3 hours ago
Off the Wall
Tonight will see the end of the fifth round of the NRL premiership, and on the basis of what we have seen so far, the game is in very good shape - on the field.
The off field issues remain - no independent commission, a handful of players still behaving badly among the mostly good - but the quality of football we have seen so far has been outstanding.
The one concern I have - apart from the dragged out commission saga - is that the salary caps professed aim of "evening up the premiership" might be under real pressure this season.
Provided there is a good representation at the top of the table - and it is clear Sydney, Melbourne and Queensland teams are going to be in the premiership hunt - we are in for a great season.
The teams that look like really struggling, such as the Titans, the Raiders and perhaps the Rabbitohs, really do point to a "two divisions" premiership race - one division contesting the minor premiership, and another trying to avoid the wooden spoon!
The Titans are the biggest disappointment of all - at a time when the $150 million or so the AFL is tipping into the Gold Coast Suns.
Fortunately for the Titans, and the NRL, the Suns have been a massive flop on the field...notwithstanding some extraordinary nonsense in the media about their "improved" performance at the weekend. Improved? Well I guess if you get beaten by 70 points and not by more than 100 that is an improvement!
But the Titans need to start winning. And so do the Raiders. The Rabbitohs? The sooner the uncertainty who will coach them in 2012 will be is resolved the better. And the Eels? Changing coaches is certainly not an instant recipe for success.
Obviously the stand-out teams at this stage of the premiership are the Dragons and the Storm. Both could hardly have been more impressive yesterday. Their premiership odds will surely shorten today.
The Broncos, who play tonight, have done much better than most had expected. The Sea Eagles and the Tigers are going to be strong contenders. The Tigers, given their terrible injury toll, deserve all the plaudits they are getting.
But the big improvers of 2011 surely must be the Cowboys. If they continue to play as well as they did against the Titans on Friday night, they will make the final eight.
What a turnaround from 2010 that will be. Johnathan Thurston is in outstanding form, and he is even keeping his temper reasonably under control. I guess that comes with the territory when you are winning.
I heard Ray Warren yesterday describe Benji Marshall as the "best player in the world". He may well be - but he can expect a serious challenge from Thurston on recent form.
The NRL will be well pleased that there is a good regional "balance" at the top of the premiership.
Contrast that with what confronts the AFL after the first three the rounds of its premiership!
Four teams have yet to record a win - Brisbane, Gold Coast, Port Adelaide and North Melbourne. Not a great sign for the AFL's interstate "push".
The NRL will be desperately hoping the Titans lift their game to make this a real winter of discontent for the AFL on the Gold Coast.
And the crowds? Numbers have dropped off since the opening round. The one big worry is the Storm's crowds. In a magnificent new stadium, in a city which is noted for its sporting attendances, an attendance of around 11,000 is just not good enough!