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.
Do the Tigers have yet another coaching problem or do the issues lie elsewhere?
Lucie: There are issues here, there and everywhere for the Wests Tigers with another season left in tatters. Michael Maguire is one. Their lack of a winning culture is another. And then there's the defence. I'm still not convinced that showing Madge the door is the answer because that's been the same old tale of Tigertown: a new coach comes in, laments the roster, starts another rebuild and the club waits another three seasons for successful results. That shows to me the issue is beyond the coach, because really - would the likes of Shane Flanagan or Paul Green be able to do better? The Tigers should only move on from Madge if Wayne Bennett showed interest, because otherwise the club would be back to square one. And just imagine that - a Bennett-Sheens dream team. It does make the mouth water. The return of Tim Sheens to Concord is the most significant move so far in the Tigers' plot to turn around the club because he could do what Maguire has failed to do so far - and that's attract a big fish. The worrying thing for the Tigers heading into 2022 is the lack of star factor. While the likes of Brisbane and the Bulldogs head in a positive direction recruitment-wise, Wests are still looking for their name up in lights. There's no leadership on the field nor in the front office to be frank, so with that in mind the coach (whoever it is) needs more support. A smart move for the Tigers, if they stick with Madge, is to find a decent defensive coach because besides their attitude, that's what has let them down in 2021. The Tigers conceded 714 points this season alone, at an average of almost 30 points a match. Defence wins matches. The Tigers aren't winning. And that's just the start of their issues.
Darren: There are only so many times you can replace a head coach before you finally realise that the problem is not with the clipboard carrier. Michael Maguire can coach, that hasn't changed, what has changed is that he is in charge of a bunch of players who don't seem interested in applying themselves to the cause, a group that seems content with collecting their pay packets regardless of results. Where Maguire might be failing is in thinking that his rousing speeches before and during games are actually reaching anyone. Most of his players have switched off and they clearly aren't buying whatever it is he thinks he is selling. He's yelling: "This next 40 minutes is the most important of your lives!" and they are hearing: "We only have 40 minutes before we get to out of here." Do the Tigers look for another coach, one that somehow sparks a nerve in these players? Tigers General Manager Football Adam Hartigan arrived with a mandate to build the club on the strength of its junior development area, the way the Panthers have. It is not a quick process, but it has to start with tapping a few entitled first graders on the shoulder, to let them know their efforts have not been up to the standards required, before replacing them with young locals who are willing to run through brick walls for the club. Dot the roster with a few astute senior purchases and settle on some steady improvement over the next few years. Fans are sick of seeing the same rubbish dished up year after year, no matter who is coaching.
How vital is a fully fit Cameron Munster to the Storm's title chances?
Lucie: The vitality of Cameron Munster to the Melbourne Storm's title chances will come down to who they face in the decider, assuming they get that far. With Munster's fitness in doubt with a knee infection, coach Craig Bellamy will likely shift Nicho Hynes into five-eighth to combine with Jahrome Hughes. It looms as a massive opportunity for 25-year-old Hynes to prove himself in the halves before he heads to the Sharks next year. He starred at fullback in the absence of Ryan Papenhuyzen and played a pivotal role in Melbourne's record 19-match winning streak. But come finals football, the Storm need their main-man Munster at No.6. At his best the Queenslander is a proven big-game player and is key in managing the Storm's backline. He would be vital to Melbourne's title charge in a Storm-Panthers final, with Penrith's combination of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai a class above. But he does need to be fully fit, the Maroons' 50-6 hiding from the Blues in Origin I (which featured Cleary and Luai) is a testament to that as he took a risk by playing with a foot injury. The other factor to consider is the fitness of Josh Addo-Carr who has been left out of this weekend's clash with the Sea Eagles due to a hamstring injury. The Storm need at least one of either Munster or Addo-Carr on field to combat their rivals in the quest for back-to-back titles; if both are absent, that would be a devastating blow for the minor premiers.
Darren: There is no questioning the class of Munster and his importance to the Storm's chances of winning the premiership this year. He has been the senior lynch pin in the side following the retirement of Cameron Smith at the end of last year. They'll want him as near to 100% fit as possible though, as I don't believe an injured Munster would be as valuable to the team as a fully fit Nicho Hynes in the same role. If they can't get Minster on the field, I still can't write them off as potential premiers. Hynes has proven himself to be quite the fill-in for the Storm and the brilliance of the Craig Bellamy system is that he can plug and play different cogs in his machine and still achieve unmatched results. They are very clearly the team to beat for the main prize this year, they just become even tougher to beat with Munster in the No.6 jersey.
Promising signs for the Broncos and Bulldogs in their final round performances or more salt in the wounds of their frustrated fans?
Lucie: It was the record-setting win and a Top 8 upset that marked the end of another season to forget with hope. Indeed the Bulldogs saved their best for last when belted the Tigers with the biggest-ever winning margin by a team coming last in the final round. It came after the Broncos brought their campaign to an end with a statement win over the seventh-ranked Knights. Now, while not much rides on two individual results those final-round wins were just a taste of what's to come. Because what their frustrated fans can be sure of is that there'll be more victories to smile about in 2022 for Brisbane and Canterbury-Bankstown. Both teams bid adieu to a number of players as they prepare to welcome in the fruits of a mega-signing spree come preseason. Brisbane will be bolstered by the likes of Adam Reynolds and Kurt Capewell, while the Bulldogs recruited Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Dufty and Matt Burton to Belmore. They're names that could see both teams thereabouts when the finals roll around next season, or at least lifted off the bottom of the NRL ladder. But those signings aren't the only promising sign for next season, with the final round of 2021 showing there's still a beating heart in their youthful rosters. Herbie Farnworth and Tesi Niu showed a glimpse of what's to come in their standout performances. Against the lowly Tigers, Jack Hetherington stepped up for the Bulldogs as he ran 122 metres, made two tackles busts, one line break and also scored his first NRL try. So yes, there's signs of a promising future ahead.
Darren: The Bulldogs and Broncos both finished their seasons with performances that were full of hope and promise for the future. I'm not too sure how motivated their opponents were on the day, but you can only play what is in front of you and in the Bulldogs case, a win of any description was something to celebrate. I think the signs for Kevin Walters and the Broncos were very encouraging, with a group of enthusiastic youngsters giving it all for the jersey, which is exactly what Walters was brought in to achieve. When you add a seasoned professional like Adam Reynolds to that mix, you can easily see them pushing their way into the Top 8 next year. The Bulldogs will see an even greater influx of talent next season and it is yet to be seen whether coach Trent Barrett has what it takes to bring them together and build a winning team. He certainly failed to achieve any improvement with the squad he had for 2021. It must have been pleasing for Broncos fans to see the season end with the players showing a lot more pride in their performances. Bulldogs fans have been generally happy with the effort of their players, but frustrated by a lack of direction in terms of game plans and attacking structures. Both clubs will be hoping for a bigger and brighter 2022 season.