Power Rankings: Round 15
1. Sea Eagles (1)
Steve Matai and Brett Stewart certainly enjoyed the extra space out on the highway otherwise known as Cronulla's right-edge defence, and their blistering combination in the opening 15 minutes in Sharks territory ensured the rest of the match amounted to little more than a training run for the visitors. Manly held their opponents scoreless for the second time this season, though the Roosters – coincidently the other outfit unable to crack the Manly line this year – will pose far more questions of the Sea Eagles than the toothless Sharks.
2. Roosters (2)
Had their first week off in 2014 and judging by the brutal nature of their recent clashes with grand final sparring partner Manly they'll need every bit of those renewed energy stocks as they travel to Fortress Brookvale looking for a fifth win on the trot.
3. Rabbitohs (3)
Nothing to see here either folks, with the Bunnies staying safe and sound in the Burrow for Round 15, and remaining a very comfortable third on both the NRL and Power Rankings ladder as a result.
4. Bulldogs (4)
Sub-zero temperatures, their stars backing up just 48 hours after Origin and an opposition in the doldrums. The Bulldogs' trip to the nation's capital had 'upset' written all over it and although they were slow out of the blocks, with Hodkinson and Reynolds returning to steer the ship Des Hasler's boys had enough class to overcome an improved Raiders outfit and snap a worrying three-game losing streak.
5. Panthers (5)
Put their feet up for the final time in the 2014 regular season, and will front up against the Warriors in New Zealand not having tasted defeat in two months, a feat they haven't achieved since 2006.
6. Storm (8)
We can't put it any better than Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell, so we're not going to try. Russell was on the money when he declared, "Billy Slater's got all the secret herbs and spices" as he dumped the Eels in the deep fryer with a sublime performance that netted two tries and two assists and gave him a knock-out win in his second showdown with Origin rival Jarryd Hayne in the space of four days. Hear that familiar rumble off in the distance? It's the Storm, and if they can repeat this type of performance they'll give the NRL rafters one hell of a rattle over the back half of the season.
7. Broncos (6)
Origin periods over the last couple of years haven't been as brutal for the Broncos as they once were in the '90s and 2000s when they would lose anywhere between half to a full dozen of their starting line-ups, but even though none of the current crop have been injured in one of the more brutal series in memory, the casualty ward is getting worryingly crowded up north of the border. Matt Gillett (shoulder) joins Corey Parker and Andrew McCullough on the sidelines, and Anthony Griffin will be praying stalwarts Justin Hodges (ankle) and Sam Thaiday (calf) do not aggravate recent injuries as the grind of backing up from the mid-week contests is sure to have an effect on their ageing bodies.
8. Warriors (10)
The Warriors aren't used to having to win games on the back of their defence, but that they were able to against the Broncos will please coach Andrew McFadden no end. The fact they were forced to after sleeping through the opening half hour and recording eight errors in the first half is a worry, but with the Auckland-based outfit closing to within two points of the top eight, their 5-2 record since Anzac Day caps a remarkable turn-around under the rookie mentor.
9. Eels (6)
Started both halves against the Storm still in the sheds, and with Melbourne rediscovering the ruthless streak of seasons past the Eels were realistically cooked before Chris Sandow found himself in the sin-bin for mouthing off at referee Ben Cummins. Conceding an 18-zip scoreline in the first half hour, followed by a second-half opening when they couldn't capitalise on plenty of chances at the Melbourne line, should have Brad Arthur directing his post-match fury at his players rather than the officials after a first-half completion rate of 67 per cent that simply wasn't up to NRL standard.
10. Tigers (11)
All quiet on the Western front last week with the Tigers taking their second bye of the year but expect plenty of noise out of Campbelltown when James Tedesco suits up against the Raiders on Saturday, coming face-to-face with the club he spurned just three weeks ago.
11. Cowboys (9)
With Brent Tate gone for the season, Matt Scott gone for six weeks and halfback Ray Thompson (hamstring) and hooker Rory Kostjasyn (ribs) set to join them on the sidelines, there are fewer and fewer good men aboard Paul Green's ship, which also happens to be sinking rather fast. Cannot buy a win away from Townsville, and with performances like Monday night's in Newcastle it's no wonder.
12. Dragons (13)
Word out of Dragons territory is the players are buying what new coach Paul McGregor is selling, and while a one-point win over the struggling Titans is hardly anything worth writing home about, it does give the Dragons two much-needed competition points and keeps them within touching distance of the top eight. If the Dragons are to make an unexpected run at the finals, they can ill-afford a slip-up in their next two home games against the Storm and the NRL's most susceptible travellers, the Cowboys, over the next two rounds, as they face the Roosters, Manly and Panthers between Rounds 19 and 22 and will need some serious momentum to trouble three of the competition's form sides.
13. Titans (12)
Equalled a bit of unwanted club history on the weekend, with their sixth loss on the trot matching their worst run since joining the competition in 2007, and despite the reasonably bright debut of mid-season transfer Daniel Mortimer were still found badly wanting when it came to last-play options and unleashing the speed that is just asking to burned out wide. Will gladly accept the two competition points that come with next week's bye.
14. Knights (14)
Didn't the Knights look a different outfit with Kurt Gidley jumping in at number 7? Jarrod Mullen rediscovered a running game that has been MIA since April, Darius Boyd appeared to actually give a flying fudge and they played with the direction and purpose of a side intent on ending one wretched run – their seven losses on the trot – and continuing another, stretching their record in Monday night football to 13 wins from 15 starts when suiting up at the start of the working week.
15. Raiders (15)
Ricky Stuart said as much during the week when outlining his 5-10 year plan to return the Green Machine to its former glory: it's gonna get bad before it gets good. An enterprising opening against the high-flying Dogs would've kept Raiders fans warm, but as the mercury headed south so too did their side's fortunes, with over an hour and any chance of an upset passing before they added to Jarrod Croker's 6th-minute try as Canberra slumped to a sixth loss in seven starts.
16. Sharks (16)
Paul Gallen says it's not too late for a new coach to take the reins down Cronulla way in a bid to right the listing Sharks ship, and they could do worse than turn to former Indian fast bowler Ajit Agarkar in a bid to break their point-scoring duck. Agarkar failed to trouble the scorers in a record five times in a row against the all-conquering Australians back in 1999, but managed to inflict some misery upon England just a few years later, with an unbeaten 109 from well down the order at Lords in less than four hours. Coincidently, it's been about half an hour longer than that since the Sharks have scored a point, and they'll need all the help they can get against the Broncos, who haven't conceded more than 20 points since Round 9 against the Cowboys.