A look at the key storylines for the latest round of the NRL.

1. Game of the week

Bulldogs v Cowboys

The grand final rematch between Manly and the Warriors in Perth may be of interest around these parts, but as neither club threatens much this season it's more sideshow than big show. Not so for the Bulldogs-Cowboys clash two hours earlier in Sydney. The Bulldogs battered Manly last week to move to the top of the ladder, while the Cowboys beat pre-season favourites Wests Tigers to stay in the top-four. A Dogs victory would confirm they're a strong title contender; a Cowboys win would throw the top-four picture wide open.


2. Hang 'em high

Greg Inglis and Travis Burns weren't the only stars at the NRL judiciary this week, Kiwis fullback Josh Hoffman copping two weeks for dangerous contact. Inglis got three matches, while Burns received three weeks for a chicken wing on Mose Masoe but will discover his ultimate fate next week at a hearing over the first citing for an intentional high tackle in 12 years.

3. Casualty ward

The Tigers' medics have been busy, Benji Marshall (toe/hand), Tim Moltzen (hip), Chris Lawrence (ankle) and Ben Murdoch-Masila all having MRIs. A knee injury has ended Jarryd Hayne's season and Luke Lewis is having a lump on his neck removed. Manly's Brett Stewart is rated unlikely to face the Warriors, Cronulla should get back Paul Gallen and Jeremy Smith and Dean Young is in the Dragons' 18 despite being pole-axed by Greg Inglis last week.

4. Captain Manu

The widespread condemnation of the decision to appoint Manu Vatuvei as stand-in captain for tomorrow's match against Manly is hard to comprehend. Manu might not be a Stephen Hawking but he's not being asked to negotiate peace in Palestine. Vatuvei is a widely-respected, well-liked, inspirational figure at the Warriors. Giving the big fella the job for a week might just help turn desperation into inspiration. Elijah Taylor and Shaun Johnson are the long-term captaincy prospects but they're not ready yet. So what's the big deal?

5. Billy boy wonder

So one player doesn't make a team, huh? Tell that to Melbourne. Of the six games Billy Slater has missed, the Storm have won just one. That slump includes a current losing streak of four in a row. Before Slater's departure in round 14 (first due to an Origin stand-down and subsequently with injury) the Storm won 11 out of 12. With Slater in the line-up they outscored opponents 354-143 - an average scoreline of 30-12. Without Slater, the Storm have been outscored 72-128 - an average score of 12-21. They average 18 points a game more with Billy at the back and concede nine more without him.


6. Big Sam

Stephen Kearney's first order of business as the Eels' ex-coach was, apparently, to tee up a chat with Sam Kasiano to see if the giant prop still wanted to be a Kiwi. Hopefully it's a short chat. If Kasiano can't make up his mind what country he belongs to, then he's not the sort of person we want in our national side.