1. Panthers

The Panthers announced themselves as title favourites (if they weren’t already) by banishing the Premiers in a brilliant contest on Friday night. It honestly looked as though the pressure might have gotten to the young side in the early stages as the Roosters shot out to an early lead. Thankfully for fans of the Riff, the Minor Premiers fought back to lead 22-10 at halftime.

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Although the score says a Nathan Cleary field goal was the difference, Penrith let their attention slip late in allowing Angus Crichton to score and make this closer than it deserved to be. Cleary, as well as slotting the ultimate match winning field goal, managed to score a hat-trick as well as kicking 4/5 and adding a penalty goal. It was a monster effort for the Origin halfback.

NRL Rd 6 - Panthers v Storm
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 19: Nathan Cleary of the Panthers celebrates after scoring a field goal during the round six NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Melbourne Storm at Campbelltown Stadium on June 19, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

A 95% completion rate set them up brilliantly, however they also defended extremely well. The only dampen on the night was Kikau being placed on report and will miss the prelim. They now have a week to rest and prepare for the Bunnies or Eels.

2. Storm

The Storm can spend the week with their feet up after disposing of the Eels pretty handily on Saturday evening. Despite trailing early, they always looked a class above in the 36-24 win. Six tries in a final is pretty impressive, although this Storm team have proven they can do anything.

Ryan Papenhuyzen would play Origin in any other era. He scored another double and topped the running metres as per his norm. Josh Addo-Carr absolutely tore up the Eels right-hand defence. It was 12 all at half time however the ‘Foxx’ could have very easily made this mission impossible for the Eels.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 11: Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm is tackled by Clinton Gutherson of the Eels during the round nine NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium on May 11, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

A week off and no issues with suspensions has the Storm primed and ready to take on the Roosters or Raiders. The only potential issue may be a knock to Cam Munster. If he is ruled out of the prelim, it changes everything.

3. Roosters

The Roosters are going to be forced to do it the hard way if they’re going to defy history and defending their crown for a second straight season. A 29-28 loss to the red hot Panthers shouldn’t derail their season by any means, however a late try made this look closer than it probably deserved to be.

The Premiers stormed out of the gates and lead 10-0 within the opening ten minutes. It looked as though they may burst the Penrith bubble, however the next half hour was all Penrith, and the tri-colours hit the sheds trailing by two converted tries. The fact that James Tedesco seemed to be kept quiet despite topping almost every stat is frightening.

SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES – SEPTEMBER 30: James Tedesco of the Roosters is tackled during the 2018 NRL Grand Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on September 30, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The Chooks will now have to navigate an in form Raiders outfit, where we’ll be reminded 8000 times this week it is a Grand Final rematch. Kyle Flanagan handled his first finals appearance very well. Jake Friend and Sonny Bill Williams return this weekend. Both are monster inclusions.

4. Rabbitohs

The Bunnies followed the weekend trend of allowing their underdog opponents out to an early lead before chasing them down with relative ease. Even at 14-0 down you got the feeling Souths knew they would win this contest. Cody Walker was again in red hot form. I have no idea why Mitchell Pearce decided to provoke him.

The 46-20 scoreline over the Knights probably flatters the red and greens just a little bit, however they were almost as good as the result suggested. Damien Cook busted this game open on numerous occasions while Cam Murray bossed the middle. Reynolds and Walker did the rest.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 20: Cody Walker of the Rabbitohs celebrates scoring a try with Dane Gagai of the Rabbitohs during the NRL Semi Final match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Manly Sea Eagles at ANZ Stadium on September 20, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Led by their supremely experienced coach, the Bunnies look in a good spot to cause a boil over this weekend and make yet another prelim. Cody Walker is the only player pushing Nathan Cleary in terms of form right now. They’re really well set up.

5. Eels

Early on in their Saturday evening clash with the Storm, the Eels looked prime for a big game. They lead early and seemed to be have the Storm in check, however ran a distant second in the second stanza. Truthfully if Addo-Carr and co had been able to stick those last passes, the 12-all scoreline at half time could have been very different.

To be 6-0 up within the first two minutes, then 12-0 just outside 20 is the stuff dreams are made of. To then concede six tries and concede 36 points though will give Brad Arthur and co headaches. Shaun Lane was very good. King Gutho looks the most likely. Moses just couldn’t match Munster.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MAY 31: Blake Ferguson of the Eels looks on prior to the round 12 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Bankwest Stadium on May 31, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Unfortunately the Eels lost both their star wingers and enter their clash with the Bunnies by far the more vulnerable of the losing finalists from last week. Sivo is out for the season while Ferguson has been named despite a 50/50 shot.

6. Raiders

The Raiders made more difficult work of it than they really needed but ultimately disposed of a far distant second Sharks outfit on Saturday evening. Jack Wighton was again the star and shapes as the key for the Green Machine as they advance to face the Roosters with a shot at the decider on the line.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 19: Jack Wighton of the Raiders prepares to pass the ball during the round three NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Canberra Raiders at Hunter Stadium on March 19, 2016 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Trailing early, the Raiders had to rely on Sharks errors to turn momentum. I’m not sure the Roosters will be as giving in that respect. That said their bench really stood up and bossed the middle against a tiring Sharks side. George Williams intercept on half time completely turned the game.

They’ll need to improve in a big way to test the Roosters, however the Raiders are a real shot this weekend. Wighton and Williams are both in try scoring form while Tapine is a genuine star. Jordan Rapana was shaky and will need the game of his life (as a centre) this weekend.

Eliminated

7. Knights

The Knights ran out to an early lead against the Bunnies however never really looked like winning this game. From the second they took the penalty goal on offer to go up 14, it was all the Rabbitohs. Truthfully their best bet was a home semi, however a shock loss to the Titans last week cost them that luxury.

The lack of a regular spine, through some horror injuries, made this all the more difficult. Pearce just wasn’t able to spark the side after inexplicably stirring up the in-form Cody Walker. Ponga was barely sighted after the opening 20 minutes and will now likely miss Origin due to a shoulder injury. He really needs to work on keeping his feet under the high ball.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 07: Kalyn Ponga of the Newcastle Knights helps team mate Mitchell Pearce up during the round four NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the St George Illawarra Dragons at McDonald Jones Stadium on April 07, 2019 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

A return to the finals means this season will be viewed as a success however in terms of the finals, they were largely fodder despite being able to cause an early scare.

8. Sharks

The Sharks’ season mercifully ended at the hands of the Raiders in the capital. Fans, myself included, were frustrated by a series of strange moments, however the fact that Cronulla needed everything to go their way to be a shot says it all.

The second Shaun Johnson went down injured, the Sharks season was over. Chad Townsend played the opening 20 minutes like a man possessed but then regressed to the fringe first grader we’ve come to know and tolerate. Uele and Rudolf largely controlled the middle early on but as soon as they rested, Canberra took over.

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)

A season shock full of distractions and craziness saw them over achieve in making finals. Much like the Knights though, they were simply making up the numbers come the pointy end of the season. How good is Ronaldo? Love that kid.