Round 26 Power Rankings
1. Roosters (2)
Defence harder to crack than Chinese algebra, Mitch Pearce steering the ship in style, and a good old-fashioned duel straight out of the wild east with arch-rivals South Sydney that could decide the minor premiership... sounds mighty familiar doesn't it? The premiers are once again looking mighty impressive in their bid for back-to-back titles.
2. Rabbitohs (1)
Now is not the time you want to be putting that previously well-oiled Bunnies machine in for a service, but it looked in dire need after a lacklustre 70 minutes against the Dogs. In spite of some dodgy short-side defence, unforced errors galore and even a botched tap-penalty restart, they should take plenty of confidence from the way halfback Adam Reynolds – all 173 centimetres of him – stood tall with the game on the line and dragged the Rabbitohs kicking and screaming to a seven-point win.
3. Sea Eagles (3)
When was the last time we saw the occasion get to Manly? Certainly looked that way for over an hour of Jason King's final game at Brookie. But then again how many times have we seen them reach right into the fire, barely bat an eyelid and pinch themselves a last-minute win they have no rights to? That's three by our count this season, with Penrith joining Newcastle and Parramatta in having the carpet pulled out from under them by a Sea Eagles outfit that in the event of a nuclear holocaust would still be alive and kicking, along with Keith Richards and a whole lot of cockroaches.
4. Cowboys (4)
Missed the spread by 31 points on Monday night, but that was more a case of the Sharks playing above and beyond expectations rather than the Cowboys playing badly. Still, it wasn't the greatest endorsement for their ability to handle the pressure of expectation that ramps up around them when Spring hits.
5. Panthers (6)
Showed more guts than you find on an abattoir floor. In front of the baying Brookvale masses with half a salary cap worth of playing talent watching from the sidelines, they put it all over the front-runners on Sunday. Ran out of puff at the death, but proved they deserve the top-four spot that just slipped through their grasp. Whether they can pick themselves up and dust the Warriors next Monday though is another matter.
6. Storm (5)
Their big guns showed they can still cut it against the Chooks – Cooper Cronk kept the ball on a string while Cam Smith and Billy Slater turned it on for two classic wet-weather tries up the middle – but they're still searching for that extra gear to really rank themselves alongside the genuine heavyweights. Can still make the top four, and they can still miss the top eight.
7. Bulldogs (7)
There was no way Mick Ennis was ever going to play his last home game in front of Bulldogs fans in any other fashion... In it up to his eyeballs, arguing with the refs and being a right pain the arse of everyone involved, none more so than the Bunnies, who he split twice to engineer a surprise 12-6 half-time lead. The fact the Dogs possess the weakest attack of the remaining contenders was pretty plainly obvious though in the way they struggled to put an out of sorts Rabbits outfit away when they had the chance.
8. Broncos (8)
Played one hell of a game on Friday didn't they? And the entire league in turn breathed one hell of a sigh of relief that Ben Cummins' clanger didn't cost them a shot at the semis this week. But should a finals appearance slip through Brisbane's fingers on for-and-against, it'll be due to that Round 16 submission to the last-placed Sharks rather than the three tries scored during Matt Gillett's time in the bin.
9. Warriors (10)
It's not the whole world, just the Warriors' finals chances in Andrew McFadden's hands this week, as it's on the rookie coach to rectify his side's worrying habit of following up a big win (think both Raiders games this year, the 48-0 trouncing of Parramatta, and last week's seven-try romp over the Titans) with lacklustre showings (think both games against the Sharks, blowing a 12-0 lead after 10 minutes against Brisbane). Fix that, beat the Panthers on Sunday night, and a spot in the bottom half of the eight could be all theirs.
10. Eels (9)
With their first playoff spot on the line in five years they played like their race had already been run, as if Parramatta fans haven't suffered enough over the last half-decade. For the sake of our own health, we shan't be pointing out the irony in Ricky Stuart now being able to deny them a finals berth for the second year running.
11. Knights (12)
It's really not fair to do so, but after seven wins from their last 10 games, you have to wonder just how much more the red and blue army would have to cheer about if they had endured even just half the off-field dramas the club has been through. 2014's a write-off, but the future's looking a little bit rosier with each try those Mata'utia brothers score.
12. Dragons (11)
Let's be frank, getting themselves to the penultimate round with a finals berth on the line is more than Dragons fans could have hoped for three months ago, when their pack was folding quicker than Balinese suit. But for all their effort over the back of end of the year it was again up front where they were found wanting by the Broncs, and they need to add a quality big bopper or two to really capitalise on that sizzling backline of theirs.
13. Raiders (14)
Ricky might just be asking himself if all this chasing of a marquee fullback is necessary given the form Jack Wighton's shown at the back in their last two wins. Stuart still reckons the kid is best suited to five-eighth, but the last bloke he held that opinion on looks to be going pretty well in the No.1 jumper. Go with the flow, Rick, just go with it.
14. Sharks (16)
Just need the bookies to put their odds out beyond $8 every week and they'll be right as rain. In a perfect world Daniel Holdsworth's booming 45-metre field goal and the Sharkies' courageous performance with just four regular first graders would be rewarded with two points, rather than two piddly 20-metre field goal efforts from some spoilsport named Thurston.
15. Titans (13)
The players reckon they want Neil Henry as coach but they sure have a funny way of showing it. Even with all their injuries, conceding 76 points in their last two starts is hardly a ringing endorsement for the man dubbed 'King' Henry. Retiring prop Luke Bailey deserves to bow out a winner, but they'll be hard pressed getting it against the Dogs this week.
16. Tigers (15)
Unlike the Titans, the players have hardly thrown their weight behind Mick Potter's retention in Tiger Town. But just like the Titans the tripe they're turning out – 18 errors and a completion rate of 55 per cent against the Raiders – is about the last thing you'd want on your coaching résumé. One more week to turn it around.