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.
What has been worst part of the 2021 season for fans?
Lucie: Blowouts. Blowouts. And more blowouts. Nothing is more boring in sport than a one-sided affair. Twenty five times this season, a team has scored at least 40 points. Six of those results saw teams concede 50 points or more. Now, that doesn't make nice viewing. Blowouts aren't an anomaly, but this season they're occurring at an abnormal rate. There's an obvious rift between clubs which undoubtably has been influenced by the introduction of the NRL's new rules, as well as recruitment. It should concern the league's powerbrokers that nine teams have conceded more than 300 points in 14 rounds. The casual fan will turn away from watching teams be flogged week after week, while the patience of loyal fans who support struggling clubs is waning. NRL aside, Queensland's thrashing in Origin I didn't sit right for me. As someone who bleeds Blue, I love to see the Maroons lose but not in that manner. It was far from what Origin is about and should be - a fierce battle between two states. So it'll be interesting to see how the rest of the season and Origin plays out as teams adjust to the new rules and figure out what works best for them. Because I for one, am over knowing the result by halftime.
Darren: The game has definitely changed so much in the last 12 months that many fans have been left disillusioned by what they are being served up. With the head contact crackdown there has been a complete lack of consistency. Fans don't know what whether a player is going to be sent off, sin binned or just penalised. And it appears that those key decisions are being made based on the quality of acting from the victim of the tackle. But, I still think the reason we have reached this chaotic point is because of the introduction and expansion of the "six again" calls. They have been the greatest factor in the way the game has changed and the greatest source of frustration for me as a fan. With the game so much quicker now and margins regularly topping 40 points, results are no longer determined by the teams. It has become a glorified game of touch footy where the man with the whistle controls the momentum and can completely exhaust a battling team right out of it with a swathe of "six again" calls. Australians love to cheer on two teams; their own and the underdog. This season the underdog has had very little chance of winning when the favourites are continually given a mountain of possession against an already struggling defence.
How much of a difference will Josh Paplii make to Queensland's chances in State of Origin II?
Lucie: If Josh Papalii's influence at the Canberra Raiders is anything to go by, Queensland will offer a tougher proposition for NSW as they look to level the series in Origin II. Papalii, an 18-Origin veteran, impressed on his return from a three-week ban in Canberra's crucial win over Brisbane on Saturday night. He made 178 metres from 18 runs in his 50-minute stint, as well as crashing over for a try . He'll likely be named to start alongside Melbourne Storm's Christian Welch as the Maroons look to level the series heading into Sydney, with Tino Fa'asuamaleui moving to the bench. He's held Queensland's No.10 jersey for the last three series, helping guide the state to their 2020 triumph. So his inclusion will make a massive difference in the front row because what's more dangerous than Papalii? A refreshed Papalii. A Papalii who was forced to watch his Maroons thrashed from afar.
Darren: Josh Papalii is more than just a metre-chewing, offloading, try-scoring, tackling machine front-rower, he is an inspirational leader. You only had to see the difference he made on his return to the Raiders last week to realise he will be a very valuable addition to the Maroons line-up for Origin II. Queensland were badly beaten in Game I, most noticeably through the backs, but not before being trampled through the forwards. Papalii isn't a man to be trampled and his resolve is contagious. He will be the first player picked for Game II and Queensland will build their pack around him. If Christian Welch is fit to take his place in the front row, he will join Papalii and Harry Grant to form an extremely impressive engine room. There is little doubt Queensland need something to lift them off the canvas after that first effort and Papalii charging into the heart of the Blues defence could be just the tonic.
Which club should sign Shaun Johnson?
Lucie: It's only a matter of time before halfback Shaun Johnson finds a home for 2022 because after all, he's not looking for $900,000. The discarded Shark said it himself after slotting the winning field-goal last week to help Cronulla beat Penrith 19-18, a performance that certainly would have turned heads at rival clubs. Johnson is a fantastic buy on the right money and will bring plenty of experience to wherever he lands in 2022. With a few seasons left in him, I think the Kiwi international would suit a club that's bringing through developing playmakers - such as South Sydney or St George Illawarra. The Rabbitohs are in the market to find a halfback to fill the void left by Adam Reynolds (Brisbane), while the Dragons need a partner for Ben Hunt - albeit Adam Clune, Jayden Sullivan and Junior Amone are also waiting in the wings. One thing is certain, the halfback carousel is only beginning to move as Corey Norman, Ash Taylor, Anthony Milford and Moses Mbye also look to the future - opening opportunities elsewhere.
Darren: Not many clubs can afford to pay an aging half upwards of $500,000 a season when there is a good chance he will miss a large chunk though injury. Johnson could be a valuable asset to a club, but only at the right price, which means he is going to face a pay cut if he wants to continue his career in the NRL. There are many clubs in need of good leadership around the halves, some like Brisbane have already made moves to fix that problem for 2022. He could be useful at the Warriors or Dragons, or maybe Ricky Stuart will see him as a short term replacement for George Williams. He would slot in nicely next to Jack Wighton in the lime green while they still have a team capable of playing finals football. Wherever he ends up, you can only wish him the best of health, because at his best he is still one of the most entertaining players in the league.