Monday Morning Halfback: Trimester report card
We are already a third of the way through the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership season and we've certainly had no shortage of action, intrigue, injuries and controversies.
The Broncos, Cowboys and Sharks all look like genuine premiership contenders, while the Roosters, Knights and Wests Tigers have had disappointing starts to the season.
It is time to take stock and see how each club is travelling with the representative schedule just around the corner.
Broncos (A++): Have lost only one game all year (a one point loss to the Panthers after leading by 16) and are looking every bit the premiership heavyweights. Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt just keep getting better.
Cowboys (A+): Consistently brilliant, having a great run with no injuries and look to be a big chance to be the first club to go back-to-back in a unified competition since the Broncos in 1992-93. Have only been beaten by a golden point to top placed Brisbane and by four points by Parramatta.
Sharks (A): Turn off the porch light, this is potentially the best ever chance Cronulla will get to winning a competition. For years they have had a formidable forward pack, but now with an outstanding backline, the Sharks have the points and the talent to go with their muscle.
Eels (A): No doubt the biggest improvers and playing an incredibly tough brand of footy guided by the brilliance of Kieran Foran and Corey Norman. But there is a massive off-field shadow hanging over them as the salary cap saga continues.
Storm (B+): The Melbourne Storm continue to find ways to win despite admitting they are playing nowhere near their best footy. The loss of Billy Slater is a huge one, but Cameron Munster has already proven he is up to the task. If they improve their attack, they'll be tough to beat.
Bulldogs (B): How do you get a read on the Bulldogs? Eight games into the season, they are still proving a tipsters nightmare and confounding experts and fans alike. When things click they look very good, but have been inconsistent to date.
Raiders (B): At times Canberra looks like a top four team (see 60 point demolition of Wests Tigers), but they have struggled when taking on the top sides so far this year. Still a dark horse to go deep in September, but they'll need to find another gear when playing against the better teams.
Panthers (B-): Every single one of their games have been decided in the final minutes, with their last seven decided by five points or less. Penrith have proven to be up for every clash, and in a lot of ways are playing much better than their position on the ladder suggests. But you don't get points for performance, only results. They need to start winning the tight tussles.
Titans (B-): Widely tipped at the start of season to win the wooden spoon, Gold Coast have proven to be a resilient side even with the season-ending injury to Kane Elgey. They still have a bad habit of conceding early leads and needing to chase points, but are proving a very plucky side and tough to knock over.
Rabbitohs (C): Started the season with some big wins, but have hit a massive wall and look to be struggling to regain their former glory. Injuries to Adam Reynolds and John Sutton haven't helped and at this stage it looks like they will struggle to make the finals.
Warriors (C): Brilliant one minute, disappointing the next. The season-ending injury to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is a massive blow, but this Warriors team could still make a charge towards the finals if they can fix their defensive frailties.
Sea Eagles (C): Started the season with some massive losses and followed it up with halfback Daly Cherry-Evans succumbing to injury. Showing signs of turning the corner with their new roster taking time to gel, could still make a charge towards the finals, but they'll do it the hard way.
Dragons (C-): Defence only gets you so far, you still need to outscore your opponents. Has been a disappointing start for the Red V, but there have been glimpses that they can turn it around. Will need to find ways to generate points.
Roosters (C-): The Roosters are improving despite a horrible start to the season. Missing Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Boyd Cordner and Mitchell Pearce hasn't helped, but admirably, coach Trent Robinson has failed to use any excuses, saying he expects his team to win. Not far away from stringing some victories together.
Wests Tigers (D): Two wins to start the season had everyone excited, but six losses in a row have exposed frailties and ghosts from seasons past. There is no doubting the talent, but the inability to compete for 80 minutes has left them on the wrong side of the ledger too many times already this year.
Knights (D): This was always going to be a tough season for a rebuilding Knights side that has been forced to bring in a lot of young and inexperienced faces. Nathan Brown needs time and patience to rebuild in Newcastle.
Sin Bin the right call
The call to sin bin Corey Norman in the latter stages of the Cowboys blockbuster clash with the Eels was a huge one – but the correct one. There is no question Norman used his hands to pull back Michael Morgan in his attempt to chase a kick to score a try.
Shoulder to shoulder contact is allowed in competing for the ball, but Norman illegally denied Morgan any chance to score.
It was a try scoring opportunity and a clear professional foul.
Sam Burgess incident
The Sam Burgess tackle in Friday night football against the Broncos has been coming for some time. It has highlighted some somewhat ambiguous phrases in the rule book which have been there for a long time.
Since Burgess hammered a prone Joe Ofahengaue and was subsequently penalised for 'sandbagging' or excessive force, the debate has raged on both sides of the argument.
It all stems initially from the voluntary tackle rule – or the fact that it hasn't been enforced in recent times. It has been a growing gripe from fans. Players have been getting away with diving on the ball and making no attempt to get to their feet, usually coming from their own line, trying to nullify the chance of getting forced back in goal.
There is not much the defence can do, because they are not allowed to pick the prone player up and drive him backwards.
An incident like this has been building.
When Ofahengaue dived on the loose ball on Friday night, play stopped, everyone on the field was stationary, Ofahengaue had not been tackled, he was as many argue 'fair game'.
Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler both agreed that Burgess was quite within his right to make his tackle, it was not high, late or after the whistle. There was every chance a forceful challenge could have forced the ball free.
But the argument against the tackle has been equally compelling, in many eyes, it was totally unnecessary and a bad look for the game. Ofahengaue was going nowhere and all that was needed was to lay a finger on him to complete the tackle.
It was a single incident that could be a catalyst to expedite a tightening of the interpretation of the ‘voluntary tackle’ laws one way or the other.