Mitchell Moses masterclass, Will Pryce, Papua New Guinea expansion: NRL 7-tackle set

Mike Meehall Wood
Will Pryce, Papua New Guinea and Mitchell Moses

The week after an Origin match is often a bit deflating, but this week’s fixtures had plenty enough going for them to keep the standard of NRL narrative peaked throughout. 

Canterbury, with just one player backing up – captain Stephen Crichton – put in perhaps their best showing of the season to nick a golden point thriller over the Sharks, the Warriors returned to form with a smash-up of the Broncos and, as everyone in England is already aware, Will Pryce shone on NRL debut for Newcastle in a victory over Parramatta. 

The sight of Leon in the crowd with Steve Menzies and Scott Dureau was great, the x-rated interview delivered in pure Bradford was hilarious and the stream of social media content afterward was even better, with Pryce clearly one of the most popular players at the club. 

Sunday, unfortunately, showed the issues with Origin period football as the Dragons defeated the Dolphins after a first half that will not live long in the memory and the Panthers lost to the Cowboys in a game that, frankly, they would never lose in a normal week. 

Still, the NRL marches on apace – we’re not changing here – so let’s get into it. 

Good week for  

The Bulldogs, who have moved up to fifth place in the ladder on the back of a statement victory over Cronulla on Friday night. 

The third-place Sharks should have been well-placed to go even higher – especially with the Panthers then losing on Sunday – given that they didn’t have a single player in Origin and had enjoyed a bye the week before. 

Yet they were rolled by an ultra-enthusiastic Canterbury side who are defending their way to the top.  

Coach Cameron Ciraldo was in charge of the defence at the Panthers as an assistant and, while it took a year to bed in, you can see what he was trying to do all along.  

The line speed is the centrepiece of everything they do, with an under-sized pack led by Reed Mahoney, fast becoming the NRL’s chief wind-up merchant.  

Bailey Hayward, who played for Scotland at the World Cup as a halfback, has been wearing the 13 and, though plenty smaller than the average loose forward, he makes up for it in enthusiasm. 

They’re probably a middle short to challenge at the back end of the year, but for a success-starved fanbase like the Dogs, progress is everything.  

A last word on the Sharks, though: they’ve now lost four of their last five and are miles off it. Improvement is drastically needed for Craig Fitzgibbon’s men. 

Bad week for  

The Broncos, who lost for a fourth game in succession and are now officially in freefall.  

They were punished by having big names in Origin and, in the long run, were probably smart to leave Reece Walsh, Payne Haas and Pat Carrigan in Australia instead of taking them to play in Auckland given the risk of injury involved in repeated games in short periods. 

Even without their stars, however, they should have been better. The Warriors were flogged 66-6 last weekend and are themselves in awful nick, but actually move ahead of the Broncos in real terms (byes complicate the table this time of year) after a solid win. 

Kevin Walters is watching his best laid plans disintegrate at the moment.  

His backroom deputies are fleeing the ship with Lee Briers set to move to Souths and John Cartwright already confirmed to Hull FC next year. Adam Reynolds, who acted as a coach on the field, is still injured and won’t be back for months. 

It doesn’t get much easier, either: the Panthers roll into town next week. 


While all our eyes were on Will Pryce on Newcastle debut, it was actually on the other side that the fireworks flew. 

Sure, Pryce scored and was solid in a Knights win, but had they lost – and they might well have were it not for two intercepts late on – we’d all be talking about Mitch Moses. 

The Lebanon halfback was the star man for New South Wales last midweek in Origin, picking up a rake of try assists, and backed up on Saturday with two tries and another assist to bring Parramatta to the edge of victory. 

The Eels made a solid effort of losing anyway with some plodding work through the middle and their usual mid-half fadeout, but hidden in there was another masterclass from Moses, who constantly threatened shortsides, kicked long and pulled strings. 

For a guy who has been out injured for most of the year to come back, hit the ground running and dominate like this is super impressive. It’s just a shame that the efforts are wasted in this car crash of a Parramatta team. 


Canberra have had a tough trot of late. Defeat to Melbourne this weekend was perhaps expected given their form, which has included a thrashing at the hands of the Wests Tigers and a dispiriting home defeat to the Cowboys. 

They were never expected to do much this year as they transition between generations in their team, and in many ways, it’s actually been an impressive season given the inherent inconsistency that comes from fielding multiple rookies in key positions. 

What they could have done with is an experienced head to lead them forward, an Origin-level star to offer nous in the middle. They needed Corey Horsburgh. 

This time last year, Big Red was playing Origin for Queensland and riding the crest of a wave, but this weekend was sent off after a brain explosion in NSW Cup that saw him stick the head on Warriors forward Jacob Laban and then aim punches at multiple opponents, taking one on the beak in the process. 

There have been injuries in the mix that have limited his NRL time to just two games this year, but the drop off in form goes well beyond that. Horsburgh has been left out while fit of late in a team in which he should be walk up starter. Now, he’s going to have a lengthy suspension to boot. 

Everyone’s talking about 

Expansion, with the NRL all but confirming a pathway to a 20-team competition with Perth coming first and then open slather on the other two spots. 

PNG is on the agenda as some sort of hedge against Chinese power in the Pacific – more on which later – as is a South Island team in New Zealand, more Queensland teams and even one in Fiji. 

There’s also a wedge put into the Perth bid from North Sydney Bears, who are so desperate to return to a league that punted them in the 1990s that they are willing to give their name to anyone, anywhere as long as they get a game at North Sydney Oval from time to time. Whether anyone in Perth cares about the Bears is still unknown. 

The obvious squeeze will come down to TV money, as it always does. Perth is obvious because their 3-hour time difference allows for a 6pm kick off every Sunday night on the East Coast of Australia, currently an unused time slot.  

A team in Christchurch would also do the same, with the Kiwi 8pm kick off on a Friday the perfect 6pm in Sydney, otherwise a graveyard shift, or even a 1pm on Saturday, currently unused. 

As for the 20th…well, read on.  

But nobody’s mentioning 

Papua New Guinea, or at least, what people from the country think about them getting an NRL team. 

The voices of Papua New Guineans have been almost completely absent from the discussions, which have been dominated by what works for Australia and the NRL much more than the people of the country that would, theoretically at least, host the games.  

Much as it comes over as bleeding heart liberal, there are legitimate questions about whether the huge financial outlay from the Australian government in what is, essentially, a rugby league aid package to PNG, mightn’t be better spent on the usual schools, hospitals and economic development in a country where 41% of children live in poverty. 

There is as of yet no plan for what happens when the Australian government changes, as it will inevitably do at some point, or the NRL leadership changes, as it will inevitably do at some point. 

Papua New Guineans love rugby league and would undoubtedly support a team, but unless it actually does something for rugby league as a whole – i.e. provides a pathway for Kumuls players – or does something for PNG as a whole – i.e. creates a tourist economy – then what are we actually doing here? 

Forward pass 

Next weekend sees the return of Tom Trbojevic after a lengthy injury break, with the Manly superstar set to shift positions to give his hamstring the best possible chance. 

This latest tear was the sixth of his career and, with Manly having multiple options to play fullback, Turbo will slot into the centres to avoid the long sprints involved with defensive work at the back. 

It’s a bold move but could well pay off: Trbojevic has played on an edge multiple times for NSW with great success and will terrify whoever he faces in that position. 

The question for the Sea Eagles is whether they need their best paid player in a non-essential position and whether they can get enough ball to Turbo for him to make a difference. 

The hope will be that they can get more from their man out of fewer touches, getting quality over quantity. It’s a crucial moment in Manly’s season.  

They have the Cowboys away, a relatively tough ask given their form, followed by a run that includes three home games against non-finals opposition, a beaches derby with the Roosters and trips to a failing Canberra and the ever-useless Wests Tigers. Their star man could not return at a more opportune moment.