NRL Power Rankings: Round 16
The Rabbitohs stay alive, the Sharks scrape to victory again and the Eels' finals chances are looking up after an intriguing split round. Here's the unofficial form guide for all 16 NRL clubs after this week's matches.
1. Storm (Last week: 1)
Melbourne fans got a glimpse of the future on Saturday night, and the future looks bright. Without superstar trio Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater in the side the Storm snuck away with a win over the Cowboys anyway with Brodie Croft showing Cronk-like coolness at the death with the match-winning field goal after quality performances from stand-in hooker Brandon Smith, Cameron Munster (who returned to fullback) and fill-in pivot Ryley Jacks.
2. Roosters (Last week: 3)
Given the Sharks' poor showing in Round 15, things are going so well for the Roosters right now that they get a boost in our rankings despite having the week off.
3. Sharks (Last week: 2)
Six, four, four, one, two. Those are the winning margins in Cronulla's last five victories, with their get-out-of-jail 24-22 win over the last-placed Wests Tigers coming after last week's loss to the Storm. They may be sitting pretty inside the NRL's top four but they haven't been convincing since their Round 7 win over a struggling Panthers side in April. Yes they're getting the job done most weeks and any win without their Origin stars is one to be proud of, but they've got a tough fortnight coming up now with matches against Manly and the Roosters.
4. Broncos (Last week: 4)
Enjoyed their first bye of the season ahead of a crucial State of Origin II for several of their stars.
5. Sea Eagles (Last week: 5)
Now have both their byes out of the way for 2017, and will be fresh for this Sunday's blockbuster against the Sharks.
6. Cowboys (Last week: 6)
Without Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, Coen Hess and Gavin Cooper the Cowboys still came within a whisker of taking the points against an equally-Origin-ravaged Storm side on Saturday. Jason Taumalolo ran for a staggering 300 metres and remaining first-choice playmakers Jake Granville and Lachlan Coote combined for a try but without the big guns or home ground advantage Paul Green's side couldn't quite get the job done. They'll be much improved with the Origin stars – including first-timer Hess – back against Penrith this week.
7. Panthers (Last week: 8)
The Dragons' loss is Penrith's gain with the Panthers rising in the rankings and looking to add to a four-game winning streak when they travel to Townsville on Saturday.
8. Eels (Last week: 9)
After being humbled by the Cowboys last week Parramatta needed a much-improved performance and they got one, cruising to a confident 24-10 win over St George Illawarra. Clint Gutherson was shifted to fullback in a reshuffled backline and was the star with two tries, as Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses showed signs of improvement as a halves duo. The Eels enter their first bye with three wins from their last four and are well on track for a finals finish.
9. Dragons (Last week: 7)
The Dragons remain inside the NRL's top eight thanks to their brilliant start to the campaign but their form is rusty at best. Since Round 7 they've lost five matches and won just two – and those came against struggling teams the Warriors and Tigers. They've only scored more than 20 points once in that time (that's one less than Newcastle) in a worrying sign the attacking prowess they showed at the start of the season is starting to desert them. They do get NSW stars Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell back this week and could put an end to that sketchy run of form with a big victory against the Knights.
10. Raiders (Last week: 10)
Enjoyed a bye and could capitalise on Brisbane's tired Queensland reps when they host the Broncos on Saturday.
11. Warriors (Last week: 11)
Also had a bye this week.
12. Bulldogs (Last week: 12)
After last week's bye the Dogs will be desperate to follow up their Round 14 win over the Dragons with another strong performance against the Warriors in Auckland.
13. Rabbitohs (Last week: 14)
South Sydney absolutely needed to win against the understrength Titans on Friday night to keep any hopes of an unlikely finals run alive, and the signs weren't great early on as they fell behind 14-0. Fortunately their breakout star of 2017 Angus Crichton took control of the game with a stunning hat-trick to put his team in front and the Rabbitohs didn't look back, racking up a 36-20 win in the end. They get their second bye this week but will need to string together a few wins if they are to keep in touch with the top eight.
14. Titans (Last week: 13)
The Gold Coast's improbable injury toll this season only got worse on Friday night, and with star duo Jarryd Hayne and Nathan Peats on NSW Origin duty they did well to even challenge the Rabbitohs in Sydney. Unfortunately it means their finals chances are effectively over for this year after a fourth straight defeat, but they are more than capable of beating the Tigers on Friday night.
15. Wests Tigers (Last week: 15)
With their two best players in James Tedesco and Aaron Woods on Origin duty and up against the reigning premiers in Cronulla, the Wests Tigers showed they were up for the fight. But after leading 16-4 and then 22-14, the last thing Ivan Cleary's men deserved was to not only lose the match 24-22 but also drop to last place on the NRL ladder. The effort they showed keeps them off the bottom of our rankings and they could climb a spot if they get the edge against the Gold Coast this week.
16. Knights (Last week: 16)
Technically the Knights are up to 15th on the Telstra Premiership ladder thanks to this week's bye, and Newcastle fans will just about take whatever they can get at this stage. A win against the out-of-sorts Dragons on Sunday would be much sweeter though.