Off the Wall

The fact that no less than 12 NRL teams will have their finals status on the line this weekend illustrates just how close, and exciting, the 2009 premiership race has become.

The minor premiership is now open, and the contest for the final eight on the premiership table has suddenly become a fascinating contest.

The winner is - rugby league.

What a pity we are going to have this week not one, but two, "distractions" in the form of more girlfriends and/or female friends of the Storm's Greg Inglis hogging the headlines? One has apparently sold her story to a women's magazine, and now another has rushed to his defence - and gained some free publicity for her "modelling" career in the process.

None of this is his fault. He has handled events since he was charges in assaulting a lady who now seems to have been a "former" girlfriend with dignity, notwithstanding the unfavourable publicity the allegation has attracted. He needs to have his day in court and the sooner the better.

But not even the scantily clad photos of his other friends can detract from what is going to be a massive weekend of rugby league.

Friday night sees the Dragons meet the Broncos - the former coach up against his old team in what is a must win game for both. And even more interesting is the West Tigers v Eels match also on Friday night.

The Tigers have won six in a row and the Eels have not looked back since the departure of Dennis Fitzgerald winning their last five matches. This is a must win encounter for both teams.

And it will be just as good over the weekend.

There will be some who will attribute this to the salary cap working. Maybe - but I think the quality of players coming to the fore in a number of teams making the competition as interesting as it has ever been is a key factor.

Take the Eels. A few weeks ago their season was being widely, and not unreasonably, written off. Today the impact of their new coach around AND the outstanding form of Jarryd Hayne...arguably the best player in the game today...has turned that all around. The departure of Dennis Fitzgerald and the sudden form reversal is no more than a coincidence, I am sure!

There really are only three teams that are performing woefully, and consistently woefully - the Roosters, the Sharks and the Warriors. The Raiders are out of the finals race, but they remain capable of causing an upset, as did when they rolled the competition leaders on Saturday night.

As the competition tightens up, there is one dark cloud on the horizon.

Week in, week out, the debate rages about the over-use of the video referee, and the forensic examination of tries, not to find out why they should be awarded, but why they should not be awarded.

This is a debate we need to have in the off season - and certainly before the 2010 season - but Gus Gould's campaign against the video referee cannot be totally dismissed as "Gus being Gus".

When you have six or more tries "disallowed" during one game you have to ask the question - is the video referee being too pedantic? Or forensic?

Rugby league's greatest advantage over the other rugby code is that league is about scoring tries, not kicking goals.

We need to keep it that way.

And we need to have the use of the video referee re-assessed at season's end.

In the meantime the premiership is in great shape, front page stories, and photos, of Greg Inglis's friends not withstanding!