NRL controversies extended to the security guards last weekend surrounding the handling of pitch invaders at two separate games, while the Parramatta Eels are -- whisper it -- maybe playing like genuine premiership contenders.
And is there any reason for optimism at the Wests Tigers?
We tackle some of the big talking points in the latest edition of NRL Real or Not.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for the Tigers
Real. After starting the season with five straight losses Wests Tigers co-captain James Tamou drew some criticism this week for saying "not so long ago, I was in a similar situation at Penrith... and you look at Penrith now". While it's true that the Panthers were languishing outside the top eight as recently as 2019 before two superb seasons in 2020 and 2021 (winning the minor and major premierships), it's also a bit of a stretch to say they were struggling as much as the Tigers are currently.
But a better comparison may be to the 2018 Parramatta Eels. In that year the Eels struggled with early injuries and lost their first six games, and with their confidence shot they went on to finish last. And let's be honest, a similar fate looks likely for the Tigers this year. What's notable is that the core of that Eels squad would go on to reach the semi-finals in the next three seasons and are among the contenders this year. Crucial spine players like Clint Gutherson, Mitchell Moses and Reed Mahoney were part of that wooden spoon-winning team, along with former stars Jarryd Hayne, Michael Jennings and Manu Ma'u. But injuries hit them hard in 2018 and they never recovered.
The 2022 Tigers, for all their faults, are also missing key players. Adam Doueihi is arguably their best player and hasn't played a game this season due to a knee injury. Jackson Hastings, their best recruit, has been suspended. Stefano Utoikamanu, their best young player, has an ankle injury. Daine Laurie, a big talent who has admittedly had an error-riddled start to the year, missed last week with COVID-19.
In a year's time they could line up with a spine of Laurie, Doueihi, Hastings and new signing Apisai Koroisau -- a two-time premiership-winning hooker -- with Utoikamanu and Eels star Isaiah Papali'i leading the forward pack. Despite all the doom and gloom, there are reasons to be optimistic.
- Dominic Brock
The Eels can break their drought in their Last Dance
Real. No fanbase has waited longer for a premiership than Parramatta, with 36 years having passed since their last title in 1986. And with Papali'i, Mahoney and Marata Niukore among those already bound for other clubs next season, this year does feel like it could be the end of their current premiership window.
The good news? They are playing great. Halves Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown rank first and second in the league for try assists, and the Eels are the league's best attacking team through five rounds. They've already beaten fellow contenders the Storm -- in Melbourne -- and their only defeat so far was a two-point away loss to the much improved Sharks.
They started the season ranked fifth by the bookies in premiership betting; they're now third. Of course right now it's hard to see anyone toppling reigning premiers Penrith, but last year it was hard to see anyone toppling a record-smashing Melbourne team only for the Storm to slip up in the finals. It would be among the better storylines if the Eels can get the job done this year.
- Dominic Brock
Pitch invaders are just having a bit of a laugh
Not real: We saw a couple of incidents over the weekend with people jumping the fence and running onto the field for reasons best known to themselves. Awaiting them was a fine, a likely ban from the ground and a surprisingly controversial reception from security guards. Many people felt that the security guard at the Titans game in particular was a little heavy-handed when he launched a perfect shoulder tackle at a woman who had eluded his colleagues in a mad dash down three quarters of the field.
When the woman in question made the decision to take off her shirt and enter the playing arena, all bets were off as far as her personal safety. The security guards had a job to do, which is ultimately to protect the players and officials by removing anyone who should not be there.
At Shark Park we saw a couple of protesters take to the field, one wielding an orange flare. They were dealt with by security in an unforgiving manner, as a fire extinguisher was brought on to take care of the smoking beacon.
We are fortunate enough to live in a country where entry to a football stadium is a relatively relaxed affair. There are no metal detectors or body searches, just the occasional bag check. Once inside there is no high fencing or moats between the crowd and the players, just a handful of people employed to dress the same and maintain the separation between the crowd and the game.
There is no telling the intentions of a pitch invader, and so security can't be gambling on their good nature. They have to be dealt with as though they are posing a very real threat. If you decide to jump the fence and go for your five minutes of fame, then everything that happens to you after that is a consequence of your decision.
As the saying goes "Play stupid games, win stupid prizes."
- Darren Arthur