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 Tevita Pangai Junior a good buy for the Bulldogs?
Lucie: Unwanted by the Broncos, Tevita Pangai Junior has a chance to make a statement with a clean slate at the Bulldogs who are set to turn a corner in 2022. Canterbury-Bankstown has signed five big-name players for next year, with Pangai joining the likes of Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Burton, Brent Naden and Matt Dufty. In the context of this roster rebuild, the 25-year-old forward has the foundations to flourish at Belmore and bring an x-factor through the middle part of the field. Although he's known for his inconsistencies Pangai has the backing of Phil Gould, who is less than a week into his role as the Bulldogs' head of football. Pangai has only played 15 matches so far this season, but will come to his new clubs with a few months at Penrith under his belt. So there's light at the end of the tunnel for Bulldogs fans, with the club shaping up to be a finals threat in 2022.
Darren: What the Bulldogs need in the forward pack is a Tevita Pangai Junior at his very best, every week. They already have a dearth of powerful forwards who turn it on once a month before disappearing. The Bulldogs have a recent history of paying too much for forwards who don't return on that investment. Dylan Napa, Aaron Woods and Tony Williams spring to mind. Wayne Bennett had an interesting theory on forwards, particularly front rowers. He preferred to sign the young up-and-comers, blokes who were willing to run through walls to prove themselves worthy of the bigger money. Once a forward starts earning the big dollars, there is a natural tendency towards a degree of self preservation. They lose the fearless killer instinct that made them so good in the first place. The Bulldogs need Pangai to tear opposition defences apart with his strong running, to cut the mistakes out of his game and also all the penalty-bleeding rubbish. He can be a great buy, if they get his very best consistently.
The Rabbitohs have only lost three games all season, all to the Panthers or Storm. Are they a threat to turn that around in the finals?
Lucie: Wayne Bennett has a master mind for finals footy but, on form, I doubt the Rabbitohs can beat the thundering Storm or Panthers for the NRL title. Souths have only lost to those teams so far this season, but the scorelines of those matches cannot be ignored. Melbourne held them scoreless in round nine and piled on 50 points, while Penrith did their defence further damage with a 56-12 triumph a fortnight later. Since then, the Rabbitohs have been running on a six-match winning streak and were without the rested Latrell Mitchell for two of those victories. But again, the winning margin (besides the Broncos rout) weren't as clinical as the ruthless Storm and Panthers have dished out -- in particular their last showing against the dungeon-dwelling Bulldogs. While I don't think the scorelines between the sides will be so one-sided come finals, Souths will need a lot to fall in their favour to go all the way and beat the NRL juggernauts when it matters most.
Darren: The Rabbitohs remain a definite threat to the top teams based purely in the potency of their backlines, with Cody Walker and Latrell MItchell working their magic out wide on either side of the ruck. What they really need to improve on before the finals roll around is their defence against the Panthers and Storm. Both sides were able to tear the Bunnies apart this year and Wayne Bennett would be far from happy with those efforts. Winning finals is as much about the tries you stop as the ones you score, so I'm sure Bennett will be working them overtime to get things sorted. Can the Rabbitohs win the title this year? I don't think so, but they will be fired up to improve upon their efforts against the top two so far this year.
When Ryan Papenhuyzen returns, what should the Storm do with Nicho Hynes for the rest of the year?
Lucie: Boy, does Craig Bellamy have a healthy headache in his hands when star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen returns to full fitness! Papenhuyzen has been missing since suffering a nasty concussion in the Storm's win over the Dragons in Round 10 and in his absence, 25-year-old Hynes has gone from strength to strength in the dominant Melbourne side. The Storm has strung 14-straight wins together and the rookie fullback went from being a bench player to earning a call up to the Blues' side for Origin III. Bellamy has the luxury of easing Papenhuyzen back into the team and sharing the fullback duties between the duo, similar to Harry Grant and Brandon Smith at hooker. But the time will come for Clive Churchill Medalist Papenhuyzen to play the 80 minutes at No.1 and with no room to reshuffle, Hynes could be set for a bench-warming role come finals. Earlier this season, Hynes was on the interchange for three matches and shifted to five-eighth in round 10.
Darren: With Ryan Papenhuyzen returning from his head knock concerns, Craig Bellamy faces a pleasant dilemma. Replacement fullback Nicho Hynes has stamped himself as one of the form players of the NRL in Papenhuyzen's absence. Bellamy has chosen to ease Papenhuyzen back into the side from the bench this week against the Cowboys, as he is capable of playing a number of positions including dummy half where his vision and speed off the mark is a great asset against a tiring defence. Once Papenhuyzen is back to his best, Bellamy might find a spot in the centres for Hynes, with Reimis Smith solid, but not brilliant. If anyone can get the most out having them both in the team it is Bellamy. Of course he still has to work Harry Grant back into his plans once he returns from injury. It all means that the premiership leaders will be even stronger when the pointy end of the season arrives.