Each week ESPN's resident NRL experts will take a look at the burning issues in rugby league and try to come up with the answers. Their opinions might not match yours, but they should certainly spark further debate on the latest conundrums facing the game we all love.
Should the NRL make rule changes to cut down the number of blow-out scores?
Darren: I might be a relic from the past, but I'd like to see the NRL drop the "six again" rules immediately. They should then put the liquid paper and pen away and leave the rule book alone, something they should have done at least ten years ago. This constant tweaking to improve the game as a spectacle has finally reached the point of killing the contest completely. The game has become a glorified version of touch football, where tries are scored against teams which are out on their feet and incapable of mounting a resistance. Teams with roster weaknesses or attitude problems are being blown off the park, because there is no respite during a game, there is no reward for desperation in defence. Viewers might be rewarded with more tries, but who wants to watch a 10-try thumping that is over before halftime. They need to go back to penalising ruck and offside infringements, and using the sin bin more regularly on repeat offenders. The game was quick enough and all we want to see is some tense, closely-fought battles.
Lucie: A weekend of blow-out results has highlighted the huge divide between NRL teams and I think the fix goes beyond making rule adjustments. It's a roster issue too. Teams with stability and depth have thrived under the new rules, which are designed to speed up the game and reduce stoppages. In the absence of the under-20s competition and the 2020 state cups, clubs have been left with the difficult task of developing and retaining young players. Those who have promoted players from within their system, like the Penrith Panthers and Canberra Raiders, tend to have rookies able to slot straight in. The lopsided rosters have been exposed by the new rules, which are all about promoting fatigue. They've come under scrutiny again this season with the bottom five teams having secured just two wins between them in 20 matches. But regardless of the new rules, those teams would have likely struggled .
What should the Sea Eagles do with Daly Cherry-Evans?
Lucie: It's the $1.2 million call clouding the Sea Eagles, but before a decision is made on Daly Cherry-Evan's future, Manly must address who's best to lead the club out of their horrible start to the NRL season. Cherry-Evans should step aside for prop/lock Jake Trbojevic as captain, in a move that could relieve pressure off the 32-year-old halfback as Manly looks to break a six-match losing streak. In their first four matches this season, the Sea Eagles have conceded 156 points and scored just 34. Having fallen to a 22-6 deficit to Penrith by half-time on Thursday night last week, it was Trbojevic, not Cherry-Evans who was shown trying to inspire his teammates in the sheds. Manly should bite the bullet and hand over the captaincy reins, and if that doesn't rejuvenate the side then perhaps those contract talks are needed to free up some salary cap space.
Darren: Daly Cherry-Evans is a very good player, but not one you'd have play for your life. Last year he combined with Cody Walker in the halves and the Sea Eagles won seven of 20 games to finish 13th overall. With Des Hasler back at the club, missing the finals was not acceptable, so you can understand the need to make changes to the squad. I'm almost certain however that the return of Keiran Foran was not the solution. His injury-plagued stint at the Bulldogs was hardly convincing. Along with the return of Foran, the Sea Eagles lost a couple of key forwards and then Tom Trbojevic tore his hamstring slipping over in the bathroom, definitely not in a drunken race though Manly. It all adds up to a complete shemozzle and the results are there for all to see on the field. Players look disinterested and absolutely no one is buying anything the coach, captain or Jake Trbojevic are selling. I'd probably start by dropping Foran, returning Walker to five-eighth, with someone else to play fullback until Trbo's return. I'd tell DCE to focus on his own game and hand the captaincy to Martin Taupau, because he really needs to carry the pack, and maybe the added responsibility will jolt him from his current malaise. I'm pretty sure a blast from big Marty would see others join the fight.
Has Anthony Griffin turned the Dragons into a Top 8 prospect?
Lucie: Pride is finally being restored to the famous Red V but St George-Illawarra are still a long way from top-eight talks. The Dragons sit sixth on the NRL ladder and have won three straight matches for the first time since early 2019, showing the team is buying into coach Anthony Griffin's philosophy. But all of those wins came against struggling teams in the North Queensland Cowboys, Sea Eagles and Newcastle Knights. Sunday's clash with the unbeaten Parramatta Eels looms as the ultimate test for Griffin's Dragons to see how they stack up against the league's heavyweights.
Darren: They say you can only beat the teams put in front of you, and after a first round loss to the Sharks, the Dragons have done exactly that. They won't receive enormous wraps for knocking over the Cowboys and Sea Eagles and the Knights were hit hard by injury, but in each game you could certainly see the commitment and confidence growing. It sure beats the four straight losses they had to start last season. Anthony Griffin is a very astute coach and the Dragons definitely needed a change after too many years of Paul McGregor's leadership. Many had the Dragons pinned for the wooden spoon this year after losing Tyson Frizell to the Knights and Cameron McInnes to a knee injury. But Griffin has them fired up, working for each other and believing in themselves and his direction. They face the Eels, Warriors, Roosters and Tigers in coming weeks and we'll know much more about their finals aspirations at the end of that run. If they can maintain their intensity against the better teams, I would not be surprised to see them sneak into a finals berth.