NRL Power Rankings – Round 1: Panthers lead pack but look away Roosters, Sea Eagles and Sharks fans

featured, League, NRL, NRL 2022, NRL power rankings

If you don’t ever, ever, ever make judgements off trial form, when do you start judging?

Round 1, of course! Yeah, it’s a small sample size, and yeah, they’re still making connections, and double yeah, there’s clunkiness in attack.

But wait: didn’t these guys train the house down to the extent that there’s not a home still standing from Melbourne to Townsville? Didn’t they blow off every cobweb so much that homelessness among Australia’s spider population is at record levels?

They’ve all played, so let’s rank them. Here’s our first power rankings of NRL season 2022.

Power Rankings Round 1

1 – Penrith Panthers

Imagine not making the reigning champs favourites in their homecoming match on opening night. The smart NRL fans should have taken the bookies to the cleaners on that one.

The Panthers were superb on Thursday night, removing the Sea Eagles threat from minute one and battering them into submission. It took a while to make the pressure count, with a few bunker calls going against Penrith, but it wasn’t really ever a contest. They’re top of this list for the foreseeable future.

2 – Newcastle Knights

The Knights are way up based on expectations and it is fully deserved. Their Roosters boilover – as explained fully here – was perhaps the performance of the round and was based on having a really good plan and sticking to it. If their new halves pairing keeps going, their strike centres stay on the pitch and Dom Young keeps growing in confidence, they might surprise a few more.

With Wests Tigers up next on Sunday, it presents Newcastle with the chance to go 2-0 before running into the Panthers, Manly, Sharks and Dragons. They might need all the momentum they can get.

3 – Melbourne Storm

Melbourne won the most pyrrhic of victories on Saturday night. Their comeback over the Tigers showed all the hallmarks of Craig Bellamy’s teams of the past two decades, but the losses of George Jennings, Christian Welch and Brandon Smith will hit them very hard.

On the field, they pulled through against a Wests Tigers team that they likely shouldn’t have been losing to in the first place and ultimately pulled well clear of. One suspects that even without Jennings and Welch for the season, the Storm will still be right up there.

4 – St George Illawarra Dragons

The Dragons won, which is obviously a good start. They won away, too, which is even better. They won away against the Warriors, however, so it’s not a real away tie – and the Warriors are the tipper’s graveyard. Nobody has a clue what a win over them will be worth in a month’s time.

Things are looking up for St George Illawarra, especially with their young spine, and they passed the first test with flying colours. Next week against Penrith will give a better gauge on where they are, but for now, they’re in fourth.

5- Canberra Raiders

Canberra might have only squeaked by the Sharks, but squeak by they did and deserve their ranking. They won pretty much every metric against Cronulla and it was a much more dominant performance on the statistical side of things than anyone watching the game might have thought.

That in itself might be the problem. Despite running more, having more ball, tackling more effectively and winning the penalty count, the Raiders still managed to find themselves in a position where they chucked away a massive lead and needed late drama to win it. That’s why they aren’t higher.

6 – Brisbane Broncos

Execution is everything in rugby league. In a game of low scores against Souths, the Broncos took their chances and got the win. They competed with the beaten grand finalists and put themselves in a position to come out on top.

In terms of a culture win, Friday night was as good as it gets for Brisbane. Often in recent years, the Broncos have beaten themselves through poor effort plays and terrible decision making. They did none of that against the Bunnies and got their rewards. Whether they can do it consistently is something different, but for now, it’s looking good for Kevin Walters.

7 – Parramatta Eels

If you’re a Parra fan, you can look at their performance one of two ways. On one hand, they played quite badly, completed poorly, made a shedload of errors and still managed to get a lot of points on the board.

On the other hand, they defended horrendously, required more than a little luck from the referee and are now onto their fourth choice left winger, or even worse, defensively dependent on Waqa Blake. They say Premierships are based on defence. Don’t go buying your grand final tickets quite yet.

8 – Canterbury Bulldogs

What can you learn about a 6-4 win against one of the worst teams in the NRL? Well, if you’re the actual worst team in the comp, plenty.

The Dogs hardly sparkled up in Townsville, and could have lost, but crucially didn’t. On results like these are seasons built. With four concussions, horrendous weather and a little help from the bunker, Canterbury got up. Just don’t mention where the points are coming from.

9 – Gold Coast Titans

The Titans might be the pick of the losers from this week’s fixtures. They attacked really well and found themselves – as Justin Holbrook pointed out – on the rough end of a few calls in the second half.

Were it not for those three penalty goals, they would have come away from one of the toughest away fixtures in the NRL with the points. Unfortunately, Titans gonna Titan, and the Gold Coast managed to turn a second half lead into a loss – again.

Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler looks on during a Manly Warringah Sea Eagles NRL training session
(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

10 – Manly Sea Eagles

Manly had by far the hardest assignment of Round 1, so perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into their defeat. After all, almost everyone will lose at Penrith. That’s reflected in their ranking.

The manner of the defeat, which showed exactly how to stop the Sea Eagles’ best weapons, will certainly concern Des Hasler. While the Panthers are better than most, their tactics weren’t exactly rocket science: drop the ball on top of Tom Trbojevic and Jason Saab, tire them out and then run over the top of them. Other teams will have looked on with interest.

It’s concerning for Manly: and the good news is that they get the Roosters, off the back of a defeat, next week. Oh dear.

11 – Wests Tigers

Reports of the Wests Tigers demise might have been exaggerated. Sure, they lost first up, but it was a tough ask against Melbourne and Michael Maguire’s men showed up well.

The underlying metrics, things that coaches enjoy such as possession and running metres, were very much in the Tigers’ favour and you’d back them to win a lot more games than they lose if they kept up with that kind of form.

The problem is that they won all the categories that matter, including some by a serious distance – 55/45 in possession for example – and still only managed 16 points. That’s not a great return on investment. Let’s be kind and say that Melbourne were good though, so the Tigers are higher than most Round 1 losers.

12 – South Sydney Rabbitohs

Was this a good loss? It won’t look like one. Results are overrated in sports, because they often don’t tell you the gist of what happened, and the lower-scoring a contest the bigger the chance of there being a gap between the result and the performance. Souths will go away wondering how they didn’t win: they bombed a few of their own and got done by an intercept and a field goal from a second-rower.

It’s fish and chip paper now, but Jason Demetriou can use that discrepancy between outcome and process to turn Friday night’s defeat into a positive: they were missing their best player, Latrell Mitchell, and his replacement, Blake Taaffe, and had a rookie halfback, Lachlan Ilias. It’s not surprising that their attack wasn’t what it might have been.

The bad news is that they now begin a horror phase of fixtures: away to Melbourne, home to the Roosters, away to Penrith. It’s certainly no time for Jason Demetriou or Lachlan Ilias to be learning on the job.

Cody Walker (Getty Images)

Cody Walker (Getty Images)

13 – Sydney Roosters

Losing to the Knights first up looks very bad for the Roosters. They weren’t just beaten, they were done over: outthought, which doesn’t happen to Trent Robinson much, and outfought, which they never were despite huge losses to injuries last year.

Form is temporary and class is permanent, however, so don’t expect it to bother the Chooks too much. They got caught cold and are down on here, but they won’t be in the lower reaches of the power rankings for long.

14 – New Zealand Warriors

Are the Warriors rubbish? Were the Dragons good? As ever, the Warriors remain largely an enigma. They played alright, might have won, but didn’t.

The good news is that Shaun Johnson looks very interested and will now get Reece Walsh to work with. The bad news is that they completed at less than 70% – compare last year’s win over the Dragons, when they were nearly 100% – and missed a boatload of tackles. Walsh won’t solve that.

New Zealand’s kind draw sees them face one side that made the finals last year in the first five weeks, and that’s the Titans (who scraped in) this Saturday. Miss that many tackles again and you can’t see it ending well for them.

SUNSHINE COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 12: Josh Curran of the Warriors attempts to break away from the defence of Andrew McCullough of the Dragons during the round one NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Sunshine Coast Stadium, on March 12, 2022, in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Josh Curran. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

15 – Cronulla Sharks

Not an ideal start for the Sharkies, who briefly flickered into life against Canberra but were ultimately well beaten. They could have snatched a win on the last play of the game but had they so it would have been daylight robbery.

Admittedly the Sharks were coachless, with Craig Fitzgibbon stuck in COVID iso, but he will have been chucking his remote through the wall having watched his side’s performance.

They completed at 67% (joint worst with the Roosters) and missed 44 tackles (also joint worst with Manly) which is a recipe for losing football matches.

16 – North Queensland Cowboys

Someone should produce a Dr Hibbert-style pamphlet to hand out to Todd Payten: So You’ve Lost To The Bulldogs.

It’s an ignominious position to be in for a coach and places Todd Payten right back up there in the pressure zone. His team struggled to break down a Dogs side that was fraying at the seams, and notably failed to get anything out of Valentine Holmes, theoretically one of their best players.

It’s a rough start and they’re dead last in this list.

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