Power Rankings: Round 18
1. Sea Eagles (1)
Business as usual up at Brookie on Friday night. Another week where off-field incidents have galvanised rather than distracted the maroon and white, resulting in an eighth straight win on home turf, a clinical first half followed by a second with the cue in the rack, and coach Geoff Toovey having a few gripes with the officiating to give the fourth estate something to write about after the game.
2. Bulldogs (2)
When Des Hasler cast his eye over the Bulldogs' run home, Melbourne in Melbourne – off the back of Origin – would've worried him. But against a side they haven't beaten on their home patch since 2005, and without their two most potent outside backs in Josh Reynolds and Josh Morris, the Dogs found themselves in the type of contest that has been their bread and butter in 2014, got it done and left the southern capital with the points for the first time in seven visits.
3. Panthers (3)
Looked dangerous virtually every time they touched the ball during the second half, an effort made more remarkable by the fact they lost two of their biggest attacking weapons – Josh Mansour and stand-in five-eighth Tyrone Peachey – as the halftime oranges were still being cut up. Defensive lapses late in both halves almost let the two points out of the bag for the Panthers, but for a side without a game breaking superstar they'll take plenty of confidence out of knowing they've pulled one out of the fire.
4. Roosters (4)
Got themselves out of dodge a fortnight ago after watching a 24-0 lead disintegrate against the Sharks, and coach Trent Robinson left his dancing shoes at home as the Chooks went into a mid-season camp at Avoca on the Central Coast. The premiership-winning mentor is not one for fox-trotting around issues, and would've doled out some home truths as the Roosters look to get their title defence back on track this week against the Panthers.
5. Warriors (5)
Kept pace with the clock in piling on 36 points in the opening 40 minutes against the Eels, before taking their foot off the pedal to coast home for their biggest win of the year. Make no mistake, Parramatta were awful, but keeping a side with that much firepower scoreless would've pleased the Warriors to no end, or at least as much as a grizzled '70s front-rower in seeing them score a pushover try from a scrum that had everyone under the age of 25 wondering what the hell was going on.
6. Rabbitohs (6)
Off the bye and into a blockbuster this Friday night against a Parramatta outfit that will be desperate to atone for both a 48-0 drubbing across the ditch and their first loss of the year in their last outing at Pirtek Stadium. They'll have to throw out their history books if they're to return to the winners circle; the Bunnies haven't won at the Eels' home base since 1995, when winger Alex Johnston was just three months old, though in fairness they also haven't ventured out that way since 2007.
7. Storm (7)
Gave themselves plenty of opportunities against the Dogs, particularly in the first half when they made four line breaks and forced four line drop-outs, but despite Billy Slater and Kevin Proctor consistently threatening on their left edge they just couldn't capitalise on their best defensive performance of the year. The stats on Melbourne's decline keep coming in 2014, and here's another for Craig Bellamy to leave out of the scrapbook: the Storm's loss to the Bulldogs was their first in 30 matches at AAMI Park when the hosts have led at half-time.
8. Broncos (8)
Hard to recall a side that looked as outplayed as the Broncos did out at Penrith come so close to pinching the chocolates when the final whistle blew. Looked all at sea under the high ball and whenever required to roll up their sleeves for some goal line defence, but to their credit never went away and set a club record for most points scored in a loss. It will be of little comfort to Anthony Griffin, who has watched his side drop their last two games by a combined three points – results which could cost the Broncs the top four spot that's supposedly required to see him holding the clipboard next season.
9. Dragons (9)
Two points from the bye puts the Dragons on level pegging with the Broncos, Storm, Tigers and Eels – a feat that beggars belief when you think about just far they had sunk when they went down to the last of those sides 36-0 just two months ago. With the Tigers, Eels and Broncos all shaping up against sides ahead of them on the ladder this weekend, Paul McGregor's men can continue their push up into the top eight – though it will require a monumental effort given they host the high flying Sea Eagles next Monday night.
10. Cowboys (10)
For a side that reaches for the travel sickness bag as soon as they reach check-in, the Cowboys are in the midst of a month that could break them. They haven't laid eyes on the green, green grass of home since Round 16, and won't do so until after they tackle the Sharks and Bulldogs in Sydney over the next fortnight, which if you're a glass-half-full kind of person means they at least get a chance to rectify the big fat donut sitting in their 'wins away' column.
11. Eels (11)
There's not much Jarryd Hayne can't do, but truth is he wouldn't have made a lick of difference to the Eels even if he had made the trip to Auckland last Saturday. The Eels were abysmal in defence throughout the first half, waving Shaun Johnson through gaps that could house an AH 380 like they were airport groundstaff, and had themselves in the same headspace that Parramatta fans have become all too familiar with in watching them claim back-to-back wooden spoons.
12. Tigers (12)
Went into Friday's clash missing almost 800 games of NRL experience, and given the likes of Braith Anasta, Liam Fulton, James Tedesco, Corey Paterson and Tim Moltzen are either done and dusted, or long odds of being seen again this season, the Tigers unfortunately look to have run their race already for 2014. Robbie Farah reserved one barrel for the officials after their hammering from Manly, and the other for his side's execution, which was virtually non-existent on Friday despite the Tigers having plenty of chances inside the Sea Eagles' red zone.
13. Knights (14)
Pulled off a miracle resurrection against the comeback kings themselves, rattling up 25 unanswered points in 43 minutes against the Sharks to keep the slimmest of finals hopes alive and ensure Wayne Bennett's 700th game carrying the clipboard was celebrated in style. One for the believers: six of the Knights' last eight games are on their own turf, though they'll have to improve on their current record of 2-4 at Hunter Stadium if they're to make that turn that run home at home into the unlikeliest of finals' berths.
14. Titans (13)
Still sit just two points out of the NRL top eight but have to be finals long shots, and just like the Knights need to look no further than a dismal record at home, with their loss to cellar dwellers Canberra stretching it to 2-7. Will find themselves up against an inspired Knights outfit in front of what's sure to be a loud and incredibly proud sold-out Hunter Stadium for their Round 19 RiseForAlex fixture, and need to tighten up a defence that just leaked 41 missed tackles if they're to have any hope.
15. Raiders (16)
Watching Anthony Milford at the weekend must have felt like winning the lotto and losing the ticket stub for long-suffering Raiders fans. The kid's only just hit 20, and tore the Titans apart like few can, with two tries, a leading hand in two more, a couple of line breaks and a casual 194 metres to boot, but regardless he'll be out the door by season's end. The loss of another boom youngster as Brenko Lee faces a month on the sidelines with a hamstring injury is another cruel blow, but Ricky Stuart's cryptic promise of 'good news ahead' on the Raiders signing front might just see them jag a supplementary number out of the whole affair.
16. Sharks (15)
James Shepherd has learnt a valuable lesson in just the second game of his top grade coaching career – if it aint broke, don't fix it. Having lulled the opposition into a false sense of security before storming home for record comeback wins two weeks in a row, the Sharks did the old switcheroo on the game plan, putting all their eggs in the first-half basket to lead the Knights 18-0 at home. And then they promptly fell apart, proving again this Sharks outfit only has about 40 minutes of football in it, which in this day and age is an output that will earn you the wooden spoon and not a whole lot else.