We head to Magic Round with a much better line on a few teams as longer runs of form are exposed. Here come your talking points from the weekend.

Don’t hate the whistleblower, hate the rule

After last week’s debacle of ref abuse and hyper-focus on decisions, things appeared to settle back to whatever normal is in the NRL these days. Storm hooker Harry Grant getting 10 in the bin (and a fine from the Judiciary) for contact with the kicker was really harsh when just a penalty would have suited, but again the decision was to the letter of the law. You can’t touch the kicker, no matter how soft it looks.

Same with the high contact penalty Manly got late against the Dolphins on Thursday – it was soft contact, it didn’t harm the player, but it was high and it was contact. Them’s the rules.

Ominous Roosters, cruising Sharks

The Roosters celebrated prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ 300th game for the club by towelling up the Warriors by 20 and moving to the fringes of the top four. Since their ‘controversial’ loss in Melbourne, the Chooks have won their last three to the tune of 138-54, giving out hidings with fast and agile play.

Angus Crichton is in great nick, James Tedesco is having a great season and new winger Dom Young is starting to wind up into the form the Chooks wanted when they brought him across from Newcastle.

They’ll be tested this week by Cronulla, who come away from Melbourne with a fantastic 25-18 win and without Nicho Hynes too. While plenty out there have rubbished Cronulla for soft draws and finals fadeouts (myself included), the 2024 Sharks passed their first major test and their next fortnight is just as challenging, with the Roosters then Penrith.

Their 8-1 record means the wins and losses might not matter too much for these games – but the performances will be closely scrutinised.

More teams are coming

News this week about NRL expansion, with the still baffling inevitability of a Papua New Guinean club on the way for 2027. This will never make sense to me from a competition point of view, but the NRL would be mad to knock back the funding on offer to get a team basically given to them for free.

After that we’re apparently looking at one or two new clubs from Perth, South Island, New Zealand, or Ipswich in Queensland.

The weekend talk inevitably brought up the ‘return’ of the North Sydney Bears, who are treated in the media as if they’re a done deal as partner for any Perth-based club – the reality is somewhat different.

A West Australian minister is investigating possible options for a Perth club and part of his due diligence is examining if partnerships could work. Nothing is actually on the table for the Bears.

If the NRL want to doom any Perth venture from day one, relocating a NSW Cup team there is 100 per cent the way to do it. It’s going to be hard enough to cultivate the local support without a Sydney club no one’s ever heard of claiming ownership.

Perth sport fans and potential sponsors will have zero interest in something that’s not entirely their own and surely Peter V’landys and the ARL Commission understand this. I’m assuming V’landys is talking up the Bears to keep the headlines bubbling along because there’s no way it would work in practice.

The NRL would do well to heed the lessons from the debacle that was the A-League men’s expansion in 2019 and 2020, when Western United then Macarthur FC joined the league at the expense of strong local bids from around the country. Ignoring what people actually want is to the severe detriment of your league.

Good games this week

Time to move to Magic Round! The most magic of rugby league rounds. The PR is spinning, the fans are on the way… are the match-ups fit for the stage?

The weekend kicks off with an interesting Friday, with Canberra and Canterbury in Friday’s pub game before Brisbane play ’away’ to Manly in primetime.

Saturday has three games which should be pretty competitive. The afternoon kickoff sees the ‘resurgent’ Titans and the Knights, who’ve won three on the trot without Kalyn Ponga, and against teams they’re shouldering for the 6-8 finals spots.

Saturday twilight is the match of the round with Cronulla and the Roosters. This should be a great match-up as Cronulla continue their journey to shut their critics’ mouths, and the Roosters continue to gather steam towards the top four.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 12: Dominic Young of the Roosters is tackled during the round 10 NRL match between Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors at Allianz Stadium, on May 12, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Dominic Young is tackled. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Saturday night sees South Sydney and North Queensland go at it, which based on ladder positions doesn’t raise many expectations, but still might be a sneaky good one.

Sunday’s hangover games see New Zealand desperate for a win against Penrith, Melbourne in need of a win over Parramatta then the round wraps with Wests Tigers and the Dolphins in another sneaky good one.

The Dragons have the bye.

This round’s random thoughts

– Yes, Nathan Cleary’s annual major injury is bad news for Penrith and New South Wales, but it gets markedly worse for the Panthers following a bad leg injury to back-up halfback Brad Schneider. The champions’ depth is getting a big test in 2024.
– Manly are starting to fritter away a favourable early schedule with two bad losses on the go, blowing big leads to teams they should have beaten. They’re hanging onto the bottom of the eight and with Brisbane this week, then Melbourne, the bye and Penrith, Anthony Seibold will be feeling some serious heat if they can’t get right.
– What was Valentine Holmes doing not grounding the ball for a score against the Titans? Brain fade? Too many thoughts at once? No time? It was a baffling decision.
– Super Rugby-bound Joseph Sua’ali’i once again in trouble for running the ball with high knees into tacklers. That’s something he should have gotten out of his game by now.
– Try of the week? No doubt it was this ripper from Dolphins fullback Trai Fuller. A good old fashioned chip-and-chase with speed to burn. The 27-year-old is in his fifth NRL game and he’s got three tries. Fuller is making the most of his opportunity and however long it lasts, it’s a great rugby league story.

What’s caught your eye this weekend, Roarers?

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