Best of March

Four Rounds of the 2006 NRL Season have been completed and here is the best (and some of the worst) of the first month of the season.

Best Team:

North Queensland Cowboys

A perfect record and dominant wins over Brisbane and Melbourne give the Cowboys top spot this month. Held off Manly in Townsville in Round 2 and came back from 14-0 down just before halftime to defeat the Eels at Parramatta. Johnathan Thurston and Luke O?Donnell have been outstanding.

Worst Team:

South Sydney Rabbitohs

They haven?t played terribly but they let each of their first two games slip after gaining an early lead. Their ball control and goal line defence has been pathetic at times and the Joey Williams experiment against the Sharks backfired. Need Ben Walker back from injury ASAP to direct traffic.

Best Game:

Knights 46 def Bulldogs 22 at Energy Australia Stadium, Round 3.

The Knights were close to perfect on that Friday night systematically putting the Bulldogs to the sword in front of their home crowd. Considering the Dogs had smashed the Tigers by 35 points the previous week to see them overpowered by the Newcastle forwards and outclassed by the Newcastle backs, was nothing short of extraordinary. Andrew Johns was masterful yet again and the bulk of the Dogs points came when he went off the field.

Most Gripping Moment/Game:

Slater?s studs in Skando?s face?

Raiders 21 def Panthers 20 at Canberra Stadium, Round 4.

The second golden point game of the season (and second involving the Panthers) delivered every ounce of excitement we?ve come to expect from the extra time concept introduced in 2003. Penrith had taken the lead with a Rhys Wesser try and when Preston Campbell lined up a penalty goal to extend the lead to 8 points the Raiders looked gone. But Campbell?s kick hit the post and Clinton Schifcofske sent David Howell over for a try with 30 seconds left to give the Raiders a chance. Schifcofske converted then in extra time and after a number of unsuccessful shots by both sides the ?President? potted the match winner in the second period of extra time.

Best Player:

Johnathan Thurston, Cowboys

Has League Player Ratings of 9, 8, 9 & 7 in the first four rounds to lead the pack after a month. He was a level above his peers against the Broncos and Storm and looks on course to make his Test debut in the Anzac Test, although it will probably be off the bench.

Best Referee:

Russell Smith

Has been consistent in each game this season and that is all you ask from the man in the middle. Although Paul Simpkins appears to still be the poster boy for the NRL, on current form Smith leads the way from Shayne Hayne and Tony Archer.

Team on the Rise:

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles ? Have 2 wins and 2 losses but haven?t played anywhere near their best football yet. The biggest obstacle in front of the side is Matt Orford finding decoy runners to work his magic behind as the fact Ben Kennedy, Anthony Watmough and Steve Menzies aren?t natural decoy runners has negated Orford?s ability to find the open man so far. When they get on the same page and the backrowers start sacrificing touches for the game plan the Sea Eagles will be the hottest team over the next month.

Team on the Decline:

Melbourne Storm ? have the bye this weekend which could not have come at a better time with the suspensions of Slater and Scott Hill. With their first home game not until Round 7 against the Knights and having to travel to Adelaide next weekend to face the Panthers, Melbourne?s two wins to start the season could seem like a distant memory come Round 8 at home when the Dragons visit.

Predicted Table after Round 8:

NQL 14 NEW 14 BUL 12 MAN 10 BRI 10 WTG 10 PEN 8 STI 8 SYD 8 CAN 8 CRO 6 PAR 6 MEL 6 WAR 2 STH 2

Dipstick/s of the Month:

It is a tie ? the NRL Jokediciary has hit form early and is at its inconsistent best already, while the genius who decided to makeover the NRL Mascots should be let back into the asylum this weekend.

==== The NSC Almanac is still available for subscription and League Player Ratings has a healthy number of subscribers already with a few more this week ? so get on board.

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For just one $22 payment you receive the PDF printable NSC Almanac and weekly League Player Ratings ? the most comprehensive individual player ratings available on the internet ? delivered straight to your Inbox. You can order your subscription here: If you subscribe late don?t worry you won?t miss out as all preceding rounds will be sent to you with your first copy of LPR. 2006 LEAGUE PLAYER RATINGS ROUND 4 LEADERBOARD 33 ? Johnathan Thurston, NQL 31 ? Mark Gasnier, STI 30 ? Danny Buderus, NEW 30 ? Kurt Gidley, NEW 30 ? Luke O?Donnell, NQL 30 ? Steven Price, WAR