Monday Halfback: Playing for second?
The Melbourne Storm are head, shoulders and torso ahead of the rest of the NRL Telstra Premiership.
They have two bona fide future immortals and possibly the most clinical and efficient halfback the game has ever seen. This much we have always known.
The biggest difference between the Storm and the rest of the competition is their bad games.
They just don't have them.
It is incredibly hard to tell the difference between a good and a bad Storm performance and that is their genius.
They've lost just three games all year. They were beaten by the Sharks 11-2 where rugby league came up with a new adjective 'out-Stomed' in Round 6, they were beaten on the bell by a determined Titans outfit in a crazy 38-36 result, and they threw away a late lead against the Roosters missing four Origin players to lose in golden point.
The Storm juggernaut continues to roll on.
And what about their so-called young crop of stars coming through?
Cameron Munster is already a superstar in his own right, more than filling a gap when Billy Slater missed the last two seasons. In fact, the Storm almost won the comp with Munster at fullback.
Is Munster the future for the Storm? Nope, he's the present and he is set to earn an Origin call-up. He's only 22.
And just when you had tired of hearing about young stars Brodie Croft, Brandon Smith and Ryley Jacks from the Storm production line, along comes Curtis Scott, a tackle-breaking, try-scoring machine in only his third match in the NRL.
Scott is an understudy who has quickly graduated to almost a must-pick in the centres for coach Craig Bellamy in the run to the finals with his powerful fend and bustling attack.
Since making his debut in a golden point win over the Cowboys in Round 15, Scott has scored two doubles and made five line breaks, 18 tackle breaks, two line break assists, two try assists and averages 117 metres per game.
Not bad for a 19-year-old.
They are extraordinary performances considering the three matches he's played have been against the Cowboys, Roosters and Broncos – hardly an easy initiation for a young kid, but he's proven that he belongs at the NRL level.
The Storm demand excellence, they demand control, they demand precision. For 80 minutes. No excuses.
Craig Bellamy – 'Bellyache' as he is affectionately dubbed – was at it again on Friday night, with the Storm up by plenty in the final minutes, he still blowing up when a pushed offload went to ground. While the contest was well and truly wrapped up, the attitude to the game is why the Storm are so far in front of the competition. Attention to detail is key.
The Storm are by far the best team in the competition through 17 Rounds, but we still have nine weeks left of the competition to go, plus the finals, and there are still a lot of twists and turns to come.
But it is their premiership to lose.
Don't forget Cronulla. The Sharks sit second on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder, four points behind the team they beat in the 2016 NRL Grand Final, and it certainly makes for an interesting juxtaposition.
The Sharks have been the complete opposite of the clinical Storm for the most part of this season. Fumbling and bumbling their way through matches, before switching on just at the right moment to stack up vital wins.
They have been far from convincing and were well beaten by Manly just a week ago. But for all their 'clunkiness' – rugby league's freshest cliché – the Cronulla outfit have climbed to second on the NRL ladder.
Winning ugly has become an art form.
But right on cue, when the doubters were starting to come out, the Sharks responded with venom, systematically ripping the Roosters apart in their best game of the season.
It was compelling as it was surprising.
It was a timely reminder that the Sharks are not a spent force in this competition. They've proven they can win ugly, but Round 17 was a different Cronulla outfit. One full of determination, class and execution.
If they can repeat that performance for the rest of the year, the Storm will have a worthy challenger.
The other challengers?
The Roosters beat a depleted Storm in golden point last week, but it was anything but convincing against a team missing Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Will Chambers. In truth, they got out of jail.
A week later, they were mauled by the aforementioned Sharks. The Roosters on paper still look the most likely to have a genuine crack at the premiership, but their last two weeks have been anything but convincing. Edge defence is causing them headaches they'll need to fix.
Manly comfortably beat the Sharks last week in a performance that announced them as the real deal, but were then staring down the barrel in Perth when they trailed the Warriors 16-0 after 20 minutes. The fact they were able to come back and win was a positive sign, but it must also be a worry that they put themselves in that position.
Still, the win was their fifth in a row and the Sea Eagles have now amassed 20 from a possible 22 competition points since Round 8.
The Broncos? They've lost three of their last five, including the 42-12 shellacking by the Storm. They look just short of the upper echelon of the competition, but will be happy to see the back of the State of Origin period.
The Cowboys continue to win, even without superstar Johnathan Thurston, with Michael Morgan starring. North Queensland have always been more than just the JT show, and they'll be a handful in the run to the finals, but without their talisman halfback, might just fall short of a premiership charge.
The race to the finals is on in earnest. But it is clear the Storm are the pinnacle that the pack are desperately trying to catch.