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Soward: Panthers No.1 again; Titans bounce back

It's hard to move the top six teams around too much without seeing them play each other in 2021.

I think we'll start to get a better read this week with a Panthers-Storm grand final rematch and the Roosters-Rabbitohs derby.

The bottom five sides were extremely tough to separate as well, so the rankings reflect how they can play and who I believe would win the most games if they were in a competition by themselves right now.

1. Penrith Panthers (Last week: 2)

Penrith spent a lot of time at number one last year for obvious reasons and they've returned to the summit. Their defence has been extremely steely.

I can't wait to see the halves battle between Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai and Melbourne's Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes on Thursday night because I think the opposing forward packs will cancel each other out.

2. Melbourne Storm (1)

Perhaps lacked a bit of Cameron Smith's style of patience which put pressure on them at stages against the Eels. Melbourne still had the chance to tie or win the game at the end.

The Storm are learning to play without Cam despite blowing us away with the transition in round one. They've had a tough start with two strong opponents.

3. Sydney Roosters (3)

Professional effort. I feel like I say the same thing all the time. Their challenge comes this week against Souths and I'm looking forward to it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Brett Morris is the best finisher ever. The end. 

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4. South Sydney Rabbitohs (4)

You'll see later this week that I have written for about Benji Marshall being the buy of the year - after two rounds, he's already proved his worth.

Latrell Mitchell was looking really dangerous at the back and they did what they were supposed to do against Manly. I like Souths as they await bigger tests.

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5. Canberra Raiders (5)

A gritty win on the road; the type you bank early in the season and they help you later on. We haven't seen the best of the Raiders, but we'll get a chance to assess their premiership credentials in the coming weeks.

6. Parramatta Eels (6)

Outstanding wet-weather play to beat Melbourne, but I've still got the other teams above them. While the rust of round one looks well and truly gone, I need to see consistency before moving them up. On the basis of last week, Parramatta are back in the premiership window.

7. Newcastle Knights (9)

Newcastle have surprised me a bit with their start. They'll be tested more in the next couple of weeks, but the Knights are doing what they can and playing for each other. Bradman Best had some special plays.

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8. Gold Coast Titans (10)

Bounced back in a big way. That's the team I expected to see in round one: hard running, uncompromising, flooding through the middle and then having halves Ash Taylor and Jamal Fogarty come up with plays at the end of sets. 

9. New Zealand Warriors (7)

Huge letdown. The game was there for them to take from Newcastle. They're the ones you need to win if you're going to make the top eight.

10. Cronulla Sharks (8)

I'm not going to blame Cronulla's goal-kicking for the loss to Canberra. They had other opportunities to win it. This is about where I had the Sharks - I think they'll be gritty all year and play the conditions, but they'll lose games because they're not in the top echelon.

11. St George Illawarra Dragons (14)

A fantastic effort in Townsville; a tough place for them to play. It would have been easy to go up there, be disappointed about last week's loss and not put in an effort. But the Dragons defended well, particularly with their scramble, to come away with a crucial two points.

Ben Hunt chooses the running game

12. Brisbane Broncos (13)

The Broncos are really lacking leadership - not necessarily from captain Alex Glenn, but in terms of their halves. They need someone to stand up and direct them.

Tom Dearden is the man for that. I thought he would have started the season at halfback; Kevin Walters needs to bite the bullet and get him in there. Brisbane can beat the Bulldogs at home this week.

13. North Queensland Cowboys (15)

Tried hard against the Dragons but errors relieved the pressure they built at crucial times. Still seem confused about how they want to attack; the Cowboys brought winger Valentine Holmes into centre-field, he scored a try, and then we didn't see him for 15 minutes.

They need to all get on the same page or it could be a long year.

14. Canterbury Bulldogs (12)

Weren't as bad as what the 28-0 scoreline against the Panthers suggested. I'd like to see Nick Cotric move back to the wing. They might get the best out of the big-name recruit if they bite the bullet and switch him from centre.

Lachlan Lewis may be better suited than Jake Averillo to partner Kyle Flanagan in the halves and shore up their edge defence. Canterbury's attack looks OK but their defence is awful.

15. Wests Tigers (11)

Struggling for points and leaking a lot as well. They've come up against two teams that I believe will finish in the top four, but none of my questions marks on the Tigers have gone away. An away clash with Newcastle this week is another tough trip.

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16. Manly Sea Eagles (16)

Had their opportunities at home against South Sydney in the wet but couldn't capitalise. Manly's squad depth was already skinny and they've lost another starter in second-rower Andrew Davey (knee).

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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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