There was a wink from a majorly trimmed-down Gus Gould, a head wobble from Fatty Vautin and the infamous Johnathan Thurston laugh which can mean only one thing – footy is back.
While the official NRL season launch in Sydney was axed because of the ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations, the Channel Nine season launch in Brisbane saw some of the biggest names in the game come out to shine.
The likes of Darren Lockyer, Billy Slater and even the recently retired Channel Nine personality and rugby league icon Wally Lewis were at the event overlooking the Brisbane River to promote the 2023 season.
Phil ‘Gus’ Gould at the launch of Channel Nine’s 2023 NRL coverage. He looked majorly trimmed-down at the event where he revealed his recent weight loss
Footy guru Phil ‘Gus’ Gould (pictured in April, 2019) is a two-time premiership-winning coach, first with Canterbury in 1988 and then three years later with Penrith
MC James Bracey said he shared the same plane as Thurston to head to the event and the former Cowboys, Queensland and Australian champion had not stopped grinning since.
‘Looking forward to the footy?’ Bracey asked. ‘It’s taken too long, actually, I’m over the cricket,’ he said.
‘There are so many storylines this year, so looking forward to seeing how the year unfolds.’
Thurston famously kicked the winning field goal that steered the North Queensland Cowboys to their first ever NRL premiership in 2016 and although he is retired, his former side remains his favourite to take home the Provan-Summons trophy in 2023.
‘They are another 12 months older, wiser, as long as they can keep everyone on the park they should have a good year.’
One of the biggest changes to the NRL for the 2023 season is the addition of The Dolphins as the 17th franchise which also means the competition will run for 31 weeks.
Felise Kaufusi is one of the big names that has signed for the new franchise after a decorated career at the Melbourne Storm and he is looking forward to seeing what the new kids on the block can bring to the table.
Paul Lockyer, Sam Thaiday and Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin at the launch of Channel Nine’s 2023 NRL coverage
The infamous Johnathan Thurston laugh was also on display – which can mean only one thing – footy is back
Reece Walsh and Billy Walters speak to Denan Kemp at the launch of Channel Nine’s 2023 NRL coverage
‘It’s been a long time coming, 75 years in the making,’ he said.
It was the arrival of Gould and Vautin to the mic to speak about State of Origin that had the crowd in hysterics, though.
Gould revealed his recent major weight loss and Vautin, affectionately known as ‘Fatty’, asked: ‘Who is this? Slim Gould?’
The duo shared anecdotes about Origin, with Gould’s only ever series loss as coach coming at the hands of Vautin’s unheralded Queenslanders in 1995.
‘My job as a coach was to tell them that they were good enough,’ Vautin said.
‘And then we would get on the p***. ‘I remember being at City Rowers and I’m not a big drinker, six middies will normally pull me up.
Jonathan Thurston , Reece Walsh, Felise Kaufusi and Brian Kelly at the event on Friday
Sam Thaiday and the Dolphins, from left Sean O’Sullivan, Felise Kaufusi and Cody Nikorima
Ruan Sims, Millie Boyle and Ali Brigginshaw at the launch of Channel Nine’s 2023 NRL coverage in Brisbane on Friday night
‘I’ve had about 18 schooners and I actually collapsed on the ground at the nightclub at 2am.
‘I woke up at 3am and the same six guys, Gary Larson, Gilly [Trevor Gillmeister], Tony Hearn were there guarding me. That’s mateship.’
The launch was also a watershed moment for the NRLW, with the women’s game to expand to nine rounds plus semi-finals and a grand final, plus two State of Origin games.
Newcastle Knights premiership winner Millie Boyle promised they would live stream a third match from a paddock if a decider was required.
‘I think the best part about it [expansion] is having teams outside of our metro area in North Queensland and the Raiders as well,’ she said. ‘We will see a lot of talent from those regional areas come through the ranks.’