NRL Power Rankings: Round 25
The Rabbitohs and Bulldogs give their fans something to smile about as Manly and the Cowboys risk slipping out of the finals race. Here's our unofficial form guide for all 16 NRL clubs after this week's matches.
1. Storm (Last week: 1)
Melbourne had an away trip to visit a team coming off three straight wins, rested superstar halfback Cooper Cronk, weren't quite at their best, and cruised to a 44-12 win anyway. If there was any more evidence needed that the Storm would still be hard to beat in the post-Cronk era next season then young Brodie Croft provided it, scoring a hat-trick and setting up a couple of tries in a man-of-the-match performance.
2. Broncos (Last week: 2)
Brisbane look on track to end the regular season with five straight wins, getting past the Dragons 24-12 at Suncorp Stadium. They're at home again this week against the Eels and will be out for revenge after losing to Parramatta on the road last month. Anthony Milford is in great touch and Brisbane are looking much improved since being thrashed by the Storm in Round 17.
3. Roosters (Last week: 3)
With 10 minutes left on Saturday the Roosters were staring down the barrel of a third consecutive loss – this one at the hands of the lowly Wests Tigers. Latrell Mitchell's late try saved their blushes in the end but it was hardly a convincing performance just a week after the Tricolours pushed the Storm all the way in Melbourne a week earlier. This weekend's clash with the Sharks in Cronulla should be a beauty.
4. Panthers (Last week: 4)
Another team saved by a late try, Penrith snuck past the Raiders in Canberra on Sunday to notch a seventh straight victory. It was sweet revenge for the Panthers against the team that ended their 2016 campaign, with Penrith now one win outside the top four while the Raiders' finals hopes are all but over.
5. Eels (Last week: 5)
After last week's embarrassing result against Newcastle the Eels simply had to beat the struggling Titans at ANZ Stadium, and they did it comfortably, 30-8. It's always good to get a win on the board but it will be even better to be genuinely tested ahead of the finals – which Parramatta will get with upcoming matches against the Broncos and a resurgent South Sydney.
6. Sharks (Last week: 6)
Like the Eels, the Sharks got the win they needed against a weakened opponent to put their campaign back on track. Cronulla was reeling after losses to Canberra and Brisbane but got the better of a brave but battered Cowboys side, mainly on the back of a strong first-half performance. The fact they couldn't find the tryline in the second half would have been frustrating for Shane Flanagan's men, but at least they have that winning feeling again before Saturday's blockbuster against the Roosters.
7. Raiders (Last week: 7)
Canberra have had 10 matches decided by six points or less this season, and lost eight of them. That's pretty much the difference between making the top eight and missing it, with Sunday's 26-22 loss to Penrith all but ending their finals chances.
8. Rabbitohs (Last week: 11)
It's too little, too late of course but South Sydney have the third best winning streak in the league right now behind Penrith and Melbourne, having dispatched the Dragons, Bulldogs and Warriors in recent weeks. Of course that will probably come to an end this week when they visit the Storm but it does give Rabbitohs fans some cause for optimism for next season when they'll have Dane Gagai and a fit Greg Inglis joining their backline.
9. Sea Eagles (Last week: 8)
Daly Cherry-Evans was reportedly battling the flu ahead of Sunday's game against the Bulldogs and it showed, with the star halfback well below his best. In fact, the whole team produced a below-par performance, conceding 30 points against a side that had never previously scored 30 points in a game this season. They now are in serious danger of dropping out of the eight, which would be a disappointing end to a season in which they have easily surpassed expectations.
10. Cowboys (Last week: 9)
The Cowboys never give up but unfortunately all the fight in the world won't save you when you've been hit with the injury toll they have this season. Lachlan Coote was a pre-game withdrawal and then John Asiata and Kalyn Ponga both suffered injuries against the Sharks, with the club's casualty ward reaching absurd levels now. North Queensland is another team in danger of missing out on the finals after four straight defeats, but on the bright side the fact they have at least competed so well despite the absence of several stars – none bigger than Johanthan Thurston and Matt Scott – suggests they'll be a genuine contender again when they return to full strength next season.
11. Dragons (Last week: 10)
Predictably routed by the Broncos, the Dragons have won only two of their last seven but remarkably still have a chance of grabbing a finals spot with the Cowboys and Sea Eagles slipping up. It won't be easy – Sunday's clash with the in-form Panthers could well decide their season – but they did rout Penrith 42-10 in Round 1 so anything's possible.
12. Wests Tigers (Last week: 12)
The results may not show it at first glance but Ivan Cleary has brought the best out of the Wests Tigers, who came within a whisker of stunning the Roosters on Saturday. It continues a strong run of performances, with the Tigers beating Manly, thrashing Gold Coast and losing by a single point to Parramatta in the previous month. They are a great chance of beating the North Queensland Cowboys this week – something they've actually already accomplished this season back in Round 6.
13. Bulldogs (Last week: 15)
It felt like there was at least one good performance still in the Bulldogs this season and they finally produced it on Sunday, thumping the Sea Eagles in easily their best attacking display of the year. Will Hopoate starred at the back with three try assists, Michael Lichaa played the full 80 minutes at hooker for the first time since June and Des Hasler got a win over his former club for the 10th time in 14 matches.
14. Knights (Last week: 13)
Newcastle started well against Melbourne but the gulf in class between the sides soon showed, with the Storm giving the young Knights a lesson in how the game can be played. An injury to Brock Lamb didn't help, and the promising playmaker will miss the final two games of the season.
15. Titans (Last week: 14)
Five straight losses, star player in the headlines and now their coach shown the door. The Titans will be hoping the final two weeks of the regular season go by as quickly as possible.
16. Warriors (Last week: 16)
The Warriors have lost their last seven matches but have the chance to get their revenge on the team that started that losing streak when they host Manly on Sunday.