Each week, ESPN's NRL experts Darren Arthur and Christian D'Aloia take on the burning issues in the game.
Should the NRL move all clubs to Queensland as soon as possible?
Darren: If the NRL is not careful here, the AFL might very well jump a step ahead of them for once in this ongoing battle to beat the pandemic. The Queensland Government is already deep in talks to have all AFL teams moved to the sunshine state. Peter V'landys has a contingency plan in place to make the move and as the COVID-19 case numbers continue to increase in NSW it seems only a matter of time before the NRL heads north. Melbourne Storm were very astute, moving well before it became difficult to do so. With Queensland banning 77 Sydney suburbs the move for the rest of the NRL clubs may already have become complicated. Players are back in strict lockdown conditions, but as we've seen, this virus is just about unstoppable. Maybe the NRL should be in talks to take the whole show to New Zealand, because there's every chance Queensland will be next to face the second wave.
Christian: Call me a pessimist, but I can certainly see the coronavirus situation in NSW getting worse before it gets better. We can only hope the second wave does not reach the heights it has in Victoria, but if recent outbreaks are any indication of things to come, I can certainly understand the NRL's reluctance to stay put. The game has already had a COVID-19 scare recently, with Bulldogs young gun Jake Averillo having been caught up in the outbreak at the Crossroads hotel in Casula. If Peter V'Landys sits on his hands too long, there is a very real chance that the NRL season could see a second midseason shut down - a worst-case scenario that could spell disaster for the game and its clubs. To his credit, V'Landys is not known for his hesitance, so I expect a decision on this matter to be made relatively soon. Now, is it an effective solution? Possibly, though if this trend continues, we're going to run out of places to hide before season's end.
Did the NRL Appeals Committee get it right in revising the sanctions imposed on Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor?
Darren: Treating an NRL sanctioned high school visit like it was a real-life Tinder opportunity was a terrible decision by these two and a horrible look for a club and a league that has had too many horrible headlines over the years. They are two young men who made mistakes and were publicly humiliated because of it. They had their livelihoods threatened for their poor judgement. I think the lengthy suspensions and fines at this point are suitable punishments. They have been through the mental turmoil of facing the premature end of their careers; I think it is a lesson they will not soon forget. Let them get back to what they do best, playing a sport to entertain the fans.
Christian: Despite rumours of the NRL hierarchy being disgusted in the committee's decision, I think they got it right on this one. Make no mistake, what they did was an abuse of status and brought shame and disrepute on the game. But it was only team rules that were broken and not laws. I think the heavy bans and fines that the pair have already suffered were probably sufficient, not to mention the public shame and embarrassment they've been the subject of for several months. What they did was moronic and should never happen again, but given it was all deemed legal, it doesn't seem fitting to destroy the careers of two young men.
Did Dean Pay do the right thing by resigning immediately?
Darren: With the Canterbury Bankstown board confirming that he would not be coaching in 2021, Dean Pay did the best thing for himself and the club by resigning, effective immediately. The club can now find and sign the right coach to lead them out of the mire, they can work with that coach to sign the required talent and the current players have a chance to prove that they deserve to be a part of the club's future. Already interim coach Steve Georgarlis had made some positional changes that seemed obvious to all apart from Pay. Nick Meany has been moved to fullback and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to the wing, Lachlan Lewis returns to half and Sione Katoa to the bench utility role. It is a start and it is now up to those players to show that they deserve to be first grade footballers. Pay was in a no-win situation during his two-and-a-half-year tenure, while the club waited its way through the salary cap mess left behind by Des Hasler. What ultimately led to his downfall was the lack of any visible improvement in game planning or execution.
Christian: I have no problem with Pay stepping down from the club - it's probably best for both parties to organise their futures before 2021. It's true that perhaps the Bulldogs didn't give Pay a fair go due to his inheritance of salary cap constraints and a below-par roster, but it's also true that Pay constantly made head-scratching player selections and the team as a whole saw little to no improvement throughout his almost three-year tenure. No one forced Pay to take the Bulldogs job and the club has only chosen not to offer him a new contract after his current one expires at the end of 2020 - he was not sacked in the middle of a multiyear deak. Having said this, it's not a good look for the club if the rumours of Canterbury's board blocking Pay from buying Josh Reynolds on a bottom-dollar contract are true. Though I can understand why the decision was made; a player like Reynolds is not the purchase to bring the team to the promised land, even on a cheap contract.