Another wild weekend in the NRL delivered two head-to-head upsets, send-offs, comebacks, injury drama, diabolical decisions, judiciary ramifications, 30-point thrashings in a pair of near pick ’ems – and a ladder that bears little resemblance to any pre-season predictions.

Here’s the thrills and spills from Round 5.

Barnburners, blowouts and brain explosions

A Thursday night classic in Melbourne – with the Storm surging late to edge the gallant Broncos 34-32, with freakish tries from kicks the theme of the night – set the tone for a crazy round of NRL footy.

Canterbury and the Sydney Roosters put forward a compelling submission for the most bizarre match of 2024 on Friday as the Bulldogs, 10.5-point outsiders, raced to an 18-point lead after just 15 minutes.

At halftime the Roosters trailed 26-0, lost James Tedesco and Sam Walker to concussion, had Dom Young sent off for a high shot – yet they launched an astonishing revival that closed the gap to six points with more than 20 minutes left.

The Bulldogs’ 30-26 escape, which also encompassed the ridiculous sin-binning of Victor Radley with nine minutes left but didn’t stop the 11-man Roosters from scoring to set up a grandstand finish, ended five tries apiece in a bit of a buzzkill for Cameron Ciraldo’s charges.

The remaining six games were all decided by double-digits, including 30-plus wins to the Warriors over Souths and Canberra against Parramatta, when both started as mere 1.5-point favourites.

Manly, aided by a Bunker howler, upset Penrith 32-18.

Kalyn Ponga, Shaun Johnson, milestone man Daly Cherry-Evans, Isaiya Katoa and Scott Drinkwater enjoyed big Dally M vote hauls, while the NRL table boasts the unlikely co-leading quartet of the Dolphins, Cowboys, Storm and Sharks.

The Raiders, Warriors and Sea Eagles take up the next three spots, while the Panthers, Roosters, Broncos and Eels are striving to stay in touch with the pacesetters without their No.7s (and others) sidelined for varying periods.

Then there’s the last-placed Rabbitohs, standing on the edge of oblivion already…

In or Demetriout?

It’s hard not to feel for South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou, with multiple key players sitting on sidelines and the superstars who are on the paddock underperforming drastically.

The latest instalment of the Latrell Mitchell sideshow – copping a three-man ban for a reckless elbow on Shaun Johnson while in possession – in a 34-4 loss to the Warriors epitomises the Rabbitohs’ plight.

But the club’s deteriorating culture was brought into sharp focus by the public fallout that saw highly-regarded assistants Sam Burgess and John Morris walk out of Redfern late last year… and it appears Demetriou has done nothing to address the internal issues.

Souths have now won just five of their last 18 games, conceding 26-plus points in all but four of those outings, and sit last on the NRL ladder.

Controversially axed two weeks earlier, halfback Lachlan Ilias’ gruesome broken leg in the dying seconds of Saturday’s NSW Cup action compounds the team’s woes.

The Rabbitohs’ clash with the Sharks this weekend ahead of their first bye is increasingly shaping as a win-or-walk assignment for Demetriou, who surely must inject livewire Jye Gray at fullback and consider moving marquee signing Jack Wighton to five-eighth as a circuit-breaker.

Souths have blown out to $41 in the premiership market with only four sides below them, while they are now considered a $2.75 chance to make the Top 8.

Real deal Warriors

On the other end of the spectrum at Accor Stadium, the Warriors emerged from a promising-but-patchy opening month of their campaign to produce a complete performance that put the rest of the competition on notice.

The Warriors rode out the first-half arm-wrestle to snap an eight-match losing streak against Souths in devastating style, courtesy of a sizzling burst just before the break and a second-half shutout.

The 30-point win was achieved without five first-choice players, including four who featured in the victory over the Knights six days earlier.

As well as boasting the best defence in the league (14.5 points per game conceded), an extremely well-rounded and deep squad is glued together by a spine that is emerging as the equal of any in the NRL.

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was magnificent in his first outing since his man-of-the-match performance in New Zealand’s Pacific Championships rout of Australia, immediately putting an end to the external debate over who should wear the Warriors’ No.1 jersey.

Shaun Johnson was typically sublime with two tries and two deft try assists, Wayde Egan rocketed into the star-studded NSW hooker equation, and Te Maire Martin grasped the five-eighth opportunity provided by Luke Metcalf’s injury with his best game for the club.

A generous $15 on the fifth line of premiership betting, the Warriors are just $1.50 to make back-to-back finals appearances for the first time in 13 years and can gain a real Top 4 ($2.90) foothold with games against the Sea Eagles, Dragons, Titans and Knights over the next four rounds.

On a Daly basis

Manly’s rich and successful history has been underpinned by a litany of long-serving champions – but Daly Cherry-Evans may eventually retire regarded as the greatest Sea Eagles clubman of them all.

The Brookvale Oval delirium that accompanied DCE’s five-star showing in Manly’s 32-18 win over Penrith as he passed Cliff Lyons as the most-capped player in the club’s history summed up the esteem in which he is held on the northern beaches.

It’s been a remarkable journey – a rookie-season premiership winner in a stacked team, to the lows of his Titans backflip amid a personal form dip and the end of the Sea Eagles’ decade-long finals tenure in 2015, then maintaining an ultra-high standard during the club’s peaks and troughs since.

Unlike fellow Manly icons Bob Fulton, Max Krilich, Graham Eadie, Lyons, Des Hasler, Geoff Toovey, Steve Menzies et al, Cherry-Evans has regularly been left to carry the Sea Eagles’ can by himself.

Cherry-Evans’ eight-season reign as Manly captain has also featured an incredible representative renaissance, becoming a bona fide Origin great as skipper of Queensland’s unlikely dominance of the interstate arena over the past four years.

The Sea Eagles, $15 to win the premiership and still searching for consistency, can ill-afford to lose Tom Trbojevic again – but there’s little question their 35-year-old halfback remains the most important player in the club.

Bruised heavyweights getting left behind

Brisbane, Sydney Roosters and Parramatta all slipped to 2-3 records with Round 5 losses of varying concern – and all three face an arduous task staying afloat in coming weeks with high-profile casualty wards hampering their progress.

The quality of the Broncos’ football in the face of an injury crisis is hugely encouraging. Their fill-ins have done an admirable job.

But with Reece Walsh, Payne Haas and Brendan Piakura not due back for another three weeks, Deine Mariner out for longer and Adam Reynolds succumbing to a hamstring injury, their win-loss ratio may take a further hit.

The Roosters’ problems are more short-term, but James Tedesco and Sam Walker will miss at least one game on concussion protocols, Lindsay Collins is sweating on hamstring scans and Dom Young has joined Spencer Leniu on the suspended list.

It’s been a bad fortnight at Bondi on the field, too.

Though entrenched among the top four contenders in the NRL futures market, the Broncos’ ($2.10) and Roosters’ ($2.40) Top 4 odds have lengthened.

Parramatta’s problems centre around the absence of Mitchell Moses, though in-form Bryce Cartwright, due back in Round 9, is also a substantial loss.

Alarm bells should be ringing after the Eels followed up an Easter Monday collapse against Wests Tigers with an insipid 41-8 defeat in Canberra on Sunday night.

Moses is not scheduled to return until Round 12, by which stage the blue-and-golds could already be left with too much Top 8 ground to make up.

The Eels have tumbled to $3.00 to reach the finals and have eased out to $34 for the title.