Monday Morning Halfback: Testing times and NRL hoodoos
The Warriors have only one player named in the New Zealand Test side, the Kiwis are on the verge of history, Hull FC make an important decision for the future of international rugby league, while the Sharks are a genuine chance of ending their Premiership drought.
The NRL Telstra Premiership takes a break this week as international football comes into the spotlight and there is no shortage of talking points.
Once were Warriors
Shaun Johnson is the only Warriors player named to play for New Zealand in the Downer Test Match against Australia at Hunter Stadium on Friday night.
Let that sink in.
While Andrew McFadden wouldn't be drawn on the punishment handed down to six of his club's players, it is still quite remarkable that only one Warriors player made the New Zealand international team.
Noting the injuries to walk-up starters Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Simon Mannering, it is still interesting to note that only one player from the New Zealand franchise will don the famous black jersey of the Kiwis.
Issac Luke put his hand up earlier in the week and admitted his form at the Warriors hadn't warranted selection in the national team, while Ben Matulino and Manu Vatuvei would normally be expected to play.
The spread of Kiwi internationals is pretty even across the NRL with 11 clubs represented: Broncos (four), Storm (three), Sea Eagles (two), Roosters (two), Panthers (two), Warriors, Bulldogs, Eels, Dragons, Cowboys and Knights.
The Warriors do however have four players playing in the Pacific Test, two each for Samoa (Erin Clark and Mason Lino) and Tonga (David Fusitu'a and Solomone Kata).
New Zealand looking to equal 63-year-old record
If New Zealand manage to beat Australia at Hunter Stadium on Friday night, they'll become the first Kiwis side in 63 years to beat the Kangaroos four games in a row.
It has only happened once – when Jim Haig's 1952-53 side found a way to beat Clive Churchill's Kangaroos in a four-game streak.
For the 2016 Kiwis, it would not only be a great achievement but could also possibly signal a changing of the guard in international rugby league.
Australia are the reigning World Cup champions, having beaten New Zealand 34-2 in the 2013 World Cup Final at Old Trafford, but since then the Kangaroos have only managed one more victory over their trans-Tasman rivals.
The Kiwi side are ranked No.1 in the world and a victory on Friday night would cement them as favourites for not only the Four Nations later in the year in the UK, but also the World Cup at the end of next year.
Hull of a decision for rugby league
Frank Pritchard and Sika Manu have been picked to captain their respective countries in the Pacific Test on Saturday night at Pirtek Stadium – halfway around the world. The duo will miss Hull FC's Challenge Cup tie with St Helens next week as a result.
Hull FC coach Lee Radford said it was a fantastic honour for both of them to captain their countries.
"It's important for the growth of the international game that they're both turning out for Samoa and Tonga and great recognition for the club that we have two international captains in our ranks," Radford told hullfc.com
"We're obviously going to miss them next week, in what is such a huge game for the club."
The pair will make the 33,000km round journey and miss a Challenge Cup clash to be involved in the fixture at Pirtek Stadium. In a week where the international game has come under heavy fire, it is a massive step forward.
Well done to Hull FC for letting two important players join their international teams and miss a club fixture for the chance to represent their countries.
I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping it is a sign of things to come.
Why not the Sharks?
"Why not us?" Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling came up with this unique and powerful catchphrase during 2004, which was later immortalised in ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series.
The Red Sox became the first team in the history of baseball to come back from 0-3 in a series to beat the New York Yankees and then went on to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years a week later.
Before they did the unthinkable, they too were a punchline. Their fans were constantly taunted about a supposed curse on the club and come finals time, one way or another the Sox would inevitably find ways to lose.
That was until Schilling and his band of misfits created history and put to bed one of sport's longest losing streaks.
The Red Sox had the 'Curse of the Bambino', the Sharks have Harold Holt.
The Holt line has become a fabric of rugby league ever since supercoach Jack Gibson uttered the immortal line "waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch lamp on for Harold Holt."
It has been a heavy burden hanging over the club ever since.
But the question I'm asking in 2016 is: why not the Sharks?
Why couldn't this group of players be the one to finally extinguish that outdated porch lamp that has haunted them for so long?
Their first half against the Broncos on Sunday afternoon showed they are more than capable. Their second half gave their doubters all the ammunition they need to once again dismiss Cronulla.
Last week in the Monday Morning Halfback we gave the Sharks an 'A' in their trimester report card, that was before they beat the table-leading Broncos, scoring 28 first-half points in the process.
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. See all club report cards here.
There is an underlying unshakeable belief among rugby league fans that they have seen this before and they know how it ends. It has been reinforced time and time again.
But why not the Sharks?
They have just moved into equal first by beating Brisbane. They have a hard-nosed forward pack with plenty of international and State of Origin experience that knows how to grind teams into the dust, while premiership-winning half James Maloney and 2012 Dally M medalist Ben Barba are showing signs that they are returning to their best form.
Add exciting youngsters Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes to the mix and the Sharks look like they have all the speed, strength, experience and talent to compete with the best teams at the business end of the season.
Why not the Sharks?
They may never get a better opportunity.