Under pressure: Souths forward Sam Burgess will be expected to lift the Bunnies in his final season at the club before taking up a lucrative deal with English rugby.

Under pressure: Souths forward Sam Burgess will be expected to lift the Bunnies in his final season at the club before taking up a lucrative deal with English rugby. Photo: Getty Images

There have been two high-profile players announcing they're leaving their clubs at season's end - Sam Burgess and Andrew Fifita - and their respective teams are struggling big time.

It's an old story in rugby league, as old as the code-hopping Dally Messenger, but it's hard to deny that when a star player announces early one season he's heading elsewhere the following year that teams invariably struggle to cope with the news.

There are of course exceptions to the rule but Rabbitohs and Sharks fans would not be happy with the contributions of rugby-bound Burgess and former Canterbury recruit Fifita this year. Fifita, in particular, has been well below his barnstorming best from last season in his two matches either side his two-game shoulder-charge suspension.

The off-field distractions are only going to increase now his Bulldogs deal is off and rugby's again in the picture.

1. Sea Eagles (Last week 3): Last year it was the Roosters who blanked out several teams with their swarming defence. This year it looks like Manly will be that side. They did a Roosters on the Roosters last Friday night at Allianz Stadium.

2. Melbourne: (1): mark down the loss in Perth as an aberration. Losing Cameron Smith to back spasms in the warm-up was hardly ideal preparation against a committed Bulldogs side on foreign soil dampened by persistent rain.

2. Roosters (2): They had a 6-0 record without Sonny Bill Williams heading into last Friday's game. That's now 6-1 but they've missed him while he's been serving his shoulder-charge ban despite the career-best form of workaholic back-rower Mitchell "Roy" Aubusson. He's from Ballina and he should be an outside chance of representative honours this year although growing up on the NSW North Coast doesn't necessarily mean you won't end up wearing maroon.

4. Broncos (9): lt's never easy for visiting sides to win at WIN Stadium but the Broncos halted St George Illawarra's three-game winning streak with a controlled all-round performance in which they didn't dominate time in the opposition half (Dragons spent 53 minutes in enemy territory compared to Brisbane's 23) but made the most of those opportunities to post six tries.

5. Bulldogs (7): this team has become un-Canterbury like and is possibly the hardest side to predict this season. Just when you think they're a plodding side, the Dogs come up with a big win over the Storm after previously dishing up poor performances when you thought they were going to be legitimate finals contenders. Brisbane are the team that missed the finals last year most likely to make the playoffs this year, according to last week's LeagueHQ poll which produced 27% of the more than 19,000 votes for the Broncos.

6. Titans (10): they ain't flash, they ain't fancy but they now have three wins from four matches. They've started seasons strongly in recent years and faded quickly but with Aidan Sezer directing traffic and Luke Bailey and Nate Myles doing the tough stuff up front, Gold Coast seem to have a bit more grit about them in 2014.

7. Dragons (5): the return of Josh Dugan will bring expectations of an immediate lift in the Dragons although the fullback's not necessarily going to light it up first game back from injury. He and Gareth Widdop could be a potent combination if Dugan allows the Englishman to do all the ball playing and he concentrates on his strength - running fast into wide open spaces which eventually finish at the try line.

8. Panthers (4): it's still hard to get an accurate gauge on Penrith because supercoach Cleary has not been able to have his first-choice halves duo, Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace, together much at all this year. Both players weren't at the club last year so the rest of the team is still getting used to them too. Wallace's replacement last week Isaac John came up short when he was targeted by Parramatta's ball runners, missing 10 tackles.

9. Rabbitohs (6): they could be much lower in the rankings based solely on 2014 form but their roster is still strong, which is possibly the most perplexing thing - apart from injured hooker Issac Luke, this is pretty much the same squad that was so dominant for most of last season.

10. Warriors (12): is that the sound of a bandwagon suddenly becoming crowded that can be heard from across the ditch. When the Warriors build momentum, they can be hard to stop. When they don't build momentum, they look like the worst team in the comp. Supercoach Elliott will be resting a little easier after back-to-back wins but no Warriors coach has ever been able to sleep easily at night.

11. Eels (13): supercoach Arthur removed Chris Sandow from the "break in case of emergency" glass and it proved to be a masterstroke against Penrith. Sandow was one of the better playmakers in the NRL a few years ago at South Sydney. Talent has never been an issue for him. Let's hope he continues to use it, not abuse it.

12. Raiders (14): captain Terry Campese made an interesting point after the win over Souths when he said the Green Machine was becoming overly reliant on Anthony Milford. Opposition teams will know this and target the fullback. Campese, particularly, needs to take on more of a play-making role and Canberra can be in the mix for the finals.

13. Tigers (8): is it possible that the Wests boys got complacent after a 2-1 start to the year? The team that thrashed Souths so emphatically then goes to Wellington and cops a 24-point drubbing from the Warriors. It's to be expected from a still pretty young side but won't be tolerated by supercoach Potter.

14. Knights (16): supercoach Bennett said the result wasn't particularly important on Sunday even after the 30-point pummeling of Cronulla, and he was right. It shouldn't take a player suffering a broken neck for league followers to realise it's just a game, a silly old game that millions love, but nothing more. Perspective is sometimes lost but not at a time like this when Alex McKinnon's very well-being is in such a fragile state. 

15. Cowboys (11): this is a club which looks like it needs a good old-fashioned player clean-out. The kind that supercoach Smith would get employed to do at clubs and then the same chief executives who hired him to clean out the dead wood, would then distance themselves from the process. North Queensland have used a lot of the same players over the past few years. If they can't do better than their current efforts, others should be brought in.

16. Sharks (16): attack, defence, playing strength, team spirit, off-field stability. The Sharks are crossing all the boxes at the moment. They can't keep saying they'll improve once their injured brigade gets back on the field. By then it could be too late. Some might say, at 0-4, they've already reached tipping point.