The Cowboys were exposed without Thurston's leadership. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

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Eight games over five days. There’s nothing quite as good when you haven’t had a full round for three weeks – and what a weekend it was. Some brilliant footy, a trip to Darwin, returning stars, an amazing comeback and a grand final re-match down to the bell. Even better? It’s all unpacked in this week’s NRL talking points.

» Queensland announce sweeping changes for Game 2
» No changes for the Blues
» Expert reaction to the NSW team for Game 2
» Expert reaction to the Queensland team
» State of Origin Game 2 teams

What on Earth was Jared Maxwell thinking?
We start this week talking about referees and the bunker, and I’m not happy about it for a couple of reasons – firstly, it was a cracking round of footy and secondly, they made a major blunder which is a bad look for the game.

But how on Earth did they get the Akuilla Uate try wrong? Even worse than that, it wasn’t referred to the bunker on the advice of Jared Maxwell – who was sitting in the bunker.

For the bunker to get into the ear piece of the referee and overrule a touch judge who was clearly asking for it to be checked is unbelievably wrong. I’m angry writing about.

The fact they were sitting there with every camera angle in front of them, then overruled a touch judge before the referee could send it away for a proper look is a bad look for the game.

The bunker have been inconsistent in their overruling of decisions this year and while it’s frustrating, they should never overrule on a try without first having more time to look at all the angles available.

Jared Maxwell has been stood down as a result, and rightfully so. As much as Tony Archer shouldn’t be throwing people under the bus, that mistake was inexcusable and the on-field referees needed to be protected from the fallout.

NRL video bunker panels

(The Roar)

How good is the footy?
Ok, probably not if you’re a Raiders or Sharks fan, but there were some incredible finishes over the weekend.

The Sharks looked to have the Storm buried for the second time this season on Thursday after a James Maloney field goal, but a brilliant attacking play and some poor defence quickly flipped that on its head.

The Panthers then pulled off the comeback of the year with Matt Moylan leading the charge for them to score two tries in three minutes, turning an eight-point deficit into a lead in the final two sets of the game.

It was an incredible turnaround in Bathurst and reminds you of exactly how good this sport is.

Johnathan Thurston is back – New South Wales, be worried
The greatest player in the game was in a Cowboys jersey for the first time in two months on the weekend – and he tore the Eels to shreds.

As a rugby league fan, it was brilliant to see him back and entertaining the people of Darwin (more on that shortly), but as a New South Wales fan – well, it concerns you – a lot.

He was involved in everything, held his own in defence for the most part and set up a couple of brilliant tries, including a pair for Kyle Feldt in the first half with pinpoint accuracy on his kicking game.

While he mightn’t have been at what would be considered as his best, he was close and in a first game after more than a month on the sideline, that’s a scary thought.

He is the key for both the Cowboys and the Maroons if the forward pack can hold their own.

Johnathon Thurston North Queensland Cowboys Rugby League NRL Finals 2016

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Shane Flanagan should focus on his own mob
With the Sharks losing the second grand final re-match of the year on Thursday, coach Shane Flanagan came out after the game and complimented Cameron Smith on his refereeing skills.

I can understand where the thought comes from, but a word of advice for you, Mr Flanagan – focus on your own mob.

Cameron Smith does what Cameron Smith does. He plays every game the same way, and if he has influence over the referees (something many of you will agree with) then that’s going to happen.

Instead of Flanagan talking about Smith in the press conference, maybe he should be more concerned with the way his side starts games. They were soft as butter, surrendering two tries in the first ten minutes, and not for the first time this season they had to try and come from behind.

Except, this is Melbourne. You don’t come from behind easily against Melbourne, and Smith didn’t exactly influence the referees to get the score there.

The first sporting code to crack the Top End will be rewarded richly
Darwin hosted its annual NRL game on Saturday, and to say it was a success would be an understatement. Being an oval shape, TIO Stadium isn’t the best viewing ground for rugby league but it still set the ground record.

Having the North Queensland Cowboys there certainly helped, but the appetite for a team in the top end may be there.

It’s also notable that the first code to move into Darwin will be the ones to benefit the most. It’s going to happen one day, and while the time frame on it is unclear and both the NRL and AFL will have other goals to achieve first, it makes some sense for a team up there.

Unite the city and you could be looking at sell-outs week in and week out. The NBL (Basketball) is the only code in Australia who have seriously talked about making the move north, but winter sports have the greatest chance for outdoor sports, and the NRL could do a lot worse than investigating further.

Marrara Oval in Darwin

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Flickerd)

Matt Moylan is the key man for Penrith
Two weeks in a row, Moylan has been the inspiration for Penrith victories. Last week, it was a 38-0 drubbing of the Bulldogs, then the incredible comeback against the Raiders on the weekend.

While the return of Josh Mansour, who made another 203 metres on the weekend has been enormous, the move of Moylan to the halves as been a masterstroke by coach Griffin.

The Panthers now look to be on somewhat of a role, and are playing their best footy of the season. It’s key to keep it going throughout the Origin window, but with Moylan being involved in all their tries on the weekend, including the final one it continues to show his talent, and the fact that if Penrith make the finals, he will be their best.

Matt Moylan of the Panthers runs the ball up

(AAP Image/Paul Miller)

Brock Lamb is a future star
It’s been a tough initiation to the NRL for Newcastle youngster Brock Lamb. Making his debut last year, he was part of the side who were handed a 62-0 thumping from the Sharks.

He played half of that game on one leg, committing into every contest for his side and has done plenty of positive things this year.

Behind a forward pack who are regularly getting rolled, his kicking game has been good and he seems to be improving with every passing week.

In the wet against Manly, he almost found a way to inspire his side to their third win of the season and is the future of the Knights, alongside young props Daniel and Jacob Saifiti.

His options running the ball have also been positive and it’s becoming clear why he has had such big wraps on him through the juniors.

Luke Keary holds the key to Mitchell Pearce’s game
Mitchell Pearce might be in something close to the form of his life, but the role Luke Keary has played alongside getting him there can’t be understated.

Pearce has always played his best football when combined with an accomplished half – think 2010 with Todd Carney and 2013 with James Maloney – and Keary is proving to be the perfect foil this season.

Pearce came up with another couple of try assists against the Tigers and controlled the game from the outset, and he is great to watch when playing well, but credit Keary for a lot of what the Roosters are doing in 2017.

Roosters player Luke Keary

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Ben Hunt stars for Ipswich and should be back after a bye
From all reports, Ben Hunt had a superb game for Ipswich after being dropped from the top grade. He had a hand in four tries for the Jets and put on what has been reported as an attacking masterclass.

Meanwhile, Anthony Milford was injured with eight minutes to go in the Broncos clash against the Rabbitohs as his side scraped over the line.

Benji Marshall and Kodi Nikorima have shown good signs at times, but the dropping of Hunt was baffling. He hasn’t been playing poor football, and for coach Wayne Bennett to send him back to Ipswich it could suggest there is a problem in chemistry, or on the training paddock.

Regardless, he must be included in the Broncos side following the bye.

Canberra are done and will be lucky to make the top eight
To see a side looking simply uninterested in defending a lead throughout the final three minutes of a match is concerning, to say the least.

When they then lose an eight-point lead in the same length of time, you have to question where the mindset of the Raiders is.

While Matt Moylan ripped shreds off them, the Raiders defence has been inconsistent all year, their attack not much better and this is a side who are failing to meet even the most modest of pre-season expectations.

It’s been a difficult season, but losing to Penrith might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Six wins from 14 games doesn’t sound all bad, but it’s hard to see the Raiders winning six or seven of their final ten to make the eight.

Jarrod Croker Canberra Raiders NRL Rugby League 2017

(AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

The Warriors enjoy the Gold Coast – and it’s baffling
Why do the Warriors do so well on the Gold Coast? Serious question – I have no idea.

They have won their last seven games at Robina and simply refuse to allow the Titans over the top of them. Given their struggles everywhere else outside of Auckland, it makes no sense.

Shaun Johnson was fantastic, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck dangerous and Kieran Foran consistent, while their forwards dominated.

Winning two of the last three, the Warriors have proven what they can do and now must use the momentum going forward.

The Bulldogs need Josh Reynolds back – in a hurry
Josh Reynolds may not be everyone’s favourite player, but sitting on the bench for the last few weeks nursing a hamstring injury has proven exactly how valuable he is.

The Bulldogs attack looks lost at times. Matt Frawley continues to play second fiddle, Mbye seems to be in two minds with his kicking game, and front rowers Aiden Tolman and James Graham continue to have far too many touched in the opposition 20.

Reynolds was supposed to return against the Dragons but didn’t, and it showed on the scoreboard as they struggled to get over the try line.

Credit to the Bulldogs though – they were able to apply pressure and defend well enough to pinch an important win, which was positive, especially after their blowout loss to the Panthers last week.

It was scrappy, but a win’s a win.

Roarers, what did you make of Round 14? Drop a comment and let us know.

Scott Pryde
Scott Pryde

One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,100 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.