NRL Round Table: Broncos a mess, Raiders tumble and rules are rules

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.

Like never before the Broncos have been losing quality players from their system, how much has this contributed to their horror run of late?

Lucie: Imagine a Brisbane side with Sam Walker, Reece Walsh, David Fifita, Harry Grant and Kurt Capewell. They're just a few players who came through the Broncos system, but have gone on to dazzle the NRL early in their careers with other clubs. No doubt Brisbane has lost future stars, but I think their horror run of form goes beyond these players. It comes down to recruitment and culture. Yes, the Broncos have lost quality players from their system but it's on the club to replace them with other talent. In the past few weeks the club has let Walsh and Tom Deardon slip, with the latter to the Cowboys, while Xavier Coates is being heavily pursued by the Melbourne Storm. Even Anthony Milford, who the club has invested in, is open to another move. But who is knocking on the door at Red Hill? The club needs to sort out their roster and restore their winning culture for it to translate on field.

Darren: This is a bit of a chicken and egg question really, when you take a good look at the Broncos over the past five years. Are they slumping because they have lost so much talent or have they lost that talent because of their poor performances on the field and up through their coaching and management? With Sam Walker and Reece Walsh tearing it up for the Roosters and Warriors, having both come through the Broncos system, Brisbane are paying dearly for their roster decisions, particularly the hefty investment they made in the disappointing Anthony Milford and more recently Brodie Croft. If having a regular first grader ahead of you at a club makes a youngster think of going elsewhere, seeing that player under perform each week and still retain that spot must be the final straw. The Broncos have re-signed Kotoni Staggs, which is a good sign, but they look like losing Xavier Coates to Melbourne. They really need to sort out their management in order to best utilize the enormous potential they have in their catchment area.

After five losses from their last six games, are Ricky Stuart's Raiders gone for 2021?

Lucie: Internal strife and a losing streak has Canberra Raiders facing a crossroads, one that could determine the outcome of their season. There's still time for Ricky Stuart's side to save their campaign, but this fortnight is crucial to steering them back on track. Canberra will meet the battling Newcastle Knights and Canterbury Bulldogs in the next two weeks, should the Raiders win both they'll be back to 50 percent and off-field troubles will ease. But lose? Then there's real cause for concern. I think it's too early to write the Raiders off, because they respond well to adversity and are itching for another shot at breaking their title drought. In 2020, Canberra showed resilience to overcome a taxing travel schedule and an injury crisis - which had now former co-captain Josh Hodgson out for the majority of the season. They've been knocking on the door of an NRL title for the past few years and have ridden that momentum, so now is their biggest test of character. There's a clear drop from the current top five in points, meaning the Raiders still have time and opportunity to make the eight at least. Stuart just needs to find the fix - and quick.

Darren: It's not just the five losses, but the manner in which they have been losing that has me prepared to write them off for the season. I tipped them to win the premiership this year, so it has come as a shock and a disappointment to see them capitulate after halftime in several of their losses. It indicates a lack of determination, a lack of team spirit, a lack of fortitude, it really suggests something is not right at the Raiders. For Josh Hodgson, who has been one of their best since arriving from England, to be on the outer and relinquishing the captaincy suggests a dressing room drama that has spilled over into on-field performances. It won't be long before Ricky Stuart finds himself the next coach under pressure to retain his job, which seems ridiculous considering how close they came to premiership glory just two years ago.

After seeing Benji Marshall's craftiness last week, are the obstruction rules too black and white?

Lucie: The obstruction rules need to be black and white as they are, otherwise block plays and decoy runs would multiply in a further detriment to the game. However, what constitutes an obstruction in the NRL seems to change on a weekly basis as it often comes down to an interpretation. In the case of Benji Marshall, he was accused of 'gamesmanship' by Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart after running into Emre Guler when he stopped in the line. It was a smart move by Marshall to make sure the Bunker could overturn the try decision, but as Stuart said - common sense did not prevail. Whether the obstruction affected his ability to tackle Jack Wighton, the try scorer, is doubtful - and that's where the rule is clouded in grey. So although I don't think the obstruction rules should be loosened by definition, the interpretation just needs to be consistent across matches and referees.

Darren: Unfortunately, the bunker review system has proven that there is no room for common sense when making big decisions on infringements such as obstruction. The rules have to be black and white and the way to interpret those rules needs to be set out in a strict set of guidelines. It is the game's only chance of achieving consistency. Sure Benji Marshall made sure that he was obstructed, but we can't have bunker officials trying to interpret what each player is thinking in each situation. The bunker is also in no position to make judgement calls on whether or not Marshall was capable of covering the distance to Jack Wighton or even capable of stopping the rampaging Origin star. The Raiders player should not have been where he was; it's black and white, run through the defensive line, don't stop in the middle of it. The other call that saw a second disallowed Wighton try was equally black and white. Don't catch the ball on the inside shoulder of a decoy or run behind him while in possession. You can't have consistency and calls open to personal interpretation, it is one or the other.