NRL Ladder predictions: Warriors on the slide, a clear top 5

Stat of the week: Had the Dragons lost to the Knights, the NRL top 8 would currently contain the same final 8 from last year. The average score this round was 35 to 9. Is this an indication that the salary cap is no longer working or is it poor management from the bottom half? Or does it come down to better coaching and training techniques from the top half? Will revisit this question at the halfway mark of the season.

Round 4 (NRL ladder position in brackets)

1. Melbourne Storm. (7th) Up 2 spots. Very similar to the earlier Souths games where the opposition looked good for 25min (and even led – albeit off a Storm error) before a 12min 24 point Papenhuyzen blitz put the Broncos away. The longer the game went, the more relaxed and clinical they looked. Still the team to beat for the premiership.

2. Penrith Panthers. (1st) Holding. Defence is awesome. Attack looked clunky early but decided to play touch footy in the 2nd half and carved Manly up badly. Yet to put a foot wrong. Great early season form usually means plenty picked for origin but Penrith are blessed with a stack of Islanders so shouldn’t affect their run too much.

3. Parramatta Eels. (2nd) Down 2 spots. Note to opposition – wrap up the ball. Parramatta’s offloads killed the Tigers in the first half and their forwards are all so mobile. Bomb diffusal let the Tigers back into the contest with early tries coming off the high ball but Parra always had the class and strength to get a lucky win this round. Dragons next who actually beat the Eels at Bankwest late last season, which sparked the Eels decline.

4. South Sydney Rabbitohs. (4th) Up 1 spot. Faultless really. I think they were paying $1.08 but that was too generous. Definite top 4 side and the longer the comp goes on the clearer it is that there are 3 tiers playing footy. Top 5, next 6, bottom 5. The race for spots 6 to 8 will be very interesting.

5. Sydney Roosters. (3rd) Down 1 spot. They always find a way to cover their missing players and round 4 was no different. Down 12-4 early, the come back was always on and this team looks like they’ll beat anybody outside the top 4 everytime. I’m yet to change my mind about a Storm/Roosters GF.

6. Cronulla Sharks. (8th) Up 1 spot. Did what they were expected to do against a terrible opposition. Missing a stack of players with injury and suspension, while also having to deal with game day injuries and having to reshuffle. Still looking pretty good but a tough one next week v Roosters.

7. St.George Illawarra Dragons. (6th) Up 1 spot. An outstanding win in a great game of footy. Just bashed the Knights into submission. The bunker clearly hates them and the lop sided six again/set restart count went against them again but the Dragons showed they are a way different footy team than last year.

8. Canberra Raiders. (5th) Up 2 spots. Didn’t make the same mistake as last week and really locked it down once they hit a 10 point lead against a side who are becoming a tipsters nightmare. Just much better than their opposition on the night. Play Panthers at Panthers next Friday night followed by Parramatta so that will sort out where they are.

9. New Zealand Warriors. (11th) Down 3 spots. Started well and led by a healthy enough margin but were always going to struggle holding an in form Roosters side that always play for 80. Offloads hurt them a bit but there are some sides in this comp that would take a 20 point loss against the top 5. They need to take care of Manly next week before they face the Dragons.

10. Gold Coast Titans. (9th) Down 1 spot. They played good for a while but lost all their structure once the lead against them got out to more than a try. So difficult to rate properly yet.

11. Newcastle Knights. (10th) Holding. A much improved performance however it’s back to back home losses despite 10-0 set restarts and a 12 point turnaround following a very questionable Dragons no-try. You could say their forced spine reshuffle due to injuries may have played a factor but the Dragons just refused to lose a brutal game.

12. Wests Tigers. (13th) Holding. Really soft defence at times. Took advantage of a 10min lapse by Parra in the first half and gave them a big scare in the 2nd half with a bit of a comeback. Inconsistent from game to game and minute to minute. Can’t see them beating any of my top 5 this season unless they firm up their errors and stop giving away big leads.

13. Brisbane Broncos. (12th) Holding. Looked ok for a while. Certainly not in the top half of the teams in the comp and will struggle all season to get out of the bottom 5. Difficult to be too hard on them given they played the Storm in Melbourne but facts are facts, they got flogged.

14. Manly Sea Eagles. (16th) Holding. Never in it. Led most attacking stats for a while but still found themselves 22-0 down. Tommy Turbo’s return is imminent but he won’t stop the dropped balls and teams putting cricket scores on them. Jason Saab is a long way off being a first grader and will lose his spot when Taufua comes back from injury.

15. North Qld Cowboys. (14th) Up 1 spot. Not willing to work hard for points and clearly just not good enough. Aren’t playing as a team. Need to aim up against Tigers next week. Thrashed for the second week in a row.

16. Canterbury Bulldogs. (15th) Down 1 spot. The victory they were looking for was actually scoring a point. The game went pretty much how I thought, competed well for 20, then dropped their heads a bit. Were always going to get flogged in the last 20. The good news is they are playing the Cowboys in 2 weeks. The bad news is next up are the Storm.

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