Power Rankings: Round 10
1. Bulldogs (1)
Is there anything this Bulldogs pack can't do? It weighs the same as a small truck but against the Warriors with 15 offloads they possessed the handling of a sports car, and it's a scary prospect when 123 kilo Sam Kasiano is throwing cut-out balls to put wingers in for tries and Tony Williams is grubbering behind the line to force repeat sets, all while James Graham and Aidan Tolman are working through a combined 340 metres and 52 tackles. Throw in a State of Origin-quality halves pairing and you can see why the Dogs are the current league leaders.
2. Sea Eagles (2)
Sideline eye Andy Raymond summed up the Sea Eagles' performance best – "for 75 minutes you were uglier than a room full of ex-girlfriends" – but the effort from unheralded prop Josh Starling in mowing down Knights flyer Jake Mamo and rag-dolling him into touch was deserving of two competition points alone, which meant that Daly Cherry-Evans was merely showing off when he banged over a 35-metre field goal to seal the win and break the Knights' hearts.
3. Storm (5)
Few handle the big occasions better than the Melbournites, and with a powerhouse performance from their big three they blew the Bunnies off the park with a vintage effort for Craig Bellamy's 300th game carrying the clipboard. The resounding win was precisely what the doctor ordered as their next generation will take plenty of confidence out of their best showing of the year. It'll be sorely needed as Messrs Smith, Slater, Cronk and possibly Hoffman depart for Origin duty taking over 1000 combined games worth of experience with them.
4. Rabbitohs (4)
Just when it looked like the Rabbits were ready to stamp themselves on this competition they ran into a red-hot Storm side that chewed them up and promptly spat them back out. Could well have Isaac Luke back for their Monday night trip to take on the cellar-dwelling Sharks, and the creative rake's kicking game will be very welcome indeed after halves Reynolds and Sutton failed to force a single goal in response to the six repeat sets the Storm helped themselves to.
5. Roosters (3)
The Chooks were in with a shot in Townsville right up until kick-off, but it's hard to imagine any side keeping pace with the Cowboys in that sort of touch, let alone one disrupted by off-field distractions. They take on a weakened Dogs side this week with not just Mitch Pearce and James Maloney having a point to prove, and before you write them off it's worth remembering that it was in this corresponding fixture during last year's Origin period that the Roosters kicked off an eight game win streak that propelled them to the minor premiership.
6. Eels (8)
Brad Arthur was trying his utmost to keep a lid on the hype around his team despite looking like a kid at Christmas after Parramatta's demolition of the Dragons, which gave them their first shut-out since 2009 and their best start to a season in 10 years. While their status as the NRL's entertainers is bringing the blue and gold army to its feet, it's the newfound resolve in defence that has them conceding nine points less a match than in 2013 that should have fans believing in their side.
7. Cowboys (9)
Wow. Two errors in 80 minutes of football, over 600 more running metres than one of the most intimidating packs in the NRL and 42 points against a premiership-winning defensive unit. Could the Cowboys have misread their calendars and started their patented late-season run two months early? They've got the competition's form back – Johnathan Thurston – and forward – Matt Scott – and an Origin period without those two will give a fair indication of whether Paul Green's men are finally ready to deliver the results that are expected every year from one of the most talented rosters in the game.
8. Broncos (7)
Despite getting the two points and exacting some revenge for their Round 7 loss to the Titans, there was little to be impressed about for Broncos fans as they took over an hour to put away a side that had pawned its last legs some time earlier. With an attack showing the same worrying lack of cohesion that we saw in 2013, the pressure remains on coach Anthony Griffin as they prepare for the coming weeks when they'll be without the likes of co-captains Hodges and Parker as well as key forwards Thaiday and Gillett.
9. Titans (6)
They were always going to be up against it with Bird, Kelly, Harrison and Gordon out and then being reduced to just 15 fit men for the majority of the match proved a bridge too far against their northern neighbours. The only thing healthy about the Gold Coast at the moment is their position in sixth place on the ladder and it doesn't get any easier next week when they host the Warriors without co-captain Nate Myles and big Dave Taylor amongst a host of other regulars in doubt.
10. Panthers (10)
After 40 minutes in the nation's capital Ivan Cleary must've had that sinking feeling that has accompanied the downward swings of the Panthers' very realistic yo-yo impression this season. It's been a nauseating win-loss, win-loss sequence from the mountain men so far, and while their first back-to-back wins have come against the struggling Knights and Raiders, you can't help but think the way veteran halves Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace guided them to a tense win was exactly why they were brought to the club.
11. Wests Tigers (11)
Tigers fans might want to make the most of having Luke Brooks in their ranks at Origin time while they can, because if his display against the Sharks is anything to go by he'll be consistently preoccupied around this point of the season for the next decade or so. The 19-year-old's creative spark in the end got the Tigers two competition points that could prove vital as they stare down a rep period where they will be without forward leaders Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods.
12. Warriors (12)
It's one thing to put 50-odd points past a Raiders outfit that has to look up the word "defence" in the dictionary before deciding it's not their cup of tea, it's quite another to push the competition leaders right up until the final minute in one of the more brutal matches this year. The Warriors should take away plenty of heart from the grit and determination they showed in repeatedly knocking back the Dogs' attacking forays, as well as a valuable lesson in clocking in after half-time, when they conceded two tries in 12 minutes that ultimately proved the difference.
13. Knights (14)
The difference between a side running second and one running second last was made painfully clear to the Knights in the clutch field goal attempts from Darius Boyd and Daly Cherry-Evans. One came from a player down on form and swamped by rumours about his playing future, from 20 metres out with an overlap begging to the right; the other from a man who could sell Joe Hockey's budget and come up smelling like roses, from 35 out on the run with the defence bearing down. One was pushed agonisingly wide of the sticks; the other never looked like missing. Breaks your heart to say it, but it looks like being one of those years for the Novocastrians.
14. Sharks (15)
It doesn't help that Todd Carney is playing on one leg, but that right-side defence of theirs must keep poor old Peter Sharp up at night. It was by no means the sole reason the Sharks gave up what should have been a match-winning 10-point lead with 25 minutes to go against the Tigers, but two poor reads from Carney and Ayshford saw the Sharks come up empty handed for the eighth time this year with D-day fast approaching for the struggling Shire club.
15. Dragons (13)
Poor old Steve Price admits he's struggling for answers after the Dragons conceded over 30 points in three consecutive weeks for the first time in almost a decade, and if word on the rugby league streets is correct he's got the two games after the bye against the Rabbits and Cronulla to save his job. With 16 errors and 32 missed tackles in the Dragons insipid showing at Pirtek Stadium at the weekend, one of the NRL's nice guys does seem to be up against it in proving wrong those pre-season betting markets on whether he'd last the year in one of the game's most scrutinised coaching gigs.
16. Raiders (16)
Ricky Stuart did his best to channel a bit of Rocky III magic at the weekend, getting awful mad in the wake of his side's loss to the Panthers, only issue is the Green Machine are still getting killed. While they were only ever going to improve on the previous fortnight and a couple of dodgy calls didn't help, the Raiders were still their own worst enemy with 12 errors after leading the Panthers at half-time, and now face the much sterner task of overcoming the Cowboys for a win much needed by both the club and Stuart's blood pressure.