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St George Illawarra...

Shooting Range. So that's that then? With the Storm not-so-much weathered as castrated, and with the Dragons dispatching the Roosters with an efficiency bordering on Germanic, St George Illawarra is now officially the team to beat. Even before the Storm were docked all their points, Craig Bellamy had singled them out. Now, every coach knows them as the benchmark by which to judge their own team's performance.

Whilst clearly being the best team still accruing points is something to be proud of, it does raise another critical point concerning the NRL's punishment of Melbourne. With the Storm out of the running, and with question marks as to both Penrith's and the Gold Coast's statuses as high fliers, the Dragons are now standing out from the crowd as the competition's premier team. This extra attention will no doubt lead to opponents lifting themselves when playing them (much in the same way team's lift to play the reigning premiers). That no team has defended a premiership since Brisbane defended their touch football crown in 1998 shows just how hard it is to keep producing results when teams are out to get each and every week: even Melbourne with their illegally assembled squad couldn't do it.

The Dragons, therefore, are in the unenviable position of carrying a premiership burden without the satisfaction of actually winning a premiership.

Penrith...

First? Maybe - the Panthers are the form team of the competition, having now established the best current winning streak of any team. It's moved them from nominal wooden spoon favourites to second on the ladder, just two points behind the Dragons. In fact, had Penrith beaten the Tigers by just three more points, the Panthers would have gone into Anzac Day at the top of the pile.

One thing history tells us about the Panthers is that for the last 20 years, they've tended to experience extreme success in the middle of deserts of mediocrity. The early 90s was a good spell, then nothing until the 2003 and 2004 seasons, then nothing since. 2010 is shaping up as another stellar year, but doubts persist. Firstly, how will this young team cope when shorn of their best players (Lewis, Jennings, Civoniceva et al) during the rep season?

Is there enough depth to cover for their topline players when injuries inevitably occur? Is Matthew Elliott the right man to lead a charge to the finals? This last point is perhaps the most important. Back in 2003, Canberra under Elliott led the NRL for the majority of the season, before fading spectacularly at the close and losing both their semi-finals. Quite clearly, Elliott is a decent coach, but is there any indication he is champion coach? Not yet.

Gold Coast...

The Spotlight. The Gold Coast Titans are brilliant at winning games when the lights are turned off and the focus is elsewhere. They've already knocked off Melbourne while the country was watching St George Illawarra play Brisbane, the Raiders during the Saturday night graveyard shift and now Manly on a Monday night against the might of the commercial networks prime time programming.

Cast the spotlight on them, however, and they've fallen hard: to the Dragons on a Friday night and the Cowboys in the sort-of local derby. Think back to last year's two semi-finals, and the Titans collapsed under the pressure both times. The Gold Coast host fellow pretenders/contenders Penrith this weekend which, unfortunately considering this is 2 v 3, is being played at 5:30 on Saturday night. Hopefully the magnitude of this game will overcome its ridiculous scheduling, but can the Titans overcome the subsequent spotlight?

Newcastle Knights...

The boardroom. How much longer is Rick Stone's honeymoon period going to last? The combination of stepping in to fill the void of the hated Brian Smith and steering Newcastle to the finals last year created some goodwill for Stone. But since Newcastle's spirited first round win over Canterbury, the Knights have only won one more game, and that was against an injury ravaged Cowboys outfit. Now the humiliation of losing to the Sharks - and a 20-point loss to the Sharks is like a 60-point loss to an okay team like Souths. The Knights now face a horror run leading up to their first bye: Broncos (a), Titans (h), Roosters (Central Coast) and Wests Tigers (h). If the Knights don't win any of those games, and that's the prediction, then should Stone still be around when the Knights get their second bye?

South Sydney...

Semi-Finals. One of the knock-on effect of Melbourne losing all their points is that the ninth best team in the league will make the finals. Good news for Tigers fans, who are used to missing out on the final day, but also for Souths fans. The Bunnies have snuck up to fifth, and play Manly this weekend. A spot in the top four beckons, one that Melbourne should actually have, but it's now there for the taking.

Parramatta, Canterbury, North Queensland and New Zealand...

Scrutiny. Two of these teams won and two lost during Round 7, but the relegation of Melbourne to the bottom of the ladder has distorted how these teams are being assessed. Jump up one spot on the ladder, and make the top eight a little bit easier to reach, and these teams don't seem to be doing to badly. One of them, however, is getting their scrutiny right now...

New Zealand...

The medicine cabinet. Was that the ultimate humiliation? On the one hand, losing by 34 points to a team with nothing to play is an embarrassment. But on the other, no-one thinks the Storm will keep this up all season, and that performance was more about sending a message than anything else. Were the Warriors just unlucky that they were the team to face this onslaught? If the Storm win this weekend, the Warriors can be slightly forgiven (and can take a Prozac to lift their spirits); if the Cowboys win, and especially if they win comfortably, the Warriors should take a Xanex to calm their anger at being the team in the wrong city at the wrong time.

Channel 9 on Sunday...

4pm. Did anyone else notice that? A huge crowd packed into a central stadium to watch a match that was being shown live on TV. One can only imagine how huge the TV ratings were, both at home and in pubs and clubs. TV stations charge premiums for ads during live sports coverage, so much so that a single ad in a high-rating live broadcast costs the same as six ads bundled together in a delayed, less popular broadcast. How soon before Channel 9 starts hankering for more Sunday matches to be played at 4pm? And didn't the ground look beautiful when bathed in the afternoon dusk? The game has never looked so good.

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