NRL Power Rankings: Round 9
There were some big upsets this week and that means plenty of movement in the NRL.com power rankings. Here's the unofficial form guide for all 16 NRL clubs after this week's matches.
1. Storm (Last week: 1)
There were some scares when Melbourne trailed the Warriors with half an hour to play on Tuesday night, with the New Zealand side having had a knack of surprising the Storm in the past. But the home side finished the stronger with winger Josh Addo-Carr and improving back-rower Felise Kaufusi running in late tries to send the Storm clear at the top of the NRL ladder. They're the best in the game right now but with the rep season about to begin Craig Bellamy's men will be preparing for the toughest part of their season.
2. Roosters (Last week: 6)
Mitchell Pearce was the star as the Roosters got past the Dragons on Anzac Day, with the halfback scoring a try and slotting the golden point field goal in another strong performance for the likely NSW No.7. The Tricolours have already got as many wins to their name in 2017 as they did in the entire 2016 season. They look the goods.
3. Broncos (Last week: 2)
Brisbane have had a strange start to the season. Six of their eight matches have been decided by three points or less, with their Round 6 win over the Roosters their only emphatic victory. Before that they were narrowly beaten by three teams that played finals football last season in the Cowboys, Storm and Bulldogs, but since the Roosters win they've been very lucky to get past two sides that missed the eight last season in the Titans and Rabbitohs. The Broncos have missed Ben Hunt's kicking game in the past fortnight but have managed to extending their winning streak to three despite being well below their best.
4. Dragons (Last week: 3)
They've lost top spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder but the Dragons continue to impress, pushing a strong Roosters side all the way to extra time in an Anzac Day thriller. And they did it with in-form five-eighth Gareth Widdop off the field for the majority of the game, with the Englishman suffering a knee injury that's set to keep him on the sidelines for an extended period. Kurt Mann is set to get his chance in the halves but Widdop will be tough to replace after an excellent start to the year that's earned him a contract extension.
5. Sharks (Last week: 5)
After beating the Storm in Melbourne and smashing the Panthers last week, few would have expected Cronulla to be beaten at home by the struggling Gold Coast Titans. And yet that's what transpired on Saturday in one of several surprise results of Round 8. Cronulla failed to score a try in the second half and let their opponents back into the contest, but the defeat should make them wary of another slip-up this week against a Wests Tigers side with nothing to lose.
6. Sea Eagles (Last week: 9)
For a team not expected to make the finals and led by an inexperienced coach, the Manly Sea Eagles are doing a pretty good impression of a top-eight side. They've now claimed away wins against the Cowboys, Roosters and Raiders as well as a 36-0 flogging of Canterbury, and simply can't be underestimated any longer. The Trbojevic brothers both got in on the act with tries on Friday night in Canberra, while Dylan Walker continued his impressive form at centre. How long until they're considered genuine dark horses?
7. Raiders (Last week: 4)
Canberra have a fearsome forward pack, the best right-edge combination in the league and were brilliant last season – but are they just a middle of the road team in 2017? So far they've played three finalists from last season and lost all three matches, with their four wins coming against teams that missed the eight (and are stuck in the bottom half of the ladder this year). Their defeat at home against an improving Manly side on Friday was possibly their most alarming result so far. On the other hand, the Sea Eagles only scraped the win by two points and had Canberra won the game it would have been a fourth straight victory. We'll find out in the coming weeks whether this was just a blip or a sign of a worrying trend.
8. Cowboys (Last week: 8)
There were fears North Queensland could slump to a third straight loss when they trailed at half-time against Newcastle in Townsville, but the Cowboys had enough in the tank to score two unanswered tries in the second half and clinch the win. Any victory without Johnathan Thurston is a good one for the Cowboys and they could have their superstar No.7 back as early as this week.
9. Bulldogs (Last week: 7)
Canterbury let a golden chance of a fourth straight win slip through their fingers on Sunday, with the troubled Wests Tigers coming back to steal victory in the dying moments. A couple of crucial moments – most notably Greg Eastwood's decision to kick early in the tackle count with a potential match-winning field goal on offer, and Brenko Lee's second-half sin-binning – hurt the Dogs but the loss should act as a wake-up call ahead of a few big home matches against the Raiders, Cowboys and Roosters.
10. Eels (Last week: 11)
Corey Norman produced a big performance as Parramatta got their season back on track with a second straight win, with the star half scoring a double as the Eels forwards easily outmatched their Penrith counterparts. They're now four-and-four and could break into the top half of the ladder if they can beat the Cowboys in Townsville in Round 9.
11. Titans (Last week: 13)
After being hit with the worst injury toll in the NRL this season, the cavalry returned for the Titans in the form of Jarryd Hayne, Kevin Proctor and Konrad Hurrell to help the visitors claim an upset win against a red-hot Sharks side in Cronulla. Forwards Jarrod Wallace, Ryan James and Nathan Peats produced a mountain of work in the middle while Hayne provided the razzle dazzle and bench forward Leivaha Pulu became the unlikely hero with two tries at the death to win the game.
12. Warriors (Last week: 10)
The Warriors tend to step up against the Melbourne Storm and they did again on Anzac Day, leading the premiership favourites with half an hour to play before conceding a couple of late tries. It's the kind of performance that shows the Warriors are more than capable of playing finals football. A much-improved completion rate this season plus the addition of Kieran Foran as a foil for Shaun Johnson should make the New Zealanders more of a consistent side – they just need a few more wins to prove it.
13. Rabbitohs (Last week: 12)
They were on the wrong end of several contentious calls but South Sydney still came within a point of stunning the Broncos on Friday night. While there was plenty for Rabbitohs fans to be frustrated about, the performance of their team was all the more impressive considering it came without star halfback Adam Reynolds. They would have risen in the power rankings this week had the teams around them not won their matches, but at the very least the Bunnies have shown they can match it with the NRL's big guns.
14. Wests Tigers (Last week: 15)
Even Knights fans were feeling sorry for their Wests Tigers counterparts after reports that James Tedesco and Aaron Woods would be departing the club at season's end, with Mitch Moses having already pledged his future to Parramatta. But the club ended their week from hell with a fairytale finish against the Bulldogs on Sunday, scoring the match-winner in the final five minutes. Despite all the off-field turmoil Ivan Cleary is two-from-three at his new club to give Wests Tigers fans some much-needed hope for the future.
15. Panthers (Last week: 14)
Time to panic yet? Penrith have lost four on the trot and sit just one win above the last-placed Newcastle – a disastrous start for a team many considered one of the main premiership contenders. Bryce Cartwright came up with a handful of errors in his return from injury and failed to ignite a Panthers attack that has struggled to click outside of a couple of blowout wins against the Wests Tigers and Knights. There's still a long way to go this season but Anthony Griffin's men need to get their act together soon if they're going to make the finals.
16. Knights (Last week: 16)
Yet again, a strong effort wasn't quite enough for the Knights, who led 12-10 at half-time in North Queensland but fell away in the second half to lose 24-12. Trent Hodkinson's absence from the side was the main talking point, with 20-year-old Sione Mata'utia handed the captaincy and shifted into the halves, and the former NSW halfback has been left out again for Round 9. Still, there are some positive signs for 2018 – not least of which is the form of future recruit Kalyn Ponga who scored twice against his soon-to-be teammates.