First tackle: Bin the sinners
So it seems the blissfully whistle-free early days of the 2019 season are well behind us, as evidenced throughout the weekend, with referees trying to crack down on the ruck area which had become a free-for-all. The Good Friday clash between the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs saw 20 penalties interrupt play, many for hands in the ruck and slowing down of the play-the-ball. By comparison, the Bulldogs' opening-round clash with the Warriors saw a grand total of five penalties blown.
After the game Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett said he didn't believe enough was being done to speed up the play-the-ball. It was fairly obvious following the lenient start to the season that coaches would encourage their players to push the boundaries as far as it would go.
At one point in the Titans' thrashing of the Knights, the referee told Knights captain Mitchell Pearce that his team was employing a deliberate tactic of interfering with the play-the-ball. Pearce denied it, but of course they were - they were being hammered at the time, and had their backs to the wall with the Titans threatening to score yet again.
During the Sea Eagles' clash with the Dragons, Manly players high-fived and clapped each other when a particularly tough sequence of defensive sets on their own goal line ended with the Dragons taking a kick for goal from a ruck infringement penalty. It's pretty obvious that sin-binning the perpetrator would soon change that, as the Dragons would more likely take the tap and continue their assault as the Sea Eagles scrambled to defend with only 12 players.
So the lenient start to the season has produced the expected abuse by players, leaving referees with little choice but to blow more penalties. So far that is still not enough to deter players from slowing down the ruck, thus the only answer is to start sin-binning offenders. Seems we are back where we started.
Second tackle: Different game to the one Ray played
You couldn't help but wonder what Ray Price, one of the guests of honour, was thinking early in the first ever game played by his beloved Eels at Bankwest Stadium. In the opening tackle of the game Eels prop Daniel Alvaro was hit by a three-man Tigers tackle and couldn't get up. He received a penalty when replays showed a Tigers player's shoulder made contact with his chin during the tackle, he also left the field and did not return.
Not long after, Eels second-row forward Marata Niukore was helped from the field after being crunched in a Moses Mbye cover tackle. Tigers hooker Robbie Farah then left the field with a head knock, ruled out of the rest of the contest after doctors decided they didn't like the look of his stumble (he passed the HIA test).
Early in the second half, Eels forward Tepai Moeroa was helped from the field looking groggy, while the Tigers received a dubious penalty for a slight bump to centre Robert Jennings' chin.
Price made his name at club, state and international level playing for the full eighty minutes, often after several head knocks and carrying injuries that would stop most players these days. The 1970s and 80s when Price played were certainly tougher, even if they weren't better for the long-term health of the players.
Third tackle: Powerful Poms leading Raiders charge
Ricky Stuart must the happiest coach in the NRL after his Raiders took care of the Broncos to grab a share of top spot on the NRL ladder.
On the back of four incredible seasons from hooker Josh Hodgson, and solid contributions over three years from Elliott Whitehead, the club moved back into the English Super League player market and signed John Bateman and Ryan Sutton for this season.
The "Fab Four" as they have been called, are leading the way for the Raiders having instilled the kind of consistency of performance that the Green Machine has been lacking for years. Against the Broncos, both Bateman and Sutton crossed for second-half tries, killing off a spirited Broncos fightback.
Canberra has traditionally been a tough place to lure Australian players due to the climate and isolation. An Englishman travelling halfway around the world is already isolating himself from friends and family, the cold surely only makes him feel more at home.
Fourth tackle: Manly rightfully mad
The Dragons' clash with Manly in Wollongong was frustrating in many ways. It was a stop-start game, with more ruck infringement penalties being blown late in tackle counts and some unusual calls from the referees. At one point they called in the bunker to adjudicate on a play that didn't look like a try, but technically could have been a penalty-try.
Manly's Brad Parker was penalised after video replays show he thrust his leg out to trip Dragons centre Euan Aitken who was chasing through a grubber kick. There was no chance of it being a penalty-try as the grubber kick went straight to Manly's Jorge Taufu; but Parker should have been sin-binned for the offence. He wasn't.
Then on the very last play of the game with the Dragons clinging to a 12-10 lead, Daly Cherry Evans bombed to the corner in a last roll of the dice. Dragons centre Tim Lafai clearly blocked Manly winger Reuben Garrick as he was about to leap for the ball. Despite Manly's on-field protests, the referees called full-time.
The NRL has since admitted that it should have been a penalty which would have left Cherry Evans with a chance to take the game into golden point extra-time. As far as refereeing errors go, they don't come much bigger and coach Des Hasler wasn't happy after the game.
"It goes directly in the face of what they were talking about as far as running defenders off the ball," Hasler said.
"We questioned one the week before so it's a bit confusing when they say these are the guidelines on the escort. But they won't rule on an escort there."
Asked for his understanding on how the rule worked, Hasler responded: "I don't know. I don't think anyone knows."
Fifth and last: Fullback's reverse knee could have been costly
When your knee bends a sickening distance in the opposite direction thanks to clash with an opponent's head, do you; climb onto the medi-cab, hobble off or wave away the medical staff and continue to play? Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad took the third option and defied belief by continuing to play going into the halftime break.
He came out after the break heavily bandaged and clearly inconvenienced. Brisbane levelled the score at 14-14 with a try that a fully fit fullback could have stopped, as winger Corey Oates chased through a grubber kick. Ultimately the Raiders were too strong and went on to win the game, with Nicoll-Klokstad's courage to be admired, but probably not advised.
Handover: Brother's misplaced love
Brotherly love was on show four minutes into the second half of the Panthers' clash with the Sharks and it could have proved a turning point in the game. The Panthers were leading 14-0 at the time when Sharks half Chad Townsend gave Malakai Watene-Zelezniak an almighty shove in the back after he had passed the ball. Townsend turned into the path of Malakai's brother Dallin who returned the favour shoving him to the turf. The penalty was awarded to Cronulla and a couple of sets later Sharks speedster Bronson Xerri made a break and scorched his way around Dallin for a try which began the fightback.
The Sharks went on to win the game 24-20, with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak apologising for the incident after the game.
"Any penalties are a turning point, but that was a big one because we had the ball. Looking back on it now, I regret it a lot. It was a brain snap," he said.
"I'll work on that and make sure I never do it again. I just reacted to it poorly and I've got to learn how to control it in other ways and not make that mistake again.
"(Cleary) addressed it and I apologised. It was a massive brain snap and it hurt us."