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.
Are Manly, led by Tom Trbojevic, going well enough to trouble Melbourne this weekend?
Lucie: Not even the Panthers could weather the Storm, but if there's a team with a chance to topple the ladder-leaders it's Manly. Or rather, Tom Trbojevic's Manly side. I've said it before and I'll say it again, whatever team has the turbo-charged fullback has my backing. He scored his third hat trick of the season to beat Cronulla 40-22 on Monday night, as well as three try assists, three line breaks, 15 tackle busts and 22 runs for 227m. The masterclass drove Manly closer to the top four, with the team having now won 82% of matches with Trbojevic on the field this season. And don't forget, he also claimed the Wally Lewis Medal in the NSW Blues' Origin triumph. With this in mind, the Sea Eagles could trouble Melbourne this weekend - but only if Trbojevic finds room to work his magic and Manly withstands the Storm's relentless attack. No doubt the Storm will be the Sea Eagles' biggest test so far in 2021 as Craig Bellamy's side ride a 16-match winning streak. Whatever the result, it's shaping up to be a brilliant Saturday night for sure.
Darren: The Sea Eagles are back on a roll again after a couple of bumps where they struggled without Tom Trbojevic. Now that the champion fullback is back and at his best, combining with veteran halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran, Manly look like genuine finals threats. They are up against the top shelf standard-setting Melbourne Storm this weekend in what could be one of the games of the year. The Storm haven't been threatened in recent times, but the Sea Eagles have so much power in the backs with Trbojevic, centres Morgan Harper and Brad Parker, and wingers Jason Saab and Reuben Garrick, along with powerful edge runner and creative surprise packet Josh Schuster. Trbojevic has an uncanny habit of breaking through two-man tackles, cutting through half gaps and creating opportunities for others with the mayhem he causes with every run. The Sea Eagles just have to hold their own in the forwards and defensively to give the Storm a real run for their money on Saturday night. They are definitely going well enough to really trouble the Storm, and there is a history of animosity between these two clubs that will have them fired up to show that they won't be just making up the numbers when the finals kick off.
The Dragons are in freefall, can they turn it around and make the finals?
Lucie: In the dogfight for finals spots, it's hard to see St George Illawarra turning around their form and breaking back into the top eight in time. The fallout from the infamous barbeque has burnt their season and the loss of skipper Ben Hunt could be the final nail in the coffin. The halfback has been a standout for the Dragons of late, so without him their freefall is likely to continue with a tough run home. The Red V will round out the regular season with meetings against three top sides in the Panthers, Roosters and Rabbitohs. So after a three-match losing streak, this weekend's clash with Canberra is huge for their finals bid. The team is in need of a serious morale boost and if that does not eventuate with a win over the Raiders, where does it come from? With the final bans from the barbecue served, the Dragons can take heart in having Jack de Belin, Blake Lawrie, Josh McGuire and Jack Bird back this week - while Zac Lomax has also returned. They're still only one win away from the top eight, but something needs to click so the team rediscovers their earlier season form when it matters most. And that's now.
Darren: What a disastrous year the Dragons are having, with early talk that the players weren't happy with coach Anthony Griffin. Then there was the inexplicable release of fan favourites Cameron McInnes and later Matt Dufty, and finally Paul Vaughan's infamous BBQ and his subsequent sacking. Morale seems to be at an all-time low at the club and their results have reflected this. The latest and possibly greatest blow to their finals hopes came on the weekend when halfback Ben Hunt fractured his arm against the Rabbitohs. Facing a tough run home, it is very hard to see them playing finals football this year. Anthony Griffin, in his first year at the club, will have to reset the team over the offseason and hope hey can come out firing in 2022. They have some holes to fill in their roster and hopefully any new blood introduced can help turn the slumping team culture around.
Are the Eels serious contenders this year?
Lucie: Given the Eels have arguably the toughest closing run of the top NRL teams, the next five weeks will shed light on whether they're serious contenders this year. But based on current form, I don't think they can match the likes of Penrith and Melbourne for the title. History looks set to repeat itself at Parramatta, because after starting the season so sparkly, they've faded towards the end. Eels fans had another bad case of déjà vu as they fell in consecutive weeks to the Raiders and Roosters, with Brad Arthur's side now only hanging onto fourth spot by points difference. The Eels have worrying form against top eight sides which doesn't make nice reading as ahead of them lies the Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, Storm and Panthers to close out the season. But the return of Mitchell Moses could throw the Eels back into contention, with the halfback adding an attacking edge while also crucial in organising their defensive line. Even if Parramatta stays in fourth spot, the bigger challenge will be turning around their finals form - having only won one of six postseason matches under Arthur.
Darren: I feel for Parramatta fans who have been waiting a long time for another premiership title, as it appears they will have another year to add to the long drought. Even with their best side on the ground, they just don't have the talent to match it with the Storm, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Roosters or even the Sea Eagles. They look like limping into the finals and I don't expect them to play any more than two games once they are there. Clint Gutherson is arguably their best and most inspirational player, but I wouldn't put him ahead of Ryan Papenhuyzen, Latrell Mitchell, James Tedesco or Tom Trbojevic in the order of fullback talent. Mitchell Moses is their key play maker and despite his steady improvement he has yet to prove himself on the big stage. With Reagan Campbell-Gillard currently out with a groin injury, they have lost a bit of punch from their forward pack as well. If the Eels are to prove me wrong, they have the next five games to start. If they struggle to beat their fellow finalists in the run home, then I don't hold much hope for their chances once the big games roll around.