Tag Archives: intrust super cup

A Shallow Dive into the minor rugby leagues in 2021

Regular readers will know that I like to keep up with all the developments in world football, not just the top level. Because so many second and third class comps were cancelled last year, we aren’t able to do a serious season preview for each one in 2021 (if I even had the time). Many of the players have been on the sidelines for simply too long and, where we have data, it is too old to be of real use.

Nonetheless, there were still movements in the off-season that are worth keeping an eye on and if you missed The Year in Rugby League Football, we’ll cover some old ground to provide context for the season ahead.

Queensland Cup / Intrust Super Cup

If this is your first foray to the QCup, welcome. This is, without hyperbole, the world’s greatest rugby football league (Digicel Cup runs a close second). One game on Sunday will be available for streaming through the QRL website, as well as a few other outlets, with a Saturday game on Kayo Freebies. While its frustrating to lose the free-to-air slot that’s been made available the last few years (which presumably happened because Phil Gould tells Peter V’Landys what to do and Gould couldn’t find Queensland on a map, much less acknowledge the value that the Queensland Cup does and could have), this theoretically makes the competition much more accessible. At some point, we hope the QRL can go its own way with its own broadcast rights and reduce its dependence on the clueless Sydney-based parasites.

The biggest change for this season is Redcliffe’s switch from being the Broncos’ primary feeder to the Warriors’, which I wrote about last year. As usual, unless a transcedent talent emerges (e.g. Harry Grant in 2019, Cameron Munster and Jason Taumalolo in 2013, etc), the main front runners will be the clubs that get the best players from their NRL affiliates. Typically this will be Redcliffe (Warriors), Wynnum-Manly (Broncos, maybe Souths Logan or Norths), Townsville (Cowboys, although their assignments are relatively balanced), two-year defending champions Burleigh (Titans) and either Sunshine Coast or Easts (Storm).

My money is on the latter, given most of the first-rate Storm talents have been assigned to the Falcons but won’t generally be available. Easts Tigers have also rebranded as the Brisbane Tigers and signed former Souths Logan coach, Jon Buchanan, to replace Terry Matterson, who has taken up a role at the Broncos. They also pinched Darren Nicholson from the Magpies and have snaffled up Mitch Frei and former Jet Michael Purcell. I’d say they are having a serious tilt at ending their premiership drought which extends back to 1991 (post-Broncos BRL), 1989 (post-Broncos Winfield State League), 1983 (pre-Broncos BRL but season split with the Winfield State League) and/or 1978 (legit BRL title), depending on your perspective. Either way, like Parramatta, they’ve never won a title that matters despite five QCup grand final appearances since 1996.

Souths have signed up Steven Bretherton to coach for 2021 and 2022 and Karmichael Hunt and Kevin Locke will be appearing for the black-and-whites (and-blue-and-golds) with Tom Dearden if the Broncos decide they don’t want him for some insane reason.

Even after watching the Digicel Cup highlights from last year, it’s difficult to say whether the Hunters will materially improve on 2019’s wooden spoon as part of their post-2017 rebuild, citing a mix of new and old players, including the immortal Ase Boas and the temporary services of Watson Boas, who is unable to rejoin Doncaster. I fully expect the Capras, who currently do not have a coach, to be bringing up the rear as usual. Norths have signed Danny Levi, the perfect replacement level NRL player.

For 2020, I did do a deep dive season preview which was made redundant within about two weeks thanks to this thing you might have heard of called the Novel Coronavirus. A year on, with no play in between, a lot of the information I have from the 2019 season is redundant now. On top of that, the rule changes brought in last year have only just filtered through to State Cup (no word on whether 2021 rules will also be adopted this year). The reality is that we will not know how clubs and players have come through until we have some games in the books.

QRLW / BHP Premiership

We didn’t get much of a chance to get to know the new QRLW competition, suspended after one round in 2020. The BHP Premiership will kick off on April 10 2021, a few weeks after the men’s competition. Eight teams, largely the same as last year, will compete: Brisbane Tigers, Burleigh Bears, Wests Panthers, Central Queensland Capras, North Queensland Gold Stars, Valleys Diehards, Tweed Heads Seagulls and Souths Logan Magpies. It is great to see two heritage clubs returning to second class football, as neither Wests nor Valleys have played in the Queensland Cup since 2003 and 2004, respectively, and the latter was part of a short-lived joint venture with Brothers.

Ali Brigginshaw has gone from Brothers Ipswich to Valleys, after Brothers declined to enter this year’s competition, where she will be coached by Scott Prince. Brigginshaw played for Souths Logan in the Holcim Cup last year. Tamika Upton has also moved on from Souths Logan, and previously the Capras, to Burleigh. Tarryn Aiken will suit up again for Tweed Heads. The rebalancing of the competition’s talent should narrow the gap between Burleigh and Souths Logan at one end, and Wests and Tweed at the other that was experienced during last year’s Holcim Cup.

It is genuinely difficult to know who will be good in the BHP Premiership. One of the most enjoyable aspects of watching this competition will be seeing who comes out on top and learning some new names along the way. The Bears and Magpies already had strong programmes. Valleys aren’t messing around. The Tigers have invested in theirs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gold Stars, taking talent from Townsville, Cairns and Mackay, also field a competitive team. We’ll have to wait and see.

NSW Cup / Knock-on Effect Cup

Coincidentally, the Raiders made a last second decision to rejoin the NSW Cup shortly after Peter V’Landys announced he wanted all three grades back. For them, it’s probably a much smarter decision than the previous idea of using the Canberra Raiders Cup, i.e. local footy in Canberra, as reserve grade but has meant their withdrawal from some junior competitions.

With the exit of the Warriors, this brings the NSW Cup up to a beefy eleven teams, of which there are several heritage clubs – Newtown (Sharks), North Sydney (Roosters), Western Suburbs (Tigers) – and a couple of the bigger western Sydney clubs – Mounties (Bulldogs) and Blacktown (Sea Eagles) – and Canberra, Newcastle, Parramatta, Penrith, St George Illawarra and South Sydney just running straight reserve grade sides. For those playing at home, that’s five teams with distinct identities and six running with the “like the NRL but a bit shit” marketing angle.

The Cup is now sponsored by the Knock-on Effect which, depending on what mood I’m in, either sounds like a competition to make the most handling errors or raising awareness for CTE.

Trodden said it was fitting to extend the partnership with Transport for NSW after the success of The Knock-On Effect campaign, which aims to reduce road deaths and serious injuries on NSW roads.

Source

The strength of teams runs on how well their senior side goes. The Dragons were minor premiers in 2019 with a 13-6-3 record (Souths won more games but also lost more and finished one point behind) but the Jets won the grand final from seventh place thanks to reinforcements becoming available after the Sharks were knocked out of the NRL finals. I’d expect some of the deeper NRL teams, e.g. Raiders, Sharks and Rabbitohs, to be able to keep relatively talented players in the second tier, setting their sides up for strong seasons barring a crisis in first grade. The top eight (from eleven or twelve) finals system makes for total chaos so I won’t even pretend to know who might win the title.

Super League

Super League spent most of 2020 lurching from disaster to disaster, covering its blemishes and saving its graces with a blistering grand final. Not only did the league cut its brightest hope for a wider and more commercially viable future, it retreated further into its own backyard. Super League refused to cast a net as far as York, let alone London or Toulouse, and instead opted for Leigh, a club whose Super League record is 8-42-1 and is only a twenty minute drive to not one but three other Super League clubs.

Between the TV deal going down 25%, sponsorship paid in pizza and £750,000 reportedly spent on a private equity deal rejected by four clubs and the RFL, I’m not sure if Super League is a metaphor for Brexit or vice versa. A wider, Atlantic vision is just not happening because Rob Elstone is about as competent as Boris Johnson but without the sociopathic charisma.

Then again, he’s off, so we’ll see what his replacement brings. It is 2021 and a chance for the Northern Union to think about how to remake itself for the 21st century. They will absolutely not do that, instead preferring to focus on grimly holding on for dear life. In the meantime, there’s liable to be a football competition break out at any second. The start of the season has already been delayed, primarily due to the UK government’s Super League-esque handling of the pandemic, to March 11. Unlike in the lower divisions, Super League has a TV contract to fulfill, so will play with or without fans (expected to return sometime in May or June). Someone will eventually work out what to do with Catalans (and Toulouse), given current travel restrictions. Charter flights should solve the problem but one wonders how much money Bernard Gausch really has.

I briefly toyed with making this into a deep dive but unlike other editions, we don’t have player data to work with for Super League (the player stats on the SL website are an absolute mess) and I only track Elo ratings. The maths work out pretty much the same each season in any case. St Helens, Wigan and Warrington will lead the way, with one of the first two probably winning the grand final, although Wire are long overdue. There’s a constantly shuffling middle pack, comprising Leeds, Catalans, Salford, Hull FC, Castleford and Huddersfield whose fortunes will swing on how far they can get into the Challenge Cup as much as anything. The Rhinos should be aiming to rejoin the top tier clubs this year. At the end of the field, Wakefield Trinity, Hull KR and the re-branded Wolfpack / Leigh Centurions, will be struggling to avoid the drop.

Challenge Cup

The Challenge Cup is designed to be a bit of a crap-shoot but will likely be dominated by Super League teams in the latter stages, as it almost inevitably is. If a team falls out of contention in one comp but remains in the running in the other, they will swing resources to maximise their chances of winning something. 2021 could be a good year for a lesser light to break through at Wembley, a few teams in the middle tier have done in recent years. The RFL is using this opportunity to see what demand there is for streaming via Our League charging what are, quite frankly, outrageous prices.

£20, or about AU$36 at time of writing, would buy you two months of a basic Kayo sub, which is not limited to lower division rugby league football, while the QRL and NSWRL will broadcast games for free, as did the NRL with its pre-season trials in lieu of charging, wait for it,

$18 just to watch a pre season trial.

If the RFL’s and Super League’s audience buy into this en masse, they’re dumber than I thought. Our League will either be a roaring commercial success, built on extracting ever more shillings out of their C2DE audience, or a catastrophic failure, having priced out some of the biggest victims of Tory austerity. I’m sure it’ll be fine though.

Championship

Crowds will return in the near-ish future, which is good news for the Championship and League 1. They will not be forced to play behind closed doors for no revenue for long. The Championship will commence at the beginning of April with crowds returning sometime in May. Without much of a season played in 2020, we won’t know for sure how the teams will sort themselves out but all eyes will be on the promotion race out of the Championship.

It will be fiercely contested between London Broncos, Tolouse Olympique, York City Knights and perennial challenges, Featherstone Rovers. Out of those four, I don’t really care which one gets ahead as long as the promotion doesn’t stretch the club past its breaking point. Likely the best overall outcome for the game would be the ascension of Toulouse or, to a lesser extent, London, or a greater extent if they move to Plough Lane. The scenario of Featherstone being promoted at the expense of, say, Catalans would have sent me into an apoplectic fit not too long ago but I have decided to accept English football for what it is, especially after Rovers’ chairman blasted Super League for their handling of the Wolfpack fiasco.

Newcastle Thunder have been promoted to the Championship in the off-season, which with the aforementioned and Sheffield, gives the Championship a big city twist on the northern game. Hopefully, the Thunder can avoid the drop. A few signings should see them through, leaving the smaller traditional clubs to fight out the relegation battle. Halifax have adopted a new Panthers moniker and branding.

Elite 1

The Elite 1 season, which kicked off at the end of October in 2020, has continued through the pandemic, as a professional sport exempt from France’s ban. Quite how the clubs are generating revenue with no crowds and a minimal TV deal remains to be seen. Still, the Canaries, the Babys Dracs and the Sangliers lead the way after approximately eleven matchdays. There have been numerous cancellations/postponements due to positive tests, so it remains to be seen in what shape the season finishes.

The good news is that Elite 1 is apparently looking to expand from ten to twelve teams, promoting two out of Elite 2. It seems a little strange to me, given Palau, the last promoted team in 2013, and Toulouse Olympique’s reserve side, the former Toulouse Jules-Julien taken over in 2016, have struggled to compete in Elite 1. One questions whether the new clubs might similarly struggle. I also wonder if this weakens Elite 2 too much but perhaps it’s preferable for the FFR to put its eggs in the Elite 1 basket in hopes of breaking out of their rut and perhaps attracting a broadcaster.

Lyon and Toulon are baselessly speculated upon as being the best candidates for promotion, even as they languished at the bottom of the ladder in the previous shortened season and were not much better in the full season prior. Lyon, a large city well outside the French rugby league heartlands, and Toulon, a big rugby (of the Nazi kind) town, is perhaps indicative of the direction the new FFR President wants to take the game, even if the sporting merits aren’t there.

In the meantime, if you need a primer on French football, you can read this season preview I wrote pre-covid or listen to actual French or French-adjacent people explain it:

Elsewhere

  • Commencing in May, League 1 has been condensed down to just ten teams. Unless there’s been a miracle, West Wales and Coventry will continue to struggle, although one hopes the Raiders and Bears can win a few games each this year. The best rated teams are Doncaster, Workington Town and Barrow, although recent investment in Rochdale might turn them into competitors.
  • The Digicel Cup will return in 2021 with the same teams as in 2020. There were several expressions of interest to create new franchises but none were accepted by the PNGRFL. With the Hunters returning to the Queensland Cup and based in Queensland for the foreseeable future, some competitive balance should be restored, although I would expect Lae, Port Moresby and Hela to be the main contenders again. We can only hope it is this year that a broadcast deal is struck for Australia.
  • France’s Elite 2 2020-21 season was put on hold due to «la deuxieme vague» after only two rounds, with les Loups de US Entraigues XIII leading 2-0. It will presumably return when the ban on amateur sport is lifted in France.
  • The success of last season’s President’s Cup sees the NSWRL trying something similar again in 2021. It appears that some mix of Sydney Shield and Ron Massey will form a central conference, with the Newcastle RL to the north in another conference and Illawarra RL in the south. This surprisingly innovative format from the hidebound Blues has some potential and will be worth keeping an eye on, especially with the participation of the Kaiviti Silktails, who are basing themselves in New South Wales for this season. After it becomes clear no one has any meaningful interest in NSW Cup/NRL reserve grade, it’s possible this becomes NSW’s answer to the Queensland Cup, which would be a good thing.
  • BRL A-grade was the second tier of Queensland football below the NRL, after the QCup was cancelled for 2020. It was the first season under the “new” system of having affiliations with the Brisbane-based QCup clubs. Eight teams completed the season (down from the mooted nine after Beenleigh dropped out and the originally planned for ten). Wynnum Manly ran out premiers again, defeating Wests in the final after minor premiers Valleys stumbled earlier in the finals. I assume we’re running out this way again with Pine Rivers and Brighton (Dolphins), Carina and Bulimba (Tigers), Normanby (Magpies), Wests and Valleys (Devils) and Wynnum Juniors or maybe Beenleigh (Seagulls). Marmin Barba has nominally retired from Cup and has been spotted at Wests. Hopefully Scott Prince can suit up for Valleys again.
  • The USARL looks primed to kick off in May with twelve clubs, the most since 2017 (and slightly down on the 14 that participated in 2015-16). This is good news considering I wasn’t sure it’d be back at all.

Hopefully, we will be able to complete a GRLFC ranking with a women’s equivalent for 2021.

The Warrior Dolphins

Just before kick-off of the Bulldogs-Dragons spoon bowl on Monday, the Warriors dropped a big press release. Contained within is an important story with a lot of implications for rugby league, so let’s go through them.

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For the Broncos

It wasn’t that long ago that the Broncos had six feeder clubs in the Queensland Cup. It was probably too many, even if we ignore the fact that the Capras’ remoteness makes them relatively useless. I guess Brisbane felt a responsibility to give all of the clubs something, even if it wasn’t necessarily in the optimal interest of everyone.

Over the first off-season, the Jets aligned themselves with the Newcastle Knights. Seemingly this is because the Broncos and Jets organisations had differing philosophies and the new partnership makes “very good sense as Newcastle is really Ipswich by the sea”.

Even though NRL-contracted Knights players will still drop down into the Knights’ Canterbury Cup squad rather than the Jets’ Intrust Super Cup team, Ipswich now forms part of the Newcastle pathway. Presumably this means the Knights will get some sort of droit du seigneur on Ipswich kids, provided that they aren’t snapped up by other clubs beforehand (if you think geographical boundaries mean anything, you can go count the talented alumni of Gold Coast high schools at the Brisbane Broncos).

Then, not long after the conclusion of the second off-season, the Dolphins suddenly announced that they too were leaving the stable. They first joined in 2006, leaving the Roosters to fend for themselves. The Toowoomba Clydesdales, the Broncos’ other feeder at the time, folded not long after, were replaced by Aspley for one season in the Queensland Cup and then the focus shifted to the Dolphins form 2008 onwards.

The Dolphins had been given imperial preference by the Broncos. The best of the rest played at Redcliffe and the club formed something of a finishing school for future Broncos. The Dolphins played Matt Lodge for a season in 2018 as the Broncos waited out the PR penalty for that signing and got Lodge back into shape. In short, the clubs were tight and now they are not.

In the space of six months, Brisbane has gone from six to four feeders. It’s something of a high performance sporting break-up. No one knows (yet, exactly) why. Given the current state of the team’s first grade side and both front and back offices, eyebrows are necessarily raised.

For the Warriors

A New Zealand Warriors-branded team replaced the Auckland Vulcans in the New South Wales state cup in 2014. Since then, the reserve Warriors have bobbed around average but hardly blown the doors off the competition. Their best season was 2017, finishing in second place with a 13-5-4 record, before exiting in the prelims.

The re-purchase of the Warriors by a combination of the Auckland Rugby League via the Carlaw Heritage Trust and Autex Industries, a long time supporter of New Zealand rugby league, in April 2018 led to a hint that the Warriors reserves would run through the Auckland rugby league premiership, with the aim of raising that competition’s standard. That never happened and Autex ended up buying out the rest of the Warriors after a break down of “over a difference in philosophies and personality clashes”.

So it seems that the idea is on the backburner and the Warriors have seized a great opportunity. 

The main benefit will be leveraging the Dolphins’ extensive experience in developing players. This doesn’t seem to have been to be the Warriors’ major issue. Having access to the best talent that New Zealand rugby union overlooked or discarded means having access to so many kids with potential that it’s hard to fail to develop at least a few stars. Nonetheless, the finishing school might be the one or two percent polish on development players that’s separating the Warriors from that elusive premiership.

Shuttling reserve grade players from Auckland to Brisbane is probably no more difficult than shuttling them between Auckland and Sydney. The state cup travel load in Queensland is greater than in New South Wales but it won’t be anything that Redcliffe, or the Warriors for that matter, won’t already be used to. It might be worth it if the deal comes with some Knights-style droit du seigneur on unscouted talent in the Moreton Bay region.

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For the Dolphins

With the Dolphins bidding to become the NRL’s second Brisbane franchise and if they are successful, the relationship with the Broncos would inevitably have to be severed. This might be the first, albeit somewhat premature, step.

The basic math is that if NRL squads have thirty signatories and only seventeen can play on game day and minus a few injuries, there’s roughly six to ten pros who need something to do each weekend. Typically, they play in reserve grade competitions, as accommodated by the NRL’s farm teams. In New South Wales, those surplus to first grade’s requirements are sent to play at one club but in Queensland, players are assigned to a varying number of clubs. The fringe first graders are generally better quality than the other state cup-level footballers, so getting as many into your lineup is critical to success in the second tier. 

When the Broncos’ cup ran over, the Dolphins were the primary beneficiary. The benefit for Redcliffe now is that instead of sharing nine or ten fringe first graders with Souths Logan, Norths and Wynnum-Manly, they can get a NRL club’s set of players to themselves. In terms of the 2019 Warriors, think Chanel Harris-Tavita, Tom Ale and a handful of forwards that have played at NRL level, like Bunty Afoa, Ligi Sao and Sam Lisone, and instead of getting two or three of them, the Dolphins will now have all five.

For the Queensland Cup

In the most recent editions of the Queensland Cup, there’s generally been four clubs in the mix: Redcliffe (Broncos), Burleigh (Titans), Townsville (Cowboys) and whichever of Easts and Sunshine Coast the Storm happen to favour that season. There’s the occasional incursion from your Hunters and Seagulls types but generally that’s been four of the top six.

Introducing a fifth NRL club will presumably add a fifth power. Considering Redcliffe is already one of those powers, it will be from the Broncos reassigning their talent elsewhere. They have only three metro clubs to choose from: Wynnum-Manly, Souths Logan and Norths. We could baselessly speculate that the Magpies, already home to Cory Paix, Tom Dearden and Tesi Niu in 2020, will become New Redcliffe but perhaps the Broncos would prefer to build on the stronger base at Kougari, as Wynnum-Manly finished runners-up in three grades in 2019.

Even if the Broncos split the difference, one of the clubs will likely luck out and rise up, so the establishment of a new feeder relationship resets the balance in a way not seen since NSWRL clubs were allowed to feed into the competition.

Still unknown is the fate of the under 20s and under 18s Warriors’ and Dolphins’ sides. The Warriors did not participate in Jersey Flegg in 2020 as is, after going 9-9-2 in 2019, but the SG Ball side sat in third when the competition was suspended. While the Storm uses Queensland feeders, their junior sides play in the NSW competitions as of last year. Perhaps we will see junior Dolphins continue in the Queensland competitions and junior Warriors playing in Auckland. Further unknown is if Redcliffe get the nod to go up to the NRL, whether the Warriors will return to NSW or partner with a different Queensland club.

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For the NSW Cup

Now we ask ourselves, what actually is the point of the New South Wales Cup?

The Canterbury Cup is stuck between two ideas: that the second tier competition should be a reserve grade for the Sydney NRL clubs and that there should be a high level competition across the state of New South Wales. The recent merger of the Country Rugby League into the NSWRL makes the question more pertinent.

Where is the representation of regional NSW in the state competition? Other than Newcastle, the cup is limited to a triangle between Woollongong, Penrith and Gosford. Roughly three million people, enough to be the fourth largest state in the country in its own right, live in the ACT and New South Wales outside of Sydney.

With the Canterbury Cup now down to eleven contestants, it’s time for the NSWRL to consider what its purpose is. Dare I suggest expansion to engage a wider base? There are six regions in the CRL that could provide the basis of new teams. Combine that with the Sydney has-beens (North Sydney, Newtown, Western Suburbs) and the never-weres (Mounties, Wenty, Blacktown) and a few outside teams, like the Kaiviti Silktails or new teams established in the southern states, and you’d have yourself a pretty decent league with a totally different flavour to the NRL.

We could also dispense with the idea that taking Sydney club games to regional areas is good because they would have teams to call their own, forcing the Sydney clubs to pull their fingers out and find some fans.

Of course such an approach would undermine the direct influence that the Sydney NRL clubs have, so it will never fly. They may point to earlier, half-hearted efforts made in areas outside of Sydney and their presumed failure as a reason to consolidate the competition into a vanilla reserve grade offering. “We tried that, it didn’t work.”

Insofar as there’s any measure of the respective popularity of the second tier comps, the Queensland grand final seems to attract greater attendances than its New South Wales counterpart. My theory is that while the quality is generally stronger in New South Wales (fewer clubs with more fringe first graders) it has less appeal because its main selling point is to have the same clubs as the NRL but with worse rosters. Its difficult to see such a competition achieving any degree of popularity, outside of the anoraks who have read this far and people watching the lead-in to the Sunday arvo game.

The thing about different clubs is that they represent different areas, have different colours and different histories. These clubs have different meanings and that’s what gets people to care. Fans having multiple clubs to support across different competitions would be a net benefit for rugby league, keeping people more engaged and for longer.

Maybe think about it, New South Wales.

A deep dive in to the 2020 Queensland Cup

I was always vaguely aware of the Queensland Cup growing up, but only really took an actual interest in it when I started this site a couple of years ago. I became a Souths Logan fan, because that’s where I lived most of my life, and started going to games. Since then, I’ve toyed with doing a similar season preview to my NRL ones but really only feel confident enough now to actually do it.

Being the kind of parochial Queenslander described in the excellent book, Heartland, I care about the Queensland Cup. There aren’t many institutions that cut across the city-country, white-black and, to an extent, class divides in as well-balanced and popular way as rugby league. The Queensland Cup, equally representing all parts of the state and a substantial part of our rugby league heritage, is an extremely important part of that and it does not get the attention it deserves from the people it should appeal to the most.

This season I am running a tipping competition for the Queensland Cup. Details below:

Last season in a nutshell

For all intents and purposes, it seemed like 2019 was going to belong to the Sunshine Coast Falcons. The Falcons joined the 2011 Tweed Seagulls and 2001 Toowoomba Clydesdales as the only clubs to complete a Queensland Cup campaign with one loss and one draw. While Burleigh, Wynnum Manly and Townsville gave chase, there looked to be no stopping them. Then came the finals, their seemingly invincible talent deserted them (partly because of Melbourne drawing down on their reserves late in the season) and they went out in the preliminary finals. Instead, it was the Burleigh Bears who overcame Wynnum Manly in a straightforward affair to win the grand final at Dolphin Stadium.

How it all works

I appreciate that it’s difficult to keep up with the Pythago NRL Expanded Universe™ of metrics and ratings. Not only are they generally more complicated than standard stats, I tweak them almost every year based on what I learned during the previous season. I created a short reference guide to what it all means.

Why the QRL website doesn’t have full squad lists (preferring to only list gains and losses) and a predicted 1-17 for each team as part of the season previews, I don’t know. I tried my best to work out the squads for 2020 based on the regulars last year and the gains and losses but to save myself some embarrassment from this process not yielding 100% correct results, I removed a few of the roster sections I had in the NRL preview. The 2020 Taylor projections and sims are based on the round 1 team lists.

Jump ahead

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qcup-bur Burleigh Bears

Founded: 1934

First QCup season: 1997

Home: Pizzey Park, Burleigh

Feeder: nrl-gct Gold Coast Titans

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As is often the case, the roster of the winner of the Queensland Cup gets raided by other clubs who suddenly take notice of what’s going on in the second tier of Australian footbal around grand final time. Of the halves that won the grand final, Dylan Phythian has been lured away to Central Newcastle Blacktown and Jamal Fogarty has finally signed to the Titans. Whether Fogarty will get much game time in the NRL – he is presumably behind Taylor and Roberts and on par with Boyd on the depth chart – is an unknown but if he spends enough time at Burleigh, then the Bears should keep winning matches.

If Fogarty does make it to the big time (a QCup career TPR of .120 suggests it is possible but perhaps not likely), then Tanah Boyd is an option. He filled in towards the end of last season after a mid-season transfer from Souths Logan. Boyd’s numbers while at the Magpies were not particularly impressive with an average TPR of .081. Still, development is a funny thing and a TPR can be context-based, so we will see if that is a deficit in talent or attitude or opportunity.

Otherwise, there were two retirements and Tyrone Roberts-Davis is joining Matt Soper-Lawler at Newcastle. The team that won the grand final is largely intact. Rick Stone won two premierships as head coach at the turn of the century and he returns to Pizzey Park to retake the reins in 2020. Provided the Bears settle on a halves combination quickly and one that functions well, then back-to-back premierships – the first since Wynnum-Manly in 2011 and 2012 – should be on the cards.

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qcup-cqc Central Queensland Capras

Founded: 1982 as a representative team for the Central Queensland region, 1996 as a standalone football club

First QCup season: 1996

Home: Browne Park, Rockhampton

Feeder: nrl-bne Brisbane Broncos

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I’m starting to think that the Capras need some sort of salary cap dispensation. Even though the cap has only been in place for a season, it has proven very difficult for the Rockhampton Leagues Club to attract talent to Browne Park. Marquee signings of late have included one busted David Taylor and one newly minted léopard de Villeneuve, Eddy Pettybourne. The Broncos don’t help because stashing top prospects in Rockhampton when Wynnum or Souths Logan or Norths or Redcliffe are right there doesn’t make much sense. Case in point: BJ Aufaga-To’omaga (.135 in 2019) has decamped from the Capras to the Dolphins.

For a region that produced Cameron Munster and Ben Hunt, the Capras have not managed to translate available junior talent into wins. It turns out city clubs can scout too if they only have to drive five hours up the road and most prospects seem to prefer the city over Rocky. So what to do? Wait until the next genetic freak comes along and hope no one spots him first? It’s been over a decade since the Capras last played in the finals. Something needs to change because the alternative is a wooden spoon every other year.

qcup-est Easts Tigers

Founded: 1917 as Coorparoo, 1933 for Eastern Suburbs

First QCup season: 1996

Home: Totally Workwear Stadium, Coorparoo

Feeder: nrl-mel Melbourne Storm

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Its been nearly thirty years since Easts last won a title. The last three trophies were a post-Broncos BRL premiership in 1991 (so that doesn’t count), a Winfield State League title in 1989 and a legitimate BRL premiership in 1983. I actually had to consult a book for some context of the early 1980s: the BRL regular season was only 14 games, with the season split between the local premiership and the State League. Wally Lewis was still at Valleys, leading them to a win in the State League that year (over Easts no less). Mal Meninga was a crucial part of the Souths setup and Wayne Bennett had taken the year off coaching. They were all years away from dominating the NSWRL. In other words, its been a while.

Here in 2020, as it often does, Easts’ season will hang in the balance of which players Melbourne assigns to them and how long it takes before they need to return to first grade. This week they get Brenko Lee and Christian Welch but the likes of Billy Walters and Brodie Croft won’t be back this season. The squad wasn’t too crash hot last year and this year looks marginally better. Linc Port returns from West End, Jayden Berrell and Caleb Daunt are down from Kawana and Michael Purcell arrives from Ipswich, which is a good get despite his TPR. Aaron Booth is back for another tour. Above all, the Tigers get a new coach in Craig Hodges, who has signed on for two seasons. His main priority should be fixing the Tigers’ defence which was well below average in 2019.

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qcup-ips Ipswich Jets

Founded: 1909 for rugby league played in Ipswich, 1985 as the Ipswich Jets

First QCup season: 1996

Home: North Ipswich Reserve, Ipswich

Pathway: nrl-new Newcastle Knights

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Big changes abound at the Jets. Ipswich have abandoned (or been abandoned?) the traditional feeder club arrangement with a Queensland NRL side, instead preferring to link up with the Newcastle Knights because “Newcastle is Ipswich-by-the-sea“. We won’t see Knights players dropping back to QCup but some of their prospects might end up in Ipswich and some of the Jets best might sign on to Newcastle’s system. The Knights have already sniffed out a couple of QCup talents to take south of the border.

Long time and premiership-winning wunderkind coaches, Shane and Ben Walker, have split with Ben heading headed off in to the sunset, leaving Keiron Lander at the helm. After a a slightly-better-than-average decade (average winning percentage of .533), some renewal into the 2020s will likely benefit the club long term. In the short term, some of the club stalwarts, like Michael Purcell and Richie Pandia, have departed. The rest of the roster looks thin enough that the Jets might struggle through 2020 without the benefit of NRL players dropping down to bolster the squad.

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qcup-mky Mackay Cutters

Founded: 1919 for rugby league played in Mackay and Districts, 2007 as the Mackay Cutters

First QCup season: 2008

Home: BB Print Stadium, Mackay

Feeder: nrl-nqc North Queensland Cowboys

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I honestly don’t have a lot to say about the Cutters, partly because they don’t get a lot of screentime. Mackay did sign Ata Hingano in the off-season. While Hingano may not have been up to the task in the NRL, he put up a reasonable .090 in NSW Cup for Mounties last year. He also transforms into a superplayer for Tonga. What kind of player he becomes for the Cutters we don’t know but it’s not a bad signing for a club that’s running closer to the Capras than the Blackhawks.

Reuben Cotter at hooker/utility, Yamba Bowie on the wing, Shane Wright on the edge and Jayden Hodges at various spinal positions all performed well in 2019 and appear to be returning for 2020. Cotter and Wright were the stars on .145 and .130, respectively. A little like Rocky, Mackay is a bit too out of the way to get the best of the Cowboys’ depth signings. Overall, I expect them to be in the bottom part of the table, as they have been every year barring finals appearances in 2010 and a borderline miracle premiership in 2013, which is why I don’t have much to say.

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qcup-ntp Northern Pride

Founded: 1918 for rugby league played in Cairns and Districts, 2007 as the Northern Pride

First QCup season: 2008

Home: Barlow Park, Cairns

Feeder: nrl-nqc North Queensland Cowboys

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If I said that the Pride were the best Queensland football club of the 2010s, would that sound strange? The Pride had the highest average Class rating through the decade and hold the record for the longest winning streak. I guess recency bias and 2017 and 2019 being their worst seasons would suggest otherwise but through the early-to-middle of the decade, the Pride were dominating. I guess the difference is that the Pride’s lows were shorter than Burleigh’s and their highs were higher than Wynnum’s. A thought experiment worth considering as we enter the new decade.

And in this new decade, there is still not a lot to recommend the Cairnsittes. One of their most productive last year, David Murphy, is done. Their signings are thin on State Cup experience. Javid Bowen and Gideon Gela-Mosby coming in-house from the Cowboys aren’t going to turn the franchise around. On the other hand, finally moving on Jordan Biondi-Odo after several seasons of subpar production can’t hurt. There’s still a fair bit of work to be done before the Pride can return to the former glory.

Keep an eye out for American Joe Eichner as we see if he can turn himself into a starter at AAA level.

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qcup-nsd Norths Devils

Founded: 1891 as Past Grammars rugby union club, 1920 as Past Grammars rugby league club, 1933 as Northern Suburbs

First QCup season: 1996

Home: Pathion Park, Nundah

Feeder: nrl-bne Brisbane Broncos

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The Devils looked good last year without giving anyone a real reason to fear them. Norths had six stars, the equal third highest in the league after Redcliffe and Sunny Coast. They were a highly productive team that well out-performed their projections. There’s a lot to like about their younger players. Herbie Farnworth (.167), Sean O’Sullivan (.166), Ethan Bullemor (.158), Troy Dargan (.141), Pride Peterson-Robati (.137) and Paul Ulberg (.136) is a very good core to have access to. Admittedly, some of these guys will end up in Broncos colours, possibly even this year, but there’s a lot to like there. Bryce Donovan is a signing with some potential, possibly as a replacement for the ageing Jack Ahearn.

The trick will be taking a very good season and building on it to displace one of Wynnum, Sunshine Coast, Townsville and Burleigh from the top four and beating Redcliffe to do so. The opportunity will be there, particularly if the Falcons come back to the pack and the Broncos’ assignments are available. Rohan Smith is coming in to his third year as coach at Bishop Park and the Devils have improved each year under his command. There’s a lot of signs pointing the right way for them.

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qcup-pgh PNG Hunters

Founded: 1930s for rugby league in Papua New Guinea, 2013 as the PNG Hunters

First QCup season: 2014

Home: Oilsearch National Stadium, Port Moresby

Feeder: Unaffiliated

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The broom has been put through the Hunters squad. Ten of the underperforming regulars from 2019 have been released. They’ve been replaced, in part, by Casey Dickson and Mark Piti, from Digicel Cup premiers, the Lae Tigers, as well as Emmanuel Waine from the runner-up Hela Wigmen and Steven Bruno of the Kimbe Cutters and Francis Takai of the Rabaul Gurias.

I still see it being a tough year ahead. The Hunters’ main advantage is that they have more or less exclusive access to the talent pool of 7 million people but they have used it poorly over the last two seasons, struggling to replace the players that made up the premiership class of 2017. The structure of Papua New Guinea’s pathways and comparative lack of professionalism have seen their best players leave for other Queensland Cup or League 1 clubs, some on their way to the majors (see: Edene Gebbie, Justin Olam). While that benefits the national side, the Hunters need a better approach.

The new head coach, Matt Church, is making reformation of talent pathways and linking up with the Digicel Cup clubs a priority, which bodes well for a few years down the track but right now, it will be a tough ask to improve much on last year.

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qcup-red Redcliffe Dolphins

Founded: 1947 as a club, 1960 for first season in Brisbane Rugby League

First QCup season: 1996

Home: Dolphin Stadium, Redcliffe

Feeder: nrl-bne Brisbane Broncos

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What really crimped the Dolphins’ season was a surprisingly slow start to the year. Across four grades, it took a month for Redcliffe to find their first win. Once they got there, the Dolphins won more often than not but were already too far behind the main challengers to make up ground. Nonetheless, a good run through mid-season, defeating the Sunshine Coast, Wynnum and Burleigh in the space of four weeks, showed they could mix it with the best.

So, no surprises: the Dolphins will probably be good again, especially if they come out of the gates a bit faster. The strongest club commercially and the one with the tightest relationship with the Broncos, the Dolphins are usually fed the best recruits. If Perese is persona non grata with the Broncos (and stays out of jail), a smart bit of business would be to sign him to the club. He was the Dolphins’ most productive player in 2019 with a TPR of .181.

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qcup-slm Souths Logan Magpies

Founded: 1909 as South Brisbane (later Carlton) in the BRL, 1933 as Southern Suburbs, 1988 for Logan City Scorpions, 2003 as Souths Logan after Southern Suburbs took over Logan City

First QCup season: 2003

Home: Davies Park, West End

Feeder: nrl-bne Brisbane Broncos

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The Magpies’ 2019 season was one of frustration. A big signing spree, followed by a lack of on-field cohesion and piss poor defence, saw Souths Logan miss the finals comfortably, three wins shy of eighth place. Embarrassingly, the Magpies handed over three competition points to the wooden spooner Capras, the only points Central Queensland would get all season. Linc Port has moved back to Easts, Matt Soper-Lawler is off to Newcastle, Gerome Burns to Ipswich and as attention turns to Tesi Niu and Ilikena Vudogo, who are likely to follow in the footsteps of Jamayne Isaako and David Fifita, Anthony Seibold’s insatiable lust for young players will see talent reserves drawn down.

The Magpies have signed a few hands from the Sunshine Coast and Wynnum Manly, an apparent gun in Christian Hazard from Tweed, as well as former Dolphin and Dragon, Darren Nicholls (QCup TPR .132 in 2016) and the roster is starting to resemble something of a reasonable Cup team on paper. Assignments from the Broncos – like hooker (?) Cory Paix (?) – and general squad cohesion, without chopping and changing the spine each week, will make or break the season.

qcup-scf Sunshine Coast Falcons

Founded: 1996

First QCup season: 1996, then returning in 2009

Home: Sunshine Coast Stadium, Kawana

Feeder: nrl-mel Melbourne Storm

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It’s still hard to believe that the Falcons fell over. Out of the three Cup teams that have finished the regular season with a single loss (no team has ever gone undefeated), the Falcons had the longest season and the best for-and-against, outscoring their opponents by 24.5 points per game (compared to 24.2 for 2001 Clydesdales and 13.2 for the 2011 Seagulls). At least the other two teams had the good grace to make the grand final, with Toowoomba winning and Tweed losing their respective games. The Falcons were comfortably bundled out of the race by the eventual premiers in the preliminary final.

Shockingly, their 21-1-1 winning record was built on solid fundamentals of not conceding many points and scoring a ton more. Harry Grant set a single season TPR record of .266 and led a team of highly productive players including the now-at-Coorparoo Caleb Daunt (.144), Nicho Hynes (.134), Justin Olam (.178), Jon Rueben (.158 and career WARG leader on 7.2) and soon-to-be-at-the-Gold-Coast Tino Faasuamaleaui (.169). With a number of their stars now set to emerge into the NRL this year or next, we wait with bated breath to see what the balance of the squad can do. Melbourne probably have a stash of kids in BRL and Sunshine Coast league just waiting for the opportunity, so I won’t hold my breath, waiting for a collapse, for too long.

qcup-tsv Townsville Blackhawks

Founded: 1919 for Brothers Townsville, 2014 for Townsville Blackhawks

First QCup season: 2015

Home: Jack Manski Oval, Townsville

Feeder: nrl-nqc North Queensland Cowboys

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My take is that it’s about time the Blackhawks won the Queensland Cup. In only their sixth season, Townsville have never finished below sixth on the ladder. Maybe its the distance to Brisbane or the newness of the club, but the Blackhawks don’t seem to be cited as the perennial contenders that they have been.

Offsetting a couple of retirements, the Blackhawks have signed ex-Cutter Carlin Anderson, ex-Hunter Moses Meninga, ex-Tiger Patrick Kaufusi and ex-Eel Josh Hoffman, which is a reasonable bolstering to a lineup that was in the top four or five squads last season. The Townsville club is not short a quid, seems to be favoured by the Cowboys for assignments and it seems hard to see how they won’t be in the mix in 2020. Kristian Woolf has left big shoes to fill but sophomore head coach Aaron Payne did well enough in his first season, with a top four out-performance of player projections and a trip to the preliminaries. Another step up is required this year for a real premiership push.

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qcup-ths Tweed Heads Seagulls

Founded: 1909 as a rugby union club, 1914 for the rugby league club in the Tweed District competition

First QCup season: 2003

Home: Piggabeen Sports Complex, Tweed Heads

Feeder: nrl-gct Gold Coast Titans

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Sometimes, but not often, a Queensland Cup club gets a million dollar halfback. Ipswich enjoyed having Ben Hunt for one game in 2017 and Ash Taylor closed out his 2019 season, unable to deal with the pressure of the NRL, with an elimination final loss to Redcliffe for the Tweed Heads Seagulls. Whether Taylor returns this season will depend on how his return to the majors pans out.

Once you take him out and Christian Hazard, who has departed for the Magpies, the list looks decidedly uninteresting. Despite a closer relationship with the Titans than their colleagues further up the coast, the Seagulls have a couple of players they can rely on, fullback Talor Walters chief among them, but lack sparkle otherwise. Their offence is in dire need of an overhaul if the numbers are to be believed. If last season was a surprising out-performance of their player projections and Pythagorean expectation, then I would expect to see a return to more normal programming this year. Unless something big breaks their way, Tweed look like they’ll camp themselves out on the edge of finals contention.

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qcup-wms Wynnum Manly Seagulls

Founded: 1931 as a club, merged into Eastern Suburbs in 1933, then returning to the Brisbane Rugby League as Wynnum-Manly in 1951

First QCup season: 1996

Home: Kougari Oval, Wynnum

Feeder: nrl-bne Brisbane Broncos

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That was unexpected. Not only were the Seagulls one of the protagonists for the 2020 Intrust Super Cup premiership, reaching the grand final, the Wynnum Manly club also made the grand finals for the Under 20s Hasting Deerings Colts, Under 18s Mal Meninga Cup and the Brisbane Rugby League. They only managed one win, a 22-20 victory over Valleys in the BRL. The other three were losses for the Baysiders. A tough look.

Still, at State Cup level, perhaps it should not have been unexpected, given the on-paper roster. Guys like Mitch Cronin (.177), Pat Tempelman (.158), Sam Scarlett (.163) and Edene Gebbie (.168) were instrumental in the team’s productivity. Indeed, the Gulls’ reliance on their playmakers was only matched by the Falcons. Wynnum has a comparatively low forward bias but when you break it down, the individuals involved are good enough. Kaolo Saitaua (.177) distinguished himself last year. With all of these gentlemen seemingly returning for the new season and a slight tightening of defence, evevn though the Taylors are down on them, then there’s no reason Wynnum-Manly couldn’t flip the script on last year.

NRL Tips – Round 25, 2019

I wrote about Sydney as an obstacle to expansion yesterday.

It started as an intro to this post but ended up being over 1000 words and I thought it should stand alone. It’s the result of thoughts that have been bubbling since I started paying proper attention to rugby league when I started doing this in 2017, clarified somewhat this year by League Digest (you should go listen), crystalised by Heartland by Joe Gorman (you should go buy and read it) over the last few weeks. I’m far from the only one who thinks this way: Nick Campton from the Daily Tele and NRL Boom Rookies touched on very similar themes this very week.

Whether this is having any impact in the real world is unlikely but at least we can all furiously agree with each other.

Here’s some other stuff:

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NRL Tips – Round 24, 2019

Some additional rugby league reading for you:

(I’ve read the book, it’s good)

 

Here are the tips for this weekend’s action:

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Intrust Super Cup

This is the last round of the Queensland Cup. I’m still on the fence as to whether I’m going to continue doing tips through the finals series for this and the NRL. It feels a little misleading to do so because the impact of the individual results are so grossly out of proportion with my ability to predict them with the tools at my disposal. They work well over the longer term of the season, less so with the unpredictability of nine knock out games. People might still be interested though?

If you’ve made it this far down, you’re probably the kind of reader I want to hear from so let me know your thoughts via the Twitter or the email.

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NRL Tips – Round 23, 2019

Apologies for there not being any tips last week. I was in Perth. And before you start with your jokes, especially when a bunch of you go to the Nines next year:

HuR DuR wE sHoUlD rElOcAtE a TeAm ThErE

Actually, we should relocate two there. Perth Sharks. Fremantle Sea Eagles. Friday 10PM games every week. Move the Bulldogs to Christchurch and we can stash the 6PM game in New Zealand to boot.

Rugby league can thank me later.

Here are the tips for this weekend’s action:

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Intrust Super Cup

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NRL Tips – Round 21, 2019

It was a relatively quiet week for odd rugby league news, so here’s some analytics you might not have seen (mostly from me, yes):

Here are the tips for this weekend’s action:

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NRL Tips – Round 20, 2019

I’ll spare you the lengthy and moderately pompous words I had written about cheating. The last week has been dominated by refs faulting to a sickening degree and to a lesser extent, the lack of appreciation of Super League on the Gold Coast.

The announcement of St Helens coach Justin Holbrook as the Titans new head coach has been given the tick by those who know what they’re talking about and less so from those that don’t. The important thing is that the Gold Coast didn’t sign Kevin Walters (<40% win percentage while at Catalans compared to Holbrook’s >70% at St Helens). Hopefully this is the first step in the Titans becoming a real NRL franchise. The people running it honestly make it look a lot harder than it is.

Here’s some other stuff you might have missed:

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NRL Tips – Round 19, 2019

Unrelated to the NRL premiership itself, it’s been a good week for rugby league headlines (except for Ottawa). Here’s what you might have missed:

Not sure if that’s going to be a regular thing but thought I’d share.

Here are the tips for this weekend’s action:

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NRL Tips – Round 18, 2019

In last week’s tips, I talked about potentially going to watch India play Colombia at a suburban junior footy ground in Brisbane. I ended up more or less live tweeting the match.

Despite Colombia’s experience, the Indian side had a size and talent advantage that was clear to see. Their fullback, Shaniyat Chowdhury, plays in the USARL for Brooklyn. The two props, Singh and Kumar, put on life-ending fends on more than one occasion. The Colombians, particularly the halves Vargas and Eastman, couldn’t hold on to the ball. Still, the Jungle Cats scored most of their points in the first fifteen minutes. After that, the game became more closely contested with the Condores tightening up their defence and scoring a few long-range tries.

Is it too soon to call this the new New Zealand vs Tonga, which is itself the new State of Origin? Quite possibly but the players put their whole effort in and tempers got a bit frayed towards the end. More importantly, it was fun (and a little bizarre) to attend with one or two hundred people there, cultural displays and jerseys from around the rugby league world (one guy had a French flag, I wore my Catalans Camp Nou jersey, etc). It’ll need to be replayed regularly to develop into the world’s most unexpected sporting rivalry but, money aside, why not?

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