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 vacant coaching role at the Broncos, the future for Cameron Smith and the race for eighth place.
Who should be the next coach of the Brisbane Broncos?
Darren: Who would seriously want to walk into that mess? An unhealthy mix of board members and club legends moving behind closed doors to undermine anything or anyone they're not happy with. A club which just failed to re-sign its most promising talent. A team of overpaid, underperforming players who have put their careers on cruise control, seemingly because they were not happy with the coaching style of Anthony Seibold. It will take a very brave man and someone with a stern hand to get the Broncos back to their once lofty status. Early favourites for the job are Paul Green and Kevin Walters - neither name screams hard-faced disciplinarian, but as has been said a lot recently, today's footballers don't necessarily respond to the drill sergeant approach anyway. Good luck to whoever ends up in the role.
Christian: I think Paul Green has to be the man to take charge of the Broncos. It's going to be a huge challenge, but given how tumultuous and damaging Seibold's tenure has been for the club, I can see many pundits giving him a season or two to turn things around. Green had been highly successful with the Cowboys, winning the club's first premiership in his second year at the helm while also winning two Nines competition in 2014 and 2020, and a World Club Challenge victory in 2016. It's unsurprising that the Cowboys' results have dwindled since then, as sometimes successful coaches just need a fresh start to be at their best. There has been nothing to suggest, however, that Kevin Walters has what it takes to be a successful NRL coach on a week-to-week basis. His greatest claims are winning the 2016 and 2017 State of Origin series, though he had the services of the legendary combination of Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith. Since they exited the interstate competition, Walters has gone on to lose both the 2018 and 2019 series, and is at long odds to win the shield this year.
What should Cameron Smith do next year?
Darren: I have it on good advice that Smith and his family have already completely moved back to Queensland. There is very little chance of him playing another season for Melbourne Storm, unless the COVID-19 crisis continues and the Storm remain located on the Sunshine Coast. If the great man feels he has one more year in his legs, he should take a nice lump sum from the Brisbane Broncos. They have lacked many things this season, but two of the big ticket items have been leadership and a good dummy-half. Smith is an instant fix for both of those problems and would be a perfect fit to help the new coach whip the Brisbane misfits back into premiership threatening shape. He would be well worth the $1m if he could end his career in any way similar to how Cooper Cronk ended his at the Roosters.
Christian: I think Smith should retire as the one-club Melbourne Storm legend that he is, as it will allow up-and-coming hooker Harry Grant to return the club and take up the No. 9 jersey that he deserves. Smith staying on for another year opens up the possibility for Grant to look elsewhere to secure a starting spot at hooker, though he has said publicly that he intends to return to Melbourne regardless. I said the same thing, however, about Cooper Cronk when he looked likely to leave the Storm in 2017 as I believed his move to the Roosters would only hurt his legacy. Of course, he was excellent with the Sydney club and only furthered his standing as one of the greatest halfbacks to play the game after winning back-to-back premierships in 2018 and 2019. If Smith moves to the Broncos, there is next to no chance that he or the club is successful, and as such, will only hurt his incredible legacy.
Can the Tigers, Sea Eagles, Warriors or Dragons jump the Sharks into the finals?
Darren: The Sharks are by no means certainties to hold onto eighth position, no matter how often you read that the Top 8 has already been decided. There are still five games to play and the Sharks are only four points clear of this pack of chasers. The Sharks still have to play three teams above them, the Knights, Roosters and Raiders, and they have struggled all year with the top teams. They have the Cowboys this week and really need to make a statement on their desire to play finals football. The big thing in their favour is the horrible form of the Sea Eagles and Tigers who need to turn things around quickly. It might just be surprise packets, the Warriors or Dragons, who make a late charge.
Christian: Cronulla is two wins clear of the Tigers, Sea Eagles, Warriors and Dragons and to be honest, I don't see anyone overtaking them for the last spot in the Top 8. The Sharks themselves are inconsistent at best and stand only the slimmest of chances to win the premiership, but still they seem streets ahead of any of those other four sides. The Tigers have been terrible for the last five weeks, losing to an understrength Warriors side and being crushed by the Eels, Roosters and Knights. Their only victory came against the 16th placed Bulldogs, and they only barely scraped by with a one-point win. Manly has lost four straight, meanwhile, including thrashings at the hands of the Panthers and Rabbitohs. The Dragons and Warriors, meanwhile, have been encouraging of late with the Dragons winning their last two and the Warriors winning three of their last four. Still, I don't see the Sharks losing enough games to give up their spot.