First tackle: Tackle restarts behind NRL score blow-outs
The gulf between the good teams and the bad continues to widen alarmingly, with weekly spankings being dealt to the downtrodden clubs.
The old adage that defence is mostly attitude has never before been so clearly evident as it has been in the early rounds of the 2021 season. Tackle restarts are testing poor attitudes more than ever and provide a simple explanation for the widening gap and the blow-out scores.
With tackle restarts, a wavering defensive attitude has little chance of survival. A team with anything less than 100 percent commitment to the cause, will struggle to get back on side, will look to slow down the ruck and will in turn give their opponents all the possession they'll need to crack their already less than perfect resolve. A defence not 100 percent switched on can often manage a six tackle onslaught, but stretch that to 12 or 18 tackles and a try is inevitable.
The coaches of the struggling teams face a difficult dilemma. They have to convince their players that the road to recovery starts between their ears. They have to be convinced to give their all for what appears to be a losing cause.
The new rules are merciless as are their fired up opponents.
Second tackle: Papenhuyzen's brilliance from fundamentals
Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen showed the value of pace and anticipation in scoring four blistering first-half tries against the Broncos on Friday night. A closer look at his performance will show him trailing the play up the middle of the field, aiming to be on the spot when needed.
One the game's greatest ever support players, Terry Lamb, once explained that he just ran hard up the middle of the field whenever a play was developing. It gave him the best chance to be available in support, when a break was made. Papenhuyzen did exactly that and had the pace to be there for the last pass and to race away to score the decisive tries.
Third tackle: Nine is overkill, surely
How many people do you need to hear from during the telecast of one rugby league game? Channel Nine seemed to think that nine were needed during Thursday night's Sea Eagles-Panthers clash at Brookvale.
James Bracey hosted the panel desk in the corner of the oval and started off talking to former players Andrew Johns and Billy Slater. On returning from an ad break Johns and Slater were gone, replaced by Allana Ferguson and Johnathan Thurston. They then threw to Danika Mason and Brad Fittler who conducted some pre-game interviews.
Meanwhile in the commentary box Peter Psaltis called the game, with Slater and Johns adding colour, while Fittler provided the sideline reports. Just when we thought we'd seen all the talent for the night, Paul Gallen joined Mason on the sideline for halftime analysis.
When you add Ray Warren, Phil Gould, Peter Sterling, Paul Vautin, Wally Lewis, Darren Lockyer, Sam Thaiday, Ruan Sims, Matt Thompson, Erin Molan and the newly acquired Sonny Bill Williams, you start to wonder how economical the whole set-up is.
Fourth tackle: Barrett's changes snuffed out against Bunnies
It's hard to feel too sorry for the Bulldogs as they seem to be their own worst enemies this season. But, this week, coach Trent Barrett tried something, moving his pieces around and resurrecting the first grade career of five-eighth Lachlan Lewis. Seven minutes into the game against the Rabbitohs, with the Bulldogs looking promising, Lewis raced out of the defensive line to hit a ball runner low. His head collected a hip and he staggered off to fail his HIA.
Barrett's other big change was to move Nick Meaney to his preferred fullback position. Meaney was looking good at the back until he was folded in half in a tackle, breaking ribs and ending that move for several weeks.
The Bulldogs are left with a backline full of wingers who think they are too good to play on the wing, a half released by the Roosters and some forwards led by Dylan Napa who only turn up each week to keep the salary transfers coming in. Despite having a coach who has been lauded as an attacking genius, their best set play has been a second rower hitting the ball up two passes wide of the ruck on an angle back into the heart of the defence in what can best be described as a suicide run.
It is going to be a long year for the Bulldogs and next week against the Storm it seems highly likely they will go a fourth straight game without scoring a point.
Fifth and last: Awful game showcases Dragons' resolve
There were calls a couple of weeks ago that the Broncos, Bulldogs game was the worst ever played, but the Knights, Dragons game on Sunday afternoon seemed very keen to challenge for that title. The scrappy, error and injury strewn battle in Newcastle dragged on for so long, it threatened to extend past the starting time of the Sunday late game.
The Dragons were without halfback Ben Hunt and the Knights lost their general after 25 minutes, when Mitchell Pearce hung out a high arm at a charging Dragons forward and tore his pectoral muscle in the process. The Knights also lost Kurt Mann and Tex Hoy decimating their spine and adding to the poor standard of play.
One thing that was evident throughout the scrappy contest was the resolve of the Dragons. Whatever new coach Anthony Griffin is selling, the entire dressing room appears to be buying. The Dragons have won three of their first four to start the season, last year they lost all four. They have tougher tests ahead, but they are growing in belief each week.
Handover: More rocks and diamonds for Fergo
There have been some early calls for Blake Ferguson to take a wing jersey for the Blues in this year's State of Origin series after some brilliant early season form. His first-half efforts against the Tigers only provided plenty of ammunition to his detractors. He dropped a kick-off and a bomb, the latter bringing the Tigers back into the contest with a try.
Five minutes into the second half however, Ferguson crashed his way through four Tigers defenders to score his fourth try of the year. He finished off the day by scoring another after pouncing on a loose ball from a Tigers short drop-out.
It was a typical rocks and diamonds day from the powerful outside back. At his best there is no better winger in the game and he has certainly proven his worth at Origin level. The lingering question is whether you can risk the rocky moments he almost inevitably produces.