The Storm can't win it without Slater
Andrew Voss on Melbourne's premiership chances following Billy Slater's shoulder surgery, Parramatta's off-field woes, field goal dramas and rugby league's new No.1 fan.
Can Melbourne win without Billy Slater?
They may still make the eight, but no – the 2015 premiership won't be theirs without Billy at the back.
What a month of football they now have ahead of them, where if they slip up it will see them out of the top eight on the ladder.
I am tipping the Bulldogs to beat the Storm on Monday at Belmore. The bye before Origin III will provide some respite. The Round 18 clash with the Warriors in Auckland will be huge, and then there will be a semi-final feel about their next couple against the Panthers and the Dragons.
Looking in to my crystal ball, the Storm's finals fate could boil down to rounds 25 and 26, where they play the Cowboys at home, and the Broncos away. But without Slater…
What is wrong at Parramatta?
How… what… why?
I feel for the Eels fans. They must be sick to the back teeth of reading negative stories about their club. But at the same time, I can't guarantee that is going to end any time soon.
The Kieran Foran situation is a debacle. Now there is a drama over Will Hopoate's deal with the club. It would seem that some have knives out for the coach. The CEO quit two weeks ago. The star halfback has had his say in the media.
I have said it before, but the club is set up to be a powerhouse on and off the field on a consistent basis. The fact they lurch from one controversy to another must make it difficult for the diehards to keep the faith.
Can someone out there please take charge and put the club first!
Are field goal attempts a ticking time bomb?
They are if we allow what transpired in Canberra last Saturday.
In a frantic final minute, the rule book went out the window. For one of Johnathan Thurston's field goal attempts I found at least nine players in blatant offside positions. That included a trio of Cowboys who were illegally in front of where the ball was played.
The whistle can't just remain in the pocket of the referee. This could be a scenario on grand final day. Act now, and save a major embarrassment later on.
The heartbreak of a loss by penalty goal will be accepted so long as there is consistency.
Does rugby league have a new No.1 supporter?
Yes it does: 108-year-old Thelma Spencer, who was a very special guest of the Knights and the Sharks last Sunday.
Is there something more we can do for Thelma?
If you missed the story, spritely Thelma is a Sharks fan who has spent the last 35 years living in Newcastle, but despite watching as many game as possible on TV, it is rare these days that she gets along to matches.
Last Sunday week was her 108th birthday, meaning she has been around for every season of premiership football in Australia.
I have never seen a more uplifting dressing room shot than what came through post game on Fox Sports last week, as Thelma was up on her feet, hands in the air and clapping along as the Cronulla players did their team song.
Rugby league has obviously played a big part in her life, with more years to come, and I feel an appropriate measure could be for the NRL to make her an honorary life member.
Is Ben Barba back?
I hope so, but I need a lot more evidence than the brief cameo for Cronulla in Newcastle.
Actually, the headlines the next day surprised me. Yes, Barba had played a part in two great tries in a dazzling six-minute period for the Sharks, but then for the last 22 minutes it was back to normal transmission and Barba was hardly sighted.
Cronulla's playing style for mine doesn't suit him. I can't see a real short-term or long-term future in a "super sub" role, if that's where the club see him now.
Having said that, I'll be happy to be proven wrong.
Where does Shaun Johnson's performance against the Titans rank?
I believe Johnson's second half on the weekend was the best he has ever produced for the Warriors, and as good as any playmaker this year in the NRL.
Johnson is a different style to the likes of Cronk, Cherry-Evans and Hunt, and at his best he is absolutely brilliant to watch.
From a Warriors team point of view, that second half might just be the awakening of a giant.
To be seventh on the ladder heading into Round 16 without having really captured the headlines because of dazzling form has Andrew McFadden's side perfectly placed to launch a serious finals challenge.
As a matter of fact this weekend is huge as the Warriors host the Raiders. There is a chance that eight of the nine teams below the Warriors on the ladder will be beaten in Round 16, which would open up a handy break.
If what we all saw last Saturday is the Warriors' best, then they have our attention.
If they improve on that … look out!
This is a terrific round of footy coming up. Good luck with your tips.