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NRL Power Rankings: Souths slide, Raiders rise, Roosters fall and up, up Cronulla

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21st June, 2022
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Sweet mother rugby league, she giveth and she taketh away. Just ask Lachlan Ilias, sat on the bench a half an hour into the first game of the round, wondering why he was being singled out for South Sydney’s complete capitulation.

When he turned his phone on and checked Twitter an hour or two later, he would have been heartened to see the reaction: it’s not you, Lachy, it’s them.

South Sydney’s Thursday night horror was just the start of a topsy-turvy round of football that ranged from the sublime – Parra’s first half – to the ridiculous – Freddy’s Origin team selection – with a few swings in between.

As ever, we dress them down and put them in order: with, of course, the Panthers at the top.

1 – Penrith Panthers (-)

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It’s hard when your job requires you to write the same thing time and again and find a new way to see it. Once, as a copywriter for a restaurant booking app, I had to knock out guides to more than 50 UK curry houses in two days, while as a writer for a homeware start-up, I wrote product descriptions for 85 near-identical clocks.

The Penrith Panthers are good at rugby league.

Moses Leota. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

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2 – Melbourne Storm (-)

I have to say I didn’t see this game live, as I was in a room waiting for Des Hasler to give the shortest press conference in history, but having watched the extended highlights, I don’t quite get the controversy. Yes, there appeared to be a crucial forward pass. No, I don’t think it would have changed a thing about the result.

Melbourne remain the second-best team in the NRL and now inhabit a strange space where I would back them going into literally any contest with anyone anywhere except Penrith, but I would back the Panthers to beat them 99 times out of 100.

They’ve got a mortgage on second spot is what I’m saying here.

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3 – Parramatta Eels (+2)

Losing to the Tigers is really bad. Getting battered by the Bulldogs is really, really bad. Beating the Roosters comprehensively – battering the Roosters, if I’m being honest – plus defeating Melbourne and Penrith away is really, really, really good.

Ultimately, what games do you learn things from? An ability to lose narrowly to the Wests Tigers in a crazy game, or to get jumped by a Bulldogs team that clearly wanted it more, will likely go down as important learning exercises in the 2022 Parramatta story, because when the whips get a-cracking, I’d back them to beat literally anyone that isn’t Penrith or Melbourne, and I’d also give them the most chance to upset Penrith or Melbourne.

Isaiah Papali’i. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

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Incidentally, the race to the top four is going to be vital here because Parra in Parra will destroy most teams, especially the Cowboys, but Parra on the road, especially to Townsville…less so.

If we assume Melbourne and Penrith are in, then there’s a four into two situation, with the Cowboys a game ahead of Brisbane, Cronulla and Parramatta. The Eels get the battered Bunnies next, then the Tigers at Leichhardt with whoever remains from Origin cull out. Get through those two and they’re in the box seat.

4 – North Queensland Cowboys (-1)

If you read these columns every week, you’ll know that I often rate performances over results. After all, the sticky, unfortunate business of who actually wins games of rugby league football is kinda obvious, and we have an NRL ladder to tell us that, whereas how teams actually play will give you a guide of how they might go in a finals game.

When we’re discussing the top teams – I’ll admit this rule doesn’t apply if your team isn’t going to play finals football – then performance criteria, often independent of result, matters.

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Jeremiah Nanai scores. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

To wit: the North Queensland Cowboys, your presumptive champions, were worse than a Manly Sea Eagles side that won’t make the top eight and is missing the most vital cog in its system for 71 minutes. Of course, games last 80 minutes and they won, but what does that tell you?

They get points for resilience, because they had to come back and win, and also have runs on the board because of where they are in the ladder, but performance-wise…not sure. Manly were better and had they won, nobody would have complained. If you’re Parramatta, you’d have learned a lot from this game.

5 – Brisbane Broncos (-)

We love a ‘good defeat’ here at The Roar Power Rankings towers, and I’d like to award this week’s to the Broncos for losing to Melbourne. They went better than most do down there and thus maintain some position in the top eight.

My worry, as it was last week, is that they are dropping like flies up at Red Hill. Without Herbie Farnworth and Adam Reynolds, they are a very, very different calibre of team. The defence will hold up well, but they drastically need bodies back to be serious at the end of the year.

Perhaps 2022 is not the year to be serious. Getting to the top eight should be fine, as they have nine wins (of my designated 12 required) on the board, plus some dross yet to play, but I think they might be the prime candidates to get rolled out first week.

That’ll be fine, by the way. The trajectory is great, their players are getting better, the coach is improving, and in 2023 – and 2024, if Reynolds doesn’t fall off a physical cliff – they will be really good.

6 – Cronulla Sharks (+1)

Look, sometimes Power Rankings is an imperfect business. The Sharks won against the Titans – that’s good – but it was also against the Titans – that’s bad – and thus worth very little.

They get our ‘you can only beat what’s in front of you’ award for this round and continue their march through the Origin period looking likely unscathed.

Siosifa Talakai. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Having everyone back on deck in that backline is a big deal for Cronulla, who have to play expansively to win because of an undersized, mobile pack, and naturally, that will look a little out of kilter when they’ve not played together for a while.

Good job they want into a shocking side and got the points. They get a fired up Bulldogs next and if they can avoid that banana skin, then they’ll hopefully be ready to arc up at the run of Storm, Cowboys, Panthers that follows.

7 – Sydney Roosters (-1)

The defensive issues that have plagued the Roosters were again evident against Parramatta, who they allowed to look like the Western Sydney Globetrotters in the first half, followed by a masterclass in the attacking problems that have also plagued them at times in the second half.

Granted, Parra are very good and will make lots of NRL teams look bad, and the Roosters have crucial outs too in Luke Keary, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Victor Radley. Chuck those guys in and it makes a massive difference.

But they once played around these issues. They always had injuries, because everyone does, and it didn’t matter so much. That is what will worry Trent Robinson. That and their draw, which is rotten from here in. I think they’ll make the eight, more due to Raiders skepticism, but would not be at all surprised if they don’t.

Josh Papalii. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

8 – Canberra Raiders (+2)

At this stage of the season, a win is a win and Canberra won. Their failings remain completely obvious and it’s quite a funny task writing about their fight to make the finals because they are absolutely nailed on to get bounced the first week that they get there.

Make it they will, because having moved a victory closer, they now have two more points and one fewer trash team to get by en route to 12 wins and post-season football.

Whether that actually represents progress for a club that doesn’t seen to be going anywhere at all is something different. Look at the other teams in the fight: Souths have a new coach and halfback, and won’t be this bad again.

The Dragons have young players coming through and will likely sack their coach to get a better one. Manly have $1m on the treatment table, plus good young players. The Roosters are the Roosters. If the Raiders make the eight, it will again paper over a massive crack.

9 – Manly Sea Eagles (-)

Good defeat points all around for the Sea Eagles, and let me tell you why. They managed to defeat the Cowboys pretty comprehensively for 72 minutes, not only winning the game but also the contest, field position, etc etc.

Miracle comebacks aside, this was a moral victory because it shows that they can still mix it despite obvious issues like Tom Trbojevic not being on the field and Jason Saab being on the field.

It’s unlikely that the Sea Eagles will make the finals because they would have to win five games, requiring them to win all of the games with the dross – Titans, Bulldogs and Knights – that they have remaining, then either beat two of the Roosters, Eels, Sharks or Melbourne at home or pick something up on the road in Canberra or Kogarah.

It’s not impossible by any chalk, but gee … a win over the Cowboys from 14 in front would have helped. Repeat that performance and they might well get the five they need.

10 – South Sydney Rabbitohs (-2)

South Sydney, we need to have a word. I have defended you and defended you, told the world that once you start catching the ball you’ll instantly become world-beaters. Not only that, I have lost money on your many times now, and it’s starting to get a little annoying.

The error rate champions 2022 produced their worst performance of the year against possibly the worst of their direct competitors to do it against, because the Dragons are competent and not one iota more, and will beat you if you present them so many chances.

The goalline defence was also horrific, and then game management that saw Ilias taken off but Cody Walker allowed to stay on was also very bad. Can’t tackle, ditch your halfback will go down as one of the all-timer weird coaching calls.

I used to think the errors issue was simple execution problems, but now I’m leaning towards a more endemic problem caused by a lack of depth in the attacking line that forces more split-line passes, which look great when Campbell Graham does his catch-pass thing to Alex Johnston, but a lot, lot worse when, er, he doesn’t and the ball goes to ground.

Thomas Burgess and teammates look on. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

11 – Canterbury Bulldogs (-)

The Bulldogs are a genuinely good football team at the moment and, yes, I would back them to beat St George Illawarra, who are currently in the top eight.

The trajectory is largely what I care about. While the sample size is small, the general mood, the style of play, the feeling that they are happy to be there: all these elements combine to make me believe.

This might be perhaps because I see the Bulldogs a lot – more than, say, the Dragons – but also because they have reached the points of nothing to lose. If you’re going to be rubbish, and lots of teams are, then the Dogs are at least fun and rubbish. Thus, they are above the Dragons.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 19: Matt Burton of the Bulldogs celebrates victory with fans after the round 15 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Wests Tigers at CommBank Stadium, on June 19, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Matt Burton. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

12 – St George Illawarra Dragons (-)

“If you’ve been reading this column all year you’ll likely be aware I do not rate the Dragons one little bit” is how this entry started last week and I still don’t rate them.

Alright, let’s qualify that: they are better at rugby league than most of the very bad teams, and there are sufficient very bad teams for St George Illawarra to not embarrass themselves. They are competent and grinding, and if you play badly, as South Sydney did on Thursday, they have enough to beat you.

That’s the good stuff. The bad is that I have no idea how they think you win games of footy – other than the other team being bad – and even in defeating Souths, their attack didn’t really look that great, it was more that the Bunnies failed to tackle them. All attacks look good when the defence doesn’t tackle them.

There is enormous talent in this squad for sure: Ben Hunt, obviously, but also Mat Feagai, Junior Amone, Zac Lomax, Moses Suli…I could go on into the NSW Cup side too. A better coach would have them far higher up.

All I can see is that they are treading water until they can bounce big earners off the salary cap and, if they were out of finals contention, it might actually be better in the long run because they’d be getting experience into young players now rather than vaingloriously trying to lose in the first week.

13 – Newcastle Knights (-)

Newcastle showed that great fighting spirit to come back against a Canberra side that kept giving them the ball and asking them to do their worst with it. Newcastle also failed to make crucial tackles that lead to them being unable to win a game that the Raiders did absolutely everything in their power to lose.

The Knights, as I have expressed in these pages before, are about the 12th best team in the NRL and sit 12th on the ladder, so I don’t really get all the issues around Adam O’Brien: they have endured the worst injuries of any team, have a wholly unbalanced salary cap that rewards a fullback they should have let walk, and don’t have a settled halfback 14 rounds in.

Some of that is on the coach but a lot is on other things other than the coach. I’m not sure he’s going to make it any better long-term, but I don’t know that he isn’t actually the only thing holding it all together. Stick, not twist for now. And sign a halfback, plese.

14 – Wests Tigers (-)

The Wests Tigers were horrendous, again, but that’s barely noteworthy at this point. They remain in 14th, though I’m not sure why – perhaps because the Titans and Warriors are just as bad and they’re all symbolically last.

Getting Adam Doueihi back is a good thing, so there’s that, and I can see a world where he goes to 6, Luke Brooks goes to 7, Jackson Hastings goes to 13 and then they are a lot more fun to watch and beat some other teams (while losing to most).

I’ve sat in both of Brett Kimmorley’s two press conferences and all of Mick Potter’s and the difference in demeanour between the pair is stark.

Potter, from his first media appearance, lifted all the pressure off the players and onto himself, because he hasn’t (or at least says he hasn’t) got any aspirations to be there long-term and thus can shoulder it easily. If they lose, who cares, he’s only there until the end of the season anyway.

Noddy, unfortunately, sees this as his audition and thus has a material interest in results. That coincides with a team that is at rock bottom confidence-wise, and needs someone to put the arm round, remind them that they’re footballers, that football is fun and they should just enjoy it. Serious face time this is not.

That’s my tip, Brett. Make this less about the siege mentality and more about the simplification. It’s bonding session time, not honesty session time.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24: Tigers NYC coach Brett Kimmorley gives instructions from the bench during the round 20 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on July 24, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

15 – Gold Coast Titans (-)

Hands in the air time again – I didn’t see the Titans game against the Sharks as I was en route to another fixture. The scoreline suggests they did a little better than they usually do, but given they usually do horrifically, then that might be damning with the faintest of praise.

The team are still poor and don’t appear to be getting better, but on the plus side, their next outing is at lowly Newcastle in what will later be described as the most 6pm Friday kick-off of all time.

Justin Holbrook is still in a job, which might not be a bad call, because there are few replacements for him and I’m not sure he is the issue here. Report back in two weeks for another round of “the Titans, eh”.

16 – New Zealand Warriors (-)

We won’t be reading too much into the Warriors’ defeat to a Penrith side that are leagues, leagues above them and never got out of first gear. The betting line for this game was +34.5 for the Panthers and they surpassed it, even if it took to the last second.

Reece Walsh went alright though, which is good, and it marked the end of their stint in Redcliffe, with a return to New Zealand imminent and, luckily enough, the Tigers the lambs to the slaughter on opening night at Mt Smart Stadium.

Stacey Jones is in a similar boat to Kimmorley: he needs to make playing for this team fun again, and to make them believe that they can compete with better sides. Their upcoming draw is actually really hard, too, with Parra in Parra and Canberra in Canberra before the Storm go to Auckland. It’s time for the benchmarking to come out, to track progress independent of results and to put. a bit of joy back into everything. Play with freedom.

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