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.
Trent Robinson was crying out for consistency after the Roosters were on the wrong side of the possession calls last week, was he rightfully upset?
Lucie: Consistency (or the lack of it) has been a constant issue this season in light of new rules and the crackdown on foul play. It's discussed most weeks as coaches, players and pundits alike assess each instance with a magnifying glass - crying out 'why this but not that?' and vice versa. Trent Robinson has been one of the more vocal coaches on the matter and it's not hard to see why - the Roosters have conceded the second-most amount of penalties of all teams this season with 104. And who's copped the most calls against them? The dungeon-dwelling Bulldogs. Lower teams seem to take a beating each week from referees, and now it's finally hit one near the top. Under the new rules that are designed to speed up the game, teams on the back foot are more likely to give away penalties as fatigue and desperation set in. The latter is what occurred in the Roosters' loss to Penrith, with firebrand Jared Waerea-Hargreaves being pinged for slowing down the ruck when the Panthers were on the attack. Graham Annesley, the NRL's head of football, backed the call and reasoned no incident is ever the same. While that's true (and a bit of a cop out answer), I do think the calls for consistency have some merit - particularly for struggling teams.
Darren: Don't get me started. If you are a fan of one of the bottom eight teams, as I am, you know exactly what Trent Robinson is on about -- you feel it almost every week. The top teams always seem to get the rub of the green, when it comes to both penalties and tackle set restarts. But I'm not alleging any plot by match officials to keep the downtrodden down, while gaining favour with top teams. It is a frustrating mix of the good sides doing everything better and the poorer teams simply struggling to keep up. A team like Melbourne or Penrith is so effective in its attacking patterns and ruck speed, that it stands out when the opposition try to slow them down in any way. The referees, who have been told to speed the game up at any cost, see the desperation as an infringement and award a tackle restart or penalty. This compounds the problem as the poorer side is forced into more defence, which leads to increased fatigue and more desperation and eventually a very lop-sided possession statistic. Once the ball starts rolling against them, it is nearly impossible to cause an upset, as the better team continues to ride the momentum all the way to another massive winning margin. I do think it's a bit rich for Robinson to single out a rough run for his Roosters against Penrith, when most lower sides have experienced exactly the same thing against his Roosters all year.
Is Jack Hetherington unfairly targeted because of his record or is he a loose cannon that needs to sort out his game?
Lucie: History is coming back to haunt Jack Hetherington as the Canterbury Bulldogs forward faces another stint on the sidelines for a high tackle. But I don't think he's being treated unfairly. The 25-year-old is treading a fine line each time he takes the field, now having been charged eight times in his 38-match career. In light of the NRL crackdown, Hetherington needs to adjust his defensive technique - otherwise the calls will continue to come. Although I don't think his tackle on Wests Tigers' Alex Twal warranted a sin bin, it was still high. He was charged with a grade-one careless tackle, which would normally carry a fine, but his disciplinary record means Hetherington will miss three weeks on the sideline. And he's not the only one. From the 22 players charged by the match review committee in round 21, 17 had previous records and 12 carried suspensions rather than fines. So the NRL's warning is clear: go low or go home.
Darren: Any tough run Jack Hetherington is currently experiencing with the referees and match review committee is entirely of Jack Hetherington's making. The hard-hitting, hard-running forward was exactly what the Bulldogs needed to add some starch to their pack, but he arrived from Penrith with a reputation for sailing close to, and too often over the line of legality. He really needed to drop his intensity just enough to instill some control in his aggression. The crackdown on high contact this year should have been a massive red flag to Hetherington that his methods would no longer be tolerated at all. Now he only has to go close to touching a player in the head and his long record and putrid reputation sees him on the sidelines, where he is of absolutely no service to the struggling club. It is a very fine line between being the forward enforcer and a serial judiciary visitor. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves probably treads that line the best of all current front row forwards, Hetherington should watch some tapes.
The Warriors upset the Sharks last week without Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, do you think they depended too much on his brilliance?
Lucie: No doubt Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been the heart of the NZ Warriors for the last five seasons, but 2021 has shown the team can still win without him. A few months ago, my answer to this would have been vastly different - the Warriors had often been carried by their inspirational leader who gave his all week after week. But the rise of fullback Reece Walsh and addition of new blood has seen that load shared - with the team now collecting back-to-back wins for the first time this season. But it's still too early to make a hoo-ha about it because those wins came after a seven-match losing streak. The Warriors' challenge is to not fall back into bad habits with Tuivasa-Sheck now gone, with players needing to compete with the best week after week. What their gutsy win over the Sharks did show was heart - which bodes them well heading into next season.
Darren: There have been instances over the past few years where you could almost physically see the Warriors players turn to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for the answers. He has been such an incredible player during his NRL career that more often than not he would come up with what they were looking for; but that's no recipe for a successful football team. Now he has gone, they have to work things out without him and I think they did a fantastic job of that last week against the Sharks. Players like Reece Walsh, Jazz Tevaga, Sean O'Sullivan and Chanel Harris-Tavita have to band together to collectively provide the leadership and creative spark that is missing now that RTS has gone. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the Warriors might just turn out to be a better team without RTS. They play the Bulldogs this weekend and have a chance to prove to themselves and to their fans that they can keep the foot down, week after week, no matter who the opposition is, even without the great man.