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Soward: Top-eight race becoming clearer; Raiders heating up

While there were only four games last round, I'm starting to get a read on the teams competing for the top eight.

The impact of some suspensions handed down and the form on the weekend has given more clarity as to who will push for the finals and who is set to miss out because of their inconsistency.

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

1. Melbourne Storm (Last week: 1)    

Continue to be at the pinnacle of rugby league excellence and professionalism. Still the favourites for the premiership.

The old saying is "you're the champs until you ain't the champs no more". For me, that's no truer than with the Storm.

2. Penrith Panthers (2)

Everyone's waiting to see how they go without their halves and how their Origin stars back up from the series. With a match looming against the Storm in round 20, I won't be surprised if they rest players after Origin III.

3. Manly Sea Eagles (3)

If Parramatta had played and won, I would've had Manly lower. Talk about disappointing. They had a really soft, slow start against the Raiders in terms of matching their opponents' physicality.

The Sea Eagles don't want to get into a zone of not being able to win without their best player - Tom Trbojevic - because that sets a dangerous precedent for everyone else in the team. 

Get Caught Up: Round 17 must-see moments

4. Parramatta Eels (4)

Even though they've got a nice buffer, the Eels' top-four spot will be on the line in the next month with matches against the Titans, Raiders, Roosters and Rabbitohs.

Depending on how he fares in his Origin debut, Mitch Moses could be catapulted into "the zone". That could help Parramatta challenge the top teams. Hopefully, he gets the job done for NSW.

5. South Sydney Rabbitohs (5)

The Rabbitohs are going to finish in the top four and they're still a threat in this competition. But I can't see how they'll beat Melbourne or Penrith at full strength.

While South Sydney's attack will give them opportunities, they're still leaking points and I'm not sure how they'll stack up to the true heavyweights.

6. Sydney Roosters (6)

Keep finding a way. It wasn't a pretty win over the Bulldogs by any means. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves - what a season he's had with all the turmoil and adversity.

And for all the old people out there who didn't like the way Sam Walker finished the game - I loved it. I love people that think outside the box. Sure, the optics weren't great, but what a smart way to wrap up the two points.

Hamlin-Uele has a future in wrestling after this celebration

7. Cronulla Sharks (8)

Wasn't a pretty win over the Warriors but did what they had to do. The Sharks are another team that isn't very good compared to the upper echelon of sides.

Shaun Johnson needs to be more aggressive and Braydon Trindall needs more ball. He was one of their best players in the first half and hardly touched the ball in the second. Cronulla must work out their attack otherwise they'll float into the eight and float out in the first week of the finals.

8. Newcastle Knights (9)

A tough run with games against the Storm and Roosters next up, but I feel they might be able to jag one of those. They could potentially beat the Roosters because they aren't going great at the moment. 

And Newcastle can beat the Raiders, Broncos and Sharks, so this might be the month they put it all together. But have they left their run too late?

Every try from round 17

9. St George Illawarra Dragons (7)

In a really tough position now with a pretty difficult run over the next five weeks. But with mass suspensions, I could've had them lower not knowing what the team will look like for the next few matches.

The Dragons have got decisions to make about how they spread out their bans. They're a real chance of missing the eight on the back of that.

10. Gold Coast Titans (12)

Right on the bubble of making the eight. The Titans have a big game against the Eels this weekend after Origin III and then they've got the Dragons, Bulldogs, Cowboys and Rabbitohs. If you're a Gold Coast fan, you'd be looking at banking at least three of the next five.

But we don't know what we're going to get: the hot-to-trot Titans or the immature, juvenile Titans that don't know how to defend.

11. New Zealand Warriors (11)

Lack of imagination, lack of energy. Nathan Brown hasn't got their halves puzzle right all year. Kodi Nikorima was not in control in Sunday's loss to the Sharks - and they missed that.

The Warriors have a talented side on paper but the game's not played on paper. They just don't do enough with the ball for my liking.

12. Canberra Raiders (14)

The Raiders look like they've found some of their mojo and can potentially go on a bit of a run after beating Manly. We'll have to see whether that will stick or if it was just a flash in the pan.

Canberra face Cronulla on Saturday in a massive game for both clubs before taking on several teams above them. But if they have the effort and energy they showed the other night they'll be hard to beat.

Anaconda Fish of Origin - Episode III

13. North Queensland Cowboys (10)

A horror run coming up with games against the Roosters, Storm and the other two Queensland teams. Their fate will be decided over the next two weeks. If they can't jag one of those I think it's season done.

Talk about inconsistency. They started the season slowly, then had a really good run and the last few weeks they haven't turned up. There are some alarming issues and it's back to the old Cowboys.

14. Brisbane Broncos (13)

Were great last week. We'll have to wait and see whether the bye has stopped that momentum. I definitely love that we're going to see Kotoni Staggs in his second game of the season this weekend.

15. Wests Tigers (15)

The Tigers need to win a lot of games if they're going to make the eight. Can they band together and put in an effort? I feel like too much has happened and they've gone through so much off the field.

They play the Broncos in a winnable match on Sunday but I'm not sure they're going to be able to get up for that.

16. Canterbury Bulldogs (16)

Tried hard against the Roosters. I would love to see Lachlan Lewis and Kyle Flanagan in the side. Lewis, who was fantastic in a beaten team, has a calming influence on whoever is playing inside him in the No.7 role. Jake Averillo could be the utility or provide strike in the centres.

 

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

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