Monday Morning Halfback: Round 1
Three games decided in the last five minutes, some unbelievable tries, a spate of injuries to key players, and some underwhelming performances from much hyped clubs, Round 1 of the NRL Telstra Premiership was predictably unpredictable.
You don't win a competition in March.
Manly and Parramatta only need to look at last year's premiers for motivation after lacklustre first up performances belied their much hyped potential.
The Eels never looked likely against a slick Broncos side which was comfortably idling in third gear for much of the contest. The Eels were without high profile recruit Kieran Foran and also had their other star playmaker (Corey Norman) leave the field early. There is no question the Eels need to be much better to compete with the best teams in the league, but one bad result does not make a season.
It was a reoccurring theme across the Spit Bridge where Manly's much hyped revamp was put to its first real test. They failed. The Bulldogs were clinical in dismantling the Sea Eagles in their own backyard. But this is not a Manly side we have seen before, in fact, this is not a Manly side that even Manly has seen before.
The challenge for both the Eels and Sea Eagles will be establishing a newfound identity. Their first round results, while disappointing, are not overly surprising given the turnover in personnel and should not be judged in isolation.
There is no doubt that there are good football teams in both Parramatta and Manly somewhere, but it won't come quickly or easily under the heavy burden of expectation. Don't judge them from one performance.
Both clubs only need to look at the Cowboys for motivation.
In 2015 the Cowboys were heavily fancied in the warm months of the preseason only to be 0-3 and staring down the barrel of starting their campaign 0-4. They had been humbled by the Roosters 28-4 at their own home ground in Round 1 and also by their biggest rivals the Broncos 44-22 in Round 3. They were written off, and mere minutes away from their season being over. As the marketing campaign goes, history happens. Everything changed from that moment and the Cowboys never looked back. They are now NRL and World Club Champions.
Fans of all clubs that lost in Round 1 should take solace. You don't win premierships in March.
How do you solve a problem like the Warriors?
We saw the best and worst of the Warriors in Round 1 - the dizzying highs and the terrifying lows. Their unbelievable capacity to entertain is only matched by their incredible ability to disappoint.
It was all laid bare in a sometimes bizarre 80 minutes against Wests Tigers at Campbelltown.
Conceding 28 points in the first half is simply not good enough and they know it.
"It's not acceptable to start a game like that. It was pretty obvious to the players after the game," coach Andrew McFadden said post match.
"We were really passive in the first half, we didn't match up with them, it was a pretty disappointing first half and we looked like we were just waiting for someone else to do something."
But the Warriors came out in the second half and showed real grit to fight back and unleash an attacking onslaught of 26 unanswered points in 18 minutes, including three tries in eight minutes.
It was as spectacular as the previous 40 minutes had been inadequate.
"We fought back really well and if it wasn't for some poor errors at the end we may have been able to sneak away with it," McFadden said.
No one has ever questioned the Warriors ability.
For the club to become a force in this Telstra Premiership competition, they'll need to reduce the gap between their best and their worst.
Do that and they could be anything.
Forwards win football games
They are two of the hardest working forwards in the game, much loved by their teammates and a growing subculture of diehard fans.
Cowboys second-row forward Ethan Lowe and Raiders lock Shaun Fensom, take a bow.
Both forwards scored individual match-winning tries in runs that typified what they are all about.
Lowe had the second most running metres (143) and tackles (38) for his side and a try assist from a deft kick in a dominant 80 minute performance against the Sharks, but it was his individual try in the dying minutes that put an exclamation point on what he means to the Cowboys. Getting the ball from a standing start, Lowe simply willed his way to the try line and would not be denied even with four defenders trying to stop him.
Fensom's solo 80th minute run to seal the game for the Raiders against the Panthers was typical of the man who has his own cult following that has spawned numerous hashtags pushing his representative credentials.
Constantly overlooked by selectors, but not his teammates, Fensom led the way with the most tackles (38) for his side (standard), and also had the second most running metres (132). But if the true mark of a forward is judged by the difference between his first and last runs of the game, Fensom should be considered amongst the game's elite forwards. His charge to seal the game in the final minute was eerily similar to some of the club's most loved and celebrated forwards.
It was great to see the two hard working forwards and unsung heroes get their tenacity and competiveness rewarded.
Injuries to key playmakers
It wasn't the amount of injuries, but the key players going down which was a concern during the opening round of the NRL Telstra Premiership.
It started with form Parramatta half Corey Norman leaving the field in the opening game of the season and continued with Michael Lichaa (knee), Ben Henry (knee), Blake Austin (knee), Aidan Sezer (cheek), Adam Reynolds (jaw), John Sutton (pec), Paul Gallen (knee) among a host of big name players getting hurt which will give fans and coaching staff cause for concern.
With a number of star players already confined to the sidelines due to injury, it could prove a key aspect of the season as clubs turn to their extended squads.
Depth is important in every roster, but it is almost impossible to replace your superstars.