They're the big NRL issues generating discussion on the socials and in the fan forums this week, and everyone has an opinion. So let's dive right into ours.

Manu wins the Academy Award, The Phantom Whistle

Entertaining? Definitely.
Skilful? Absolutely.
In the spirit of the game? Perhaps not.

A coach at any level of the game will tell players to play to the whistle. Yet when Joseph Manu pulled up lame before the defensive line, St George Illawarra players Billy Burns and Blake Lawrie visibly relaxed, assuming a breakdown in the play.

Whether or not Manu was truly injured (as he says he was) or was engaging in gamesmanship, it matters little because he took full advantage of a shields-down moment.

So the advice is, play what's in front of you. Complete the tackle, then check on your counterpart's condition.

That is, unless you're playing at AAMI Park where the NRL now has to weigh up how to deal with the latest crowd-pest: the phantom whistle. The Melbourne Storm's Harry Grant was able to barge over from close range as Canberra Raiders players Xavier Savage and Joseph Tapine appeared to stop and look back to the referee upon hearing a Fox 40 being blown - but it apparently came from the crowd.

Takes me back to the days of the Phantom Siren menace at the St George Illawarra home games.

What to do with 'The Biff'?

State of Origin Game Three brought us some heart-stopping moments without doubt. But it was arguably the scuffle between Matt Burton and Dane Gagai (with the kind assistance of Tino Fa'asuamaleaui) that got social media into a lather.


So what is to be done about the biff? The fans love it, but doctors won't be lining up to stamp their approval.

Banning the biff has done a number of things. On the surface, there has been a steady amplification of niggle for a start. Face-massages, well-timed sledges, and inviting opposition players into try-celebration huddles are all more regularly employed in order to spark a reaction.

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Players who find themselves in a scuffle are now joined by the other 24 players on the field who rush in to help themselves to a bit of collar pulling, name calling and shoving - more antics geared around baiting someone into throwing the first one.

The rules stipulate that striking results in ten minutes on the sideline, yet Matt Burton was sin-binned in Origin Three after a bunch of comical air-swings. He Binned for striking without landing a blow.

A player can already be penalised with ten minutes in the bin for 'forceful contact with the head'. This blanket ban on fights has muddied the game in the interests of sanitising it.

Let the players have their scuffle, keep the head area strictly off-limits, and reserve the sin-bin for the bigger grubs - those who run in and make things worse.

The pressure on players has never been greater

News broke earlier during the week about threats made to the family of Mitchell Moses resulting in the need for police escorts to and from the ground, and a security presence at his residence. Sickening to say the least, but quite common, at least in society and beyond the NRL.

Only a few weeks ago, Moses was identified as the villain in an article which almost completely laid blame on him for 'spoiling the party' for an 'unlucky' punter who needed the Eels to beat the Bulldogs by 13+ to complete the 15th leg of a multi, set to bring in close to a million bucks.

The article considered that the Eels' failure to defeat a cellar-dwelling team had 'life-changing' ramifications on someone who had parted with a mere $5 at Sportsbet. Yet Moses now needs to seek state protection for his family.

Players like Luke Brooks from the Wests Tigers cop it online, and the sad thing is that it comes from everywhere, but particularly from fans of the team he gives his all for.

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The subject of online trolls has been raised in the past, with game icons Anthony Seibold, Latrell Mitchell, Jordan Riki, Tesi Niu and Jayden Okunbor all copping some of the worst from the worst online. Racism, sexism, death threats and references to families should all be immediate no-go zones at the very least.

With a large number of players and personalities active on social media, it's never been easier to get into a player's head with some mild to psychotic abuse. The simple fact is that anyone can cop vitriol, from your neighbour to the local real estate agent and up to politicians and celebrities.

It comes with the territory: create a social media profile and you're contactable - until you lock your account, close your DM's and turn off comments. Only then will you be at peace. Right?


Our game generates some incredulous headlines, and the most shocking of them are often sprouted out of pure speculation or out-of-context quotes. Player managers are often the source, spruiking interest to peak their clients' profiles and feeding narratives directly to media personalities, many of whom wish for nothing more than to be more recognisable and celebrated than the players themselves.

While it is possible to block the banter trolls, it's not feasible to ignore those who put players' mental health and their families at real risk.

Yet what is impossible to block and ignore are the speculative tales spun by journalists whose primary role should be to report on fact.

Stories created about the coaching merry-go-round, and player disharmony occasioning at private events and on the training paddock may just appear to be water-cooler content, but these #breaking headlines can impose heavily on careers and livelihoods, and are as thoroughly chewed on as the final stages of Big Brother.