Full of himself, prickly and easy to rile. Is there any point to NRL360 without Paul Kent?


The latest Paul Kent fracas has livened up things for rugby league fans this week, and looks like providing plenty of storylines over the coming months.

One of the may subplots involve the fate of Fox Sports’ rugby league chat show, NRL 360, on which Kent has been a panelist since it began in 2013.

Most sports panel shows follow the same formula – issue, opinion, argument – with the key being who is on the panel and the quality of their punditry. Every successful panel show has its own niche – The Matty Johns Show, for instance, is more light hearted, while the Sunday Footy Show is more analysis-based.

NRL 360’s niche might best be described as “loud opinions and gossip, mostly from journalists”. Watching the show was like sitting with your mates on a verandah at the pub arguing about rugby league-related things: who should be sacked/dropped/picked, vague rumours, hot takes, occasional insight. Unlike the majority of league shows, the panels were typically dominated by journalists rather than ex players. This was actually one of the appealing things about NRL 360 – you didn’t have people who were actually good at the game offering opinions, they were more like, well, fans. This made it more relatable.

NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent.

There’s no doubt Kent was the star of the show. With his heavy-set demeanour, one-game first grade career, slurring speaking style, moralising, biases and bombast, he epitomised the league-loving alpha mate many of us had/have – full of himself, prickly and easy to rile, alluding to a sports career in his younger days that actually wasn’t that good, rather entertaining when in rant mode, occasionally capable of an insightful comment.

Kent was especially effective in tandem with Ben Ikin – bespectacled, polite, the designated driver in the group, who came across as one of your mates who’s not drinking at the moment because he and his wife are doing IVF, but who also had genuine top-level playing experience that could be accessed when needed. Braith Anasta, who replaced Ikin as host, does his best but lacks the former Bronco’s big nerd energy that worked so well in tandem with Kent. Ikin was so self-effacing you forgot he was good enough to regularly play Origin; you never forget that with Anasta, and it unsettles the chemistry of the show.

There is of course a wide and rotating support cast on NRL360. Chief among them are Phil “Buzz” Rothfield, looking around 105 years old, the old chirpy bar fly type, full of opinions and gossip; and James Hooper, who gives off “perennial sidekick” vibes, never quite comfortable in his own skin. There were others too but I think the combination of Ikin-Kent-Hooper-Rothfield was probably NRL 360 at its finest, encapsulating a group of white men at a bar talking about league over the top of each other and ignoring texts from their wives asking them to pick up milk on the way home.

We got to see what a Kent-less NRL 360 looked like last year when Kent was stood down over those DV charges (for which he was found not guilty). Fox tried a few different combinations in his absence, mostly using more ex-players like Gorden Tallis and James Graham, and it totally threw out the vibe of the show. Having too many ex-players on NRL 360 ruins the fun because they know what they’re talking about.

(Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The secret sauce of that show is having people who never played at the top level having strong, differing, not entirely well-informed opinions it. No one was/is better at this than Kent because he was/is so full of himself. It was fun watching Paul Kent lecturing decent players and coaches how to play and behave because he seemed so completely obvious to his utter lack of qualifications to do so. Fox couldn’t find anyone to perform the Paul Kent role on NRL 360 – Hooper, and other journos like Dean Ritchie lack his blind self confidence. This is probably good for society, it just makes for less lively television.

My own suggestion: NRL 360 should try a few ex-coaches who never played at the top level and mix them in with journalists. Then you’d see some fireworks. No doubt readers will have their own thoughts (please, comment below). Regardless, one thing is clear: just as in rugby league, when a star player is suspended, the coach has to figure out how to rework that club’s style of play in order to move forward. And that’s what NRL 360 need to do without Paul Kent.

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