NRL Power Rankings: Round 23
After a round full of upsets there has been a major shake-up of the pecking order in the NRL premiership race, with several title contenders left looking for answers and a new team taking top spot in the power rankings.
1. Raiders (Last week: 2)
We're less than a month out from the finals and the Raiders are the form team of the competition, having defeated the league leaders in back-to-back weeks. They may not have the rep experience of rivals like the Storm, Sharks and Cowboys but what Canberra do have is strike power across the park, the most lethal right-edge combination in the NRL, and a forward pack strong enough to keep Paul Vaughan and Shaun Fensom in reserve grade. They're the real deal, but can they keep it up?
2. Storm (1)
Beaten by a red-hot Raiders side in Canberra on Monday night, the Storm remain the frontrunners for the minor premiership but haven't been convincing in the past couple of weeks. They should bounce back against Manly this week before a couple of quality finals warm-up matches against the Broncos and Sharks.
3. Bulldogs (5)
The Bulldogs only just escaped Thursday night's game against Manly with a win thanks to Josh Reynolds' golden try but the result is still enough to push them up our rankings due to slip-ups from a couple of out-of-form premiership contenders. Reynolds was a standout – he actually crossed twice in golden point after chasing down kicks but his first effort was denied by the video referee – while James Graham got through a mountain of work in a 70-minute performance.
4. Sharks (3)
Cronulla are officially in a form slump, having not won a game since beating the Knights in Round 20. If last week's home loss to the Raiders was a wake-up call, Sunday's loss to arch rivals the Dragons was a real slap in the face. The race for the minor premiership now takes a back seat to the need to get their form back on track ahead of the finals, and upcoming matches against the Rabbitohs and Roosters – teams that looked like easybeats a few weeks ago – now loom as danger games ahead of a Round 26 meeting with Melbourne.
5. Cowboys (4)
Three straight losses has the Cowboys in fifth place on the NRL ladder and the defending premiers are looking less and less likely to nab an all-important top-four spot come finals time. They appeared to be out-motivated by the 15th-placed Roosters on Sunday and need to get their act together soon if they are to take any momentum into the playoffs.
6. Broncos (9)
While the Sharks and Cowboys hit a roadblock the Broncos have found their old mojo again, putting on back-to-back wins with help from a dazzling Anthony Milford performance against the Eels on Friday. Brisbane fans would also have been relieved to see Corey Oates get his confidence back with a hat-trick after a poor recent run.
7. Panthers (7)
The fact Penrith were below their best on Sunday afternoon and still managed to rout the Knights 42-6 shows how much attacking threat there is in this young side. As Matt Moylan said post-game they'll need to lift against tougher opponents but they can build up some momentum with upcoming games against the Tigers, Titans and Sea Eagles.
8. Titans (8)
It hasn't taken too long for Jarryd Hayne to prove valuable on the field for the Gold Coast, with the fullback filling in ably at five-eighth and slotting the match-winning field goal in a crucial clash against the Tigers. The result meant the Titans leapfrogged their rivals into eighth place on the ladder, and now have their finals chances in their own hands and a match against the Knights coming up this week.
9. Warriors (6)
Ah, the Warriors. Yet again, they raised the hopes of fans and neutrals alike with surprisingly strong wins against top-eight contenders the Panthers and Titans in recent weeks – only to slump to a poor performance against a lowly-ranked team at home in a major blow to their finals chances. The shell-shocked Warriors went into the half-time break down 31-6 after being ambushed by Souths on Saturday and now face the reigning premiers in Townsville in what looms as a critical game.
10. Dragons (14)
Where did that come from? Before Sunday the Dragons had not scored more than 30 points in a game all season. They had also lost their last five games, and seven of their last eight (their one win in that time coming against last-placed Newcastle). So to snap that streak – and score 32 points – in a shock win over a Sharks side that is in contention for the minor premiership was arguably the biggest surprise result in a weekend of surprise results.
11. Rabbitohs (12)
Souths showed a lot of promise in last week's tight loss to the Storm and on Saturday they were brilliant against the Warriors in Auckland – particularly for a team that had gone almost three months without a win. Adam Reynolds had the ball on a string, setting up tries from kicks seemingly at will before leaving the field with a hamstring injury with the result in the bag.
12. Roosters (13)
Where has this form been all season? Like their rivals the Rabbitohs, the Roosters went into Round 23 as underdogs and not only won but won easily – outplaying the Cowboys 22-10 on Sunday afternoon. Shaun Kenny-Dowall was superb and the team in general managed to muster more motivation than their finals-bound opponents despite being well out of the playoff race themselves.
13. Wests Tigers (10)
After three straight wins it seemed to all come undone for the Tigers against the Titans on Saturday, with the team being pipped by one after an 80th-minute Jarryd Hayne field goal and star fullback James Tedesco set to miss the rest of the season with a broken jaw. Tedesco's absence will be crucial in three tough matches coming up against top-eight contenders the Panthers and Warriors and the high-flying Raiders.
14. Eels (11)
It was a case of adding insult to injury this weekend for Eels fans, who had to endure watching Anthony Milford destroy their depleted team on Friday night only for one-time club legend Jarryd Hayne to kick a match-winning field goal for the Titans less than 24 hours later. Is it 2017 yet?
15. Sea Eagles (15)
In truth it's a little harsh to have Manly this low in the rankings – their finals hopes were only killed off on Thursday night against the Bulldogs, and in golden point – but their late-season mini-revival is behind them now. Upcoming matches against the Storm and Raiders won't make things any easier.
16. Knights (16)
The Knights and Panthers went into half-time at Hunter Stadium on Sunday with the scores locked at 6-all and Newcastle in the running to double their win tally for the season. That didn't last long. A 36-0 shellacking in the second term was a stark reminder of how wide the gap is between the wooden spooners and the NRL finals contenders.