This week we dare to suggest that the Eels are set to break their drought, consider whether the NRL needs Cameron Munster to sign with the Dolphins, and propose a theory on why Tevita Pangai Junior is off his game at the moment.
Read on as we tackle some of the big talking points in the latest edition of NRL Real or Not.
The Eels can break their premiership drought
REAL: Parramatta fans break out the blue and gold, puff out your chests, tell the world your time has come, the longest running title drought in the NRL is about to end. If you can remember the glory of 1986, you're way ahead of the players, none of whom were born the last time the club lifted the premiership trophy -- the Winfield Cup, at that time.
The Eels continued their impressive 2022 season on Thursday night, this time demolishing the Broncos in Brisbane. They have Mitchell Moses back in the halves and working his way back to peak form, allowing Dylan Brown to shine as a ball-running weapon. The halves are operating behind a red hot pack of forwards led by Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, and supported by back-rowers Shaun Lane, Isaiah Papali'i and Marata Niukore or Ryan Matterson. It's the perfect mix of hard and straight bulldozing, clever offloads and destructive edge running.
At fullback Clinton Gutherson thrives on the mayhem, carving up a back-pedalling defence and setting up his outside men. Waqa Blake can be a bit rocks or diamonds, but on the other wing Maika Sivo is among the game's greatest finishers. Centres Will Penisini and Tom Opacic have their bright moments, but solid consistency is their trademark.
Orchestrating it all is hooker Reed Mahoney, who through a relatively injury-free patch is showing why the Bulldogs were so keen to poach him for next season.
The Panthers hold no fears for the Eels, having beaten them twice this season, while they have also knocked over the Storm and Roosters. In fact, the biggest criticism of the Eels all year has been that they have struggled at times against the bottom eight teams. Well, clearly that won't be a problem once the finals kick off.
For the good of the game, Munster should go to the Dolphins
NOT REAL: Cameron Munster and his high profile manager Braith Anasta remain in negotiations with the Melbourne Storm for his next contract. The latest news being that the Storm have tabled what they consider to be a very generous offer, rumoured to be over $3 million for three years.
There have been all sorts of stories made up about what other clubs might be prepared to pay Munster, with the Dolphins and Broncos having the added advantage of allowing Munster to return to his home state. Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett is understandably very keen to throw Munster a red jersey and the club would be willing to top the Storm offer. It would provide an enormous boost to the club in its debut season, both in terms of profile and on-field performance.
But his departure would be a real kick in the guts for the Storm, who have packed the bags of several players in order to free up some salary cap space for Munster's retention. They really have set themselves to build their short-term future around him and it is his form of late that sees them threatening for a run at the premiership this year. The Storm have the reputation of keeping the players they need to keep based on their culture, not necessarily financial reward. It would be a blow to that culture to see Munster fly north for a few extra dollars.
TPJ seems distracted and disinterested
REAL: Tevita Pangai Junior has been dropped to reserve grade this weekend by the Canterbury Bulldogs, after a couple of weeks where his performances certainly didn't match his salary or the expectations of coaches and fans. Stick with me as I throw up a theory that is neither an excuse, nor has any backing from the man himself.
There's a good reason why almost all professions offer paternity leave these days. Fatherhood is an enormously involving and rewarding part of any man's life. Having several weeks off work following the birth of a child allows a man the time he needs to fully enjoy the experience and to assist the mother in her recovery from the physical and emotional ordeal.
The other side to paternity leave is that an employee is hardly going to be giving his best at work when his mind is preoccupied with thoughts and concerns for his partner and new child. The sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn baby is also very real and not conducive to a fully functioning worker.
Pangai's wife recently gave birth, an event all the more emotional and stressful following a tragic end to a previous pregnancy. Pangai was given that weekend off to attend the birth and to be with his wife and child. He was then expected back at training and performing for the Bulldogs shortly after. It is very easy to say that he is being paid a lot of money to put in an absolute maximum of 80 minutes hard labour each week. And yes, we'd all like a job like that, but have many of us really experienced the pressures that go with being in his position?
We can only hope that his stint in the lower grade sparks his passion, narrows his focus, and sees him return at his devastating best, for his sake and the future of his young family.