Each week ESPN's resident NRL experts will take a look at the burning issues in rugby league and try to come up with the answers. Their opinions might not match yours, but they should certainly spark further debate on the latest conundrums facing the game we all love.
Is the future of the NRL best served by the addition of two more teams and a conference system?
Darren: The NRL has rightly taken a good look at what the future might hold for the game, in the short and long term. Any business which doesn't forward plan in this way is doomed to failure. Expansion always seems to be the answer when looking at ways to grow the game. Adding teams would certainly make the NRL bigger, but I'm not entirely sure about better. There is already a worrying gulf between the good teams and the strugglers, adding more teams is only likely to make that gulf bigger and render some games virtually unwatchable. A conference system is a way of managing the greater number of teams, to ensure that the competition is played out fairly. The use of the term Super Bowl by some sections of the media was a bit embarrassing, and as Peter V'Landys has stated, it is just a suggestion at this stage. It was very promising to see that junior development improvements were a big part of the NRL's plans as well. If something isn't done to increase grass roots involvement, there won't be an NRL in 10-20 years time.
Lucie: Innovation is key to the NRL's future, but an idea like the conference system does not serve the best interests of the game. The NRL first needs to resolve expansion, with two new teams in Brisbane and New Zealand, before then giving consideration to a conference structure. Under the league's current format, the only winners in this scenario are Sydney clubs and fans - and even then they would not meet in the grand final should it be structured like the NFL. Conference systems work well in countries like the United States (which is usually split between Eastern and Western) but due to Australia and New Zealand's geography, there's a risk of creating an uneven competition due to travel. Extensive travel would be required for all non-Sydney based clubs week-in, week-out - which would be taxing come the end of the season. Furthermore, the integrity of the competition needs to be protected and talent shared across both conferences to make sure one conference does not become stronger than the other. And that, is easier said than done.
What do you think of Latrell Mitchell's stand against social media trolls?
Lucie: They say; "Just don't read the comments", "Just don't click on the messages". But with social media so integral to our lives, especially a sportsperson's life, those solutions let the trolls be trolls. Instead of being told to remove social media, it's the perpetrators who should get off it. And stances like Latrell Mitchell's show there's consequences to online abuse - and hopefully it inspires others to call it out and report. Athletes are role models, so by Mitchell making a stand he's not just doing it for the players but also the community. Anyone can be affected by it, and as Mitchell said it could only take one message to put someone over the edge. It comes less than a year after Erin Molan and Anthony Seibold spoke out about cyber-bulling - prompting the Australian government to introduce the toughest laws in the world to stamp out the online troll. So actions speak louder than words, especially those of keyboard warriors.
Darren: For far too many years we have been told that social media is full of trolls and there is nothing we can do about it. Thicken your skin or get off social media have been the only solutions offered up, particularly to those in the public eye. People somehow think that social media is a realm where they can abandon all standards of decency and unleash their foul, vile, hatred, aimed at anyone and everyone without consequences. Mitchell has been subjected to some horrid racial attacks from some low-life keyboard warriors and has decided to take a stand. I hope his actions set the new standard for people in the public eye, particularly footballers, who have previously been told to harden up and ignore it. No one should ignore this kind of behavior, no matter what forum it takes place in.
Is sacking Michael Maguire the answer for the struggling Tigers?
Lucie: Wests Tigers need long-term stability, not a new coach. Sacking a fifth coach in nine years will only set them back further, leading to yet another roster rebuild. The next coach would inherit the same problems as Madge, the aftermath of poor roster management and the lack of a winning culture. Madge needs time to strengthen his team and build that mentality at Concord, and it's no easy task when the club has failed to reach finals for the last decade. After falling to their worst start in joint-venture history, the club has to fight their way out of the mess and think long term. Just look at Brad Arthur. The Parramatta Eels did not make the finals in his first three seasons as head coach and claimed the wooden spoon in 2016. Yet the club stuck with him and now they've finished fifth and third in the past two seasons. That's why the Tigers need a long-term fix. Yes, they've only won 37.3 percent of matches under Madge - but would have other coaches have done much better?
Darren: There really has to be a point in every club's evolution when they realise that a constant run of hiring and firing coaches is not going to provide the magic formula to success. Seriously, the Tigers have had more coaches recently than Channel 9 has expert commentators - well, almost. They are not going to suddenly stumble on a coach who will win them a premiership within two years of arriving. They could hire Wayne Bennett, Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson to work together and they'd be lucky to make the finals. Michael Maguire is a well-credentialled, very respected first grade coach, known to be tough on players. If the current crop of Tigers players aren't happy to put 100 percent in for him, then the club needs to look at finding 17 players who will. They need to keep Maguire on until he has had a chance to sort out a playing group that will put the club and its fans first. It's not a simple task, but you can't keep throwing coaches away before they've had a decent shot. This horrible start to the 2021 season should be seen as the final straw for a number of players, not the coach.