Andrew Voss selects his coach of the year, looks into the finals hopes of the Sharks, Broncos and Bulldogs and tells us a great story of footy from the bush.
Who will be the Coach of the Year?
I don't know that there has ever been a better race for the Coach of the Year award than what we have in 2016.
If the award had to be announced tomorrow, how could you deny the credentials of Shane Flanagan who steered the Sharks to a record 15 straight wins? but hang on, Craig Bellamy has the Storm ahead of Cronulla.
I could mount a decent case for Neil Henry, whose Gold Coast Titans were a popular pick for wooden spooners at the start of the year. And who hasn't admired the job done of Brad Arthur under extreme adversity at Parramatta?
But my vote right now goes to Ricky Stuart at Canberra. I wrote in this very column last year that the Raiders had been the most entertaining side to watch in 2015. But that alone didn't get them a finals berth.
Monday night's win over Melbourne was evidence of the improvement in the team this year with toughness and committed defence there for all to see.
Ricky has overseen some changes and made some tough calls on players, but you can't question the success. The Raiders' lofty position on the ladder is no fluke. Well done Ricky!
Will Josh Hodgson's ban cost him the Dally M medal?
There is a very good chance of that as I think every one is expecting a close race when counting is revealed on medal night in September.
However I have always believed the system is flawed where players lose three points for every game they are suspended. Come on… the days of a so called 'best and fairest' are way gone.
I really do think we need to address this. In the case of Hodgson, the Raiders have made a 'strategic' decision to not contest the charge, therefore accepting a 100 point penalty with no carry over. Had they pleaded guilty, Hodgson would have played on Sunday against the Eels with a 75 point penalty.
In other cases, players cop suspensions because of loading from incidents in the previous two seasons. Why should what happened on the field in 2015 or 2014 impact on the vote counting of the 2016 player of the year?
Have we seen the best of the Sharks?
Perhaps we have. But let me declare, their best is pretty damn good.
I am not a subscriber to the 'peak too early' theory. Never have been. That is a point of view that is best kept for analysing other athletes or racehorses who are set to win big races, but not NRL teams whose goal every time they step out on to the field is to chase victory.
The Sharks have three weeks to recapture their best with a run home against the Rabbitohs, Roosters and Storm.
While I don't have them as favourites; because of their outstanding efforts for much of the season, they will head into the playoffs two wins away from a grand final.
The porch light may be flickering, but they are still a contender in my book.
Are the Broncos back?
As impressive as the second half against Parramatta was, I think the answer to the question won't come until Thursday night against the Bulldogs.
The Broncos did it easy against the Eels at Suncorp, but the second half performance from the visitors was as poor as they have played for a while.
The Broncos-Bulldogs result will also have a bearing on the top four hopes of the Cowboys. Should Des Hasler's team prevail, that will be the top four all but confirmed.
Meantime, I know Canterbury fans are frustrated at their premiership credentials still being questioned despite winning seven of their last eight games. No one will have any foundation for doubting them if they knock over Brisbane and North Queensland in the next two rounds.
Can't wait to call the action from Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night for Fox Sports.
Do you want to hear a good story from the bush?
Look no further than Chatham High School from Taree, the former school of the great Danny Buderus and more recently Roosters star rookie Latrell Mitchell.
Chatham has been competing this year in the second tier competition of the GIO Cup… and with great success.
Coach, and head of mathematics, Scott Brown tells how when he asked for players interested in playing in the league side this year, 20 kids put their hands up. Many came from other sports, meaning their commitment to the school was the only league they had played. Brown took on board all 20.
And it has been some journey. Recently they hopped on the bus to Dubbo to play in the GIO Trophy country final. They only hit the front for the first time in the game in the final minute! On the way home, (in the words of the coach) their bus broke down "somewhere out Dunedoo way".
For the final, not surprisingly, they caught the train down to Sydney for an overnight stay on the eve of the game, and then another train out to Campbelltown on match day.
They have done their school and country rugby league proud. And you can see their on field efforts on Fox Sports over the next two Saturdays at 8.00am.
So, who is under the most pressure this weekend?
Take your pick. The Cowboys, Sharks, Warriors, Panthers, Wests Tigers, the referees, the bunker…
I know we blue about many things during the course of a season and argue over controversy like it is life or death.
But I know 100 per cent that the football entertainment I witnessed last weekend starting with the Bulldogs-Sea Eagles thriller on Thursday night through to the Anthony Milford show in Brisbane, the Hayne Plane finish at Campbelltown, and the Monday night classic in Canberra, was a combination of skill, toughness and tremendous sporting theatre.
It's the best sport on earth folks!