It's the end of round 7. The Premiers dished up a Rugby League lesson to the Rabbitohs and delivered a stern message to the rest of the comp.
It's blatantly obvious after the weekends round that we have a two tier competition. And those two tiers are Broncos and Cowboys... then the rest of the competition.
Just look at how poorly the Melbourne Storm played against the Tigers. There were plenty of handling errors and their completion rate would have had Bellamy spitting so hard in the coaches box his assistant was probably armed with a towel to wipe the glass down.
If the third place Melbourne showed up for the Broncos or Cowboys and played like they did against the Tigers at the weekend, they too would have spent most of their time regrouping behind the try line and preparing for restarts at halfway.
However with the Cowboys and Broncos flying and looking unbeatable, there is always one time of year that puts doubt into the season. And that time of year is representative time.
The list below shows the players that will almost certainly pull on a rep jersey in the next few weeks:
Coote: Potentially NSW - If he isn't in the side somewhere he must be close and an injury to Tedesco or Dugan surely puts a jumper on his back.
Feldt: Potentially QLD - With a depleted QLD backline Feldt will be well on Walters mind.
O'Neill: Potentially QLD - Same reasons as Feldt.
Morgan: Potentially AUS, and QLD - He is QLDs new super-sub and in a few years might even see himself with the famous QLD No. 6 on his back. Also has to be in Meninga's plans as a Trans-Tasman utility. Only player that could push him out of the No.14 for AUS at this stage is Milford.
Thurston: AUS and QLD - Need I say more?.
Scott: AUS and QLD.
Tamou: AUS and NSW.
Cooper: Potetnailly QLD - Seems silly, but I have included him I really think he is pushing for a spot.
Taumalolo: New Zealand.
In addition players like Granville and Winterstein wont be far away from QLD and NZ selectors minds repsectively.
The teams they will face up to Origin 1 are Eels, Sea Eagles (at Brookvale), Storm and Broncos.
They will then face the Dragons with most of these players in Origin camp. Then directly following they play the Knights.
Given there is only a few weeks until the Rep period kicks off, now more than ever is the time for the Cowboys to bank competition points and for and against points. But against these teams this wont be easy.
However there is no point pointing out an obvious problem without figuring out a solution. And it is up to Paul Green and his player managers to do so. As an exercise in armchair specialty, why not suggest a few radical approaches:
1. Start using Granville for 80 minutes - Then interchange Kostjasyn with Thurston and Morgan in the halves (i.e. Kostjasyn plays 40 minutes and Thurston and Morgan share the other 40). Seems outlandish and way out of the box. For the Sea Eagles, Storm and Knights games particularly. Knights I would be asking rep players to back up and give them limited duties. If you are beating these teams by fair margins rip JT and Morgan off and rest them in game. It means they are there if you need them.
2. Rotate Tamou and Scott every other game - Again this sounds crazy, but if you turn Scott and Tamou into one revolving forward, Tamou takes Eels, Scott takes Sea Eagles and so on. By the back end of Origin they will be the two freshest props in the competition. And hungry for a big second half of the year.
3. Use one of the games to prepare for St George and Knights - YES i'm going out of my mind!. But if Green fielded a second string side against the Broncos and they stayed within 12 points of them it would give them the confidence to beat St George and Newcastle easy. Obviously this could backfire and if they get beaten by 50 it will shatter their confidence, but I am big believer in baptism under fire. Also it would probably cause uproar from supporters who pay good ticket money to see the Cowboys go into an experimental phase of the season.
I suspect the Cowboys to go with a much more ad-hoc sturdier appraoch. Coote will only be used on call up so you would think he will slot into the No. 6 and then you might move Javid Bowen to the wing and Linnet to fullback. Kalyn Ponga is also another option, he could find himself with a taste of NRL should Coote move into the halves. Their back row of Lowe and Cooper are very versatile and are both good ball runners. Cooper the better ball player could also fill an outside back position (although I still maintain Cooper as a bolter for QLD!).
These suggestions are obviously a bit of fun and some conversation starters, and absolutely the reason why I would never be put in charge of an NRL side. But here is the thing. Rep season will never go anywhere (Origin is the NRLs hottest meal ticket) and since this has been around no coach or club has found the perfect answer as to how to manage this period except for, 'lets just cop it on the chin go into major damage control, make sure we have enough depth on the parks and in under 20s and hope we don't get hit too hard and can recover at the back end of the season'.
That's not to say a bad run out of rep season can't be recovered. Look at the Broncos in '06. Losing 5 on the trot after Origin and then raging home to win the whole box and dice.
My fear as I highlighted in my earlier articles is that from the start of 2015 to the back end of 2016 I just don't see how the Cowboys wont run out of steam. Then again champion sides do champion things!