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.
Do referees and the judiciary have a problem with consistency when it comes to punishing foul play?
Lucie: There's always been inconsistencies surrounding punishments in the NRL, but this season it's almost like the judiciary is just rolling the dice when handing them out. They handed out four verdicts on Tuesday night with three players hit with lengthy suspensions, headlined by Latrell Mitchell's four-week ban for a high shot on Wests Tigers' David Nofoaluma. But the punishment did not fit the crime. Yes there was loading, but judging by other verdicts the South Sydney fullback likely deserved one or two weeks. The bunker and referees put him on report for the incident, while Victor Radley, who was sent to the sin bin, had his ban thrown out after it was downgraded. A review is urgently needed for the judiciary system, because to have a player like Mitchell absent for a month is damaging to the player, club and fans.
Darren: The problem with foul play calls are that they are subjective and no two are ever exactly the same. The other thing to remember is that fans and club officials are always going to complain that their own player has been poorly treated. The Bulldogs complained about Jack Hetherington's send off, when anyone with a working pair of eyes would have been happy enough with that call. Whether there have been other cases that also deserved a send-off - once again, that's subjective. Losing a player for the rest of the game is such a major punishment that the bunker really needs to be given a firmer set of guidelines, in an attempt to gain more consistency. The alternative is to can the send-off all together, give players guilty of foul play 10 minutes in the bin and if the offence was particularly ugly, deal with it much more severely at the judiciary level. The other thing fans seem to forget is the loading aspect of the judiciary's work. Hetherington's ban was severe because he has a bad track record. Latrell copped four weeks partly because there is a pattern to his bad behavior as well. The simple solution for the players is to cut the rubbish out of their games or be prepared to spend more time on the sidelines.
Is Tom Trbojevic good enough to lead the Sea Eagles to an unlikely Top 8 finish?
Lucie: Trbojevic's return from injury boosts Manly with more than just his individual talent, the fullback can galvanise the team to contend for the finals. I don't think Des Hasler's side will break into the top eight with their roster, but Trbojevic (should he stay fit) could lead them thereabouts. His value was shown in the Sea Eagles' 36-0 flogging of the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday, scoring a try and a further two assists. Based on Manly's recent record of results with Trbojevic on field, his return marks a turning point in the team's campaign. Since 2019, Manly have won 75 percent of matches with him on field - so yes, he's that good.
Darren: The Sea Eagles didn't just lose their first four games without Tom Trbojevic, they were soundly thumped. To be fair they were up against three top teams in the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Panthers, with the fourth being the much-improved Dragons. They then battled out an ugly one-point win over the Warriors, before Tom returned and they thumped the highly-rated Titans. They have the Tigers this week before the Panthers and Warriors again and then the Broncos. I think the return Panthers game will give a true indication of how much better they are with Tom at the back and whether they have a real chance of scraping into the finals. There is no questioning his ability to spark their attack, we saw that against the Titans, but whether he can take the rest of the team with him against the stronger opponents is yet to be seen this year. At this point they at least look like dodging the club's first ever wooden spoon, which must be a relief to all involved.
Should Craig Fitzgibbon run a broom through the Sharks roster?
Lucie: Fitzgibbon has a unique opportunity to put his own stamp on the Sharks' roster early with 14 players off-contract at the end of this season. Cronulla will have the full salary cap at their disposal for 2022, having been forced to play $350,000 under it for the last two seasons due to breaches. Fitzgibbon's arrival will mark a new era at Cronulla and with these factors, a roster rebuild should be on the cards. Look at clubs like the Wests Tigers and the Brisbane Broncos, their current coaches have inherited rosters that take time to reshape - they did not start with their own teams and have struggled. So Fitzgibbon should run a broom through the Sharks roster to put his own stamp on it early.
Darren: The Sharks have pretty much gone up and down on the same spot since winning their maiden premiership in 2016. Having ruthlessly sent John Morris on his way, after signing Craig Fitzgibbon as head coach for next season, they have shown they are certainly not worried about making the big moves. Halfback Chad Townsend has already signed with the Cowboys, Will Chambers was recently welcomed to the club, and there are about a dozen players off contract at the end of this season. Fitzgibbon would be mad not to take advantage of that situation and start his tenure with a solid core of players that he has chosen himself. We all know what a cut-throat job being NRL head coach is; no one is going to save you if you don't bring results. The off contract players should be on notice that they need to step it up a gear or they'll be out the door at the end of this year.