Get ready for the round of the season
Andrew Voss on the ballboy scandal, the Titans' off-field woes, the problem with media bans and the race for the spoon.
1) Is this the best round of the NRL season so far?
I can't think of a better one.
Take your pick on nominating the game of the round.
Eels v Sea Eagles? Broncos v Knights? Rabbitohs v Cowboys? Warriors v Roosters? Panthers v Storm?
And all this just three weeks out from the playoffs. There is so much at stake.
2) What did we learn from the ballboy drama of last week?
Wherever humans are involved – and that's all aspects of the game – mistakes can happen.
Players make them; coaches, referees, sideline officials, video refs, commentators (yes even commentators), timekeepers, and alas ballboys make them too.
The 40/20 quick tap rule as it has played out in 2014 was never necessary, and to be honest has been a shemozzle from day one. It may have suited the style of the Auckland Nines, but not the NRL.
It has been a time bomb, and if there is a positive to be drawn, it's that it blew up before the finals.
To some other observations of the incident:
- Parramatta's Vai Toutai obviously had not a clue about the protocol of the rule by asking for the ball.
- Chris Sandow never tapped the ball correctly, and…
- No one praised the referees for getting the call correct under pressure.
3) Media ban on Sione… are you serious Wayne?
What a joke.
Newcastle's 18-year-old winger Sione Mata'utia scores a sensational hat-trick in only his fourth first-grade game in what was a terrific win on home turf, and the media can't even get a single quote to allow Knights fans to share in the achievement.
Media bans… I loathe them.
Fair enough, don't have the young bloke 'pestered' by the media in the build up to games while he is still new to first grade, but that's why clubs employ media managers. They control when and how much time players give to the press each week.
Wayne said after the game in defending the ban on Sione, "he doesn't need the bull**** at 18".
But hang on a second. Those of us who follow the game knew this young bloke had a lot of ability, but it was Wayne who layered it on before his debut by saying not only would Sione be a great of the club, but a great of the game. After Sunday, Bennett added the captaincy of the Knights to Sione's future path.
Any fair mind would see it has been Wayne Bennett to blame here for the hype. He is responsible for the headlines.
That aside, the Newcastle fans deserved to hear from this young star after his game on Sunday. In a tough season, the spectacular hat-trick was something for them to savour, and give them hope for 2015, when Bennett will be long gone.
A couple of minutes after the match facing the media, the conduit for the fans to hear from their heroes … is that really too much to ask for? Is it Wayne?
4) Do the Gold Coast Titans need help?
Yes they do.
And that fact has been expressed recently by many associated with the club. I note that Paul Broughton joined my push for Phil Gould to be pursued to help the club in some capacity.
I'll repeat what I wrote just a few weeks ago: the Titans should chase Gus as their next coach.
But their problems extend further than matters on the field, and that's a huge concern.
I don't live on the Gold Coast so I don't know what the fans are feeling about the club at the coalface. However what I hear via social media and the like isn't all that positive.
And here is some feedback from my brother who made the trip up from just over the border to attend last Sunday's game.
Parking cost $10, before a walk of over a kilometre to the ground. He and his wife paid $37 each to acquire a seat in the shade behind the goalposts. Coffee was $5 for a small cup. A hot dog, drink and chips, which they shared, was another $20.
That's already $114. I don't know what the Gold Coast Suns charge at the AFL, but here's what I do know: league needs to be the better value for the Titans to have any hope of more than just moderate success.
5) Who will win the wooden spoon?
Well… I don't think Sunday's game at Remondis is going to decide it.
Yes, it will be either the Sharks or the Raiders in three weeks time left posted at the bottom of the ladder, and I'm actually tipping the home team to win on Sunday.
But both Canberra and Cronulla have a match against the Tigers to come, and that is very winnable given the plight of Mick Potter's men.
Maybe it will just be the points differential that determines it, and right at the moment the Raiders are 57 points to the good.
6) Which Penrith forward has played in every Panthers game in 2014?
After this weekend's round there will be only one: the unheralded Jeremy Latimore.
I wrote last week that I thought Jamie Soward was the buy of the year. I have written previously that I believe Melbourne's Ryan Hinchcliffe is the most underrated player in the NRL.
But can I take the time now to recognise Latimore and the fine season he's had.
He leads the Panthers for offloads (24); he averages 24 tackles a game; nearly always tops 100 hit-up metres, and has regularly played more minutes than some of the starting forwards in the Penrith pack.
At 27 years old, Jeremy has been a bit of a league journeyman, but in his second year at Penrith and his fourth NRL club, the bloke has never played better.
Strike up another award for the Dally M's – rugby league's best quiet achiever!
I'm off to Auckland to call the Warriors/Roosters blockbuster on Sunday. It's an early start (2pm on Sky Sport NZ and midday in Australia on Fox Sports). Can't wait for kick off.