The Pirates gave a season ticket holder a foul ball that landed in their seat

via u/dboyr, Reddit

This is how you support your fans!

The absence of live sports is difficult for all of us, but especially those who pay for season tickets every year. For these people they lost not only live entertainment, but an established way of life. The Pittsburgh Pirates went above and beyond to make this time a little easier for a fan.

 via u/dboyr, Reddit

The fan opened his mail to find a foul ball and a letter from the Pirates, saying the ball landed in his seat during a game played without fans — so it was retrieved and mailed to him as a memento of the 2020 season.

Obviously the team didn’t need to do this. It wasn’t expected. However, they went to the effort not only to get a ball from the stands, but find the seat owner and ensure they felt part of the action, even when they couldn’t be at the ballpark.

This is what it’s all about. Feeling emotionally connected to a team, even when you can’t cheer for them in person. The Pirates went above and beyond, and this is awesome. Now the fan will be one of the few people to have a foul ball from the season that was never played in totality.

Our simulated video game basketball team attempts a historic comeback in the NCAA tournament

The Leathernecks enter the 2026 NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed against Cal in our College Hoops 2K8 simulation.

Welcome back to our simulated dynasty with the Western Illinois Leathernecks in College Hoops 2K8. You can find a full explanation of this project + spoiler-free links to previous seasons here. For more context on the re-introduction of this series, check out our most recent post.

We pick up with our Leathernecks in the first round of the 2026 NCAA tournament in Year 19 of Coach Rick’s tenure at Western Illinois. Here’s a recap of everything that has happened so far this season:

  • Coming off three straight seasons that ended in the Elite Eight, the Leathernecks enter the new year with two returning starters and a team rated as a 97 overall.
  • We went 6-6 against a difficult non-conference schedule before dominating Summit League play. We went undefeated in conference and again claimed the Summit League tournament championship. We enter the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed at 26-6 on the season.
  • We recruited for three scholarships, but didn’t land any players in the early signing period.

Read the full Year 19 recap


Here’s a look at our roster heading into the NCAA tournament:

Our opponent in the first round of the NCAA tournament is No. 5 seed Cal. You can look at Cal’s roster here. The Bears enter the game as a 98 overall, while the Leathernecks are now rated as a 100 overall.

This is how the two teams matchup heading into the contest:

There’s no doubt that it’s been a trying season for our Leathernecks. While our roster looks loaded with four starters rated in the 90s entering the NCAA tournament, the pieces haven’t seemed to fit cleanly up to this point.

Senior point guard Angel Keita has been under fire, losing the trust of the fanbase ever since experiencing major turnover problems during the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight of last year’s NCAA tournament. A vocal section of the fanbase pushed for Keita to be benched completely after he shot only 35 percent from the field this year, but we instead decided to trim his minutes a bit and reallocate them to backup Tron Whaley. Keita is now at 26 minutes per game while Whaley is scheduled to play 17 minutes.

The bigger problem may be our lack of a go-to scorer on the perimeter. While Vernard Fulton shocked the world by returning for his senior season despite being projected as a lottery pick, he’s always been more of an elite glue guy than a takeover scorer. A natural power forward, Fulton moved to the wing this year to accomodate the burgeoning talent of sophomore big man Allan Cunningham.

The front court is where we’re really strong. Timon Suotamo — better known as ‘Chewy’ — finished second in the country in scoring at 25 points per game. Cunningham has lived up to the hype. The question is whether our bigs can carry us to another deep tournament run without consistent production from our guards and wings. The first round matchup with Cal offers a fascinating test.

The Bears finished second in the Pac-10 and No. 2 in America in offensive efficiency. Their senior center Homer Maki-Tulokas led the country in scoring during the regular season. Cal wants to play inside-out, setting up a titanic battle in the middle between two star centers.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. As always, I’m not controlling Western Illinois; we’re watching a simulated game played by the computer. I’m not playing any of the games in this series, I only do the recruiting and set the coaching strategies. The game will start when you press play on the video.

Our Leathernecks have reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament four years in a row. Can we start another run? Let’s go!

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Loss, 90-87. The comeback attempt falls just short and our season is over.

We had a chance to send the game to overtime at the buzzer with a deep three-pointer and …. I really thought it went in. I screamed like it did. Fulton’s heave was just off. We were so close to tying the game as time expired:

The fact that the game even came down to the final shot is pretty remarkable because this sure looked like it was going to be a blowout loss at halftime.

Cal took a 16-point into the break after closing the first half on a 10-0 run. We were down as many as 18 points. Suotamo was having an uncharacteristically quite game in his marquee matchup with Maki-Tulokas, Keita and starting shooting guard Wilky Henry were ice cold, and the bench wasn’t giving us the lift we expect.

But little by little, we started to chip away at the lead. We went to an all-out full-court press defense midway through the second half, which was enough to get us a few steals that turned into some cheap points.

The last minute of this game was wild. I thought we were toast when Cal hit a layup to put them up five points with about 30 seconds left, but we quickly responded with a three-ball from Fulton. We started to intentionally foul, but the Bears were money from the free throw line. Just when it looked like all hope was gone, Keita was fouled on a three-point shot with six seconds left and drained all three shots to put us down one. That led to Fulton’s final heave, which fell just short.

Two big problems for us in this game:

  • Our rim protection was horrible. Suotamo is supposed to be a good shot blocker, but Cal was consistently beating us to the basket after getting us to bite on pump fakes around the arc.
  • Kieta played 36 minutes even though I explicitly trimmed his minutes before tip-off. I wish the game would have followed those orders.

There are still some bright spots for next year. Cunningham (24 points, nine rebounds) was our consistent scorer and showed his three-point range is no fluke. I can’t wait to watch him go to work as a junior next year. I’m also excited for Henry’s senior year despite an off-night against Cal. He’ll be moving back to his natural position of small forward and hopefully can take a big leap in production.

We can’t make a deep tournament run every year, I guess. We’ll be back.

Bracket contest update

Cal got all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to Xavier. I knew we lost to a quality team.

The Final Four was Michigan over Gonzaga and Xavier over Duke. Michigan beat Xavier to win the national championship. That means our bracket contest winner is Isaac Springer, who correctly picked the Wolverines to win it all. You can find the full leaderboard on our app, which works on desktop and mobile. Here is the final leaderboard:

We had more than 120 entries in the bracket contest once again. Thanks to everyone who participated. Special thanks to Sean Vinsel for building the app and running the contest. Follow Sean on Twitter @HoopsInsight and check out his work writing about the real versions of Louisville and Kentucky basketball.

We’ll do it again next season.

Offseason

I played through the offseason live on Twitch after we were eliminated. You can watch it here, if you’re into that sort of thing.

  • Michigan wins the national championship. The Big Ten title drought is over!
  • Timon Suotamo wins Summit League Player of the Year. He just put together one of the most dominant regular seasons in program history. Not bad for the first JUCO center recruit we’ve ever had.
  • Suotamo (projected first rounder) and Fulton (projected lottery pick) each get drafted. Angel Keita does not get drafted. Keita will go down as perhaps the most loathed player we’ve ever had.
  • Coach Rick’s overall record now stands at 501-120.
  • We earn one coaching point for our 500th win and put it in discipline. That raises our discipline grade to a C.
  • I get offered the Duke job. Also the Texas Tech job, the Arizona State job, and the Auburn job. I turn them all down.
  • We lost an assistant and replaced them with Bron Randle, who was on staff for us a few years ago. He has an A- rating in teaching, and no coaching grade below a C+.

Recruiting

We have three scholarships to recruit for after landing no one during the early signing period. We want one guard, one wing, and one big, and have had offers out since missing on our early targets.

Our top priority is 6’9 small forward Jitim Dupre out of Chicago. After Michigan State drops out during the first week of the spring signing period, Dupre gives Western Illinois his commitment.

Dupre is ranked No. 91 overall and No. 19 at his position. We love his size on the wing and are optimistic about his shooting ability.

Our next target is point guard Koko Reeves out of San Antonio. Reeves is ranked No. 52 overall and No. 27 at his position. He commits to the Leathernecks shortly after Dupre:

Reeves is tiny at 5’10, but he looks like an elite three-point shooter, which we can really use. We’ve had good luck with players from San Antonio before, so let’s keep that trend going.

One scholarship still available. It’s been offered out to center Artie Snipes out of Riverside, CA for most of the season. He finally accepts it just before the end of the signing period:

Overall, I think it’s a solid class. Part of me is wondering if I should have went after a two-guard instead of Reeves as potential insurance in case last year’s top recruit, Mathew Alloway, turns pro early, but that’s okay. We should have three five-year players in this group who provide a nice complement to our stellar recruiting class from last year.

Now it’s time to set our schedule for next season. This is what we went with:

@ Illinois, @ Georgetown, @ Louisville, @ Cal, @ Stanford, @ Michigan, @ Duke, vs. Dayton, @ Vanderbilt

Did I instantly regret making that schedule so difficult? Yes, pretty much. Something to keep in mind moving forward.

Year 20

Here’s a first look at our roster:

It’s always tough when you have three new starters, but I like the look of next year’s team at first glance. We really need Henry to breakout into a superstar on the wing during his senior year. Cunningham should be primed for a monster year, too. I’m excited to see what Tron can do at point guard, and as of right now I’m leaning towards starting Alloway as a freshman at shooting guard while bringing Ager off the bench as our sixth man.

We also only have one scholarship to recruit for. I’m going to target a five-star JUCO shooting guard to fit the timeline with the recruiting class we just added.

We’re going to stream the regular season of Year 20 at Western Illinois on Wednesday, August 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Here’s how you can watch:

Western Illinois, Year 20, 2026-2027 regular season stream

Game: Western Illinois Year 20 regular season stream. We’ll watch one regular season game, recruit, and sim to the NCAA tournament.

How to watch: My Twitch channel

Date: Wednesday, August 12

Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET // 7:30 p.m. CT.

I’ll see you there. Go ‘Necks.

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Why the 2020 NHL Draft lottery was so bizarre

A confusing, weird mess with PLENTY of conspiracy.

The NHL held the most delightfully weird and wonderful draft lottery on Monday night, which led to the New York Rangers getting the No. 1 overall pick, despite playing in the “playoffs” less than a week before.

People are confused, angry, and don’t understand what happened — all while Rangers fans are over the moon that they won the right to draft Alex Lafrenière, a generational player who could change the franchise overnight. Let’s break all this down.

What exactly took place on Monday night?

The NHL held Phase Two of its yearly draft lottery, live streaming the ping pong balls bouncing around and being selected by commissioner Gary Bettman as normal — but it was anything but standard. The initial draft lottery happened back in June in what was called “Phase 1,” which determined who would get the No. 1 pick, and with a 2.5 percent chance went to “Team E,” designated as one of the teams eliminated from the initial round of bubble play.

The final selection would be decided in “Phase 2,” a second lottery involving all eight teams eliminated in the first round of bubble play, with each team having a 12.5 percent chance at winning the No. 1 pick.

That ended up being the New York Rangers.

This effectively means that with “Team E” winning the first pick, then the Rangers becoming Team E, they won the draft with a 0.0031 percent chance.

This seems really unfair …

It is! Well, kind of. The reality is that theoretically the Rangers did jump up, but only a little. They were the 14th worst team in the league by final standings, which typically would have given them a 1.5 percent chance of winning the draft. They effectively got bumped one percent in Phase 1 — while Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Chicago, Phoenix, and Montreal all got screwed.

Even then, it’s tough to say they were really hard done by, because everyone had a 12.5 percent chance in Phase Two. This was all just weirdness of having more teams that normal participate in “post season” play.

Confused enough? Yeah, I know … this is all a bit of a mess.

Is getting No. 1 really that good?

Yes. Yes, it is. Truth be told, there’s not really a bad pick inside the Top 6 of this year’s draft, but there’s undoubtedly a major prize: Alex Lafrenière. The consensus No. 1 pick, Lafrenière has been compared to Sidney Crosby in terms of his ability on the ice, and he swept every MVP award known in the sport for a player his age.

As a 16-year-old rookie playing in the QMJHL, Lafrenière scored 42 goals, the most in the league since Crosby. He then followed that up by recording 112 points in 52 games — solidifying himself as the biggest prize in the hockey. Lafrenière already has a body built for the NHL, and it’s expected he’ll immediately play as a rookie, and make an impact.

The Rangers took considerably long odds, and turned it into getting a player hailed as a future cornerstone of hockey. All while still being good enough to qualify for the playoffs. This kind of coup has never been seen in the sport. No team has ever had a chance to play in the post season and still won the No. 1 pick, but here we are — and fans are rightfully elated.

Was this all a conspiracy?

Hell yeah it was! Well, it was if you ask hockey fans.

At this point we should expect any, and all draft lotteries to be rigged. Especially when a major market team like the Rangers get lucky. How couldn’t you give in to the romance and drama of the brightest young prospect playing in Madison Square Garden? It’s too good to pass up the opportunity to blame the league.

The purported “smoking gun” is how the ball handler from Ernst & Young fumbled with the Rangers’ draft lottery ball. Was this simply a case of butterfingers, or was the ball specifically weighted so it would find its way through the machine and ensure the Rangers got Lafrenière? I don’t have the answer, but you don’t need answers to start a good conspiracy. You just need to ask questions.

Lizard people control the world economy.

Should I be mad about all this?

That’s really a personal question. Your capacity to be angry about a draft lottery is directly proportional to the other concerns in your life. Considering we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, tenuous financial markets, questions over whether children can return to school safely, ongoing racial unrest caused by the incubation of white nationalism, and the fact we’re an election year, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Rangers winning the draft isn’t the biggest problem we’re facing as a country.

That said, being mad about sports is also a much-needed distraction — so screw the Rangers, this was all rigged, sports are unfair, and the world is flat with a dome over it placed by the New World Order.

Kyle Kuzma thinks he could pop a game-winner on Jesus

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

“I think Jesus could be in front of me, and I would probably still shoot.”

Kyle Kuzma has never lacked confidence. The 25-year-old forward is the only player to survive the Lakers’ transition from rebuilding team to championship contender, staying in Los Angeles as former teammates Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball were shipped to New Orleans for Anthony Davis.

It’s put Kuzma under a microscope all year. The Lakers likely have the best 1-2 punch in the NBA, but the rest of their roster after that is highly questionable. Take it from LeBron James himself, who had this to say about Kuzma: “In order for us to win a championship he has to be our third best player.”

Kuzma got a chance to play the hero for the Lakers on Monday night against the Denver Nuggets, and he delivered. With the score tied at 121 with 4.5 seconds left, Kuzma took a feed from Davis and drained a buzzer-beater to give his team the victory:

Kuzma hit the shot over a somewhat weak contest from Bol Bol, the Nuggets rookie who is one of the longest players in league history with a 7’8 wingspan.

When asked about Bol’s defense on the shot, Kuzma offered an instant classic quote. “I think Jesus could be in front of me, and I would probably still shoot.”

Now, as has been noted by many people around the internet, Jesus wasn’t exactly known for his size. The best reports put him at a solid 5’5.

Shaq said after the game: “I’ve seen Jesus play before, and hopefully Jesus is gonna shut his ass down next game.”

Regardless, the Lakers need a confident Kuzma for the playoffs, and they’re getting one so far in the bubble. Here are Kuzma’s pre-bubble per-game numbers vs. his bubble numbers:

Kuzma battled injury issues for much of this season and now appears to be fully healthy. His Lakers’ teammates were thrilled that he got this moment:

For more on Kuzma’s big night, read Christian Rivas at Silver Screen and Roll.

Big Ten, Pac-12 become first Power 5 conferences to postpone football season

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Michigan at Indiana

The move will likely lead to further postponements.

Presidents of Big Ten schools voted Tuesday to postpone all 2020 fall sports, effectively cancelling their college football slate. The news impacts some of the biggest schools in the sport, including Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin — and the move will likely send further ripples through college football.

A statement issued by Morton Schapiro, Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University President indicated that risks were too great to continue play as originally planned.

“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff.”

The Pac-12 were quick to follow, as expected. They held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to indicate that they too were joining the Big Ten, as the second Power 5 conference to postpone all sports from being played this fall.

Information spread quickly after reports emerged over the weekend of meetings taking place that indicated university presidents of the Big Ten schools were in favor of postponing the season. This was followed by a meeting between the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) to discuss how they would proceed, should schools elect to stop competition. That path remains unclear, though there is hope, at least in the Big Ten, that football could be moved to the spring. However, it’s unknown what that season would look like, and would likely be shortened due to calendar restraints.

Not only did the Big Ten postpone play inside the conference, but outside as well — making it the first conference to cancel its non-conference slate. The Big Ten making the move now sends shockwaves through the remaining Power 5. It’s believed likely that when one conference made the jump others would follow suit, with the Pac-12 showing that to be true. The outliers right now are the ACC, Big 12 and SEC, all of whom have seemed to pledge to continue competition, believing they can do so safely — regardless of what the rest of college football decides to do. However the pressure to postpone as well will mount, especially considering the exposure of the teams being affected by the Big Ten cancellation.

The NCAA have not issued a statement addressing these schools choosing to postpone play at this time.

The Suns got surprise intro videos from their families and it was perfect

Oh great, now we’re crying.

The Phoenix Suns have been the best story of the NBA’s restart bubble. Phoenix faced long-shot odds to reach the Western Conference playoffs from the time they entered the bubble, but they’ve given themselves a chance by going undefeated through their first six games.

Devin Booker is playing like a superstar, Deandre Ayton is making strides at both ends of the court, and Mikal Bridges looks like he could turn into one of the league’s top wing defenders. There are a ton of feel-good vibes around the Suns right now, and they added even more ahead of Tuesday’s game with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Suns surprised their players by having their family members announce them in the starting lineup. The joy on their faces makes this one of the best moments of the bubble:

The Suns even got Booker’s friend Jenna Warren to announce him. Did anyone else get a little choked up watching that? Guilty.

NBA players have been away from their loved ones since they entered the bubble, which is so hard even for millionaire professional athletes. Whoever thought of this idea — well done.

The whole thing makes us root for the Suns that much more.

If Paul McGregor goes, who is his logical replacement?

It’s been reported that Friday’s clash against Parramatta will be Paul McGregor’s last game in charge of the Dragons. Considering he has just eight wins from the last 31 games, it’s impossible to put a reasonable case forward to defend the coach.

So who replaces ‘Mary’ at the Red V?

There will be an elite group of coaches available in 2022 in Wayne Bennett, Shane Flanagan and maybe Craig Fitzgibbon. So there is an argument to appoint an interim coach for 2021, then make a big play.

Possible interims would be Dean Young or Ben Hornby, which would offset the payout to McGregor.

But if Bennett, Flanagan or Fitzgibbon aren’t the long-term options, who else is an option?

Anthony Griffin
Griffin has coached 173 matches across stints with the Broncos and Panthers. He is currently a member of the continuous call on 2GB.

Known to be an uncompromising coach, he was sacked under controversial circumstances at Penrith when the Panthers were well established in the eight.

Still only 53, Griffin is the strongest candidate available.

Geoff Toovey
A club legend at Manly as a player, Toovey was coach from 2012 until 2015, for 105 games, then a further 23 in charge of the Bradford Bulls in 2017.

Toovey would bring passion and commitment, but he may need good support staff around him.

Paul Green
Only recently left North Queensland, he has the best record of the coaches available, featuring two grand finals, one premiership and a World Club Challenge.

The Cowboys aren’t the first team to struggle to rebuild after the loss of generational players – Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott – and Green would have a better group to work with at the Dragons.

Paul Green at a press conference.

Paul Green (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Todd Payten
The interim coach at the Warriors passed on the head coaching role to pursue the job at North Queensland. The playing group and prospects are superior at the Dragons, so perhaps he could be tempted.

Neil Henry
The coach of 248 games across stints with North Queenland, Canberra and the Gold Coast, he fell out of favour at the Titans because he didn’t get on with Jarryd Hayne. Given Hayne’s implosion, perhaps Henry was hard done by.

Henry is generally well regarded, despite having a losing record, and is known to be both intelligent and an excellent tactician.

John Cartwright
Cartwright was the inaugural coach of the Titans and is currently an assistant to Des Hasler at Many.

Generally known as a nice guy and a smart coach, Cartwright would be an improvement on McGregor but there are better options.

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Michael Potter
The coach of 263 games across stints with the Catalans Dragons, St Helens, Bradford Bulls and Wests Tigers, Potter was then Nathan Brown’s assistant at Newcastle.

Brown spoke highly of Potter and of course Potter is a St George club legend, winning the Dally M Medal in 1991.

Well that’s my list, please let know of your thoughts in the comments, hopefully better days are not far away.

Top three NRL Fantasy players from each position for the run home

There has been plenty of controversy surrounding who is the correct player to buy or keep in your NRL Fantasy squad for 2020.

Participants have utilised their trades based on inconsistencies from their players to upgrade to a better player, or to downgrade to a cash-cow option in an attempt to make some cash for their squad.

In saying all this, I will provide my top three players from each position currently in NRL Fantasy for the run home in 2020.

Winger/fullback

1. Kalyn Ponga
Ponga has been in fine form the last few weeks with an average of around 77 points in his last three games, and not to mention an outstanding performance last week in Round 13 with 103 points. Ponga is most certainly a must-have if you haven’t got him in your squad already.

2. Ryan Papenhuyzen
Papenhuyzen has shown some signs of inconsistency earlier in the season, but he has proven to be a very handy player to have in your team, averaging around 56 points in his last three games and 53 in his last five matches.

3. James Tedesco
Yes, we all know that Tedesco hasn’t been in his best form whatsoever in terms of racking up the points in NRL Fantasy, only averaging 42 points in his last three, while only putting up a score of 20 in Round 13. But besides all that, he is still a must-have in anyone’s team.

James Tedesco

(Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Centre

1. Zac Lomax
While there has been heaps of speculation on who the best centre options are. Lomax has proven to be one of the most consistent centres all season. Producing a season-high performance of 75 last week, and an average of 53 points in his last three matches, Lomax is definitely an automatic recruitment in the centres.

2. Stephen Crichton
Crichton has produced consistent numbers also, but has not been in the best form, but is still a very important option for that other centre position and will most likely hit the ground running for the remainder of the season for the Panthers.

3. Tyrone Peachey
With an average of 55 points in his last three games, Peachey is finally starting to show signs of strong performances for the remainder of the 2020 season. Peachey also has that dual position option of a centre/second row forward as well. If centre positions are already full, Peachey would be a handy bench option for your team as well.

Halves

1. Nathan Cleary
There is absolutely no doubt that Cleary is the best option for that half position in anyone’s team, while also being a very popular captain as well. With an average of 80 points in his last five matches, Cleary looks to continue his outstanding form for the Panthers in the 2020 season.

2. Daly Cherry-Evans
While Manly is experiencing a mid-season slump, Cherry-Evans has easily been Manly’s best player Fantasy-wise this season, as he averages 70 points in his last five matches.

3. Ben Hunt
With Hunt temporarily switching from the halves to the centres, Hunt was a very handy cheap option for a half spot in your squad. However, he has now switched back to halfback but has continued some good form, averaging 67 in his last five.

Ben Hunt celebrates with Josh Kerr

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Second row

1. James Taumalolo
He is most certainly a popular option for that second-row spot in anyone’s team, averaging a whopping 74 points in his last three games.

2. Isaah Yeo
Yeo has been very consistent all season for Fantasy players this year. He averages 62 in his last three.

3. Tohu Harris
Harris has surprisingly been very good for the Warriors this season and for Fantasy players. He averages 66 points in his last three games.

Front row

1. Payne Haas
There is absolutely no doubt that Haas is everyone’s first choice front-row option in everyone’s team at the moment, and has been one of few consistent performers for the Broncos this year. Haas averages 71 in his last three games and is a reliable captain option as well.

2. Patrick Carrigan
Carrigain started off very cheap at the start of the season and has made plenty of cash for the coaches who pounced on him towards the start of the season. He currently has a price tag of $769,000 and averages 63 in his last five games.

3. Josh Papalii
Papalii has been yet another consistent forward for Fantasy coaches this year, averaging 62 in his last five.

Josh Papalii runs the ball.

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Hooker

1. Cameron McInnes
McInnes has been the best player for the Dragons this season and has certainly paid off in anyone’s Fantasy squad. He has an all-season average of around 74 points and is also another good captaincy option as well.

2. Apisai Koroisau
Koroisau has now come back from his short injury and looks good for the run home. He’s averaged around 62 points all season.

3. Kurt Mann
Now that Mann has switched to the hooker position due to the horrid run of injuries for the Newcastle Knights, Mann looks to be a handy option at hooker if you are a bit tight on cash. He is also a reliable bench option, averaging about 49 points all season.

Keys Blues in form, but who will post-season Origin favour?

Just as COVID has affected the rest of the competition, and indeed the world, in 2020, it is set to affect the Origin series too.

We still don’t know where the matches are going to be played, just that they will be on three consecutive Wednesdays in November. The first match is slated to take place just ten days after the grand final on October 25.

Normally played before a parochial crowd, is it unlikely we will get anything close to that this season. With crowds carefully capped during the regular season, and the situation in Victoria, there is virtually no chance we will see the sell-out crowds of series past.

While the timing and schedule of Origin always seems to be a topic of discussion, this is hardly the perfect model for our showpiece event. But with the world the way it is at the moment, the NRL just needed to get the series scheduled at whatever cost, to maximise the already reduced revenue of this season.

David Fifita of the Maroons runs the ball

(Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

It is hard to see at this stage who this scheduling is going to benefit more as the season wears on. We have a pretty clear idea of the NRL teams that will be there at the pointy end, with only a couple of sides towards the bottom of the eight in any real danger of missing out. Some players are going to be asked to go right through to grand final day, and then back up ten days later. On the other hand, others will be having more than a month off before playing Origin.

For those going all the way to the grand final, Origin is a big ask. Normally players get ten or so days to prepare for Origin 1 after being selected, however that is normally ten rounds into the competition, not off the back of a finals series. By the time we get to grand final day there are normally a number of players who are managing niggling injuries among the regular fatigue of a long season. Then we have the celebrations or commiserations that come with the result of the grand final.

How this will all work for Brad Fittler and Kevin Walters is intriguing too. By the end of the regular season they would have a pretty good idea of their first choice side, regardless of form in the finals.

Picking more players whose teams have bowed out for the season represents an opportunity to get them into camp earlier and freshen them up while keeping them fit. Relying on others to not just stay fit, but also handle fatigue, could prove to be a gamble. Players often go into surgery straight after the season concludes to maximise their recovery time for next season. Fittler and Walters will be having to carefully consider who they pick in extended squads so that they don’t rule any players out this way.

Josh Addo-Carr

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

A case could be made at the moment that the Blues have more players set to go deep into the finals than the Maroons, particularly in key positions. The top eight teams as it stands are littered with potential Blues candidates. It is a great luxury for Brad Fittler to have so many potential players in such great form. Nathan Cleary has been sensational at Penrith, Luke Keary looks set to finally debut with his performances for the Roosters, and James Tedesco is as consistent as ever. Jack Wighton is keeping the Raiders in contention and Reagan Campbell-Gillard has been resurgent at the Eels. It’s the tip of the iceberg with plenty of potential Blues enjoying good seasons.

For the Maroons, the form – of lack thereof – for some key players is cause for real concern. Kalyn Ponga is the only genuine option at fullback, and they better count on him being fit and firing. Likewise with Cameron Munster in the halves, but that is where the good news for Queensland stops in the spine.

Corey Norman and Ben Hunt played halfback and hooker respectively in the decider last year. Anthony Milford and Michael Morgan have also featured in the halves in series gone by. None of them are in the kind of form you would want if Origin was going to be played tomorrow. Norman and Hunt have been shuffled around the Dragons team to no avail, with the Dragons out of finals contention.

Milford as one of the highest paid Broncos has failed to spark them this year, while Morgan has battled injury and now faces propping up a struggling Cowboys. Daly Cherry-Evans is likely to be the halfback at this stage and while he isn’t solely responsible for the Sea Eagles dip in form, he isn’t having the impact you would like as a Maroons fan either.

Daly Cherry-Evans

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

You get the sense that at the moment the Blues team could virtually pick itself, and has some depth to it, but they are probably going to be playing deeper in the season. The Maroons however are really going to struggle in some areas to pick a competitive side, but may have the luxury of a better preparation.

Everyone gets up for Origin. It is a long way away, and some of these players for both sides will rise for the occasion. The story of last year’s series tells us that with both teams lifting themselves off the canvas at points. The Maroons drew first blood in Game 1, as underdogs and had two games in hand to win the series.

The Blues made wholesale changes in key positions, and had to win in Perth to keep the season alive, and did so with a commanding victory that put them in the box seat heading to Sydney. In that game alone, the Blues looked home only for the Maroons to storm back into the contest and nearly force extra time. In the case of either team, both looked incredibly likely to win the series at some point.

In any case, this Origin series is intriguing. Sides are pencilled in for a reason, and with so much footy still to play, anything can change in the next few weeks. At the moment though, the Blues appear to have their key players in better form. What the build-up already suggests is that Origin needs to stay where it was after this weird old season we are having.

To ask the players to back up after a long season for our showpiece event, so soon after the grand final, is too much. That combined with trying to manage players who are all in very different stages of their season, or being forced to make decisions between surgery and potential representative honours, is just as significant.

It is imperfect in the middle of the season, but it has lasted so long because it is the best option we have. It spices up the depths of winter, and is always an enthralling storyline. In front of sell-out crowds, and with record TV audiences, some things in our game don’t need to be tampered with too much.

That being said, in a year with so much disruption, it will be another welcome distraction to have Origin in November.

Warriors set for more years of disappointment with Nathan Brown at the helm

For a side that has consistently underperformed over the years, there seems no more fitting appointment than Nathan Brown as coach of the New Zealand Warriors. 

Brown will take on the role in 2021, after he signed a three-year deal with the club over the weekend.

It was a seemingly quick appointment for the role where the likes of Geoff Toovey didn’t even get an interview. 

For those who may have forgotten, here is a refresher for Brown’s coaching record in the NRL:
 
• 245 games 
• 104 wins 
• One draw 
• 42 per cent winning record  

In his nine years of coaching in the NRL, Brown made the finals four times. Let’s not forget he also won successive wooden spoons with Newcastle in 2016 and 2017.

Yes, that’s right folks, a man with consecutive wooden spoons beat out another former coach, who in his first three years at Manly took them to:

• One preliminary final
• One grand final
• One semi-final

So why did the Warriors appoint Brown? As he said in his goodby press conference last year with the Knights, he helps the battlers. The teams that need to form those foundations for success. And while that’s all well and good, is it his coaching that provides that platform?

Newcastle this year are miles ahead of what Brown had them at in his four years. And while it may seem cruel to compare this team to his wooden spoon sides of 2016-17, a case can still be made.

The years 2018 and 2019 were meant to successful for Newcastle but while they would start well, they flamed out in both years. The mental fortitude wasn’t there and that was on the coach.

Newcastle Knights

Knights players celebrate the win after Mitchell Pearce scores a field goal (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

However, this year’s side is different – they are not only more capable of playing finals footy, they believe it as well. 

New coach Adam O’Brien has entrusted his team with more ownership and more guidance. Look at the development of David Klemmer with a new-found freedom in offloading the ball. Kurt Mann, a player trapped by his own utility value, looked to languish between reserve grade and the number 14 jersey before O’Brien placed faith with him in the five-eighth role. Before injuries forced him into the dummy half position, he was easily Newcastle’s best player all year. That development was never shown under Brown

Right now, the Warriors represent a hugely talented squad but lack a hard edge to contest for finals football. Interim coach Todd Payten has them performing admirably amidst trying conditions, where they have left their families and have had to field opposing players in their squad. Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck leads the charge and guys like Tohu Harris, Eliese Katoa and Peta Hiku are not too far behind.

But with the era of Brown about to begin, it seems inevitable the Kiwis will revert back to their ways of showing potential early on before failing to make the top eight. Sounds strangely similar to the Knights team of old.

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After years of disappointment and underachieving in the Hunter, why do the Warriors think Brown is the right man? He left the Knights in a better position than when he arrived, but they still failed to deliver on promise and potential.

It’s stupid and reckless to hire Brown just to fill in for three years until a more successful coach walks in, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from the Warriors now. They’re a club with so much promise yet they continue to fail.

And it seems with Nathan Brown’s looming appointment that trend will continue.