First tackle: Clarity needed for fans
There were a few things out of the weekend's action that left fans scratching their heads and wondering exactly what was going on.
Firstly; what exactly constitutes a game-halting injury? It seems of late that the referees are stopping the game every time a player hits the deck and calls for a trainer. On the weekend there were stoppages for ankle injuries, for crook knees and one for a cramped calf muscle. All of them were players well out of the way and often on the team that was defending and under pressure. Surely it should only be severe injuries or when a player is in danger of further injury because he is in the way. There has never been a mandate to make sure the defending team has the full 13 players when defending, injuries have always been dealt with at natural stoppages.
Secondly; which penalties can be taken as a quick tap and which ones can't? The turning point in the Sharks' season ending loss to the Raiders came when Jack Wighton took a quick tap following a ruck infringement penalty that Sharks captain Wade Graham was trying to query. As Graham approached the referee, Wighton ran past to score next to the posts. It must be OK to take a quick tap in that situation.
Thirdly; when is it "Six Again" and when is it a penalty? This is exactly what Graham was trying to ask the referee. But let's face it the fans have no idea when a referee is going to call "Six Again". It is so haphazard, players are being delayed in the ruck with no call at all, other times it's a penalty. We even had one example where the Rabbitohs were given a "Six Again" only to drop the ball and have the referee change the call to a penalty.
The NRL needs to clear a few things up and quickly.
Second tackle: Pearce poked the Bunny
Sometimes it pays to be humble, keep your mouth shut and get on with playing the game. The Knights were on fire early against the Rabbitohs, racing to a 12-0 lead before Souths fans had even had a chance to boo. Then the Rabbitohs made yet another error, with fullback Corey Allan losing the ball in a tackle. The Knights players charged in slapping each other on the back and giving the Rabbitohs players an earful.
In the middle of it all Corey Walker and Mitchell Pearce came face to face, toe to toe, with their foreheads knocking together and Pearce dealing out an absolute gobful of abuse. The Knights kicked a penalty goal shortly after to go to 14-0, but it was all Rabbitohs from then on. An incensed Walker stepped up his magic, scoring one try and having a hand in two others as Souths struck back with four tries to take a 20-14 lead at the break.
Walker continued his dominance in the second half to win the man-of-the-match award and end the Knights' season. Pearce had poked the Bunny and had paid dearly.
Third tackle: Cleary clearly all class
Nathan Cleary was tipped to play a large part in Penrith's finals fortunes, after a season where his talent has taken on new levels of maturity.
Against the reigning premiers on Friday night he scored the Panthers' second, third and fourth tries as they fought back from a surprise 10-0 deficit. For the first he backed up fullback Dylan Edwards who scooped up a loose ball ten metres out from the Roosters line before passing it to Cleary who dived over untouched.
His second try was better as he pushed up on the inside of a Jarome Luai dummy-half dash, again from ten metres out. Luai put through a grubber kick which Cleary courageously swooped on, clutching the ball before James Tedesco could and sliding over next to the posts. It was gutsy in that he led with his head into the potential collision with Tedesco. The conversion put the Panthers ahead 16-10.
Ten minutes later he was in again, backing up his fullback once more after centre Stephen Crichton had split the defence, following some more sleight of hand from Luai.
There are still two big games to go, but Cleary and his five-eight Luai are looking every bit like a premiership winning halves combination.
Fourth tackle: Bennett at his best
We have said it before; a Wayne Bennett post-game media conference is one of the most entertaining things in rugby league. After the Rabbitohs victory over the Knights he was at his smirking, dry-witted, dismissive best.
When asked: "At 14-0 down do you need to send a message down to the players?"
We wryly replied: "At 14-0 down in a semi-final you send prayers down."
When asked about the injured Damien Cook, he responded with a smile: "He looked pretty good when I just left him five minutes ago, he's telling everybody how good his try was."
It was all good fun, but he bristled up when asked whether the headlines surrounding Sam Burgess during the week had been a factor in the Rabbitohs slow start.
"You guys don't listen, that's what probably annoys me more than anything else. I said two days ago that it had no impact on the team, wasn't going to have an impact on the team, still hasn't and won't. I coach the team, I know what is going on in the organisation, it was never going to have an impact on the team."
Another journo bravely charged back into the fray a question later, asking Bennett how he knew the players would not be distracted by the Burgess story.
"Common sense will tell you, I'm not going to go into detail about it," he snapped back. "You think about it."
He then refused to give his thoughts on Parramatta's performance against the Storm, saying he had watched very little of it. When he was asked whether he had any general thoughts on how Parramatta had gone all year, he finished with a blunt: "Not really".
Bennett only ever gives what he has to when speaking to the media. Occasionally he'll surprise with a detailed answer, usually when he deems a question worthy. He'll shut down the conversation instantly when he's not happy with the question or the journalist asking it. It is pure theatre.
Fifth and last: Paint must have been stripped
I'm not sure what Ricky Stuart said at halftime, but I'm fairly sure most at GIO Stadium would have heard him. With their season on the line the Raiders started the game against the Sharks looking very lethargic. They made plenty of errors and the Sharks piled on the pressure.
If it wasn't for a lucky intercept try by George Williams just before the break they would have trailed 14-6 at halftime.
The Sharks continued into the second half, making inroads up the middle of the Raiders' defence. When the Raiders had the ball they forced passes and added to their error tally. It was left to Jack Wighton to turn the tide with back-to-back tries. From there the Raiders lifted and powered on to victory.
They'll need a much more complete 80-minute effort next week to beat the Roosters.
Handover: Was resting stars a masterstroke?
We saw a consistency across the four finals, with underdog teams starting very strongly, running up healthy leads, before being run down by the more favoured team. The Roosters (10-0), Sharks (14-6), Eels (12-0) and Knights (14-0) all hit the park fired up and with a load of determination. They just couldn't maintain the effort for the full 80 minutes.
Was it clever for the Storm and Raiders to rest their star players last week or did it contribute to their sluggish starts? Both began their nights in comas, but maybe it was the freshened up legs that allowed them to power home over the tiring opposition?
Apart from a week off for the Panthers and Storm, there will be no more resting now, with teams scraping together their best around some concerning injuries and suspensions.