NRL half-season report card: Part 1
With half of the 26 competition rounds now behind us, NRL.com takes a look at how each club is travelling in 2016 so far.
Brisbane Broncos: A-
The Broncos were flying high as league leaders after 10 rounds, but a surprise three-game losing streak has since put a dampener on their campaign at the halfway point of the season. Corey Oates stepped up from promising young gun to Maroons winger while Anthony Milford dominated the opening month of the season. It remains to be seen how Wayne Bennett's men will navigate the rest of the difficult State of Origin period, with the early signs suggesting he'll be resting a couple of stars after each match. Still a great chance of being there again on the first Sunday in October.
Canberra Raiders: B+
Despite some early injury problems for their star halves Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin, the Raiders have enjoyed an excellent campaign so far and have been one of the season's best recruiters, with new forwards Elliott Whitehead, Joseph Tapine and Joseph Paulo making instant impacts. Canberra's attack is still terrific – they lead the league in line breaks – but they also rank first in the NRL for ball security and second for fewest missed tackles. They could be a premiership dark horse this season but look even more promising in the years to come.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: B
It's been a bit of a frustrating year for Des Hasler's men, having dropped out of the NRL's "big four" despite a wealth of talent at their disposal. Their forwards still reign supreme – only the Cowboys have made more run metres this year – but they're yet to string together more than two wins in a row and look to be just off the pace of the top teams this season. They will get the benefit of a fit-again Brett Morris in the second half of the season at least.
Cronulla Sharks: A+
Once a team built around a strong pack and a stubborn defensive game, the Sharks now have genuine flair in the backs with new signings James Maloney and Chad Townsend fitting the bill perfectly in the halves while the likes of Jack Bird and Ben Barba have gone from strength to strength. The result? Nine straight wins and a place at the top of the NRL ladder after 13 rounds. It's all pretty much gone to plan so far for Cronulla.
Gold Coast Titans: B+
The surprise packets of the season, the Gold Coast were meant to be battling to avoid the wooden spoon this year after losing key men Aidan Sezer and James Roberts, plus halfback Kane Elgey to a season-ending injury. And yet they're played their way into the top eight at the halfway point of the season, showing the kind of fight that some more talented teams in this league have been lacking. The performances of Ryan James and rookie sensation Ashley Taylor have been exceptional.
Manly Sea Eagles: C
Trent Barrett's first season in charge of Manly isn't faring much better than Geoff Toovey's last in the job, with injuries again wreaking havoc with a side that is still yet to thrive despite the arrival of several key signings. Injuries have hit the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans, Steve Matai and Brett Stewart while Martin Taupau has shown signs of his destructive best before copping a three-game suspension.
Melbourne Storm: A
The Storm sit in equal first at the halfway mark of the season, and they largely have their defence to thank for their ladder position. The Storm have conceded just 136 points this season and are the only side in the competition not to have given up 20 points in a single game. Injuries to Billy Slater, Will Chambers and a host of outside backs threatened to derail the Storm's season early, but their replacements have come in and done a fantastic job, showcasing the depth this Melbourne team has. A win over the Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium in Round 10 and a six-game winning streak up to this point shows Melbourne are well in the race for the minor premiership.
Newcastle Knights: D-
Unfortunately the Newcastle side that finished with the wooden spoon in 2015 looks even weaker in 2016, with the arrival of Trent Hodkinson not enough to make up for the loss of several experienced campaigners at the end of last season. Several young forwards have shown promise but the future that the club is planning for appears to be some way off yet. A win over the Tigers, a draw with Canberra and close defeats against the Storm and Eels have been the highlights of a disappointing season so far.
Stay tuned to NRL.com for Part 2, featuring the Cowboys, Eels, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Dragons, Roosters, Warriors and Wests Tigers.