NRL power rankings: Could it be the year of the Eel?

The Sharks are looking great, the Eels may be a genuine title chance, the Roosters are getting their act together and it's going to be a long, long season for the Tigers.

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.

1. Panthers

Last week: 1

The best team in the business rolled on with a 26-12 win over an improving Souths outfit, with young winger Taylan May having now bagged five tries in his past two games outside fellow breakout star Izack Tago. Nathan Cleary is back in action, Isaah Yeo is way out in front in the Dally M race and things are looking rosy at the foot of the mountains.

Round five opponent: Bulldogs

2. Storm

Last week: 2

After three rounds of closely fought rugby league the Melbourne Storm gave us the first real blowout of the year with a 44-0 thumping of the Bulldogs. Ryan Papenhuyzen scored four tries and kicked six goals -- he's scored more points than the Broncos, Tigers and Bulldogs so far in 2022 -- while star recruit Xavier Coates bagged a try and a couple of assists and Harry Grant and Jahrome Hughes provide four try assists between them. With their key players now on the park together the Storm are hitting top gear.

Round five opponent: Raiders

3. Eels

Last week: 3

Speaking of hitting top gear, how good were Parramatta on the weekend? Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown are arguably the form halves pairing in the competition, with the duo scoring or assisting in six tries between them in a 48-14 drubbing of the Dragons. With a favourable draw ahead -- they play the Titans, Tigers, Knights and Cowboys in the next month -- the Eels could go on a real run ahead of a round 9 showdown with the Panthers in Penrith.

Round five opponent: Titans

4. Sharks

Last week: 4

Cronulla are playing like a genuine top-four side, and it wasn't just the Nicho Hynes show in their 18-0 win over Newcastle. Their forward pack was dominant (with Aiden Tolman even snaring a try in his 300th game), Matt Moylan continued what has been a quietly impressive season, and Siosifa Talakai was a sensation after being shifted into the centres against Dane Gagai. Talakai finished with a try, 223 run metres, two offloads and a staggering 17 tackle busts against the Knights and could be a real weapon if he can produce some consistency in the new role.

Round five opponent: Tigers

5. Sea Eagles

Last week: 6

It was a bittersweet week for Manly, with Daly Cherry-Evans leading the team to a resounding 25-6 romp over the Tigers to get their season back on track only for Tom Trbojevic to succumb to a knee injury that will keep him on the sidelines for a month. After making a slow start to the year even with Trbojevic available it'll be very interesting to see how they cope without their talismanic fullback in the coming weeks.

Round five opponent: Knights

6. Roosters

Last week: 7

Another of the league's slow starters, the Roosters appear to be getting back to their old selves with a 28-4 win over the Cowboys in Townsville. James Tedesco had his best game of the year with 217 run metres, five tackle breaks and two try assists but centre Joey Manu has been arguably the Tricolours' best player in 2022 with another two tries and two assists against the Cowboys.

Round five opponent: Broncos

7. Knights

Last week: 5

There weren't a lot of positives to take out of Friday night's loss to Cronulla, with Newcastle held scoreless, their forward pack dominated up front and Kalyn Ponga producing one of his quietest games in the red and blue. It didn't help matters when Ponga was spotted meeting with Wayne Bennett and recruiters from the Dolphins the following day. They felt the absence of the injured David Klemmer and the suspended Mitch Barnett and lost Tyson Frizell for a period of the game with a hamstring problem, and will be out to make amends quickly against Manly on Thursday night.

Round five opponent: Sea Eagles

8. Rabbitohs

Last week: 8

Losing to the Panthers in Penrith is nothing to be ashamed of these days and the Rabbitohs remain a genuine top-eight side, with young halfback Lachlan Ilias showing steady improvement each week. He had a couple of line-break assists and a disallowed try against Penrith, suggesting he's ready to take on a greater share of the playmaking responsibilities that have largely fallen to Cody Walker in the early part of the year.

Round five opponent: Dragons

9. Raiders

Last week: 9

We're only four rounds into the season but there's already a pattern forming for Canberra, who have had two close wins at home (against the Sharks and Titans) and two less-than-close defeats on the road (26-6 against the Cowboys and 25-6 against Manly). They're long odds to beat the in-form Melbourne Storm this Saturday afternoon -- and even the "home" fixture doesn't look likely to save them with the match to be played at Wagga Wagga.

Round five opponent: Storm

10. Titans

Last week: 10

Thursday night's 8-6 grind against the Wests Tigers was one of the worst advertisements for rugby league in some time, but at least the Titans managed to snare an unlikely try at the death to claim the two competition points. This very young Gold Coast spine is going to produce rocks and diamonds from week to week, but they'll need to come up with some very shiny diamonds to threaten the Eels this Saturday night.

Round five opponent: Eels

11. Warriors

Last week: 14

Shaun Johnson's return coincided with a confident 20-6 win over Brisbane, with centre Jesse Arthars -- on loan for a season from the Broncos -- scoring two tries. The Warriors have made a decent start with an early 2-2 record to sit inside the top half of the NRL ladder and are still awaiting the return of star forward Tohu Harris in a few weeks.

Round five opponent: Cowboys

12. Cowboys

Last week: 11

After a couple of big wins over the Broncos and Raiders the Cowboys were brought back down to earth by the Roosters. It didn't help matters that they spent half an hour with 12 men as Tom Gilbert, Griffin Neame and Chad Townsend were all sin-binned -- sparking coach Todd Payten to question the refereeing decisions after the loss. On the positive side, they do have a few winnable games coming up in the next three weeks.

Round five opponent: Warriors

13. Broncos

Last week: 12

It feels like it's all bad news at Brisbane at the moment, slumping to back-to-back defeats against the Cowboys and Warriors and now with Albert Kelly, Pat Carrigan and Tom Flegler sidelined. Kelly and Payne Hass have also drawn headlines for an off-field scuffle. It means a reshuffled line-up faces a big task against the Roosters this weekend.

Round five opponent: Roosters

14. Dragons

Last week: 13

The main source of optimism for Dragons fans at the start of the season was the promise shown by fullback Tyrell Sloan and five-eighth Talatau Amone -- two 19-year-olds who have already provided glimpses of brilliance in the top grade. So it was doubly disappointing for the Red V faithful when the pair were dropped last weekend and replaced by veteran utilities Moses Mbye and Jack Bird, especially when the result was a thrashing at the hands of the Eels. The youngsters remain out of the starting side this week (Amone will again come off the bench) with coach Anthony Griffin putting his trust in the team's experienced campaigners to spring an upset over South Sydney.

Round five opponent: Rabbitohs

15. Bulldogs

Last week: 15

Matt Burton will get his third halves partner in five weeks when Kyle Flanagan runs out in the No.7 jersey on Sunday, although the expectations will be low against a rampant Penrith side. The Bulldogs' defence had looked pretty good up until last weekend's 44-0 disaster against the Storm, and addressing that will likely be Trent Barrett's top priority this week.

Round five opponent: Panthers

16. Wests Tigers

Last week: 16

Thursday night's end to the Tigers' brutal 8-6 loss to the Titans on Thursday night was bizarre, chaotic, tragic, and somehow very Wests Tigers. After having seemingly wrapped up a win with a third Luke Brooks penalty goal with five minute remaining, the Tigers allowed the Gold Coast to march down field and score an unlikely 79th-minute try to AJ Brimson off a kick that struck the goalpost and was spilled by Jock Madden. Much was made of the decision to take that final shot at goal and the chaos of that last try, but more concerning to the Tigers would have been the 13 errors and 10 penalties against a Titans team that was playing well below their best.

Round five opponent: Sharks