The Panthers again showed why they are the entertainers of the NRL in the 24-6 win over Newcastle.
It’s game week! Thank God. These last five sporting months have dragged like you wouldn’t believe.
I can’t wait for the real stuff to kick off. Bring. It. On.
There’s a few things I’d love to see in season 2020. First and foremost is the mighty Canberra Raiders taking all before them and going one step further to the premiership, but this column isn’t for barracking.
So before Thursday night arrives, here’s my 2020 wish list. Four wishes, guaranteed to make rugby league a much better experience for all of us this season. What’s yours?
A spine for head office
Last week there NRL launched their ‘Simply the Best’ advertising campaign with a two-minute online video, to be followed by cuts of various lengths for television and pre-rolls for websites like YouTube and social media.
The full two-minute version was great. All I wanted when it finished was for a game to start.
But my political radar must obviously be broken because apparently it was too full-on for those who ripped into the ad as being politically correct box-ticking, too woke and other lame insults.
Literally the next day NRL headquarters did what it does best – caved in to the crisis merchants. Rather than telling them to jam it and pushing back, they meekly surrendered and reassured there would be no triggering content for anyone scared of Indigenous people or women in any of the condensed versions of the ad.
Strangely enough, just a couple of days later, after the NRL had meekly surrendered to the criticism, Fox League launched their own season promo featuring the same ‘Simply the Best’ theme. Funny that, isn’t it.
It wasn’t a good week for the NRL, who also had to correct a few factual errors – unforgivable stuff for your major promotional campaign. How do you do a mega launch like that when there’s wrong information in your product? It was incredibly poor.
In 2020 there’s going to be challenges for Todd Greenberg and Graham Annesley like there has been every year. My wish is that unlike the ad and the cowardly #refsfault backdown in 2018, they realise the NRL is a strong, rich, powerful organisation that doesn’t need to sop to the bullies.
A good start for the Bulldogs
In March last year Canterbury coach Dean Pay signed an extension keeping him at Belmore until the end of the 2020 season. Pay carries an 18-30 record into the last year of his contract, not a strong negotiating foothold when his people start to knock on the door for contract talks.
The Bulldogs have a reasonable enough squad, bringing in Joe Stimson (Melbourne) and Sione Katoa (Penrith), who can play a role. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was pretty good in ten games after crossing from Penrith during 2019. Add Josh Jackson, Dylan Napa, Corey Harawira-Naera and Aiden Tolman and there’s a solid enough pack to grind the Dogs forward. There’s enough talent in the squad to reach the lower parts of the eight, if they start properly.
Pay’s teams in 2018 and ’19 went a combined 6-22 to start the season, 3-11 twice. They teased their fans in the back end of both seasons too, going 5-5 then 7-3 in the last ten games but by then the season was long gone.
I’ve got a soft spot for the Bulldogs. I can’t explain why, I just do. We’ve all got teams like that. I want them to be up and about early in 2020 and it has to start this Thursday night.
Valentine Holmes picks up where he left off
I love Valentine Holmes. Power, speed, agility, ball handling, he’s got it all. It was a shame he couldn’t get the break in the NFL last season but rugby league is far richer for having him back.
Before heading to the States, in the 2018 season, Holmes scored 22 tries (second in the NRL) and broke the defensive line 26 times (most in the NRL). He also had the fifth most run metres and the most kick return metres. Add that to a standout State of Origin series and the world was at his feet.
You know what happened next – Holmes gave the NFL a crack with the New York Jets, missing the 53-man squad but making the Jets’ training squad, ineligible to be promoted for the NFL season just finished.
So he’s back, up with the Cowboys and likely filling the fullback role. After a couple of ordinary seasons, a fit Holmes could be the difference between another mediocre outing and a finals berth for the Townsville team.
The best part though? Holmes is only 24 years old. He’s years away from hitting his prime. With a season away from the crash and bash, I’m hoping he unleashes on the competition.
Player movement loosens up
Yes, it’s this one again. Regular readers will know how much I support player movement. I say NRL players should be able to go wherever they want, whenever they want, to play as many games and make as much money as they can.
Give players the means to look after themselves. Let them find a team where they’ll get more game time if they want it. A positional switch they might need. A change of scenery. Whatever will help them get the best from themselves.
Open a two-week period at the end of the season. Let teams purchase a player’s contract (within the cap) if they want them badly enough. Let players go on loan to other teams who have a need. Let teams swap players like Harry Grant and Paul Momirovski.
There’s been promising reports about that swap being able to happen, but let’s see how things play out. Handled properly, it could be a great precedent for the game.
The average NRL career spans 48-ish games, scarcely a blip on the rugby league timeline. Not even two full seasons. Who are we to get judgy about how someone makes the most of their time in the big league?