Rep round and medical miracles
Andrew Voss on the representative round, why the NRL's minor premiers deserve more recognition, Parramatta's backroom troubles and England's new fullback sensation.
1) Will we witness a medical miracle this weekend?
Hallelujah – yes we will! Upwards of 30 players who were unable to play last weekend in Representative Round will all turn out for their club sides in the NRL in Round 9.
Medical experts around the world have hailed this phenomenon.
However there has also been a chilling warning issued.
It is forecast that a similar outbreak of these mysterious and various ailments is likely to return in exactly a year's time.
And wouldn't you know it… that'll be exactly the same week we have Representative Round again. Extraordinary!
2) Did Country v City help pick the NSW Origin side?
Seriously, form in the game in Dubbo is no more important that any game this weekend in the NRL… and Laurie Daley knows it – just as all his predecessors in the state job have.
No-one should be seen to have played their way out of contention if they played poorly, nor should any player expect to be handed a Blues jumper based on City-Country if there are rivals who have performed better in the NRL week to week.
My stance on the game remains unchanged. If the players want to play in it, then let's have it. But if each year it develops into a contest between who's available out of those not rested, rather than the best and most worthy, condemn the fixture to the history books.
3) Is the Kangaroos' run going to end anytime soon?
Last Friday night's Test was a good game, but not a great one.
And it proved yet again, that even as star-studded as the Australian team is, if you only schedule enough time for a couple of training sessions, teams aren't going to just click. And that's a shame, because what we witnessed from the World Cup Final was football excellence.
We get it every season from State of Origin because we create time and an environment for that to happen.
We can only wonder how the Kiwis would have fared with the likes of Kieran Foran and Issac Luke fit to play in key positions. But what the team they fielded lacked in real class, they made up for in raw effort.
How I would love to see a full-strength, three-Test trans-Tasman series. Is that asking too much?
4) Do the minor premiers deserve more?
I have always thought this, and even more so after watching events in football over the last few days.
To see the reaction of the Liverpool players after a 3-all draw with Crystal Palace thinking they had blown their chance at the English Premier League title was incredible.
On the domestic front, the runaway minor premiers the Brisbane Roar came within minutes of failing to complete the 'job' in their grand final against the Wanderers.
In rugby league we expect so much of our teams for 26 weeks. Yet in the space of a month in September all the hard work can be undone. By Week Two of the playoffs everyone is on the same footing … it's sudden death.
Finishing top of this competition in the regular season is a massive accomplishment, and I just don't think we do enough to acknowledge or celebrate it.
I propose at the very least that clubs receive the same financial sum for winning the minor premiership as they do the grand final four weeks later.
5) What is happening with Parramatta at board level?
Sadly, very little of a positive nature.
I normally don't give boardroom battles or elections a great deal of coverage because I don't think too many fans of the game care what is happening at their club at that level, let alone other clubs.
But Monday night's AGM at the Eels warrants some reaction.
That someone of Bill Moss's standing in Australian business can be turned away and declare he is disillusioned by the voting members is quite an achievement… an embarrassing one.
What frustrates me is that Parramatta should be a constant force at all levels. They have it all. They play in the heart of the district they represent. They have a boutique ground which is one of the best in the league, and adjacent to their club. They have a big junior nursery, a rich history, and some wonderfully passionate supporters that when things are going well we like to call the blue-and-gold army.
A prosperous Parramatta is great for the NRL. They should be a giant.
How on earth can they get things wrong and have this prolonged disharmony at board level continue year-in, year-out?
6) Who is Zak Hardaker?
A damn fine player!
Fans in Australia should do themselves a favour and try to catch a Super League game featuring the 22-year-old Leeds fullback.
It was one of the disappointments of the World Cup that we didn't get to see Hardaker who was dropped from the England squad on the eve of the tournament due to disciplinary reasons.
But boy hasn't he kicked on this year, leading the Super League for metres run and tackle busts as well as scoring six tries and setting up seven.
And what about this for praise: former Great Britain captain and 500-plus game veteran Jamie Peacock described Hardaker as defensively the best fullback in the world!
"He is better than anyone down in the NRL," claimed Peacock on the BBC Super League show.
Just as there has been debate around the Australian fullback position with Billy Slater and Greg Inglis, so there is now for the England team with Hardaker and Sam Tomkins.
Let's hope they're all fit for the Four Nations at the end of the season.
I'm off to Auckland this weekend to call the Warriors v Raiders game. I reckon the New Zealand-based side can finally put an end to their Eden Park 'curse'.