NRL Power Rankings: Round 21
Melbourne jump into top spot with a win over the premiers on their home turf, while the race for the places in the top eight heats up on the run to the finals.
1. Storm (Last week: 2)
Had the luxury of facing a Cowboys side missing Johnathan Thurston and had no trouble living up to expectations and taking the win in Townsville. They're good enough to continue their winning run through to their Round 26 blockbuster against the Sharks, and have jumped into top spot in the power rankings this week.
2. Sharks (1)
The naysayers will say Cronulla's 15-game winning streak is over, the true believers will say their undefeated streak is now at 16. The Sharks' sensational draw with the Titans on Monday night was arguably the game of the season but also shows Cronulla are hardly unbeatable, and this week's game against Canberra will be intriguing.
3. Cowboys (3)
They're no longer a one-man team but North Queensland picked a bad time to lose Johnathan Thurston, facing an in-form Storm side chasing the minor premiership. A 16-8 loss wasn't too bad a loss and with their halfback maestro set to return in the coming weeks the Cowboys hold third spot in our rankings.
4. Raiders (4)
It's still probably too soon to determine whether Canberra are genuine premiership contenders but they can certainly pile on the points against the NRL's weaker teams, thrashing the Rabbitohs by 50 on Sunday. They're deadly all across the park these days, with Jarrod Croker scoring tries for fun on one flank and Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana terrorising defences on the other. This week's trip to Cronulla to face the Sharks is the game of the round.
5. Titans (6)
This Gold Coast team is the real deal. Despite losing star hooker Nathan Peats before kick-off and having fullback David Mead sin-binned in the first half the Titans came closer than any other team to snapping Cronulla's incredible winning streak, taking the league leaders all the way to a 90-minute draw. Greg Bird produced arguably his best performance in Titans colours while the team went a long way towards locking up a finals spot with what could be an invaluable competition point.
6. Bulldogs (5)
They got away with a three-point win over the Dragons (and Josh Reynolds avoided suspension for his trip on Joel Thompson) but the Bulldogs still look to be a level below the top teams, even if their place in the finals is all but sewn up.
7. Warriors (9)
Remarkably, for the fourth time in their last five games the Warriors had to play beyond 80 minutes in a golden point contest – but at last they got the win in the end, with Shaun Johnson improvising a match-winning try after find himself without enough space to attempt a field goal. They're inside the NRL top eight – just – shading the Panthers based on points scored (both teams have 22 competition points and the same points differential).
8. Panthers (7)
Penrith blew a golden chance to bolster their place in the top eight after locking up the scores against the Warriors before full-time, but they remain sandwiched in the middle of the six teams chasing the last two finals places.
9. Broncos (8)
Brisbane's mid-year slump continues, although their loss to the 15th-placed Roosters wasn't quite as bad as it might look on the face of it. They were without three State of Origin forwards – suspended duo Sam Thaiday and Josh McGuire and the injured Matt Gillett – and were visiting a Roosters team that isn't nearly as bad as their ladder position suggests. Still, the Broncos need to learn how to win again fast (their Round 19 victory over the Rabbitohs doesn't seem so impressive now) if they're to lock up a finals spot.
10. Sea Eagles (10)
Manly thumped Newcastle on Sunday afternoon, despite missing key men Jamie Lyon and Nate Myles, and have now won four on the trot. Their finals hopes are still alive and unlike some clubs are hitting form at the right time.
11. Wests Tigers (11)
The Tigers are another team still in the race for an unlikely finals spot, having beaten the Dragons and Eels in recent weeks, but injuries are starting to stack up with Luke Brooks set to miss a month and Robbie Farah still not recovered from a calf problem. On the bright side, Mitch Moses is rapidly becoming a leader on the field and James Tedesco keeps scoring tries. Could they stun the Cowboys at Leichhardt this week?
12. Roosters (15)
On paper, the Roosters were shock winners against the Broncos last Thursday after suffering six straight defeats. But a closer look at those defeats – three coming by four points or less, and the other three coming against the NRL's top two teams – shows that the Tricolours hadn't been far away from a win, and the out-of-form Broncos were ripe for the picking. They are no chance of making the eight this year but they're a much better team than their results suggest.
13. Dragons (13)
The Dragons came within a missed conversion and a field goal of matching the fifth-placed Bulldogs on the weekend, with the 13-10 final score a decent reflection of St George Illawarra's season to date – their defence has been pretty good, but their attack hasn't been strong enough to make it count. They sit just one win outside the top eight but four teams with better for-and-against records stand between them and a finals berth.
14. Eels (12)
Kieran Foran has now officially left the club and after three straight losses the wheels are finally coming off the Eels on the field. They were beaten comfortably on Saturday by the Tigers – a team whose off-field dramas seem quaint by comparison to Parramatta's – and have a string of games coming up against teams desperate to either climb into the top eight or stay there.
15. Rabbitohs (14)
On current form, the Rabbitohs are now the second-worst team in the competition, embarrassed 54-4 on their home turf by the Raiders this weekend. Greg Inglis's return from suspension this week will be a much-needed boost but Souths' leaky defence is their main problem and it's hard to see them containing their opponents in their next two away games against Melbourne and the Warriors.
16. Knights (16)
The good news is that the Knigths won the final half hour against Manly on Sunday, and they did it comfortably, 16-0. The bad news? Manly had already scored 36 points in the opening 48 minutes to wrap up the win. Expect similar results in the next three weeks with Newcastle facing finals contenders but they could still finish the year on a high with matches against the Rabbitohs and Dragons in the final two rounds.