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The top 50 NRL players of 2018: 10-1

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18th October, 2018
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After four days of debate, we reach the top ten players in the NRL as my top 50 player countdown reaches its conclusion.

Four players not in the top 50 at the start of the season have made the top ten, while a new number one player has been annointed after a stunning season.

» Part 1 (50-41)
» Part 2 (40-31)
» Part 3 (30-21)
» Part 2 (20-11)

10. Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Rank at start of season: 14
Sam is back at the top of the game when it comes to forwards. Cutting the errors out was a big part of that, but he and his brothers rediscovered the ability to run and tackle hard in 2018. What leaves Sam at the top of the crop was his 37 offloads – almost two per game – while only making an error per game.

9. Valentine Holmes (Cronulla Sharks)
Rank at start of season: 20
While there is conjecture about Holmes’ future, the Sharks would be mad to let him go. I had plenty of reservations about whether he could play fullback or not, but he has proven the knockers wrong. He topped the Sharks for run metres with more than 3700, while he had 22 tries, nine try assists, 27 line breaks and 15 offloads following a stunning second half of the season.

8. Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters)
Rank at start of year: N/A
I had my reasons for leaving the Roosters’ gun centre off this list at the start of the year. Brain explosions and silly defensive plays were still evident in the youngster’s game, but he has proven me wrong, becoming one of the best players in the NRL. Add goalkicking, and he will be chasing a million dollars per year on his next deal.

7. Greg Inglis (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Rank at start of year: N/A
This one, I can admit, was a massive oversight at the start of the year. I genuinely thought Inglis was done and would never get back to his best after injuries and poor form ruined the best part of two years. 2018 was a different story, his running game dominant and defence on the same level as he became captain of Queensland.

6. Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights)
Rank at start of season: N/A
If there is a player who has burst onto the scene this year, it’s the Knights fullback. Ponga set the world on fire and almost became the youngest Dally M winner in history.

He will be the most valuable player in the game if he isn’t already and his representative career promises to be a long and prosperous one. If the Knights can build a team around Ponga, they will be challenging for a premiership before long.

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Kalyn Ponga of the Knights

(AAP Image/Brendon Thorne)

5. Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Rank at start of season: N/A
Normally a season like the one Cook just had would leave me sitting here saying it was an oversight at the start of the season to leave him off the list, but it genuinely wasn’t.

He came from nowhere and then maintained that form for 25 rounds. He still has plenty to learn in terms of controlling a team when the forward pack aren’t dominating, but this is a season to be celebrated.

4. Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys)
Rank at start of year: 3
The expected normal for Taumalolo now is 200-metre games and he was close to that mark again in 2018, but like most of the Cowboys, he had some quiet moments. Still, he fully deserves his place in the top ten, in a very similar spot to where he started the year.

3. Billy Slater (Melbourne Storm)
Rank at start of season: 4
Billy the Kid is going out at the top of his game. He had an off grand final, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact he put together another incredible season of footy, dragging the Storm into the decider.

The game will sorely miss Slater moving forward.

2. Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm)
Rank at start of season: 2
Smith is the ultimate professional. While he has flirted with the idea of retirement, I expect him to be back and going around again next year. His leadership, his kicking game, his defence… there are few things Smith can’t do in the game and while he is getting older, there are few signs of slowing down.

1. James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)
Rank at start of season: 7
This selection for footy’s best player might turn heads, but Tedesco has had an outstanding 2018.

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When he and Cronk were signed to the Roosters, the goal was premiership, and that’s exactly what they delivered.

Tedesco finished the season with 21 try assists, nine tries, 133 tackle busts, 19 line breaks and an average of more than ten metres per run.

He was outstanding both at club and representative level and with a long career still ahead of him, he has cemented himself as the most valuable player in the game.

As an aside, here are the players left out.

Players not picked from original list
49. Jack Bird (Brisbane Broncos)
46. Matt Scott (North Queensland Cowboys)
45. Jordan Rapana (Canberra Raiders)
43. Corey Norman (Parramatta Eels)
42. Dane Gagai (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
41. Josh McGuire (Brisbane Broncos)
40. Angus Crichton (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
39. Will Chambers (Melbourne Storm)
35. Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne Storm)
34. Nathan Brown (Parramatta Eels)
31. Matt Gillett (Brisbane Broncos)
30. Ben Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons)
29. Suliasi Vunivalu (Melbourne Storm)
28. Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders)
22. Josh Dugan (Cronulla Sharks)
21. Clint Gutherson (Parramatta Eels)
9. Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly Sea Eagles)
6. Michael Morgan (North Queensland Cowboys)