QLD Origin centre Justin Hodges makes a successful return from an Achilles injury on Friday night against the Eels. Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos
Warriors a frustrating work in progress
With all due respect to new mentor Andrew McFadden, who would want to be a Warriors coach?

The New Zealand side at their best (ie. against Wests Tigers) are as entertaining as Cirque du Soleil performing in the middle of a U2 concert with the Sydney New Year’s fireworks igniting in the background. The Warriors at their worst (ie. against the Sharks) are as horrifying as Meatloaf trying to sing God Defend New Zealand accompanied by a vuvuzela and a Molotov cocktail.

There is no definable logic to exactly when the best and worst of the Warriors comes out. Certainly Matt Elliott couldn't find the formula for fundamental consistency - hence the coach’s demise.

The affable Elliott is far from alone: He was preceded by another likeable but unsuccessful boss in Brian McClennan and a pair of stern gents in Daniel Anderson and Ivan Cleary are the only coaches to have had the New Zealand side perform to their enormous potential since their 1995 NRL inception.
 
It's no great shock Elliott has found himself on the outer, given his appointment on a two-year deal was preceded by attempts to lure premiership winners Craig Bellamy and Tim Sheens. But will the next coach fare any better?

At some point an under-performing squad will need to take personal responsibility for the club’s frustrating plight - especially given certain key players have looked short of fitness and interest so far this season.

Chalk and cheese
You couldn't find two more different players in the NRL than Chris Sandow and Bryan Norrie.

And how poignant it was to watch both men play on the weekend, with the searing new perspective offered by Alex McKinnon's tragic injury.

Sandow’s performance for Parramatta on Friday was joyful and brilliant. It was also sad. So much skill, cheek and exuberance - yet the halfback so far has little to show for such immense talent. A rich Eels contract alongside two wooden spoons, a bunch of reserve grade jumpers, fitness battles and a stint in gambling rehab.

Norrie played his 100th game for the Melbourne Storm on Sunday. The no-frills prop was plucked from a captain-coach job with the Wagga Wagga Kangaroos by master mentor Craig Bellamy just when it seemed his time in elite football was done, yet is now well past 150 NRL matches with a premiership to his name.

Norrie has, conservatively, a tenth of Sandow’s talent but has had a much better career, even if he doesn’t have the same big money to show for it.

Alex McKinnon was a more talented Norrie - a young man intent on becoming the best player he could possibly be. Cruel fate has robbed him of that chance.

McKinnon’s injury should have posed the question to every NRL player in a manner that shatters complacency: Am I making the most of a career that is only ever one devastating incident away from ending?

Little things that matter
Speaking of the no-frills player - a round of applause for another in Sharks playmaker Jeff Robson.

To footy purists, Robson is to halfbacks what finger painting is to fine art. To the pragmatists, he is a shrewd, cool-headed operator who allows superstar Todd Carney to play his best footy.

The evidence was there to see on Saturday, with Robson businesslike in his return from injury and Carney consequently brilliant in a drought-breaking win over the Warriors.

Coach Watch
Matt Elliott - see above. Meanwhile Dragons coach Steve Price made the curious call to throw utility Adam Quinlan in at No.7 against the Rabbitohs, despite having specialist halfbacks Michael Witt and Sam Williams on his roster. The Red V's heavy SCG defeat has put the brakes on a promising start to the season. Ricky Stuart reckons his Canberra side is building towards something despite a loss in Penrith. (Code: We are preparing to offer Anthony Milford a private jet and an island to stay?) Meanwhile, John Cartwright, Mick Potter and Brad Arthur are in undisputed genius mode this week, with the Titans boss Número Uno. Shockingly, Geoff Toovey’s head did not explode after Potter’s Tigers belted his Sea Eagles.

Origin Watch
Fullbacks Josh Dugan and Brett Stewart both returned from injury, with incumbent Blues No.1 Dugan having the better outing with the Dragons. Penrith winger and NSW prospect Josh Mansour is back from injury in raging bull mode. Canberra lock Shaun Fensom was terrific in a side beaten by the Panthers and has officially been placed in the mix by Blues coach Laurie Daley. Josh Reynolds did his best to usurp incumbent five-eighth James Maloney when the Bulldogs beat the Roosters. NSW prop Andrew Fifita had a massive game for the Sharks after his Bulldogs contract imploded like a (vintage Bollinger) champagne supernova.
For Queensland, Nate Myles and his giant head were sensational in beating Melbourne with the Titans on Sunday. Maroons and Storm skipper Cameron Smith seemed untroubled by his back problem of the previous week. Veteran centre Justin Hodges oozed class in his injury return for the Broncos. Maroons winger Darius Boyd will look to build fitness and form at fullback for Newcastle on Monday night against the Cowboys after making a terrific comeback last weekend. Prop Jacob Lillyman is one of the few players who can hold his head high at the Worriers.

Haircut Watch
The NRL is all the poorer for having Sione Lousi suspended. Going without the Warriors forward’s Willie Mason Golden Era Afro in the wake of losing Canberra’s Edrick Lee, aka the Chuck Norris of flat-tops, to a season-ending foot injury is almost too much to bear.