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NRL Power Rankings: New face at top and, no, Bulldogs still aren't bottom of the barrel

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Editor
18th May, 2022
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Better late than never, eh? After a hectic weekend of all the footy you can handle up in Brisbane, we in the media pack were brought back down to Earth with a bump by the not-so-shock departure of Trent Barrett from the NRL coaching ranks.

Naturally, that took something of a priority on Monday morning and pushed our Power Rankings back a little, but fear not: there will be no let up in ruthlessly examining draws, stats and niche personal instincts to rank our teams this week. Without further ado…

1 – Penrith Panthers (+1)

The great switcheroo at the top is here again, with the Panthers reclaiming first place after comprehensively defeating Melbourne at Magic Round.

Yes, it was a depleted Storm without Ryan Papenhuyzen and Jahrome Hughes, but it was the Storm nonetheless and it’s not Penrith’s fault who the other team lines up.

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For the still-coachless Panthers, this was an exercise in the system, and how well it holds up without the main orchestrator and, indeed, in conditions that were perhaps not conducive to playing the way that they want to play.

Needless, to say, it all went perfectly fine.

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2 – Melbourne Storm (-1)

The same thing I just wrote about the Panthers might also go for the Storm. As much as Craig Bellamy was trying to coach accountability in the press conference, you really can’t expect any team, even the vaunted Melbourne Storm, to lose two of their spine and then compete over 80 minutes with Penrith.

I’ll cut them some slack, given the injuries, and also because I’d back them in to beat literally anyone else in the competition, and if you don’t believe me, I’ll point you towards The Roar’s tipping comp, in which I languish towards the bottom, but will be tipping them to beat the third-placed Cowboys.

3 – Parramatta Eels (+1)

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What do you credit in losing to the Roosters? Well, if it’s that Roosters, then plenty. Parra were actually decent on the weekend and ran into a good team that were even more decent. The Roosters would also be up in this rarified air too, if they hadn’t given me so many reasons to doubt.

That losing performance would get more marks than a beat-up of the Wests Tigers and while the Eels actually lost to the Tigers, and indeed to the Cowboys, my intrinsic trust levels are there, based on wins in Melbourne and Penrith, that come the end of the year, they will be there.

The underlying performances have not fluctuated terribly and, had they performed against the Cowboys like they did on Sunday afternoon, they probably would have won.

Chad Townsend passes

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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4 – North Queensland Cowboys (+1)

While not a true believer in the Cowboys, you really can’t argue with results. The Power Rankings are a metric of performances, and I can no longer really argue with those either.

My reservations about the Cowboys lie solely in the ‘who have they played, though’ corner, because aside from a hot night in Darwin, I remain unconvinced.

Like Penrith, that’s not really on them: they can only beat who is in front of them. When that was the Roosters, they lost, and when it was the Eels, they won, so there’s at least some parity there.

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But if they were playing Souths, Penrith, Manly, Melbourne, Cronulla, the Roosters or, to be completely honest, the Eels again, I’d make them outsiders.

Beat Penrith or the Storm, who they face in the next two weeks, and I’ll believe in you, Cowboys.

Sitili Tupouniua. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

5 – Sydney Roosters (+3)

The Roosters are a real interesting bunch at the moment. Rocks and diamonds doesn’t cover it. If they play well, they look like they could take out a Melbourne or a Penrith, and indeed, just took out Parramatta, who did take out Melbourne and Penrith.

When they don’t play well…they lose to the Dragons and the Bulldogs. The signs are that something is finally clicking, however, and in fairness to Trent Robinson, he did say repeatedly that this would happen.

If the machine is now in working order, expect the Chooks to shoot up this list rapidly.

6 – Cronulla Sharks (-3)

I’m not sure I read *that* much into being whacked by the Raiders, but it certainly doesn’t look good. Losing to the Raiders after losing to the Broncos looks even worse.

It’ll certainly put paid to the idea that Nicho Hynes can play anywhere other than halfback in this side: he’s the main creative spark and is clearly wasted at the back.

It’s been noted that Cronulla essentially play three fullback-style players in Hynes, Matt Moylan and Will Kennedy, and that their secret sauce lies in the way that they all offer mobility in different areas.

Braydon Trindall, who is otherwise a good player, doesn’t really fit in this system if that is the case. Lachie Miller comes in at fullback this week and it will show for the Sharks when they face the Titans.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 10: Nicholas Hynes of the Sharks passes during the warm-up before the round five NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Wests Tigers at PointsBet Stadium, on April 10, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

7 – Brisbane Broncos (-)

The Broncos might be the real deal. I didn’t think they’d roll over South Sydney in Sydney, but they did, and I didn’t think they’d crush Manly at Magic Round, but they did.

At some point, you have to say that they’re good now. Well…maybe. The defence is undeniably a lot, lot better than it was. In Adam Reynolds, they have a guy in top form who is also exactly the sort of character that they required.

The attack however, remains a concern. Brisbane have scored far fewer tries than everyone else above them, and the same as Manly, not much more than the Titans or Warriors.

They also make fewer line breaks, have far fewer tackles within 20m and force far fewer dropouts, which suggests that they neither strike from deep nor build pressure, which makes me think that their current success is unsustainable long term.

They’re the anti-Souths, and should expect mean reversion to kick in relatively soon – though as they go Knights, Titans, Raiders…probably not that soon.

8 – South Sydney Rabbitohs (+1)

Here at the The Roar Power Rankings towers, we are huge Souths true believers. We stan Jason Demetriou. We love Lachlan Ilias.

It was floated in this column last week that if they could raise their completion rate by 3% they would start to smoke teams, and duly, in the first half against the Warriors, South Sydney ran in 26 unanswered points.

Then they stopped catching the ball, shit the bed (to use the technical term) and nearly lost to the worst team in the league. That said … what a first half.

Given that their next trot goes Raiders, Tigers, Titans, Dragons, and that they will likely lose very few players to Origin (or at least, players they haven’t lost already to injury) then they should expect serious mean reversion soon.

9 – Manly Sea Eagles (-3)

Manly were useless on Friday night and deserved everything that they got. You can certainly suggest that they ran into a very good Broncos team, at a packed Suncorp, in a partisan atmosphere. I will suggest that as an excuse, even if Des Hasler won’t.

As for long-term indicators, don’t be too worried. It’s been discussed to death that they tend to fail against better teams, and that will probably remain the case on Friday night in Parramatta, because they will likely walk straight into the same bad atmosphere that they faced last week in Brisbane.

Their points for remains fine – 25, 30, 26, 22, 22, 36, 0 since their first win in the monsoon at Brookvale – and they will always have the attack to win. It’s on their defence, and defensive deficiencies can and are changed more readily.

They can’t mak my top eight at the moment, but they will be in the one that matters come September.

10 – Canberra Raiders (+3)

So, er, the Raiders. We are now entering the phase of the ladder where literally anything goes. Every team from here downwards could be thrown up in the air with gay abandon, and I may at some point resort to the shrugging, I dunno emoji.

Look: the Raiders were very good on Sunday in defeating a Sharks team that did everything in its power to defeat itself. They showed a level of resilience that, in total candour, I did not think that they had in order to withstand multiple sin bins.

They were also competent enough to turn over a bad Bulldogs team and even then, they made very heavy weather of it. I wouldn’t really tip the Raiders with confidence at all this season in any fixture because, despite the win at Magic Round, I don’t really see any performance indicators that have changed at all.

11 – St George Illawarra Dragons (-1)

The Dragons just lost in golden point to the Titans but given the farce that preceded the winning try – which I thought wasn’t a try anyway – I don’t know that you can give either team credit.

To steal a line from a media box colleague, that was a fixture that made nonsense of the notion that a tight game is a good game. Both teams are poor and looked it.

St George Illawarra are still a better side than the Titans because they have a bit of nous, a lot of dig and some sort of structure. But I really, really don’t know how they think that they will score points in sufficient quality to win games over a longer stretch.

Their total, going backwards from the weekend, is 16, 6, 12, 14, 21, 12, 14, 12, 16, 28. So that’s 21 against the Knights and 28 against the Warriors in round one.

They are also utterly dependent on one player – Ben Hunt – to do everything offensively and he’s about to disappear to Origin. They get the Warriors next and then the Bulldogs, so there’s that though.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

12 – Gold Coast Titans (+3)

If Brisbane are the anti-Souths, then the Titans are the anti-Dragons. I do feel like there’s points in them at all times, and that they might have finally learned to tackle a little bit.

It’s a good rule of thumb to judge whether an attack can generate 18 points a game, and while the Titans average 16, that is with the caveat that Toby Sexton cannot kick to save his life and should never kick again at NRL level.

He’s useless at it and they have wasted at least two points a game minimum by having him attempt goals rather than Jamayne Isaako.

Now Isaako has taken over, and they have dropped Kevin Proctor – who managed fewer running metres in eight games than Jack Hetherington managed in three – they do seem to be taking positive steps. Oh, and Jayden Campbell is really good, so there’s that.

13 – Wests Tigers (-1)

The Tigers do appear to be getting better even though results have not changed too much. The performance at the weekend wasn’t that bad, given the huge injury outs, though that didn’t stop Madge Maguire from giving his boys a massive spray.

They are horrendously dependent on Jackson Hastings, and are now without Luke Brooks, which will have a big impact on their ability to do just about anything in attack.

His replacement will be Jock Madden, which presents an interesting statistical point: Madden has, if you equalise the stats per minute played, actually outperformed Brooks across things like line engagements, metres per run and try assists.

Of course, it’s easier to have a more intensified effect when you only have to play for half the game, but still – it might not be the loss that people thing.

If they look at the next months, when they face the Bulldogs twice, the Tigers might take some hope and build some momentum.

14 – Newcastle Knights (-)

Newcastle are now on the other side of a really bad injury crisis and a pretty horrendous run of fixtures. I wrote a piece before the season began suggesting that they might only win one of their first nine games this year, and in fact, they won two.

If those two come at the start and then you lose seven on the spin, obviously it looks a lot worse, but the basic tactical underpinning of the Knights does seem to still be there.

They run hard from the backfield, helped by big outside back bodies, and complete relatively high while trying to spread the ball to their strike centres.

The struggle has been that when they lose, they often lose badly, conceding points in bunchs and becoming disheartened.

But in 60% of their games, they have scored 16 points, so the theory would go that it wouldn’t take much of a concentration, defence or enthusiasm shift to move the trajectory in the opposite direction.

15 – Canterbury Bulldogs (-4)

I’ve long suggested the Dogs aren’t as bad as they looked. In games where they were perhaps not expected to do anything, they showed flashes before falling away. Then, they did do something in upsetting the Roosters, and I felt pretty smug about it.

The last two weeks, in which they have been either favourites or close to even, Canterbury have been useless. Then their coach resigned, leaving the formline going forward to be basically anyone’s guess.

Mick Potter, the new man in charge until the end of the year, is someone who at the Catalans Dragons, St Helens and Bradford Bulls was more than decent, and then he was perhaps unduly treated at the Wests Tigers.

The Dogs will also be likely beneficiaries of the relaxation of rules around development players, because the gap between the current NRL team and the NSW Cup team – which Potter has extensive knowledge of – is pretty small.

16 – New Zealand Warriors (-)

One swallow does not make a summer and one half does not make a team. The Warriors are a poor side on paper and in performance, who have had the combination of a soft draw and some incredible luck to help them somehow win four games this season.

Had they faced who the Bulldogs have faced, they would be dead last in the ladder as well as in the Power Rankings.

They don’t make enough metres, either from the forwards or the backfield, and there is a significant roster issue in that teams can simply wait out the early barrage from Matt Lodge and Addin Fonua-Blake and then attack after that.

The coach doesn’t come under any real scrutiny, perhaps because the Australian media pack doesn’t sell any papers based on the Warriors and because the New Zealand media aren’t in Redcliffe, but he should do.

Things will change, hopefully for Warriors fans, when they get back to their home in July but honestly, I don’t see how they win a game between now and then, especially if Reece Walsh plays Origin.

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