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Soward: Raiders pushing for top eight; Crunch time for Dragons

For this week's Power Rankings, I took into account bubble life and how that's going to affect teams.

I was also a bit kinder in my assessment of a few sides because of how short the turnaround was to move to the Queensland hub.

With seven rounds to go, we should get a better read this weekend.

1. Melbourne Storm (1)

Just so professional. The trouble for Melbourne now is figuring out how to fit their best players in the top 17 when they're all fit. I called their game against the Knights and it was really good to watch. 

2. Penrith Panthers (2)

Expected them to struggle a little bit more with injuries. But they face the Broncos this week before playing the Storm - to all but decide the minor premiership - and the Roosters. The Panthers are tracking OK; they'll still finish in the top two and be a threat.

3. Manly Sea Eagles (3)

After a slip-up, they responded against the Dragons. At full-strength with the likes of Josh Schuster and the Trbojevic brothers, the Sea Eagles are going to be hard to beat from here on out.

Manly look likely to bank wins against the Tigers and Sharks in the next two weeks, then they've got some tough games. Clashes with the Storm and Eels in rounds 21 and 22 will show where they're at.

Every try from Round 18

4. Parramatta Eels (4)

I'm not as cold on Parramatta as I've been throughout the year. They've got a good month of preparation for finals footy ahead as they face teams above and around them. I'm looking forward to seeing how they attack it.

They're tracking well. If they can go 3-1 in their upcoming games against the Raiders, Roosters, Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles, I'll be getting a few more shares in the Eels.

5. South Sydney Rabbitohs (5)

The drums were beating that Souths could be about to challenge the top teams, but you can't concede 24 points to the bottom side. While I know they had some injuries, it looked like the Rabbitohs were trying to win in a shootout - and that won't work against the best.

6. Sydney Roosters (6)

It's not pretty at the moment, but the Roosters keep finding a way and you know they'll hang in there. I'm loving watching the development of Sam Walker and his decision-making.

The Roosters have done exceptionally well given their circumstances and they'll probably get to the second week of the finals, which would be remarkable.

7. Cronulla Sharks (7)

Expected them to beat the Raiders, but I've kept the Sharks at seven due to their draw. They should go 4-1 in the next five weeks (against Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Warriors, Knights, Tigers) if they're fair dinkum.

8. St George Illawarra Dragons (9)

It's starting to become crunch time for the Dragons with a really tough draw and some teams breathing down their neck on the ladder.

St George Illawarra need to be better with the ball. Their attention and concentration wasn't consistent throughout the 80 minutes against Manly.

9. Canberra Raiders (12)

I rewarded the Raiders because of their past two weeks. However, I'm cautious about how they'll come up against the Eels this week. If they win, they'll make the eight; if they lose, it's season done.

Canberra have brought some young talent through - Xavier Savage has been exceptional - and I like the look of them.

10. Newcastle Knights (8)

Didn't have the best night against the Storm, but the Knights could be a team that gets hot with a favourable draw.

Their top-eight chances will be decided over the next two weeks in winnable games against the Roosters and Raiders. But they'll have to be a lot better.

30 seconds of Warriors defence that would make Nathan Brown proud as punch

11. New Zealand Warriors (11)

They were gritty against the Panthers, and injuries hurt them, but they play some silly football at times.

I feel they've wasted Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's last NRL season by largely playing him out of position to accommodate Reece Walsh at fullback. I would have liked to see Reece at six or seven.

12. Gold Coast Titans (10)

Copy and paste what I've said for the past 18 weeks about immaturity. Really hard to watch. The Titans need to make some tough decisions on their roster in the off-season. They've got a draw where they can get themselves into the eight with a few wins, but jeez, they're frustrating.

13. Wests Tigers (15)

I'm not sure if it coincided with the documentary they've got coming out, but it was good to see the Wests Tigers playing attacking footy.

When they play like that, you can see the talent they've started to build. If the Tigers can spring an upset against Manly this weekend they've got a favourable draw, but I just don't know what we'll get.

14. North Queensland Cowboys (13)

Gone from one of the hottest teams to one of the most frustrating to watch. Have written their own ticket to missing the top eight now.

They don't have any steel in defence. When things are going well, the Cowboys are awesome. But when they're not, they turn it up.

The Hammer in open space is a thing of beauty

15. Brisbane Broncos (14)

Really disappointed in the Broncos, who I was looking forward to watching. They didn't have to relocate and were at home to the Wests Tigers. To let the game slip away shows they've got a long way to go.

Brisbane have papered over the cracks every now and then with a win, but I'd still say they're just as bad as last year.

16. Canterbury Bulldogs (16)

Again tried hard, but the brain-snap from Lachlan Lewis at half-time killed all the momentum and woke up South Sydney.

Canterbury's effort has been good for the past two weeks but they are still a long way off even being a competitive team next year.


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

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