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Big pen through Red V, Souths surge and a new side prowling behind Panthers

Eighteen was a good time. When I was 18, the Arctic Monkeys were riding high in the charts, giving young blokes with nasal voices and low vowels undeserved confidence. No Country for Old Men came out. Celtic won the league by 12 points. Falcon days, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Round 18 was pretty good too. Manly, Souths, the Roosters and the Bulldogs put on some of the best attacking footy we’ve seen in a long time, genuine good stuff based on chucking the ball about and having a crack.

We got clarity on the route to the finals, and – apologies to their fans, but no apologies for those who have to watch their games – it looks like that probably won’t include the Dragons. The big Red V pen can go through the team on the list of final contenders and it could also be going through the name Anthony Griffin.

They’re just one of the storylines that will dominate our Power Rankings for this week. We’re going to go big on some, and not big on others, because I’m into full on cat-skinning territory about how rubbish the Wests Tigers are/how good the Panthers are. Here goes nothing.

1 – Penrith Panthers (-)

Those Panthers keep on a-Panthering. Their NSW Cup team is better than the Wests Tigers, which tells you everything you need to know about both organisations.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

two – Parramatta Eels (+2)

Parramatta beat the rubbish Warriors and the even-more-rubbish Tigers and someone jumped up to second. Weird, right? Well…

Look: this list is based on performances and how I think teams will go in the rest of the season based on the form shown to date. Melbourne were second, but they’ve lost three on the spin and will be without Ryan Papenhuyzen, so they have to drop.

Logically, the next in line would be the Cowboys, who lost to Cronulla and I would back to lose to the Eels in finals, and the Sharks themselves, who are decent but probably the fifth strongest team in the NRL.

Therefore, with little confidence, I present to you the second best team in the comp and your presumptive Grand Finalists, the Parramatta Eels. Imagine their excitement when they get there, and their faces when they lose.

3 – North Queensland Cowboys (-)

The Cowboys just lost to the Sharks, but they did have a lot of bodies out and will get them back soon. That result wasn’t really a fair reflection of where either team is.

That said, North Queensland remain, to me at least, questionable against the absolute best in the league and probably one year off a real tint at the Premiership: if they faced the Roosters, Eels, Souths or Manly in the early rounds of the finals , I would worry about them.

That said, they’ve got a very soft run ahead of them – Tigers, Dragons, Dogs – and will have a top four place and probably second spot sewn up by the time they go to the Roosters and Rabbitohs in the middle of August. If they can win in Sydney against a good team, I’ll take them seriously. No, I don’t count that Manly game, as they should have lost.

4 – Melbourne Storm (-2)

The Storm have now lost three in a row and will be missing one of their key players for the rest of the season in Ryan Papenhuyzen.

You never put a pen through them, because they have limitless potential and resolve, but it does become harder to back Melbourne in when they’re in this kind of a trot.

That said, slipping out of the top four is probably less of a concern for the Storm because they’re used to winning all the time, and getting a nice easy home fixture in week one to turn up will likely sharpen the tools and fire them up.

No Papi is bad, obviously, but they’re kind of used to it by now. Nick Meaney SZN is upon us again.

5 – Cronulla Sharks (-)

The Sharkies are joint second in the NRL, yet still seem slightly underwhelming. They did unbelievably well in the Origin period, going unbeaten, but they had a fairly simply trot against a succession of bottom four teams and an undermanned Storm.

Wins is wins, however, and Cronulla seem assured of the top four: with Melbourne now without troops, Brisbane also lacking bodies and, realistically, only the Eels pushing in the other direction, it’s hard to see how the Sharks don’t make it in.

After that, all bets are off. A trip to Penrith on Saturday teatime will give us an idea of ​​their ability to challenge the very best – that’s likely to be their week one finals assignment, too – so we’ll circle back next week for more.

6 – Brisbane Broncos (-)

It’s been mentioned in these pages before that simply making the finals at all is going to be enough for the Broncos to consider this season a big success. Their trajectory is one way only after years of pain.

This week saw another win, with another depleted squad, and Suncorp Stadium is fast becoming a fortress again. If they make the top six and get a final home, it will be a huge advantage in getting a week two of knockout footy.

This next few weeks will go a long way to telling us where they end up after that. This Thursday night they travel to Parramatta in what is likely to be a straight shootout for the top four – whoever loses will really struggle to make it – and in Round 20, they make the same trip to face the Roosters.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 16: Adam Reynolds of the Broncos runs the ball during the round 18 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Brisbane Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium, on July 16, 2022, in Gold Coast, Australia.  (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Adam Reynolds. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

7 – Manly Sea Eagles (-)

How about them Sea Eagles? Manly’s scores have been improving massively, and while that is admittedly helped by run-ins with the Warriors, Tigers and now Knights over the rep period, they have racked them up against the Cowboys and Storm too.

There’s something brewing on the beaches. The attack looks great and the defense, while never that impressive, can get better.

They’re still in the boat of needing to make 12 wins minimum to make finals, but that road looks a lot easier now with three of the next five at Fortress Brookie – blockbusters against the Roosters, Eels and Sharks no less – and trips to the tanking Dragons and the useless Titans.

They have nine wins and need twelve, so it suddenly looks more than doable. They round out with trips to the Raiders and Dogs, too, both of whom might be on the beach by the time Manly roll into town.

8 – South Sydney Rabbitohs (+1)

Souths are now clear frontrunners for the top eight. Not just because they’ve got the wins on the board – ten of the twelve – but because they suddenly look like world-beaters.

Latrell Mitchell, if you listened to the Fox commentary, is the new Tom Trbojevic, although I’m pretty sure he’s just the old Latrell Mitchell, which is a properly elite fullback. He breeds confidence into Cody Walker and Lachlan Ilias, and when they add a Cameron Murray and Damien Cook back into the team, it looks like the only way is up.

Souths’ run in is very tough, with only the Warriors at home – well, on the Sunshine Coast – a game that you would say is a banker, but in the form that they are in right now, you’d back them to beat anyone. Melbourne on Saturday night at Homebush should be an absolute cracker.

9 – Sydney Roosters (-1)

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. This week’s installation of Joey Manu: Five Eighth went very well for Trent Robinson and now he has a big question ahead of him if Luke Keary is to return.

Unfortunately for the Roosters, necessity might strike and force Manu back to the centers to cover for Billy Smith, who went down with an ACL tear, and they lost Sitili Tuponiua and Siosiua Taukeiaho too. They can’t take a trick at times.

Their #RoadToTwelve, a phrase I’ve just invented, takes in some tough trips and despite a new found ability to score points, they’ll do well to make it.

They have four games at home, including the Cowboys, Broncos and then a stadium opener against the Bunnies at the new SFS, plus the aforementioned trip to Manly. It’s not out of their hands yet, but it’s fast entering ‘big ask’ territory.

(Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

10 – Canberra Raiders (+1)

There was time, not long ago, when you would have got $3 on the Raiders finishing in the top eight. Now, it’s closer to $5. That late call against the Dragons might well come back to bite them on the behind, because winning in Melbourne isn’t worth much if you’re merely canceling out your previous bad results.

They’ve got four wins to get from the remaining seven matches, and that’s not impossible, they’re the team that most gives me the impression that they will lose to bad teams. The Warriors and Titans are next: lose either and the big red pen will be coming out.

For now, though, it’s possible. Theirs is, theoretically, the easiest schedule. Manly in Round 24 could be make or break for both teams.

Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

eleven – St George Illawarra Dragons (-1)

The big red pen is out. The Dragons are doneskis. Technically they’re in the same boat as Canberra, but come on: can you see them winning four games? They get the Tigers and Titans, but after that…nope.

This might be a good thing for them, as the time has come to give their young players a run, and hope springs eternal, but as long as Anthony Griffin is in charge, I doubt that will happen.

12 – Canterbury Bulldogs (-1)

The Bulldogs are the best crash in the NRL. Running around, having a go, losing high-scoring clashes. I asked Mick Potter on Sunday evening at Homebush if he thought it was more fun to be a Doggies player under him than it was before, and he replied that winning was fun.

That’s true, but come on: the place was a graveyard and now it’s not.

13 – Newcastle Knights (-)

Newcastle have been mullered by injuries and, just when they looked like they were in the argument on Saturday teatime, they lost their best winger – and key set starter – and their best edge forward. They’re on their 10th spine of the year. They’ve had by far the most long-term outs.

Adam O’Brien may or may not be the man to take them forward, but let’s be honest: Jack Gibson couldn’t have taken them much higher with the knocks they’ve taken in 2022.

The Warriors’ defense cuts down Eels skipper Clint Gutherson. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

14 – New Zealand Warriors (-)

The Warriors aren’t as good as Parramatta, as came on Friday night, but had a crack. There’s not much more to say other than that they’re probably better than the Tigers and Titans but worse than everyone else. New coach can’t come soon enough.

15 – Wests Tigers (-)

Remember what we said about the Panthers up at the top? That, but the other way around. Going nowhere, and fast.

16 – Gold Coast Titans (-)

I was in the pub after the Manly game on Saturday night and the second half of the Titans game was on the telly. Rugby union was on the other. The Titans, the worst team in the NRL, are better than England and Australia at rugby football, which is about the politest thing I can say about them and really only reveals my true thoughts on the physical education programs of expensive schools.

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