The Panthers take a big jump as several top-eight contenders slip up just a few weeks out from the finals. Here's our unofficial form guide for all 16 NRL clubs after this week's matches.
1. Storm (Last week: 1)
The Storm put an end to any doubt about who would take out the minor premiership by defeating their closest rivals the Roosters in a tough battle at home. Things looked grim when they trailed by one heading into the final five minutes but a late match-winner from surprise try-scoring hero Joe Stimson saved the day. They're now three wins clear of the chasing pack and can afford to rest up their stars in the final three rounds ahead of the finals.
2. Broncos (Last week: 2)
Since losing to Parramatta a couple of weeks ago the Broncos have gone to a new level in attack, flogging the Titans and Sharks with a combined scoreline of 86-10 across the two games. Wayne Bennett's side now boast the best attacking record and third-best defensive record in the league and will be short odds of taking a five-match winning streak into the finals with home matches against the Dragons and Eels coming up ahead of a trip to the injury-hit Cowboys.
3. Roosters (Last week: 3)
They may have suffered back-to-back losses but the Roosters showed they are still title contenders after pushing the Storm all the way at AAMI Park, with Luke Keary's late field almost securing what would have been a terrific win. They should be too good for the Tigers this week before another finals warm-up against the reigning premiers in Cronulla.
4. Panthers (Last week: 7)
Penrith are the big climbers this week having earned a sixth consecutive win while the teams around them slipped up. They have a massive game against the Raiders in Canberra on Sunday but if they can continue their form they are a genuine chance of sneaking into the NRL top four by Round 26.
5. Eels (Last week: 4)
After six straight victories – including a strong 21-14 result against the Brisbane Broncos a fortnight ago – you can only assume Friday night's loss to the Newcastle Knights was a serious case of complacency for Parramatta. Yes the Knights have been a much-improved side of late but an in-form team with top-four aspirations like the Eels really need to win those games at home. Expect them to take out their frustrations on the struggling Titans on Thursday night.
6. Sharks (Last week: 5)
For 21 rounds the Sharks looked like they could be the team – against all odds, considering their history – to finally defend an NRL title. They're still a chance of doing that, but after being on the wrong end of one-sided results in back-to-back weeks (30-12 to Canberra and 32-10 to Brisbane) the premiers are suddenly looking sluggish at just the wrong time of year. With tricky contests against the Cowboys in Townsville and then the Roosters coming up, they are in real danger of slipping out of the NRL top four.
7. Raiders (Last week: 9)
Canberra have almost certainly left their finals charge too late but they've been untroubled in the last three weeks, scoring at least 30 points in each of those games for three wins. Their season goes on the line yet again against Penrith this week.
8. Sea Eagles (Last week: 6)
It's hard to work out where the Sea Eagles are at these days. On the one hand, last week's 36-18 comeback win over the Roosters was a devastating attacking performance that suggested they were one of the real premiership dark horses. On the other hand, they've now lost three of their last four and four of their last six, with Sunday's 30-26 defeat to the (then) last-placed Tigers a real wake-up call. They should beat the Bulldogs and Warriors in the next two weeks – although then again they should have beaten the Tigers this week.
9. Cowboys (Last week: 8)
North Queensland now rival the Gold Coast as the NRL's unluckiest team in 2017, with an injury toll that would have ruined most club's finals chances before now. Already without the likes of Gavin Cooper, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, the Cowboys lost Justin O'Neill and Michael Morgan to injuries against the Panthers and predictably slumped to a third straight loss.
10. Dragons (Last week: 10)
St George Illawarra may be losing more than they're winning these days but they can still pile on the points on their day, putting 42 past the Titans this week after running up a 52-point scoreline against Manly last month. Away trips to Brisbane and Penrith in the next couple of weeks will decide their finals chances.
11. Rabbitohs (Last week: 11)
Souths are on track to finish another season on the right note, despite missing the eight. They've beaten the Dragons and Bulldogs in the past couple of weeks and should be too good for the Warriors.
12. Wests Tigers (Last week: 12)
Ivan Cleary has made a promising start to life as the Tigers' coach, earning his best result at the club so far with a stunning 30-26 comeback win over Manly at Leichhardt on Sunday. The future was looking dire for the Tigers not long ago but there is plenty of promise there now, plus the feel-good story of Benji Marshall returning to the club where he made his name after impressing in a back-up role at Brisbane this year.
13. Knights (Last week: 14)
Even after back-to-back wins not much was expected of Newcastle on Friday night, and yet they produced their best win since Nathan Brown's arrival at the club to dominate a Parramatta side that was coming off six consecutive victories. The fact it was the Knights' first away win of the season made the performance all the more impressive, and there's plenty to like about their chances of improving further next year with incoming signings Tuatau Moga and Connor Watson having strong games for their current clubs as well.
14. Titans (Last week: 13)
They've conceded 96 points in the past two weeks, with rumours of a clash between star player Jarryd Hayne and coach Neil Henry hitting the headlines. The end of the season probably can't come soon enough for them, which can also be said for the final two teams on this list…
15. Bulldogs (Last week: 15)
The surprising thing about Canterbury's limp 28-14 loss to South Sydney on Friday night was that it was actually their most successful attacking performance since Round 18. Their woes in attack are all the more frustrating considering they actually have a better defensive record than the seventh-placed Manly Sea Eagles, who they play this week.
16. Warriors (Last week: 16)
With no Kieran Foran and no Shaun Johnson the Warriors were always going to struggle against Canberra, who promptly handed them a sixth straight loss.