Power Rankings: Round 21
1. Manly (1)
Not even a quiet week on the North Shore can throw Manly off their game at the moment. Infighting or no infighting, media spotlight or no media spotlight, the Sea Eagles juggernaut just keeps rolling on, right into an SCG blockbuster with the Bunnies on Friday night – just their second appearance at the old ground since the 1987 grand final win over Canberra.
2. Rabbitohs (2)
And how 'bout them Bunnies? On the boil and full of running, right over the top of the hapless Knights. It was around this time last year we were hearing how this is the outfit to end the club's premiership drought, ditto the year before, but with a backline featuring Walker, Auva'a, Johnston, Keary and more raw potential than any other team in the game, the creative spark that's been lacking in recent times is there and growing stronger with each outing.
3. Roosters (4)
They were beaten in every statistic by the Dragons apart from the one that counts: the final score. Outstripped the red and whites in missed tackles (47 to 33), errors (14 to 8) and had the ball for 10 fewer sets yet still managed to get the win; no wonder Trent Robinson was proud of his team's defensive effort. Need to back it up in another game they'll be expected to win against the Titans next Monday night.
4. Storm (5)
Looking dangerous aren't they? And not just because Cooper Cronk's firing off more rounds than Clint Eastwood. After a bit of remodelling earlier in the year Craig Bellamy's Purple Wall is looking mighty solid nowadays, leaking just 34 points and averaging under 19 missed tackles in their last four games.
5. Cowboys (6)
Suited up as Thor and dropped the hammer on the Titans with a comfortable 20-point win. Not home yet, but with four Ws in the their last five starts and a healthy points differential, the Cowboys are building for one of their signature late-season runs that has the competition's big hitters nervously eyeing the finals draw and hoping to avoid a showdown with the game's fastest finishers.
6. Warriors (8)
How much can we read into the Warriors 54-18 demolition of the Raiders? Well as far as training runs go, it was very slick, and it did come without their little general Shaun Johnson. But rest assured Andrew McFadden will have the whip out again this week, as he did after their 48-0 pasting of the Eels, to ensure the three tries in the Raiders pinched in the final four minutes are not replicated this week against the Sharks.
7. Panthers (7)
Should be moving up based on the guts they showed against the Dogs on Friday night, but needed more injuries like a hole in the head. Lost three more for what looks like the year, with Brent Kite, Elijah Taylor and Bryce Cartwright adding the Panthers' most experienced player, hardest working defender and their most promising young forward to a casualty ward already pushing maximum occupancy.
8. Bulldogs (3)
From third to eighth is one hell of a fall, but the fact Des Hasler directed both barrels at his side's "total disrespect for the ball" rather than the referees who would've also been in his sights for a number of contentious calls is a fair sign of how off the mark the Bulldogs were against Penrith. Have now dropped three on the trot, and those rumours that Mick Ennis's looming departure is the reason behind their slump keep getting louder.
9. Eels (11)
Got a win over the Sharks without being at their best, and could well produce the same performance for three more wins with the struggling Raiders (twice) and Knights looming on the radar over the last five rounds. Can't afford to rely on Hayne's brilliance or they'll be found out by teams with more than just pride to play for.
10. Broncos (9)
Found themselves a level or two below frontrunners Manly for the entire 80 minutes, and after looking like a chance at a top-four berth just two weeks ago, they've now lost five of their past six and are staring down tough clashes with the Bulldogs and high-flying Souths over the next fortnight in which their season needs to be salvaged.
11. Dragons (10)
Had the Chooks troubled early with a bustling defensive line and plenty of punch on the edges, but too many high-risk low-return options from Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop cruelled their chances before the premiers upped the ante and left them behind in the second half.
12. Tigers (12)
The Tigers' week from hell was only ever going to end one way, and after a bright start to the year their play-off hopes are headed down the same path, with a rough old draw and the worst for-and-against of all those left in the finals race counting against them. And whoever's advising Robbie Farah to keep dodging the media, fanning the flames rather than jumping in and dousing them once and for all, isn't helping.
13. Titans (14)
They're now playing for pride with their finals hopes only alive in the minds of the delusional and those with degrees in raw mathematics, but there was enough energy and commitment against the Cowboys – despite the 28-8 margin – to suggest they won't be lying down over the next five weeks.
14. Sharks (15)
Stayed in the game longer than a 32-12 score line suggests and as late as the 70-minute mark had the Eels wary of another of their famous comebacks, but in the end the 60 extra tackles and the presence of Hayne proved too much for them.
15. Knights (13)
Blown off the park by the Bunnies in Cairns, and if they serve up the same 41 missed tackles it'll be just as ugly when they shape up to the in-form Storm come Saturday. Lucky for them the Raiders are still in this thing, or they'd be slipping further down the Power Rankings ladder.
16. Raiders (16)
Lost Fensom, their best forward, for the season. Lost Shillington, their second best forward, for the season. Lost Campese, their captain, for a fortnight – though this does give youngster Mitch Cornish an overdue return to first grade. And lost by 36 to the Warriors. Lucky there's no relegation system in place for these power rankings, or NSW Cup leaders Penrith would be getting a look-in.