Round 16 saw a couple of finals contenders cop a reality check as we approach the end of the season, while the Roosters and Raiders both won to set up a blockbuster clash next round.
The Eels were embarrassed by the Rabbitohs on Thursday night at their home ground and are looking far from the premiership contenders they once were.
The Knights also dished up their worst performance of the season as they were smashed by the Warriors in a troubling sign for their upcoming finals campaign.
The Roosters smashed the Broncos and the Raiders beat the Bulldogs to set up a huge matchup between last year’s grand finalists next Saturday 5 September.
Parramatta Eels 0 – 38 South Sydney Rabbitohs
While the Eels had been struggling for form in recent weeks, not many could have predicted the 38-0 shellacking they copped from the Rabbitohs in this one.
They were off the pace from the start and never looked like challenging the Bunnies at any point of the match.
Parramatta came into the game having conceded the least amount of points in the NRL but the Rabbitohs picked them apart through the middle and on the edges as they recorded 10 line breaks to none.
The loss was made even worse with Dylan Brown needing surgery on a syndesmosis injury that could see him miss the rest of the season.
The Eels are now just one game clear of the 5th placed Raiders and in danger of slipping out of the top 4.
The Rabbitohs are playing their best football at the back end of the season and have outscored their opponents 94-16 over the past two weeks.
However, the victory was soured by a severe hamstring injury to fullback Latrell Mitchell that will see him miss the remainder of the season.
They didn’t miss a beat when Mitchell went off with Corey Allan filling in for him, but expect Alex Johnson to become their first-choice fullback when he returns to the side.
St George Illawarra Dragons 10 – 14 Gold Coast Titans
The Dragons still had a small chance of playing finals if they could get a win here but failed to capitalise on their territory dominance and are now resigned to a bottom 8 finish.
They had plenty of opportunities to put scoreboard pressure on the Titans but could only muster one try and were then sitting ducks for the fast finishing Titans.
The Titans have improved out of sight this year and their ability to defend their own line was the reason they won this one.
Their defence kept them in the game early before they got on top and scored two late tries to seal a close win.
The combination of Jamal Fogarty and Alex Brimson continues to improve, and they will be a big part of the Titans future.
Sydney Roosters 58 – 12 Brisbane Broncos
The huge losses just keep piling up for the Broncos and there wouldn’t have been many people surprised by this belting.
The Roosters barely moved out of second gear as they strolled through the Broncos’ defence with ease to rack up 10 tries on the night.
James Tedesco was back to his best with 5 try assists and a try himself, while Kyle Flanagan was also good after being dropped several weeks ago.
For the Broncos it was yet another embarrassing loss, showing no resolve in defence.
The Roosters have a lot more quality in their side than the Broncos, but the lack of effort is the most damning flaw in this team.
The first two tries the Roosters scored were as soft as they come and it was all over from there.
Either Paul Green or Kevin Walters are expected to become the next head coach and they will have their work cut out for them to turn this once mighty club around.
New Zealand Warriors 36 – 6 Newcastle Knights
It would be one of the great NRL stories if the Warriors managed to sneak their way into the top 8 and, given their current form, it’s certainly possible.
The Warriors dominated the Knights in every aspect of this match with 64% of possession, 2,059 run metres to 1,247, nine line breaks to three and, most importantly, six tries to one.
They play the Eels, Sharks, Raiders and Sea Eagles in their run home, and will most likely have to win all of those games to make it.
As good as the Warriors were, the Knights just looked flat in a worrying performance as finals approach.
Their forwards were dominated by the Warriors while their edge defence was a big concern as they were picked apart all game.
The Knights are still entrenched in the top 8 but they will need to improve drastically to challenge the best teams.
Cronulla Sharks 28 – 12 North Queensland Cowboys
The Sharks were missing their starting halves Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend and the young pairing of Connor Tracey and Braydon Trindall did enough to get them over the line.
It was an important win for the Sharks to keep a two-game buffer over the 9th placed Warriors, but the real test starts now with matches against the Knights, Warriors, Roosters and Raiders to come.
The Sharks may only need to beat the Warriors to secure their finals spot, but if they have any intention of being competitive once the finals begin, they need to show more than they have against the top sides this season.
The Cowboys are desperate for the season to end having lost their past nine matches and are now a chance of picking up the dreaded wooden spoon.
There are reports Todd Payten will be named the new Cowboys coach and given the remarkable job he has done as interim coach with the Warriors, he seems like the right man to lead the Cowboys back to the finals.
Penrith Panthers 30 – 6 Wests Tigers
The Panthers juggernaut continues to roll on with another comprehensive victory taking their streak to 12 wins in a row.
They dominated the Tigers in every aspect of the game and look destined to become minor premiers and are the deserved premiership favourites.
Michael Maguire has a lot of work ahead of him to get his Tigers back into the finals and it starts with sorting out their spine.
Benji Marshall looks like leaving the Tigers at the end of the season, while hooker Harry Grant will return to the Storm; there are big question marks over Luke Brooks’ ability to lead a side to finals and Adam Doueihi doesn’t appear to be the answer at fullback.
Melbourne Storm 30 – 6 Manly Sea Eagles
With a host of their star players back into the side, it was business as usual for the Storm with a clinical win over Manly.
Their outside backs got amongst the points with Justin Olam scoring his second NRL hat trick while Josh Addo-Carr added a another two, but the win was soured with winger Marion Seve suffering a suspected ACL injury.
The Storm have set themselves up for a top 2 finish and their clash with the in-form Rabbitohs on Friday night is set to be a beauty.
After winning a final last year, Manly have had a horror season with injuries and a lack of depth ruining any chance they had of making finals.
This game was a reflection of how far off the pace they have been. They matched the Storm for the first 20 minutes but simply couldn’t go with them when the intensity lifted.
Manly have some winnable games in the last four rounds, so they will be looking to end this season on a high and get ready for 2021.
Canberra Raiders 34 – 20 Canterbury Bulldogs
The Raiders looked in danger of dropping this match when trailing by 8 points and losing Tom Starling to the sin bin early in the second half, but their leaders lifted them over the line.
With the Raiders down to 12 men, Jack Wighton scored two brilliant individual tries to regain the lead for the Raiders and Josh Papalii led front the front with some outstanding runs to shift the momentum back the Raiders’ way.
They had to do it the hard way, but the win now sets up a huge blockbuster against the Roosters on Saturday night at GIO Stadium Canberra which will see the winner take a stranglehold on 4th position on the ladder.
The Bulldogs have proven they are no easy beats in recent weeks and looked like pulling off the upset of the season before they fell apart in the second half.
Their forwards were all over the more fancied Raiders pack early with Ofahiki Ogden leading the way.
The Bulldogs still only have two wins for the season, but at least they are showing plenty of effort and it feels like a win is just around the corner.