NRL Power Rankings: Round 21
The Dragons give their finals hopes a massive boost, Manly's morale takes a hit and the Eels escape with a win against the Tigers. Here's the unofficial form guide for all 16 NRL clubs after this week's matches.
1. Storm (Last week: 1)
Last year Melbourne and Canberra finished the regular season in the top two spots on the ladder. This year the Storm faced the Raiders away from home, lost two of the game's greatest players to injury, and won anyway, 20-14. It shows the gulf in class between the two sides these days, and while Billy Slater's health will be monitored this week following a high shot from Sia Soliola, skipper Cameron Smith doesn't look like spending too long on the sidelines with a pectoral injury.
2. Roosters (Last week: 2)
Without Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Michael Gordon the Roosters still barely needed to get out of second gear against the Knights on Friday night, cruising to a 28-4 win. Tougher challenges lie ahead with clashes against the Cowboys, Sea Eagles and Storm in the next three weeks.
3. Sharks (Last week: 3)
Cronulla's form remains patchy – they've gone loss, win, loss, win, loss, win since the start of the Origin period – but they eased past the Rabbitohs on Friday night and will be close to full strength for the run to the finals.
4. Cowboys (Last week: 5)
North Queensland have now reeled off four straight wins without the services of Johnathan Thurston – the best current winning streak in the league. Granted, all four wins have come against bottom-eight sides, but the Cowboys will be tested against the best when they face the Roosters and Storm in the next fortnight.
5. Broncos (Last week: 6)
Brisbane have recovered from their thrashing at the hands of Melbourne a few weeks ago by beating the Knights then thumping the Bulldogs by 30. They dealt major damage against Canterbury in short bursts – first with two tries in the final four minutes of the first half, then three tries in seven minutes during the second – and they now hold the best attacking record in the competition.
6. Sea Eagles (Last week: 4)
Manly came up against a desperate Dragons side on Sunday and were blown off the park in the first half, falling behind 30-0 to effectively be out of the contest after 40 minutes. They rallied early in the second term with 22 points of their own, but another fade cost them dearly as the Dragons piled on 50 points for the first time this season. It was easily the Sea Eagles' worst defensive performance of the year and drops them to sixth on the ladder – with the Dragons now just one win behind them and boasting a better for-and-against.
7. Eels (Last week: 7)
It took a late field goal against the 15th-placed Tigers to get Parramatta their latest win, but it does make it four on the trot and bolsters their chance of a finals berth significantly. A season-ending knee injury to the in-form Clint Gutherson is a major blow as the Eels prepare for the first of two games against Brisbane in their run home.
8. Dragons (Last week: 9)
St George Illawarra were stuck in a rut heading into Sunday's clash with the Sea Eagles in Wollongong, with four losses and a narrow win over Newcastle in their past five games. The best way to build some momentum? By piling on 52 points against a genuine finals contender. The win was all the more impressive as it was without injured Origin star Josh Dugan and late withdrawal Joel Thompson, with debutant Matt Dufty giving Red V fans a glimpse of the future with a dazzling performance at the back. Expect them to keep it going against the Knights this week.
9. Panthers (Last week: 8)
Their finals chances took a big hit when the Dragons smashed Manly but the Panthers are keeping their hopes alive with three consecutive wins, having toppled the Sea Eagles, Warriors and now the Titans in recent weeks. They should make it five straight with home games against Canterbury and the Tigers coming up, but they'll still be relying on one of the teams above them to slip up.
10. Titans (Last week: 10)
The Gold Coast's three-game winning streak was ended by the Panthers in Penrith, with their opponents scoring two intercept tries in a continuation of the kind of luck the Titans have endured this season.
11. Raiders (Last week: 11)
Canberra lead the league for tackle breaks but unlike last season they just haven't been able to convert their natural attacking flair into wins, with poor last-tackle options and the sixth-worst defence in the league all but ending their finals hopes. Making matters worse, they are now set to be without suspended Jordan Rapana and Sia Soliola for this week's visit to the Rabbitohs.
12. Rabbitohs (Last week: 12)
A run of games against elite sides the Roosters, Cowboys and Sharks was always going to be a tough ask for South Sydney and so it proved, with the Rabbitohs now on a three-game losing streak for the third time this season.
13. Warriors (Last week: 13)
Another team to have suffered three straight defeats despite glimpses of promise this year, the Warriors battled bravely against a quality Cowboys outfit after losing Shaun Johnson to injury last week. They stayed in the contest all the way until Javid Bowen sealed the result with an 80th-minute try, and face another tough assignment against the premiers in Cronulla this weekend.
14. Wests Tigers (Last week: 15)
We've bumped the Tigers up a spot after their close result against the Eels, beaten by a single point against a team on track to make the finals. It was so nearly an impressive result for a Tigers side hit hard by a number of factors this season – including the mid-season exit of Mitch Moses to that Parramatta side.
15. Bulldogs (Last week: 14)
Already the worst attacking side in the league this season, the Bulldogs had their worst defensive performance of the year against the Broncos in a 42-12 thrashing. It's obviously been a season to forget but they should be bolstered by the return of skipper James Graham in the next week or two.
16. Knights (Last week: 16)
Friday night's loss to the Roosters stretched Newcastle's losing streak to eight, but at least they didn't blow a half-time lead this time. New signing Shaun Kenny-Dowall scored on his club debut against his former teammates and another new signing has been announced with Connor Watson (who excelled for the Roosters on Friday) to join Newcastle on a three-year deal.