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Will new coach Ivan Cleary turn things around for the Wests Tigers in 2017?

Where will Cooper Cronk end up next year, where do we stand on player dissent, are the Panthers genuine contenders, who will play in the centres for Australia and can Ivan Cleary turn the Wests Tigers around?

Where will Cooper Cronk end up next year?

Wherever this great player wants.

After 306 games for the Storm though, I doubt he would find it easy turning out for another NRL club.

And just as he has been so respectful of Melbourne and given them early notice so they can make plans for next year, rival clubs will no doubt pursue a relatively quick answer on whether Cronk would want to play for them if he seriously wants to invite offers. They too need to make plans.

However if his mind isn't made up by the time State of Origin rolls around, Queensland could be farewelling another one of its playmakers. Cronk has the opportunity for a massive final season at all levels if that's how things pan out.

Plenty of clubs need Cooper Cronk, but perhaps it'll be a case of he doesn't need them. 

Are the Penrith Panthers genuine contenders?

Based on raw statistics through the first five rounds, they still have a fair bit to prove.

It's not that they were bad against the Storm at all, but I came away from calling the match on Fox League thinking there was a decent gap between the two teams. Penrith could have played better, but so too could Melbourne and they still won 28-6.

The Panthers' two wins so far have been emphatic and the points came easy.

I've already labeled Penrith in this column as man-for-man the side possessing the most natural talent in the competition, and I stand by that. But talent alone doesn't win matches on a regular basis let alone competitions.

Right now let the record show the Panthers have beaten only the bottom two teams (Knights and Wests Tigers). Their losses have been to the top three (Storm, Dragons, Roosters).

Will Ivan Cleary turn the fortunes of the Wests Tigers around this season?

It would be silly to totally dismiss the finals chances of the Wests Tigers, after all they are only one win worse off then they were this time last year, yet eventually finished just a point off qualifying for the playoffs.


Last Sunday was very poor. They had an almost rudderless attack. They were kept scoreless the previous week in the second half by the Storm.

The Tigers conceded 46 points to the Raiders in Round 3, and 36 to the Panthers in Round 2.

Take out their first half against Melbourne and they've managed only two tries in a month.

Wests Tigers have conceded more points than every other team so far this season.

Their Round 1 triumph over the Rabbitohs now feels like it never happened.

Put it this way. If I were down to my last 10 dollars, it certainly wouldn't be on the Wests Tigers to make the top eight.

I wish Ivan well.

Who will be in the centres for Australia?

Every year I get ticked off with how much is written in regards possible State of Origin selection, mainly New South Wales, months out from the series actually starting.

And always before Origin there is a Test match to be played that barely rates a mention.

Well, just to remind you, Australia will take on New Zealand on May 5 in Canberra.

And while Australia was a resounding winner at the Four Nations last year, there are positions up for grabs with incumbents Greg Inglis and Matt Scott definitely out, and a doubt now over Josh Dugan.

Inglis and Dugan was the centre pairing for the final against the Kiwis at Anfield. Another centre in the Four Nations squad, Justin O'Neill is also sidelined. If all are out, who takes their spots?

Right now, the form centres in the NRL are Manly's Dylan Walker and Melbourne's Will Chambers. Both have played for Australia before. But then Mal Meninga may also give consideration to Cronulla's Jack Bird and Canberra duo Jarrod Croker and Joey Leilua.

As for Scott's front row spot, is Andrew Fifita back as a contender?

So how about we put State of Origin on the backburner just for a bit, and get discussing what's going to be a sensational weekend of international league in a month's time.

Where do we stand on player dissent?

"The refs would never take that level of action against a Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith or Paul Gallen."

It was a big call from referee Ben Cummins last week to penalise Manly's Dylan Walker for dissent in the first half against the Roosters.

I didn't think what Walker said in questioning a decision was all that bad, nor the manner it was delivered in the heat of the moment.

However, I'm not going to be damning in criticism of any official who takes action on player dissent, but please… we have to be consistent.

I'll write now without apology what most fans say to me. 

"The refs would never take that level of action against a Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith or Paul Gallen."

That's the perception. And our referees must be living in caves if they're not aware of that.

So I say, get tough on player dissent. You have my 100 per cent support. But it has to be the same in every game, no matter what the minute, scoreline, or most importantly, the player.

Who are the teams under most pressure this week?

It changes by the round but I reckon Brisbane and Parramatta are feeling a bit of heat this week.

The Broncos have been a little unlucky after losses by 1, 2 and 3 points so far this year, however if they go down to the Roosters on Thursday night their start to the year will be two wins and four losses. That would equal their worst opening to a season since 2010. They went on to miss the finals.

Meantime, after opening with back-to-back wins, the Eels have now had a hat-trick of losses. Sunday is a big match for them against the Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium.

I'm off to Penrith v South Sydney on Friday night for Fox League, and will follow up with a trip to Townsville on Saturday night to see Ivan Cleary's first game in charge of Wests Tigers against the Cowboys.

Giddy Up!

Twitter: @AndrewVossy

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