NRL Power Rankings: Round 22
The gap between the NRL's best and the rest shrunk significantly this week, with three of the league's top four teams struggling in a round that saw the return of Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston and Jarryd Hayne.
1. Storm (Last week: 1)
Melbourne came within a whisker of being stunned at home by a Rabbitohs side that was coming off eight straight defeats. Usually that wouldn't be something to be proud about, but this week is no ordinary week and when Cameron Smith saved the day with a crucial last-minute penalty goal and the match-winning field goal he not only gave his team the win but also sent them top of the table – in a week when two of their premiership rivals slipped up.
2. Raiders (4)
We knew Canberra were good in attack. We knew they had a lot of talent. Now we know they are genuine premiership contenders, travelling to Cronulla and coming back with a win – a comfortable 30-14 victory at that – against a team that had not been beaten in 16 starts.
3. Sharks (2)
The absence of Michael Ennis and a five-day turnaround were two things that made life difficult for Cronulla on Saturday night. The other, of course, was a rampant Canberra Raiders side who not only claimed victory but also announced themselves as genuine premiership contenders. Two weeks ago the Sharks were premiership frontrunners – 15 straight wins will do that – but since then they've failed to beat the Titans and Raiders and fears are starting to creep in that their good work could be undone if they fail to get back to their best before the finals.
4. Cowboys (3)
One of the keys to North Queensland's premiership campaign last season was their newfound ability to win away from home. But their away form has deserted them this season, with their only three wins on the road coming against the struggling Knights, Roosters and Dragons. They were outplayed by the Wests Tigers on Sunday to drop to fifth on the NRL ladder – a position that would at least earn them a home final to start the playoffs.
5. Bulldogs (6)
The Dogs built a 14-2 lead against the Knights, had that lead erased at the 50-minute mark, and then finished strongly to put the wooden spooners to the sword with a couple of late tries. It was hardly a spectacular win but it has edged them ahead of the Cowboys on the NRL ladder for now.
6. Warriors (7)
With all the hype around Jarryd Hayne's return the Warriors were able to fly under the radar and continue their strong record on the Gold Coast. After a string of golden point games the New Zealand side would have just been happy to have the game decided inside the 80 and they're back in the top eight – albeit with a group of teams hot on their tail.
7. Panthers (8)
We could be witnessing the arrival of a new NRL star in Nathan Cleary, who was superb for the Panthers against the Roosters on Monday night. The win puts Penrith at the front of a four-team bunch battling for the last two finals spots, with all four of their remaining games being against teams below them on the ladder.
8. Titans (5)
The Titans take a bit of a tumble in the rankings this week but that's as much to do with the rise of their mid-table rivals as their own loss to the Warriors at home. While the defeat could be a costly one – they're now in 10th place on 23 competition points, one behind the Panthers, Warriors and Tigers – the first signs were very good when it came to Jarryd Hayne's return to the NRL. Filling a role in the centres and halves, Hayne was one of the Titans' most dangerous and should only get better in the coming weeks as he builds some combinations with his new teammates.
9. Broncos (9)
Brisbane absolutely needed to beat the Dragons to give them some measure of confidence heading into the business end of the season, and they did that – just. Cyclonic conditions in Wollongong didn't help but the Broncos were well below their slick best in their grinding 12-8 victory, but with three of their final four games to be played at Suncorp Stadium there's still time for them to build some much-needed momentum.
10. Wests Tigers (11)
With most of the teams immediately above them on the rankings winning this week we couldn't bump up the Tigers any higher than 10th, but in fairness Sunday's win over the Cowboys was a massive result for Jason Taylor's men. The no-Farah gameplan is working wonders with Mitch Moses increasingly making the team his own, and they can make another giant leap towards the top eight if they can beat the Titans at Campbelltown this week.
11. Eels (14)
The will to win is still managing to drive Parramatta despite all the dramas they've faced this season, with two more injuries to forwards against a desperate Manly side still not enough to prevent a one-point Eels win. It's been a season to forget but Eels fans can be confident in this team's future even without Jarryd Hayne, particularly with coach Brad Arthur pledging his future to the club through to 2019.
12. Rabbitohs (15)
So near, yet so far. After what has been a horror season the Rabbitohs came as close as you can get to taking what would have been the upset of the season against the in-form Storm in Melbourne. They led 14-12 with seconds remaining on the clock, but left AAMI Park with a 15-14 loss after golden point. The result also extended Souths' losing streak to nine games.
13. Sea Eagles (10)
Manly had it all top play for on Friday night – their finals hopes were on the line and they were playing a Parramatta side missing several of their best stars. And yet they couldn't get the job done, scoring just a single try on the way to a 10-9 loss.
14. Roosters (12)
Lost Mitchell Pearce before kick-off and then predictably lost the game to the Panthers on Monday night. It won't get any easier against the Cowboys this week.
15. Dragons (13)
Yet another low-scoring loss for the Dragons, with Thursday night's 12-8 defeat to the Broncos all but ending St George Illawarra's finals chances.
16. Knights (16)
At one point during the second half against the Bulldogs the Knights had momentum on their side after running in two quickfire tries, with the scores locked at 14-all. Then, Jarrod Mullen had a kick charged down and spilled his attempt at regathering the ball, with Moses Mbye scooping up the scraps to score for the Dogs. It's been that kind of year for the Knights.