This week we look at whether Campbell Graham should be allowed to play for Souths after pulling out of the Blues squad, what the Roosters should do with Jason Ryles, and whether the Tigers should re-sign halfback Luke Brooks.
Read on as we tackle some of the big talking points in this week's NRL Real or Not.
Campbell Graham should be forced to miss this Rabbitohs game
NOT REAL: Rabbitohs centre Campbell Graham has been in career-best form this season, scoring 12 tries in 12 appearances for the storied club. Still, he was unable to squeeze his way into the New South Wales team for the State of Origin opener in Adelaide, as coach Brad Fittler chose Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic in the centres, inside established wingers Josh Addo-Carr and Brian To'o. Graham was given the dubious honour of being named 18th man for the Blues, a role which does have more significance these days with replacement rules to cover for multiple failed HIAs.
As 18th man Graham would be expected to take part in all the training and bonding sessions and be fully prepared to step in should there be any late injuries, or on match day if the HIA protocols dictated. Shortly after being named, Graham withdrew from the squad, blaming an ongoing sternum injury which has restricted his training for most of the season. What has angered some is that he was then named in the Souths team to play the Raiders on Saturday night.
New South Wales coach Brad Fittler was fully across the situation and agreed that it was best for Graham to take himself out of the Origin picture.
"I've spoken to Campbell Graham many times during the year, because we have had a lot of Souths games [on Channel Nine] and he's just been carrying an injury," Fittler said on the Freddy and the Eighth podcast.
"When I spoke to him on Sunday night, he'd had a scan that day and it was a bit worse. He was saying it was a bit more painful than it had been prior.
"If you're the 18th man, you need to be ready and you need to be training and you need to be able to help out... that's the job.
"We didn't think it was beneficial to him, Souths or NSW - I think he's playing this week, so that's good.
"He's been in such good form, but there are a couple of pretty good players in front of him."
Sternum injuries take a while to heal and are extremely painful, particularly when constantly tested in the many collisions that take place in a game of rugby league. The injury can be overcome through the use of pain killer injections, but you can't be using those all week to get through the rigors of Blues training sessions. Souths would be wrapping him in cotton wool to make sure he was right to play each weekend. A Blues camp, in the lead up to a State of Origin series, is not a place for cotton wool.
It is time for Ryles to leave the Roosters
REAL: The world of NRL head coaching is a complicated business, with longevity afforded only to a select few and the chopping block the place of residence for most. Dragons coach Anthony Griffin had been awaiting the final swing of the axe for over a year, while in the background candidates for the job have been positioning themselves for a shot at the vacancy.
The decision makers at any club have a lot to consider when choosing the next head coach -- it is certainly not an exact science. Do you go with someone who has a profile as a former player or do you look for someone not as well-known who is doing great things in the lower grades or as an assistant? Do you go for a veteran who may currently be unemployed, but has a well-earned reputation for squeezing the best out of a side? Do you try and poach an established coach from his current club?
A coach's talent is far less tangible than a player's. A coach who works wonders with one group of players might struggle with another. Cowboys coach Todd Payten is currently illustrating that the drop from being a genius to completely struggling, can be a mere season away.
According to all reports, the Dragons are in the final stages of negotiations to sign former player Jason Ryles as their next head coach. Ryles is currently the Roosters defence coach, halfway through the second of a three-year contract. Like most clubs, the Roosters have no problem with Ryles leaving to further his coaching career. What does concern them is having him committed to another club while still deeply ensconced in the Roosters brains trust. If he has indeed nailed the Dragons job, he should leave the Roosters immediately and start working on the monumental task ahead of him.
The Tigers need to lock Luke Brooks into a one-club player contract
NOT REAL: There are several angles you can approach this argument from. Firstly, there is a dearth of quality halfbacks in the NRL and plenty running around that are not as good as Brooks, therefore, the Tigers would be mad to let him go for an uncertain future. Brooks has shown glimpses of his 2018 Dally M Halfback of the Year form in recent weeks and as the team grows and develops under the coaching of Tim Sheens and Benji Marshall, he could blossom, as he reaches an age where most halfbacks peak. Certainly Sheens thinks he should stay and is in the middle of nailing down a new deal for him.
"That (an offer) is going to happen over the next week and a half through our bye," Sheens said.
"I've spoken to his agent and the club has spoken to his agent. We will be making him an offer and I hope it's going to be enough.
"I've always had my eye on keeping Brooksy, I don't care what external people have said. I'm keen to keep him happy and keep him here.
"I signed him as a kid to a long-term deal at the club and he was a smart kid then and he's done well. In 2018 he was Dally M Halfback of the Year, so he's had his big moments and he's playing good footy at the moment."
Alternatively, you could say that it is well and truly time for a change, for both Brooks and the club. Ten years is a long time for a halfback to be in first grade and have never played finals football. The Tigers' finals drought started two years before Brooks arrived and can't be entirely pinned on him as a player, however the fact remains, with Brooks at halfback, the Tigers have never made the Top 8, and 2023 will likely mark his tenth year of missing out.
I think it is time to move on. The Tigers need to identify some young developing half and put Marshall to work on him. You only have to look at the emergence this season of Jahream Bula, to realise there are gems out there, waiting to be identified. Tigers supporters need to be presented with some hope for the future. For Brooks, he is likely to find a bit more money at a new club and the change would be as good as a holiday.