Each week, ESPN's NRL experts Darren Arthur and Christian D'Aloia take on the burning issues in the game.
Mid-season pressure on coaches; should they be left alone to do their jobs?
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett reacted angrily Tuesday when a journalist raised the prospect of him leaving the Rabbitohs early to take up a potential position elsewhere.
"I went through this rubbish at Brisbane, for 12 months, they kept telling me I had a job and they sacked me," he said.
"Are you hard of hearing?" he snapped when pressed on the matter. "I said the same thing last week. I am repeating myself because you guys make up stories, you make the headlines."
Darren: This week we saw Warriors coach Stephen Kearney sacked. The surprising part of the move was that Kearney wasn't even on the radar, as far as the next coach to lose his job. Sadly this has become a sport within a sport, speculating on the careers of men who are doing their very best to bring success to their clubs. We have Dean Pay lined up for the chop next after a temporary reprieve for Dragons coach Paul McGregor. In Queensland, they are calling for the heads of Paul Green and Anthony Siebold following poor starts by the Cowboys and Broncos. The coaches know they are in the business of winning, back off and let them get on with the job. Sack them at the end of the year.
Christian: At the risk of voicing a wildly unpopular opinion, I'm actually in support of mid-season coach sackings - but only if it does not lead to a large payout of a multi-year contract and the coach has been given a fair go. The Dragons, for instance, know exactly what they are getting out of Paul McGregor and it simply is not good enough. Provided the move doesn't cripple the club financially, why wait to cut him loose and begin the club's next era? See how the players respond to the interim coach and decide whether he could be a long-term option at the helm, or failing that, begin looking into recruiting a new coach as soon as possible for next year. That provides stability for contracted players and makes the club a far more attractive option for free agents that could be negotiating a new contract mid-season.
ARLC boss Peter V'Landys has again suggested that Brisbane will definitely be the next expansion site; does it make sense?
"If there is a 17th team it will be in Brisbane, no doubt about that," V'Landys told Channel Nine.
"That's where the market is, that's where we are strong - it's no good spending a lot of money in rusted on AFL states in my view. You want to go to the states where you have the nurseries and a population that loves the game.
"But before we do that, it has to be a pretty strong business case - and also that the Broncos aren't affected and the Titans aren't affected. We don't want to cannibalise them at all.
Darren: It makes sense that the second most populous rugby league city in Australia has more than one NRL team. The Broncos' monopoly on Brisbane has always given them a huge advantage, not just on the field but as a business venture. It is easy to say that a truly national competition needs representation in other capital cities, but realistically, rugby league will always struggle in Perth and Adelaide. The only question remaining is the timing and the way the three Queensland teams are performing this season, there doesn't seem to be an urgent need to spread the talent even thinner north of the Tweed.
Christian: I have long been an advocate for basing the next NRL expansion team in Brisbane. With huge corporate support and an enormous pool of grassroots talent to choose from, the Broncos have long held an unfair advantage over their competitors. Despite their struggles this year, I do believe there is still enough talent in the game to support a second Brisbane club - the Broncos' roster is among the NRL's best - with the club's shortcomings the product of poor coaching and poor execution. Moreover, it is borderline criminal that Brisbane, a city believed by some to be the heartland of rugby league, only hosts one NRL game a fortnight. There is certainly room in the Brisbane market for more NRL.
The Storm and Warriors have both been knocked around by the events of this week; which club will respond best?
Darren: The Storm have been asked to relocate to Sydney due to the increase in cases of COVID-19 in Victoria. It will be an inconvenience that they would have hoped to avoid, but they are a very professional club. The Warriors on the other hand have proven themselves to be a rabble from the boardroom down to the players. After the players surrendered meekly to the Rabbitohs last week, the board decided that coaching stability definitely wasn't the answer and sacked Stephen Kearney. There is talk of dissension in the ranks, with players threatening to pack it in and return home to New Zealand. Often a change in coach sees a spike in player performance, mostly because the players played a part in having the coach removed and are out to prove that recent struggles aren't actually their fault. In the Warriors' case the players seem genuinely shocked and upset by the sacking. I can't see them getting it together on the field, especially against the Storm.
Christian: Melbourne Storm are the most professional, focused club in the NRL, and they have been for some time. There are many NRL franchises that would still be reeling today from the infamy of the Storm's systematic salary cap cheating. Yet even in 2010, when the Storm were barred from accruing any competition points, the team managed a 14-win season that would have had them finish in 5th place. Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith will consider this relocation to Sydney a minor bump in the road; it won't faze them. The Warriors, on the other hand, look like a complete mess of a club. In what was already a uniquely challenging season, the playing squad has been robbed of the man leading them into battle each week and they are not happy about it. Not only does the move not make sense financially, it looks as though it will end any hope the club had of playing finals football this year.