NRL Power Rankings: Round 20
The Broncos' slide continues, the Raiders enter the top four and the Tigers' faith in the future is paying off on the field.
1. Sharks (Last week: 1)
There's always a chance of complacency when first takes on last but Cronulla made no mistake in dusting up Newcastle 36-4 on Sunday. With Origin star James Maloney out of the side and Blues forwards Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen playing limited minutes it was Ben Barba and the outside backs who shone, with the back five scoring eight tries between them.
2. Storm (2)
After a near slip-up against the Knights last week Melbourne were back to their efficient best against the Roosters, running out 26-10 winners. A top-two spot is all but secured, and they're keeping the pressure on Cronulla in the minor premiership race.
3. Cowboys (3)
They may have lost Johnathan Thurston to a hamstring injury but the reigning champs were superb on Thursday night – even after their talisman left the field. The fact their 36-0 thrashing came against a fellow top-four side in the Bulldogs shows just how strong the Cowboys are in 2016. Having come through the State of Origin period unscathed, could they be the first team to go back-to-back this century?
4. Raiders (5)
The Raiders are into the NRL top four for the first time in more than a decade after scraping past the Warriors in golden point, with skipper Jarrod Croker saving the day after his team somehow blew a 22-4 lead with 11 minutes remaining. They're arguably still not quite playing to their potential but if they can lock in a top-four spot the Green Machine are certainly capable of causing some surprises come finals time.
5. Bulldogs (4)
Thursday night's thumping at the hands of the Cowboys was a devastating blow for the Bulldogs' premiership chances. The Dogs went into the game sitting one place behind their third-place opponents on the NRL ladder but were utterly outclassed on the night. There's generally no shame in an away loss to the premiers but the 36-point margin – and the fact the Bulldogs couldn't manage a single line break, let alone a try – suggests there's a lot of work to be done if they are to make much of an impact on the finals series.
6. Titans (7)
Should Neil Henry be awarded the 2016 NRL coach of the year? His opponent on Saturday Brad Arthur has arguably had to face more adversity this season but it's worth remembering the Titans were wooden spoon favourites at the start of the season and are now looking more and more likely to secure a finals berth. Their 20-point win over the Eels never looked in doubt and most of their games look winnable from here on in – although this week's clash with the Sharks will be tough.
7. Panthers (8)
Produced the week's big upset by downing the Broncos in Brisbane, just two weeks after being beaten comfortably by a vastly understrength Sharks side ahead of Origin III. It's too early to know if that turnaround suggests a rapid improvement from the Panthers or just more of the topsy-turvy form they've shown all season, but either way there's a ton of potential in their young playmaking trio of Nathan Cleary, Bryce Cartwright and Matt Moylan.
8. Broncos (6)
Like the Bulldogs, the Broncos went into Round 20 looking to sure up their premiership prospects but found themselves back to square one by full-time. A stunning 31-12 loss to Penrith at Suncorp Stadium shows their mid-season slump is not behind them yet, and this week's trip to Sydney to face a struggling but talented Roosters side now looms as a genuine danger game.
9. Warriors (9)
Luck has not been on the Warriors' side of late, with three golden-point losses in their last four games. You have to go all the way back to Round 11 to find a game in which the Warriors were beaten by more than a try, and yet they sit outside the top eight with six games to play. They host the Panthers this week in what looms as a crucial game in the finals race.
10. Sea Eagles (10)
Manly are enjoying a late season mini-revival and after beating Souths on Monday find themselves just two wins behind the seventh-placed Titans – although there are four teams also between them and the Gold Coast on the ladder. The Trbojevic brothers are already starting to make the team their own.
11. Wests Tigers (12)
Amidst all the hype around Robbie Farah's axing it's worth noting that Jason Taylor's focus on getting his young halves duo to run the show worked a treat against the Dragons on Sunday, with Luke Brooks and in particular Mitch Moses lighting up the game in former Tigers legend Benji Marshall's 250th NRL game. Farah, like Marshall, has been a hero for the club in the past – but now may be the time for the club to focus on their stars of the future.
12. Eels (11)
Kieran Foran, Corey Norman, Semi Radradra, Michael Jennings and Beau Scott were probably the Eels' five most valuable players at the start of the season and all five were missing on Saturday against the Titans, as Parramatta slumped to a defeat that finally killed off any prospect of an unlikely finals run.
13. Dragons (13)
They're still in the finals race but Sunday's loss to the Tigers means there's now another team between the Dragons and the top eight. With the second-worst points differential in the league they need to significantly outplay the other mid-table teams in the run home to stay in finals contention.
14. Rabbitohs (14)
Their finals hopes are now officially over after being beaten by Manly on Monday night, but in truth the Rabbitohs haven't looked like a finals contender for a long time.
15. Roosters (15)
At the start of the season the Roosters were playing badly and losing games, and now the Roosters are playing pretty well – but still losing games. Since beating the Tigers in Round 13 they've suffered three close losses against mid-table teams and three big losses against the NRL's top two teams – a run that started and ended with twin defeats against the Melbourne Storm. Now it's all about finding some momentum for 2017 for the Tricolours and there's a good chance that could start against the out-of-sorts Broncos this week.
16. Knights (16)
One step forward, five steps back. After last week's terrific showing against Melbourne the Knights lost two players to injury and two more to suspensions, and then Jarrod Mullen's troubled hamstring went yet again in the first half against Cronulla on Sunday. The playmaker's future must be in doubt, as is Newcastle's chances of claiming another win in 2016.