John Cartwright hit the nail on the head when he simultaneously stood up for Broncos coach Kevin Walters while also taking down Bulldogs general manager Phil Gould.
Walters has turned the Broncos around from also-rans to premiership contenders in the space of a few seasons and Cartwright, the former Panthers international forward and Gold Coast coach who now serves as a Broncos assistant, fired off a ripping broadside directed at the poor decision making of clubs that linger at the foot of the NRL ladder for extended periods.
Gould claimed recently in his guise as Channel Nine analyst that the Broncos couldn’t win the competition this year but Cartwright is having none of that, pointing to the quick rebirth of the club from the lowest of ebbs just a few short seasons ago when they received their first wooden spoon in club history.
When Anthony Seibold departed the Broncos in August of 2020, less than two years into the five-year contract he had signed, Brisbane looked close to rock bottom. From a win-loss percentage they almost certainly were as they occupied the last rung on the ladder.
An unproven coach at club level despite having success with Queensland in the Origin arena, Walters brought only modest improvement the following season, with seven wins far from anything to write home about.
The jury remained out on Walters and even a player or two openly questioned his chances of success at one of the biggest and most powerful clubs in the land. Then during what was a rebuild of sorts, Brisbane became a competitive outfit in 2022.
By Round 14, the Broncos sat equal third on the ladder, threatening to rise from a wooden spoon into a creditable appearance in the finals within two seasons.
I had predicted they would do so during the pre-season, feeling that there was a stack of talent at Walters’ disposal and that any sort of unity within the group and a common direction could see Brisbane be markedly improved.
They certainly were, yet lost five of their last six to miss the playoffs by a single game.
It was a little embarrassing really, after so much work done to rebuild a shattered club not too familiar or comfortable with being uncompetitive in September. No doubt it hurt, yet Walters went back to work and Brisbane hit the ground running in 2023.
They will not miss the finals this season and 15 wins from 20 matches, a whopping 504 points scored and a better defensive record than all bar the Panthers speak volumes about what Walters has achieved with his coaching staff.
And, he didn’t need a five, six or seven year plan to do it.
It was the defensive side of the game that brought about Cartwright returning serve. After Gould categorically dismissed the Broncos’ chances of winning the title, the 57-year-old former Panthers second-rower took umbrage.
In a classy, witty and pointed defence of Walters, Cartwright delivered a stern and deserved message to Gould, whether or not he was the only intended target. Something tells me he was.
“I have seen a lot of other teams out there that talk about rebuilds. You see a lot of other sides out there that talk about five year, six year, seven year plans and they are still running at the bottom of the table.”
Colloquially, Cartwright was suggesting two things. One, that Gould should stay in his lane, worry a little less about the Broncos and focus more on the rabble at Belmore that has gone backwards this season, despite adding some quality talent.
Secondly, Cartwright was suggesting that the man who consistently reminds us of his rather oracle-like opinion of himself and his importance in the game, should perhaps reflect on his penchant to place prophetic and inaccurate timelines on improvement.
Not one iota of Gould’s predictions for the Bulldogs has come to pass in 2023. The team is no better, coach Cameron Ciraldo is struggling, their defence is catastrophic and rumoured interest around every big-name player that comes on the market seems to suggest that he realises the Bulldogs need a whole lot more than what they have in stock right now.
No doubt Walters would have been pleased with his assistants support and faith, evidence of the loyalty and unity he is attempting to build.
Walters said in a media conference that “we are worried about ourselves and I think Phil should be doing the same (with the Bulldogs)”.
Of course, Gould works in the media and is expected to offer opinions and provoke discussion and commentary for his employer. Yet after concerns raised earlier this season about potential conflicts of interest and the Canterbury board having held discussions with him, it appears an ability to read the rugby league room is escaping the 65-year-old.
The General Manger of Football at a struggling NRL club, a man well versed in trotting out year-defined rebuild plans and then writing off the chances of a club on the rise, is a very poor look.
Gould deserved to be told to stay in his lane and worry about his own backyard. Cartwright managed to do it well.