Policing of ruck in favour of old firm

The NRL is contemplating taking an NRL or State of Origin game to California after the success of...
The NRL is about to take a back seat as the State of Origin series barges through the door. But the first two and a-half months have revealed plenty. Rugby league writer Michael Minty takes a look at five talking points.

The wrestle - one step forward - two steps back

Is it a coincidence the heavily-backed Rabbitohs, Roosters and Storm are parked at the top of the ladder nearing the halfway point of the season while the policing of the ruck speed has been lenient to say the least?

This time last year, the NRL decided to bail out on their firm stance of the slow play-the-ball after fans, media and commentators were up in arms about the number of penalties blown, making the game stop-start. Meanwhile, teams such as the Tigers, Dragons and Warriors were thriving at the top of ladder before the wrestle crept back in. Those teams well coached in the wrestle climbed the ladder in due process. So are we surprised the old firm are at the top?

Wayne Bennett proving his worth

The supercoach is the toast of Redfern with the Bunnies now sitting at the top of the ladder after defeating the Tigers last weekend. Cody Walker has been a standout in the halves as the leading try-scorer and has been rewarded with a Blues jumper for next week's State of Origin opener alongside Bunnies team-mate Damien Cook. Adding to that, out-of-favour Bronco James Roberts has been released and is set to play against the Knights next week - a welcome boost to an already dangerous backline.

Where to for the embattled Panthers?

Some, including this writer, had the Panthers touted as a premiership threat in pre-season. However, the off-season turmoil appears to have played its part, coach Ivan Cleary said, and the side now sits dead last on the table. Remember this side was sitting in fourth spot just four weeks from the 2018 finals before the untimely sacking of coach Anthony Griffin. Since then, it's been a downward spiral with the majority of the playing group underperforming and elementary errors coinciding with horrendous results. From the outside looking in, it looks like the team is torn between playing razzle-dazzle against structure.

Warriors Watch

As usual, the Warriors are at their enigmatic finest, languishing in 12th spot. There was always going to be a question mark over the effect of the Mannering and Johnson departures so the ladder position is probably a fair reflection. However, you take the good with the bad with this side and the failings of some senior players have been offset with the rise of a couple of promising types in Chanel Harris-Tavita and Patrick Herbert - the latter looks set for a decent stint following the vacancy by out-of-favour Solomone Kata in the centres. Solid performances in defeat to heavyweight Rabbitohs then the Anzac day clash with the Storm were followed by a come-from-behind victory against the Dragons. However, lowly losses to the Cowboys, Manly and the resurgent Knights at home have left fans scratching their head whether the Warriors will dive or rise in the run home.

Magic Round really was that

The NRL took a leaf from the Super League in taking the entire round nine to Brisbane in what was deemed a huge success. It was a festival of rugby league. Suncorp Stadium put on a show reminiscent of the first nines tournament in Auckland several years ago with the colourful array of team jerseys prominent at the ground and around Brisbane.

This looks set to become a regular fixture on the NRL calendar and you would not be surprised to see places like Perth, Melbourne and maybe even Auckland seen as viable venues in the future.

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