than systematically wading through seasons of footage, as I did during the pandemic, I’m working through an assortment of videos that were marked Watch Later at some point1 and playlists of last year's highlights in preparation of writing season previews.
Here’s Ken Arthurson:
This video was buried in the 1997 World Club Championship playlist. In this interview with smug bitch Paul Barry, Arthurson details how everyone involved in Super League screwed him over personally. Murdoch, Packer and the Broncos: everyone’s out to get poor, old Arko. But once you strip away the old school rugby league man mythos, look at the record and hold Arthurson to the same standard as we might Peter the Great the Short, then the tears are decidedly more crocodilian.
The NSWRL’s lack of professionalism in the founding of the Broncos is well documented. The NSWRL agreed to the Broncos having an exclusive franchise over south-east Queensland and then backtracked, also adding a Gold Coast team in 19882. The NSWRL belatedly added a requirement for the Broncos to participate in NSW’s reserve grade competion, increasing costs for the new team, who were otherwise going to use the BRL competition as a feeder system. The same people did the same thing to the Reds in 1995. The Broncos were privately owned and operated3 and the NSWRL, despite agreeing to give them a licence of their own free will, didn’t like that. I don’t understand how you square these facts with the fair dealing rugby league man and then don’t draw the dots to connect this to the later conflict.
During the 1990s, the returns on the broadcast deal for the ARL were below market rate and consequently, players were paid below their value. We know this because the second there was another serious bidder, the price of everything skyrocketed. Even once the bidders started acting rationally again and the teams were reduced, those prices stayed elevated.
Without offering any basis for the assertion, Arthurson says he thinks News spent more than $300 million, or about twice that in today’s money. One is left wondering how derelict one can be in their duties to leave hundreds of millions of dollars sitting on the sidelines, and then having to be forced to take it, to overcome some loyalty to The Game, that is, the Sydney rugby league establishment.
If the people in charge of semi-public institutions generate a fraction of the revenue available because that’s the way things were done two decades earlier, they should at the very least be out of a job. If all they had was a handshake deal and nothing written down, they’d be facing corruption charges. To admit that on TV (when people still watched it) seems unwise but if you’re a rugby league man, that’s not the standard to which you are held. If Peter V’Landys tried this on4, I’d be calling him a dumbshit. Which I did. In 2021. On what used to be Twitter. For pretty much exactly this.
Arthurson is not entirely to blame for his predicament. Like his erstwhile partner in crime, John Quayle, Arthurson had no idea what was coming or what to do about it. He wanted to keep fussing about his local footy comp but suddenly there was an influx of money and attention and outsiders. Expecting him to understand the environment in which he was operating, take the opportunity presented, enact reforms that were coming one way or another, and move the game forward5 is evidently too high a bar to set.
The Super League was one of a series of landmark events through the 80s and 90s whose passage hinted to Australia that things out there might be changing. No longer a sleepy, colonial sheep station, the nation was integrating into a new global economic system. The rules were now set by post-war imperial America and not pre-war imperial Britain. Other than these repeated intrusions of money onto Australia’s culture and leadership and decision making infrastructure, I’m not sure how else the news could have been broken. ‘Well, you may recall the long ideological struggle fought from 1914 through 1991? Gallipoli, Kokoda, Long Tan, David Hasselhoff? And how it dispatched with various other economic and political systems and left one in particular supreme and unopposed? Well, I guess the good news is the one you fought for is coming over. The bad news is it is rather hungry - and this is going to sound bad but I promise it’s not! - but after its finished eating everything you hold dear and throwing your stuff into a wood chipper for fun, you’ll be allowed to do what you like with what’s left over.’ Stirring stuff.
Perhaps the most galling thing is the double standard applied. In the 1980s, Brisbane clubs that had been around as long as any in Sydney were beginning to collapse under the financial pressure of competing with the NSWRL. Unable to source funding from pokies but still having to compete in the same labour market, just as it was becoming more efficient thanks to television, the BRL clubs were drowning by 1987 and after a decade of treading water, some weren’t able to stay on the Queensland Cup life raft for long before slipping below the surface. Having lost their fans to the bigger and better Broncos, those BRL clubs had to face down the logic of the market with no support, cultural or commercial, from anyone who could have made a difference. Apply the same market gaze to Sydney clubs and suddenly everything must be done to prevent the apocalypse.
If top level club football was going to survive in Brisbane, some sort of consolidation was inevitable. Because the Broncos were organised along the lines expected of the current calendar year, they became a shark in a league of baitfish. It wasn’t hard and anyone could have done the same thing but the Sydney league had become complacent, buoyed by the success of lightning strike marketing campaigns and general economic prosperity, but weighed down by clubs that weren’t incentivised to run better than their Brisbane counterparts, relying on being slightly fatter anchovies to secure their future.
When the Broncos and News kicked in the door at Phillip Street, this was the war coming home - as it is wont to do - but Arthurson and co would never have appreciated that was what was happening. For them, there was no rugby league beyond the NSWRL and that is the legacy of the Super League war as much as anything else.
In an effort to give the newly united NRL legitimacy, it had to be connected to something old, like the Sydney comp, which is where most of the NRL clubs had originated in one form or another. It’s why we, the extremely online fanbase, are the only ones to ever talk about Super League but now, over a quarter century later, this has led to an insistence at every level of the commentariat that every part of the Sydney suburbs must be represented, despite no other city being granted that prerogative, and the rugby league heritage outside of Sydney has been de-emphasised to avoid any competition to the accepted narrative (see also: the golden status afforded “foundation clubs”). If there are other clubs and leagues with their own meaningful history, what makes Sydney so special, deserving of protection at all costs?
So RIP Brothers, Valleys and Wests: few will remember you as top flight clubs and that’s fine because you were born of a time and place that no longer exists. The QRL got sidelined for its loyalty to the ARL, and the Crushers and Chargers got bullets. The Western Clydesdales, a rugby league marque in a heartland town with a long pedigree who were finally resurrected after 17 years, didn’t even rate a mention in the southern rugby league media, not even as a feel good story. The ARLC can’t then be moved to even chip in for expenses, preferring to blow their profits on hotels, Las Vegas and Peter V’Landys’ salary, despite plenty of blowhard rhetoric about heartlands and preserving the heritage of the game.
That same media apparatus - largely made up of people from Sydney and almost entirely by people living in Sydney - can’t quite work out what to do with Redcliffe’s history: founded in ‘46, in the BRL in ‘61, won a premiership in ‘65 and then the NRL in ‘23. “New and old” but not really new at all, just promoted from another place to the supposedly national competition. But the history may as well not have happened and it would be better for the narrative if rugby league sprang forth, somehow fully formed, in Queensland in 1988.
If that’s nonsense to you, you’ll understand my deranged insistence we get to the bottom of this because this is why we have to hear about the North Sydney Bears every few months.
I was fairly dubious whether I would ever actually get to them, so this is in many ways a relief.
“Technically, it was in Tweed Heads, which is New South Wales” is dumbass pedantry that reinforces my point.
It should go without saying, but in the interests of completeness, the Super League project and the Brisbane Broncos had no overarching ideology about rugby league and any attempts to paint one onto them is anachronistic at best, naive at worst. They were about the money.
It’s not lost on me that V’Landys’ legacy is going to be glowingly positive and it doesn’t matter how many words I write to the contrary.
“But they added four teams in 1995!” Yeah and it was stupid. Roy Masters:
Arthurson/Quayle had privately decided the Crushers should be Auckland's partner, with the Perth and North Queensland teams to join in 2000. However, the presentations by the three clubs were equally good and Arthurson turned to Quayle and basically said, "Why don't we let all three in for 1995?"
Putting aside the NSWRL’s own recommendation in 1992 to reduce the number of Sydney clubs that remained unacted upon, the right result was achieved via the wrong process and the process is what you should be judged by.
As proof, if you consider the Storm as a spiritual successor to the Reds (and the Mariners), then the expansion choice they were really set on, as an irritation to the Broncos as much as anything, is the only one that’s ceased to exist. Visionaries.