With the NRL moving to Queensland, a lot of our presumptions about how the season would play out might well be challenged.
For some clubs and players it’s a new day, a new chance to make something of themselves, while for others it’ll just be a sunny backdrop while they churn out more mediocre performances.
It’s a ‘reset’ of sorts, unlikely as it is to impact anyone’s ladder position. So I’m taking the opportunity to reset my early season wish list to suit this new flexible, dynamic rugby league atmosphere.
You can see my pre-covid list of wishes for the season here. You can also see most of them were in the bin after three weeks.
Here’s my recalibrated set for (hopefully) the rest of season 2021.
Wish 1: A spine for head office
This wish is always my number one. I so badly wanted NRL HQ to stick to their guns on punishing head high contact – they didn’t. That’s another column for another time. Because now there’s a whole new set of challenges facing the ARL Commission, Chair Peter V’landys and CEO Andrew Abdo.
There’s going to be pressure on scheduling, squads, locations, logistics, everything. They’ve already had to go back on the timing of getting player’s families up north because of government regulations.
The NRL are still set on being back in New South Wales after four weeks, although their language has noticeably softened when they talk about the possibility of being away for the rest of the season.
Maybe the toughest call is to commit to Queensland and work accordingly.
I don’t envy V’landys, Abdo and their team. You couldn’t pay me anything to be a sports administrator right now. May the political and parleying winds blow in their direction, and may they be smart enough to know what to do.
And if broadcasters come knocking with their own wishes to give less cash to the game, may they be stern in their rebuttals.
Wish 2: Someone to challenge the Storm
Melbourne’s 2017 premiership team is in my top five for the best I’ve ever seen, but the 2021 model is so far giving it a run for its money.
The Storm’s 48-4 dusting of Newcastle was the 11th time they’ve scored 40 points or more, breaking their own week-old record for a regular season. They haven’t been held to less than 20 points since round three.
They should make short work of the Cowboys up next and then they play Penrith, who beat them in that Round 3 game. Since then, Melbourne have reeled off 14 consecutive wins and Penrith, while maintaining decent form, now have injury problems and are treading water until the finals.
Maybe they’ve grown fat off so many easy kills, who knows. That’s been said before about them, and look what happens.
Melbourne also have games against Manly and Parramatta in the run up to the finals. Please, someone, show the rest of us just one chink in the armour of this purple machine.
Wish 3: A full NRLW season
This season’s NRLW competition is bringing in the new teams and new talent people had been crying out for. A six-team competition, with new clubs from Parramatta, the Gold Coast and Newcastle joining the Roosters, Dragons and Broncos.
New Zealand are sitting out the season but will return in 2022.
A five-game regular season then finals is supposed to kick off alongside the men’s Round 23 games.
The move to Queensland obviously makes this difficult, but the ARLC and the NRL simply must find a way to make it work. The majority of NRLW players aren’t full time professionals and the challenges of possible relocation will make serious demands of the players the men don’t need to worry about.
Last year during the competition shutdown there was a lot of talk the NRLW would become collateral damage in the huge cost cutting efforts across the game. Fortunately, the season was able to be played.
Cancelling NRLW, even for one season, would be a shortsighted move. It’s too important to miss for the long term growth of rugby league. The game has asked a hell of a lot of its female players, especially with their ‘talent equalisation recruitment system’ for 2021, and the least it can do is give something back.
Wish 4: No dickheads
The NRL’s Queensland move is under unbelievable scrutiny from sponsors, governments, fans and the Australian public.
Then there’s the media, who will be onto even the slightest step, just waiting to turn it thermonuclear.
It would suck for the players, no doubt. This is going to be a rough time and hopefully their families and partners can get up there as soon as possible.
So please, please please, may there be no dickheads ruining this for everyone.
I’ll fight for NRL players to the hilt and I do feel for them here. They’re in a situation out of their control, living a highly constrained existence surrounded by politicians, press and other smug types just gagging for one of them to stuff up.
At least they know what they’re getting into.
V’landys has said there’s a zero tolerance approach to idiots in the hubs.
“If there is another incident like the Dragons for example, the players are gone … out of the state of Queensland, sent home,” he told news Corp.
“The Queensland Premier has made it clear to us if anyone does the wrong thing or plays up, they will be removed from Queensland and I will support her on that.”
So the message is loud and clear – breach protocols and you’re gone, never mind the impact it will have on the other teams staying in your hub.
That’s a real risk of games being delayed and/or compromised if isolation and quarantining is required because some dickhead thought no one would mind if they went to the pub.
Surely the understanding you’ll losing your income and your livelihood would keep players on the straight and narrow. Surely. Surely? No girlie bar or barbecue is worth setting fire to your career, surely?
I do wonder though if this threat will be followed up on. If rugby league is good at anything, it’s good at moving the goalposts.
Wish 5: A clear run to the end
Whether it’s in Queensland ’til the end or by some miracle back in New South Wales, Canberra and Melbourne, the biggest wish I have right now is the season gets completed.
There’s a massive amount of cash on the line for the players and the game, and the people who hand over that cash won’t need a second’s thought to hold some back.
It might also mean COVID-19 things are getting somewhat back under control in New South Wales and Victoria.
Plus, I want to watch rugby league. Everyone does.
What do you have in your prayers for these next three months?