Thorn comeback ... U21s National Youth League ... The Cowboys bandwagon
Strong mail out of Brisbane the past fortnight has dual international Brad Thorn returning to the Broncos next season. After a patchy stint in and out of the New Zealand All Blacks test squad, Brisbane is pursuing Thorn heavily as they plan for life after Gorden Tallis who is expected to retire due to constant neck pain. Thorn, still only 29 years of age, has plenty to offer rugby league despite spending the past four seasons in union and there are few more fearsome forwards in the game than the 195cm, 113kg behemoth. Should Tallis pull the plug, star playmaker Darren Lockyer will need a new enforcer and Thorn fits the bill perfectly.
At a recent meeting of officials from a Sydney club and their fans, talk of a revamped National Youth League was on the agenda for introduction for the 2006 season. With or without the addition of a 16th NRL side, plans are in place to create a new stage for an Under 21s competition that would run side by side with the Telstra Premiership. At present, the Jersey Flegg competition operates under the NSWRL banner is for Under 20s (formerly U19s until this year), but only involves the NSW based teams including the separate entities in merged clubs (Illawarra, St.George, Western Suburbs, Balmain) and the lone non-NRL aligned side the Central Coast Rips. While this competition has returned to a full home and away schedule in 2004, it lacks the appeal of the old President Cup format. The new competition would not replace the current Premier League format but would become a bigger attraction at NRL fixtures, as it promises to feature the best new talent from every NRL club at the same venue. The days of getting to the footy early en masse for crowds are long gone, but with a revamped U21s competition as part of the lead up to an NRL clash � no matter the home team, fans will have a stronger case to turn up to watch the next wave coming through. For fixtures involving the NRL clubs with Premier League sides, those games would remain scheduled alongside the U21s and NRL contests. The biggest concern would be the financial backing required to fly the U21s sides around Australasia, but a major sponsor would no doubt go along way in covering that. For clubs such as Brisbane, Melbourne and the Warriors, they would retain feeder clubs in the Queensland Cup and Bartercard Cup competitions, ensuring the players who are too old for the U21s competition but are not in the first grade side would have a viable avenue to ply their trade. It appears to be a win-win situation for the overall exposure of the NRL, but it would surprise no-one if forward thinking like this failed to get off the ground in due time.
Finally, it is fantastic to see the enthusiasm and sheer joy emanating from the north of Queensland as the winning ways of Cowboys continue. However it is also going to be one major let down for all and sundry if the Cowboys can�t win at least two of their remaining five games. Looking at the table, 27 points will most likely be the cut-off point for the Top 8 (if the Cowboys had not drawn their South Sydney match the cut-off would be 28) and to reach that mark the Cowboys must over come a difficult schedule. This weekend they must overcome the red-hot Bulldogs at the Showground; then host the Rabbitohs who have been anything but �Bunnies� the past fortnight; travel to the foot of the mountains to take on a Panthers team that will be fired up after another Grand Final replay the week before; then it�s off to Campbelltown Stadium for their first free-to-air game in 10 years against what will be a desperate Tigers team; and finally they jet back home what could be another do-or-die clash with the Cronulla Sharks. With due respect to Souths, the Cowboys only �gimmie� appears to be that clash at Dairy Farmers in Round 23, but they have to conjure up another win against opposition that will know that a win against the Cowboys could open up a Top 8 spot of their own. The fairytale of a first Finals appearance has a lot of appeal to the general football public, but when push comes to shove will the Cowboys who have been getting only positive media in recent times, be able to get back to reality for what is going to be five very tough premiership rounds.
Warrick NICOLSON ========================= Freelance Sports Journalist NICOLSON SPORTS CONSULTANCY Ph: 0402 851 485 Fax: 02 9653 1483 [email protected]