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The Rabbitohs and Warriors are on the rise while the Knights are sliding after the opening month of the 2022 season. How is your club travelling heading into round six?
Note: Throughout the year, ESPN will rank all 16 teams, from top to bottom, taking into account which teams are playing the best footy, injuries, each team’s recent opponents, and which teams are looking most like premiership contenders.
Last week: 1
A 20-point win over the Bulldogs was a walk in the park for the NRL’s best team, and they’ll almost certainly make it six from six when they take on Brisbane on Friday night. Nathan Cleary is just warming up after a couple of games back from injury, Dylan Edwards is averaging just under 250 run metres a game from fullback, and the Panthers have the best for-and-against in the league. Can they be stopped?
Round five opponent: Broncos
Last week: 2
Another week, another win, this time against the Raiders in Wagga Wagga. The result wasn’t really in doubt after Harry Grant, Jahrome Hughes and Ryan Papenhuyzen had all scored tries by the 22nd-minute mark, and when that trio plus Cameron Munster and Brandon Smith are available the Storm are going to be hard to beat. The only real question facing the Storm this week is how Grant (try, try assist, seven tackle breaks) and Munster (two try assists, six tackle busts) didn’t earn any Dally M points from that game.
Round five opponent: Sharks
Last week: 3
For the first 50 minutes of Saturday’s clash with the Gold Coast, the Eels looked superb. Mitchell Moses was setting up tries for fun and Clint Gutherson had scored two, and the result looked done and dusted at 20-0. Then Parramatta let their opponents back into the contest — albeit with help from a couple of questionable refereeing decisions and the contentious sin-binning of Junior Paulo. They escaped in the end with a 26-20 victory and a good reminder to never switch off in future contests.
Round five opponent: Tigers
Last week: 4
After Siosifa Talakai’s stunning display in the backline a week ago it was fellow centre Jesse Ramien’s turn against the Tigers on Sunday, with Ramien racking up a try, two try assists, 147 metres and eight tackle breaks in a superb performance. Nicho Hynes continues to be in everything at halfback but a lot of credit for Cronulla’s start to the season should go to an in-form forward pack led by Dale Finucane, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Briton Nikora and hooker Blayke Brailey.
Round five opponent: Storm
5. Sea Eagles
Last week: 5
No Tom Trbojevic, no worries for Manly against the Knights on Thursday, with Daly Cherry-Evans once again leading the team to a big win. Things were fairly tight until the 70th minute when Karl Lawton darted over from dummy-half to spark a three-try spree that ended the contest at 30-6. Yes, it’s another thumping of a team below them on the ladder, but it once again showed that Manly don’t need to rely on their superstar fullback.
Round five opponent: Titans
Last week: 6
Joey Manu’s sensational start to 2022 continued with a match-winning two-try effort against a surprisingly strong Broncos side on Friday night, while Sam Walker was another standout with a try, three goals and a crucial try assist. It helped the Roosters escape Brisbane with a 24-20 win, although the Tricolours are still a long way from their best in the early part of the season with Luke Keary and James Tedesco not quite their usual selves just yet.
Round five opponent: Warriors
Last week: 8
Latrell Mitchell’s hamstring injury was the big talking point to come out of Saturday’s win over the Dragons, and he’s set to miss eight weeks, but it’s also worth noting a standout performance from Damien Cook. Cook, once one of the busiest dummy-half runners who has developed into more of a playmaker in recent seasons, turned back the clock with 116 run metres, four tackle busts and a line break with a running game that caused headaches for the Dragons all night. Cameron Murray was also typically strong, while Blake Taaffe stepped up admirably in Mitchell’s place off the bench at fullback. Mitchell’s absence will hurt in the short term but in the long run it could help Souths for Taaffe to get more experience under his belt.
Round five opponent: Bulldogs
Last week: 11
Letting Shaun Johnson leave always felt like a bad move by the Warriors and it just feels right again that the Kiwis great is back playing — and winning games — at the New Zealand club again. A rocket of a field goal from Johnson was the difference in a 25-24 win over the Cowboys, while back-rowers Josh Curran and Euan Aitken were also excellent.
Round five opponent: Roosters
Last week: 7
Thursday night’s loss to Manly was quite a rollercoaster. Twenty minutes into the contest they were celebrating a Dom Young try, only for the try to be disallowed and Young to leave the field injured. When Kalyn Ponga and Jirah Momoisea followed him to the sheds a disaster looked on the cards, but Ponga returned and rolled in a grubber for Chris Randall to score a try that would have put the Knights ahead 12-10 in the 55th minute. Instead, that try was also disallowed, and the Sea Eagles scored three times in the final 11 minutes in a 30-6 romp. With the squad’s depth being tested more and more each week and Ponga still yet to make much impact in attack, it’s a tough period for Adam O’Brien’s side.
Round five opponent: Dragons
Last week: 9
After a couple of heavy defeats against the Sea Eagles and Storm the Raiders need to get their groove back, with coach Ricky Stuart saying “they’re not enjoying their football at the moment” after the Melbourne result. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (184 metres, three tackle busts, a line break, a try save and a try assist) was a standout at the back against the Storm but it must be tempting for Stuart to give a young gun like Xavier Savage a shot somewhere in the backline. He’ll get a chance to impress off the bench this week.
Round five opponent: Cowboys
Last week: 10
“Consistently inconsistent” is going to be the theme for the Titans this season, with Justin Holbrook’s group of talented youngsters capable of producing terrific highlights but also frequent lowlights from week to week. They trailed 20-0 midway through the second half before clicking into gear against the Eels, running in four tries including a spectacular solo effort from David Fifita out of dummy-half — when the hulking back-rower seemingly brushed past half the Parramatta line-up. It wasn’t enough for the win, but it again showed they are always in the contest; the six-point margin was the biggest in any game involving the Titans this season.
Round five opponent: Sea Eagles
Last week: 12
The Cowboys had 55% of possession, completed at an excellent 92%, and made more metres and offloads than their opponents on Friday. Only problem was they lost the game. A golden point 25-24 loss to the Warriors was a frustrating result from a pretty good performance, with a few shocking defensive lapses costing North Queensland dearly. Scott Drinkwater (try, try assist, 200 run metres) looked very sharp filling in at fullback, while Tom Dearden looks like a genuine star in the making at 21 years of age.
Round five opponent: Raiders
Last week: 13
They didn’t get the win but the Broncos were very good against the Roosters on Friday night, with Corey Oates turning back the clock with a strong hat-trick and Kotoni Staggs at his sensational best with 14 tackle breaks, two line breaks and a try down the right edge. A couple of rare missed conversion attempts from sharpshooter Adam Reynolds proved costly in the 24-20 defeat, but Kevin Walters and his team can take a lot out of that performance.
Round five opponent: Panthers
Last week: 14
Memories of a strong pre-season and a first-up win over the Warriors are fading fast following four straight losses for the Dragons, albeit against four of the best teams in the competition. Questions have been raised about Anthony Griffin’s decision to replace youngsters Tyrell Sloan and Talatau Amone with Moses Mbye and Jack Bird at fullback and five-eighth in recent weeks, but the veteran duo will stay there for this week’s clash with Newcastle. The Knights have been struggling of late though so this is a great chance for the Dragons to turn their form around.
Round five opponent: Knights
Last week: 15
Canterbury were never really much of a chance against Penrith and so it proved with a 32-12 loss, although there were some bright signs with Josh Addo-Carr racking up 11 tackle busts and a line break leading to a try, while Kyle Flanagan had a try assist in his much anticipated return to the halfback role.
Round five opponent: Rabbitohs
16. Wests Tigers
Last week: 16
Michael Maguire has rung the changes with Tyrone Peachey, Ken Maumalo, Oliver Gildart and Jacob Liddle all dropped while Jackson Hastings returns from suspension in the halfback role, shifting Luke Brooks to five-eighth. It almost certainly won’t be enough for the Tigers to get a result against Parramatta this week, but a competitive performance would be a big step in the right direction.
Round five opponent: Eels