Each week, ESPN's NRL experts Darren Arthur and Christian D'Aloia take on the burning issues in the game.
Would Sonny Bill Williams be a good signing for an NRL club for the remainder of 2020?
Darren: Any club looking to sign Sonny Bill Williams for the remainder of the 2020 season will have to do so very cautiously and definitely not for anywhere near the kind of money he has become accustomed to in his storied career. Williams is at the back end of his career and although presenting a perfect picture of what an elite athlete can achieve through the right conditioning, he is short of being the game-breaker that everyone remembers helped the Roosters to a premiership in 2013. He could give the right team a boost as they battle towards the finals, and he could very well upset the psychological balance of one of the top teams. You only need look at what happened to the 2018 Eels - who made the top 4 - when they paid handsomely to add Jarryd Hayne to the roster for 2019. Players achieving great things, busting a gut for their teammates, don't always appreciate management telling them they need an overpaid "superstar" to get them over the line.
Christian: If reports of Williams' immense impact over playing groups are to be believed, signing the dual-international can only be a good thing -- even if it is only for a handful of games at the end of this season. For a premiership contender, he can provide an unexpected and unparalleled competitive edge that could be the difference between taking out the competition and falling short. For a premiership minnow, meanwhile, he could be key to transforming the club into a genuine title threat in the coming years. His professionalism and commitment to training could serve as inspiration for young players still trying to find their feet in first grade. Regardless of how difficult the recruitment process is and the limited number of games he'll be able to play, there isn't a club in the league that wouldn't benefit from the presence of SBW.
Should Trent Barrett start his tenure at the Bulldogs immediately?
Darren: I congratulate Trent Barrett on signing a three-year head coaching contract with a club desperately trying to rebuild a competitive team, and have it put on hold until he is ready. It is totally understandable that he wants to remain part of what is going on at the Panthers this year, but his delay opens up so many cans of worms and leaves Bulldogs fans feeling jaded. Is he able to join in on the Bulldogs recruitment drive over the coming months? A good chat to the coach is a key part of any signing these days; will the Panthers agree to allowing Barrett time to do that? What about the wealth of talent at the Panthers? Are those players instantly off limits to the Bulldogs now because of the situation Barrett has manufactured for himself? And even though the Bulldogs are no hope of making the finals this season, the rest of the year could have been used as an extended preseason for a new coach to put his structures in place and work towards starting 2021 on the front foot. Barrett and the Panthers are the winners in the way this deal has been put together.
Christian: I have no doubt that the Bulldogs would have preferred for Barrett to begin his tenure at Belmore immediately, but he's under contract at Penrith and is a genuine chance to win the premiership with them. For this reason, I can certainly understand why he and the Panthers are committed to seeing out the year before he switches over to the blue-and-whites for season 2021. Moreover, there is little that Barrett can do for a Canterbury side that is languishing in last place and lacking some serious talent on its roster. The Bulldogs would be pleased, however, if he's able to contribute to the club's recruitment and retention drive for the remainder of this year and next year.
Stephen Kearney, Dean Pay and now Paul Green, which was the most surprising coaching departure?
Darren: It would definitely have to be Stephen Kearney, considering the circumstances the Warriors were facing at the time of his sacking. Stranded in Australia, doing the NRL a massive favour by staying away from home and family to allow a full competition to continue, the last thing the Warriors needed was to lose their leader. Kearney was guiding the players though uncharted territory and they were experiencing their ups and downs, as they always do. The owners called for his sacking, it seems regardless of the unique circumstances. Cowboys coach Paul Green became a victim of his own success. No coach should hold tenure at the same club for too long, players need fresh ideas and new systems to keep them motivated and improving. It was simply time for Green to go, although he could have seen out the year. Dean Pay was in a no-win situation from day one at the struggling Bulldogs and became a bit of a seat warmer while the club sorted through its financial problems. He clearly did not have the playing talent needed to succeed, but he did little to improve what he had, with players out of position and no clear attacking strategy for the entire two-and-a-half years he was at the helm.
Christian: The recent Cowboys sacking of Paul Green was perhaps the least surprising move of the three despite his famous 2015 Grand Final victory and his standing as the club's longest serving coach. Since the start of the legendary Johnathan Thurston's final season in 2018, the Cowboys' winning percentage had fallen to just 32 percent. Less than a week earlier, Dean Pay was sacked by the Bulldogs for a 33 percent win rate over the same period, though an under-par roster and salary cap constraints could be argued as mitigating circumstances. Stephen Kearney's shock sacking, meanwhile, came off the back of the Warriors' 2-2 start to the season, in the middle of a unique year that required his players to leave their families indefinitely. Kearney was a leader among that playing group, guiding them through the uncertainties of 2020 for the sake of the game. Despite his mediocre 41 percent winning record at the Warriors, his sacking was certainly the least warranted so far this year and indeed in recent memory.