NRL Power Rankings: Round 24
While the Sharks and Bulldogs slipped up, the other finals contenders solidified their positions with a couple of weeks remaining before the business end of the season.
Canberra went from darkhorses to genuine premiership threat last week and immediately found themselves under pressure in a match they were expected to win easily, trailing 16-0 after 20 minutes against the Eels. They found their feet eventually, with the lethal right-hand combo of Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana taking a break this week while Jarrod Croker and Brenko Lee did the damage instead with five tries between them. Now guaranteed to finish in the top four there's every chance they'll remain the league's form team come finals time.
2. Storm (2)
Suliasi Vunivalu's incredible try-scoring rookie season continued with four more four-pointers in Melbourne's rout of Manly at Brookvale Oval on Saturday, while Cooper Cronk produced four try assists. The Storm are almost certain to take out this year's minor premiership.
3. Cowboys (5)
The reigning premiers snapped a three-game losing run with a crucial win over the Warriors to keep their top-four hopes alive, and like the Storm and Sharks they have only been beaten once at home this season. Jason Taumalolo was at his damaging best in the 34-6 rout and the Cowboys can warm up for the finals with upcoming games against the Bulldogs and Titans.
4. Broncos (6)
Brisbane have put their mid-season slump behind them now with three wins on the trot, their latest against fellow finals contenders the Bulldogs last Thursday. They're still not quite firing on all cylinders but a few weeks out from the finals Wayne Bennett could still have them hitting their peak at the right time.
5. Sharks (4)
Unlike the teams above them on this list, the Sharks are hitting the wrong form at the wrong time, with their winless run now extended to four games. Making matters worse, they've now suffered back-to-back defeats against teams out of the finals race in the Dragons and Rabbitohs and face a similar fate again when they take on the in-form Roosters this week.
6. Bulldogs (3)
Last Thursday night's crucial loss to the Broncos means the Bulldogs are essentially playing for a top-four berth when they host the Cowboys this week. Des Hasler's men have managed to win most of their games this season without ever being truly convincing as a premiership force, but they could make a big statement if they can knock over the champions.
7. Panthers (7)
Penrith thumped the Wests Tigers 40-10 at the weekend to collect their third straight win – having scored at least 38 points in each of those games. Their attack is firing nicely and they get a great pre-finals test against the eighth-placed Titans this week.
8. Titans (8)
Beat the Knights as expected to maintain their hold on eighth place. If they beat Penrith this week, they're into the finals. If they lose, the following week's clash with the Cowboys in Townsville could be must-win.
9. Warriors (9)
Back-to-back defeats mean the Warriors now need the Titans to slip up in both their remaining games in order for the New Zealand side to sneak into the finals. Of course they'll also need to win their remaining two as well, but they should be good enough to get the job done against the Wests Tigers and Eels at home.
10. Rabbitohs (11)
South Sydney's very late-season revival continued with a shock win over the Sharks on Monday night, following the Round 23 victory over the Warriors. Their latest result was all the more impressive considering they had lost Adam Reynolds to concussion in the first half, with breakout rookie Cody Walker stepping up in Reynolds' absence. They'll take a bit of momentum into 2017, if nothing else.
11. Roosters (12)
It's bizarre to think the Roosters went into the weekend in 15th place considering the ease with which they dismantled the Cowboys and now the Dragons in their past two games. It's the kind of form that had been expected of them earlier in the season but at least suggests they'll be one of the big improvers next year.
12. Eels (14)
At half-time on Sunday it looked as the Eels were set to claim one of the upsets of the season, leading the red-hot Raiders 18-4 in front of a stunned Canberra crowd. The Raiders finished strongly and secured the win in the end, but it again proved how much fight the injury-plagued Eels still have in them at the back end of a season they must wish was over.
13. Dragons (10)
Absolutely outplayed by the Roosters on Sunday, to the tune of 42-6, the Dragons are officially out of the title race.
14. Sea Eagles (15)
Manly were beaten by a very good Storm side at Brookvale Oval on Saturday, as expected.
15. Wests Tigers (13)
With their finals hopes on the line, the Tigers took on the seventh-placed Panthers on Friday night – and were crushed 40-10. They are still mathematically a chance to make the finals, but it is a long shot. They'll need to improve significantly in defence if they are to avoid further blowouts against the Warriors in Auckland and then the Raiders in Round 26.
16. Knights (16)
The good news? It's Old Boys Day this weekend against the Rabbitohs, and the Knights have another winnable game the following week against the Dragons. Can they manage to end the year on a high?