My 2012 NRL team of the season
The NRL finals series kicks off in a matter of days, but before we turn our attention to the competition’s best eight teams, let’s take a look at the best players in their positions in 2012 and try and fit them into a starting 13.
Given the dominance that the top teams have shown this year it’s hardly surprising that 10 out of the 13 players selected below come from teams inside the top five, and only two come from outside of the top eight.
Here is my 2012 NRL team of the season, based on players picked in their most favourable positions.
Fullback: Ben Barba (Bulldogs)
He is the game’s most electrifying player this season and certain Dally M winner, Ben Barba has had a stellar season, racking up 21 tries (equal first), 22 line breaks (equal second) and the most tackle busts in the NRL.
It’s unimaginable that just twelve months ago many NRL pundits were questioning his ability to play the fullback position, given his problems with high balls and some lacklustre one-on-one defence.
In 2012 Barba has not only excelled with the ball in hand (especially returning from kicks), but he has also been a menace in defence against would be opposition try scorers close to the line. A joy to watch.
Wingers: Ash Graham (Cowboys) and Brett Morris (Dragons)
Ash Graham is far from the most complete winger in the NRL, but he sticks to what he is good at and that is scoring four pointers. The natural try-scorer has linked up beautifully this season with a fully fit Brent Tate and the masterful Matt Bowen.
With 21 tries and 17 line breaks from 22 games, Graham is impossible to ignore.
He may have started the year slower than Graham, but Brett Morris has been one of the NRL’s most consistent outside backs in 2012. Beginning the season on the wing, before moving to fullback, Morris was moved back closer to the sideline following a brilliant performance in jersey number two for NSW in State of Origin three.
Morris got over the stripe 14 times and broke the line on 16 occasions this year, but what has been his most impressive statistic is his metres gained – the highest in the league.
Centres: Jamie Lyon (Manly) and Kane Linnett (Cowboys)
Were it not for his retirement from representative football, Jamie Lyon would be the first player picked in the centres for the Blues. The fourth highest point scorer in the competition, Lyon is just about the complete player – rock solid defensively, excellent footwork and a pure football brain that allows him to make correct decisions time after time.
One of the buys of the season, Kane Linnett has been a revelation at the Cowboys. Playing outside Jonathan Thurston, the former Rooster has developed into one of the game’s premier gap runners, scoring 12 tries and breaking the line on average once per game.
Halves: Josh Reynolds (Bulldogs) and Cooper Cronk (Storm)
Playing his first full season in the top grade, five-eighth Josh Reynolds has embodied all that is good about the Bulldogs in 2012 – skilful, enthusiastic and aggressive. His ability to run hard at the opposition’s defensive line and his support play this season has been eye catching.
While this season hasn’t been Cooper Cronk’s best, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been a very good season for the number seven Playing behind a Storm pack that has been far from dominant, Cronk has been consistently good and finishes the 2012 regular season with the second most try assists.
Props: James Tamou (Cowboys) and Sam Burgess (Souths)
James Tamou combines a tough running style with clever footwork, meaning that it often takes three players to arrest him to the turf. The Kiwi/New South Welshman secured the third most run metres in the NRL.
Playing with the energy of four Burgess brothers, oldest brother Sam has shrugged aside a couple of injuries to have his most productive NRL season yet. Starting 2012 in the second row, the Englishman has played a great part of the season in the middle of the field where he has continued to cause havoc with his strong running and brutal defence.
Hooker: Cameron Smith (Melbourne)
The game’s most intelligent player, Cameron Smith is both a workhorse and a magician. Consistently racking up 40 tackles a game doesn’t stop Smith from being the most effective dummy half in the NRL, controlling the pace of the game dutifully. His kicking game is also invaluable, both from inside his own half and close to the line.
Second rowers: Frank Pritchard (Bulldogs) and Nate Myles (Titans)
Often much maligned for being a lazy edge player, Frank Pritchard has benefited most from the arrival of coach Des Hasler.
This season the Kiwi international has found the mongrel that he possessed back at Penrith and has been a dominant gap runner.
One of the games most durable players, Nate Myles has played through the pain barrier for most of 2012, yet it has been one of his best seasons yet.
Injury interrupted years to fellow rep players Ash Harrison, Luke Bailey and Greg Bird meant that Myles often ploughed through 80 minutes in the middle of the field. A pure workhorse.
Lock: Paul Gallen (Sharks)
No one works harder during a game than NSW captain Paul Gallen. Despite only playing 15 club games this season Gallen has achieved the 12th highest run metres in the NRL.
A threat both through the middle of the field and on the edges, this year the Sharks number 13 has also added some clever ball playing responsibilities that make him a handful in all areas of the footy field.
So, Roarers, what are your thoughts? Who would you have in your own NRL team of the season?