Bizarre ladder truth in Knights’ horror
To coincide with the start of the Ashes, the NRL saw some big scores run up as the premiership contenders and pretenders became a bit clearer.
After 20 rounds, the top eight is still wide open but the top end of town is pulling away.
Here are the big talking points from Round 20 of the NRL in 2019.
BIZARRE LADDER TRUTH IN KNIGHTS' HORROR
The Newcastle Knights' 30-6 thrashing at the hands of the Manly Sea Eagles has been the latest in a sorry post-Origin period for the side.
After sitting fourth after round 11 - the week before the teams for Origin game I was selected, the Knights were world beaters, in the midst of a six-game winning streak.
Since then, they have dropped to 11th on the ladder and are on a five-game losing streak and a real chance to miss the finals.
They are among the Gold Coast Titans and the St George Illawarra Dragons as the only sides to have lost their last four matches, all since the end of the Origin series.
In fact, the Knights points differential since round 11 is -82, with the only the Titans' -132 worse after being blown out in a 52-point loss to the Roosters.
Legends were floored by the rapid drop of the Knights.
"Their post-Origin period has been poor hasn't it," Kevin Walters said on Fox League. "They were heavily involved, the first time for the club that they've had that many players and it's not easy adjusting and coming back to the NRL. You've got to hit the ground running because as you know, once you get through Origin, it's full focus on the finals campaign and there are a lot of teams in contention but you've got to be winning and the Knights can't get a win at the moment."
Ennis said the Knights "are a shadow of the side they were six weeks ago," and Luke Lewis agreed.
"That Origin period kills you. The Knights haven't experienced that in a long time," he said. "They were on a roll going into Origin and then they missed Mitchell Pearce and a few injuries.
"What I used to see from Newcastle when they were playing their best footy was their aggression in defence, their kick chase, they believed in each other, they kept turning up and Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga were playing their best footy. But because they're mentally drained from the Origin experience, they don't know how to turn it around."
But with the top four all but set for the finals, and Manly moving past the 25 point-mark that many pundits believe will be all that is needed for finals there are in theory only three spots left to grab.
The Eels are also on the edge with their win on Sunday afternoon seeing the side move to 24-points and giving the side a four-point buffer over the Sharks.
The hangover from the Origin series has been felt across the chasing sides with the group of five teams from seventh to eleventh - Sharks, Tigers, Panthers, Broncos and Knights - seemingly chasing the final two spots in the top eight.
Despite the horror run, the 11th-placed Knights are just one win behind the seventh-placed Sharks.
Out of that group, the Sharks are the only side with a positive points differential for the season.
The Panthers have lost their last two matches after romping back into contention with six straight wins
"(Our attack has) been our Achilles heel all year, really. That'd certainly be fair to say," Ivan Cleary said after the loss to the Bulldogs. "And under pressure tonight, we weren't able to execute well enough."
Phil Gould lashed the mental toughness of the Broncos on Macquarie Sports Radio and said Anthony Seibold's comments that the team is "not the first Broncos side to lose by 40" is not a good sign.
"When your coach talks like that after a loss, I wonder if that mentality is seeping into the players," he said.
"That last forty minutes just wasn't good enough for a team that was hoping to leapfrog into the top eight."
COACH MARY GO-ROUND SET TO TURN
The end of the 2018 season was punctuated by a coaching merry-go-round the likes of which has rarely been seen in Australian sport.
A protracted swap for Wayne Bennett and Anthony Seibold to join the Rabbitohs and Broncos respectively as well as Ivan Cleary's messy exit from the Tigers to join Penrith was a bizarre way to enter the off-season.
While there have been under performing sides in the NRL, only Garth Brennan from the last-placed Titans has fallen on his sword.
There has been suggestions that St George Illawarra's Paul McGregor needs to turn it around or he could be close to the axe but The Australian's Brent Read has reported the start of next season could be a tough one for some of the games' mentors with five under fire already for their side's performances.
"Paul McGregor, Dean Pay (Bulldogs), Paul Green (Cowboys), Stephen Kearney (Warriors) and Nathan Brown (Knights) - I don't think there's any pressure on them at the back end of this year, I think all of those guys will survive," he said. "But I reckon at the start of next year you're going to see some pressure like we've never seen before.
"We've had a relatively calm season, Garth Brennan's the only one that's been outed, but I reckon heading into next year there's going to be five coaches at least under immense pressure to keep their jobs. It's going to make the start of the year really interesting for those guys."
Read said Brown is the one that's most under pressure with the Knights coach contract featuring some performance based conditions.
"Depending on what happens over the next six weeks, Browny might not even get to the start of next year" he said.
'RIDICULOUS' MOYLAN CONCUSSION FARCE
Sam Burgess' high shot just four minutes into his return from injury has been called out by NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler.
The shot seemed to leave Sharks fullback Matt Moylan concussed but after getting back to his feet, the fullback was allowed to continue for another 13 minutes before being taken off for a HIA.
Moylan said post-match that he remembered the incident despite the replays begging to differ.
"It's all good, passed the HIA and sweet to play on," Moylan said in the sheds after the game. "I stepped in, probably came in a bit low and Sammy came in the way he does, he's pretty aggressive and he clipped me."
But with the concussion issue so prevalent in the modern game, Fittler, speaking on Channel 9's Sunday Footy Show, slammed the decision not to check Moylan out.
"I thought the situation was totally mishandled," Fittler said. "I thought it was obvious that Matt was knocked out straight away, you didn't have to go too far to see that. The second replay showed that he shut his eyes and was gone before he hit the ground. Sam Burgess I think should have been put in the sin bin, it was a blatant high shot.
"Matt Moylan to last 13 minutes after that - he actually threw a pass that led to a try - it was ridiculous. You could tell straight away he was knocked out."
Burgess is facing a two week stint on the sidelines for the hit.
'SICKENING' VAUGHAN INJURY
St George Illawarra prop Paul Vaughan has shown off the never-say-die attitude that has seen him become one of the states' best props.
The Blues front-rower appeared to seriously dislocated his finger in a tackle and after attempts from the trainer, it appeared the digit wouldn't go back in.
Attempting to retreat to the doctors, the prop was in the wrong place at the right time, collaring Eels fullback Clint Gutherson on a line break with one hand.
Unfortunately for Vaughan, he gave away a penalty as he grabbed the Eels skipper by the back of the jersey and then held down for slightly too long.
The Eels kicked a penalty goal to go up 12-4, the eventual winning score, as Vaughan rushed off to get it taken care of.
Concern for Paul Vaughan is dislocated right ring finger, was unable to reduce (pop back in) on field so was taken into sheds. Hopefully not blocked due to fracture. Quite the effort to make 1 handed tackle. Usually quick recovery if just dislocation, fracture extends to 3-6wks pic.twitter.com/Ji61GgcYFG— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) August 4, 2019
MILD MANNERED KEARNEY'S ERUPTION
To be the coach of the New Zealand Warriors must be one of the hardest things in professional sport.
At their best, breathtaking - at their worst, blood boiling.
They are probably lucky to have the mild mannered Stephen Kearney as coach at the moment.
But that ended on Friday night when the coach exploded in a vicious rant, even kicking a towel which was wordlessly caught by Peta Hiku.
Then Kearney dropped the understatement of the season.
"I can't remember the last time I was that angry," he said post match.
Few can blame his as his side crashed to 30-0 down at halftime before being beaten 46-12 by the Canberra Raiders at home.
The Warriors' have having a Mt Smart Stadium nightmare in 2019 with the loss the side's sixth straight at home.