NRL Power Rankings: Round 19
The Titans and Sea Eagles continue to surge up the rankings, while the Sharks, Storm, Cowboys and Bulldogs can't be pushed out of the top four.
1. Sharks (Last week: 1)
Another week, another win. Ben Barba supplied another few try assists as the Origin stars returned for Cronulla against the Roosters on Monday night, with the Sharks keeping their streak going with a 32-20 win. They will start very short odds against Newcastle this week.
2. Storm (2)
Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk backed up from Origin and Cameron Munster returned to action, yet the Storm were pushed all the way by the bottom-placed Knights on Sunday. It wouldn't have been a surprise for Craig Bellamy's men – having won just two of their previous five clashes with Newcastle – but the Storm were poor by their usual standards despite escaping with a 20-16 win. Regardless, they remain in the hunt for the minor premiership.
3. Cowboys (3)
Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper and Justin O'Neill all earned a week off after Origin III with the Cowboys enjoying their second bye.
4. Bulldogs (4)
Remain in the NRL top four after a bye round but face a huge test against the Cowboys in Townsville on Thursday night.
5. Raiders (5)
Another team to have a bye in Round 19, the Raiders will be expecting to win their next two against the Warriors and Souths before facing the NRL's top two teams back-to-back in Round 21 and 22.
6. Broncos (6)
Are they back? Granted this week's opponents South Sydney were struggling for form even before losing Greg Inglis to suspension and Adam Reynolds with a quad strain in the warm up, but the Broncos faced some adversity themselves ahead of their 30-10 win. Brisbane were without Maroons stars Corey Parker to suspension (remarkably the first of his career) and Matt Gillett to injury but dominated the game anyway with stand-in captain Darius Boyd notching three try assists.
7. Titans (9)
One of the season's success stories, the Titans romped past a Dragons side missing Josh Dugan and Benji Marshall 32-12 at UOW Jubilee Oval to stay at the top of a four-team logjam on the edge of the NRL top eight. With three home games coming up following trips to bottom-eight sides the Tigers and Knights, the Titans have a great chance to solidify a top-eight spot.
8. Panthers (8)
They did it tough early on against an Eels side missing star playmaker Corey Norman and reeling from another scandal-filled week, but the Panthers were good enough to come back and pip their western Sydney rivals 22-18 in Penrith on Sunday. Josh Mansour has been in superb touch since his NSW Origin call-up while Bryce Cartwright continues to produce a mixture of brilliance and blunders in a team that is still hoping to scrape into the eight.
9. Warriors (7)
The Perth curse continues for the Warriors, who came back from an early 12-0 deficit against Manly to level the scores by half-time, only to be pipped in the end by a golden point field goal in terrible conditions out west. Like the Panthers the Warriors have the ability to be a top-eight side, but can they find the consistency to win the winnable games?
10. Sea Eagles (13)
It was officially a home game but the Sea Eagles were a long way from home at Perth's rain-drenched nib Stadium on Saturday, and yet after a gutsy one-point win against the dangerous Warriors Manly remains in with a (slim) chance of sneaking into the finals. A brilliant charge-down and regather from Jake Trbojevic to deny Shaun Johnson a potential match-winning field goal was followed by Daly Cherry-Evans' own match-winning strike, and it's those kinds of plays in the crunch games that can make all the difference in the race to the finals.
11. Eels (10)
Brad Arthur's men somehow refuse to let the off-field dramas derail their on-field performances, with yet another proud display in trying conditions against the Panthers this weekend – albeit a losing one this time around. With Kieran Foran and Corey Norman on the sidelines, Clint Gutherson was a revelation alongside Jeff Robson in the halves while Bevan French's try-scoring exploits continue to make up for the absence of Semi Radradra. Their unlikely finals dream may be over but there's plenty of fight in this side.
12. Wests Tigers (11)
Had their second bye in Round 19.
13. Dragons (12)
A team already struggling for impact in attack couldn't afford to lose their two most gifted attackers in Josh Dugan and Benji Marshall, and the result reflected that when St George Illawarra hosted the Titans. Despite the result, they still remain in the finals race with 20 competition points – level with the seventh-placed Gold Coast and two other teams – but with an awful for-and-against they'll need to outplay all three of their rivals in the run home.
14. Rabbitohs (14)
Like the Dragons, the Rabbitohs were hit hard by the absences of an Origin star and a key playmaker this week, with Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds sorely missed against the Broncos. It's been a year to forget for the Bunnies.
15. Roosters (15)
The Roosters have some quality young talent in Connor Watson, Latrell Mitchell and Ryan Matterson and while their defence still has some issues their attacking game is finally starting to gel nicely. It won't help them be much more than nuisance value for the remainder of this season but there are bright signs at least for 2017.
16. Knights (16)
Newcastle were excellent against Melbourne on Sunday, continuing their recent run of strong performances against the Storm. Only Marika Koroibete's intercept try divided the sides in the end, and if the Knights were as efficient as Melbourne in attack they would have been able to make their long stretches of dominance count (of course, if the Knights were as efficient as Melbourne in attack there wouldn't be 14 places separating the teams on the ladder). Jarrod Mullen made a strong return after a long injury layoff and after strong back-to-back performances against top-eight sides there are finally reasons for Newcastle fans to be optimistic about their future again.