1. Roosters (1)
The premiers keep telling anyone who will listen how proud they are of their efforts despite losing to Manly and the Bulldogs, and you know what? We’re buying what they’re selling. The Chooks' defence is certainly in order, they’re the first team since 1990 to lose two in a row despite conceding less than 10 points in each game, and with names like Tuivasa-Sheck, Jennings, Pearce and Sonny Bill it’s not all that hard to keep the faith with 2013’s best attack. Will fancy their chances of bouncing back against an Eels team they have averaged 48 points against in their past three meetings.
2. Sea Eagles (2)
You have to go back a fair way to find a Manly side as thoroughly outplayed as they were in the Tigers' Leichhardt den at the weekend, but the Sea Eagles maintain their place on the back of past deeds and back-to-back losses from the Storm. Geoff Toovey will be concerned by his charges' up-and-down form mirroring the mentor’s blood pressure – with gritty wins over the Rabbitohs and Roosters followed up with insipid showings against the Eels and Tigers.
3. Bulldogs (5)
The Bulldogs obviously took the whole Heritage Round thing seriously, throwing back to the Dogs of War era by belting the premiers from pillar to post and back again, before sneaking home via a Josh Reynolds field goal. And who better to get them over the line than the bloke who does the best Tommy Raudonikis going round? Reports skipper Ennis has been getting about Belmore on the back of a Proton ute telling fans to get their rear ends to the game have so far gone unconfirmed by Bulldogs HQ.
4. Storm (3)
Melbourne may have been jumping up and down over some questionable calls at the weekend, but Craig Bellamy and his senior players know they’ve got bigger problems down south, and it’s that thing that holds up de gate: de-fence. The Storm have been the benchmark across the past five seasons when it comes to making the opposition work for their points, conceding an average of just 14.6 per regular season game. But over the course of the past three weeks the purple wall has let in 88 points to double that average, as well as 71 missed tackles in consecutive losses. Expect the tackle bags to get a solid workout this week.
5. Titans (7)
Well, well, well. The Titans are kings of the NRL castle for just the fifth week in their history. And while they’re the first team to sit atop the ladder with a negative points differential since the Bulldogs in 1953, and had a healthy dose of luck in toppling the Storm, it’s hard not to like the way the Titans have ground out the tight wins they would have dropped in previous years.
6. Broncos (4)
Could’ve, should’ve and would’ve beaten the Eels at home last week but for the simple fact they couldn’t hold on to that round white thing everyone’s so obsessed with, and a result thoroughly deserved to be on the wrong end of the score line. A 67 per cent completion rate will rarely get the chocolates, and 39 missed tackles doesn’t help either, but with Justin Hodges getting some miles in the legs and a forward pack still making plenty of metres Anthony Griffin’s men should be back near their best for Friday’s family reunion with baby brothers the Gold Coast.
7. Panthers (8)
Dogs and Titans fans would’ve gritted their teeth watching Jamal Idris rack up 244 metres, four tackle breaks, three offloads and a 60-metre intercept in his best performance yet for the Panthers, and the big man appears to be adding some ball playing to his extensive attacking arsenal, playing a big hand in Penrith’s first four-pointer. According to the NRL Media Guide Idris reckons if he wasn’t playing league he’d be an oyster farmer, and while he’s been known as a rocks-or-diamonds player since his debut in 2008, the 23-year-old is set for an extended run of pearlers if he keeps these numbers up.
8. Rabbitohs (9)
With the likes of Ron Coote and Bob McCarthy floating around the club during Heritage Round last week the Rabbitohs' big names were always a good chance of aiming up at the SCG, and didn’t they what? Stars Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis both ran for over 200 metres each, combined for 14 tackle breaks and got themselves across the line for deserved four pointers, but it will be the showings from lesser lights like Apisai Koroisau, Chris McQueen et al that will have 'Madge' Maguire most pleased as his side got themselves back in the winner’s circle.
9. Dragons (6)
The Dragons look to be standing at the top of a pretty slippery slope at the moment, and with games against Melbourne, defending premiers the Roosters and the Bulldogs over the next month they need to regain their mojo sooner rather than later if they’re to keep their best start since 2010 from going to waste. Josh Dugan will be better for his first run in six weeks, but Steve Price now faces a selection headache with the man who performed admirably in his absence, as impressive youngster Adam Quinlan looked all at sea in the halfback role against Souths.
10. Eels (11)
Hoho - we may just have a live one here folks. The Eels broke through for their first away win in 613 days against the Broncos, and are gunning for their third straight win since the wheels fell off the wagon back in 2010. You can almost feel the trepidation from out Parramatta way; Eels fans have been left out in the cold more often than a Moscow street dog with false dawns over the past couple of years, but a strong showing against the premiers could confirm the club has put some of its darkest days behind them.
11. Tigers (14)
Can’t you just see Steve Roach’s fingerprints all over the Tigers' forward pack? First Aaron Woods and Keith Galloway soften up the opposition, and then the likes of Marty Taupau and James Gavet are let loose like a couple of errant bulls on King St, Newtown. Blocka even appears to have lit a fire under Adam Blair, with the normally docile back-rower giving Jason King a gobful last week. The loss of boom fullback James Tedesco is a cruel one as the Tigers' spine was improving with every game, and how they perform without one of the competition’s form players will prove a stern test over the coming month.
12. Raiders (13)
Ricky Stuart says the Raiders are building something special. “An ark” could be the cry from cynics who watched the Green Machine go down fighting in the rain out at Penrith at the weekend, Western Sydney’s latest Wet ‘n’ Wild installation. The boys from the nation’s capital are showing plenty of heart in playing out their past two games with 15 and 16 fit soldiers, but they’ve got to start stringing the wins together or they won’t be featuring in September for the second year in a row, a feat they’ve avoided since before Stuart was cutting about in the lime green.
13. Cowboys (15)
North Queensland won’t be getting too carried away with Monday night’s win over the Knights, but two points is two points, and boy howdy didn’t the North Queenslanders need them. Paul Green will want more of the same from mercurial halfback Robert Lui when he plays his former club on Saturday, with the little guy's try assist, four tackle breaks, and 91 running metres making for one of his best performances in the Cowboys jumper.
14. Knights (10)
An away trip to Townsville was always going to be tough as the Knights' emotional rollercoaster continued at speed, but jeez they didn’t do themselves any favours a litany of errors, untimely penalties and forward passes. Hard to blame them for a few waivers in concentration given the past fortnight off the field, but need to start aiming up on it or they’re in danger of losing touch with the top eight.
15. Warriors (12)
Long regarded as NRL underachievers given their performances rarely match the potential in their talented line-ups, Andrew McFadden is now the Warriors' tenth coach in 19 years, and worryingly for the mentoring rookie, only Ivan Cleary and Daniel Anderson – the men who took the Kiwi club to the 2002 and 2011 deciders – are the only ones to get a start elsewhere in the NRL after carrying the Warriors' clipboard.
16. Sharks (16)
It took the Sharks just an hour to put on more points against the Warriors than they’ve registered in their previous 320 minutes of football this year. While the dramas across the ditch that followed the 37-6 drubbing provided a big old spoonful of perspective, the signs of life shown in attack are more than Peter Sharp could’ve hoped for. Whether they can back it up against Manly at their Brookvale fortress is another story.