Each week, ESPN's NRL experts Darren Arthur and Christian D'Aloia take on the burning issues in the game.
What do you make of Blake Green's move to the Knights?
Darren: It came as a bit of a shock to me, considering how key Green has been to the Warriors as they battle through this season. Still, I thought the same of coach Stephen Kearney just before he was cut. Green is a very solid first grade half. Although he will never be a consistent game-breaker, he does play a big part in team victories. If the Knights put him in the halves and move Kurt Mann to hooker, it will only strengthen their chances of a premiership tilt. There's no surprise in the Knights wanting him immediately, it's a great move for them, and I guess the Warriors are just doing Green's career a favour after already telling him he won't be playing with them next season.
Christian: Given how keen Warriors owner Mark Robinson has been to cut ties with any and all players and staff associated with infamous agent Isaac Moses, Green's immediate release from the New Zealand club isn't all that surprising - he most certainly was not going to receive a renewed contract with them. His purchase by the Newcastle Knights, however, comes with a few question marks. I'm unsure whether he will serve as an effective complement to halfback Mitchell Pearce given the fact that the two players are both highly experienced and share many of the same organizational and kicking skills. Green's inclusion in the Knights team will also see Kurt Mann moved to hooker, where he has admittedly performed well in limited minutes. This, however, will also spell the abrupt end of out-and-out hooker Chris Randall in the number nine jersey, who made a record of 71 tackles on debut in Round 2.
Should the Bulldogs make Kieran Foran a better offer?
Darren: No. There is no doubt the current Bulldogs side is much better with Foran leading the way. He is the only player in the Bulldogs spine who would get a run at another NRL club. No matter how well he plays, he faces an uphill battle to win games with the players he has around him. Having said all that, he has been on an extremely lucrative deal at the Bulldogs these past three years and through no fault of his or the club's he has been out injured for large periods of time. Foran cannot be expected to take less than he is worth on the open market, he has a family to take care of and his career is nearing its natural end anyway. But, there is no way the Bulldogs can pay him what he is worth after paying him overs for his injury-limited contributions to date.
Christian: This is an interesting question. Foran is without doubt the Bulldogs' best player and the driving force behind the vast majority of their points. But having appeared in only 36 of a possible 60 games in the Bulldogs' colours due to injury, I don't think the club should go any higher than $400,000-$450,000 on a one-year deal - especially when Foran himself claimed he wasn't looking for a big money deal in order to repay the faith of the Bulldogs. The Dogs need an experienced playmaker and a winner on their roster to help their younger players grow into true first-grade NRL players, namely young gun Jake Averillo whose future lies in the halves or at fullback. If the club decides Averillo belongs in the halves and are able to secure the services of Matt Burton for 2021, who is currently the fourth-string half at the Panthers, there may not be room for Foran at the Bulldogs.
Nathan Cleary is in sparkling form, can he be a premiership winning halfback this year?
Darren: I would have thought their best chance of a premiership was when they had James Maloney in the halves with Nathan Cleary. Certainly they seemed likely to make a run at the title in 2018 until the shock sacking of coach Anthony Griffin saw them limp into the finals before being knocked out by the Sharks. Last year with Maloney in the team they finished a point out of the Top 8. Despite the disruptions this year, with Nathan Cleary being suspended for his TikTok indiscretion, the Panthers have looked razor sharp. Cleary himself has blossomed without Maloney at his side, taking full responsibility for the running of the team and doing it in career-best form. If the Panthers can continue on as they have been, with minimal injury concerns, they could be the ones lifting the trophy at the end of this crazy season.
Christian: It certainly seems as though Nathan Cleary is in the kind of incredible form that delivers a club an elusive premiership. Despite missing rounds three and four due to a breach of COVID restrictions, Cleary has already managed to record four tries, six try assists, 20 tackle busts and 11 forced drop-outs while leading the Panthers to the top of the NRL ladder. He may be just 22-years-old, but he is also in his fourth year of first-grade and now has vital big-game experience having featured in NSW's last two State of Origin series victories over Queensland in 2018 and 2019. Between Cleary, Stephen Crichton, James Fisher-Harris, Isaah Yeo, Viliame Kikau, Brent Naden, Jarome Luai among so many others, the Panthers' 2020 team is packed with young, in-form stars on cheap rookie deals that have played countless games of junior football together. If there was ever a year for Penrith to win their first premiership since 2003, it is certainly this year.