SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 26: Chad Townsend of the Sharks celebrates scoring a try during the round 24 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Newcastle Knights at Southern Cross Group Stadium on August 26, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

1. Storm (2)

The Storm looked to have locked up a third straight minor premiership with a gritty two-point win over the Titans. They now sit two points clear of the chasing pack with a 33 points differential lead. They made it painful on Saturday evening but the fact is they got it done. That seems to be a trait for this Storm side who looks like premiership favourites despite not having a full time, first choice half back. Cam Munster shapes as the key to their title charge. Talk has started of this side going back to back. It’s well and truly on.

2. Sharks (3)

The Sharks are the dark horse of the competition. They are playing some horrible, error-filled football but they continue to win. They’ve been playing semi final’s footy for a month now and this has a real 2016 feel about it. Andrew Fifita looked like a man possessed, as did Josh Dugan. Kyle Flanagan enjoyed a successful debut and now has NRL footy under his belt heading into the finals. Valentine Holmes is arguably the in-form player across the entire competition and could lead his side to a second grand final in three years. A top four spot now beckons.

3. Roosters (1)

The Roosters have fallen from premiership favourites into a genuine battle for home ground advantage in week one of the finals following two straight losses. Defeats to the Broncos and Raiders have revealed some genuine cracks in the Roosters armour. It looks as though their title tilt will have to advance without Dylan Napa after a horror tackle gone wrong will cost him three weeks. Luke Keary was quiet on return while Cooper Cronk was reduced to spectator at times.

4. Broncos (6)

The Broncos sent a loud and very clear message about their title credentials with a huge win over the Roosters. Anthony Milford kicked the Roosters into submission while the Broncos big men won almost every battle. Jamayne Issako and Corey Oates were strong at both ends of the park. James Roberts won his battle with Origin team mate Latrell Mitchell with relative ease. Anyone who thought about ruling the Broncs out will be thinking far differently after this 80 minute effort.

5. Warriors (7)

The Warriors have gone from finals also-rants to genuine threats over the past few weeks. They play the kind of footy that can break any side’s defense. Their big three attacking threats in RTS, Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke are running hot right now on the back of a dominant forward pack. The Fus now sits a try clear from Holmes as the season’s top try scorer after a hatty against the Panthers. They absolutely wiped the Panthers on Friday evening. Good signs.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – AUGUST 24: Shaun Johnson of the Warriors in action during the round 24 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium on August 24, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

6. Rabbitohs (4)

The Bunnies have had a horror month following their incredible winning streak. I still don’t think you can write them off as finals footy is a completely different game, but they were outplayed by a side without any real motivation in the capital. The over reliance on the Burgess boys is starting to show as Angus Crichton, Cameron Murray and John Sutton have failed to lift. GI looked good upon his return with George Jennings still to return. Its not over yet.

7. Panthers (5)

Last night I tweeted that I believed anyone inside the top eight could win, except the Panthers. I now add the Dragons to that list but I stand by my comment. This Panthers side cannot win the title. They were played off the park for the second straight week by the Warriors. There aren’t too any positives to come out of this despite the fact James Maloney is still to return. With rumours he is being shopped around, I think the Panthers need more than that.

8. Dragons (8)

Yuk! I feel awful for placing the Dragons in eighth on this list. On pure form they should be 15th. They have been terrible over the past month and yesterday was the worst of the worst. I have literally nothing good to say about their ‘efforts’ yesterday other than they deserved every single boo they received. Ben Hunt had another nightmare. Why in the world was Matt Dufty on the bench? What is going on!? They pretty much threw away their top four chances.

9. Raiders (11)

Where has this been all season? The Raiders have beaten the Rabbits and Roosters over the past fortnight and look like a side who could genuinely go on to win the title. It’s incredible what taking the pressure off a side can do. They’re playing fancy free footy behind a huge and dominant pack. Seriously, where has this been all season? I cannot believe Blake Austin is on his way out of the club.

10. Tigers (9)

The Tigers will miss finals footy, yet again, despite their two-point win over Manly on Thursday night. They managed to hold on after almost bottling a game they had sewn up with twenty minutes to go. The Tigers have been good more times they have been bad in 2018 but their failure to put Manly away proves they’d be bounced round one of finals regardless.

11. Bulldogs (14)

Here come the Doggies!!! Wow that Lachlan Lewis is quite the player. He has so much time! Remis Smith is an absolute freak in open space. He snapped Matt Dufty’s ankles on more than one occasion with his footwork. The Morris boys had another brilliant game at their former home. It’s a shame to see them having to move on from the club next season. The Dogs big men had a field day against their bigger name opponents. The Sharks have a tough final up fixture against this in form Dogs side.

12. Titans (10)

Dead set. This Titans side is an absolute punish to watch sometimes. Seriously, they were just about perfect in that first 40 minutes. If they’d taken those final few passes they could have lead by 20 points over the minor premiers elect. Come the second half and you’d be forgiven for asking if the same side came out of the sheds. I am a huge fan of Aj Brimson. What a star!

13. Knights (13)

The Knights were brave yesterday in holding the Sharks for as long as they did. Injuries have ravaged this squad and their season is long gone. For 55 minutes they were right in the game before the Sharks ran riot. Pearce was forced to play a lone hand and the Sharks defense had his number. Ken Sio is a pretty handy player, hard to contain when he gets going.

14. Cowboys (16)

JT exited 1300 Smiles Stadium with a huge bang. What a performance from the heroic number seven. I bet the Eels wished they hadn’t been drawn into this fixture. Thurston and the Cowboys ran riot on Friday evening. Ben Hampton ran like a man possessed. The Cowboys pack were absolute monsters here. There was no side in the game beating the Cowboys on this night.

15. Eels (12)

Yuk! The Eels deserve their wooden spoon. They were smacked silly with it by Ben Hampton and co. on Friday night in Townsville. Their horrible, horrible season will come to an end next weekend. I’m not even looking ahead to the fixtures, they’ll lose and finish last.

16. Sea Eagles (15)

Manly probably don’t deserve to be in bottom spot here given their efforts were hugely improved on those of the Eels a night later, but I stand by my comment that Manly are the worst side in the competition right now. Trent Barrett will reportedly announce his split from the club as soon as tomorrow and who can blame him. That said, those Turbo brothers are ridiculously talented. DCE had a great night also. It’s a shame that kick fell short. Good effort.

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