Power Rankings: Round 20
1. Manly (Last week: 1)
No mountain, no valley low, no truckload of scandal and in-fighting looks likely to de-rail Manly at the moment. The reporters keep rolling up, and the innuendo and rumour mill keeps churning at an impressive pace, but the Bird Gang just keeps pumping out the wins, and given they're four points clear at the top of the ladder, they look on course for their first minor premiership since Geoff Toovey still donned the boots and could comb his hair back in '97.
2. Rabbitohs (4)
Flexed their premiership muscle with their most free-flowing display in weeks on a chilly night in the nation's capital, with outside men Dylan Walker and Alex Johnston running roughshod and Adam Reynolds capping a strong showing with the first two-try haul of his career. Would love to fix that revolving door on their casualty ward, with stars John Sutton and Sam Burgess the latest booked in for what the cardinal and myrtle faithful hope are only temporary visits.
3. Bulldogs (3)
Still feeling the effects of the Origin period with their Blues duo of Reynolds and Morris notable absentees since the series wrapped up three weeks ago, but the cavalry is on its way. Their two most dynamic backs, as well as bookends Aiden Tolman and David Klemmer, are due back within the next fortnight while co-captain Frank Pritchard could also make a surprise return from a torn pec in time for the finals after initial fears were he was out for the season.
4. Roosters (2)
Just when you think the defending champs are ready to click into gear, they slip back into second and let a team out of finals contention pull their pants down. The Eels, Sharks, and now Knights have all sprung upset wins against the Roosters – the likes of which just weren't in the premiers' vocabulary last season – and though there are still six weeks of regular season programming left, time is running out for them to regain that ruthless streak.
5. Storm (7)
Craig Bellamy reckons 2014 is the first time we'll see a team from outside the top four lift the Provan-Summons trophy, and why wouldn't he when his side looks the most likely of those battling it out in the mid-table logjam? Another perfect Storm looks to be brewing down south, with Cooper Cronk making up for lost time after seven weeks out with that broken arm.
6. Cowboys (9)
Two away wins doesn't transform the NRL's biggest road worriers into warriors of the dusty trail just yet, but their first win at ANZ Stadium – the same joint where they play that big game at the end of the year – will do their confidence a world of good. Their reward is two very winnable games against the Titans and Tigers on the trot at 1300 Smiles Stadium, a venue far more threatening than it sounds for visitors this year.
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7. Panthers (5)
Well that's not going to silence any doubters. Coach Cleary mused that his chargers may have already had one eye on the finals on their way out to Bathurst, but if a second loss for the year against wooden-spoon contenders Cronulla doesn't pull them back into the here and now, the news that halfback Peter Wallace is gone for the season with a ruptured ACL definitely will.
8. Warriors (6)
The absence of Shaun Johnson didn't affect their ability to get over the line early – Konrad Hurrell's meat pie in the second minute was the fourth consecutive game the Warriors have crossed within three minutes of kickoff, a point made by NRL.com's Andrew Voss during his call on the weekend. But the home side lacked polish, particularly on the last tackle, without their pocket-sized superstar and fumbled their way out of an entertaining contest with the likely minor premiers.
9. Broncos (8)
Have hit the snooze button for three games running now, and found themselves down 12-0 within 15 minutes against the Storm on Friday night before dragging themselves back into the contest. You hope they learned their lesson against Melbourne, because a repeat against the table-topping Sea Eagles on their own turf this week could get ugly.
10. Dragons (11)
Given their points differential of -47 is over 100 short of fellow finals contenders North Queensland, Brisbane and the Warriors, the Dragons missed a golden opportunity when they found themselves up 22-0 and with the Tigers on the ropes after 40 minutes. The final 28-12 result wasn't the thrashing it could have been, but otherwise the Red V got the job done against a distracted opposition.
11. Eels (13)
Welcomed back Will Hopoate: a current Origin winger, Tim Mannah: a former Origin prop, and Ken Sio: a bloke with 11 tries in 10 games in 2014, but it was the one and only Jarryd Hayne who proved the difference for the umpteenth time in the blue and gold on Saturday against the Titans. Two tries, three line breaks and 229 running metres – it'll be a foolish man that follows the lead of Nate Myles in sledging the superstar and riling him into suck devastating form.
12. Wests Tigers (10)
It's pea-shooters at 20 pacers in Tiger Town, with club captain Robbie Farah, coach Mick Potter and CEO Grant Mayer all involved in a very public and very ugly spat over the clipboard carrier's future with the club. Every man and his dog and even former NSW premier Barry O'Farrell has an opinion on the debacle, though what it was we can't recall. For our part, the board only has itself to blame for not moving and offering Potter the contract extension he deserves and which was first mooted back in April.
13. Knights (14)
Found themselves in it up to their eyeballs trailing the Chooks by just a converted try at halftime, but recent history and the loss of busted playmaker Jarrod Mullen suggested the Knights were kidding themselves. In their three previous second halves against the premiers Newcastle had been outpointed 60-16, but a three-try rally and a phenomenal display from Tyrone Roberts dusted conventional wisdom and gave the beleaguered club and the Newcastle masses a win for the ages.
14. Titans (12)
Salary cap irregularities, a bright start to the year followed by a slump that has them slipping into also-ran territory, and calls for Cartwright's head... Pick up the needle, this record's broken. And an away trip to Townsville, where the home side possesses one of the best records in the NRL, doesn't exactly inspire us to put the farm on the visitors pulling their 2014 campaign out of this nosedive.
15. Sharks (16)
Controlled early proceedings and convincingly won the battle of the big boppas against Penrith for just their fifth win of the year, and in the process put a few sides on notice. If the likes of Fifita, Lewis, Graham, Gordon and skipper Paul Gallen (a likely starter this week against the Eels) can finally get some minutes under their collective belts together, they'll provide more than nuisance value for teams above them on the ladder.
16. Raiders (15)
Ricky Stuart unloaded on his chargers, declaring their performance on Monday night "wasn't of a first-grade standard," and there's no argument here given the 34-18 score line gives the Green Machine undue credit: two late tries and Adam Reynolds' wayward goalkicking the only thing reeling the final margin in from the 30-point hiding the Raiders were on track for.