NRL half-season report card: Part 2
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.
North Queensland Cowboys: A
The reigning premiers have pretty much lived up to expectations, enjoying a relatively injury-free season so far and continuing their amazingly close rivalry with Brisbane. A surprise loss to Parramatta in Round 2 has been their only major blunder, with one-point defeats to fellow contenders the Broncos and Storm and a Round 12 loss without their Origin stars their only other poor results. Otherwise, the Cowboys have eased the pressure on Johnathan Thurston with Lachlan Coote, Michael Morgan and Jake Granville also shining in an attack that has outscored every other NRL team, while North Queensland's star-studded pack has earned them more run metres than any other club.
Parramatta Eels: D
For obvious reasons, the Eels' season is difficult to rate this season. On the one hand, on the field, the recruitment of Kieran Foran, Michael Gordon and Beau Scott and the rise of Corey Norman turned the former strugglers into a genuine top-eight force this season. On the other hand, a salary cap scandal and the resulting exits of players like Nathan Peats and Joseph Paulo has derailed their finals hopes – and that was before a season-ending injury to Foran. In future years 2016 will be a season to forget for Eels fans but the signs are there they can bounce back from this on the field at least.
Penrith Panthers: B-
It's been a case of close but no cigar for the Panthers in the first half of 2016. Practically every game of theirs was in the balance going into the final moments in the opening two months of the season, including narrow losses to big guns North Queensland and Cronulla and a one-point win over Brisbane. Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour have played their way into NSW Origin jerseys, Bryce Cartwright is starting to reach his potential and the Panthers lead the league for offloads. And yet, the men from Penrith sit in 11th place on the ladder and have dropped veteran half Jamie Soward and talented hooker James Segeyaro. They have the ability to make a late charge for the finals but at this stage it's looking like another underwhelming season at the foot of the mountains.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: C
The return of Sam Burgess was met with plenty of fanfare but despite the Englishman being the Rabbitohs' best player this season his presence hasn't lifted the 2014 premiers back into the top echelon of NRL sides. They sit outside the top eight after 13 rounds after a shock loss to the over-achieving Gold Coast Titans last week. Adam Reynolds has earned a long-awaited NSW No.7 jersey and the team will be boosted when John Sutton and George Burgess return to full fitness, but it's hard to see Souths making it past the first week of the finals at this stage even if they do make the eight.
St George Illawarra Dragons: B-
The Dragons' attacking woes reached new depths early in the season – they averaged barely more than 10 points a game after 10 rounds and at this stage have scored fewer tries than the last-placed Knights – but some strong defensive performances and a knack for winning the tight games has kept Paul McGregor's men in the finals race. Victories over fellow mid-table sides the Rabbitohs, Panthers, Titans, Roosters and Raiders have been crucial, and matches against Origin-depleted Cowboys and Storm outfits don't hurt either.
Sydney Roosters: D
Even with Mitchell Pearce, Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves ruled out for the first couple of months of the season, few would have expected to see the Roosters in 15th place after a dozen games. Remarkably the minor premiers of the past three seasons are almost out of the finals race with half a season yet to play. There have been positives, such as the form of Shaun Kenny-Dowall, the impressive rookie season of Latrell Mitchell and the development of Sio Siua Taukeiaho into an 80-minute, goal-kicking forward, but the squad has underachieved in the first half of 2016 and will need a massive turnaround to salvage their campaign.
The expectations were high after the signings of superstar Kiwis duo Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke, but by Round 8 Tuivasa-Sheck had been ruled out for the season and a week later Issac Luke was relegated to the bench. Despite the big name arrivals it's been largely business as usual for the erratic Warriors, who have scored a lot of points but conceded even more to sit in 12th place. Not many outfits are capable of both being on the wrong end of a 42-0 hiding and then thumping the competition favourites 36-18 in the space of a month and a half, but that's the kind of unpredictability you get with the Warriors.
Wests Tigers: C
James Tedesco has been brilliant, Luke Brooks and Mitch Moses have committed to another year at the club, and Elijah Taylor has proved an inspired mid-season signing – but not too much more has gone right for the Tigers this year. Matt Ballin's first season at the club has been ruined by injury and the Tigers have won just five of their first 13, although that includes an impressive victory in Brisbane over the Origin-affected Broncos.