As the NRL celebrates Indigenous Round it’s worth asking what more can be done to get First Nations people into more senior roles in the game.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has floated the idea of following the NFL’s lead to mandate that clubs must interview Indigenous candidates when looking to fill senior operations roles, including on the coaching staff.
Apart from Immortal Arthur Beetson, who coached Queensland, the Roosters and Sharks in the 1980s and 90s, and more recently Laurie Daley with NSW in the Origin arena, there has been a stark absence of coaches in senior positions.
Parramatta’s Dean Widders and St George Illawarra’s Jamie Soward in the NRLW and Johnathan Thurston as Maroons assistant coach are leading the next generation of Indigenous coaches.
The lack of representation of Indigenous and Pasifika people in coaching and senior operations positions means the NRL should definitely explore whatever options are available to ensure events such as Indigenous Round are not seen as token gestures.
Here are all the on-field questions for each team heading into Round 12 of the season.
Should Brandon Smith be getting more minutes? Whether he’s in the run-on team or on the bench, at hooker or as a middle forward, Smith is only getting 47 minutes per game this season. To be fair, that is bang on with his career average of 46.4 and who is anyone to tell Craig Bellamy how to run his team but with the Storm struggling in the depths of, for them, a lengthy two-game losing streak, getting more out of Smith should be high on the agenda. He’s starting this game now that Harry Grant is out with an adductor injury.
Is the Sea Eagles’ goose cooked? That would be the other, other white meat, like a turducken. Des Hasler and co can claim otherwise until they’re blue in the face, and they should, but Tom Trbojevic’s shoulder surgery is not only season-ending for the player but for the team as well. At 5-6 with the Storm to play twice in the next five rounds, even the prospect of making the finals could soon be slipping out of their grasp.
Is Dylan Edwards the most deceptive fullback since Brett Hodgson? He shares many traits with the premiership-winning former Wests Tiger – he’s small for a fullback, seemingly not particularly fast or evasive but he manages to make opponents look foolish. Edwards is the NRL’s biggest metre-eater at 191 per game, ahead of a couple of rival custodians with slightly higher profiles and pay packets, James Tedesco (182) and Tom Trbojevic (176).
Will the Cowboys really miss Jason Taumalolo that much? When you ask a stupid question, your dad will tell you it deserves a stupid answer. But even though their forward leader is out with a knee injury, the Cowboys are better equipped than ever to make up for his absence following the rise of Reuben Cotter, Tom Gilbert and Jeremiah Nanai while Coen Hess and Jordan McLean are having career renaissances in Townsville.
What’s worse – Tyson Gamble’s mullet or his moustache? The obvious answer is the highly contrasting mullet which tries to scream business at the front but yells party at the back. But if you look closer, there’s a wispy thin moustache combination happening which also adds to the ensemble of WTAF that he’s rolling with at the moment.
Is David Fifita ready for more heavy criticism if he’s not ready to return? The marquee forward has been named on the extended bench as he looks to make a comeback after a month out with a knee injury. Cynics will suggest he’s back early to ensure he gets picked for Queensland. Whether he comes off the bench or starts, he will have a grace period of precisely 60 seconds before questions will be asked if he hasn’t made a break or peeled off a thunderous tackle.
Will the Warriors be able to keep it together before they return home? There’s light at the end of the tunnel with the team due to play its first match in Auckland in just over a month. But they’ve released Matt Lodge and Kodi Nikorima recently mid-season, Addin Fonua-Blake’s out long term with a foot injury, Chanel Harris-Tavita is taking a sabbatical from the sport next year, Euan Aitken’s joining the Dolphins and there’s smoke over Nathan Brown’s tenure which could develop into a full-blown fire if the team’s form continues in a downward spiral. It’s been a long three years for the club.
Can Kalyn Ponga rediscover his 2020 vision? Two years ago he averaged 183.9 running metres and 5.9 tackle breaks, this season he’s down to 149m and 3.4 tackle breaks. He’s sixth among fullbacks in both those key stats and tellingly, trails Warriors young gun Reece Walsh (166.3 and 5.4). If the Maroons choose their No.1 on form, it shouldn’t be the Knight unless he can score a massive points victory in this game.
Is Cody Walker this generation’s Laurie Daley … at the end of his career? The Raiders legend was still a very effective player in the final two years of his career but with Ricky Stuart at the Bulldogs, he was thrown off kilter. They both retired at the end of 2000 but it’s one of rugby league’s travesties that it was not together in lime green. Walker without Adam Reynolds is giving off a similar vibe. The Rabbitohs are sick of hearing about his departure and the transition to Lachlan Ilias sooner rather than later may end up being the right long-term decision but this team is not going to finish anywhere near the grand final this year.
Why have the Tigers let Luke Garner walk? The 26-year-old forward is joining Penrith next year and with fellow second-rowers Luciano Leilua off to the Cowboys and Kelma Tuilagi joining Manly, you would think Wests would have pulled out the stops to keep Garner, a more than handy first-grader who can fill in at centre when needed.
Should Wade Graham switch to the middle permanently? He doesn’t seem to have the same oomph (not a measurable metric in the gamut of NRL stats … yet) as an edge forward and Cronulla looked more potent when Teig Wilton assumed that role last week on the left. Graham switched to lock and seemed more at home. The former five-eighth has got the ball-playing ability to make more than a good fist of that position but the Sharks already have Cameron McInnes and Dale Finucane already on the roster performing similar duties.
Why did Jared Waerea-Hargreaves not get banned? Yet another example of the judiciary reset at the start of the season allowing a repeat offender to escape with a fine. Two things are indisputable – JWH clocked James Fisher-Harris in the head as he scored a try and swearing at the referee is inexcusable. Not only that, he basically accused Gerard Sutton of having it in for him so if that’s not questioning a referee’s integrity then nothing is. The Roosters are right in one sense – he shouldn’t have been sin-binned. He should have been sent off altogether.
Is Jack Hetherington the next Dog to stray? The kennel renovation is gathering momentum and talk has emerged that Hetherington, who is sidelined long term with a shoulder injury, could end up at the Tigers or Knights. Canterbury fans wouldn’t be too sad to see him go – the potential is definitely there but so is the ever-present potential to get suspended.
Do the Dragons know how to close out a game? Yes, they did this last Saturday against the Warriors. But first of all, their opposition was the Warriors. And secondly, they won dispute their best efforts to give it away, literally down the stretch. St George Illawarra centre Zac Lomax, with his team up by six and two minute ago, tried an extremely low percentage flick pass as he was tackled on play two which luckily ricocheted off a defender’s leg into a teammate’s clutches. Why do it? There was no need for that at all. Teams in that situation shouldn’t just take a couple of steps out of dummy half and submit to tackles but they should at least play the percentages.
Can the rugby league gods shine on Jarrod Croker? The shoulder dislocation suffered by the veteran centre during the week was wretched luck given he’s fought back from knee, back and shoulder problems. Hopefully he’s got another comeback in him because it’s getting close to that time where the Raiders will have to have some serious conversations with their 292-game stalwart about whether his ageing body is still able to handle the rigours of the NRL.
Is there a more frustrating Eel than Shaun Lane? At times he can look a million dollars and at others, he has a million critics. The lanky second-rower plays big minutes and can turn a game with his tackle-breaking ability and clever offloads like the one he produced for Tom Opacic’s try last week against Manly. But there are also games where you forget he’s on the field because he doesn’t seem to get involved as much as he should.