Each week, ESPN's NRL experts Darren Arthur and Christian D'Aloia take on the burning issues in the game.
How much longer can the NRL continue to run considering the implications of the coronavirus?
Darren Arthur: It might pay to take a deep breath and consider the unprecedented level of coverage the coronavirus outbreak is receving. It is clear that COVID-19 is very easily spread and poses a very real threat to the elderly and otherwise physically vulnerable people. There is no vaccine as yet, so it differs from the virulent strains of influenza which often invade our shores and claim many lives also. What we haven't seen before is this level of blanket media coverage, led by the daily case count, both locally and internationally, and seemingly new government measures being introduced every day. This coverage has resulted in a level of public awareness not seen before and reaction to boot.
We live in an era where information is abundant and misinformation is extremely dangerous. The Government has assembled the experts and come up with some drastic measures to slow the spread of coronavirus - one of these sees the NRL, AFL and A-League playing games in empty stadiums. It pays to place your trust in those experts and not be swayed by television's professional talking heads and some of social media's misguided rubbish. With all junior sports canned for now, and the NRL seemingly desperate to keep the show on the road, the public will have something to keep them entertained whilst holed up at home, surrounded by piles of toilet paper and kilos of dried pasta. Let the footy continue, at least until someone of the highest authority, receiving the best expert advice, decides it is unsafe to do so.
Christian D'Aloia - With almost every major sporting competition in the world either cancelled or undertaking a hiatus, I think it's only a matter of time before the NRL follows suit and announces a postponement. While I appreciate the NRL's decision to play this week's fixtures behind closed door would have been an uncomfortable one to make, I can't help but feel like this is little more than a half-measure.
Obviously it will be difficult for the NRL to meet many of its contractual obligations, and the game's workforce will suffer, but a postponement is inevitable and the sooner it is announced the greater the benefit to public health. Rumours of continuing the competition in North Queensland, meanwhile, have left me dumbfounded. It borders on inhumane to ask so many players to spend weeks away from their families, especially at times like these.
Should Latrell Mitchell be doing more if he is only playing half a game?
Darren Arthur - From the moment Latrell Mitchell first indicated that he felt he was a fullback wearing a centre's jersey, doubts were raised about his ability to cope with the workload. In the centres for the Roosters he could pick and choose when he would be involved and did so with devastating effect. In attack and defence there is always a chance to take a breather in the centres. In fact Latrell was dropped from the New South Wales team because he was thought to be taking it too easy at centre.
Now proudly wearing the fullback jersey made famous by names such as Clive Churchill, Bronko Djura and Greg Inglis, Latrell is being eased into the role by coach Wayne Bennett. He played only the first 55 minutes of the Round 1 clash against the Sharks and is clearly short of the fitness levels needed for 80 minutes up the back. There is no switching off at fullback and if the opposition senses you have clocked off they'll target you mercilessly with their kicking game. If Latrell is to be a success at fullback he has to continue working hard at it. If the coach is going to limit his minutes on the field, then he has to be a lot more involved while he is out there.
Christian D'Aloia - If nothing else, Latrell's performance at fullback in his Rabbitohs' debut did nothing to suggest he'll return to the game-breaking form that saw him dominate the league from the centre position. Having said that, his 61 run metres, one tackle break, one offload and just one error was admirable given his relative infancy at fullback - though this came in a 55 minute performance that was ended due to fatigue. Personally, I'm expecting him to get a lot better as - or if - the season progresses and he finds his feet as a fullback and adjusts to the fitness, skill and positional requirements that it demands. Hopefully we'll see enough of him in Rabbitohs colours this year to see if the preseason drama and hefty contract was worth it..
Is the captain's challenge just a waste of time?
Darren Arthur - The captain's challenge rule is nothing less than a complete embarrassment for the game. Introduced because of a monumental blunder in the grand final, it is the NRL's way of saying they know their officials can't always be right. To deflect responsibility, they are allowing a player who is in the thick of the action to make a call on whether the referees were right or wrong.
If the NRL were out to make a point on how difficult it is to make calls on the run, then they have succeeded, with most challenges being incorrect so far. With no help from anyone with a better view, the only chance a captain has of getting it right is if he was involved himself, as was the case with Daly Cherry-Evans' successful knock-on challenge. Captains listening to the pleas of front rowers were left with egg on their faces, while the fans were left ruing another reason to stop the game for what seems like an excruciatingly long time. How long before it is used tactically, stopping play when a team has its back against the wall in defence?
Christian D'Aloia - NRL season 2020 was less than 40 minutes old before the captain's review became a blemish on the game. It was only a couple of seasons ago when the NRL's top priority was to increase the speed of the game by introducing shot-clocks and reducing interchanges, yet all the captain's review has proven useful for is allowing teams to delay their opponent's momentum and catch their breath.
These types of challenges only work in leagues like the NFL because fatigue isn't as much of an issue and the challenges are made by level-headed head coaches on the sidelines as opposed to exhausted players on the field. On the bright side, it has shown easily-disgruntled fans just how reliable and accurate our referees are.