Gee, the rugby league hierarchy – primarily the ARLC and NSWRL – can shoot itself in the foot sometimes.
At a time when everyone should be talking about the NRL and NRLW grand finals, both matches have taken a back seat in the past few days.
Firstly, there was the controversy over Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga winning the prestigious Dally M Medal from New Zealander Shaun Johnson.
Many pundits wondered how the Novocastrian prevailed when he missed so many matches this season.
Then, 24 hours later, legend Brad Fittler quit as the NSW Blues coach.
While the mentor has dropped the past two State of Origin series to Queensland nemesis Billy Slater, the much-loved former great probably deserved one more shot.
Over a six-year period, Fittler’s guided NSW to three triumphs, with a 50% winning record.
Already, he’d made changes to his support crew for 2024, with chief advisor Greg Alexander and assistant Paul McGregor stepping down.
There was also talk he had coaxed Phil Gould back to the fold, which was a massive coup.
But, did that move “spook” the NSWRL board?
As is usually the case in the code, people will stay silent… and I guess we’ll never know the real reasons for the split.
It’s sad in many respects.
Even though I didn’t always agree with some of his selections, especially the past 24 months, Fittler threw himself head-first into the role.
As a passionate Blues hero himself, he’s the man you want trying to reignite pride in the jumper.
It can’t be an easy job, especially dealing with the different personalities within the NSWRL ranks and the savage Sydney media, because two of the nicest guys you could meet – Laurie Daley and Fittler – have both struggled in the position recently.
The big question now is where do we turn to fill the breach?
Immortal Andrew Johns and Danny Buderus have already advised the board they won’t be involved next season either.
Melbourne’s main man Craig Belamy admitted he found it tough coaching against his own players (Slater, Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster) when he had the chance; Canberra’s Ricky Stuart is hugely invested in restoring the Raiders; and Des Hasler’s about to kick-off his stint at the Gold Coast Titans.
The NSWRL has shied away from using club mentors, however it might need to rethink its strategy.
Quite simply, NSW can’t afford to lose another series to the Maroons.
And, in case you forgot amid all the drama, the Knights are tackling the Gold Coast Titans in the NRLW decider and the Penrith Panthers face the Brisbane Broncos in the big dance.
Knights duo steals the honours
Although not everyone was happy with Ponga picking up the NRL’s highest individual honour, the Dally M Medal, you can’t fault his form over the latter part of 2023.
Warrior Johnson and Brisbane behemoth Payne Haas went in as favourites but the Newcastle Knights skipper pipped the Kiwi by a mere point after producing several slashing performances.
One result, which wasn’t too surprising, saw Tamika Upton snare the NRLW honours.
She’s far and away the best in the women’s game.
Congrats to both local stars.
For more sports stories:
- NRLW: Kayla’s Kurri Kurri’s shining Knight
- NRLW: Parker primed to spearhead Knights’ attack
- Special Knight for Newcastle with dual Dally M winners
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