Lockyer reveals why he didn’t attend Old Boys function
The NRL will officially kick-off on March 11 and State of Origin will return to a six-week winter campaign as the 2021 Telstra Premiership looks to resume normal transmission following their COVID nightmare this year.
Sport Confidential can reveal the 16 clubs have received preliminary information from the NRL on the structure of next year's premiership, which will return to the traditional 25-round format if COVID infection rates remain low.
The unprecedented COVID saga forced to NRL to play an abbreviated 20-week competition in 2020 but ARL Commission boss Peter V'landys confirmed a 25-round format next year.
Meanwhile, State of Origin is back to his usual timeslot, with the three-game series to be held across the usual six-week period next year.
Round one of the 2021 NRL premiership will commence on Thursday, March 11, with clubs advised they will only be permitted one pre-season trial to ease the workload on players following the late finish to the COVID-impacted 2020 campaign.
The official pre-season hit-outs will be scheduled on the weekend on February 27-28. That would allow the NRL's 16 clubs to have the opening week of March as a rest weekend before the action begins from March 11.
A secondary trial is slated for February 20, but under NRL plans, clubs must only face a second-tier NSW or Intrust Super Cup-quality rival. NRL players who played 12 games or less in the 2020 NRL season would be permitted to take part in these fixtures.
V'landys said he is keen to return to a full 25-round season amid calls for the NRL to consider a 22-week format as occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.
"We are looking at early March for round one," he said. "We will be going back to a full season. We will be happy with a 25-round season and we just need to decide where State of Origin will fit into the schedule."
V'landys is hopeful the NRL will scrap the COVID bubble next year to allow the code's 400 contracted players to adhere to society safety standards.
"The way things are looking, the players will certainly not be treated as strictly as they have been," he said.
"How much flexibility the players get will depend on the COVID infection rates in relation to the protocols.
"Obviously a lot depends on the COVID situation. If there are 50 community infections, everything changes, but if things are close to zero, the NRL players won't be in a strict bubble next season like they have been."
BRONCOS SNUB BEHIND TINO-HAAS RIVALRY
There is another fascinating strand to the rivalry between Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and Payne Haas which led to their fisticuffs in Origin II on Wednesday night.
While there is no genuine hatred between the pair, Fa'asuamaleaui has not forgotten the Broncos' decision to snub him in favour of a club recruitment decision to poach Haas in 2017.
At the time, Fa'asuamaleaui was in contention to be elevated to Brisbane's full-time squad, but the Broncos opted to invest heavily in Haas, who was plucked from the Gold Coast nursery following a brief 12-month stint at the Warriors.
After Wayne Bennett successfully lured Haas to Red Hill, Fa'asuamaleaui decided to head elsewhere, signing a deal with the Melbourne Storm. Six months after Tino signed with Melbourne, the Broncos upped the ante with Haas, handing him a stunning six-year deal worth $3.4 million … at the tender age of 18.
As a result, Fa'asuamaleaui has always been keen to prove himself against the Broncos and Haas, who was targeted by Tino in an Origin under-18s game three years ago.
Now the pair are bona fide Origin forwards at senior level and Fa'asuamaleaui will no doubt be gunning again for Haas in the Origin decider next Wednesday night.
LOCKYER QUASHES FEUD
Broncos legend Darren Lockyer has poured cold water on a perceived feud with the club's Old Boys following his absence at a recent function.
The Broncos' former players' group gathered at a Brisbane pub late last month for the first time since coach Anthony Seibold's dramatic sacking.
There were about 50 past players and staff in attendance, including the club's two surviving founders Barry Maranta and Steve Williams.
New coach Kevin Walters was at the function and has promised to reunite the club's ex-players following the Seibold era which divided the club.
But there was a notable omission in Lockyer, who remains heavily involved with the Broncos as a member of the club's board.
Lockyer was part of the board which originally overlooked Walters as Wayne Bennett's successor in 2018 and appointed Seibold to a five-year contract.
The decision did not go down well with the Old Boys given Walters is the most popular player in the club's history.
Walters secured the role in late September following Seibold's departure.
Lockyer insists his no-show had nothing to do with an Old Boys beef.
"I didn't attend, I was unavailable on the day due to another commitment," he told Sport Confidential.
"(There is) no issue there with the board position. The Old Boys are important to the club but getting everyone to those events is not always easy."
Which former Queensland State of Origin star was ejected from a Brisbane venue last week after carrying on like a pork chop?
MAJOR TOM IN SIGHTS OF CLUBS
Broncos forward Tom Flegler is currently recovering from shoulder surgery but that hasn't stopped a host of NRL rivals lining up for his signature.
Flegler is off-contract next year and has been able to hold formal talks since November 1, opening the door for the likes of the Dragons, Bulldogs, Knights and the Titans to express interest in the boom Broncos prop.
The 21-year-old had a disappointing 2020 campaign under former Broncos coach Anthony Seibold but NRL recruiters still regard Flegler as one of the most promising young bookends in the code.
Flegler is on $600,000 next season at the Broncos, who could be forced to up the ante with rival suitors ready to pay big bucks for the Queensland Origin hopeful.
STORM WIN BRONCOS BUNN-FIGHT
Melbourne have scored one victory over the Broncos with highly-regarded recruitment chief Paul Bunn signing a new deal with the Storm.
The off-contract Bunn was heavily linked with the Broncos next year, but the veteran scout has agreed to terms on a two-year extension.
Bunn has helped recruit more than 30 NRL players for the Storm, including Ryan Papenhuyzen, Josh Addo-Carr and Brandon Smith, and the new contract will see him chalk-up 10 years of service for the premiers.
The Broncos are already eyeing off Melbourne CEO Dave Donaghy and Craig Bellamy to be their coaching director, but Bunn is staying loyal to the Storm.
"Paul has been a wonderful servant and is a critical part of what we do, we're glad he is staying," said Storm football operations chief Frank Ponissi.
THE KING DETHRONED
Not even Wally Lewis can get preferential treatment at Queensland Origin training.
The King was among the Queensland media contingent that had to vacate Tuesday's captain's run as the Maroons finetuned their preparations for Game Two.
The Queenslanders like to complete the bulk of their final training session behind closed doors to keep the Blues guessing.
Lewis played 34 Origins for Queensland and is regarded as one of the state's greatest ever players.
But he is now with Channel 9 and joined the rest of the media contingent for a lovely morning tea provided by the QRL while the Maroons wrapped up their preparations.
Lewis may be Origin royalty but he does not expect any preferential treatment and didn't kick up a stink.
THE HORNET STUNG BY INJURY
Jeff Horn's uncertain boxing career has plunged into more doubt after suffering a suspected broken ankle in a charity mishap.
The former world champion was taking part in a Ninja Warrior-style assault course last Monday when he fell during one of the stages and was left with a badly swollen right ankle.
'The Hornet' was competing in a charity event to promote the Brisbane Racing Club's Summer Racing Carnival.
Underlining his toughness, Horn soldiered on and still managed to scale the Warped Wall, but his ankle later blew-up like a balloon, prompting the man who conquered Manny Pacquiao to head off for scans.
Horn has not ruled out fighting on after his shock loss to Tim Tszyu in August, but this ankle injury would only delay any comeback plans.
MAROONS IN LOCKDOWN
The State of Origin series may wrap up next Wednesday in Brisbane but Queensland's players are set to spend another two weeks in lockdown.
The Queensland Government's strict bubble conditions require Queensland-based Maroons players to spend two weeks in home quarantine following the decider.
The 14-day rule is in place because the Maroons will be coming into contact with people from Sydney, which has been declared a COVID hotspot by the Queensland Government.
The NRL and QRL was hoping to secure an exemption which would relax the conditions.
It has been a long season for players and staff in the "bubble" and it's still got a while to go before they are set free again.
HAUMONO FACES MOMENT OF JUSTIS
Former rugby league star Solomon Haumono could return to the ring against Australia's new heavyweight champion Justice Huni.
Huni, who beat defending champion 'Django' Opelu in his first professional fight in Brisbane last month, is in talks to fight Haumono after his showdown with Cameroon refugee Arsene Fosso on December 3.
The Huni-Haumono showdown is slated to be part of the All Stars Boxing promotion, which will see a host of NRL players jump into the ring on February 12.
Josh Papalii and Junior Paulo is being billed as the main event, with former NRL bad boy Todd Carney agreeing to take on ex-Queensland star Scott Prince, also a foundation player at the Gold Coast Titans.
While Haumono has a good boxing record, winning 24 of 30 fights with 21 knockouts, the hard-hitting heavyweight is now 45 years old and would struggle to match the speed and power of Brisbane-based Huni.
Originally published as Lockyer reveals why he didn't attend Old Boys function