Even though the Maroons were without Cameron Munster because of Covid, the team larrikin was a lot closer to his teammates than many realised. SPORT CONFIDENTIAL
Maroons hero Ben Hunt has opened contract extension negotiations with the Dragons, but has not ruled out a return to Queensland.
Hunt produced another stellar Origin series, starting at hooker in all three games as Queensland clinched a memorable victory.
He capped his finest Maroons moment with a match-winning try in the Suncorp Stadium decider and is having a sensational NRL season.
Hunt, 32, was leading the Dally M Medal count before it went behind closed doors after round 12 and is in talks with the Dragons about finishing his career in Wollongong.
But the former Bronco has not ruled out a return to Queensland, with the Dolphins looming as a possible option when Hunt comes off-contract at the end of 2023.
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“It’s all in limbo at the moment, the club has said that in the next couple of weeks they will offer me some sort of deal to get the ball rolling,” Hunt said.
“At the moment I’m waiting to see how things go. There’s no real need for me to rush. I’ll wait and see what they come up with.
“I can definitely see myself finishing there (Dragons). I am enjoying myself at the club. I’m really enjoying being coached by Hook (Anthony Griffin) and there’s a good bunch of fellas there. The club is heading in the right direction. We’ll have to wait and see.
“I’d look anywhere, but at the moment I’m happy where I am. The priority is to get the Dragons to keep building.
“I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my career. I’ve missed a couple of games here and there but I’ve never had any real major injuries or setbacks.
“I think I’ve got a few more years left in me. My body is feeling well and I’m enjoying my footy so why not?”
BASH BURTON! MAROONS PLAN REVEALED
NSW centre Matt Burton put the boot into the Maroons in Origin II. And Queensland skipper Daly Cherry-Evans revealed the Maroons devised a game plan to deliberately target the Blues super boot in the Origin decider.
Burton terrorised Queensland in Perth with his towering kicks, but from the opening minutes of Origin III, the Blues ace was on the receiving end of a series of Maroons missiles.
Maroons prop Tino Fa’asuamaleaui was given the mission of rattling Burton at every opportunity and didn’t miss.
Up to five Maroons tried to hammer Burton on his first hit-up in the third minute and Fa’asuamaleaui collected him with a swinging arm.
Then, when Burton knocked over Kalyn Ponga in the second half, Maroons rival Dane Gagai went for the jugular, unleashing a volley of punches which saw the pair sin-binned.
When Burton emerged from the sin-bin, Fa’asuamaleaui had to be held back by teammates as he sprayed the Blues rookie when he re-entered the field.
The Queenslanders clearly had a plan to rough-up Burton and Cherry-Evans confirmed the Maroons had a strategy to shake him up.
“Anyone who plays well during the series, if you have a good coaching staff, you will identify the threats and try and limit them,” he said.
“Matt Burton played really well in Game Two, so we had to limit his impact and we did that really well.
“We drew a line in the sand on where we felt the series was going if we didn’t stop certain things.
“Once we drew that line in the sand, and we knew what we were playing for and why we were doing it, this team doesn’t look back when we get instructions.
“It’s a very coachable team. All 17 of us bought into the game plan.”
Maroons hooker Ben Hunt said Queensland needed to get more physical after being outmuscled in their 44-12 loss in Perth.
“It was definitely the plan,” Hunt said.
“We thought we got dominated pretty badly in Perth, they were more physical than us and did a job on us, so we worked hard and talked all week that we wanted to come out and be very physical and as a team we did that.”
MUNSTER’S SPIRIT LIVES ON
Covid-stricken Maroons star Cameron Munster watched Queensland’s epic Origin III from a relative’s home on the Sunshine Coast.
Sport Confidential can reveal Munster was given permission by government authorities to check out of the team’s base at Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast to watch Origin III in Covid isolation on the Sunshine Coast.
Straight after the 22-12 victory, Maroons forward Kurt Capewell Facetimed Munster and walked around the Queensland sheds as a beaming Munster gave the thumbs up to his teammates.
Hunt said Munster, the larrikin of the Queensland side, drove Maroons teammates mad with his antics stuck in Covid isolation after being ruled out of Origin III.
“He was sending around a few videos from his room and carrying on and yelling out,” Hunt said.
“Whenever we went to training, we had to ride past his room and he was out the window singing and yahooing and trying to get the boys fired up.
“You know what Munster is like, he is a bit of a larrikin.”
COBBO’S SUNCORP HEARTBREAK
Maroons winger Selwyn Cobbo was distraught after being told he could not return to the field in his Origin decider debut.
Cobbo was left unconscious following friendly fire with Broncos teammate Pat Carrigan in just the second minute of Wednesday night’s Suncorp Stadium blockbuster.
Cobbo was driven from the field and was understandably rattled as he realised what had happened in the Queensland dressing room.
And the teenager was shattered when he wasn’t allowed back on the field in what was the biggest game of his career.
Cobbo is recovering and won’t play against the Titans on Saturday night.
MILFORD’S HANDSHAKE DEAL WITH DOLPHINS
The Dolphins are set to bolster their playmaking ranks with former Broncos $1 million man Anthony Milford doing a handshake deal to reunite with Wayne Bennett at Redcliffe.
The Dolphins have upped the ante to bring Milford home to Queensland in the wake of revelations the Knights are fighting to retain the former Maroons Origin star.
The Dolphins remain confident they will stave off Newcastle for Milford’s services. That confidence stems from a meeting earlier this year when Milford was going through an off-field legal battle to have assault charges dropped following a night out in Brisbane last year.
Those charges were eventually dropped and the NRL registered Milford for this season. While his Souths deal collapsed, the Dolphins pounced, with Milford shaking hands with Bennett and recruitment chief Peter O’Sullivan on a 12-month arrangement for the 2023 season.
With the Dolphins unable to play for another 12 months, Milford subsequently agreed to a short-term deal this season with the Knights, who have been so impressed with his form they are keen to sign him until the end of 2025.
Newcastle’s three-year extension has prompted the Dolphins to increase their 12-month offer to Milford to two seasons.
While a handshake deal does not represent an iron-clad contract, the Dolphins are hopeful Milford will honour his word and actions and be the inaugural five-eighth of the NRL’s 17th team in 2023.
Still the highest-paid player in Broncos history, Milford has strong ties with Bennett, who believes he can reignite the 28-year-old after the duo struck a bond in Brisbane’s charge to the 2015 grand final.
It is understood Milford is missing family in Brisbane, putting the Dolphins in the box seat to trump the Knights for his signature.
Another potential lure for Milford is the signing of his good mate and former Broncos halves partner Kodi Nikorima, who has inked a two-year deal with the Dolphins.
BIG GUNS AT WAR OVER GAMBARO’S
ARL Commission boss Peter V’landys has hit back at some of the code’s most powerful chairmen as a war of words erupts over the purchase of the NRL’s first asset.
In keeping with the combative nature of the NRL, where no-one can seemingly agree on anything, the NRL has come under fire for outlaying $25 million to purchase leading Brisbane establishment the Gambaro Hotel.
Under the NRL’s plan, the 68-room hotel — situated just 300 metres from Suncorp Stadium — will deliver an estimated $2.5 million annually to the NRL’s coffers. That’s $25 million over the next decade in the run to the Brisbane 2032 Olympics.
NRL chair triumvirate Karl Morris (Broncos), Nick Politis (Roosters) and Nick Pappas (Souths) were said to be angered by the NRL’s decision to acquire their first asset without informing them as members of a financial committee.
But V’landys set the record straight on suggestions the heavy-hitting trio were blindsided by the NRL’s property venture.
“They (Morris, Politis and Pappas) aren’t on an NRL financial committee,” V’landys said.
“They are part of an advisory group and the advisory group was there for us to seek some advice at times on what investments we should consider.
“On this occasion, we kept it (the Gambaro purchase) confidential because the sale was off market. If it was on the market, we could have had people bidding against us, so we had to keep it confidential.
“There are also people outside of rugby league on that advisory panel. It was never an official committee of the ARL Commission board.
“I could ring anybody for advice, but it doesn’t mean the ARL Commission has to take that advice.
“We are very happy with the purchase of Gambaro’s and believe it will only benefit the game financially.”
DOLPHINS UNEARTH THE NEXT THURSTON
The veteran NRL agent who spotted Johnathan Thurston believes the Dolphins have their hands on a future superstar in teenage playmaker Isaiya Katoa.
Sam Ayoub, one of the code’s longest-serving player managers, signed Cowboys champion Thurston as a 16-year-old and says his boom client Katoa has the talent to play NRL as early as next season.
The Dolphins poached the 18-year-old from Penrith, who rated the halfback the best young player coming through the Panthers Academy.
While Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett is reluctant to blood Katoa in their foundation year in 2023, Ayoub says the classy teenager would not be daunted by emulating Panthers champion Nathan Cleary and playing NRL as a teenager.
“Isaiya has a wonderful future,” Ayoub said. “At his age, he needs to do an apprenticeship and spend some time in the Queensland Cup and play footy at that level to be able to take the next step to the NRL, which isn’t beyond him sooner rather than later.
“Isaiya is only young and needs to get his body ready for NRL contact, but he is a super talent and given the right education, he can be a very good NRL player.
“There is certainly potential for Isaiya to be one of the better players in the NRL down the track. He is very humble and comes from a great family, so he has the tools to be successful.
“Wayne Bennett knows exactly how to bring a young player through and he will be the making of Isaiya.”
TITANS CIRCLING TIGER
Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle has been shopped to the Gold Coast as the Titans ramp up plans for a new No. 9.
Titans coach Justin Holbrook appears to have finally abandoned playing manufactured hooker Erin Clark at dummy-half and is on the lookout for a new rake.
Liddle’s name has been tossed up to the Titans as uncertainty swirls around the future of the Tigers following the sacking of coach Michael Maguire.
Liddle, 25, is contracted to the Tigers until the end of 2023, but that hasn’t stopped him being offered to the Titans along with teammate Jock Madden.
Liddle has played 74 games for the Tigers, including 10 this season, since debuting in 2016 but could be on move as the Titans look to beef up their dummy-half stocks.
Holbrook will blood ex-Storm hooker Aaron Booth against the Broncos on Saturday as he looks for more creativity at the ruck.
BEARS TURNING HEADS
Burleigh’s dominance in the Hostplus Cup has not gone unnoticed, with at least three Bears players in the sights of NRL clubs.
Dynamic fullback Taine Tuaupiki, prop Tristan Powell and five-eighth Josh Rogers are strong chances of landing NRL deals next year.
Tuaupiki had a strong lead at the top of the Petero Civoniceva Medal leaderboard before voting went behind closed doors last week.
He was on 16 points after 12 rounds, three clear of the Capras’ Jayden Hodges, and has attracted interest from four NRL clubs as he closes in on rookie-of-the-year honours.
“He has been one of the better players in the local comp for the last couple of years,” said Bears coach Rick Stone.
“He’s taken the next step well and is reaping the benefits.”
Powell is being watched closely by the Melbourne Storm, who have a sensational record of transforming reserve graders into solid NRL players, while Rogers has also put himself in a strong position to take the next step.
“Tristan has been contracted to the Broncos and Titans,” Stone said.
“A lot of people thought he was too small, but he’s got some real leg speed which is an advantage in the middle these days.
“He’s got a great willingness to compete and works really hard in the gym and at training. I can’t fault him one bit. He deserves every accolade he gets this year. It’s on the back of really hard work and diligence on his part.
“Josh is scoring plenty of points and his goal-kicking has been great.
“He’s raised a few eyebrows. He’s been on the fringe the last couple of years but is stepping out of the shadows now. He’s shown he is a very decent player with a lot of skill and ability.”
HOSTPLUS CUP BOOSTS BRONCOS
The Baby Broncos pulled off a memorable win against the Dragons last weekend and some credit must go to Queensland’s top competition for giving Brisbane the depth to get the job done.
Eleven of the Broncos that took the field at Suncorp Stadium last Sunday had featured in the Hostplus Cup this year.
Captain Adam Reynolds was the only Broncos player to have never played in the competition at some point in their career.
The 16 Broncos with Queensland Cup experience had a whopping total of 551 games between them, with Delouise Hoeter (120), Billy Walters (89) and Jordan Pereira (69) leading the way.
The likes of Tesi Niu, Brenko Lee, Ezra Mam, Zac Hosking, Ryan James, Cory Paix, Rhys Kennedy and Xavier Willison have also filtered back to the competition this season.
With the NRL investigating a potential national reserve grade, this is a stark reminder of the importance and quality of the Hostplus Cup when it comes to producing battle-hardened first graders.
Step aside Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic. Queensland Origin and Broncos legend Corey Parker could well produce another Aussie Grand Slam champion.
The former Queensland Origin ironman and Broncos skipper has recently had a state-of-the-art tennis court installed at his Brisbane home.
But Parker laughed off suggestions he is grooming his four kids Memphis, Wylei, Jagger and River to walk in the footsteps of Australia’s tennis champions Ash Barty, Lleyton Hewitt, Pat Cash and Pat Rafter.
“It’s nothing serious,” Parker said with a chuckle. “We’ve always enjoyed outdoor activities with the kids and it’s great family fun to get out on the court and have a hit.”
STARS SET FOR $1.5M BONANZA
Queensland and NSW stars are set to celebrate a $1.5 million pay bonanza in the wake of arguably the greatest game in Origin history on Wednesday night.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys told Sport Confidential he will begin discussions with the Rugby League Players Association to increase State of Origin match payments for the 2023 series
The 34 Origin combatants who ran out for the 2022 Suncorp decider proved they deserve every cent.
No Origin game in the concept’s 42-year history was played with the speed, intensity, fearless collisions and high-octane madness of Queensland’s epic 22-12 victory to steal the shield back from the Blues.
Now V’landys wants to reward NSW and Queensland’s heroes for their bravery.
The code’s elite top-liners, in consultations with the Rugby League Players Association, agreed to have their Origin match payments halved to $15,000 per game during the Covid crisis which decimated the NRL’s finances.
But Origin fees are almost certain to return to $30,000 next season, with ARLC chairman V’landys revealing the code has recovered well financially from the Covid ordeal.
“Origin payments are all part of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) and next year we will have international games, so the final figure is still to be determined,” V’landys said.
“A lot will depend on what the players want but we’ll have discussions with the RLPA and certainly consider it (increasing Origin payments).”
The beefed-up payments would give the 34 NSW and Queensland players an extra $510,000 per game next year – a total windfall of $1.53 million across the 2023 series.
Maroons centre Valentine Holmes backed a return to the original value of Origin payments if the code’s finances supported it.
“I haven’t personally spoken to the NRL, we leave that to ‘Chez’ (Queensland skipper Daly Cherry-Evans) and the guys dealing with the RLPA,” Holmes said.
“I don’t know what’s happening. I understand with Covid we had to take a pay cut but those boys (NRL player delegates) are working with the RLPA
“If everything is going back to normal capacity, I can’t see why the pay can’t go back to normal, but whatever happens I’m just happy to play for Queensland.”
Maroons skipper Cherry-Evans, one of the RLPA’s leading player voices, was blown away by the brutality of Origin III.
“The speed was next level,” he said. “I can’t recall many games played at that intensity.
“They are one of the most talented NSW sides I have ever played against and that’s what makes this series win so special.”
Originally published as Sport Confidential: Cam Munster’s Facetime joy; Ben Hunt begins contract talks with Dragons
https://www.codesports.com.au/nrl/sport-confidential-state-of-origin-news-players-set-to-be-rewarded-with-15m-pay-bonanza/news-story/202546f65364b36325d26812e3e251fa?nk=a27209681d05af97f3e52ca398394093-1657860848 Sport Confidential: Cam Munster’s Facetime joy; Ben Hunt begins contract talks with Dragons