Rookie of the Year race hots up
Lessons from Belmore, why the Panthers could be back, a shock from the Cowboys and a new rookie of the year contender.
What did we learn from the Belmore experience?
All hail a grand occasion, but we need to keep everything in perspective when considering what happens next.
It was the Bulldogs' first game at the ground in 17 years. The club did a tremendous job in the build-up to the event, and their fans need to be applauded for their support of the match.
I see no reason why the Round 20 Sunday afternoon game scheduled for Belmore against Cronulla won't be a similar success.
My thoughts are that a minimum of two and a maximum of three or four Belmore games for Canterbury in the seasons ahead might be the best scenario, but I'm not the one crunching the financial numbers at the Bulldogs.
However, as a traditionalist at heart, I am delighted to see Belmore Sports Ground back on the radar… and I reckon a few train drivers will be too!
Do we have a late contender for rookie of the year?
Yes we certainly do: Shaun Lane.
And that's despite the fact he's given some terrific young talent half a season's start.
This big 20-year-old looks the real deal to me.
And here's a little statistic from a previous Dally M Rookie of the Year winner if you are doubting a player can win the award after only making his debut in Round 14.
Look no further than Chris Sandow who picked up the honour in 2008. He wasn't sighted in the top grade that season until Round 13.
Despite the emergence of Lane, let me state for the record at the moment I would have the Warriors Tui Lolohea as favourite for the award in a hot field of youngsters.
Was last Saturday night just a hiccup for the Cowboys?
My answer is yes, but perhaps we learn the 100 per cent answer in a month or so.
I wasn't totally surprised they lost to the Sharks, but I was shocked that they squandered an 18-0 lead at home.
I am predicting it will become back-to-back losses after this Saturday night against the Dragons.
However, immediately after Origin they have a run of matches against teams outside the top eight: the Sea Eagles, Eels and Raiders.
If we assume they take the cash in those games and add the bye they have coming up in Round 18, their points tally will be 32 with five rounds remaining.
If they fall short of that mark, then maybe then debate of "peaking too early" will become more robust.
Are the Panthers back?
I will answer that after Friday night!
We all know the problems they have had with injuries this year and that is highlighted in the fact that only four of their squad have appeared in every game in 2015.
In the backline, rookie Dallin Watene Zelezniak is the only player to have played more than 10 games. To have the likes of Dean Whare and Josh Mansour back on deck really adds to their firepower.
Given the Panthers are now only two points off sixth place, and four points off third, you would be dismissing their chances at your peril.
I know what I saw from their attack way back in Round 2 this year against the Titans in Bathurst, and I still rate that second half with the ball as some of the best attack I have witnessed this year.
Admittedly, a couple of key men in Matt Moylan and James Segeyaro are sidelined, but I still think they are capable of racking up some decent scores which not only will contribute to likely victories, but turn around their points differential. And that might be all the difference is between qualifying for the finals or not.
So forget any thoughts that the NRL is "irrelevant" during the Origin period. Friday night is a huge game for Penrith when they pay South Sydney.
A victory isn't like to have them back in the top eight just yet, but they will be well placed to make a run to September.
What was the coaching highlight of Round 16?
Brad Arthur post-match, Eels v Dragons.
As I've stated a few times in the past, being coach of an NRL side often looks about as much fun as having root canal therapy at the dentist.
In the majority of cases, a celebration of a win can be limited to a fist pump, a couple of pats on the back and a few hand shakes.
So after the week Parramatta had gone through before the Dragons game, and the pressure cooker Arthur has found himself in, I say good on him for 'letting his hair down' a bit after the four-point win.
I must admit I haven't seen too many coaches do laps of honour and high-five the fans after a midseason match before, but I reckon Arthur's reaction was entirely understandable.
And maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing if there were more of it. There is nothing written that says coaches have to maintain the poker face mentality 24/7.
Vale James Ackerman
Today (Wednedsay), the hearts of rugby league fans go out to the family of the late James Ackerman.
The funeral for the 25-year-old Sunshine Coast player will be held at the home stadium of the Falcons.
To his wife Saraa, children Ollie and Milly, and his parents and family, most of us cannot imagine just how hard the last ten days must have been.
From all that we have read, James played the game as much for the love of his club as the sport itself. He was a team man.
I hope the family finds the strength to emerge from this tough time, and if it provides some solace, be proud in the realisation James's spirit will live on across the game.
It is the qualities possessed by James Ackerman that make rugby league such a great sport.