NRL Power Rankings: Round 18
The Storm stretch further ahead of the pack, the Raiders and Panthers see their finals chances fade and the Wests Tigers evade the wooden spoon in style. Here's the unofficial form guide for all 16 NRL clubs after this week's matches.
1. Storm (Last week: 1)
Melbourne already had a great record at Suncorp Stadium but their 42-12 thrashing of a genuine premiership rival in the Broncos only reinforces how far above the rest of the competition the Storm are this season. They were the best team in the league up until the grand final last year and have only got better this season with Billy Slater back on board and arguably the most promising crop of young players in the NRL. Can they be stopped?
2. Sharks (Last week: 5)
There were several impressive wins in Round 17 and Cronulla's 44-12 flogging of the Roosters is right up there with Melbourne's big win in Brisbane. A scratchy run of form that saw them suffer two losses and only just get past the Wests Tigers in the previous month, it was a win the Sharks needed to get their season back on track and they did it in style. Suddenly a grand final rematch looks on the cards in this year's decider with last year's premiers and runners-up looking a class above.
3. Roosters (Last week: 2)
Saturday's heavy loss to the Sharks was a reminder that you don't have to be off your game by much to be smashed in the NRL, with one of the classiest sides in the league put to the sword. The Roosters had been terrific in recent weeks – beating the Broncos and Storm and flogging the Tigers – but they were blown away by a suddenly rampant Cronulla side, conceding four unanswered tries in the second half. Without their Origin stars they face another tough test against a revitalised South Sydney outfit this Friday.
4. Sea Eagles (Last week: 4)
They were made to work for the win against the Warriors in Perth but Manly got the job done on the back of yet another excellent showing from Daly Cherry-Evans. The Sea Eagles have now won five straight and look more and more likely of securing a top-four finish, with Trent Barrett in the running for coach of the year honours.
5. Broncos (Last week: 3)
It's hard to call yourself a premiership contender when you get beaten by 30 on home turf, so Friday night's loss to Melbourne could have a devastating effect on Brisbane's morale in the run home. Of course they do have the best man manager in the business in Wayne Bennett so if any team can bounce back from such a defeat it's them, and a bye followed by a trip to Newcastle could present them with the chance to regain some confidence.
6. Cowboys (Last week: 6)
Freezing conditions, no Johnathan Thurston, no Matt Scott – and still the North Queensland Cowboys were good enough to outclass the Raiders in Canberra on Saturday night. Michael Morgan is emerging as a genuine superstar in his own right in Thurston's absence and he gave his new halves partner Te Maire Martin a dream start at the club. Don't write them off yet.
7. Eels (Last week: 7)
They still have a negative for-and-against but Parramatta did their finals chances a world of good with a one-point escape against the Bulldogs, with mid-year signing Mitchell Moses kicking the winning field goal at the end of his best performance in the blue and gold so far. They would not have been happy to let a 12-2 lead slip away against an out-of-form Canterbury side but the results matter more than the performances at this point for the Eels so they'll take any win they can get.
8. Rabbitohs (Last week: 13)
Where has that performance been all season? The Rabbitohs went into Sunday's clash with Penrith as underdogs and came out of it as dominant winners to the tune of 42-14, with Alex Johnston scoring a club-equalling record five tries and Adam Reynolds producing his best performance of the year. With most mid-table teams losing this weekend the Rabbitohs rocket up the power rankings, even if they've probably left their finals charge too late.
9. Dragons (Last week: 9)
Injuries to Origin stars Tyson Frizell and Josh Dugan hit hard but the Dragons' loss to the Titans was their third defeat in four games, and their terrific early-season form is increasingly feeling like a distant memory. They haven't beaten a top-eight team since Round 7 and have won just three of their nine games since then. The Dragons should still hold onto to a finals spot from here, but they'll need to find some form again before then.
10. Warriors (Last week: 10)
The trip from Auckland to Perth is as big as it gets in the NRL and the Warriors produced a valiant effort to test out an impressive Manly side at nib Stadium on Saturday. The New Zealanders came within four points of clinching a third straight win for what would have been the first time this season, and showed they'll provide plenty of nuisance value to the league's top teams in the run to the finals.
11. Panthers (Last week: 8)
Any genuine hopes of a late finals run were dashed in spectacular fashion on Sunday with Penrith conceding a whopping 42 points against the Rabbitohs. Their four-game winning streak has now been followed by back-to-back defeats after last week's loss to the Cowboys. They do at least get the chance to bounce back quickly this round, albeit against a tough Manly side.
12. Titans (Last week: 14)
They won't play finals footy this year but the Gold Coast Titans remain one of the toughest sides in rugby league, getting the better of the Dragons 20-10 with Jarryd Hayne again impressing at the back.
13. Raiders (Last week: 11)
It seems an age ago now that many people were listing Canberra among the 2017 premiership favourites, with the Raiders outclassed at home by an understrength Cowboys side to slump to a fourth straight loss. After last year's impressive second-place finish the Raiders look set to miss the eight this year, but that's actually been the norm for the Green Machine lately – Canberra, like Penrith, haven't played finals football in consecutive years since 2004.
14. Bulldogs (Last week: 12)
Very little has gone right for the Dogs this season and that's the way it went again last Thursday night, with Des Hasler's men defying the absence of injured skipper James Graham to fight back against the Eels and send the game into extra time – only to be pipped by a golden point field goal. Aiden Tolman showed tremendous endurance to play 80 minutes up front but the attacking spark from the backline continues to elude them.
15. Wests Tigers (Last week: 15)
There were a lot of positives to come out of the Tigers' 33-12 win over Newcastle. Of course, any win is a good win when you're staring down the barrel of a record eight-game losing streak, but the Tigers' away victory came with plenty of style and importantly was orchestrated by two playmakers in Luke Brooks and Tui Lolohea who will still be at the club next season. They didn't struggle at all without the injured James Tedesco at the back, with the performances of Brooks and Lolohea giving Tigers fans the first rays of genuine optimism in quite a while.
16. Knights (Last week: 16)
Newcastle could have almost dropped to 17th in our rankings based on their most recent performance – a capitulation against the Tigers dubbed their worst game of the season by coach Nathan Brown. If there's been any improvement for the reigning wooden spooners this year it was hard to spot on Sunday, but on the bright side a home crowd of close to 20,000 was an amazing figure for a bottom-of-the-table clash. The fans are keeping the hope alive that there's a light at the end of the tunnel for the Knights, now it's time for their team to give them reasons to keep coming back this season.