NRL Power Rankings: Round 8 – Rabbits hit rock bottom, Warriors show signs of complacency, Dragons’ bubble bursts


The season is heading into its middle third and there is a clear separation between seven teams who all look playoff bound and the other 10 fighting over the one remaining spot. 

Competition leaders Cronulla have done all they possibly can in the first two months of the season to show they belong in the conversation with Penrith, Brisbane and Melbourne at the big table of premiership contenders.

Manly, the Roosters and Warriors are hoping to get a seat alongside the big boys but also look relative surefire bets to be in the playoffs despite hot and cold patches thus far.

As for the rest, there are glaring flaws in any case you mount to say they are anything more than making up the numbers if they make the playoffs although it’s premature to put a red line through any team just yet – although the Titans and Rabbitohs are close to being in the dreaded “playing for pride” situation before the premiership even reaches the halfway mark.

Dragons fans are currently on the Bart Simpson chalkboard, writing “I must not put too much faith in this team” over and over after their Anzac Day embarrassment at the hands of the Roosters while Dolphins supporters could perhaps do likewise although they had much more of an excuse for their poor performance in losing to Newcastle on Sunday in that they still have several of their first-choice players out.

Team by team, here’s how the Power Rankings stack up after Round 7.

1 Panthers (last week 1): An under-appreciated part of what makes Nathan Cleary such a great player is his defence – he puts his body on the line even though he’s giving up plenty of kilograms when a forward runs his way. 

And for those wondering if losing Sunia Turuva to the Tigers will be a huge blow to Penrith’s firepower out wide only had to see Paul Alamoti’s performance to realise the premiers’ depth remains the envy of the league.

(Photo by Izhar Khan/Getty Images)

2 Broncos (3): They get a bump up this week because they are now back to full strength and as much as it’s usually the obvious prediction to say a Grand Final rematch is on the cards, Brisbane look the team most likely to threaten Penrith’s supremacy in 2024.

Reece Walsh is causing defensive lines nightmares – his pace off the mark is the difference between opponents thinking they have him covered and then being forced into a grab rather than a proper tackle. And he has the speed to break out of any half-hearted attempt.

3 Storm (2): In round numbers, they were good for 60 of the 80 minutes against Souths and that’s all you need these days to put 50 on the rabble that is the Rabbitohs. 

But they were flat early in the second half in allowing three straight tries, the kind of lapse that will be much more costly if they do it against fellow contenders.

4 Sharks (4): Their strength is their stability. The majority of the players in Craig Fitzgibbon’s side have been playing together for at least three seasons and they all fit their role to a tee.

Nicho Hynes is in the kind of form that could propel him to a second Dally M Medal and it should get him back in the NSW Origin side.

Nicho Hynes. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

5 Sea Eagles (5): They were lucky in some ways against Parramatta but they were also much more professional than their opponents with their discipline. 

When they got on a roll in the second half it was pretty to watch and although they weren’t at their best, it’s not their fault if opposition players want to give the referee an open-and-shut case to send them to the sin bin. 

6 Roosters (7): There’s been two teams playing under Trent Robinson this year – the listless bunch who can’t get organised when Sam Walker is out and the potent strike force that took the field last Thursday which demolished the Dragons.

Make no mistake about it – Walker is their most important player even though he does not have the star power of Joey Manu, James Tedesco or Joseph Suaalii. If he stays on the park, they will be top-four contenders.

7 Warriors (6): The loss the previous week in Wollongong was supposed to be the reality check for Andrew Webster’s team but that doesn’t appear to have been the case after going down at home to the previously winless Titans.

It used to be that players were accused of “reading their own press” when they started to show signs of complacency – is the modern equivalent “scrolling through their own social feed”? 

8 Dolphins (8): They had a gift-wrapped opportunity to reinforce their playoff credentials in the form of a Kalyn Ponga-less Knights team being delivered to Suncorp Stadium but the Dolphins did not want to do the hard yards. 

To be fair, they are without a few key players themselves but until Herbie Farnworth and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow return, this team will not be giving the top teams too much discomfort.

9 Cowboys (10): Their narrow loss to Penrith proved two things – they are not in the class of the top-four teams and they’re probably the “best of the rest” when it comes to the bottom half of the NRL that can’t get their act together. 

It will be interesting to see if Todd Payten makes any significant changes – apart from Heilum Luki and Coen Hess being sidelined, he’s had his main players on the field pretty much every game this year but they can’t seem to mesh their attacking firepower and forward strength into a cohesive unit.

10 Dragons (9): Many apologies for daring to mention that St George Illawarra could be a chance at the finals this year in last week’s Power Rankings. It won’t happen again. 

The red and white bubble well and truly burst on Anzac Day – at the start of the season they looked like they’d be a gritty side that would compete hard every week and have a lot of honourable losses. Then they started taking down a few big scalps it appeared they could vault up the ladder but they lack the consistency to be a legit shot at the playoffs.

11 Bulldogs (12): They are occupying the bottom rung of the top eight on the actual NRL ladder and if they can keep their big guns on the park, they look the most likely to rise from the teams that are sputtering at the wrong end of the standings.

Canterbury have won three of their past five and have not put in a bad performance since the opening fortnight. 

David Armstrong scores. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

12 Knights (14): They are still a long way from their best but at least they showed they have a capable back-up in David Armstrong to fill Ponga’s fullback boots while his foot heals. 

Newcastle fans are a hardy bunch and they deserve to see the kind of effort that the team displayed on Sunday rather than the lack of commitment which has been all too evident in the previous seven rounds.

13 Raiders (11): The Green Machine are running out of puff as the injuries mount. 

Long term it’s not going to be a bad thing for their rising stars like Ethan Strange, Xavier Savage, Chevy Stewart and Kaeo Weekes getting plenty of reps at the NRL level but short term pain will persist over the next couple of months.

14 Eels (13): Arguing about the referee not using the sin bin for a dangerous throw is kind of pointless when you had two players given a 10-minute breather for dopey acts. 

Parra’s playoff push is far from over but even when Mitchell Moses comes back next month from his broken foot, it’s hard to see this team get anywhere near the pointy end of the ladder.

15 Wests Tigers (15): They were outclassed pure and simple against Brisbane. 

As is often the case with this club, they don’t play at one of their designated home grounds for the next six weeks – they’re taking one game to Tamworth and will be one of the host teams at Magic Round. It could be a tough stretch for Benji Marshall’s 15th-placed team in their bid to avoid a third straight wooden spoon.

16 Titans (17): Nobody saw that coming, particularly the Warriors. 

AJ Brimson is the best fullback in the club and should be given the role permanently even when Jayden Campbell comes back from his latest injury. 

Des Hasler can take a leaf out of John Lang’s playbook from 2001 when he put Jayden’s old man Preston in the halves despite his defensive frailties and it not only rejuvenated his career but propelled him to the Dally M Medal.

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

17 Rabbitohs (16): There is nothing good you can say about Souths at the moment. 

The encouraging performance from a few weeks ago against Cronulla appears to have been a “dead cat bounce” effort to save Jason Demetriou’s skin but it’s hard for a team with this many deficiencies to do that on a regular basis.  

After conceding 54 in Melbourne, it could get even uglier this Thursday against Penrith.

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