Dean Ieremia was awarded his second try, and while Kevin Walters wasn't complaining, there were many who believe it should have been called back.
The NRL grand final is set to remain in Sydney long term with ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet reaching an agreement on key stadium upgrades.
V’landys and Perrottet met for robust discussions on Friday, following a week of speculation that the showpiece event could move to Queensland.
The ARL chairman had also floated the potential of a Super Bowl style system, where cities could bid for the right to host the grand final. But that will now not be the case, with both the NRL and NSW Premier extremely confident the match will remain in Sydney for years to come.
The deal must still be signed off, but it’s understood that provided the agreement from Friday remains in place the grand final will not move. The two organisations are set to meet again in the next three weeks, where it will likely be finalised.
“The meeting with the premier was robust, however extremely positive,” V’landys told AAP. “Significant progress was made.
“Both parties need to go back to their organisations, and will then document and try to finalise.”
NSW was originally slated to host the grand final until the 2042 season, as part of a deal reached in 2018.
However that contract was based on Accor Stadium at Sydney Olympic Park being upgraded to a rectangular venue, an $800 million rebuild that fell through during the pandemic.
As a result the NRL had the power to consider the contract null and void, but instead wanted funds pushed towards the upgrade of suburban grounds.
A new stadium is already locked in for Penrith, while the likes of Brookvale Oval would also be in line if further upgrades are agreed upon.
Perrottet made clear before Friday’s meeting that he did not envisage any way in which Sydney could lose the grand final.
“It’s all this little theatre that Peter V’landys is creating, it’s not happening,” Perrottet said on Friday morning. “The grand final is not going to Queensland or anywhere else. Peter knows that, I know that. Let’s have the dance but we know where this is going to finish and we’re going to have the grand final in Sydney.”
Brisbane hosted the grand final last year for the first time in the game’s history, however that only came as a result of the competition being moved to Queensland through COVID-19.
North Queensland coach Todd Payten is all smiles again as the last time the fifth-placed Cowboys were in the NRL’s top eight after seven rounds was five years ago.
After four consecutive seasons finishing in the bottom four, the Cowboys are the competition’s surprise package, with their next big test coming against third-placed Parramatta in Darwin on Saturday.
Naming the same 17 that easily disposed of Gold Coast in the last round by 26 points, Payten is revelling in their new-found continuity that was missing a year ago.
“This season our form corresponds with that continuity,” he said.
Co-captain Jason Taumalolo has strung together eight consecutive games for the first time since rounds 14 to 21 last season, winning more games this year (4) than he did all of last season (3).
“Jase is playing great because of that,” his coach said of the Tongan’s recent form.
“Everyone else has benefited from same combinations, match fitness, continuity.”
In the only major injury-enforced change this year, Scott Drinkwater has thrived at fullback since Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow’s PCL injury against the Sydney Roosters in round four.
The Cowboys have been impacted by concussion protocols but it’s nothing as compared to 2021 when they lost Taumalolo to three hand injuries, Michael Morgan to medical retirement (shoulder) and Reuben Cotter (foot) for the majority of the year.
They have since changed their preparations for the Eels after falling way short of the mark with a 28-4 hiding at home against the Sydney Roosters.
Payten said instead of focusing on their opposition, this time it’s about adapting their style of play to suit the hot and humid conditions.
“The way we prepared for that game, we spoke a lot about the Roosters and this week against a top-four team we’ve put it back around what we need to do,” he said.
“We also proved to ourselves over the past month that when we play the game the right way, and our style of footy, we’re good enough to win matches. So I’ve seen the belief grow in the group.”
Saturday’s contest will also bring up 200 NRL games for Cowboys halfback Chad Townsend in a milestone game for their marquee playmaker.
Kotoni Staggs is renowned as one of the NRL’s best attacking centres but Blues coach Brad Fittler was more impressed with his defensive prowess in his head-to-head battle with Cronulla’s Siosifa Talakai.
Staggs was outstanding for Brisbane in their 16-7 victory at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night, particularly with the way he rushed up on Talakai in defence to prevent the in-form Shark from building momentum.
Both players are in the selection mix for the vacant spot in the NSW backline for the June 8 State of Origin series opener in Sydney with Latrell Mitchell sidelined with a torn hamstring.
Staggs scored a crucial try late in the first half when he got around Talakai and palmed off winger Ronaldo Mulitalo to touch down next to the cornerpost.
“I thought Kotoni, going out with that defensive mindset, but then being able to score that try at half-time, tells you a lot about what he’s capable of,” Fittler said on Channel 9’s post-match coverage.
“If you’re thinking about defence but still has the power to stand up Talakai and then beat the winger to the corner show the power to be able to hold him off, that was an incredible effort.
Former Blues captain Paul Gallen said he thought Talakai was on top of his opponent in their head-to-head match-up for most of the first half but after Staggs scored just before the break “he was a clear winner of that battle”.
Dragons forward Jaydn Su’A is set to miss two months after scans revealed he needs an operation to fix his ankle injury.
Su’A limped off during last weekend’s victory over the Roosters and the syndesmosis injury means the Queensland second-rower will miss the State of Origin series opener and will be struggling to be back for game two in Perth on June 26.
His absence is a blow to rookie Maroons coach Billy Slater but he will have the likes of Broncos veteran Kurt Capewell, Titans powerhouse David Fifita, Melbourne’s Felise Kaufusi and South Sydney’s Jai Arrow to fill his edge roles.
Former Maroons stalwart Josh McGuire has replaced Su’A in the starting line-up at St George Illawarra for Sunday’s WIN Stadium encounter with Wests.