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NRL Power Rankings: Panthers strengthen hold at top, Warriors cut adrift and much movement in between

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25th May, 2022
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We liked a Wednesday Power Rankings last week, with a little time to think about things and really get our heads around what happened. And plenty did happen: the real deal Cowboys underlined their, er, real-dealness with a thumping win over Melbourne, the Bunnies slide continued and the Broncos rise continued apace.

That means another week of chopping and changing on the rankings ahead: so let’s dive straight into it.

1 – Penrith Panthers (-)

Alright, when we said chopping and changing … there’s not at the top, because those pesky Panthers keep on Panthering. We might as well put clean fresh air between one and two on this list, because that’s how much better Penrith are than everyone else at the moment.

I fully expect them to wipe the floor with the Cowboys on Friday teatime – though it might be the best Friday 6pm kick off of all time – and then rest their entire team for a month during the Origin period.

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Speaking of, they do have the chance to underline their dominance yet further: in the first Origin-affected round, the Panthers (more accurately, their NSW Cup team) will face the 16th place Bulldogs. They’ll win.

2 – Melbourne Storm (-)

We don’t panic here at Roar Power Rankings. Yes, the Storm just lost fairly comprehensively to the Cowboys, but come on: it was a Storm without the bulk of their spine and not a true representative sample of what Melbourne can offer.

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That isn’t the Cowboys’ fault, of course, but I refuse to believe that if they met in the finals, the Storm would not win, and the Victorians have put enough runs on the board so that they’re the second best team in the NRL until otherwise stated.

3 – Parramatta Eels (+1)

Parramatta remain in third for the same reasons that Melbourne remain in second: they will be better over the long run than North Queensland will, and they won’t be shifting until there is a long-term decline in performances.

Let’s read through that again: Parra lost to NQ (that’s bad), then beat Penrith (that’s good), then lost to the Roosters (Homer looks quizzically at wizened shopkeeper), then beat Manly (that’s good). As have been mentioned before, losing to the Roosters when they play like a proper team is not a bad thing, especially when you perform as Parramatta did. They’ll be grand.

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4 – North Queensland Cowboys (-)

This week’s entry into the ‘why the Cowboys aren’t as good as you think they are’ pantheon comes with the caveat that, if you think the Cowboys are the fourth best team in the league, they are exactly as good as you think they are.

The Cowboys are better than expected but expect them to fade significantly over time. Here’s why. Currently, they are dependent on several young players who are playing very well, but young players cannot do that forever unless they are truly, truly elite. It’s possible that Jeremiah Nanai et al are that, but assuming that they’re not, then a drop will come.

Furthermore, the Cowboys’ stats don’t really support where they are: they run hard, but don’t break tackles, aren’t standouts for line breaks and don’t play particularly expansively. They’re a top eight side, but not top four in a sustainable way.

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Lachlan Miller celebrates his try on debut. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

5 – Cronulla Sharks (+1)

The ongoing switcheroo between the Sharks and the Roosters continues, with Cronulla nipping back in front on the back of a decent enough win over the Titans on the Gold Coast.

They get lifted for two reasons: one, they continue to perform well enough to make me think that the lessons of their somewhat side-to-side play that lead to defeats against the Broncos and Raiders are behind them; and two, because they have the lightest Origin trot.

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It’s weird to think that a team riding high won’t have much Origin trouble – only Nicho Hynes likely missing – but that’s the Sharks, who will get the pleasure of a week off, then the Warriors, Titans and Bulldogs before an Origin-affected Storm.

6 – Sydney Roosters (-1)

In this week’s example of ‘the losses that make you better’, we get the Roosters. No, really. Most teams will lose to Penrith and the Roosters are no exception, but it’s hard to see a world where they’re the sixth best team in the NRL and can hold that position until September.

Trent Robinson has often spoken about his team getting better week-to-week and indeed, month-to-month, and that will be tested to its fullest in the coming stretch as they lose a lot of players to Origin, followed by a horror trot of fixtures against the Sharks, Raiders, Eels and Panthers (again) away, plus the Storm at home.

The thing with the Roosters, really, is they only have to make the eight at all to be in with a better chance than (say) the Cowboys or Broncos, because in September in the finals, they’d be favourites against either. There’s so many runs on the board.

7 – Brisbane Broncos (-)

I said last week that the Broncos might be the real deal … now I’m less sure. The scoreline on Thursday night against the Knights blew out in the end, but the performance that accompanied it may not be all that people seem to think it was.

Brisbane got the win with (quelle surprise) yet more outrageous luck, this time via the bunker, and it would have been very interesting to see what had happened if they had gone behind when they should have, to Dane Gagai’s try, and if they had had the try that should have been taken off them taken off them.

There is a lot to be said for playing competently, defending well and letting the pendulum swing your way, and Brisbane are definitely good at that. Beyond that though … I dunno. They’re about the 10th best team in the NRL, lifted higher due to incredible fortune.

8 – South Sydney Rabbitohs (-)

I maintain a belief in South Sydney, though it is bordering on the incredulous. They were rubbish in losing to Canberra, having been half rubbish, half great in defeating the Warriors the week before.

I wrote an opus this week on how the Bunnies should be doing better than they are, which I stand behind completely, but I implore them to start doing that sooner rather than later, else I will look very, very silly.

Lucky, then, that the Tigers roll into town on Saturday.

Josh Papalii stretches out to score a try against the South Sydney Rabbitohs for the Canberra Raiders. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

9 – Canberra Raiders (+1)

Canberra are ninth in the ladder and ninth on this list, though they get there only on the proviso that a) they won and b) Manly are goneskis, so someone had to move up.

The Raiders are certainly looking better than at any point this season so far, but given that they have looked godawful for most of this season, I don’t think that means a great deal.

Souths did everything in their power to defeat themselves, but the work still needs to be done and Canberra, to their credit, did it. It’s hard to say how sustainable this form is, because they have a lot of blokes who are just about good enough but not that great, but for now, well done.

10 – Manly Sea Eagles (-1)

God love Manly. They’ll cope, as long as house prices don’t crash, but they can’t cop a break. Tom Trbojevic is done and, essentially, so are they, because so much salary cap is invested into just a few players.

I can’t really see them making the finals without him because the backline is suddenly now too young and inexperienced, and even with Turbo, the Sea Eagles already lost to all the good teams.

They will certainly still jag results and my expectation is they are better than most of the NRL, and the old firm of DCE and Foran will lead them around competently enough.

The issue in the coming weeks is that their good players are good enough to get picked for Origin, but the teams they face – the Tigers, in particular – really don’t have that problem. That game would have been easy but now looks very hard.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 20: Tom Trbojevic of the Sea Eagles leaves the field with an injury during the round 11 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Manly Sea Eagles at CommBank Stadium, on May 20, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

11 – St George Illawarra Dragons (-)

Regular readers will know wins against the Warriors are basically worthless in this column. The Dragons made somewhat heavy weather of beating the hapless Kiwis, but win they did and thus drop they don’t.

The ongoing problem that they don’t score any points remains – 21 is their highest against any team that isn’t the Warriors – and they are about to lose Ben Hunt, on whom they are far, far too reliant.

A word of warning too: the new-found superstar at the back is still resolutely Cody Ramsey. He’s not that good. Sure, he is a fullback, which Moses Mbye isn’t, but yeah…if that’s the big idea, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

12 – Gold Coast Titans (-)

If anything, the Titans might take more from their defeat to the Sharks than they did out of their golden point victory over the Dragons.

The thing that has stopped the Gold Coast is their horrendous tackling, and for long periods in the first half, that seemed much improved. If they could keep that up for 80 minutes, they would likely win.

With two Queensland derbies back to back, one suspects that it’s now or never for the Titans if they are going to do anything at all with this season. They’re $3 to beat Brisbane on Friday night and it would not be a surprise if they did exactly that, because they need to win and the Broncos, frankly, don’t.

13 – Wests Tigers (-)

“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.”

This column felt awfully smug on Friday night in the rain at Leichhardt Oval as the people’s champion Jock Madden stepped out from the shadow of Luke Brooks and produced a man of the match performance to get the Tigers over the Bulldogs.

Duly he returns to the Magpies this weekend with Brooks back from hamstring injury. Still, the Tigers are very good at keeping themselves in games at the moment and that’s the sort of thing that will currently beat South Sydney, so keep an eye on Saturday evening’s game at Accor Stadium.

Jordan Riki scores a try against the Newcastle Knights for the Brisbane Broncos. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

14 – Newcastle Knights (-)

It’s been remarked in this column before that, when Newcastle lose, they lose badly. That certainly happened on Thursday night: the Knights copped two bad calls from the bunker, but then entered a doom spiral that saw them get thrashed late on.

That aside, the Knights looked good for a half and in Anthony Milford, they have the sort of player who might be able to make a lasting difference. He looks about 10 kilos overweight, but that will come off and his touch will come back as he plays more football.

Newcastle run into the Warriors this weekend and need to seriously look at themselves if they don’t get maximum points there.

15 – Canterbury Bulldogs (-)

The great Bulldogs revival coughed to a spluttering start on Friday night, with more points scored than at any previous point this season.

Duly, the defence collapsed and they lost heavily anyway. The green shoots are showing at Belmore, with guys like Jacob Kiraz and Raymond Faitala-Mariner coming into the team and making an instant impact.

Mick Potter already showed some signs of improving the attack – aka getting the ball out of the hands of Josh Jackson – and with an extra week behind them, we might be in for something special against the Dragons on Sunday at Belmore. Let’s party like it’s 1986.

16 – New Zealand Warriors (-)

Previously the tactic to beat the Warriors was to simply wait for Matt Lodge and Addin Fonua-Blake to get tired. Now, you don’t even have to do that: Lodge is playing second grade Brisbane rugby union and Addin is injured.

I have no idea what sort of front row the Warriors will actually field on Saturday afternoon against the Knights, and if we’re being honest, it probably doesn’t matter.

They made the fewest metres in the comp before their best two forwards got injured and, needless to say, that aspect of their game is not about to get any better.

If they don’t win this weekend against Newcastle – a game in which they are inexplicably favourites – then they probably won’t win for a while, as they get Manly, Cronulla and Penrith before the return to New Zealand in July. If they have any players that still want to go with them. Or a coach.

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