The Sydney Roosters were the star team from round eight, thumping the Dragons in an Anzac Day masterclass.

Parramatta went through déjà vu with another second half collapse while Cronulla sits on top of the ladder, but their biggest challenges are coming up.

Here is our Round-Up.

1. Titans win, Warriors lose spark and NZ should host on Anzac Day

The opening match of the round provided three talking points which were all worthy of a mention.

Two Gold Coast Titans players celebrate. One raising his arms celebrating while being hugged by his teammate

The Gold Coast Titans lifted themselves off the bottom of the NRL ladder with a win over the Warriors.(Getty Images: Phil Walter)

Des Hasler finally has a win as Titans coach and the Gold Coast deserved it, beating the Warriors 27-24. 

It felt as if the Titans had been building to this win, and the triumph in Auckland laid a blueprint for future success.

AJ Brimson’s roaming fullback roll makes the Gold Coast attack lethal from anywhere on the park, the halves pairing of Kieran Foran and Tanah Boyd is starting to gel, and when David Fifita is feeling it he is a match-winner on his own.

Meanwhile, the Warriors do not look like the side who made it to last season’s preliminary final. They are winless in their last three, and unconvincing in their last two.

Like the previous week’s loss to the Dragons, the Warriors started strong before losing all momentum after 20 minutes. It is an issue they will want to address quickly with tough matches ahead.

But the major takeaway must be that playing in New Zealand on Anzac Day is non-negotiable. It is hard to believe that was only the second Anzac Day game played there. 

The crowd were out in force and the pre-match ceremony was just as moving as anything in Sydney or Melbourne.

Going forward, the first game on Anzac Day should be a Warriors home game.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. AJ Brimson (Titans)

2. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Warriors)

1. Jaimin Jolliffe (Titans)

(Votes are compiled by the ABC Sport radio commentary team after each match)

2. Roosters show what they are capable of in thumping win

Fans of the Sydney Roosters have had a frustrating opening two months of the 2024 season.

An NRL player, running with the ball, with two defenders trying to bring him down

Angus Crichton led a Roosters’ forward pack that overwhelmed St George Illawarra.(Getty Images: Cameron Spencer)

Going into the Anzac Day clash, the tricolours had not been able to string together back-to-back wins. The best of the Roosters was too often followed by poor performances.

Thursday afternoon’s 60-18 belting of St George Illawarra showed the class the Roosters have. 

Sam Walker had close to the best game of his career, scoring 24 points and having a hand in many of the Roosters’ 10 tries. 

In the middle, the Roosters forwards made metres at ease while the edge threats of Joey Manu and Dominic Young were too much for the Dragons to handle.

On paper the Roosters have a side that can win a premiership, with a roster of proven winners. 

More performances like this throughout 2024 and they will enter the title race discussion. 

But consistency has been the major hurdle for Sydney so far in 2024. A big showing this weekend at Lang Park against the Broncos will silence many doubters.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Sam Walker (Roosters)

2. Angus Crichton (Roosters)

1. Connor Watson (Roosters)

3. Radio silence from star Rabbitohs after another thumping

Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs players tussle after Taane Milne's ugly tackle on Cameron Munster.

Taane Milne (front) will miss a couple of weeks for an ugly tackle in the dying seconds of the 54-20 loss to Melbourne.(Getty Images: Daniel Pockett)

Coming off a spirited, albeit losing, performance in round six against the Sharks, followed by what should have been a restorative bye week, South Sydney came out on Anzac Day and had 50 points put on them for the first time in an already-dire season.

Making matters worse, the 54-20 loss in Melbourne came hours after the Titans’ first win of 2024, meaning the Rabbitohs fell back into last place on the ladder.

And the downhearted Souths stars were in no mood to talk after the game, with captain Cameron Murray and star five-eighth Cody Walker both swerving ABC microphones in the immediate aftermath.

Loading Instagram content

Former Storm star Ryan Hoffman was not impressed with the veteran players’ cold shoulders.

“Questions are gonna come and you need to answer them, unfortunately,” he said on ABC Sport.

“Whether you like to or not, this is rugby league and this is what needs to happen.”

Third time was the charm thanks to off-season recruit Jack Wighton, who told ABC Sport the team needs to “keep things in house” as they try to figure out what is going on.

Murray was asked only one question in the post-match press conference — if he had anything to add to coach Jason Demetriou’s comments from the previous six minutes of questioning or if he saw things the same way — and his answer was brief.

“Yep, same way,” he said.

It does not get easier for the Rabbitohs, who face three-time defending premiers Penrith on Thursday night.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Cameron Munster (Storm)

2. Jahrome Hughes (Storm)

1. Jye Gray (Rabbitohs)

4. Eels suffer another collapse and Gutherson takes it personally

A tough week for the Parramatta Eels compounded on Friday night when they endured a second late-game collapse in seven days.

Loading Instagram content

After capitulating to the Dolphins in round seven, the Eels let a 14-6 half-time lead slip to Manly, going down 32-18 at Brookvale Oval.

Maika Sivo’s sin-bin in the 70th minute took most of the attention following the match, but penalties and errors had already let the lead slip by then.

Despite the Eels showing grit to close a six-point deficit down to two with 15 minutes remaining, Parramatta again folded late and finished with a 14-point loss.

Captain Clint Gutherson cut an upset figure in the post-match press conference, lamenting another possible win slipping from his side.

After his players were heavily criticised for their performance the week prior, Gutherson said not everyone in the team was doing what they needed to win games.

“You can’t wait until you get publicly criticised to … decide to be a football team,” he said.

“We have to be able to do it every week. I thought we were there for 70 minutes, then fell away … As captain, you take it personally that everyone’s doing their job, and we’re not at the moment.”

The Eels’ grand final appearance in 2022 seems like a distant memory compared to their last two performances.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)

2. Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)

1. Taniela Paseka (Sea Eagles)

5. Reynolds makes winning return as Broncos start to find their groove

With his right leg noticeably strapped, Brisbane captain Adam Reynolds returned for the Broncos and didn’t seem to miss a step.

Reynolds’s kicking game released the pressure valve that Wests Tigers were able to assert for periods on Saturday night.

In attack Reynolds guided the Broncos around the park, orchestrating tries and creating opportunities for Brisbane’s outside backs to show off their fire power.

His cross-field kick to Deine Mariner that led to Reece Walsh’s try on the stroke of half-time was a touch of class that Brisbane will be happy to have back.

Loading Twitter content

The 33-year-old appeared to get through the match unscathed, despite almost comical scenes near the end when he succumbed to cramp which forced him to hobble off the pitch and leave the Broncos with 12 men.

While the Broncos were able to secure wins without Reynolds in recent weeks, there is no doubt they are a fearsome side when he is fit and healthy. 

Coupled with the return of Payne Haas in the front row, a fit and firing Brisbane will be a serious contender in September.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Pat Carrigan (Broncos)

2. Adam Reynolds (Broncos)

1. Payne Haas (Broncos)

6. Cowboys find their mojo but Payten ‘can’t be happy’ with defeat

Coming off lacklustre performances, the North Queensland Cowboys gave the three-time defending premiers all they could handle — and then some.

An NRL player talking to his teammate during a match, pointing and giving instructions

Chad Townsend (left) had a great second half for the Cowboys during a loss to Penrith.(Getty mages: Ian Hitchcock)

After digging themselves into a hole down 24-4 early in the second half, it looked for a moment like the Cowboys were going to pull off an unthinkable upset. 

In the end the deficit was too much despite scoring the final three tries of the match, but the Cowboys in the second half started to resemble the team who were premiership contenders two years ago.

The back row of Kulikefu Finefeuiaki, Jeremiah Nanai and Reuben Cotter was punishing with ball in hand, while Tom Dearden and Chad Townsend in the halves controlled the second half masterfully.

Their goal-line defence was also terrific in the final 40 minutes on Saturday, but all their hard work got them a loss.

Cowboys coach Todd Payten described the loss as frustrating in his press conference, emphasising that their hard work needs to turn into victories.

“What worries me … later tonight, go to the leagues club and get messages from fans and text messages [saying] ‘great effort’. Don’t be happy with that. We’re not happy with that,” Payten said.

“We’ve lost three of the last four and we just can’t be happy with being close.”

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Isaah Yeo (Panthers)

2. Dylan Edwards (Panthers)

1. Tom Dearden (Cowboys)

7. Armstrong’s debut helps Newcastle overcome their Ponga blues

Newcastle’s hopes of playing finals football in 2024 took a major hit when superstar Kayln Ponga went down against the Bulldogs.

NRL players David Armstrong and Bradman Best cheering on field, looking at a crowd, after scoring.

David Armstrong of the Knights celebrates after scoring on debut.(Getty Images: Bradley Kanaris)

The reigning Dally M medallist was heroic in Newcastle’s renaissance in 2023 when they made it to the second week of the finals.

When he limped off the field during a bad loss to the Bulldogs, many put a line through the Knights’ chances this season, but debutant replacement David Armstrong was ready to take his opportunity with both hands.

The 23-year-old from the town of Mungindi — on the NSW-Queensland border — stepped up in the biggest game of his young career.

He had a try in the eighth minute, was rock solid at the back in kick returns, and saved a certain try when he cut down his Dolphins counterpart Trai Fuller midway through the second half.

Armstrong laid a foundation for the Knights who were down on their luck heading into Sunday afternoon’s clash.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. David Armstrong (Knights)

2. Kai Pearce-Paul (Knights)

1. Trai Fuller (Dolphins)

8. Cronulla on top but the real challenges are coming

The Cronulla Sharks are on top of the ladder through eight rounds of NRL, with six wins and one loss through the opening two months.

An NRL player holds his arms and index-finger in the air, celebrating, as a teammate scores next to him

Cronulla ran in seven tries to defeat the Canberra Raiders.(Getty Images: Brendon Thorne)

They are ahead of the Melbourne Storm on for and against, and Sunday’s win was a performance fans are becoming accustomed to.

The Sharks were professional in their demolition of the Raiders in Canberra, combining stringent goal-line defence with efficiency when given attacking chances.

Nicho Hynes is beginning to produce similar performances that led him to the Dally M in 2022 and lock Cameron McInnes is leading a forward pack that is controlling the middle of the field.

Their only loss to West Tigers looks like an aberration as they followed it up with four straight wins, but the Sharks are yet to face any of the heavyweights through eight rounds.

They have two wins over the Raiders, along with victories over the Warriors, Bulldogs, Rabbitohs and Cowboys.

The real challenges will come over the next month, starting with a derby against the Dragons, followed by clashes with Melbourne, Sydney then Penrith.

Come the end of May, we will have a clear idea about how good these Sharks can be in 2024.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Nicho Hynes (Sharks)

2. Will Kennedy (Sharks)

1. Daniel Atkinson (Sharks)

Sports content to make you think… or allow you not to. A newsletter delivered each Saturday.

dan