Soward's Power Rankings: Beware Bennett's Broncos
The regular season has come and gone, leaving us with the closest top eight finish on record. A couple of heavyweights warmed up for the post-season by making some important statements and week one of the finals has served up some mouth-watering match-ups. Check out NRL.com expert Jamie Soward's thoughts in this week's Power Rankings.
"I took into account where I had teams placed at the start of the year, the biggest disappointments and biggest improvers," Soward said.
"From that process I came up with a list that represents where I think the ladder should be in terms of Power Rankings."
1. Cronulla Sharks (last week: 1)
A team that was trending up all year. They've got a very solid, complete roster. They defend well and attack-wise there's no real set structures they go to that looks boring. They play what's in front of them. Wade Graham is the key to this side and if he plays alongside Matt Moylan the Sharks become the favourites to win the competition. They've got smart, experienced guys who have been waiting for September and I believe they're the favourites to win it all.
2. Sydney Roosters (3)
A couple of disappointing performances close to the finals and they are not the most dominant minor premiers we've ever seen. They've been in this position before and they know that finishing first doesn't guarantee you a premiership. Their goal is to win a ring and they've given themselves two bites of the cherry.
3. South Sydney Rabbitohs (5)
I had the Rabbitohs finishing 12th at the start of the year. They didn't start well, lost four from six, and the challenge for the new coach was to get a team that won a premiership four years ago to climb Mt Everest again, and now they're back in a position to do exactly that. The coaching staff has worked wonderfully in sync with the players and Souths have been a joy to watch. When this team is on there's probably no better in terms of attack.
4. Melbourne Storm (2)
It's hard to go back to back and Melbourne have put themselves in a position to do that. Are they the best side? We're about to find out, but they are certainly well placed. They came out of Origin well, Cam Smith is probably still the best game manager around and Craig Bellamy continues to amaze with his ability to get the best out of players. You definitely wouldn't write them off going back to back.
5. Brisbane Broncos (4)
I didn't have the Broncos making the eight and can't believe I didn't with the master coach Wayne Bennett at the helm. The Brisbane we've watched over the last six weeks and watching Anthony Milford playing the way he is is the Brisbane I never thought we'd see. When he takes his game to the elite level Brisbane are very hard to beat. They just look faster than everybody else. A real premiership smokey.
6. New Zealand Warriors (6)
I tipped this team to finish second-last, but what an amazing turnaround. They've gotten really fit, they've played hard-nosed footy and controlled their off-loads. They've played smart footy and played for each other. They got smacked a few times but the old Warriors wouldn't have made the eight. They pushed through that during the season and they potentially go to week two.
7. Penrith Panthers (8)
If you want to win in this competition you have to be consistent, and consistency starts from one to 17 every week, and they struggle with that at times. But then they play like they did in the second half against Melbourne - like a top two team. The thing with Penrith is that don't do it for sustained periods.
8. St George Illawarra Dragons (7)
Look to be hanging on by a thread. The frustration is that the same things keep happening, and if you keep doing the same thing you'll keep getting the same result, and that's the definition of insanity. The Dragons have been really good in patches but really disappointing in others.
9. Canberra Raiders (10)
I stand by my view that the Raiders are the biggest underachievers of the last five years. They've boasted so much potential for some time now and haven't been able to capitalise off the back of that. Showed over the last few weeks they're a quality side and just have to learn how to win the close ones.
10. Canterbury Bulldogs (9)
This team pleasantly surprised me and other teams can take a leaf out of their book. Played some young guys and backed them to the hilt and they really need to capitalise on that next year and get some other guys in and around that, and hopefully they can make a run.
11. Wests Tigers (11)
I know they just missed the top eight but they didn't show enough in those big games. If they win that Dragons game in round 23 they probably bounce on and make the eight. But every time the pressure cooker got turned on when they were expected to win the game, they weren't able to live up to the hype.
12. North Queensland Cowboys (12)
Need an injection of youth - some young back-rowers to pair with the experienced guys. They need to move on as quickly as possible because the people of Townsville won't put up with any kind of post-Johnathan Thurston let-down, especially after the disappointment of this season.
13. Newcastle Knights (14)
This team was trending up all year and I expect them to make the top eight next year, but I've been a bit down on their performances of late. They leaked a lot of points away from home and at home they let games go when they were in control.
14. Gold Coast Titans (13)
The Titans go down in that 'really disappointing' category. I tipped them to finish last but I look at their forward pack and they just don't get enough out of Ash Taylor in big moments. He should watch the second half JT put on him and take that lesson into his pre-season.
15. Manly Sea Eagles (15)
They are probably happy the season's over. Tried hard on Sunday and their squad's not too bad, but they need some more depth. Overall Manly's been disappointing, especially considering some other teams were also battling adversity and they brought some young guys in and finished stronger than Manly.
16. Parramatta Eels (16)
I get it, you're not playing for anything, but the last two weeks have been very ordinary to say the least. Everyone expects them to improve next year but they've got a long way to go.