Burning questions: Pressure on Bennett, Storm in spotlight
THE NRL has had the off-season from hell and will be hoping all that is forgotten when the 2019 premiership kicks off on Thursday night.
The Melbourne Storm will host the Brisbane Broncos in the seaon opener but before then, Matthew McInerney poses the questions that need answering.
Will off-season from hell drag on?
This has been arguably the worst off-season for player behaviour.
The alleged crimes are shocking and it feels like there's a new case of law-breaking every day.
The new no-fault, stand-down policy appears to be a step in the right direction, but how much education is required to stop these incidents from happening.
Players should be fully aware of the consequences of their actions.
Who will be the next big thing?
Every NRL fan knows what Newcastle's Kalyn Ponga can do, and Latrell Mitchell has lived up to the hype for the Roosters and NSW, but some of the contenders will not get on the field early.
After his breakout year in 2018, Penrith's Viliame Kikau has a knee injury and Bulldogs goal-kicking second-rower Rhyse Martin could miss out on a place in the top 17.
Cowboys fans have high hopes for Jake Clifford but he's missed out to Te Maire Martin for a starting spot, while Kyle Laybutt is on the fringe.
Brisbane's forward pack is stacked with fresh talent as Tom Flegler, Patrick Carrigan and David Fifita take the charge.
Can the cellar-dwellers finally rise?
Parramatta, Newcastle, Wests Tigers and Gold Coast have long been the butt of many fans' jokes, but will this be the year they finally turn the tables?
The Eels haven't played finals footy since 2009, the Knights not since 2013, the Tigers were last there in 2011 and the Titans have reached the finals just once in the past five seasons.
All four have shown glimpses of top-eight quality but continually subjected their fans to awful results.
Will the heavyweights finally fall?
Melbourne Storm last missed the finals due to on-field performance in 2002, when the Rodney Howe-captained side finished in 10th spot.
Craig Bellamy took over as coach the next season and the Storm went on to become the gatekeepers to the NRL premiership.
They have played in the past three grand finals and look capable of making a charge again. But with the departure of Billy Slater and Cameron Smith's career drawing to a close, the end feels closer than ever.
Will the pea stay in the whistle?
Last season was the year of the crackdown, a seemingly unsuccessful attempt to clean up the game.
Players were pinged a record number of times in the first half of the season - there were more penalties by round 11 than in the entire 2017 season.
Refs are now being encouraged to let the games flow.
We'll see how long that lasts.
Has 'supercoach' Wayne still got it?
Wayne Bennett's magic appears to have fizzled in recent seasons but a shock summer switch to Souths in a straight swap with Anthony Seibold has delivered the supercoach another squad and another chance to claim his first title this decade.
But is he still a premiership-winning calibre coach?