The North Queensland Cowboys have won a second NRL Nines title, defeating the St George-Illawarra Dragons, while the Dragons’ women’s team upset the Broncos in their final.
The Perth NRL Nines showcased plenty of up-and-coming talent, alongside established NRL stars (and some recently retired players), in a perfect bite-sized preview of the NRL season ahead.
It wasn’t shy of exciting rugby league, and it also had yet another poor refereeing decision that will sadly be the talking point more so than the football.
Some thoughts, and a review of sorts, below.
COWBOYS ROUND UP NINE TITLE NUMBER TWO
The St George-Illawarra Dragons were looking for a 2020 NRL Nines double – with the men trying to replicate the women’s result from the previous game – and the Cowboys were looking for a second Nines title. So a double was coming one way or another. North Queensland were warm favourites heading into the final.
North Queensland got the early running with a leaner, meaner Coen Hess grabbing a try after just two minutes, but the Dragons hit back quickly with tries to Jason Nightingale and Mikaele Ravalawa to lead 8-6 in back-to-back sets that seemed a little too easy. The Dragons didn’t hold onto the lead for long as new signing Reece Robson scored just before half time in a long darting run from dummy half.
The Dragons almost scored in the corner just before half time, but the flying Jason Saab was stopped by Jake Clifford just as he was trying to score, and received a full dacking for his effort. The Dragons winger provided a second moon for the people enjoying the coverage, which will probably rival the refereeing blunder for the most played clip from the Nines in generic media.
Clifford was the first to score for the Cowboys in the second half (in the 13th minute). The Dragons’ Josh Kerr scored in the 16th minute to set up an exciting finish to the tournament, but North Queensland got one more try, courtesy of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, whose burning speed saw comparisons to Josh Addo-Carr.
A second title was well deserved for the Cowboys, and it was a good start to the season for both teams after underwhelming in 2019.
HOW DID THEY GET THERE?
St George-Illawarra had a turbulent ride to the grand final, winning the semi final against Parramatta 8-6 with a last minute Tim Lafai try. The Eels had earlier beaten the Dragons in the second of the two group stage games, after St George-Illawarra had a big win over local rivals Cronulla. Of course the Dragons were lucky to be in the semi final at all, after their quarter final match against Penrith was decided by a last minute try/ref howler. More on that soon.
The Cowboys won the second semi final 19-8 over the impressive Gold Coast Titans, a game that was in the balance until a charging Jason Taumalolo set up the try three minutes from full time, and a flying Scott Drinkwater finished it off with a long range special. Prior to the semi final, North Queensland had easily accounted for South Sydney 20-6 in the quarter final, and were unbeaten from their two group games against Brisbane (17-11) and Manly (10-7).
DRAGONS WOMEN TAKE NRL NINES CROWN
The St George-Illawarra NRLW team took out the Nines trophy in a surprise win over the previously unbeaten Broncos side. The Dragons had already dominated most of the first half with ball and territory, but a third try just before half time gave them a 17-0 lead, which looked like it would be hard to catch.
Jessica Sergis scored within three minutes of the half time break for the Dragons to extend the margin to 21-0, and they weren’t caught. The Broncos tried hard enough in the second half, but they were off the pace and not the same side that breezed through the group stages unbeaten. It broke the Broncos’ recent dominance of NRLW trophies.
INJURY WORRIES ALREADY
One worry for NRL clubs about such a competitive pre-season tournament is getting injuries before the season has even started. And some clubs certainly fared worse than others.
St George-Illawarra suffered three key injuries: Cameron McInnes (medial ligament), Korbin Sims (broken arm), and Matt Dufty (depressed cheekbone fracture).
Anthony Milford, Ethan Lowe, Paul Momirovski were among the other frontline NRL players who went down with injury across the weekend.
A lot of press was given to the various former players coming back for the Perth Nines, and it is fair to say that the results were mixed at the end of the tournament.
Kurt Gidley was great for Newcastle, and a truly inspired inclusion, as he was in the thick of the action, providing tries and laying on chances for other throughout the Knights’ campaign.
The rest did not have the same impact. Not that they were disgraced by any means, but with a number of young fringe and development players shining across the weekend, perhaps it is time to let the youngsters have their go, considering how few will get a go in the NRL proper in 2020.
The past players have had their time; the Nines should always be about the now and the future.
IT WAS GREAT NOT TO HAVE THE VIDEO REF, UNTIL WE NEEDED IT
The controversial moment of the 2020 NRL Nines in Perth was the quarter final between Penrith and the Dragons, which was a shame as it was one of the more entertaining games of the tournament.
Penrith had thought they had just wrapped up the quarter final after a try with a minute to go, but they failed with the kick off, conceding a penalty which gave the Dragons 30 seconds to snatch the game. The Dragons waited until after the siren to do so; a cross field kick landed on the chest of the impressive Cody Ramsey who placed the ball down to score and steal an unlikely win. It was all very exciting until the replays were shown.
The ball was placed on the other side of the sideline in the in-goal, and the margin of error was certainly big enough that one of the three potential match officials should have seen it. Hot on the heels of the “six again” efforts in the 2019 grand final, another poor officiating error was certainly something the NRL could have done without.
It was not long before this when this author remarked how good it was that not every second try was being sent upstairs to the video ref. The enjoyment of watching actual rugby league and not tedious replays felt good. I’d certainly be happy to have the occasional howler to have less technology. It’s not as if the video technology gets it right 100% anyway.
But at the end of the day, that Dragons’ try should not have been missed by all of the officials.
DRINKWATER WINS THE COWBOYS’ HALVES SHOOT-OUT FOR NOW
The Cowboys have a selection dilemma heading into the 2020 NRL season: which player out of Jake Clifford and Scott Drinkwater will partner Michael Morgan in the halves. It’s fair to say – after a tournament-best performance – that Drinkwater holds the upper hand for now.
The former Storm player had all the skills on show this weekend: passing, a deft kicking game, and enough of a running game to cause trouble every time he was on the field, He was a deserving Player of the Tournament.
THE 2019 STRUGGLERS SHINE AT 2020 NINES
It was a good tournament for some of the teams who had a ordinary 2019 NRL season; in fact three of the four semi finalists were from the bottom three of last year’s ladder.
This is to go with Friday’s efforts, where seven of the first eight games at the 2020 NRL Nines in Perth were won by teams in the bottom half of the 2019 NRL ladder. The only game a bottom half side didn’t win featured two top half sides.
Despite missing the finals, last season’s wooden spooners the Gold Coast can look forward to 2020 with increased hope given their performances at the NRL Nines, and on the back of a new coach. Some of their best were players who have under performed at times over the past few seasons, like former Panthers Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey, and star halfback Ash Taylor, for whom ability isn’t as much of a worry as the consistency of performance. Consistency is not a problem for Jai Arrow, who was one of their best this weekend, but his 2021 exit from the Titans certainly is.
NEW NAMES TO REMEMBER
The 2020 Nines unearthed a few gems, and hopefully they get a chance to taste NRL this season.
Hamiso “The Hammer” Tabuai-Fidaw – the Cowboys flyer is as fast as Josh Addo-Carr, scores sensational tries, and has a great nickname ready to go. Boxes ticked.
Tristan Sailor – A name that a lot already know, as his old man is Wendell Sailor, but the junior Sailor impressed at the NRL Nines, giving himself a real chance of playing NRL in 2020.
Luke Metcalf – He will find it hard to break into the Manly NRL team given he is a fullback, but after his NRL Nines performance he may find his way into the team in any position.
Cody Ramsey – Hopefully by the end of 2020 he is known more for his NRL performances than being the players who scored the ‘no try’ at the Nines. His “Bjorn Borg” look is a welcome addition.
Nicho Hynes – He has played one NRL game for Melbourne, but he looked so at ease in the Nines that it looked like he may already have a few seasons under his belt. If given the chance this season, Hynes will shine for sure.
OFFICIAL NRL NINES TEAMS
1. Scott Drinkwater (Cowboys)
2. Clint Gutherson (Eels)
3. Mason Lino (Knights)
4. Tyrone Peachey (Titans)
5. Jason Taumololo (Cowboys)
6. Phillip Sami (Titans)
7. Luke Metcalf (Sea Eagles)
8. Cody Ramsey (Dragons)
9. Viliame Kikau (Panthers)
1. Maddie Studdon (Dragons)
2. Hannah Southwell (Roosters)
3. Samantha Bremner (Dragons)
4. Raecene McGregor (Broncos)
5. Tamika Upton (Broncos)
6. Chelsea Lenarduzzi (Broncos)
7. Nita Maynard (Roosters)
8. Keeley Davis (Dragons)
9. Kezie Apps (Dragons)