With only three wins between them this season, Saturday night’s clash between the Brisbane Broncos and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium threatens to turn into a mockbuster.
It’s been another off-season from hell for the NRL, although this year the bad-news stories are the kind that head office would almost be happy about.
Rather than week after week of players mucking up on the drink, a few weeks out from the 2020 season starting in earnest, the stories a largely about blokes breaking down injured.
The All Stars match was a massive success, except for the fact Chris Smith, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Wade Graham, Tyrone Roberts and Josh Kerr all failed to finish the game due to injury.
You’ve got to feel particularly bad for Smith, whose season is reportedly over with a suspected ACL injury.
Then there was the Nines tournament, which was a particularly brutal watch for St George Illawarra fans, as Matt Dufty, Cameron McInnes and Korbin Sims were all injured – although rumours of Sims’ broken arm turned out to be exaggerated.
Meanwhile, Roosters supporters would have had their hearts in their mouth as Angus Crichton’s World Club Challenge wrapped up in the 56th minute as he copped a brutal-looking head knock.
Thankfully the awkward tackle resulted in only a concussion – although I don’t know that we can ever use the term ‘only a concussion’ anymore – but he should be fine for Round 1.
Now, I somewhat understand people who are angry seeing players injured, potentially missing large chunks of the season in what were exhibition matches.
It’s a cruel outcome for the players in question, as well as a frustrating situation for the front office and fans when they see hundreds of thousands of their salary-cap dollars wearing a moon boot instead of a footy boot.
And it’s made all the more difficult when the injury has taken place in a game that ultimately had no bearing on the actual premiership race.
It sucks. I get it. And I do feel for everyone involved.
It’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it?
In sport, injuries happen – and frankly, there’s no good time to go down hurt.
Look at the Warriors, who have lost the services of boom prop Bunty Afoa for the whole year after an unfortunate training incident last week.
Or the Knights, who don’t know when they’ll see Sione Mata’utia playing after he did his knee in the trial match against the Dragons on the weekend.
Obviously no one wants either of these players out. But you’ve got to train, you’ve got to practice and you’ve got to have trials.
I’m not saying these specific injuries were inevitable, but in a contact sport, accidents do happen.
So the idea that a team deserves extra sympathy – or, heaven forbid, salary cap relief – just because they lost a player in an exhibition match is going too far.
I’ll cop the rule that a club deserves some cap relief if a player is injured playing an international. Clubs pay the vast majority of salaries, so to lose a significant player – and anyone who’s playing international footy is pretty significant – as a result of a Test match is worthy of some financial compensation.
But you’ve got to draw a line somewhere, and I reckon the NRL has made the right call as is.
Injuries suck but they can and do happen in the most unexpected of circumstances – Andrew Johns’ career was finished as a result of friendly fire at training!
So while my heart goes out to injured players and their long-suffering fans, sympathy is all we need to offer the player in question’s club.