NRL Power Rankings: Round 20
The Sharks slip up, the Cowboys remain dark horses and Penrith keep their finals chances alive. Here's the unofficial form guide for all 16 NRL clubs after this week's matches.
1. Storm (Last week: 1)
Six of the Storm's best helped carried Queensland to victory in State of Origin III – with Origin debutant Cameron Munster starring for the Maroons as if he'd been playing at rep level for years – and the rest of the squad got to kick up their heels with the club getting two competition points for their second bye to extend their lead at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
2. Roosters (Last week: 3)
Another team to have a bye this week, jumping a spot in our rankings thanks to Cronulla's shock loss on the Gold Coast.
3. Sharks (Last week: 2)
They were missing NSW five-eighth James Maloney, had four other players backing up from Origin III and were made to play in torrential conditions, but a 30-10 thumping at the hands of the 14th-placed Titans was still a hugely disappointing result for the reigning premiers.
4. Sea Eagles (Last week: 4)
They didn't quite blow the Wests Tigers off the park like some would have expected but Manly still got the job done comfortably on Sunday, with Daly Cherry-Evans in career-best form and even taking on the goalkicking duties these days. They've scored more points and made fewer errors than any other side and continue to look like the real deal this season.
5. Cowboys (Last week: 6)
How many NRL teams could lose a couple of walk-up starters in the Kangaroos side in Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott and still remain genuine finals contenders? We saw the Roosters' campaign derailed last year due to long periods spent on the sidelines for trio Mitchell Pearce, Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, but in comparison the Cowboys are flying with three straight wins in Thurston's absence. Michael Morgan is proving to be even better than most suspected after stepping up into the primary playmaker role while any team with wrecking balls Jason Taumalolo and Coen Hess will cause headaches for opponents.
6. Broncos (Last week: 5)
Brisbane were well below their best in the first half against the Knights in Newcastle on Saturday, but stepped up as they needed to in the second half to take the win. James Roberts caused headaches against the Knights all afternoon and is being spoken about as a potential Origin player next season, and while the Broncos still don't quite look like genuine contenders on current form they certainly have the firepower to threaten most teams.
7. Eels (Last week: 7)
Refreshed from their second bye of the season, Parramatta will start favourites against the Tigers this week.
8. Panthers (Last week: 10)
Matt Moylan was a big loss for the Panthers as they travelled to Auckland to face the Warriors in a crucial game for their finals chances, but in his absence Moylan's halves partner Nathan Cleary stepped up with his best performance of the season. The young halfback scored a hat-trick, provided two try assists and kicked five goals as the Panthers won 34-22 to stay within reach of the Eels and Dragons. Upcoming matches against the Titans, Bulldogs and Tigers will all be crucial but Penrith are more than capable of keeping their winning streak going.
9. Dragons (Last week: 8)
Four losses in their last five matches means St George Illawarra's hold on a finals spot is getting shakier and shakier, but their future is still in their hands. Following a tough clash with Manly this week the Dragons take on bottom-eight sides Newcastle, Souths and the Gold Coast and Paul McGregor's men should be able to get themselves on track by then.
10. Titans (Last week: 12)
Their finals prospects may have been wrecked by injuries but the toughest squad in the league hasn't given up just yet, clinching a third straight win in the form of a 20-point thrashing of the reigning premiers at a drenched Cbus Super Stadium. Ash Taylor was brilliant for the Titans and will be out to back up the performance when they start underdogs again in Penrith this week.
11. Raiders (Last week: 13)
Canberra were desperate to snap a four-game losing streak and they did just that – eventually – in a thrilling golden point win over the Dragons. Aidan Sezer came up trumps with a superb 40/20 in extra-time to set up Elliott Whitehead's match-winning try, but the Green Machine will need to be better if they are to challenge the league-leading Storm this week.
12. Rabbitohs (Last week: 9)
After another disappointing defeat – a 23-10 loss to a Cowboys side missing Johnathan Thurston following last week's tight loss to a Roosters outfit missing their Origin stars – Souths remain a frustrating team to watch that appears to be less than the sum of their parts. Despite a pack bolstered by three Burgess brothers they've made the third-fewest run metres in the competition, and in spite of some gifted attacking players in their line-up they've made the fourth-fewest line breaks. They face another tough test this week against a Sharks team also keen to bounce back from a defeat.
13. Warriors (Last week: 11)
A crucial home game against a rival top-eight contender (missing their captain) that doubled as a farewell to favourite son Manu Vatuvei? Friday night's clash with the Panthers really should have resulted in a win for the Warriors but instead their already slim playoff hopes now hang by a thread. The Warriors have shown some massive improvements in terms of ball control this season but their defence remains a problem, the fourth worst in the league. And Shaun Johnson's knee injury could be the final nail in the coffin for their finals chances.
14. Bulldogs (Last week: 14)
Canterbury will be re-energised after their second bye but they'll need that energy in a couple of tricky road trips coming up against the Broncos and the desperate Panthers.
15. Wests Tigers (Last week: 15)
The Tigers threatened to pull off a big upset against Manly on Sunday, leading 16-8 with half an hour left before their opponents went up a gear or two in the late stages. It was a brave performance considering the Tigers had lost Jacob Liddle and Joel Edwards to first-half injuries.
16. Knights (Last week: 16)
For the 10th time in 17 games this season, Newcastle went into the half-time break with a lead. Unfortunately, for the ninth time this season they blew that lead, eventually going down 34-22 to the Broncos. It was deju vu all over again for Knights fans and things won't get any easier in this week's trip to face the Sydney Roosters.