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 future of Wests Tigers, Chad Townsend's suspension and the mess Trent Barrett is stepping into at the Bulldogs.
What do you make of the Tigers' future after recent news?
Darren: The Tigers simply cannot afford another year of just missing out on the finals, coach Michael Maguire needs to produce results, starting in 2021, or it will be his neck on the line. As we have seen vividly this year, there is no compassion shown to NRL coaches when a team is struggling, so they in turn cannot let sentiment stand in the way of turning a team around. The Tigers need to move on and they have to start making the right player acquisitions. In recent years they have signed players such as Russell Packer, Josh Reynolds and Joey Leilua, all questionable when you look at value for money and from a team culture perspective. Bringing back Josh Add-Carr would be a great start, he is one of the game's best wingers, who is keen to play fullback and professional enough to make the transition. The Tigers need to turn a page on the past, 2005 is too long ago. Their General Manager of Football, Adam Hartigan, is in his first year at the club and has a stated goal of bringing more local juniors through the ranks, it will be interesting to see how it all pans out.
Christian: It's certainly been a dramatic week at Concord, beginning with the unceremonious announcement of club legend Benji Marshall's exit from the Tigers at the end of the year. This was followed by the news of Josh Reynolds and Russell Packer leaving the ground at halftime of the Tigers' dramatic comeback victory over Manly on Saturday night. While neither Reynolds nor Packer technically broke any rules and the club insists that neither player intended any disrespect towards the Tigers, this is a truly awful look for the club and an indictment on its culture. Together, these two events have cast serious doubt over the future of coach Michael Maguire and the overall outlook for the club beyond this year. If nothing else, it looks as though this week has spurred on a personnel cleanout at the club which I believe is exactly what is needed. Reynolds, Packer and Benji - even in spite of his good form this year - are just three of several overpaid, out-of-form players that are not buying into Maguire's plan for the team and therefore need to be moved on from. There is currently no available coach better equipped for initiating a rebuild than the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Maguire.
Did Chad Townsend deserve to be sent off and banned for three weeks for his hit on Kalyn Ponga?
Darren: It was a strange incident that saw Chad Townsend sent from the field during the Sharks loss to the Knights on the weekend. Townsend charged at Kalyn Ponga, who was taking a quick 20 metre restart, and just before the collision the referee blew his whistle to stop play. Townsend kept going and inexplicably leapt and led with his shoulder into Ponga, who was not braced for impact. Townsend, frustrated by his team's performance and no doubt rusty after six weeks out through injury, needed some form of sanction, but three weeks seems excessive. The hit looked a whole lot worse than it actually was and there was no damage done to Ponga. I would have thought the send-off was enough punishment, especially considering the shoulder charge Billy Slater escaped punishment for a couple of years back.
Christian: I think this decision was appropriate - any lighter punishment would not have been fitting for the crime. With zero suspensions or judiciary appearances in his NRL career, Townsend is certainly not a dirty player, making this incident all the more bizarre. Not only was his hit on the star Newcastle fullback deemed an illegal shoulder charge, it was high, late and committed after the play had been called dead by the referee. Through several rule changes including the reduction of interchanges allowed during play, the 30 second shot clock and the crackdown on late hits on halves running into the defensive line, the NRL has shown its commitment to protecting the smaller, faster NRL players. Townsend's send off and ban is consistent with this line of thinking and will ward off any notion of teams illegally targeting the game's brightest stars.
Should Trent Barrett tear up his Bulldogs contract before arriving?
Darren: NRL guru Phil Gould stated during the week that the Bulldogs were such a mess behind the scenes that new coach Trent Barrett would be better off backing out of his freshly signed contract to remain at the Panthers. They say a fish rots from the head and there is certainly something on the nose out Belmore way. Former coach Des Hasler and CEO Raelene Castle definitely left a mess with their salary cap destroying back-ended player contracts, but the club has had a couple of years now to set things straight. They have lost a lot of talented players in the process and Trent Barrett arrives after what has been the lowest of seasons for the Bulldogs. He would be under no illusions that he faces a monumental task getting the club back to the heights expected by the fans. He must have the full support of the board in everything he does, he has been hired to be head coach and he must be trusted to do that job.
Christian: Of course, Barrett should certainly uphold the deal he made with Canterbury. Walking out on the contract he signed for fear of difficulties that may arise would do his reputation no favours. Conversely, if Barrett is able to take charge of a fractured club, bring together a cohesive and competitive football team and provide some desperately needed guidance, he will undoubtedly be hailed as nothing short of a hero. As we've all heard many times in the past, nothing heals a hurting club quite like winning. A similar situation took place over at Parramatta when the Eels board was split into factions and was at each other's throats. Brad Arthur was able to put that noise to one side and focus on the football team, transforming an awful club on and off the field into one of the NRL's strongest clubs of 2020. If Barrett has what it takes to cut it as an NRL coach, he will know that overcoming boardroom drama is often part of the deal.