How we rank the NRL's 16 clubs at the end of the opening round of the 2017 Telstra Premiership season.
They had no Billy Slater, no Tohu Harris, and no Jesse Bromwich for the vast majority of the game, but the Melbourne Storm still had no problem getting past the Bulldogs on their own turf at Belmore on Friday night. Most clubs would struggle without three of their best players – all internationals – but the Storm were their usual efficient, effective selves in rain-drenched conditions, running in two early tries then shutting out their opponents in the second half. Last year's minor premiers and grand finalists are deserved front-runners.
North Queensland won the game of the round after a remarkable extra-time finish, with a Johnathan Thurston field goal attempt bouncing off the bottom of the crossbar for Gavin Cooper to pounce on the loose ball and score the match-winner. Jason Taumalolo continued the form that won him a Dally M medal last year with a massive 295 run metres from 22 carries, and the 2015 premiers will take a lot of confidence out of an early victory against a fellow title contender.
An away trip to the reigning premiers is a tough start to the season but the Broncos made a great start against the Sharks in the season opener and held on in the second half to clinch a 26-18 win. The brilliance of Anthony Milford was the key factor, with the gifted five-eighth scoring the final try to secure the result, but the Broncos pack will take plenty of solace out of earning a tough win without retired skipper Corey Parker and without the services of Kiwi international Alex Glenn (concussion) for the majority of the match.
They only had 41 per cent of possession against the star-studded Cowboys in Townsville, but the Raiders did remarkably well to take the game into extra time and came within a whisker of claiming what would have been a terrific win. Canberra were the best attacking team in the league last year but their defence was outstanding against the Cowboys, and shows they'll be up there with the big boys again this season.
We raised a few eyebrows by ranking the Roosters above the Titans in our pre-season power rankings a few weeks back, but on Saturday night the Tricolours proved why they're considered among the real premiership dark horses. Last year's 15-placed team went to the Gold Coast and simply blew the Titans off the park to lead 28-6 after 45 minutes. Mitch Pearce and new recruit Luke Keary were simply brilliant in the halves while Latrell Mitchell ran riot in the centres with three tries. Forget 2016, the Roosters will be hard to beat this year.
Corey Norman was the standout once again but Parramatta dominated the contest against Manly more than the 20-12 final scoreline suggested on Sunday. Norman's solo try and remarkable, off-the-cuff 40/20 kick shows why he's central to the Eels' chances in the next few years, but Brad Arthur has formed a strong side around him. Their next mission: bringing down Round 1 surprise packets the Dragons next week.
Who are you and what have you done with the Dragons? The team in the red and white on Saturday afternoon may have looked like Paul McGregor's outfit from 2016, but they scored points – a lot of them – against a Panthers side that's among the premiership favourites. The Dragons' 42-10 win was McGregor's dream come true after an off-season that had him marked as one of the NRL coaches under most pressure. If a 32-point flogging of one of the league's big guns doesn't silence the critics for a while, nothing will.
8. Wests Tigers
They've got speed, they've got flair, they've got… well they've got James Tedesco, and he's a player capable of creating tries out of nothing. The Tigers made the perfect start to the season with a win over Robbie Farah and the Rabbitohs, bouncing back after conceding the first try by scoring six of their own. Meanwhile debutant Moses Suli produced some highlights on the wing to show why the club has splashed out some big bucks to keep him.
Without grand final winners Michael Ennis, Ben Barba and Valentine Holmes, the Sharks struggled against Brisbane and succumbed to a first-up loss at home. Debutant Jayden Brailey impressed at hooker (even though the club could be recruiting former Panthers rake James Segeyaro in the coming weeks) but Cronulla didn't quite have the firepower to get the better of a fellow premiership contender in the Broncos. It doesn't get any easier with a trip to Canberra this week.
They were scrappy, they were brilliant, they were the old-fashioned Warriors really, despite the arrival of new coach Stephen Kearney. A narrow escape at home against back-to-back wooden-spooners Newcastle isn't the most convincing start to their campaign, but considering the Warriors' tendency to start the season slowly they'll be happy just to take the two competition points. Injuries to Simon Mannering and Issac Luke took their toll and the team will want both internationals back on the field as soon as possible.
There were some signs of improvement – they dominated possession in the second half against an excellent Melbourne side and threw the ball around in very difficult playing conditions – but the Bulldogs will be disappointed to come away from Belmore with another loss on Friday night. Once again, a lack of execution in the attacking red zone let them down when it mattered. The pressure is on after a woeful end to their 2016 campaign but they have the chance to turn their fortunes around quickly in another tough clash against the Roosters on Thursday night.
Listed among the bookmakers' premiership favourites at the start of the season, Penrith were handed a massive wake-up call in the form of a 42-10 flogging by the Dragons on Saturday. Matt Moylan tried a bit too much, Bryce Cartwright coughed up a couple of errors as well and the Panthers completed only two thirds of their sets as St George Illawarra ran riot. A whopping 50 missed tackles (compared to the Dragons' 14) will have coach Anthony Griffin concerned as well. They'll need to bounce back quickly against a confident Wests Tigers side this week.
They look good on paper this year but the Titans didn't look too hot on the field against the Roosters on Saturday, caught on the top against a slick Roosters side. Kane Elgey was sluggish in his first NRL game back after a season on the sidelines while Jarryd Hayne is still some way off the scintillating form he showed at Parramatta in 2014. It's early days though, and they'll back themselves to get past the Knights this week.
14. Sea Eagles
Once again Manly starts the season with a new-look line-up, but again there look to be several issues to iron out before Trent Barrett's men become an NRL force. New recruit Brian Kelly looked sharp and grabbed an early try and the Sea Eagles did well to hang in the match despite gifting Parramatta the bulk of possession, but errors and poor discipline proved costly on Sunday. Now they're set to lose props Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake to shoulder charge suspensions for the next fortnight. Still, they're a work in progress and could well surprise the struggling Rabbitohs this week.
Newcastle started as huge outsiders in their away trip to Auckland but started strongly and actually led the Warriors 22-20 with less than 10 minutes remaining, before Ryan Hoffman's match-winner for the hosts. As their pre-season form suggested, the Knights look a better side than they have been in the past two years – but will they be able to convert that improvement into wins? They have a couple of great chances in the next fortnight with home clashes against the Gold Coast and South Sydney.
With no Adam Reynolds and a hobbling Greg Inglis the Rabbitohs were well below their best on Friday night and couldn't match the fireworks produced by James Tedesco and the Tigers. Robbie Farah was solid in his club debut but may be used in the halves in the weeks to come as Souths look to cope without Reynolds for the opening month of the season. But the loss of Inglis is the killer blow, and will force Souths to rethink things as they chase a return to the top eight.
This article first appeared on NRL.com