OPINION: 1. Dugan and Ferguson
It defies belief doesn't it? It's a real struggle for me to understand how, after everything they have experienced, these two boys decided it was a good idea to go out drinking together in public on Sunday night. Surely, with whatever remnants of commonsense they had left between them, they could have erred on the side of caution and laid low for the time being, at least. I understand players have rights to live a life and I have argued many times in the past that the intense scrutiny applied by media to these public figures is sometimes over-the-top and unfair. However, I find it incomprehensible to think that they couldn't work out for themselves that this was a risk not worth taking. I've also had people try to say to me that Josh Dugan does not deserve criticism because he didn't do anything wrong. I find that line of thinking equally as mystifying. Maybe he didn't misbehave, but he didn't show many brains either.
2. A line in the sand
Where does all this behaviour stuff end? As a game, we have for many years supported players to try to make a difference to them and their families. Personally, to those lads I have felt worthy of giving support and opportunity, I've bent over backwards to help them make a go of their careers and their private lives. This sometimes means giving these blokes a second chance (or many chances) after they have stepped out of line. As long as I believe they are trying to improve, I try to stick by them. Hell, I was no angel as a kid. I made my share of mistakes. It's an ongoing process and we are always dealing with a few like this in our clubs who require this extra attention.
But sometimes they just wear you out. Just when you think you are getting somewhere, they disappoint you again; and for no justifiable reason. Many we protect, not because we think we should, but because no one would understand if we didn't. Others we find hard to adequately discipline because in many instances, the public persona they display to media and fans is far removed from what they are really like behind the scenes. Hero worship from those outside the club is often so badly misdirected. Sometimes you just want to scream the truth from the highest building. And every time we get another event like James Tamou, Blake Ferguson or George Burgess hitting the headlines, which significantly damages the image of the game and those who do the right thing, it makes you question if it's all worthwhile. Maybe it's time for zero tolerance. Take the game away from them. It should be a privilege being a professional sportsman. Players should treat the honour accordingly.
3. Has the NRL top eight been decided?
Of the top eight teams on the ladder at this mid-point of the season, which side do you think might drop out of finals contention between now and round 26? It's hard to imagine any of them giving up their position at this stage. The top three teams (Rabbitohs, Storm and Roosters) are home and hosed. The Sea Eagles will be there as well. The Titans, Sharks, Bulldogs and Raiders are all playing strongly with no signs of weakening. Conversely, which of the teams outside the top eight are capable of a late-season surge? The Knights were great despite their defeat on Sunday - if they maintain that form they will make their presence felt. The Panthers have a crippling injury toll but continue to compete with integrity. The Broncos, Warriors and Cowboys have the playing rosters, but have they given the others too much start? The next five weeks until the end of the Origin period could be crucial. Unless these bottom teams keep winning to stay in touch, it could be a case of ''bid the mob good day''.
4. Long time coming for Nathan Merritt
Congratulations to South Sydney star Nathan Merritt on his selection in the NSW Origin team. It is thoroughly deserved and long overdue. I doubt we have seen, or will ever see, a more popular selection for NSW. This is a real feel-good story. Despite being close and missing out on many previous occasions, Merritt has always displayed a quiet dignity when quizzed about his obvious disappointment. His expertise on the field has been there for all to see for many years. I hope all goes well for him on the night and he holds his position to play in front of a sell-out home crowd back here in Sydney for the last game of the series.
5. Swift action is needed on second-tier salary cap
Fair-minded league fans will cut the new NRL administration a fair bit of slack as it tries to deal with myriad problems it has inherited from the previous administration, but when it comes to the second-tier salary cap, urgent action is a must for the health of the NRL. As I have pointed out previously, the NRL's second-tier salary cap in 2005 was eight times that of the NRL's minimum wage. This year it is now just five times that of the minimum wage. As a consequence, dozens of players have been denied the right to play in the NRL. On this point alone, the NRL should be implementing interim measures immediately to bring the second-tier salary cap back into line with the current minimum wage. Waiting for committee meetings and inquiries to tell us what we all know is of little comfort for these hard-working and deprived players. Let's get this fixed now.
6. An Origin player is always on show
An interesting point many Roosters fans have made, suggesting their team's Origin stars had quiet games in the loss to the Warriors on Sunday night. I guess that's understandable to most people given the enormity of Origin II next week and the importance of this series to the Blues in ending a seven-year losing streak. However, Origin pressure didn't seem to affect some of Queensland's big guns. Johnathan Thurston was brilliant for the Cowboys in their vital victory over the Dragons. Cameron Smith was outstanding for the Storm on Sunday. So, too, was Billy Slater. The Broncos' Origin players also gave 100 per cent against Wests Tigers on Monday night. Just getting picked to play Origin doesn't make you an Origin player. You have to prove it every time you take the field.
- Sydney Morning Herald