First tackle: Tough start for Tigers
Wests Tigers are still rebuilding in coach Michael Maguire's third year at the helm, adding several key players during the NRL offseason. With the departure of last year's hero Harry Grant, Jacob Liddle has been handed the No.9 jersey and looks as though he will make it his own. Adam Doueihi returned from a first round suspension to don the No.6 jersey against the Roosters and fresh from the Panthers this year, Daine Laurie has slotted into fullback nicely with some early flashes of brilliance. At half of course is the now veteran Luke Brooks. It is a new look spine that will take some time to produce results.
It was a tough start to the year for the Tigers to come up against the Raiders, followed by the Roosters. The two top-four sides are bristling with superstars and several seasons into established combinations. The Raiders dissected the Tigers after the break last week and the Roosters were clinical in the Campbelltown rain.
The Tigers have some major issues across the park, with Joey Leilua defending next to Luke Brooks and neither of them looking all that keen to make a tackle, especially against the Roosters' lethal right edge attack. Brooks also had some real issues with his kicking game, a couple of his early grubber kicks belting into the fence behind the dead ball line.
They have the Knights and Eels next before the Cowboys and Rabbitohs, so there are still some tough times ahead. Coach Michael Maguire has the task of keeping their belief levels up and have them working harder each week to achieve the victory that will bring them some much-needed confidence.
Second tackle: Avoiding the charging bulls
Another team struggling early are the Bulldogs under new coach Trent Barrett. They have made some major changes to their line-up this year and have so far been walloped by both the Knights and Panthers. Understandably the new team will take time to come together under Barrett's guidance, but there were disturbing signs against both teams.
Two weeks in a row halfback Kyle Flanagan has appeared to avoid charging forwards, in what could at best be called horrible defensive reads. Against the Knights it was Mitchell Barnett charging at the line from ten metres out as Flanagan turned in unnecessarily to help cover Mitchell Pearce. Against the Panthers he feigned an intercept, allowing Viliame Kikau to charge through untouched from 10 metres out to score his second try. A charging Kikau is not a pleasant experience for anyone, but some attempt had to be made.
It's an easy call to make from the safety of a keyboard, but a first grade NRL halfback has to show more commitment to the cause, even it means putting yourself at risk of being road kill.
Third tackle : Crushing calls
Players have started calling their own crusher tackles again. In Thursday night's clash between the Storm and Eels several players grabbed at the back of their heads and necks following the slightest of pressure in a tackle. Early in the Knights clash with the Warriors we saw another example.
The crusher tackle is dangerous and has to be stamped out of the game, but the referees can't allow the tackled player to determine when one has occurred. It opens the game up to a whole lot of fakery, with players spending more time on the turf looking for penalties than a South American soccer team.
Fourth tackle: Firsts signs of Storm missing Smith
With minutes remaining, on the attack and only four points down, Melbourne Storm did something very un-Storm like, they panicked. With a full set of six up their sleeves and plenty of time to work their way over the line, the Storm put a grubber kick into the in-goal area. The kick was easily diffused by the Eels defence and the game was effectively over.
It was one of the earliest, most obvious signs that the Storm are missing Cameron Smith. There's no way such a panicked move would have happened with the veteran hooker out there calling the shots.
Fifth and last: Strange scrum reset rule
We saw one of the new rules in play early during the Knights clash with the Warriors on Friday evening. The Warriors were caught breaking early from a scrum near halfway and the referee explained to the Knights that they could either take the penalty or re-pack the scrum. It's a strange one, especially considering a lot of the new rules are designed to reduce the number of scrums in the game.
Unsurprisingly the Knights took the kick for touch and scored their first try on the back of the foray deep into Warriors' territory. It is similar to a rule you see often in rugby union, where a team dominating the opposition scrum is offered the chance to continue that power advantage by having another one. The only time you could imagine it being used in rugby league is with a team deep in attack and looking to employ a scrum play against the shortened defensive line.
Handover: Incredible drainage
The rain tumbled down on Sydney all Friday night and into Saturday. It was predicted that several months' worth of rain would drench the city over the weekend. Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta is one of the nation's newest venues and the playing surface is laid on top of state of the art drainage systems. Still as the Bulldogs and Panthers warmed up inside the stands for their Saturday afternoon clash we were treated to vision of ground staff trying to remark the field. The line marking machine was pushed along the try line at the southern end of the ground, water ploughing to the side like the wake of a ship. The white marking material mostly floating away, leaving what could only be vaguely described as a line.
The ground had been tested in the lead up to this game. On Thursday night with rain about the Eels upset the Storm. On Friday night the Wanderers dominated Perth Glory in the A-League. Then on Saturday afternoon the lower grade game was played prior to the main game.
The surface was starting to show the effects, with muddy cuts into the turf. More noticeable were the lakes forming at either end of the ground, meaning anyone tackled near their line was inevitably slid into their in goal area. It was more surprising to see the old Brookvale Oval coping with the deluge. The notorious bog has had some major work done over the years and it was showing the benefits.