This article was first written for and published for NRL.com.
With round 12 already underway in the Telstra Premiership, my Parramatta Eels sit at the bottom of the ladder. Don’t get me wrong, this is mildly upsetting.
No one likes to see their team at the bottom of the ladder, but I have to be honest – season 2018 has been one of my favourite years of footy so far.
So much is happening on and off the field that I’m just enjoying and I have found myself watching more football and becoming even more passionate about protecting and celebrating our game – particularly when there seem to be plenty out there who don’t want to do the same.
I’m scared to look back at my top-eight predictions because I am fairly confident based on what we have seen in the first third of the competition, most of my selections were incorrect (particularly the prediction that the Warriors would finish with the wooden spoon).
Who could have possibly predicted the absolute dominance of St George Illawarra?
Or the staunchness in defence that the Wests Tigers would display, particularly in the first five rounds?
How good is it to see South Sydney looking reborn under coach Anthony Seibold and to have the Burgess twins return to their barnstorming best?
There’s been good and there’s been bad.
At the other end of the spectrum – while Melbourne are still travelling nicely, for the first time in a while they are not dominating.
The Roosters’ attack is still taking time to click and who put North Queensland and the Eels right at the bottom of the ladder? Not me.
There’s been a consistent narrative about tipping, mainly how everyone is the ‘worst tipster in Australia’.
Part of that is the surprise packets I’ve listed above, but part of it is any team is capable of beating any other on its day – I might try flipping a coin to do my tips next round, it will probably be more effective.
There’s also been plenty of talk about refereeing and how they are “ruining” the game.
There has been some backlash, but perhaps it’s because we are used to seeing a product where players are not playing by the rules.
The message is simple – if you break the rules, you will be penalised.
The propensity to use the sin bin more has been absolutely exceptional (and I have long awaited it). Players are now beginning to learn if they commit a professional foul, they will spend time off the field.
Last week we saw no less than 14 players sent to the sin bin and one player sent off.
In the wake of the round, particularly the game between the Sea Eagles and the Storm, there’s also been plenty of discussion around the punches thrown by Curtis Scott in the 52nd minute.
Plenty of fans loved the return of the biff and others condemned it. What I liked the most about it was there were clear consequences as a result.
Curtis Scott and Apisai Koroisau decided to use their fists on the field. As a result, one of them was sent off and one was sin-binned.
The competition feels fresh. We’ve already uncovered some outstanding new talent like Tevita Pangai jnr, Jai Arrow, Matt Dufty and Kalyn Ponga.
We’ve seen some fan favourites return better than ever, like Clint Gutherson and Greg Inglis. GI is playing with a smile on his face again.
We’ve seen plenty of celebration too.
This year’s Indigenous Round was absolutely spectacular and it was really special to see the First Nations People of Australia and (for the first time) New Zealand recognised.
Our players are so passionate about this round and for our Indigenous players, it gives them an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and motivate and inspire the next generation and show them rugby league is a family that welcomes everyone.
It’s a weekend where I am really proud of our game, because I don’t think any other code celebrates quite like us.
Last weekend we also saw the start of the NRL Touch Football Premiership, with six teams competing – the Eels, Cowboys, Wests Tigers, Titans, Knights and Broncos.
There was some commentary about why touch football players were being given the opportunity to play before an NRL game when this an honour that should be “earnt”.
Personally, I am thrilled to see our game embracing part of the NRL family that is committed to gender equality, with touch football participation rates being almost evenly split between men and women.
Touch football is a very important part of the rugby league pathway and family and I was thrilled to see so many talented athletes given the opportunity to shine on the same stage as our NRL players, especially when so many of those NRL players are the product of having played touch football in their younger years.
I think most of all though, I’m enjoying the fact I’m not the only one enjoying the footy so much.
We, as fans, will always have bugbears with the game and we are a key stakeholder in the game.
We should never stop challenging our game to be better and calling out when things can be done in a different way.
But I have loved seeing so many fans get behind the game this year, to be confident enough to stand behind it and to talk it up at every opportunity.
We’re coming into another fun part of the season too, with Holden State of Origin still to come, so I feel like there are plenty of highlights left to come.
But if Parramatta could get a couple more wins on the board, it would make this season that little bit better.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.