Failing stars leave title hopes dimming
TWO clubs that recruited exceptionally well in the off-season remain winless heading into the third round.
Because their "go to" players, or money men - in this case Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly) and Shaun Johnson (Warriors) - are not delivering on the field under pressure situations, especially with last-play options.
Johnson, who former Newcastle great and rugby league immortal Andrew Johns rates as the second best stepper in the game, has made just one line break and is not taking the ball deep enough into the defensive lines like other playmakers such as Johnathan Thurston or Moses Mbye.
He has also missed seven tackles compared to three by Mbye, who has led the Bulldogs to two wins.
Johnston suffered a bad ankle injury last season, after which the Warriors lost their last eight games with him on the sidelines.
But they haven't performed any better at the start of this campaign, taking their losing streak to 10 games in a row with Johnson back on the field, and some experts saying coach Andrew McFadden either needs to fire him up or drop him.
Cherry-Evans, who Manly reportedly paid $10 million for a lifetime contract at Brookvale, has been very disappointing for the Sea Eagles and again against an enthusiastic young Wests Tigers side he made a number of poor decisions with the football and never really got his side rolling.
Manly underwent a significant restructure this season after club legend Bob Fulton orchestrated a major player shopping spree.
This included Origin representative Nate Myles, bulldozing young forward Martin Taupau and brilliant attacker Dylan Walker.
They have also brought in an experienced hard-head forward in Lewis Brown and a promising young 23-year-old hooker from the Ipswich Jets in the Queensland Cup, Matt Parcell, to make sure incoming coach Trent Barrett had a roster capable of giving him a great start to his coaching debut.
While the Sea Eagles have a young gun in Tom Trbojevic playing fullback, there's no doubt that they miss the experience and class of Brett Stewart at the back, his support play and what he creates with the ball.
The Warriors, meanwhile, splashed out and added world-class fullback Tuivasa-Sheck and hard-man hooker Issac Luke to coach McFadden's squad - two players critics felt were essential purchases to transform the Kiwis into a genuine premiership threat.
As of yet, Tuivasa-Sheck has not really produced the form he is capable of, but it may just be a case of finding his feet and then bam.
So after the opening two rounds of the NRL, the two teams most punters tipped to be the big improvers in 2016 are closer to last than first on the competition ladder.
If it's any consolation to their fans, North Queensland lost its opening three games last season and marched on to win the grand final, but it won 11 games in a row mid-season.
Can Manly or the Warriors achieve that?