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Soward: Penrith to shine; Knights unimpressive

Compiling the Power Rankings is a bit hard at the end of the regular season. You have an eye on next year but can't discount what we've seen throughout 2021.

Some clubs really need to do some work in the off-season, so I took that into consideration for the last full rankings of the year.

1. Penrith Panthers (Last week: 1)

This is Penrith's time now. It's been Melbourne all year, but looking at the Panthers, they've got a bee in their bonnet. They're fresh, they're young - they might be ready to go.

2. Melbourne Storm (2)

A bit less confident in the Storm than I have been all year. Josh Addo-Carr has a hamstring injury and there are doubts about Cameron Munster's fitness, whether it's a smokescreen or not very few know.

I'm not sure if leaving Nicho Hynes out is going to be the right recipe. I'm looking forward to what they come up with.

3. Manly Sea Eagles (3)

The first half against the Cowboys was scrappy, the second half was electrifying. If you're the top two teams, Melbourne and Penrith, you don't want to see Manly in a prelim, let alone week one of the finals.

4. South Sydney Rabbitohs (4)

With no Latrell Mitchell, I think the only way the Rabbitohs can beat the Panthers is if they get hot and Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds turn it on. Their forward pack is probably their big question mark.

Will it be four years in a row for a preliminary final exit? We'll have to wait and see.

Get Caught Up: Round 25 must-see moments

5. Sydney Roosters (6)

There are no words to say how well the Roosters have actually gone this year and what they can do this weekend under immense adversity. That's just the organisation doing what it does best.

6. Parramatta Eels (5)

Parramatta's fringe guys got a lot out of last week despite being rissoled by the Panthers. The first half was the highlight for the Eels as they were able to hang tough.

Now they've got their big guns to come back. And if they're firing, the team is going to be OK.

7. Newcastle Knights (7)

If form was a guide heading into the finals, their loss to the Broncos was the worst game they could play. The Knights looked uninterested, sluggish, unenthusiastic.

That didn't move the needle for me at all and I've been a big supporter of Newcastle. I'll still pick them, but my confidence went way down.

8. Gold Coast Titans (10)

Had to reward them for sneaking into the eight, but I'd have to say the Titans have underachieved given how they started the year with the hype and the documentary and where it was all heading.

If you wanted to make the best burger in the world you need all the good ingredients but Gold Coast are probably missing a few of them right now. But they're in the finals now and they may be able to cause an upset this week.

Every try from Round 25

9. Cronulla Sharks (9)

I'm bullish on the Sharks next year. I think they're going to be massive improvers under Craig Fitzgibbon. Josh Hannay did a fantastic job, but a lot of the looseness with discipline and player behaviour - we won't see that in 2022.

Big watch on what they do with their spine.

10. Canberra Raiders (8)

In the off-season, the Raiders need to find a No.7 who they can lean on and who is going to command the ball and get the best out of guys. They're one piece away from being in the top eight.

11. Brisbane Broncos (13)

Maybe their finish to the year was a little bit of fool's gold, but I see what they're trying to do. They've moved around their roster, they'll have salary cap space and they're getting one of the premier halfbacks in Adam Reynolds to order around a young forward pack.

Manly with a try you have to see to believe!

12. New Zealand Warriors (11)

Underachieved this year. The Warriors still haven't worked out their style. Shaun Johnson coming next season only adds more complications to that. It will take time to get the halves combination right.

13. St George Illawarra Dragons (12)

It was the season that could have been. You look at the young kids - there may be some pain going forward as they learn, but that's where the future lies. I feel the Dragons missed a real opportunity this year.

14. North Queensland Cowboys (14)

I don't know where it all went wrong after they got it right for a period. I'll give them some leeway because they lost their main playmaker in Michael Morgan.

But you look at some of their performances and they just weren't good enough for a one-team town. They can turn on you quickly. Jason Taumalolo needs to start 2022 in the front row.

15. Wests Tigers (15)

Saved their worst performance until last. The defeat to the Bulldogs may have been one of the last straws. There are some big questions that need to be answered in the off-season.

16. Canterbury Bulldogs (16)

Great win to finish the season, but the real work starts now. Can they get these new recruits to gel?

It's nice to have shiny toys, but if you don't know how to use them, or they're not everything you think they are, then they just sit in the corner.


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

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