Very best would spice up finals
THE upcoming final series is about as close - and enticing - as I can recall in my three-plus decades covering the NRL. In all four games this weekend, no result would be a surprise.
But the finals could be even more fascinating if each team were able to "borrow" a player from a club in the bottom eight and play them in the finals. The right player could make a supreme difference to the chances of the teams still in contention.
As an exercise, I have selected players who I believe could transform teams from aspirants to genuine contenders.
BULLDOGS - Nate Myles. A former Dogs player, Myles would feel comfortable in the blue and white and give added grunt up front. With Kasiano, Pritchard and Eastwood battling the bulge, the ability of Myles to play 80 minutes could be the trump card.
STORM - Tim Grant. I'm not convinced Melbourne can win the title with aging props Ryles and Norrie, so the powerful Grant would give them a massive boost in the engine room. His go-forward would set a perfect platform for Smith, Cronk and Slater to weave their magic.
RABBITOHS - Jarrod Mullen. Sure, John Sutton has been better of late, but the areas in which Souths fall down are fifth-tackle options and general organisation. Not only would Mullen be a much-needed steadying influence, his kicking game is a big plus.
SEA EAGLES - Ben Matulino. If the Sea Eagles have an Achilles heel, it's their bench. Replacements rarely have an impact and usually get little time. Matulino could start and Brent Kite or Jason King would certainly make an impression when called into the fray.
COWBOYS - Chris Sandow. Just imagine the options the Cowboys would have to toss at the opposition with Sandow alongside Thurston and Bowen. That combination has the potential to bewilder opposition defences, and Sandow would add a third string to their already fabulous kicking bow.
RAIDERS - Robbie Farah. David Furner continues to play ducks and drakes with his dummy halves - one of the pivotal positions on the field. With their massive pack and speedy backs, Farah would revel in plotting the attacking raids, and his kicking game would be priceless.
SHARKS - Jarryd Hayne. A busy and competent team, the Sharks lack genuine thrust out wide and Hayne would provide that X factor. Probing dummy-half De Gois and Carney - a five-eighth with vision - would deliver Hayne the opportunities to use his attacking genius.
BRONCOS - Benji Marshall. Corey Norman threw a superlative pass for the winning try last weekend, but he is still on a learning curve. Marshall, playing outside the solid and at-times creative Peter Wallace, would give the Broncos the attacking zest they have squandered since mid season.
A civil Barba
BEN Barba won an incredible five gongs at the Dally M awards night on Tuesday, and should have collected a sixth.
Had there been an award for humility, the pint-sized Bulldogs fullback would have bolted off with that as well. And just for good measure, throw in awards for smile of the year, respect and graciousness.
Barba is an outstanding advertisement for rugby league, and following some of the boof-headed behaviour from a couple of so-called role models in recent years, he is a genuine shining star. He was just so unpretentious.
And what an advertisement he is for small-of-stature kids who may think they can't make it in a game as brutal as any team sport played on this earth.
The fact that fellow Indigenous achievers Preston Campbell and Matt Bowen are his heroes also says much about the talent among the Aboriginal population. Anyone who loves rugby league and does not have Ben Barba on a pedestal is feigning their loyalty.
Give the man his due
WHILE Brian Smith might never coach an NRL club again, he should not be lost to rugby league.
Unfortunately, Smith, who has coached at seven different clubs over 28 years and in 601 NRL games, will be regarded as a failure because of his failure to win a premiership. But he was always an outstanding and innovative coach.
The ARL Commission could do worse than appoint Smith to head its junior development program.
Which team will win this year's NRL Grand Final?
This poll ended on 19 September 2012.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.