Welcome to our column, The Debate, where the Mercury sport team discuss the big issues in Illawarra, national and international sport. This week, sports editor TIM BARROW and sports writer CAMERON MEE discuss the NRL season and whether anyone can stop the Roosters from winning three premierships in a row.
Barrow: So they have two players, Victor Radley and Sam Verrills go down with ACL injuries, are challenged by a fighting, desperate Dragons and still win comfortably, Cameron.
Kiama's own Morris boys are playing like 25-year-olds again now they've been reunited.
They put 59 points on the hapless Broncos without NSW fullback James Tedesco and have brushed aside challengers Parramatta. Are they unstoppable, the Roosters?
Mee: If they're not unstoppable, they're pretty close to it.
The loss of Radley in particular will be significant, while Verrills' absence will put more pressure on Jake Friend, but this is hardly the first time the Roosters have faced some adversity during their recent run of dominance.
With Cooper Cronk retiring at the end of last season, Luke Keary has taken his game to another level, the five-eighth directing his team around the park and stepping up to make the crucial play when the game has been on the line.
Kyle Flanagan has played a solid supporting role while James Tedesco is the best player in the game right now.
The Roosters are clearly the benchmark in the competition, Parramatta are good, but they still have to make a step forward to challenge the premiers.
The Raiders are struggling, Penrith and the Knights are a bit of a wildcard, but still seem a year or two away from a premiership and the Storm just don't seem to have that attacking spark we've seen in previous years. Can you see any of those teams preventing a three-peat?
Barrow: Injuries are the only factor now. This team is more in control of its own destiny than any team since the Broncos juggernauts of the 90s.
All the pieces fit, they know just when to find another gear and unlike some of their key rivals, they've adjusted brilliantly to the new six-again ruck infringement rules.
Which brings about a fascinating contest on Thursday night against the Storm, who were kings of controlling the ruck until the dynamic shifted with the rule changes.
The Storm are still the one team capable of beating the Roosters in the heat of finals battle, then the Eels, Knights, Panthers and Raiders have time on their side, but are just missing the composure or firepower to land a knockout blow.
Everyone else should be working in the background towards a post Covid-19 world. How much do you think the Dragons have improved with Ben Hunt in the utility role?
Or have they just picked off the Titans and Sharks and are now facing a reality check?
Mee: The biggest difference in the Dragons the last couple of weeks has been the effort and a willingness to do the dirty work. That simply wasn't present against the Warriors or Bulldogs. As Matt Dufty said post-game on Friday night, a few weeks ago an early 10-0 deficit could have quickly turned ugly, instead the side dug in and worked their way back into the game against the best team in the competition. In saying that, there's no denying Hunt was out of form in those first two games following the restart, his kicking game was off and he was struggling to direct the side.
Adam Clune has not been spectacular, but he's done a steady job steering the team around and Hunt has found some spark in his current pressure-free dummy half role.
Overall Friday night was a pretty fitting description of where this Dragons side is at. If they try hard, they can hang with the top teams for 50 or 60 minutes, but they're just not quite good enough to get over the line, and now face the Roosters grand final opponents on Friday.
Barrow: They've lost three of the past four the Raiders, as much as they've clearly been running against better class opposition than the Dragons prior to the Roosters loss.
But it's clear Canberra are yet to find the momentum which took them to within a breakthrough try, or dare I say, a six-again call from winning last year's premiership. And now English recruit John Bateman is leaving the Raiders next year after all, despite publicly rubbishing media reports saying as much in recent weeks.
Maybe there is some momentum growing for the Dragons, but we both know how hard it has been for them to find wins in the national capital over the years and it might prove to be the case again on Friday. On the upside though, the Dragons will have the chance to play in Wollongong again soon as the Covid-19 restrictions lift.
Do the troubles in the AFL and recent outbreaks in Victoria having an immediate impact on the season draw show just how fragile elite sport is at the moment?
Mee: It's a bit of a reality check for us all isn't it. We all thought everything was travelling on a smooth trajectory back to normality and in the space of a week that thinking has been thrown on its head. Peter V'landys hasn't been willing to take a backwards step throughout this whole process and he's not going to change tack unless absolutely forced to.
The NRL is fortunate the current outbreak is confined to Victoria and V'landys was wise enough to get the Storm out of there a week ago before it really blew up. But as the past week has shown, what's happening in Melbourne could very quickly start happening in Sydney.
The challenge for the NRL will be negotiating with a Queensland government that has shown a desire to take a hardline stance when it comes to people entering the state. If Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk plays hardball, we could be set for some rescheduling.
But for now, let's enjoy the fact fans are returning to grounds this weekend and teams can now play at their home venues. Unfortunately the Wollongong faithful will have to wait an extra couple of weeks, with the round 10 clash with the Bulldogs tentatively pencilled in as the first match at WIN Stadium. Will you be standing on the hill on that Saturday afternoon?
Barrow: A beautiful afternoon back standing on one of nature's gifts, the beachside hill, windsock above, the sea breeze blowing in, it's the perfect way to welcome rugby league back to the Gong, count me in.
They were rock bottom when they lost to the Dogs, it will be the perfect opportunity to see just how far they've come with Raiders, Manly, the Bulldogs at WIN Stadium and then the Sharks to come. Are they any hope of playing finals from here?
Mee: Call me crazy, but yes, I think they are. It's pretty clear the competition has a solid top six, followed by a bit of a drop off. Manly should be in the eight if they stay healthy, but as we saw on Sunday, they're a completely different team without Tom Trbojevic. Souths and the Tigers inconsistent.
At two from seven, it's not pretty viewing for the Dragons, but if they beat the teams currently outside the eight and pick off a few wins over the likes of Manly and South Sydney, they're a chance. Is it likely? No, but they are capable of stringing a few wins together.