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Cowboys up, Broncos down and Ricky’s Raiders in with a chance


That’s 20 done, five to go. It’s like that Johnny Cash song where he imagines the last halfa in the life of a condemned man, except that sounds more fun than watching Newcastle try yet another hit-up on the opposition line.

They had 48 tackles inside the Bulldogs’ 20 on Sunday for a grand total of two tries. I want that time back.

Where was I? Yes, Round 20 is in the books and what a round it was, Newcastle’s attack aside.

Manly had a Pride jersey (that’s good). Nathan Cleary got sent off (that’s bad). Wests Tigers won a match (that’s good). Latrell Mitchell produced some of the worst field goal attempts since … actually I just remembered the Titans v Dragons missathon at Magic. (That’s bad). Remember the Titans, what a film. Where were we?

Oh yeah. Power Rankings. This was a good round for ranking things, because all the final results are still up for grabs. The minor premiers were brought back to the pack, the top four is still up for grabs and the top eight is anyone’s guess. Even the spoon is still undecided.

Let’s go through it all.

1 – Penrith Panthers (-)

A rare defeat this week, but what do you expect when your halfback and best player gets sent off after 20 minutes?

There’s two ways to look at this one for Ivan Cleary: on the one hand, his team actually played really well when they were forced to cope without Nathan pulling the string, and won the second half.

On the other, they were losing the game (long way to go, but still…) when the young bloke was punted. Parra seem to have their number and were on it from the start. Please let those two meet in the finals.

Dylan Brown is tackled dangerously by Nathan Cleary. (Photo by Joshua Davis/Getty Images)

2 – North Queensland Cowboys (+1)

Another comprehensive win for North Queensland, who were as good as they had to be before the break against the Dragons and then exceptional after it, aided by some terrible tackling.

Beating the Dragons, regular readers will know, gets you nowt in my book. Any team that is half decent and plays half decently will have enough against severely limited opposition.

I do death ride the Cowboys quite a lot but you really can’t argue with their results, and on Sunday, with the manner of them. Scott Drinkwater and Jeremiah Nanai are good examples of what I remain unconvinced on: they’re excellent attacking players but in the white heat of the finals, will they be as good?

Until such a moment as they get to test that: they are up into second on my list.

3 – Cronulla Sharks (+2)

The Sharkies have gone 3-1 in the past month against the Storm, Cowboys, Panthers and now Souths, with the only loss coming against the last iteration of full-strength Penrith that we’ll get until the finals.

I don’t read too much into golden-point games, because they’re essentially draws with shootouts attached, but it’s another week, another win for Cronulla and their draw to round out the year is softer than cheese left on a radiator, with only bottom eight teams from here out.

They might finish second, they certainly should finish third, and there’ll be no fear for Fitzy come finals. He’s already ahead of schedule.

4 – Brisbane Broncos (-2)

Speaking of ahead of schedule: the Broncos. The reverse to the Tigers on Saturday night was a killer blow to tippers and gamblers everywhere, and proved that despite the incredible progress seen over the last year, Kevvie’s men are still far from the finished article.

A top-eight finish will be more than sufficient for 2022 for Brisbane, and if it comes with a home final, then all the better for it.

They might be in the ‘lose one to win one’ stage of finals footy and the experience will do them no end of good. It’s hard to see them troubling a Panthers, Storm or Cowboys in a knockout game, and if they come fifth and get the Roosters, that might be tough too – but they’ll have nothing to lose whoever they face.

5 – Melbourne Storm (-1)

Back to winning ways for Melbourne, so at least we don’t have to talk about that anymore, but not exactly encouraging stuff. There was little revelatory about their performance in Auckland: yes, they are better than the Warriors, no, they don’t appear to have fixed their defensive issues out wide.

A team that includes Cam Munster, Jahrome Hughes and Harry Grant is going to win a lot of games on talent alone, and will likely score a lot of points in the process. Rugby league is a weak link sport, however, and the manner in which Edward Kosi – not a world beater – found space along his wing will be very concerning.

The Storm get a lay up this week against the Titans – that could be any score at all – but thereafter, they have trips to Penrith, Brisbane and Parramatta, plus a home game with the resurgent Roosters. The defence will be tested.

6 – South Sydney Rabbitohs (-)

Guess what time it is? That’s right: good defeat time. This week’s pat on the head goes to the Bunnies, who had three chances to win against the Sharks and Latrell Mitchell sent all of them wide.

In terms of their recent upwards trajectory, losing late in golden point means nothing, because Souths proved that amid uncertainty, on-the-fly changes and adversity, they could still compete away from home with one of the best teams.

This loss will likely prove highly valuable at the end of the year, not least because it will end any chances of Latrell playing anywhere other than fullback. Everyone else moves around him now.

The top four ramifications, however, might be an issue. It would take Souths to win all four of their games and other results to go their way for them to get a second crack in the finals. A win on Satruday evening would have helped, a lot, in that regard.

Still: if they keep playing like this, nobody will want to face them in a knockout game. Just practice field goals a bit more.

Maika Sivo scores a try. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

7 – Parramatta Eels (-)

You know what I said above about Penrith? That, in reverse. Parramatta beat a 12-man Panthers, and were playing great before they had Cleary sent off, but then dropped off a cliff after half-time.

They really struggle to maintain intensity over long periods, especially against better teams, but sometimes also against bad teams. Their interchanges seem designed to lose momentum, with two players – Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard – exceptional and then a precipitous dropoff thereafter.

They are level on 26 points with the Storm and Broncos going for that final top four place, but without halfback Mitchell Moses, who broke his finger in the win on Friday night, one fears for them. They drastically need to beat Manly on Friday.

8 – Sydney Roosters (-)

In a weekend where everything happened, it’s hard to remember that there was also a bizarre game of rugby league played on Thursday night.

The Roosters beat Manly, kinda comfortably but also underwhelmingly. If you’ll allow a dalliance into my trademark homespun Pommy wisdom: it was a game that felt like an early round Challenge Cup tie, where a Super League team still searching for their straps struggle to defeat a fired-up lower league side with a few wily heads in the halves and jobbers everywhere else.

Manly were spirited but limited, the Chooks were perfunctory and nothing more. You never felt they’d lose, but they were also rubbish. They’ll need to be a lot better against Brisbane.

9 – Canberra Raiders (+2)

Canberra never really look that convincing, but were more than good enough to get over the Titans on Saturday afternoon. Even when they’re good they often look rubbish, but that is just their style at the moment and if it keeps delivering two points against overmatched opposition, then Ricky Stuart will be happy enough.

The Raiders get first crack at the new-look, Cleary and Luai-less Panthers this weekend and if they win, it’s a coast to the finish line. 12 wins is the goal and they already have ten of them, with Dragons, Knights and Tigers still to play, plus Manly at home.

We’re actually entering the territory where 13 wins might become necessary, especially if the Roosters renaissance continues and Manly can get back into contention.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

10 – Manly Sea Eagles (-1)

On those Sea Eagles: Dessie will have been happy with the commitment against the Roosters and furious, I presume, that seven of his best lads decided to aim gun at foot on the eve of a potential make-or-break match.

If I were, say, Reuben Garrick, who has been exceptional and ran his blood to water for the cause on Thursday, I would be fuming my teammates decided to piss months of work up the wall.

The Sea Eages Seven will get a chance to redeem themselves to the group this Friday against Parra, which is now last-chance saloon for Manly. Lose that and the big red pen comes out.

Win, however … and you get Titans, as guaranteed a two points as exists in rugby league at the moment, then the Sharks, who might be resting players by that point, then a showdown with the Raiders, then the Bulldogs who will be on the beach. So you’re saying there’s a chance…

11 – St George Illawarra Dragons (-)

The Dragons are still mathematically possible but would have to start scoring bulk points to overturn their deficit to all of their finals rivals.

They won’t, so I’ll say no more. See you next year, St George Illawarra. Try to work on some attack over the summer.

12 – Canterbury Bulldogs (-)

The freewheeling Canterbury Bulldogs continue their vibes train up the league. Readers of this column for a long time will know that I often ranked the Dogs as high as twelfth, even under Trent Barrett, because there was something in the effort and dig that made me believe that there was a team in there.

Now the shackles are well and truly off, and it’s a pleasure to see. They’re fun. That’s it. I ask nothing more from my rubbish teams than that they give you a reason to watch them. I hope they keep Mick Potter for next year because every game will end 32-30. Not sure who to, but that’s the joy of it.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31: Jacob Kiraz of the Bulldogs scores a try during the round 20 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Canterbury Bulldogs at McDonald Jones Stadium, on July 31, 2022, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Jacob Kiraz scores. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

13 – New Zealand Warriors (+1)

I really don’t have anything to say about the Warriors, other than that if you watch the YouTube highlights of their games – I only saw the second half, so did a recap – you often get the highly superior Kiwi commentary.

Why do I have to listen to two blokes in Moore Park discuss the game they’re watching on the telly when there’s another feed available from people who are in the ground and can pronounce the players’ names properly?

14 – Wests Tigers (+1)

Justice! Well, sort of. It’s so Wests Tigers that they have managed to beat three sides that are nailed on to make the finals, and pretty much beat a fourth until the incident last week, but still have just four wins all year.

It’s also very, very Wests Tigers to lose their best player for the season just as they start to look decent too. They are an interesting case point for the rest of the year: they have the Roosters and Raiders, plus the Sharks, so could put the kibosh on a lot of teams with something to play for while themselves having nothing to play for.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 30: Daine Laurie of the Tigers attempts to break away from the defence during the round 20 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium, on July 30, 2022, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Daine Laurie. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

15 – Newcastle Knights (-2)

The Knights cannot wait for this season to end. They can’t tackle, can’t attack and don’t seem interested. Adam O’Brien has been dealt a poor hand in terms of injuries, but that only goes so far.

Finishing last after winning your first two games is quite the feat, but it’s more than achievable: there’s a proper spoonbowl in the offing on the Gold Coast in Round 23.

16 – Gold Coast Titans (-)

I’d say the Titans were on the beach but the Gold Coast is essentially one big beach so that metaphor doesn’t really work. They couldn’t be more checked out of NRL 2022 if they turned up to next week’s loss to Melbourne with inflatables wrapped around them.

Brian Kelly has a beach towel. Erin Clark brought the bat and ball. Patrick Herbert has a fishing rod. In fact, if Herbert went fishing, it would be the closest to a tackle that he’s got all year.





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