NRL Power Rankings: Round 5
There's plenty of movement in the chasing pack behind the dominant Broncos and Cowboys, with the two cellar-dwellars coming oh-so-close to claiming much-needed wins.
1. Broncos (Last week: 1)
They were made to work for their win over an injury-hit Titans side on the Gold Coast, but win they did and the Broncos remain at the top of our power rankings. Anthony Milford had a quiet game by his recent standards but James Roberts stepped up against his old club and looks set to match his 2015 exploits after a slowish start to his first season as a Bronco.
2. Cowboys (2)
The Cowboys really can blow a team off the park when they want to, can't they? A slow first half against the Dragons was followed by a sensational try-scoring blitz in the second, and they held their opponents scoreless for the second time in the past three weeks. Despite suffering two losses in the opening five rounds, no team has a better for-and-against than the Cowboys.
3. Sharks (4)
Cronulla withstood another James Tedesco master class for the Wests Tigers and hit back with a bit of razzle dazzle of their own in an entertaining 34-26 win on Saturday night, with Paul Gallen grabbing a try in his return game. The Sharks are strong across the park and loom as one of the big premiership dark horses this season.
4. Storm (5)
Short turnarounds or not, the Storm are rusty right now. Melbourne followed last week's loss to Cronulla with a very scratchy four-point win over a Knights side that is yet to win this season. A better team would have beaten the Storm on Sunday, and they'll need to improve their execution against the Bulldogs next Monday night after a well-earned nine-day break.
5. Eels (3)
The Eels blew a golden opportunity against Penrith in Sunday's thrilling battle-of-the-west, conceding two tries in the final five minutes to turn an 18-12 lead into a 20-18 loss. It's a speed bump for Parramatta following a nice winning run against the Cowboys, Bulldogs and Tigers. With the most tackle breaks (and equal-most errors) in the NRL, the Eels have the potential to be one of the league's best attacking sides but instead rank 15th for points scored after five rounds.
6. Raiders (8)
Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer are back and the Raiders are looking very good, blitzing the Bulldogs 22-8 on Monday night. Canberra did very well to lose just one of the three games they played without either of their first-choice halves, and that experience will probably only help them in the long run with other players having learn to step up in their absence. Sia Soliola's broken arm is a blow but even without him the Raiders aren't short of size and skill in the forward pack.
7. Rabbitohs (7)
Sam Burgess's return coincided with a welcome win for the Bunnies but Souths will be more thankful to hooker Cameron McInnes and half Cody Walker for supplying three tries in the first 15 minutes against Manly. They didn't score again after that and just held on to a 16-12 victory, with their defence getting them over the line after their attack (2nd in the NRL) dominated the headlines in the early rounds.
8. Bulldogs (6)
The Dogs looked like world-beaters against Souths last week but have now lost two of their past three to drop back to the middle of the pack. Surprisingly they've won all three of their away games but neither of their home games this season (a stat that's a little misleading as they've played both "home" and "away" games at ANZ Stadium), and with a pack that has them ranked third for run metres in the league they certainly have the potential to climb if they can find some consistency.
9. Sea Eagles (9)
The Sea Eagles came close to claiming a third straight win last Thursday, and even without taking the points against Souths they've at least started to erase memories of their horror start to the season. Halves Apisai Koroisau and Dylan Walker went a long way to making up for the absence of Daly Cherry-Evans and Manly's new-look squad should be clicking into gear when their start halfback returns in a month.
10. Panthers (13)
As NRL.com pointed out this week, all five of the Panthers' games so far this season have been decided in the final few minutes of the contest. In the past month all four of their matches have been decided by one or two points. The closeness of their contests makes it incredibly tough to predict where they'll finish this season, but the fact their two wins have come against the high-flying Broncos and the Eels on their own turf suggests the men from the mountains are capable of stringing together a few positive results when they reach their potential.
11. Titans (10)
It's been a rough time for Gold Coast playmakers. A year ago, the Titans had seemingly secured the signature of superstar half Daly Cherry-Evans. By the time Cherry-Evans reneged on his Gold Coast deal the Titans had lost Aidan Sezer to Canberra, then in the pre-season they lost Kane Elgey to long-term injury. Before their clash with Brisbane they also lost Tyrone Roberts to injury, leaving rookie Ash Taylor to guide the team around the park as their chief playmaker. And he was superb, helping a brave Gold Coast side match it with arguably the strongest team in the NRL. The Titans are seriously punching above their weight this season and will claim their fare share of big scalps in 2016.
12. Wests Tigers (12)
In the opening stages of their loss to the Sharks the Tigers were given a window into how much they have come to rely on James Tedeso's spark: after one minute the star fullback had left the field following a head knock; after two the Tigers trailed 6-0; and 15 minutes later Tedesco returned to the field and immediately laid on one try before scoring two of his own. Their defence still needs work but with a quality spine and some exciting outside backs they can match just about anyone on their day.
13. Warriors (14)
If you want to see a lot of tries, watch the Warriors play each week. The NRL's third-best attacking team and third-worst defensive team pack a lot of action into their 80 minutes every week and had enough talent to get past the winless Roosters after thumping the Knights last week. They'll face tougher tests in the weeks to come but at least Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is starting to find his feet at his new club.
14. Dragons (11)
Last year, the Dragons' only real weakness was their attack. This year... the problem remains. In Townsville on Saturday night the Cowboys scored almost as many points as the Dragons have all season; after that 36-0 defeat St George Illawarra have scored just 40 points in five games. That's 30 fewer than the next worst attacking team Parramatta, and four less than Johnathan Thurston has scored by himself. Until Paul McGregor works out how to fix that issue the Dragons won't be genuine challengers.
15. Roosters (15)
Another week, another loss, and this one hurt all the more with the sight of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck breezing past his old teammates to score the match-winner for the Warriors. A fourth straight minor premiership is out of the question and from here the Roosters will need a minor miracle to make the finals, with Mitchell Pearce, Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves still a month away.
16. Knights (16)
An hour into Saturday's game against the Storm in Melbourne the Knights looked set to snap their winless run in remarkable fashion, leading 14-6 in an away game against one of the NRL's elite teams. But two tries and a penalty goal later Newcastle found themself on the wrong end of an 18-14 result. It was a confidence-boosting performance nonetheless for Nathan Brown's young side, and there should be a new level of hope at Hunter Stadium ahead of Sunday's clash with the Tigers.