Power Rankings: Round 16
1. Sea Eagles (1)
Kieran Foran and Brett Stewart. Go ahead and pop that combination right up there on the top shelf of half/fullback combos in recent years. Cronk and Slater, Thurston and Bowen; the Manly duo's joint assault on the Roosters was first class and of the same standard as the previously mentioned pairs, and what about that crucial try the pair engineered midway through the second half to break the 12-all deadlock? Superb, and word is it wasn't even practiced on the training paddock.
2. Roosters (2)
The Chooks have lived on the edge of the refereeing sword for the best part of 18 months now, and for the second time this year against Manly they died by it. They may have clawed their way back into the game with some impressive footy after conceded four penalties in the opening 12 minutes, but their indiscretions meant they ended up having to defend for eight more sets than the Sea Eagles and in the end that was the difference as their regular sparring partner won yet another enthralling encounter on a points decision.
3. Bulldogs (4)
Two points for doing nothing is still two points for doing nothing, but we imagine Des Hasler will be a little bit peeved at the timing of the Dogs' second bye of the year coming in a round when his Origin players are fit and firing. Especially as the blue and white will be suiting up without halves Reynolds and Hodkinson and possibly Josh Morris and Tony Williams this week against Manly, before turning around to take on the Storm in Melbourne 72 hours after Origin III.
4. Rabbitohs (3)
Couldn't take a trick from the opening kick-off in Townsville, finding themselves down 14-0 after nine minutes – and it ended up costing them for the remaining 71. Had their chances at the Cowboys line in the second half, but in the end lacked the go-forward of big Georgie Burgess and a touch of class at the death in coming up just short against the Cowboys.
5. Panthers (5)
Left Auckland licking their wounds after a second-half capitulation without injured five-eighth Jamie Soward, who was unsighted after the break with an ankle complaint. Ivan Cleary refused to blame the loss of their headgeared playmaker for the second 40 minutes that the Warriors claimed 18-4, though with seven penalties and a completion rate of just 63 per cent upon the resumption the Panthers mentor won't have to look to far for reasons behind their first loss in two months.
6. Warriors (8)
Proved the Panthers aren't the only ones who look pretty in pink, with big Konrad Hurrell looking very good indeed on the back of his first double of the year and getting the better of an entertaining duel with fellow big boy Jamal Idris. The Kiwi side has snuck into the NRL top eight for the first time in 2014.
7. Storm (6)
Unusually sloppy on the edges where they've been so good for so many years, and cannot get Cooper Cronk back soon enough to give them some much-needed cohesion in attack and return the venom to their short kicking game. You can bet your bottom dollar Craig Bellamy doesn't want Cronk playing the Origin III dead rubber; understandable given it's the Storm that lose out if he gets injured again and their finals hopes are almost cactus without him.
8. Broncos (7)
Just when you think you can pencil this Brisbane side in for the bottom half of the eight, and maybe set to give some of the big boys a run for their money in September, they go ahead and blow a 22-0 lead in just over half an hour. Against the wooden spoon favourites. A team that hadn't scored in over five hours of football. Looks like it's back to the drawing board for Hook and the boys, who will praying the two points they thought they had in the bag don't come back to bite them come finals time.
9. Tigers (10)
The last time the Tigers played out Campbelltown way, winger Pat Richards found himself a controversial last-minute villain, giving away a penalty for Brisbane's Ben Hunt to nail home a contentious match-winner with the clock winding down. Not that he needed to in the eyes of Tigers fans, but the big fella more than made up for it against the Raiders, coming up with two crucial defensive plays on opposite number Brenko Lee with the game on the line and the undermanned Tigers side up against the wall. Despite the gritty win, the loss of James Tedesco for the year with that sickening broken kneecap means the black and gold will be well and truly under the pump in their bid to make the finals without one of their most crucial cogs, a feat that's now probably just beyond Mick Potter's young side.
10. Cowboys (11)
They're fast usurping the Warriors' title as the NRL's Jekyll and Hyde outfit, and for the Cowboys it's all in the name. On home turf in the heart of North Queensland, they're the smart, dangerous outfit that shows very promising signs of delivering on the potential that their star-studded roster promises; a roster that can put 14 points on the best defence in the competition in under 10 minutes. Away from the ranch they're the bumbling, stumbling Cowboys, playing it too fast and loose with the ball and shooting themselves in the foot with basic errors, though they get another shot at redeeming their woeful away record this week against the Dragons at Kogarah.
11. Eels (9)
Jarryd Hayne summed it up best during the post match formalities; in years past the Eels would've been happy having competed and got themselves within striking distance of a win after trailing 16-6 at halftime. It's a different story in 2014 though, with the boys in blue and gold "filthy" with the result that drops them out of the top eight for the first time in six weeks, and well they should be. The Eels had the Knights on the rack for much of the second half, but jumped the gun too often chancing passes and just lacked the polish required to put away a determined Knights outfit.
12. Dragons (12)
No Monday night heartache this time around for the Red V and as a result they now sit remarkably just one win out of the top eight. We're still not sold on Josh Dugan out in the centres – it'll take more than a few tries and a couple of decent showings to convince us why you would confine a player of his stature to one edge of the field and reduce his touches from an average of 23 in six games at fullback to 15 in three games in the front line, but full credit to Mary McGregor for breathing some much-needed fire into the Dragons pack.
13. Knights (14)
Wayne Bennett's boys would've taken plenty of confidence out of putting the cleaners through the Cowboys last week, but they'll get even more out of holding out a fast-finishing Parramatta outfit by the skin of their teeth and not much else. Newcastle have found themselves in the same situation twice already this year, leading the Bulldogs and Manly for much of the game only to be pipped at the post, and while the Eels are not quite in the same league, take nothing away from their effort in closing out a game to bring up back-to-back wins for the first time since last year's finals series.
14. Titans (13)
Bye bye baby, and despite the two points from the week off keeping them in touch within touching distance of the top eight, the Titans cannot afford their six-game losing streak to get any longer or they'll be singing the tune that's become all-too familiar on the Gold Coast in recent years.
15. Raiders (15)
Ricky Stuart gave the refs a serve, no surprises there, and then took aim at the real culprits for the Raiders' one-point loss to the Tigers – and didn't he give them both barrels? "If we think we're a first-grade football team, we should've won," Stuart said, leaving the ubiquitous "That's a pretty big 'if'" for those of us playing the game at home to fill in for him. Plain and simple, with 56% of second-half possession the Raiders should have put away a Tigers side that was not just out on its feet but reduced to one leg through injuries, and they can start planning an early off-season as a result.
16. Sharks (16)
The Sharks broke through for their first points in over five hours of football before rattling up 24 unanswered in their biggest ever come-from-behind win over the Broncos, and then their best attacking asset goes and rains all over their parade and gets himself sacked as a result. In another one of those years down in the Shire, spare a thought for their media man Rob Willis, who has had far too much practice at dealing with this sort of stuff in recent years.