NRL Power Rankings: Round 26
The Storm have taken out the minor premiership but the Raiders remain in red-hot form leading into the 2016 NRL Finals Series.
1. Raiders (Last week: 1)
Faced with a Wests Tigers team playing to keep their season alive, Canberra not only dominated but piled on 52 points despite being without star five-eighth Blake Austin. They've earned themselves a home final and remain the form side of the NRL a month out from the grand final.
2. Cowboys (3)
Johnathan Thurston and Co. are warming up nicely for the finals with three straight wins and are well in the hunt to do the near impossible in the modern era and defend an NRL title. A tough trip to Melbourne beckons though – made even tougher by the Cowboys' mediocre away record this season.
3. Storm (4)
After beating premiership rivals Cronulla comfortably on Saturday night to secure the minor premiership the Storm can consider themselves among the league's frontrunners – but after last week's shock loss to Brisbane Saturday's game was one they really needed to win to take any momentum into the finals.
4. Broncos (3)
They beat the Roosters on Thursday night but they were hardly impressive, trailing at half-time against a team out of finals contention. They were a shadow of the team that stunned the Storm in Melbourne a week earlier but can expect to lift in an all-Queensland knockout final against the Titans at Suncorp Stadium this week.
5. Sharks (5)
Cronulla may have come within a win of clinching the minor premiership but they head into the finals with just one win from their past six games. Did the State of Origin period take too much of a toll? They've got a ton of experience but won't be favoured to beat the Raiders in Canberra this week.
6. Panthers (7)
Penrith were superb against Manly on Sunday night, skipping out to a 30-0 lead on the back of a perfect completion rate at half-time. They'll be backing themselves to beat a Bulldogs side reeling from three straight defeats.
7. Titans (8)
Sure they were beaten by the reigning champs, but in a week in which the Titans officially booked a place in the NRL finals why not bump them up a spot in the power rankings? It's a mighty achievement considering where they stood at the start of the season, and Neil Henry has to be a huge chance of taking out the coach of the year gong.
8. Bulldogs (6)
Canterbury will limp into the finals on the back of three straight defeats, the latest of which an embarrassing loss to a Rabbitohs side that has been stuck in the bottom eight for months. They'll lose Will Hopoate for Sunday's must-win clash with the Panthers and will start as underdogs.
9. Rabbitohs (10)
A four-game winning streak to end the 2016 season will give Souths the confidence they can return to the top half of the ladder next year.
10. Wests Tigers (9)
A packed Leichhardt Oval greeted the Tigers for Sunday's crucial clash with the Raiders, with a win required to send Jason Taylor's men into the finals. Unfortunately their opponents played like… well, the Raiders, and the Tigers were barely ever in the contest. The image of Robbie Farah drinking a beer alone on the Leichhardt Oval scoreboard encapsulated the club's recent past, but the form of Mitch Moses (and James Tedesco earlier in the year) has given Tigers fans a glimpse at their future.
11. Eels (12)
Another big win, this time against an admittedly poor Warriors side, shows the mental strength of this Parramatta outfit after a season from hell. It also shows that at full strength the Eels should be back in finals contention in 2017, with Bevan French having already slotted in to the crucial fullback role very nicely with a hat-trick to end the season.
12. Warriors (11)
There was always the likelihood the Warriors' hearts wouldn't be in it in Round 26, a week after their finals hopes were dashed, and that proved to be the case in miserable conditions at Mt Smart Stadium against the Eels. The fans who turned up to the game surely deserved better, and there will be a lot of pressure on the Kiwi side to turn things around in the off-season. With the second-worst defensive record in the league, the return of star fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck alone isn't enough to turn them into a top-eight team.
13. Roosters (13)
Back-to-back away games against Cronulla and Brisbane is a tough way to end the season, and it's hardly surprising the 15th-placed Roosters lost both of them. Still, after a late-season surge that saw them beat the Broncos and Cowboys and smash the Dragons, Trent Robinson's men should be confident of a revival next season if they can keep their stars on the field.
14 Dragons (14)
St George Illawarra needed a penalty in the dying minutes to get the better of the hapless Knights on Saturday, and will be one of several clubs hoping for massive improvements next year. Not only were they the second-worst attacking team in the league but their strong defensive record from 2015 also deserted them this season. Can they turn things around in the post-Benji era?
15. Sea Eagles (15)
The positive is that the Sea Eagles matched the Panthers 6-all in the second half on Sunday night. The negative is that the game was already over by half-time with Penrith having opened up a 30-0 lead, handing Manly a fifth straight defeat to end a campaign in which they had three fewer wins than they did last season under Geoff Toovey.
16. Knights (16)
After such a disappointing season it was fitting that Newcastle ended it in just about the worst way possible, with retiring workhorse Jeremy Smith punished with a rough penalty in the final stages and the resulting penalty goal snatching a rare chance of victory from the Knights. It was a game to forget, closing out a season to forget for the Knights.
Game on. Data off.
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