NRL Power Rankings: Round 4
It's a week of chaos for the power rankings with several underdogs claiming shock wins in Round 3. Here's how we rank the NRL's 16 clubs at the end of the third round of the 2017 Telstra Premiership season.
1. Storm (Last week: 1)
They welcomed back champion fullback Billy Slater and the world's best prop in Jesse Bromwich but were made to work hard for their third win in as many games, with Cameron Smith's late sideline conversion finally getting the better of the Broncos. The Storm have backed up their status as pre-season competition favourites and remain the league's frontrunners.
2. Roosters (Last week: 4)
One of two undefeated teams after three rounds, the Roosters have all but erased any memories of last year's 15th-placed finish with a stunning start to the 2017 campaign. It took until the final moments to secure a thrilling 14-12 win over the Panthers in Penrith, with Michael Gordon coming up trumps at both ends of the field and proving almost as good an acquisition for the Roosters this season as five-eighth Luke Keary.
3. Broncos (Last week: 3)
This is why we run a power rankings article, rather than just saying "look at the ladder". According to the ladder the Broncos are currently a bottom-eight team, having lost two from three. In reality, they've beaten the reigning premiers and suffered heartbreakingly narrow losses against two of the best teams in the competition. Their two-point loss to Melbourne at the end of a match featuring some amazing tryline defence from the Broncos will have hurt just as much as their golden point defeat to the Cowboys a week earlier. Still, at this rate Brisbane remain one of the genuine title contenders.
4. Cowboys (Last week: 2)
We've given the Cowboys the benefit of the doubt after two terrific wins, keeping them in the top four of this list despite the mother of all wake-up calls against Manly on Saturday. True, they were never going to be at their best without the suspended Jason Taumalolo and injured trio Matt Scott, Lachlan Coote and Antonio Winterstein, but a 30-8 loss at home against the previously winless Sea Eagles is an unacceptable result for one of the premiership contenders. Expect them to bounce back with a vengeance against an equally injury-ravaged Titans side this week.
5. Dragons (Last week: 8)
St George Illawarra have been one of the genuine surprise packets of 2017 so far, beating premiership contenders the Panthers and Sharks in what has been a great start to the season. Their grinding 16-10 win over Cronulla is all the more impressive considering the Sharks had smashed the Raiders in Canberra last week. Whatever their weaknesses, the Dragons possess one of the best forward packs in the competition and it's getting the job done so far.
6. Raiders (Last week: 7)
After starting the season with back-to-back defeats, things would have started to get desperate for Canberra had they lost to the Tigers on Sunday. But they made light work of their opponents, exploding back into form after the 20-minute mark with an eight-try demolition job. This week's trip to Brisbane looms as the game of the round.
7. Eels (Last week: 5)
We already knew Corey Norman had a huge influence on the Eels – we just didn't know how much. A shock loss to a weakened Titans side suggests Parramatta have come to rely on their talismanic No.7 a little too much, with the team struggling badly without him. Norman is expected to return from his hamstring injury this week, but the rest of the side should be more switched on as well against Cronulla.
8. Sharks (Last week: 6)
Another team to have suffered a shock loss in Round 3. As Dragons Jason Nightingale observed before match day, the form guide can be thrown out the window in local derbies – but the Sharks will still have been disappointed to score just 10 points against St George Illawarra after piling on 42 a week earlier in Canberra. Like fellow contenders the Broncos and Panthers, the Sharks have started the season with a 1-3 record but they'll be desperate to start stringing some wins together sooner rather than later.
9. Panthers (Last week: 9)
A narrow loss to the Roosters is nothing to be ashamed of at the moment, and the Panthers came as close as anyone to beating the Tricolours so far this season. Tyrone Peachey is becoming a real weapon at centre, and Penrith will be strengthened when Bryce Cartwright returns to the side (especially after losing James Fisher-Harris to a fractured cheekbone at the weekend).
10. Bulldogs (Last week: 11)
The Bulldogs had played well without reward against two strong sides in the opening fortnight of the competition and they got their competition points on Friday night with a hard-earned win against the Warriors in Dunedin. Defence got the Dogs over the line, all but nullifying the formerly free-flowing Warriors, while under-pressure halfback Moses Mbye also showed some flair in attack with a strong solo try.
11. Titans (Last week: 15)
The Gold Coast went into Friday's game against Parramatta without injured players Jarryd Hayne, Anthony Don, Karl Lawton, John Olive, Nathan Peats and English recruit Dan Sarginson, and didn't have the services of the newly recruited Dale Copley either. And then they lost Will Zillman and Tyrone Roberts to further injuries. All of that would usually be a good excuse for losing at home to an undefeated opponent, but instead the Titans produced one of the bravest performances of 2017 so far to down the Eels 26-14. Ash Taylor carried the team on his young shoulders while Tyler Cornish impressed on debut at fullback and then on the wing.
12. Sea Eagles (Last week: 16)
Where do you rank the Sea Eagles after their shock 30-8 triumph over the previously unbeaten Cowboys – a team that had already brought down two premiership contenders in the Raiders and Broncos? It was a genuinely stunning win for Trent Barrett's men, who defended superbly against a side that was admittedly missing Test stars Jason Taumalolo and Matt Scott as well as first-choice backs Lachlan Coote and Antonio Winterstein. It was also Manly's first win of the season. Can they back it up against the Bulldogs?
13. Rabbitohs (Last week: 13)
It wasn't all smooth sailing for the Bunnies, who lost George Burgess to a sin-binning and had Burgess, Hymel Hunt and Braidon Burns all cited by the match review committee (and earning suspensions), but they got away with a six-point win over the Knights in Newcastle in the end. They'll now kick off Round 4 with a clash against arch rivals the Roosters on Thursday.
14. Knights (Last week: 14)
A leg injury to Nathan Ross and concussions to Brendan Elliot and Sione Mata'utia – not to mention the late sin-binning of Trent Hodkinson – hit the Knights hard on Saturday afternoon, but they were already up against it after conceding a couple of early tries to Souths in the opening 20 minutes. The reigning wooden-spooners would have been frustrated to lose a winnable game at home, and in the next five weeks they face four finalists from 2016 plus the unbeaten Roosters.
15. Warriors (Last week: 12)
In previous years the Warriors have struggled with ball control and in defence – but they could always be relied on to score points. Yet they looked clueless at times against the Bulldogs in Dunedin on Friday night, managing just two tries despite having a huge amount of possession in the red zone against some admittedly strong Bulldogs defence. They were missing injured skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and are still without the services of new signing Kieran Foran, but both stars will need to provide some much-needed support for Shaun Johnson if the Kiwi side is to be competitive this season.
16. Wests Tigers (Last week: 10)
A quarter of the way into Sunday's clash with the Raiders in Canberra, the Wests Tigers led 6-0 and looked on track for yet another upset result. Unfortunately, they then conceded 40 unanswered points. Few teams can match the Canberra Raiders in full flight, but the Tigers didn't help their cause with a woeful 59 per cent completion rate. They now hold the worst attacking and defensive records in the league after three rounds and face a massive test against the Storm this week.