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NRL Round 8 Hits and Misses: Send offs are too costly

It was an NRL round dominated by surprise results, a huge send-off decision and the rise of a new potential contender. Plus a shock early retirement and another head scratcher from the ever-changing rule book.

Read on as we take a look back at some of the biggest hits and misses of the weekend.

HITS

Send-off correct, but could rule be improved?

There was predictable debate around Karl Lawton's send-off in the early moments of Manly's loss to Souths on Friday night, for a dangerous throw on Cameron Murray.

Channel Nine's commentators voiced their confusion with the send-off but the referee's decision looked more and more correct with every replay, and the NRL match review committee reflected that by handing Lawton a grade-three charge -- meaning the Sea Eagles forward faces a suspension of four or five matches.

It's true that Lawton didn't have any intent to injure Murray, and the Rabbitohs skipper came out of the tackle unscathed. But you don't need to go back too far to recall the kind of horrific damage such tackles can cause -- former Newcastle Knight Alex McKinnon (now a commentator with Fox Sports, and the topic of a news story in Nine's Sun Herald newspaper just a week ago) was left a quadriplegic by a similar tackle in 2014. Tackles that risk a ball carrier landing on their head have no place in the game.

The likely source of frustration for commentators was the fact that the result was effectively decided just nine minutes into the contest. Manly went on to perform admirably in a 40-22 loss, but it's just about impossible to beat a decent team when it's 13 players against 12 for 70 minutes.

Lawton deserved to be sent off, but does it serve the game (and the fans watching in the stands or on the TV) for such an incident to effectively end the contest so early? Currently a send-off occurring the first half of a game is much more costly than a send-off in the second half. Is there a better way?

Southern hemisphere rugby union has trialed a system in recent years, where a player sent from the field can be replaced after 20 minutes. The offender and his team are still punished, but the game is not completely ruined by one moment of madness or miscalculation.

The NRL love to tweak the game's rules every season so we wouldn't be surprised if such an idea gets some traction down the track, particularly if we see one or two more first-half send-offs this season.

- Dominic Brock

Upsets ahoy!

After last week's lopsided round it was great to get some unpredictability back this weekend with the Broncos stunning Cronulla, the Cowboys thrashing Parramatta, the Warriors beating the Raiders and of course the Bulldogs pulling off a mighty upset over the Roosters. The Gold Coast Titans even held at lead at halftime over Penrith, before the reigning premiers finished strongly to continue their unbeaten season.

How important was the Cowboys' win over the Eels?

You don't often see a scoreline like 35-4, especially when the underdog is on the winning side, but that was the case in Saturday night's game between North Queensland and Parramatta. It was the best evidence so far this year that the Cowboys are the real deal, and it raised serious questions about the Eels' title chances.

It's clear the Cowboys are a much better team than many expected this season, but it may also be worth not reading too much into Saturday night's result for either team.

The win propelled North Queensland into third place on the NRL ladder, but it was also just their first victory over a top-eight side this season. Their only other such match was a 28-4 loss at home to the Roosters (who appear to have their own issues this year).

And while it was officially a "home" game for Parramatta, it was played in humid conditions in Darwin which were surely better suited to the Townsville locals. The Eels are still battling an injury crisis in the outside backs that meant Dylan Brown was again moved to the centres -- a decision that has raised plenty of eyebrows with Brad Arthur's son Jake struggling to fill Brown's regular five-eighth role.

In short, the Eels will get better with more troops available (Maika Sivo, Marata Niukore, Waqa Blake, Tom Opacic and Sean Russell are all due back soon) and the Cowboys will face tougher tests ahead. But Todd Payten's side is certainly on the right track.

- Dominic Brock

MISSES

Mysterious rule interpretation denies Tigers a try

Sometimes it's nearly impossible to keep up with NRL rule changes, like the one where a defender is also banned from tackling a player in the air. Some time ago, a defender was exempt from that rule as he was fully expected to be able to do whatever possible to prevent a try being scored. The NRL tinkerers decided it was just as dangerous as the other way around, so extended the rule.

So, to Wollongong where Dragons centre Zac Lomax positioned himself in his in-goal area under a high Luke Brooks bomb. Kelma Tuilagi came streaming through, with the Tigers back-rower out-leaping Lomax to grab the ball. With both players still in the air, Lomax grabbed at Tuilagi to do his best to prevent the inevitable try. It worked, as the ball came loose and the try was disallowed. The Tigers were then awarded a penalty for the mid-air tackle, which they converted to take a two-point lead.

Now, I would have thought a deliberate and illegal act that prevented an inevitable try, was the literal definition of a penalty try. Not that I am calling for one, because in my book Lomax shouldn't have been penalised at all. In clutching for the ball, he was hardly making a tackle, and certainly wasn't putting Tuilagi in any danger.

- Darren Arthur

Sad end for former rookie sensation

Ash Taylor's tumultuous NRL career appears to be at an end, with the former Titans playmaker set to retire due to chronic hip problems that have affected him since 2020.

Taylor was one of the most-hyped young guns in the league when he left the Broncos for the Gold Coast in 2016, winning the Rookie of the Year award that season. A bumper contract followed but so too did increased expectations, and the gifted half never really reached the heights the Titans would have hoped for.

He still scored 327 points across 114 NRL games in six years at the Titans, before joining the Warriors on a train-and-trial deal in 2022. Many will see his story as one of unfulfilled potential, but it's also arguably a lesson in why playmakers shouldn't be judged so critically at a young age. Taylor is set to finish up at 27 -- just one year older than Rabbitohs star Cody Walker was when he made his NRL debut.

- Dominic Brock