NRL power rankings: Pre-Round 1
The pre-season trial games, World Club Series, All Stars game and Auckland Nines have all come and gone, leaving some clubs nursing their wounds and others firing on all cylinders ahead of Round 1. Here's how we rank all 16 clubs based on pre-season form, off-season recruitment and last year's finishes.
1. Cowboys (Last time: 1)
The reigning NRL premiers are now World Club Champs as well, and that's enough to keep them in control of our No.1 spot. They bowed out in the quarter finals at the Nines despite fielding one of the competition's strongest squads, but warmed up nicely with a 38-4 thumping of Super League champions Leeds in the World Club Challenge.
2. Broncos (2)
The competition favourites are hot on North Queensland's heels and looking good ahead of the season opener against Parramatta next Thursday. They rested most of their big names from the Nines but piled on the points in their 80-minute contests against the Cowboys, Wynumm Manly, Souths Logan and finally Wigan in the World Club Series.
3. Storm (4)
Made the final four at the Auckland Nines despite leaving their 'Big Four' at home but suffered losses to the Tigers and Bulldogs in their trials. Billy Slater's still yet to play this year but Cameron Smith was at his scheming best for the World All Stars, and the Storm are the kind of professional outfit that will probably come out firing in Round 1 despite an underwhelming pre-season campaign. They climb in our power rankings thanks to the Roosters' big slide.
4. Sea Eagles (5)
Were slammed by injuries and still made the quarters at the Auckland Nines, then drew 24-all with the Sharks and smashed the Ipswich Jets in their trials. Dylan Walker has shown some good signs in his first few games in Manly colours but Brett Stewart and Tom Trbojevic are in doubt for the start of the season after picking up injuries. Still, the Sea Eagles look very solid after some great recruiting and should be chasing a top-four finish this year.
5. Sharks (6)
With a combination of rising stars, a star-studded pack and smart recruits there are a lot of reasons for Cronulla to be quietly confident this year. They won two out of their three games at the Auckland Nines and played out draws against Manly and the Tigers in the trials. They still have the dilemma of who will start at fullback – one-time Dally M winner Ben Barba or rising star Jack Bird – but it's not a bad problem to have and at full strength the Sharks look like a genuine contender.
6. Eels (9)
Parramatta made the perfect start to the year by winning the Auckland Nines, then drew with the Titans and outplayed the Panthers in Penrith. Corey Norman has been arguably the form player of the pre-season and looks set to form a terrific halves combination with Kieran Foran, while a backline that can't squeeze in Nines sensation Bevan French looks like one of the most dangerous in the league.
7. Rabbitohs (7)
The defending Auckland Nines champions were bundled out early this year, then pipped the Dragons in the Charity Shield with an under-strength line-up before edging out the Titans in their last trial. Returning club hero Sam Burgess impressed in that game, playing 60 minutes and scoring a try, and will be the most important player in his team's fortunes this year.
8. Roosters (3)
It hasn't been a good month for the Roosters. They were the first team to be knocked out of the Auckland Nines and had a wretched off-season away from the field with injuries to Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargeaves and Mitchell Pearce currently stood down, but showed they can still dominate against weaker opposition with a 38-12 routing of St Helens last weekend. Promising rookies Jayden Nikorima and Latrell Mitchell are set to be unleashed on the NRL, at a time when Trent Robinson's side are facing more pressure than they have in years.
9. Bulldogs (10)
It was a slow start to the pre-season for the Bulldogs, who bowed out of the Nines in the group stage and lost their first trial to the Panthers, but a 20-0 shutout of a Melbourne Storm side featuring Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith will have given the Dogs some welcome confidence. Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye are starting to get their halves combination working but possible injuries to the likes of James Graham and Brett Morris could give Canterbury a tricky start to the season.
10. Warriors (8)
It was a mixed pre-season for a Warriors side facing high expectations. They reached the Auckland Nines final for the first time but were beaten by the Eels, then beat the Titans 40-18 in their first trial before being stunned 46-10 by the Dragons on NZ turf last weekend. The pressure is starting to heat up on coach Andrew McFadden already...
11. Raiders (11)
Canberra made the Auckland Nines quarter finals and blew Newcastle off the park in the first half of their trial game in Orange, and look set to be as fun to watch in attack as they were last season. They've got a lot of talent in the back row and a quality halves pairing but it's their defence where they'll need to improve if they're to grab a top-eight spot this year.
12. Dragons (12)
Went winless in the Auckland Nines while the rest of their squad thumped Wynnum-Manly 50-6 in a trial game in Queensland, and then put a disappointing Charity Shield loss behind them by thrashing the Warriors in New Zealand on Saturday. The 46 points scored in that game will have pleased Paul McGregor no end after the team's attacking deficiencies last season. Kurt Mann is set to start at fullback with NSW No.1 Josh Dugan shifting to centre.
13. Panthers (13)
Missed out on the knockout stages at the Nines, but beat the PNG Hunters 20-12 in Port Moresby on the same weekend. Had mixed fortunes in their two home trials with a win against the Bulldogs and a loss to Parramatta. Te Taire Martin has already put some pressure on Peter Wallace's halfback spot, but it's the arrival of Trent Merrin that they'll hope can make them into a finals force.
14. Wests Tigers (15)
Didn't reach the quarters at the Nines but did well to beat the Storm and draw with Cronulla in their trials since then. James Tedesco has been in top form, but their problems lie at hooker with both their best options Robbie Farah and Matt Ballin on the injured list.
15. Knights (14)
Made the quarter finals at the Auckland Nines but haven't enjoyed too much success since then, despite a fast finish in their loss to Canberra in Orange. Rookie Jaelen Feeney looks set to slot into the fullback role while Trent Hodkinson is still yet to play alongside Jarrod Mullen in a competitive fixture. Avoiding back-to-back wooden spoons will be their first target this season.
16. Titans (16)
Still on the hunt for a replacement for James Roberts, Gold Coast made the semi finals at the Auckland Nines but haven't won since, although a heavy loss to the Warriors was followed by much more impressive efforts against Parramatta (a 20-all draw) and Souths (a 22-20 defeat). There's very little between the bottom three teams on this list and the Titans could jump Newcastle with victory over the Knights in Round 1.