From The Couch – Finals Week 3 2023

couch nick tedeschi

Dally M Winners: The time-honoured Dally M Medal goes on Wednesday night and with nominations out, here are who should win: 

Dally M Medal: Shaun Johnson (NZ)
Fullback: Dylan Edwards (Pen)
Wings: Jamayne Isaako (Dol) and Brian To’o (Pen)
Centres: Stephen Crichton (Pen) and Herbie Farnworth (Bri)
Five-Eighth: Ezra Mam (Bri)
Halfback: Shaun Johnson (NZ)
Hooker: Wayde Egan (NZ)
Props: Lindsay Collins (Roo) and Addin Fonua-Blake (NZ)
Second Rowers: Liam Martin (Pen) and Haumole Olakau’atu (Man)
Lock: Patrick Carrigan (Bri)
Coach: Andrew Webster (NZ)
Captain: Adam Reynolds (Bri)
Rookie: Sunia Turuva (Pen)
Try: Dominic Young (New)
Tackle: Haumole Olakau’atu (Man)

Dally M Medal: Tarryn Aiken (Roo)
Fullback: Teagan Berry (Dra)
Wings: Jakiya Whitfield (Tig) and Jayme Fressard (Roo)
Centres: Mele Hufanga (Bri) and Isabelle Kelly (Roo)
Five-Eighth: Tarryn Aiken (Roo)
Halfback: Lauren Brown (GC)
Hooker: Emma Manzelmann (NQ)
Props: Ellie Johnston (Cro) and Jessika Elliston (GC)
Second Rowers: Kezie Apps (Tig) and Olivia Kernick (Roo)
Lock: Georgia Hale (GC)
Coach: Karyn Murphy (GC)
Captain: Georgia Hale (GC)
Rookie: Annessa Biddle (Cro)
Try: Leianne Tufuga (Tig)
Tackle: Rilee Jorgensen (GC)

Another Arrogant Ref Falls: There are two different kinds of referees. Ones who see themselves as a functionary of the game and ones who see themselves as the stars, both smarter than both the players and the fans. Gerard Sutton clearly falls into the second category. The veteran referee ascended to the game’s top billing in 2014 and held that spot until probably last season, no doubt a beneficiary of being the ultimate insider referee. He was never held accountable. He fancied himself better than anyone else in the game. No referee has spent more time trying to “manage” games rather than referee them. It showed on Saturday night when he allowed a try off two forward passes, one so obvious that even Ashley Klein could have seen it. It was an utterly disgraceful decision and it brought into the frame the most archaic, ridiculous rule the NRL has: that The Bunker cannot rule on forward passes. In an era when The Bunker oversteps its mark on nearly every facet of the game and is required to rule on other straight line decisions such as offside, it is obscene that they cannot rule on obvious forward passes. Knowing how reactionary the NRL are, that will be changed about three minutes after the Grand Final is finished. 

Amateur Hour in PNG: There was not a whole lot of interest in the PM’s XIII game outside of that from gamblers and those in Port Moresby. That was shown pretty clearly in the women’s game when halftime was called over four minutes early, the timekeeper clearly not stopping the clock for the drinks break. The second half was more of a debacle: at least twice two extra minutes were added to the Fox NRL clock and then it appeared as if at least an extra four minutes as played. It was absolutely farcical – unless, of course, you had taken the -48.5 final line and saw Teagan Berry streak away for a length-of-the-field try about eight minutes after fulltime should have been called. 

Roosters Women Cough It Up Again: There are serious questions being asked about the gumption of the Roosters NRLW team after choking another final as a very short-priced favourite. That is two years on the trot the Roosters have looked near unbeatable during the regular season and completely stunk it up in the semi. John Strange has built a nice team and promoted an exciting brand of football but there is just no willingness in that team to overcome adversity. It is stunning that the obvious best team of the last two years has not played in a Grand Final in each of those two seasons. 

Report Cards: This week’s report cards come for the two teams that were eliminated in the preliminary finals weekend and South Sydney. 

Melbourne: The great Melbourne Storm dynasty is over. It has not flung its final kick. The Storm have not bottomed out. But the hopes that Munster, Hughes, Grant and Papenhuyzen could become the next Smith, Slater and Cronk is dashed. While Hughes does an adequate job of emulating Cronk, there just isn’t the consistent brilliance or consistent health. Cam Munster perhaps personifies the problem. He is the best No.6 in the game. He always gives his best. He can be brilliant on his day. But he had a bad year by his standards and it permeates throughout the team. The other issue is that the Storm just aren’t hitting on their role players like they once were. The outside backs have been a debacle, though they have uncovered Will Warbrick. The forwards lack toughness and smarts, in particular Trent Loiero, who was anointed as the next great Storm find but has seriously struggled. There is no depth. Look, the Storm finished third and made the preliminary final so all this negativity is reflective of the expectations we have for them. This is not to say the Storm aren’t capable of a good year – they absolutely are. But the days of having a reliable Top 4 team who is capable of winning the premiership year in and year out is done. 

New Zealand: 2023 was the year of the Wahs. A season where they were expected to finish bottom four saw them finish fourth on the ladder and reach the preliminary final while ascending to become the most popular sports team in New Zealand. In their 28-year history, no season was either more important or more enjoyable. Favourite son Shaun Johnson enjoyed such an unbelievable Indian Summer when everyone in the game thought he was done that he is the hot favourite to win the Dally M Medal. Addin Fonua-Blake has ascended to become the top prop in the game. What rookie coach Andrew Webster managed to find in Wayde Egan, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Rocco Berry and a few others was truly remarkable. The Warriors may find sustained success. They may not. Whatever happens though, they will never enjoy the magic that 2023 brought. 

South Sydney: What a strange, strange year 2023 was for South Sydney. It started with tempered expectations, reached a high watermark of seeing them into favourites for the premiership and finished with the side missing the finals and embroiled in numerous controversies. It was a horrific choke and questions certainly need to be asked of Souths but some of the carry on was utterly ridiculous. The issues for Souths is not Latrell and Cody. They are two uber-talented and unique players. Of course they get treated differently – every star player does. They could have carried themselves better but the fact remains Mitchell and Walker are critical to South Sydney’s success and they play the game in a unique way to make them incomparable. The biggest issue Souths face for mine is the issues they have around talent identification. They made a huge mistake putting their faith in Lachlan Illias – even if letting Adam Reynolds go was the right call. Coaching has been another huge issue and it has weeded its way into team selection. The club clearly lacks class in the pack. Souths will be fine. It was a disappointing finish but the smart money is on the club making the right moves to again contend next season. 

2023 Field Goal Update – 41: There was no preliminary final field goal – as was expected with the two massive lines. 

Fun Fact #1: Penrith have conceded just 10 tries in their last eight finals games. 

Fun Fact #2: Since 2020 Penrith are 16-1 with 14-3 cover record under Adam Gee while Brisbane are 5-11 with a 6-10 cover record. 

Fun Fact #3: Teams that have won a premiership since Brisbane, Australia’s biggest and most supported football club of any code: Melbourne, Manly, St George Illawarra, Sydney Roosters, South Sydney, North Queensland, Cronulla, Penrith. 

Betting Market of the Week: How long the Papua New Guinea timekeeper believes a half of women’s Rugby League goes for:

$501: 35 minutes for both halves
$6.00: Stanley Gene’s birthday divided by the number of days since the last harvest moon multiplied by the number of errors Justin Olam had in his most recent game
$2.50: Whatever he or she feels like
$1.02: Either 31 minutes or 43 minutes

Rumour Mill: Keaon Koloamatangi is being pursued by both the Roosters and Storm as both clubs look to bolster their forward stocks. Phil Gould is expected to replace Greg Alexander as the NSW Origin advisor. Former Dragons coach Paul McGregor is set to sign on as an assistant with North Queensland. 

The Coaching Crosshairs: The Wests Tigers are rumoured to be looking at bringing in Lebanon coach Michael Cheika to assist in 2024. Cheika was approached by Tigers assistant Robbie Farah, an unusual process, but is said to be interested. It would be a meteoric rise for the unknown to come from a life outside of respected professional sport to leading a minnow to assisting in the biggest competition in the world. 

Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week: Craig Bellamy is the greatest coach the premiership has ever known but it makes absolutely no sense why Harry Grant would start such an important match. The Storm stood little chance of rolling the Panthers and they stood none if they did not start well. Grant is one of the Storm’s best players, the best hooker in the game. He needed to be out there from kickoff.

Watch It: This year we celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the most brutal Grand Final ever played, a bloodbath that saw patches of Rugby League break out. Manly played Cronulla. The Sea Eagles were the defending premiers. The Sharks had played just their seventh season. The teams did not like each other. And it showed with the likes of Mal Reilly, John O’Neill, Terry Randall and Fred Jones mixing it up with Sharks opponents Cliff Watson, Tommy Bishop and Ken Maddison. Watch it here.

Avatar photo
Nick has spent more than 15 years working in wagering around the world and is a regular NRL columnist for The Guardian.