Stat Attack: Round 14 separates contenders from also-rans
Did round 14 finally start to separate the genuine 2018 premiership threats from the teams destined to make up the numbers?
Seven of the teams sitting in the top eight after round 13 recorded wins in round 14. The only exception was Brisbane, who remain in eighth after a loss to the fifth-placed Storm.
Conversely in the bottom eight, every single team was defeated by a top eight side with the exception of the Darwin match between 14th-placed North Queensland and 16th-placed Parramatta, with the Eels becoming the only team all weekend to beat a higher-ranked opponent.
Clearly there were some close-run results; second-placed Penrith left it very late to overcome the 10th-placed Raiders 23-22. They have some excuses with three players backing up from Origin, a hefty injury toll (though Canberra were worse-hit on the night) and a chilly night down in the nation's capital.
Three separate games finished with an 18-16 scoreline – bizarrely the second time this has happened this season after three games finished 22-20 in round nine.
Any of those could have gone the other way but in the end, Roosters (sixth) overcame Newcastle (11th), Souths (third but with four Origin players missing) overcame the Titans (12th) and the Dragons (first) held on against the Bulldogs (15th, and agonisingly close to a huge upset).
In fact, the second-half thumpings dished out by the Warriors and Storm to the Sea Eagles and Broncos respectively were the only one-sided results of the weekend so all indications are teams across the board remain competitive.
We're also not ruling out changes at the bottom part of the finals zone – the Tigers in ninth are just one win behind the Broncos and have a healthier for-and-against.
Just behind the Tigers, the Raiders were frustratingly just a few select moments of clever game management away from being six or eight competition points better off and despite that are still in contention if they can learn to close out a win.
The Knights are level with the Raiders on ladder points and have a bye in hand with star half Mitch Pearce due back shortly, meaning they are effectively one win behind eighth. Things are looking more grim for the finals hopes of the bottom five, who each need to win most or all of their remaining games to have a hope of September footy.
Going back further, the Origin-affected bye week was predictably unpredictable though still largely free of ladder upsets while round 12 followed a similar pattern to round 14 with games between sides widely separated on the ladder following the script. In fact looking at the current top eight it is only really Manly's upset wins over Brisbane and a Storm side missing Cameron Smith in rounds 10 and 11 that have bucked this trend over the past month.