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Soward: Fresh Cleary perfect for Panthers; Eels are back

I put the Storm's surprise loss down to the heavy training load which usually happens at this time of the year.

They looked out of sorts but were maybe tinkering with a few things against the Eels leading into the finals.

Overall, there wasn't much movement in the Power Rankings and the race for the eighth spot is still to be decided.

1.  Penrith Panthers (Last week: 2)

Penrith probably could've done it easier against the Wests Tigers. But I feel like Nathan Cleary having a rest after Origin was perfect. He's come back ready to go. This side would have learned a lot from last year.

The Panthers seem to enjoy each other's company in the bubble and I think they'll be co-favourites with the Storm going into the finals.

2. Melbourne Storm (1)

It would've been easy to leave them in first place and say it was only one loss, but the Storm have a bit of a trend of starting slowly. They've had enough skill and class to score points and win games.

Now we're in the nitty-gritty, we're looking at all the chinks in the armour and what it will take to win the premiership. And if Melbourne have a weak spot, it has been some of their starts.

3. Manly Sea Eagles (3)

Tightened up a bit against the Bulldogs. I mentioned training loads and that could be part of the reason. Manly had to win for their top-four hopes and probably knew they were going to get the job done.

I expect they'll do the same against the Cowboys and set up a mouthwatering clash with Melbourne in week one of the finals.

4. South Sydney Rabbitohs (4)

Certainly up against it at the moment. No Latrell Mitchell - do they move Cody Walker from five-eighth to fullback and weaken one position to strengthen the other? I don't think they should.

Losing Latrell puts a dent in what the Rabbitohs are trying to do.

5. Parramatta Eels (7)

Moved up two places after beating Melbourne. Maybe I'm over-reaching a little bit, but if I see that again this week, they're going to be a hard out.

I know what changed: they swapped their halves back to their normal sides of the field and they look so much more comfortable. Why did they take so long to do that? And why did they save that performance for the Storm after being unable to do it for a while?

I don't know if we got more answers or questions.

Get Caught Up: Round 24 must-see moments

6. Sydney Roosters (5)

I've praised them all year, but the Roosters look like they're running out of troops. Lachlan Lam started at centre against the Rabbitohs, now there's no Joey Manu and Siosiua Taukeiaho is on one leg.

But they're must-watch TV because of how resilient they are.

7. Newcastle Knights (6)

Again, it wasn't pretty, but I feel they're building resilience and confidence within themselves going ahead for the finals. I think Newcastle can get out of the first week of the playoffs.

8. Canberra Raiders (8)

Canberra just find a way. I think they hold their destiny in their own hands this week. While the Raiders have left their run late - and they'd tell you that - it was pretty special how they hung tough to come back from 16-0 down against the Warriors.

Every try from Round 24

9. Cronulla Sharks (9)

Cronulla have done an amazing job. I've loved watching Braydon Trindall develop into a playmaker and take ownership of the side.

Whether they can get the job done against the Storm, we'll have to wait and see. But you can't discredit what the Sharks have achieved this year and the adversity they've gone through.

10. Gold Coast Titans (11)

Probably needed to beat the Knights to sneak into the eight. There's going to be all mathematical stuff going on this week.

They just don't get enough out of their big guys. David Fifita needs to move into the front row. I said it about Jason Taumalolo, and David needs to be playing up front with Tino Fa'asuamaleaui.

11. New Zealand Warriors (10)

I don't know when the Warriors are going to learn what it takes to manage a game, but if they can unlock that they've got a pretty good side waiting to win more matches.

They just don't know how to finish it off and that's been the story of the Warriors for however long I've been covering the game.

12. St George Illawarra Dragons (12)

Disappointing, but their young guys stood up. Looking back on the game against the Cowboys, it was one they probably should have won.

13. Brisbane Broncos (13)

The Broncos surprised last week and didn't back it up. They'll be waiting for the season to finish. They're in the bottom group with six or seven teams that can't wait to start planning for next year.

Nicho Hynes - Yarning Circle

14. North Queensland Cowboys (15)

Really impressive. They played another struggling team in the Dragons, but the likes of Heilum Luki and Tom Dearden kept turning up - and that's half the game.

The trouble for the Cowboys is going into the off-season, building off that and working out where some combinations fit.

15. Wests Tigers (14)

The big questions are coming after this week. What do they do moving forward? How do they reshape their roster and get the best out of some of these players?

I think the Tigers have got some really good young guys, but they need to change their style.

16. Canterbury Bulldogs (16)

Oh man, they've learned some hard lessons. The Bulldogs find themselves in a game but just lack that finishing quality and probably talk themselves out of it because they're used to losing.


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

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