NRL Power Rankings: Round 17
The headaches continue for Wayne Bennett and the Broncos while the Tigers climb the rankings, the Sea Eagles rediscover their mojo and the Warriors firm as a finals contender.
1. Sharks (1)
Came back from 18-0 down to beat a spirited Eels side 34-24, stretching their winning streak to a club record 12 games. Could 2016 finally be the year of the Shark?
2. Storm (2)
For those who haven't been sure just how good the Storm are this season, they showed it with a 48-6 demolition of fellow contenders the Broncos – in Brisbane. Cooper Cronk laid on five tries, Cameron Smith was excellent as usual and Fijian speedsters Marika Koroibete and Suliasi Vunivalu were sensational out wide, with Koroibete making two line breaks and Vunivalu scoring a hat-trick. No Billy Slater? No worries. No Cameron Munster? No worries. These guys are Cronulla's biggest threat right now.
3. Cowboys (3)
Came up against a Rabbitohs outfit playing to keep their season alive, and finished with a confident 20-0 win. Johnathan Thurston scored a try, set up another and made a couple of line breaks in a typically brilliant performance as the Cowboys pack dominated up front.
4. Bulldogs (4)
It was close but the Bulldogs made it three wins on the trot with a 24-20 victory over the Roosters, with Brett Morris following up last week's hat-trick with another couple of tries. After a slow start that saw their opponents grab a 12-0 lead, the Bulldogs dominated the middle portion of the contest with four converted tries to move into the NRL top four.
5. Raiders (6)
The Raiders have scored more second-half points than any other NRL team this season and they needed that attribute to get themselves out if gaol against Newcastle on Sunday. Complacency must have played some part in their horror start against the Knights, but they did just enough to get away with the result in extra time thanks to a bizarre golden try following a missed field goal attempt. Of course a win is a win and any comeback victory from 22-0 down is a result worth savouring, but the fact the Raiders struggled so badly at home against the weakest team in the competition is not a great sign for their premiership credentials.
6. Broncos (5)
Wayne Bennett isn't the type of coach to panic – but if he was, now would be the time to do it. They've now lost five of their past six games with the latest being the worst of the lot, embarrassed 48-6 on their home turf against the Storm. It's the first time Melbourne has scored that many points in a game this season, and it comes just a week after the Broncos leaked 40 against the Bulldogs. And the extra toll of the State of Origin period alone doesn't explain Brisbane's form slump, considering Maroons stars Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith were both superb for the Storm on Friday night. Whatever the cause, it's a great time for the Broncos to get a bye.
7. Warriors (8)
The Warriors were a neck and neck with the Titans for the first 65 minutes at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday before Shaun Johnson did what only Shaun Johnson can, putting the foot down and scoring a try out of nowhere to inspire his team to their fourth win in their past five games – a superb run considering their only defeat in that stretch was a one-point loss to the Sharks. A spot in the finals is now theirs for the taking.
8. Panthers (7)
It's been a strange season for the Panthers, who have been able to match it with some of the league's top teams (beating Brisbane early on and suffering narrow losses against the Cowboys and Sharks) but have also struggled at times against the NRL's weaker sides. They sit above the Dragons, Titans and Wests Tigers on the ladder but have lost to all three this season, with Saturday's 34-26 loss to the Tigers all the more disappointing considering their early 14-2 lead. Still, this week's game against an Origin-weakened Sharks side gives them the chance to end Cronulla's winning streak.
9. Titans (9)
Beaten by the Warriors in New Zealand in yet another brave performance from Gold Coast, in which they lost Ryan Simpkins to concussion and debutant Karl Lawton to a horrific ankle injury. The Titans probably deserve a finals berth this season, but are they good enough to make the cut?
10. Wests Tigers (12)
Got the win in the battle of two of the NRL's most entertaining teams on Saturday, with James Tedesco locking up the NSW No.1 jersey with another strong performance against Matt Moylan's Panthers. They're still in the race for the top eight and can threaten any team as long as Tedesco is fit and firing.
11. Sea Eagles (14)
It had been nine long weeks since Manly had last tasted victory but they snapped that streak in style on Monday night, with Dylan Walker scoring twice in a 30-point routing of the Dragons. Last week's four-point loss to the Cowboys in Townsville proved the Sea Eagles were a better team than their ladder position suggested and Trent Barrett's side might finally be starting to turn things around.
12. Eels (11)
Parramatta put yet another week dominated by off-field turmoil behind them when they took the field on Saturday night, earning an early 18-0 lead against the league leaders. But they couldn't contain the Sharks in the long run, beaten by eight in the end. They're still officially inside the NRL top eight but a 12-point slide down the ladder looms.
13. Dragons (10)
Back to the drawing board for Paul McGregor's men, who were smashed by the struggling Sea Eagles on Monday night. Confidence would have been high after wins over an Origin-depleted Storm side and the last-placed Knights but they faced a fiercer test against a desperate Manly outfit and were never really in the contest.
14. Rabbitohs (13)
Couldn't manage to score a point against the brutally efficient Cowboys on Sunday, with Thurston and co running the show in a reminder of just how wide the gap has become between the 2014 premiers and their 2015 counterparts.
15. Roosters (15)
Mitchell Pearce made a strong return with a hand in three tries but it wasn't quite enough to get the Roosters over the line against the Bulldogs, with the Tricolours falling four points short and their finals hopes now only barely mathematically possible.
16. Knights (16)
It can be a cruel game sometimes. The Knights were excellent in the first half of their clash with the Raiders in Canberra, skipping out to a well-deserved 22-0 lead and on track to stun just about everyone with what would have been arguably the upset of the season. Instead, they let their opponents back into the game in the second half and were literally beaten by the bounce of the ball in extra time. There was a lot of promise in their performance though and Nathan Brown's youth policy could yet pay off in the long run.