This week we take a look at the alarming decline of the Rabbitohs, consider the virtue of clubs pursuing coach Cameron Ciraldo and suggest that the Eels can still play a part in the pointy end of the season.
We tackle some of the big talking points in the latest edition of NRL Real or Not.
The Rabbitohs are in danger of missing the finals
REAL: After playing in last year's Grand Final, the Rabbitohs have taken a step back this season -- unsurprising considering they lost star halfback and captain Adam Reynolds to the Broncos. But even without Reynolds, Souths would have expected to at least finish in the top eight this year.
That's no sure thing now.
They went into Thursday night's game against the Dragons in Wollongong sitting in seventh place with a 7-6 record and a +41 points differential. Within half an hour they were trailing 32-0 and young No.7 Lachlan Ilias had been hooked.
Suddenly their record looks decidedly shabby -- their last three wins have been against strugglers the Titans, Tigers and Warriors, and their last two losses have been against teams trying to force their way into the top eight, Canberra and the Dragons.
Six of Souths' next nine games are against teams in the NRL top six, before a final round battle with arch rivals the Roosters.
At this point, beating the bad teams won't be enough for the Rabbitohs to make the eight. They'll need some big scalps in the run home -- and on the evidence we saw on Thursday night, they look a long way from beating the likes of the Panthers, Storm or Sharks.
- Dominic Brock
Tigers, Bulldogs and Warriors need to throw the chequebook at Ciraldo
NOT REAL: When it comes to touting the hottest coach available, it seems the media circus has packed up the Shane Flanagan tent and set up one with a big Cameron Ciraldo sign on the front of it, for now anyway. The Bulldogs, Warriors and Tigers are currently in the market for a head coach and Ciraldo, widely credited as the assistant coach behind the Panthers' premiership-winning defence, is apparently the best man for each job.
We must remember that it was only a couple of years ago that everyone was singing the praises of Trent Barrett, who was reportedly responsible for the magnificent attacking prowess of the same Panthers. Barrett only lasted 18 months at the Bulldogs, where he struggled to translate that reputation into either points or victories.
The three clubs mentioned have deeper issues that require true leadership from the top down. Ciraldo might turn out to be a very good head coach, but even the very best could flounder at those three clubs as they currently stand. There are many reasons why there have been a procession of coaches through their doors, and it can't be that they're all having a shocking run of luck when it comes to recruitment.
Like him for loathe him, Phil Gould is exactly what the Bulldogs needed. A big personality not afraid to tread on toes and make the big calls. His broad experience will help him cut through any boardroom interference and set the club on the road to recovery from the juniors to the top grade. The Tigers have employed a similar personality in Tim Sheens. Both are at the beginning of their latest tenures at the two clubs, and neither will fall for the media hype when it comes to choosing a new coach.
The Warriors are in a unique situation, and they need a unique solution to their coaching woes. All three clubs might very well find the answer in their current interim coaches. Mick Potter, Brett Kimmorley and Stacey Jones all have the potential to be excellent head coaches and perfect fits. Certainly a bit of time should be taken before throwing a stack of money at someone who may well be another flash in the coaching pan.
- Darren Arthur
The Eels are still premiership contenders
REAL: Fox League commentator Michael Ennis -- and probably a lot of other viewers -- "put a line through" the Parramatta Eels' title chances after their loss to the Bulldogs on Monday. It was certainly a disastrous result, a 30-point loss to the team coming last, but does it really affect how likely they are to beat the good teams in September?
The Eels have already shown this year they're a team that can step up against the best, and slip up against the worst. (They're the opposite of the Manly Sea Eagles in that regard.) Parramatta are the only team to have beaten Penrith and Melbourne this season. And they've also lost to two teams who have sacked their coaches due to dire results -- the Wests Tigers and Bulldogs.
Fortunately, you don't have to play against bad teams in the finals. For the Eels to get close to the premiership they'll need some luck to go their way. The Panthers and Storm still look far and away the strongest teams in the league this year, and are likely to face off in this year's grand final. But we thought that would be the case last year as well and the Rabbitohs not only snuck into the decider but also came just two points short of shocking eventual premiers Penrith.
The Eels remain capable of pulling off a similar run if things go their way this year.
- Dominic Brock
New rule will bring star power to under-19s Origin
NOT REAL: It's a good thing for footy fans that the men's and women's under-19s State of Origin games will be televised on Nine and Fox Sports. But don't expect many recognisable names in the line-ups.
Two weeks ago the NRL trumpeted a bold new addition to the under-19 State of Origin contests, allowing each team to select two NRL-contracted (or NRLW-contracted) under-20 players as "marquee" picks.
"Players who would be eligible by age as under-19s or four under-20 marquee spots would include Roosters duo Sam Walker and Joseph Suaalii, Parramatta centre Will Penisini, Warriors fullback Reece Walsh, Broncos halfback Ezra Mam or Dragons fullback Tyrell Sloan," the league announced in a media release.
ARLC chairman Peter V'landys suggested the addition was a no-brainer. "Why wouldn't we want to take the opportunity to showcase the talents of these amazing young players?"
The only problem? No NRL club was ever going to release a first-grade regular to play in an under-19s game, especially with the State of Origin series already taking a toll.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson put it bluntly.
"In the history of the game players haven't played age group footy once they become NRL players. So I don't think that will change," Robinson told AAP.
Unsurprisingly, neither of the men's under-19 teams features any genuine "marquee" NRL players, with one-game Canberra forward Trey Mooney and South Sydney squad member Davvy Moale the only players with NRL experience to be selected.
It's not going to be quite the star-studded affair the NRL and broadcasters would have dreamed of when changing the eligibility rules for the game.
- Dominic Brock