Ben Barba gave glimpses of his electrifying best as the Broncos easily accounted for Newcastle 32-6 on Friday night. Credit: Col Whelan/NRL Photos
1. Manly (1)
The football Gods giveth (Kieran Foran's try that had Paul Green threatening to flout the laws on public indecency) and the football Gods taketh (Daly Cherry-Evans ruled out before kickoff and Anthony Watmough missing the second half) and yet Manly keep on keepin' on. It will be beyond interesting to see the reception of the fans and performance of the squad in front of the Brookvale faithful this Sunday given the media attention that will hone in on the Stewart brothers over the coming days.
2. Bulldogs (2)
Steve Waugh earned himself the moniker "Iceman" back in the mid '80s for his nerveless bowling at the death of one-day matches, but the Bankstown legend will now have to share the title given Trent Hodkinson's fondness of the clutch play. The Bulldogs half has now won six NRL games off his boot since debuting in 2010, and with three one-point wins in a row the Dogs are the toast of the tightest NRL competition in years, and the burden of copywriters with full-time deadlines from Sydney to New Zealand.
3. Roosters (3)
Blink and you'll miss the Roosters' fleeting reproductions of their 2013 defensive and attacking form, and while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's dancing feet may have Chooks fans hopeful, Saturday was a night to forget in defence as the Sharks slipped through 46 missed tackles from the premiers. Only Tuivasa-Sheck, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves can expect a reprieve from the tackle bags this week, with every other man in the 17 making at least one miss and halves James Maloney (9) and Mitchell Pearce (5) combining for 14 between them.
4. Titans (4)
The Titans haven't minded a bit of a sneaky second-half comeback this year, with their wins against the Broncos, Cowboys and Raiders coming when they've been down at the oranges, and it looked like they might get there again against the Panthers on Monday when Aiden Seizer popped up like it was Ground Hog day for yet another late try from a kick fumbled by the opposite fullback. In the end the Gold Coast didn't deserve the win and need to source some more attacking options if they're to trouble the high-flying Tigers this week.
5. Storm (5)
It's been a long time since we've seen the Storm beaten up the middle with the game on the line like they were by Canberra's Paul Vaughan – a bloke who admitted to Triple M's Steve Mascord after the match: "Mate I'm a frontrower. I don't have a step." And it's an even longer time – going all the way back to Craig Bellamy's second year of carrying the Melbourne clipboard in 2004 – since the Storm have lost more than three games in the first two months of a season. Safe to say that's one piece of history they'll look to avoid in their Anzac Day clash with the Warriors.
6. Broncos (7)
Ben Barba admitted just a few weeks ago he may never get back to his 2012 form but his all-round display against the Knights was easily his most encouraging showing in the maroon and yellow to date. It's worth noting too that back when he swept all before him on the way to the Dally M Medal, the little fella dragged his once speed-bump like defence up to NRL standard and then some, with his effort to hold up Willie Mason over the line on Friday night a good omen for Broncos fans.
7. Tigers (9)
Got their Easter chocolates a day late against the Eels, and wouldn't that win have tasted all the sweeter considering it came without attacking lynchpins Robbie Farah and James Tedesco, as well as forwards Liam Fulton (a late scratching before the match) and James Gavet (hamstring injury midway through the first half). Will take plenty of confidence back to their Leichhardt fortress for this Sunday's run against the Titans.
8. Souths (6)
Madge MaGuire must have been close to throwing on a red and green jumper himself as the Rabbitohs dropped like flies on Good Friday. With a dressing room that resembled a scene from M*A*S*H and a reserves bench with no one on it at one point against the Bulldogs, the Rabbitohs showed plenty of guts. They're a better side than their 3-4 win loss record shows, but will be hard-pressed improving it against the in-form Broncos this Friday.
9. Eels (8)
There was something old and something new about Parramatta's loss to the Tigers, with the attacking brilliance of Jarryd Hayne and Chris Sandow being undermined by two costly errors from that same pair that gifted their opponents two crucial tries. Sandow's off day with the boot was an untimely one, as was the Eels' 61% completion rate, but as with every game this season there was plenty to like about an Eels performances that did nothing to diminish their reputation as the competition's entertainers.
10. Panthers (10)
Club trainer Shane Elford, Panthers teammates and every man and his dog were screaming at Josh Mansour when the big winger ran back looking for all money like he was ready to take a quick tap from Albert Kelly's last ditch bomb. A quick tap. With five seconds on the clock. With his side leading by two. No wonder Ivan Cleary says his side needs to wise up when it comes to closing out games. Still, they held on for a fourth home win of the year that they're going to need in the bank given they won't be back at the foot of the mountains until Round 12.
11. Dragons (11)
The Dragons needed to bounce back from the Sirengate debacle with a win any way, any how, and they did so against the Warriors. They ground out a sorely needed win that ensures history doesn't repeat itself for at least a week – last year the Dragons sat with a 3-3 record after six rounds, just as they did heading into last weekend, and only won another three all season. With their back three in stellar form and Gareth Widdop calling the shots Red V fans can be confident there's going to be more to cheer in 2014.
12. Raiders (13)
The word out of the nation's capital is Paul Vaughan hasn't shut up about two things since the big fella cracked the grade – his stint at the World Cup for Italy and his cooking skills, with the big man apparently a culinary genius when it comes to pasta and all pasta-related products. Well the flying spaghetti-eating monster is likely to be dining out on his match-winning try against the Storm for at least a few weeks, though no word yet on whether the story has been upped from stepping past five defenders to 500.
13. Cowboys (14)
"When you wear a Cowboys jersey you get used to it." Captain Johnathan Thurston was talking about the rub of the green the Cowboys haven't seen from the referees in recent years, but he could well have been talking to North Queensland fans given the Northerners' propensity for a slow start to the year, with the loss to Manly seeing them slump to a 2-5 record on the back of last year's four wins from the opening three months of football. Whether Paul Green marches naked through Pitt Street
or not, the Cowboys should never have let Manly back into the match and they know it.
14. Knights (12)
For all the ball and attacking opportunities the Knights had in the first half on Friday night they never looked like troubling the Broncos defence and it took big man Korbin Sims to show their lackluster halves that straight up the middle rather than side-to-side was where the sinking ship needed to be directed. Worrying signs for Wayne Bennett's men as they were outplayed in every facet on their home turf and before taking on the top of the table Bulldogs this week – they could well have just two wins to show for their efforts heading into the bye round.
15. Warriors (15)
It was by no means their worst performance, but a long way from their best. The Warriors are down on confidence and who can blame them? They were often too shallow in attack for their big men to get up a head of steam to trouble the Dragons, but Sam Tomkins' best display since joining the NRL is a positive for Andrew McFadden and his struggling chargers.
16. Sharks (16)
Signs of life down in the Shire with Paul Gallen returning and the Sharks pushing the Roosters all the way with their inspirational skipper back at the helm. As Gal said though it's nearing make or break time for the Sharks, with 12 wins from their next 17 needed if they're to crack the magic 30 competition point mark – the agreed cut off that ensures
that come September you're playing finals footy rather than watching it.