Rugby league came back to life in 2022. After two years of pandemics and cancellations and postponements in 2020 and 2021, we finally got a real year of football.
NRL / NRLW
Unlike the massive overhauls of the entire sport implemented before the resumption in 2020 and the off-season before 2021, Peter V’Landys and his cronies limited themselves to two changes. Following a year of blowouts that were definitely not blowouts and still definitely more entertaining than what we were served in 2019, the NRL, without admitting that they had completely fucked up the sport for no discernible gain, restricted the use of the six again to the attacking 40 metres, reinstating penalties to the rest of the field. It undid a lot of the damage done but not so much as scrapping the rule in its entirety would.
They also managed to reform the judiciary system, a thing I didn’t think anyone worth listening to thought needed doing, to simplify the process and reduce punishments from suspensions to fines. How this went down with the law and order set that would throw you in jail for looking at them the wrong way, no one can say, although not having to mentally tax themselves to understand loading may be seen as a benefit. That this was announced – and I want to be clear that I am not exaggerating here – eight hours before the season kick-off is just exasperatingly typical. Aside from an increase in spectacularly bad tackles, send offs and general deadshittery on the field, I don’t think this made a significant difference.
The administration tried other stuff on and failed.
No one who mattered seemed to notice, and certainly wouldn’t commit any criticism to writing, until the AFL’s new broadcast deal demonstrated clearly how badly V’Landys and co had messed with the money.
The consequences for this have not played out as yet.
In the background, Hugh Marks, former Channel Nine CEO fired for fucking his assistant after getting the NRL to take a massive haircut on broadcast revenue during the pandemic, sleazed his way into a consulting role with the collective bargaining negotiations, did precisely dick-all and scuttled off under a rock somewhere before any real work had to be done. It doesn’t seem to have occured to anyone that this might not be a good look.
On the field, the 2022 NRLM season ended up being largely a copy of 2021. The Panthers were exceptionally good and won the title. The Eels have fundamentally mistimed their era of being Good to coincide with the Panthers being Exceptional. The Sharks and Cowboys were both frauds, padding a soft schedule into embarrassing losses when it mattered. The Storm underperformed expectations, partly thanks to injury, and the Roosters grossly underperformed expectations, which were set higher due to the previous season’s injuries. The Rabbitohs needed a halfback. The Raiders were plucky enough to scrape into finals and then bash Melbourne over the head, yet again. The Broncos tripped over a wide variety of genitalia. The Dragons are asleep at the wheel. The Sea Eagles are full of homophobes that would rather lose than wear a tiny rainbow. The Bulldogs needed to dump their coach before the season started. The Titans and Knights are dumpster fires. The Warriors might have the stupidest front office in the NRL. The Tigers finally won a long overdue wooden spoon.
We were treated to two NRLW seasons in the 2022 calendar year. The Broncos’ dynasty ended in familiar genital-tripping fashion, with no finals wins, and were then pillaged by the Knights. The Knights went from 0-5 to premiership winners in the space of a few months, thanks to said pillaging. The Roosters went from unlikely premiership winners to losing to a 1-4 team in the semi-finals. The Eels won three regular season games in ten and still made a grand final. The Dragons are now the only foundation NRLW club that still exists and hasn’t won a title. The Titans were there and played the games that were asked of them.
You can dive into more (serious) detail of each team’s men’s and women’s 2022 seasons:
- Brisbane Broncos
- Canberra Raiders
- Canterbury Bulldogs
- Cronulla Sharks
- Gold Coast Titans
- Manly Sea Eagles
- Melbourne Storm
- Newcastle Knights
- New Zealand Warriors
- North Queensland Cowboys
- Parramatta Eels
- Penrith Panthers
- South Sydney Rabbitohs
- St George Illawarra Dragons
- Sydney Roosters
- Wests Tigers
Both competitions will see a shake up in 2023.
For the men, the homeless Dolphins will join the fray, fronting with a roster that will prove to be bad but there are enough teetering edifices elsewhere in the league that they will probably be spared the spoon. In Newcastle, a coach under pressure will move Kalyn Ponga to 6 in the hopes of UNLEASHING him, exactly the move that his predecessor tried before not keeping his job. On the Gold Coast, Justin Holbrook is about five mintues away from everyone realising he’s done shit-all in three years, that he’s not building anything and being punted for Des Hasler, who might actually threaten to do something with the franchise. In Auckland, they’ve hired Home Brand Cameron Ciraldo because they panicked and put a hole on the front of their jersey that represents where their premiership aspirations went. No one knows what will happen at Leichahrdt-slash-Concord-slash-Tamworth-slash-Campbelltown-slash-Hamilton: the roster has some new guys coming in off career years but they’ve taken a wild swing on septuagenarian Tim Sheens and the as-yet unproven abilities of Benji Marshall. On the Northern Beaches, Manly have hired a man who failed so thoroughly and spectacularly in Brisbane that one can only ascribe his return to the big time as some sort of humiliation kink and the Sea Eagles’ own prediliction for incestuous in-fighting over achieving anything. They’re still more narcoleptic than a purple Wiggle in Kogarah and likely to punt a guy that’s actually overperformed with a roster that’s as past it as it is boring. At least prospects are looking up at Belmore, even though they seem to have precisely no cap space for any further upgrades. The race is on in Brisbane between Walters falling ass-backwards into a winning roster that can carry him to the finals and him following up 2022’s year of fucking around with 2023’s year of finding out. Ricky Stuart is going to piss off half his roster before galvanising them into a feisty week 1 finals win followed by a tepid week 2 exit. Parramatta will collapse into civil war between the Mosesites and the Hodgsonites. Cronulla is massively overdue a regression to mean. No one cares what they do in Townsville. Melbourne desparately needs the same backline Italy used to beat Scotland to come good. The Rabbitohs and Roosters will insist on producing the lamest and pettiest high school drama over stadiums before delivering up two melees interrupted by a football match. Penrith are laughing at the idea that any of these people are their rivals. Maybe it’s not that much of a shake-up.
For the women, instead of expanding to eight – a nice, sensible number that’s only two more than we currently have – the NRLW is expanding to ten. One can only assume this is so there’s more content for Peter V’Landys to give away for free to broadcasters in exchange for them doing the NRL a solid by producing the games and keeping the proceeds. Canberra, Cronulla, North Queensland and Wests were all granted licences to join Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney, Parramatta, Newcastle and St George Illawarra in being certifiably Not Misogynistic, at least at an institutional level. It’s a tough look for South Sydney, who really wanted a licence, New Zealand, who would have the easiest time in the world in an expanded NRLW but see previous comments re: administration, and Canterbury, Manly, Penrith and Redcliffe, who can’t even be bothered to have state-level senior women’s teams.
Who ends up where, for how much money and for how long are all questions that will only be answered after there’s a collective bargaining agreement in place. Given the current administration’s record, that will likely be about twenty minutes before kickoff of the first game of 2023, maybe 2024. Until then, we really have no idea how the competition expanding by 66%, the year after expanding 50%, will go or what it will look like.
Of course, the NRL really wants to tell you that they made $50 million in profit last year, maybe even $80 million if Pete Badel is to be believed (he is not) and will probably be $100 million before we’re done, without releasing any meaningful detail on how they got there but that would undermine the negotiations with players and clubs that they have failed to complete, or even start, in a timely fashion.
What a ridiculous shitshow. Somehow I’ll still end up spending hundreds of dollars in tickets and using up hundreds of precious hours watching.
State of Origin
It was a fine year to be a Queenslander, provided you ignored the week where the Maroons went 0-4. And we shall be ignoring that week.
I do like the idea of using the juniors games as a bit more ballast in a rep week, which is why it’s a shame that rep week is going away. The women’s “series” is going from one game to two next year is appropriately overdue and perplexingly not three games. Now we’re more familiar with wheelchair after the World Cup, there’s scope to add that into the mix as well, especially if Australia wants to close the gap to England and France.
I have no idea why there was a Queenslander NFT project but it seems to be going about as well as you’d expect.
Here’s the first tweet in an incredibly long thread of Queensland Cup and QRLW video I cut up at random through the year.
There were many highlights to the season. There’s this round 1 game with 5 sin bins, the end of the Falcons-Pride game, this Falcons try, the Hunters demolishing Wynnum, Gideon Gela-Mosby, this 35/15, Valynce Te Whare, field goals of disrespect, Souths demolishing Wynnum, the Capras in general, this try to cap off a 24 point turnaround and culminating in the funniest two minutes of rugby league in 2022, as Jamayne Isaako single-handedly ruins Tweed Heads’ season and looks utterly perplexed as to how he managed to do it.
While I think the season absolutely peaked here, the moment of the year was the Hunters’ homecoming.
The Pride and Cutters were fairly anonymous but here’s some thoughts on the rest:
- Bears – The Bears looked like title favourites for most of the season and never seemed particularly troubled with a three win lead at the top of the table as late as round 17. That lead eroded over the next few weeks and finally dissolved in the afternoon sun at Moreton Daily Stadium, as the will to win seemed to desert Burleigh in the second half of what was still a winnable preliminary final against the Dolphins.
- Blackhawks – Townsville failed to make the finals for the first time since their inception in 2015. The Cowboys’ plan to stash their best young prospects in the same team backfired, as the team limped to 7-10-2. Smarter people than me might point out that the purpose of putting kids into Queensland Cup is so they can develop not just by playing against, but also with, men. No wonder the Cowboys want their own team.
- Capras – The Capras had a hell of a season, possibly their best ever in Cup. They started strong and began to fade down the stretch but still finished fifth with a 11-7-1 record and made an appearance in the second week of the finals. They had a slightly better winning percentage in 1997 and made it just as far in the post-season as 2009. Unfortunately, the carcass has already begun to be picked clean but we’ll see if the Dolphins offer any help in 2023.
- Devils – The Devils were never the “best” team at any given point in the season until the last quarter of the grand final, when it counted. Losing Rohan Smith to Leeds was not going to be easy to overcome but the mix of veterans, like Jack Ahearn, and Broncos on assignment, like Tyson Gamble, and those that were both, like Tyrone Roberts, meant that Norths had the experience and guile to get home with the first back-to-back premiership since Wynnum-Manly in 2011 and 2012. Brayden McGrady broke his arm scoring the match winning try in the 77′ minute, a fact that will echo through the ages.
- Dolphins – Valynce Te Whare. He’s ready to kill someone in the NRL.
- Falcons – The Falcons had one of the more chaotic seasons (see how often they turn up in the highlights) and without ever looking like world beaters, put together a pretty competent team. I’m very interested to see whether any of their Guys go on to become Dudes from here.
- Hunters – The Hunters at least get to return home for 2023, which should lead to the return of “Fort Moresby” (at least that’s what I’ll call it) and a huge home crowd advantage that they’ve been sorely missing. It’s been a rough couple of years on and off the pitch but with Stanley Tepend coming in and an end to pandemic restrictions, let’s hope they can find their footing again. The Cup is more fun when the Hunters are good.
- Jets – Easily the worst team in the Queensland Cup and yet, because they hit a purple patch of winning three games in four weeks in the middle of winter, they cleared the incredibly low bar set by the Magpies. The Jets go into 2023 with a new logo and are one of two teams with NSW NRL tie-ups (with the Clydesdales) but no proper feeder arrangement.
- Magpies – What an abomination of a season. The Magpies lost too much talent to the Broncos and more still to the injured list. Even though the Jets were a substantially worse team, the Magpies just could not get a result on the board. The turnaround begins for 2023 with new coach Karmichael Hunt and Italian international duo of Jack Campagnolo and (ex-Capra) Radean Robinson coming to West End.
- Seagulls, Tweed – Tweed in theory had a pretty good season but never looked like threatening. The Seagulls favoured a sideline-to-sideline offence that scored the fourth most points in the league and were probably the next best team after the Falcons, Bears and Dolphins. They lost their season in the second half of the aforementioned elimination final at the hand of Isaako.
- Seagulls, Wynnum – It’s not great when the two wins the wooden spooners have are both against your team. They probably should have made the finals, but didn’t. Oh well, re-build time. Literally.
- Tigers – I like the look of Solomona Faataape. Please credit me if he comes good.
The QRLW premiership was somewhat affected by the postponement of the 2021 NRLW season, which pushed it into direct conflict with the BMD Premiership. As the Broncos and Titans in particular were eliminated, pros slowly filtered their way back to their state clubs, massively changing the fortunes of some clubs mid-season. Burleigh, North Queensland and Central Queensland were the three form teams in the competition. The Capras, featuring Tamika Upton, easily accounted for Wynnum in one semi-final while the Gold Stars, featuring Hagiga Mosby, Emma Manzelman, Romy Teitzel and Destiny Brill, fought a late fight back from the Bears to win the other. The Capras looked to have the final stitched up until:
Sometimes it really does just come down to the bounce of the ball.
Next season sees a huge churn in the men’s coaching ranks. Luke Burt goes to Burleigh to replace Rick Stone (returning to Newcastle), Karmichael Hunt is promoted at Souths Logan to replace Steve Bretherton (who is now CEO), Stanley Tepend is promoted at PNG to replace Matt Church (who wasn’t extended), Matt Church goes to Easts to replace Jon Buchanan (retirement), Mat Head goes to Wynnum to replace Adam Brideson (retirement), Dave Elliott goes to Norths to replace Rohan Smith (Leeds), Michael Comerford to Mackay is promoted to replace Dave Elliott (Norths) and Dave Penna moves sideways at Tweed to replace Ben Woolf (Dragons). It’s usually chaotic trying to predict how the next Queensland Cup will unfold and this just adds another layer of uncertainty.
Despite being December 2022, it is not known how many teams will contest the Cup next year, which will probably kickoff in March 2023. National reserve grade was disposed of, at least for the time being, leaving the sport’s premier club competition in tact. We have the fourteen incumbent clubs and we expect the elevation of the Western Clydesdales to give the Toowoomba and Darling Downs region their first representative at state level since 2006, but we don’t know if the dipshit Cowboys and Titans are going to insert themselves into the competition. I personally hope they realise that they should just get better at managing the situation the Storm and Broncos seem to be able to deal with.
This state of affairs is slightly more excusable in the women’s premiership, where development is occuring at a rapid pace. We know the Jets are in the hunt for a licence, which suggests the QRL are open to expansion. If the plan is to have all statewide clubs have teams in the QRLW, then Wests might make way for Norths (and we won’t be seeing Valleys or Ipswich Brothers again, even though this would be a good way to resurrect some heritage marques) and assuming the Gold Stars remain a conglomeration of Townsville, Mackay and Cairns, then the intentions of the Clydesdales, Dolphins, Falcons and Hunters remain open to speculation.
In better news, QPlus delivered what it offered, which was a pretty basic and, after the first few weeks, functional streaming platform for every game in every statewide competition for $50, with featured games in front of the paywall. While I’d love it if the non-featured games had an effects mike instead of the referees’ mikes (they tend to shout a lot) and some of the less suitable venue choices (like Souths playing home games out of Marsden State High) were dispensed with for night games, I’ll live with what we have at that price point. It’ll be interesting to see if QPlus has enough of a userbase and a future that allows the QRL to properly produce, with commentators and directors and sound guys, all the games in the senior men’s and women’s competitions each week.
Elswhere in Queensland:
In incredibly sad news, we lost Michael Purcell, one of the all-time great Queensland Cup players.
Finally, a great story about rugby league in country Queensland.
Get him in to replace Kevvie, I dare you.
New South Wales
Did you hear? The Tigers actually won something. Yes, the Wests Tigers.
The Tigers finished the Women’s Premiership only fourth best, with a 5-3 record, equal with the third placed Sharks. North Sydney actually dominated the season, finishing 7-1, winning most of their games comfortably with only a slip-up against the second placed Mounties. That came to a sudden end in the semis, where the Bears won the game on paper but lost it on the scoreboard. That set up a final between Wests and Cronulla, after the latter cruised past Mounties. A star studded final hung in the balance until a golden point field goal from Emily Curtain sent the Tigers out winners.
On the men’s side, Penrith won pretty much everything. The Panthers finished the regular season a draw behind the Newtown Jets and then battled their way through the finals with their reserve grade reserve grade side, filling in as the normal reserve graders were called up to the big leagues to cover resting players. While the Bulldogs kept the final close, there was little doubt that Penrith would emerge victorious. Truth be told, it all leaves me pretty cold – it’s no last minute Billy Magoulias chip and chase in successive weeks – but if you’re a Panthers fan, it must be nice.
That is nowhere as interesting as the NSWRL scheduling the NSW Cup grand final on the same day as NRLW semi-finals and the men’s UCI Road World Championships, two sporting events that Nine chose to carry over the least popular state football league final in the country. This pushed the NSW Cup grand final to a stream on Facebook. People tried to argue with me that Nine did the sport of rugby league dirty, as if this is what you would choose to focus on out of their list of crimes. I’d point out that the Queensland Cup final was broadcast on Nine because the QRL moved to Saturday where it would only clash with the women’s road race. People would then say why should the NSW Cup final move? And I’d say to get broadcast on TV. Even the Olympics only gets two channels and its insane to think that there’d be a meaningful audience for the NSW Cup final that wasn’t split with the NRLW. Then: who cares about a bike race? Besides the magpies, that’d be the huge crowds of people that lined the circuit in Wollongong, a thing that the NSWRL would cut their arms off for if only to stop them from shooting themselves in the foot (for the record, Nine did a terrible job of broadcasting the Road Worlds as well). I wrote about how the NSWRL is being sued by the ARLC/NRL for the stupidest shit imaginable but they do not do themselves any favours. People complained to get their dopamine fix but evidently, didn’t care enough to actually watch.
Elsewhere in New South Wales:
Papua New Guinea
For the first time since 2019, the Digicel Cup, Papua New Guinea’s top level domestic competition, played a full season of seventeen games. It was a season of change. While mainstays like Lae and Hela were in the top four, the season ws headlined by the Mendi Muruks taking the minor premiership with a 14-3 record, building on last year’s 9-2, but for the second season running, the Muruks were bundled out in the preliminary final. This year it was at the hands of the Hela Wigmen, taking a patented last minute run at the title in a manner reminiscient of their 2020 covid year premiership. After a number of promising seasons, Rabaul made good on that promise to finish the regular season in second with a 13-4 record and make their first grand final since 2017. After a long, grinding game that was 6-all after extra time, it was only a penalty goal that separated Hela from Rabaul in golden point.
It wouldn’t be PNG if the cops weren’t called in.
Perhaps most interesting, Central Dabaris and Gulf Isou moved themselves out of their traditional bottom three places to finish fifth (9-8) and eighth (5-9-3), respectively. This is both clubs’ best finishes since joining the comp in 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Even though it was always unlikely with the seedings that the Kumuls would either finish top of their group or progress past the quarter finals, I think there might still be some residual disappointment in their World Cup performance. Following on from a mid-season Test victory over Fiji (PNG have now won three of the last four head-to-head) and some good late season performances from the Hunters, Papua New Guinea would have been dreaming of an upset over either Tonga, which was within reach, or England, instead of being six-agained off the park. Admittedly, the most satisfying part of the tournament might have been England’s arrogance after blowing PNG away (“this is meant to one of the tougher teams!” remarked the commentator, as a developed imperial economy beat up on a third world nation for the umpteenth time) going into a home semi-final loss against a team they’d already beaten by 60 a few weeks earlier. Still it’s clear that the Kumuls are edging closer to being regularly competitive with the Samoa and Tonga class of nations, which is positive for everyone.
For the first time since the Kaiviti Silktails were granted entry to the Ron Massey Cup, they managed to see out a season. There’s some unclear but definitely strange politicking behind the scenes that changed this operation from a replication of the Hunters to focussing on under 23s. Nonetheless, the Silktails finished a respectable sixth of nine with a record of 6-9-1, beating out Western Suburbs, Ryde Eastwood and Blacktown Workers.
At home, the domestic season resumed after being cancelled last year. The domestic scene looks really healthy with a (I think) 25 team men’s competition, a brand new eight team women’s competition, a youth comp and a men’s and women’s three game Origin series, both won by the Maroons.
The Vodafone Cup came down to the two best teams after the regular season, managed to win through the inventive Fijian system of taking the top teams from each division, playing them at a Magic Round and taking the top eight from that to the finals. The Saru Dragons, from the Western Alliance, qualified in first from Magic Round but were upset by the second place qualifiers in Nasinu’s Nadera Panthers.
Despite having some significant misgivings, I thought the national men’s team acquitted themselves fairly well in the end. A mid-season loss to the Kumuls is starting to become expected, as Fiji suffers from a similar lack of spine players to Tonga, but a big win over Italy, a comfortable (if sloppy) win over Scotland and running New Zealand as close as they did in the quarter finals are all big ticks. Even losing 42-8 to Australia is the equal closest the Bati have come to beating the Kangaroos (tied with the 2013 World Cup semi-final) and the equal most points scored against the Kangaroos (tied with a 2000 World Cup group match). Plus we got the hear the hymn again.
I don’t actually have a lot of context to provide for New Zealand club rugby league. Most of what they would normally do has been cancelled due to the pandemic in the time that I’ve been compiling these reviews but it seems good?
I’m also not sure there’s a whole lot to be gleaned from the World Cup performances of the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns. The Kiwis did about as well as expected, sweeping aside Group C, before facing a huge challenge to overcome Fiji (let’s not forget that New Zealand lost that match in 2017) and then forced Australia into actually turning up for a game in the semis. The Kiwi Ferns did something similar, sweeping all bar Australia aside in their group, forced Australia to turn up in the final group game, before being somewhat challenged by England in the semis and then ultimately ran out of steam against the Jillaroos in the final in what was a record smashing. It’s the first time the Jillaroos have cracked 30 points against the Kiwi Ferns, let alone 50. The previous record margin of victory was 20 points, set at the end of 2019.
Rest of Asia-Pacific
(I’ll believe it when I see it)
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