NRL Power Rankings: Warriors continue to improve, tough Bulldogs show promise

Much like the battered One NZ Warriors needing a bye week at just the right time, the SENZ League team took a break from their weekly NRL Power Rankings during the State of Origin period for game one.

But play-by-play caller Sam Hewat, plus experts Blake Ayshford and Anthony Gelling, are back to crunch the numbers following Round 14 of the NRL.

Here's how they saw each matchup:

Dragons def. Tigers 56-14
The St. George Illawarra Dragons found themselves in an early hole down 10-0 after the first twelve minutes against the Wests Tigers at home Friday night. It was looking as though State of Origin just two nights prior had taken its toll on stars Ben Hunt, Zac Lomax, and Jaydn Su'a.

However, the two former put on a clinic with Lomax bagging a hat-trick and Hunt getting one of his own as the Dragons racked up nine tries enroute to 50 points.

When they turn it on, the Dragons can score points from anywhere. Their biggest problem in 2024 is consistency and even though they currently sit in the top eight, their form suggests next week they could lose heavily to the Manly Sea Eagles.

For the Tigers, the season goes from bad to worse and even though they started well ahead of 2023, they've quickly fallen back into old ways and the unrest at the club continues to grow.

Blake Ayshford: Dragons (2) Tigers (0)
Anthony Gelling: Dragons (2) Tigers (0)
Sam Hewat: Dragons (2) Tigers (0)

Rabbitohs def. Titans 46-12
This is the kind of South Sydney Rabbitohs side that many thought we'd see week in, week out in 2024. Full of their stars, Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, and Jack Wighton took the poor Titans defense to town on the Gold Coast and ran in eight tries off the back of individual brilliance and the pace at which they played the game.

It was concerning for the Titans who had looked to turn a corner after tipping up the North Queensland Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos in previous weeks, and narrowly losing to the Knights.

A match against the Tigers this week might just help wrestle some momentum back, but any hopes of making the eight are gone.

Blake Ayshford: Rabbitohs (2) Titans (0)
Anthony Gelling: Rabbitohs (2) Titans (0)
Sam Hewat: Rabbitohs (2) Titans (0)

Warriors def. Cowboys 42-12
It was arguably the NZ Warriors' best performance of 2024 as they ran in four unanswered first-half tries, to lead the Cowboys 22-0 just before the break.

If Tom Dearden and Scott Drinkwater didn't piece together some brilliant individual touches that led to North Queensland's first points in the 37th minute, it would have been a perfect half for the Warriors.

Still, they stuck at it in the second 40, gave away just three penalties, completed at 84%, and nabbed another three tries as they clocked up 42 points against a side that has one of the worst defenses in the competition.

This is what the Warriors needed to do a month ago – score points against leaky defenses and beat sides that were very beatable.

They've got a bit of catching up to do, but there's no doubt the Warriors have been one of the best teams in the NRL over the last month, taking down the Panthers, Dolphins, and Cowboys.

Now, they face a very tough task at home against the Melbourne Storm in a game that really could be season-defining. For the Cowboys, more and more pressure is being heaped on head coach Todd Payten who doesn't have a lot of time to turn his side's season around.

Blake Ayshford: Warriors (2) Cowboys (0)
Anthony Gelling: Warriors (2) Cowboys (0)
Sam Hewat: Warriors (3) Cowboys (0)

Sharks def. Broncos 22-12
The Brisbane Broncos went into this match as favourites playing at Suncorp Stadium against a side that had lost two games on the bounce, and were missing their talismanic number 7 Nicho Hynes.

But the Cronulla Sharks seemed to have found what they were missing in the losses to Penrith and the Eels. Granted the Broncos were very poor with 12 errors across the match, but the Sharks forced a lot of those themselves and made Brisbane pay.

Would the result have been different if Reece Walsh and/or Adam Reynolds were on the park? Maybe. But it also could have been different with Hynes.

Two points for the Sharks who sit comfortably in the top four while the Broncos, almost unbelievably, sit on the cusp of the top eight.

Blake Ayshford: Sharks (1) Broncos (0)
Anthony Gelling: Sharks (1) Broncos (0)
Sam Hewat: Sharks (1) Broncos (0)

Storm def. Knights 36-28
Melbourne seemed to manage the minutes of some of their Origin stars, but it didn't make much difference as Jahrome Hughes led his side to the top of the NRL ladder with their ninth win in 12 games.

It wasn't convincing, and with how the Newcastle Knights have shaped up the past few weeks, allowing 28 points is something Craig Bellamy will not be happy about, especially the manner in which the tries were scored, but he surely can't complain with his side leading the competition.

It's not the Melbourne of old, or the Penrith of new, where they seem unbeatable.
In fact, a lot of their wins have been very, very close. But they're finding ways to win, even if it's ugly, and that's why they still have to be considered very highly as a premiership threat.

Blake Ayshford: Storm (1) Knights (0)
Anthony Gelling: Storm (1) Knights (0)
Sam Hewat: Storm (1) Knights (0)

Panthers def. Sea Eagles 32-22
For most sides in the NRL, losing a player of Nathan Cleary's quality is enough to send them spiralling out of control. Not only have the Panthers managed, they've thrived, sitting in third position, with the same amount of wins as the Storm with one less bye.

The Manly Sea Eagles had a near-full strength side on Sunday and couldn't capitalise on a pretty even first half with the scores 16-12 at half-time, thanks to two late tries to Brian To'o.

Funnily enough, the first half hat-tricks to To'o and Tommy Talau is the first time in NRL history that two players from opposite teams have scored a first-half hat-trick.

In any case, the Panthers came out in the second 40 and continued to turn the screws, completing at over 92 per cent, and forcing the Sea Eagles to miss a whopping 59 tackles!

Reuben Garrick cost his side with the boot missing four of his five conversions but the damage was already done from his side defensively as Penrith made them pay.

It's what separates the top teams from those on the outside, and that's the ability to win games like this when they're in the balance. Penrith did it, Manly didn't.

Blake Ayshford: Panthers (1) Sea Eagles (0)
Anthony Gelling: Panthers (2) Sea Eagles (1)
Sam Hewat: Panthers (1) Sea Eagles (0)

Bulldogs def. Eels 22-18
In a round with so many high scores, it was the Bulldogs v Eels clash on Monday night that was the game of the round, with a last minute try to Blake Wilson separating the two teams.

The Eels went in as narrow favourites, probably due to the return of Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson inspiring them to a win the week before, however it was almost their undoing against the Bulldogs just a week later.

Dylan Brown, Moses, and Gutherson struggled to string plays together and the most telling part of the game was when the Bulldogs were reduced to ten men and Parramatta had no points to show for it.

The Dogs are the definition of a tough team, and Stephen Crichton continues to lead this team to victory on a weekly basis. They are top eight material, and the prospect of them in two or three year's time is scary.

Blake Ayshford: Bulldogs (1) Eels (0)
Anthony Gelling: Bulldogs (1) Eels (0)
Sam Hewat: Bulldogs (1) Eels (0)

SENZ League Rankings after Round 14:

  1. Panthers (1st previous week)
  2. Sharks (2)
  3. Storm (4)
  4. Roosters (3)
  5. Broncos (5)
  6. Warriors (7)
  7. Dolphins (6)
  8. Bulldogs (9)
  9. Sea Eagles (8)
  10. Raiders (10)
  11. Dragons (13)
  12. Cowboys (11)
  13. Knights (12)
  14. Titans (14)
  15. Eels (15)
  16. Rabbitohs (17)
  17. Tigers (16)

HOW IT WORKS

Each week, our NRL experts award points to each team for their performance over the weekend while also taking into account the difficulty of opposition, playing at home/away, injuries etc. Points are generally awarded in the following manner:

0 points – Poor performance in a losing effort.
1 point – Good performance in a losing effort, or disappointing performance in a winning effort.
2 points – Good performance in a winning effort.
3 points – Strong and dominant performance in a winning effort.
4 points – Exceptional performance in a winning effort.

At the end of each round, the points are tallied and teams are adjusted up and down accordingly. For teams on a bye, they will receive one point from each expert.

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