Klein Calamity Was Inevitable: The biggest surprise seeing Ashley Klein turn in a performance that was truly embarrassing and exceptionally costly to the reputation of the game. The only saving grace for Klein is that sometimes two wrongs do make a right and the missing the Grant knock on was only superseded by the disgusting no-call on the clear high shot. Referees make mistakes. They happen. They should not happen for the reasons Klein made them though. With the Grant knock-on, he simply thought he was smarter than everyone else. With the high tackle on Grant – as with the Radley no call earlier – he simply does not want to be seen to make a big call in a big moment. He lacks bottle. We saw it last week with Wighton. We saw it in the Roosters-Storm. It is tiresome continually hammering referees but some just don’t get hammered – Adam Gee for example – because they bring consistency, toughness and a lack of ego. Klein was a debacle waiting to happen because the NRL held him to no account.
Vale, Lionel Morgan: Rugby League has lost one of its most important figures with the death of Lionel Morgan. Morgan was the first Indigenous Australian in any code to represent Australia, a true pioneer, donning the green and gold at a time Aboriginal Australians could not even vote. A speedy winger with sublime footwork, he could find his way to the tryline. He also carried himself so proudly, enduring so much racism yet always a gentleman with the single focus to get the most out of himself. Rugby League has lost a giant.
Send Help: There are some serious welfare concerns around Phil Gould and whoever else is making decisions with recruitment as the team continues to pay money for mediocre utilities, most of whom are journeymen who cannot secure permanent first grade positions at their current clubs. Gould seems intent on executing the utterly moronic ‘jack of all trades, master of none strategy’. To wit, the Bulldogs have signed Jaeman Salmon and Blake Taafe and have added Kurt Mann, Jake Turpin and Drew Hutchison. These are not signings good clubs looking for depth to boost title claims would pursue so why a club so deficient in top end talent, halves, middles, edge forwards, fullbacks and centres would waste cap space, cash and positions is anyone’s guess. What is not a guess is the likely success of it, which is zero.
End of Season Report Cards: This week we provide end of season report cards for two more of the nine teams that missed the finals and the two teams eliminated over the weekend:
Sydney Roosters: The Roosters seemed to be like every horse I ever back: charging home in vain when it is too little too late. There were few more frustrating teams this season. Trent Robinson’s men started the season second in betting yet did not get above eighth on the ladder from Round 6 until after the final round of the season. Despite being very well coached and with a roster full of stars, the Roosters were crippled by injury, ill discipline, decline and some questionable personnel decisions. The Brandon Smith signing did not work out, at least not yet. There was trouble with the halves pairing all year. James Tedesco lost a step or two. Radley and JWH were awfully ill disciplined – again – and hurt them significantly. Angus Crichton barely seemed to play. The Suaalii defection loomed large. They rallied well to make the finals and showed plenty of guts when there but it was truly a very disappointing year where the Chooks just could not get out of their own way.
Newcastle: What a strange, strange season it was for the Knights. Not expected to threaten for the finals, Newcastle looked to be a game away from sacking coach Adam O’Brien. It was another mediocre year. And then something happened. They put 66 on the hapless Bulldogs and did not lose again until their semi-final against the Warriors. Is it something the Knights can build on? It would seem unlikely. Ponga played career-best football and can again but Dom Young is leaving and the club will not get the same play out of their mediocre halves and rake that they did this season. Lightning in a bottle – that sums up the Knights season.
Parramatta: There is little doubt that 2023 was a gut-wrenchingly disappointing year for Parramatta. A year off reaching the Grand Final, the Eels went 12-12 and missed the finals. What makes it infinitely worse is that they beat the Panthers fair and square twice, showing their upside. They lost their first three games – not helped by Ryan Matterson’s selfishness in taking a suspension instead of paying a fine – and just sputtered most of the season. They had injury worries and losing Dylan Brown to a police investigation did not help but the Eels have a little bit of Ricky Stuart to them with an attempt to stay intense and up all year and that just doesn’t hold season after season. The Eels have too much talent to be down for long but not enough to be winning premierships.
North Queensland: North Queensland were widely tipped to come last in 2022. They finished in the Top 4, the benefits of an easy draw and the stars aligning with some recruits far outperforming their career output. They returned to reality this year with what can only be considered a highly disappointing year. Their two performances against the Tigers sum up their wildly inconsistent year: they lost 66-18 and then seven weeks later won 74-0. The Cowboys managed to get hot for five straight weeks but they were awful at the start and just struggled to score points, primarily because Chad Townsend is not very good. The Cowboys were held to 16 or fewer on 10 occasions. There were few positives with so many players regressing. Jeremiah Nanai was awful. So was Townsend. The likes of Taulagi, Feldt, Holmes, Hiku and many more regressed badly. Only Tom Dearden and Jeremiah Nanai could really hold their heads up as the club hits a crossroads.
2023 Field Goal Update – 41: Sam Walker kicked another clutch field goal and it looked to be the winner until a late Storm scramble got Melbourne the win. Also noteworthy is the fact Tyrone Wishart took the worst ever attempt at a field goal in the history of the game with a shot that did not get off the ground.
Fun Fact #1: The Warriors have had just two coaches post a winning record in their first season as a head coach: John Monie and Andrew Webster
Fun Fact #2: The only Warriors player to play 50-plus games for the club and have a winning strike rate of better than 55% is Ivan Cleary.
Fun Fact #3: Only 15 Warriors have kicked a field goal and only four have kicked more than one: Shaun Johnson, Stacey Jones, James Maloney and Gene Ngamu.
Betting Market of the Week: Those with better vision than Ashley Klein:
$1.67: Stevie Wonder
$1.60: Mr Magoo
$1.33: Anyone who had salt thrown in their eyes by Mr Fuji
Rumour Mill: Alex Twal is set to depart the Wests Tigers with the St George Illawarra Dragons favoured to win his services though the Melbourne Storm are also looming large. Drew Hutchinson will be announced as joining the Bulldogs this week. Valentine Holmes is reportedly running with the “I didn’t know what was in the bag, it was just a joke” defence.
The Coaching Crosshairs: Expect David Furner to return to South Sydney as an assistant coach in the near future. While Furner has done his dash as a head coach after an ordinary spell at Canberra and a disastrous 16-game stint at Leeds, he is highly regarded as an assistant, particularly at the Rabbitohs where he assisted Michael Maguire. Furner was sacked by the Tigers after reportedly getting involved in a physical altercation with Robbie Farah. Furner will be replaced by Chris Heighington. That means the four most senior coaches at the Tigers all played together in the mid-2000s with three having no experience outside of the Tigers. If anything is an indictment on the incompetent leadership at the Tigers, it is the fact their strategy is to build a time machine to take the club back to 2005.
Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week: It should have come as zero surprise that Ashley Klein was involved in such heinous decision-making blunders on Friday night – he has been involved in many this year, last year and plenty going back. He thinks he is smarter than everyone else in football and it has come across time and time again whether he is on the field or in the Bunker. Rather than hold him accountable, Jared Maxwell and Graham Anneseley have continually defended him, promoted him, rewarded him. It all came to a shameful head on Friday night.
Watch It: Brisbane are on the verge of returning to their first Grand Final in eight years as they chase their first premiership in 17. We go back further this week though – back 30 years – when Alan Langer and company led the Broncos to their second title. How Brisbane did not run out of beer is anyone’s guess. The lecture from an AFL fan was a real highlight. Watch the celebrations here.