SYDNEY (AP) — The Sydney Roosters hauled themselves onto the top rung of a constantly shifting ladder in Australia's National Rugby League with a hard-fought 18-14 win over previous leaders Souths in the weekend's 22nd round. Reigning premiers Melbourne had the chance to regain first place in the last match of the round on Sunday but, after losing to Souths in round 21, faltered again and went down 17-14 to Cronulla who climbed back into sixth
At the same time, Parramatta beat fast-fading St. George Illawarra 40-4, helped by three tries by former NFL star Jarryd Hayne, to bounce off the bottom of the premiership table for the first time in almost five months.
The Roosters, Souths, Melbourne and Penrith occupy the top four places on the ladder after 22 of 25 regular season rounds. After their clash on Friday, the Roosters and Souths both have 32 championship points but the Roosters lead the premiership on points difference.
Melbourne and Penrith have 30 points, filling out the top four, with the Storm in third place, again on points differential.
St. George Illawarra dropped backed to fifth after their third-straight loss, and after making the pace for much of the regular season.
St. George's form slump may become more serious after an injury to English five-eights Gareth Widdop. But hooker Cameron McInnes said the Dragons remain confident of regaining a top-four place. No team has won the premiership from outside the top four in the NRL era.
"People might want to write us off but we're not fazed at all," McInnes said. "We've got three games left and if people want to say it's scary not to be in the top four, well we'll be back."
The New Zealand Warriors beat Newcastle 20-4 to climb into sixth place before dropping back to seventh behind Cronulla and ahead of Brisbane who lost 34-30 to North Queensland.
Wests stayed in the hunt for a top-eight finish and a place in the playoffs when they edged Canberra 22-20 on Sunday. They remain only two points behind Brisbane in ninth place.