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Soward: Sea Eagles supplant Panthers; Knights threatening

The premiership race looks like it's down to five teams when they're at their best and you factor in injuries.

Meanwhile, it's still hard as ever to split the sides in a logjam from seventh to 12th spot because they're all so inconsistent.

Here's how the Power Rankings stand after round 16.

1. Melbourne Storm (Last round: 1)

I made the mistake two years ago of thinking the Storm would drop off. I won't do that ever again. I'll keep backing them to make the top four or win the minor premiership until I'm not talking about the NRL anymore.

Jahrome Hughes is in my top three players to watch every single week. I love how he plays the game and leads the team around without having to be the highest-paid or the biggest name.

2. Manly Sea Eagles (3)

The hottest team in the comp. Manly played like this in 2019 and I felt they were one of the only threats to the Roosters and Storm due to their on-the-ball style and offloading counteracting the structure.

An injury to Tom Trbojevic halted their momentum that season. But the game has opened up more this year and the Sea Eagles have adapted, so we're seeing their best players excelling.

They've gone from Can they make the eight? What's going on? Will they sack the coach? to potentially winning the whole thing.

Get Caught Up: Round 16 must-see moments

3. Penrith Panthers (2)

I try to look into the future when doing these Power Rankings - and it could be a tough month or so for the Panthers without the injured Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai. They lost back-to-back games when the playmakers were missing around Origin duties last month.

Is the slide starting to happen? I think Ivan Cleary needs to bring in a proper half. The Tyrone May experiment doesn't work for me. They need Matt Burton there. Penrith will learn a lot about themselves in the next month but the alarms are probably ringing a bit louder.

4. Parramatta Eels (4)

Huge opportunity missed. I was disappointed in the way the Eels attacked. It felt like they tried not to lose to the Panthers rather than going out with their flair, letting it all hang and seeing what stuck.

They were very conservative and Penrith played the same, so it wasn't the greatest spectacle for a top-four clash. 

5. South Sydney Rabbitohs (5)

I was ready to move the Rabbitohs up a spot after their first half against the Wests Tigers, but their second 40 minutes on Sunday showed why they're staying at number five. Defensively, they can't stop anyone once their opponents are rolling.

If they were fair dinkum, they should've kept the Tigers to nil or one try, but 38-22 doesn't move the radar too much. South Sydney have amazing attacking power but defence will win games in the finals.

Bennett blast: Clubland must take more responsibility for product

6. Sydney Roosters (6)

On tilt now after the worst defensive effort I've seen from the Roosters in a long time, albeit against the Storm. We've all looked at the excuses - they've had injuries and some great players forced into retirement. A changing of the guard is underway and it's amazing the Roosters are still sixth on the ladder.

But defensively, their policies and values seemed out of sync. The Roosters will still make the eight but I think they'll be a bigger threat next year. It's a learning experience for the young players.

7. St George Illawarra Dragons (8)

Asterisk on the Dragons. Will have to wait and see what sanctions are handed down by the NRL for players breaching COVID-19 protocols. St George Illawarra have a bye this week but I'm not sure how'll they'll look following that.

Kept their chances of making the finals alive by beating the Warriors in a game they shouldn't have won. It showed their character of hanging in there and sometimes you need those results.

Every try from Round 16

8. Cronulla Sharks (7)

A loss to the Broncos would've hurt the Sharks. I feel like I've been saying they lose the games they should win all season. It was a really loose performance for a team that has a lot of experience and should know better.

9. Newcastle Knights (12)

A big threat to the bottom half of the top eight. There's an element of teasing because the finally-fused spine of Jake Clifford, Mitchell Pearce, Jayden Brailey and Kalyn Ponga has points in it. Whether Newcastle have left their run too late, we'll have to wait and see. But I liked what I saw against the Cowboys.

10. North Queensland Cowboys (9)

It looks like the Cowboys won't make the eight. They could because it's such a logjam on the ladder, but they turned up to face the Knights on Saturday with their season essentially on the line and started really lackadaisical.

I probably could've had North Queensland lower if the teams below them performed more consistently.

11. New Zealand Warriors (10)

Lost the unlosable game to the Dragons. I'm sure Chad Townsend regrets shooting for a field goal when his team was eight points up. Again, the Warriors' game-management at the back-end let them down. 

They've been in so many close games where they haven't closed it out this year and it's going to cost them a spot in the top eight.

Match Highlights: Raiders v Titans

12. Gold Coast Titans (13)

One of the Titans' best performances of the year against the Raiders. It's great to see AJ Brimson and all their stars performing, but we don't know if they can do it two weeks in a row and sustain this professionalism.

13. Brisbane Broncos (16)

I rewarded the Broncos with a couple of big jumps. Based on the weekend, if the bottom four teams played each other, I think Brisbane would have the edge on the others. While they weren't perfect in a win over the Sharks, Kotoni Staggs impressed coming back in the side as he and Payne Haas stood up.

The question is whether the Broncos can do it next week.

14. Canberra Raiders (11)

I've never seen a more disappointing home performance. Canberra had everything to play for. They were only two points outside the top eight on a cold Saturday night in the nation's capital - perfect conditions for them. And they were embarrassed by a Titans team that's not that good.

Something is amiss with the Raiders. They're not a team that should be so low on the ladder.

Laurie with a classic cover tackle

15. Wests Tigers (15)

The Tigers' season is coming to a crunch. They have a talented squad but aren't getting better. Started softly against the Rabbitohs.

16. Canterbury Bulldogs (14)

Horror week for the Bulldogs with five of their players in trouble for breaching COVID-19 protocols and having to watch from home as the team was thumped by the Sea Eagles. Their defensive systems seem really poor and they don't know what they're doing on an edge.

 

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

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