Adam Reynolds’ Broncos against his beloved South Sydney Rabbitohs. That’s the mouth-watering glamour club showdown the NRL is considering to launch next year’s season.
The NRL has been working on the 2022 draw for the past few weeks, with plans to kick off next season on March 10.
Adam Reynolds could square off against his old club in round one.Credit:Getty
The NRL has traditionally opened the season with a blockbuster round one clash. It doesn’t get much bigger than Reynolds, a South Sydney junior, squaring off against the club that wouldn’t budge in negotiations to keep him.
If played at Stadium Australia in Sydney, it would also double as an opportunity for the Rabbitohs to pay tribute to and farewell Reynolds, who hasn’t played in front of the South Sydney faithful since the middle of the season.
Adding spice to the contest will also be the expected addition of Broncos five-eighth Anthony Milford to the South Sydney side coached by Jason Demetriou – a former assistant to Wayne Bennett at the Broncos.
The two clubs are arguably the highest-rating teams on free-to-air television, with at least one of the two sides featuring on opening night in eight of the past nine seasons.
Anthony Milford has signed with the Rabbitohs for next season.Credit:Getty
Under the agreement with the broadcasters, the governing body is committed to finishing the schedule by the last day of October.
The structure being worked on now is almost identical to this year, with a 25-round regular season.
Despite speculation the NRL would abandon the Sunday night standalone Origin game for the second game of the series, Rugby League Central is forging ahead with plans to keep it the same.
That may change if a free-to-air deal is struck in the coming weeks, with Nine keen to see Origin return to Wednesdays for all three games because of a hit to the ratings on Sunday nights.
The Blues won this year’s State of Origin series.Credit:Getty
Things will heat up between the NRL and Nine, the publisher of this masthead, in the next few weeks over the free-to-air broadcast rights.
There had been talk Nine were considering dropping Thursday night footy to save some money, however they look set to continue with three games a round.
The significant increase in television ratings for the finals series puts the NRL in a strong position as they head to the negotiation table.
For whom the bill tolls
South Sydney were so worried about the fragility of the foundation bell, the club took out a $200,000 insurance policy for its transportation from Russell Crowe’s Nana Glen estate to Suncorp Stadium. It cost them close to $15,000 to insure it.
Crowe, who hand-picked Issac Luke to ring the bell, also reminded the club that it needed to be rung a certain way, with officials sending Issac Luke a video of how Bob McCarthy rung the bell before the 2014 grand final.
“Clearly the bell is nearing 125 years old,” Souths chief executive Blake Solly said.
“It’s precious and fragile because of that. It’s not the sort of bell you can use like a town crier. It has to be treated with a great deal of care. There’s a specific method of ringing it to ensure it’s not damaged.”
While John Sutton would have likely been atop the list of bell ringers had the game been played in Sydney, the former Rabbitohs captain didn’t travel with the team to Queensland.
Russell Crowe rings the foundation bell with former player Albert Clift at South Sydney’s first game back in the competition in 2002. They played arch rivals the Roosters at the Sydney Football Stadium.Credit:Getty
He started the year as one of the team’s trainers, but he will be at home watching the game with his five-year-old son. He said the decision to appoint Luke was a popular one.
“He’s been a big part of our club, so it’s awesome,” Sutton said. “I think it meant a lot because he didn’t get to finish out his career at Souths. He still loves the club.”
The real story behind Naden bombshell
It was just after the corresponding game last year that Penrith found themselves embroiled in the most unusual drug scandal.
To this day the club maintains it had no knowledge of Brent Naden taking cocaine the night before last year’s grand final. It’s why they are taking legal action against News Corp’s The Daily Telegraph for claiming otherwise.
According to the club, the first person to find out about it was assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo. When ASADA approached Naden to be drug-tested after full-time, he immediately knew his fate and confided in Ciraldo.
Ciraldo then informed coach Ivan Cleary as the team drowned its sorrows into the early hours of the morning at the club’s Penrith academy. A few weeks later the test results came back positive.
The only person who may have suspected something wasn’t right may have been Naden’s roommate Billy Burns, who is now at St George Illawarra.
On the Tuesday after the grand final, Naden confessed to Panthers officials that he had been drinking and taking drugs the night before the game with a family member, which was also a breach of the COVID protocols at the time.
Panthers star Brent Naden returned a positive test for cocaine after the 2020 grand final.Credit:NRL Photos
Any suggestion he took part in the illegal activity because he thought he wasn’t playing is off the mark. He was told at the captain’s run that day that he would be on the bench for the decider.
His manager Allan Gainey, who called on grand final day to find out if his client was playing following reports he had been dropped, was also told by former assistant Trent Barrett that Naden was in the 17.
The club has been impressed with Naden’s behaviour since the ordeal, which saw him spend time in a northern beaches rehabilitation facility over the summer. He was left with no doubt that if he strayed again his contract would be torn up.
Even since announcing mid-season that he would be heading to the Bulldogs next year, the club says he has maintained an impeccable work ethic. He will be a handy pick-up for Canterbury in 2022.
Cleary likely to miss start of 2022
Penrith have wasted no time organising for Nathan Cleary to undergo shoulder surgery.
Due to the COVID-19 related delays with the NSW health system, Cleary will stay back in Queensland and have surgery on Wednesday or Thursday. He’s expected to miss the start of next season.
The club’s physiotherapists have agreed to remain in Queensland on holiday and will put Cleary through a rehabilitation program until they all return to Sydney later in the month.
Only four Panthers players are planning on heading back home immediately after the grand final.
Nathan Cleary will undergo surgery next week.Credit:Getty
When Cleary met with the two shoulder specialists after picking up the injury in Origin, both believed it was worth a shot trying to get through the season but insisted surgery would be required as soon as his duties were completed.
He’s also been battling a hip injury for a number of weeks, which some at the club believe contributed to him stumbling late in the preliminary final against Melbourne when most assumed he was feeling the effects of a head knock.
Trainer appeal rejected
Penrith had their application to have suspended trainer Pete Green reinstated for the grand final rejected by the NRL in the lead-up to the match.
He was rubbed out for the remainder of the season following a controversial moment in the semi-final against Parramatta, when he stopped play in the dying minutes to attend to hooker Mitch Kenny despite rules stating he needed to make an initial assessment first.
The Panthers argued that Green was aware of an ankle issue with the hooker from earlier in the game, which is why he didn’t feel it necessary to make another on-field assessment before asking the touch judge to stop play.
The NRL were in no mood to be sympathetic, especially because Green had already been warned for a similar incident involving Viliame Kikau against the Sharks back in round 14.
In Green’s absence, the NRL allowed its medical operations manager Craig Catterick to wear the Panthers’ orange trainer shirt for both the preliminary final and grand final.
Interestingly Catterick, who left the Panthers mid-season to join the NRL, had also filled in for the Rabbitohs as their trainer a few weeks earlier.
The new Sydney Football Stadium under construction back in May.Credit:Brook Mitchell
Catterick is highly respected in the game having worked for Australia and NSW over many years, but his time at head office will be short-lived.
He is departing head office to link up with the Newcastle Knights next season. He will also be joined by close friend and Panthers trainer Hayden Knowles.
SFS factoring into draw calculations
One of the considerations in the formulation of next year’s draw will be the opening of the new Sydney Football Stadium.
Under the terms of the contract, the NRL is scheduled to get the keys to the shiny new 45,000-seat stadium for next September’s finals series.
It’s unlikely that the venue will be ready beforehand, but the NRL will look to schedule a match between the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney for the end of August in the hope the foundation clubs can be part of the opening.
Football Federation Australia have other plans, looking to schedule a Matildas or Socceroos game to launch the facility.
Munster to be axed from Storm top table
The Herald has been told that Cameron Munster is set to be dumped from the Melbourne Storm leadership group over the white powder scandal.
The leadership group also consists of the departing Dale Finucane, as well as Kenny Bromwich, Jesse Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch.
Cameron Munster is set to be dumped from the club’s leadership group.Credit:Getty Images
It may be the final straw for Munster at the Storm, with some of the opinion he will be free to explore options at the potential new 17th team when his contract expires.
The Storm have scheduled a press conference for Tuesday, where they will also announce heavy financial penalties against Munster, Brandon Smith and Chris Lewis on top of NRL penalties.
The NRL is reluctant to punish the club for the indiscretion of individuals, which means the trio may only cop a one-game ban. The Storm wanted the issue resolved during the week but the NRL were reluctant to hijack the grand final build-up.
Interesting to note that Cameron Munster, who is personally sponsored by nutrition giants Musashi, is no longer listed as one of their athletes on their website.
Late night for Packer
South Sydney owners Russell Crowe and James Packer were on opposite sides of the world for Sunday’s grand final. Crowe is in Thailand (4.30pm kick-off local time), while Packer is in Los Angeles (1.30am kick off).
Referee Ashley Klein was so disappointed with missing out on the top job for the grand final that he was a no-show for a referees’ event on Tuesday.
Klein was named standby referee for the decider, missing out on the main role given to Gerard Sutton.
He was invited to the announcement of the referees, but declined the invitation.
Sutton was under pressure to keep his position after a blunder in the preliminary final, when Nathan Cleary attempted a conversion six or seven metres in from the line of a try.
Penrith boss’s media ban
Penrith Panthers chairman Dave O’Neill placed himself on a media ban after an incident with a certain journalist.
O’Neill is always happy to pick up the phone for a chat, but over the past fortnight he has refused to answer after being burnt. At the heart of his anger is a belief that he was recently quoted in an article following a conversation he assumed was off the record.
Another chapter for the book…
There is no love lost between the Rabbitohs and Joseph Suaalii after he defected to join arch-rivals the Sydney Roosters this season.
It’s why there were a few people at the Rabbitohs having a chuckle at his expense during the week, reflecting on what could have been for the teenage sensation.
While Blake Taaffe has been superb, the Rabbitohs believe it would have been Suaalii wearing the No.1 jersey in a grand final in the absence of Latrell Mitchell had he not left.
Joseph Suaalii training with the Roosters earlier this season.Credit:Getty
Kikau talks to resume
A few weeks out from the start of the finals series, Panthers officials told Villiame Kikau’s manager George Christodoulou that they would put all contract discussions on hold until after the play-offs.
Things will heat up in the next couple of weeks. Kikau has one year to run on his deal with Penrith, but if he signs somewhere else for 2023 and beyond, the club may consider letting him walk early.
If he stays it’ll place great pressure on the club’s salary cap. Expect Spencer Leniu to become one of the most sought-after players in the game.
Spencer Leniu was pursued by the Melbourne Storm and Bulldogs before re-signing with Penrith last year.Credit:Penrith Panthers
The prop still has two years to run on his deal at the Panthers worth about $300,000 a year. He already has clubs lining up for him.
He turned down the Bulldogs 12 months ago to stay with Penrith.
Walker will pay to stay
Don’t expect Cody Walker to become the next million-dollar man when he restarts negotiations with South Sydney next week.
The Rabbitohs put discussions on hold to allow the five-eighth to concentrate on the finals.
Cody Walker could be a million-dollar man on the open market.Credit:Getty
The fact the club didn’t put up much of a fight to keep Adam Reynolds highlights how important he is to the club’s future.
While he could attract $1 million a season on the open market, financial limitations at South Sydney due to the big-money contracts of Latrell Mitchell, Damien Cook, Jai Arrow and Cameron Murray means Walker will have to settle for a little less at the Bunnies.
Rabs keeping options open
Most assumed Sunday’s grand final would be legendary Nine commentator Ray Warren’s last. Bu don’t write Rabs off just yet. Nine believe he is considering going around again next year given the ease in which he was able to waltz in and out of the network’s North Sydney studio to call matches while the competition was relocated to Queensland. An announcement either way is expected early in the new year.
NRL keeps mum on crowd cut
The NRL is appreciative of all the Queensland government has done to keep the competition alive in 2021. It’s why they kept their mouths shut this week despite being privately bemused by Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s decision to reduce capacity to 75 per cent a few days out from the grand final.
There are people at rugby league headquarters who don’t understand how a 25-per-cent reduction in crowd will do anything to stop the potential spread of COVID-19.
The NRL knows it’s all about the optics. The same goes for when the Queensland government demanded teams sing their victory songs wearing face masks.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.Credit:Getty Images
Regardless, the 12,000 tickets which were refunded won’t impact the game’s bottom line.
The NRL had compensation written into the contract as insurance if the government reduced capacity. The governing body didn’t want to leave themselves exposed should crowd numbers be reduced. The Queensland government will cover the revenue lost on gate takings.
Hopoate not done yet?
Canterbury centre Will Hopoate turned down the NRL’s invitation to celebrate his career in a pre-game tribute to all the retiring players at the grand final.
Will Hopoate is off to Super League.Credit:Getty
Hopoate played 184 games across 10 seasons in the NRL. He’s bound for St Helens in the Super League next year.
Perhaps Hopoate is still eyeing a return to the NRL?
NRL heavyweights stay put
Despite AFL boss Gill McLachlan receiving an exemption to enter Western Australia for last month’s grand final, the NRL didn’t even apply.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo and ARLC chairman Peter V’landys both felt strongly against crossing the border in the NRL’s last round of quarantine.
Andrew Abdo and Peter V’landys.Credit:Getty
“When you are in rugby league you have to be like the fans,” V’landys said.
“If the fans in NSW can’t go, so that applies to us. We could’ve gone but we don’t believe we are above everyone else. That ruled us out. I never tried and the thought of going up never crossed my mind.
Queensland-based ARL commissioners Kate Jones and Megan Davis were selected to represent the NRL on stage for the post-match formalities.
Expansion could be just weeks away
The NRL has organised a video conference with all 16 clubs on Thursday that will have major ramifications on the future of the game.
There are three items on the agenda: the game’s finances, free-to-air broadcast deal and expansion.
The NRL wants to proceed with a 17th team from 2023 but need to prove to clubs that it is also in their best interest for the game to grow.
If all goes to plan, a new team in Brisbane will be unveiled within the fortnight with Wayne Bennett as coach.
Fans fly flag at Suncorp
Despite two Sydney teams squaring off in Brisbane, the NRL did its best to provide some colour in the stands.
All supporters who purchased tickets in the supporter bay received a free flag to add to the spectacle on television.
Panthers on parade
The Penrith Panthers are planning to organise a function for their fans when things begin to open up later this month.
The club wants to acknowledge the effort of the players and wanted to parade them in front of fans regardless of the result of the decider.
It’s been a massive two years for the club. They sold $280,000 worth of merchandise in the 24-hour period after last week’s preliminary final win against Melbourne.
Rabbitohs fans get shirty
South Sydney pre-ordered 8000 premiership -shirts to be printed immediately after full-time of Sunday’s decider in the event of a victory.
Apparel partner Classic Sportswear printed 8000 grand final T-shirts straight after the preliminary final win against Manly. They sold out in 24 hours.
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