Each week, ESPN's NRL experts Darren Arthur and Christian D'Aloia take on the burning issues in the game. This week they consider the premiership credentials of the Eels, Kevin Proctor's bite and Josh Addo-Carr's fullback dream.
Do you give the Eels any hope of ending their premiership drought this year?
Darren: Their victory over a depleted Storm side on Thursday night changes nothing. Despite having a big class advantage, as well as all the run of play through some dubious officiating, they never looked in control of that match. Last week they lost to the Dragons who were fired up to send coach Paul McGregor out on a high. To win the competition, the Eels will have to deal with that kind of enthusiasm from teams much better equipped than the Dragons. They have some players who look good running downhill, but who can struggle when the going gets tough. They play on confidence but their defence can be let down by their attack and they will find it hard beating the Roosters, Storm, Panthers and Raiders when the finals roll around. If everything clicks into place for the Eels and they have a game where everything goes their way, they can threaten for the premiership, but they are up against teams who can play through adversity and still come out on top.
Christian: Parramatta are still a major threat in this competition, of that I have no doubt. But I cannot imagine teams like Penrith or a full-strength Roosters or Storm side losing a game like the Eels did against the Dragons. Of course, St George Illawarra were fuelled by emotion and they were desperate to send Paul McGregor out a winner in his last game as coach of the club; but Melbourne Storm would absolutely not allow itself to be affected by such a thing, Craig Bellamy would simply not allow it. As every Storm team of the last 15 years has done, they would simply ignore the emotion and, clinical as ever, get on with the task at hand. In essence, that is why the club is a perennial premiership threat. Both the Panthers and Storm look a cut above everyone else at the moment because they don't get dragged into a dogfight; Parramatta seems to fall apart when things start to get tough. Like the Roosters, who admittedly are in an injury crisis, the Eels are struggling in games they should be winning comfortably. That is not the sign of a premiership team and, for that reason, I have my doubts that they can win it all this year.
Can a bite be excused under any circumstances?
Darren: If a player's mouth is open when part of a defender's arm comes across it, there is still no excuse for closing that mouth with force, as Kevin Proctor clearly did. It is also against the rules to make contact with a player's head, so some responsibility has to be given to Johnson in this case. There is a difference between what Proctor did and some other cases in the past where players have moved their heads in order to bite someone. It is a very rare, very ugly part of the game and should be punished accordingly. The four games Proctor received seem about right considering the circumstances of this particular incident. Meanwhile tripping is more common, inherently more dangerous and almost as ugly. It seems a thing of the past to send someone off for tripping.
Christian: Surprisingly, this incident was actually the first time in the game's history that a player was sent off for biting. Proctor was given his marching orders after Johnson rose from the tackle hysterically yelling "he bit me" at the referee and was clearly looking for a penalty. The moment the match had finished, Johnson must have realised the gravity of what he had accused his New Zealand Test teammate of doing and immediately went into damage control. I'm not sure that the footage of the incident quite condemns Proctor - it's still a little ambiguous and possible Johnson simply had his arm pressed against Proctor's mouth - but Mal Meninga's claim that the Titans backrower "feared for his life" is laughable. He's only been suspended once in his 250 game career and it therefore seems unlikely for Proctor to commit such a heinous act.
Can Josh Addo-Carr be a premier fullback in today's NRL?
Darren: Here we go again, another superstar winger thinking he should be collecting the bigger money associated with playing fullback. Obviously pushed along by another manager chasing a slice of a bigger pie, Addo-Carr wants a move to a Sydney club's No. 1 jersey. He follows in the recent footsteps of Tigers Adam Doueihi and Bulldogs Dallin Watene-Zelezniak who both left clubs in search of a run at the back. Watene-Zelezniak eventually found himself back on the wing for the Bulldogs, before being dropped from the squad recently and Doueihi still has a long way to go, especially in defense, before convincing anyone he is a fullback. Addo-Carr played fullback as a junior, before finding a home on the wing, so he might well have the skills required to play fullback. He is already considered one of the best wingers in the game, and maybe he sees it as new challenge. One thing is for certain, at representative level, he is in a long queue behind James Tedesco for those No. 1 jerseys.
Christian: When news broke of Melbourne winger Josh Addo-Carr's surprising revelation that he wishes to move into fullback at a Sydney club, pundits have since been debating whether he truly has what it takes to perform there. Many, in fact, claim that his newly hired manager is simply shopping his client to clubs as a fullback simply because players command far less money as a winger. In a previous era, Addo-Carr could have very well excelled in the No. 1 jumper, with his blinding pace and ferocious kick returns considered to be elite assets for any custodian. Since the rise of legendary fullback Billy Slater, however, fullbacks have added slick ball skills and a lethal short kicking game to their arsenal in order to allow them to play as a third half. Addo-Carr himself claims that he played as a fullback throughout his junior and under 20s career, but given the fact that he has not showcased these skills essential to the modern day No. 1, I would be very hesitant to offer him an elite fullback's money.