The 2019 NRL season might be just a matter of months away, but there is still time for reflection on the season that was in 2018, and what better way to do that than to look at the team of the year?
The competition for spots in 2018 is high.
The selection of the team was made tougher by the way the season shaped itself. Seemingly taking on sections, players were in and out of form, with not many able to string together a consistent season.
It makes some of the spots contentious at best in the top 17 from the season that was, but without further ado, let’s get into it.
1. James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)
Given Tedesco was my number one player when I compiled a list of the top 50 NRL players earlier this year, there is little surprise he ends up at fullback in this team.
There weren’t too many disagreeing then either.
He had an outstanding season. Maybe a slightly slow start, but Tedesco was an imperative part of the Sydney Roosters premiership and the New South Wales Blues drought-breaking State of Origin victory.
2. David Fusitu’a (New Zealand Warriors)
Fusitu’a is one of the most damaging wingers in the competition. He has always had the potential to be one of the best in the game since he burst onto the scene, and finally put the potential to good use in 2018.
By the end of the season, he had 23 tries from 23 games and was an influential part of the Warriors run into the top eight.
3. Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters)
When you talked about Latrell Mitchell at the start of the year, brain explosions and silly plays were the two phrases which came to mind and stopped you from mentioning him amongst the top players in the game.
By the end of the season, those phrases were gone. Latrell had made the grade as possibly the best centre in the gane, defending well and causing problems for every other team in the competition when he had the ball in hand.
He also has the goalkicking element going for him, and with an Origin debut under the wing in 2018, he will look to go from strength to strength next year.
4. Greg Inglis (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Made captain of Queensland in 2018, Inglis proved the doubters wrong. After injury and a general form drop-off, many thought he would never get back to where he was at one point of his career.
However, a permanent move back into the centres worked wonders at South Sydney and while he did spend some time on the sidelines, he could easily have dragged the Rabbitohs into the grand final had a few more things gone their way.
5. Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm)
Fusitu’a might be one of the best wingers in the game, but he doesn’t have the talent Josh Addo-Carr has.
What has been particularly impressive about the Melbourne-based winger over the last 12 months is the ability to learn and improve on his defensive work, which, let’s be fair, was lacking.
Attack has never been lacking from Addo-Carr’s game though and he had a huge 2018, finishing with 18 tries, 98 tackle busts and more importantly, 12 metres per run as well as an Origin debut.
6. Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Now, before you throw your accusations of bias at me, Widdop had a fantastic season. There were points when maybe he wasn’t quite at the top of his game, but he guided the Dragons into the eight and his influence over the club was more than visible when he missed the semi-final against the Rabbitohs with injury.
His future may not be completely decided with the Red V, but he has committed to the 2019 season and will play a critical role in where the Dragons end up at the end of next season.
7. Cooper Cronk (Sydney Roosters)
Playing the grand final as a specialist on-field coach aside, Cronk did have a phenomenal year.
Coming into 2018, the big question was whether he would gel into the Roosters style and whether he could be as good with Tedesco at fullback.
There were certainly subtle changes in his game, but Cronk barely put a foot wrong after a slightly slow start, guiding the Roosters through a difficult Origin period and ensuring they hit form at the right time of year.
8. Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks)
One of the most controversial figures in the NRL, Fifita is a monster for the Sharks when he is on his day.
Sure, he gets the back of fans up with a lack of consistency, his constant sideways running and still off-field antics, but the Tongan representative finished the season with some quality numbers.
9. Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
What a year for Cook.
Who knows what’s going to happen in 2019 under Wayne Bennett. Will the Rabbitohs play the same up-tempo footy? Will the forward pack remain dominant and allow Cook to go to work? They are all questions yet to be answered but based on the 2018 evidence, Cook is the best hooker in the game, taking the mantle from Cameron Smith.
It was his ability to hit form and maintain it which impressed the most. His ball running out of dummy half was phenomenal, while his ability to defend well and play big minutes was also important for South Sydney.
10. David Klemmer (Canterbury Bulldogs)
Joining Fifita in the front row is another explosive prop. Klemmer will be a huge addition to the Knights in 2019 and while he was a little quiet in patches throughout the year, he always came up with a big run or hit to assist a struggling Bulldogs outfit.
He led the Bulldogs forwards in terms of running metres by 500 throughout the course of the season and without a great deal of other candidates sticking their hands in the air, Klemmer deserves his spot.
11. Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Tariq Sims reminded us just how damaging he can be throughout 2018. After some lean form in the previous years, he got back to doing what he does best throughout 2018.
He could well pick up the mantle for most improved player from the year just gone, picking up almost 2500 metres with the ball by season’s end, as well as making halves around the country fear for their safety as he raced out of the defensive line and constantly turned up the pressure.
12. Boyd Cordner (Sydney Roosters)
The Roosters’ captain is consistent, if nothing else. He bases his game on defence and builds from there, setting the right example for the rest of his team on the edge.
For a second rower to be averaging 30 tackles per game, you know he is searching for work more often than he isn’t. He also has a tendency to roll up the sleeves and drag his team out of tough spots.
Cordner also has the ability to score close to the line, forming a strong combination with his halves. No doubting his place in the side.
13. Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys)
The scary thing about Taumalolo is we have reached a point where, if he doesn’t make 200 metres in a game, questions get aksed of his form.
When other players make 200 metres, they are applauded, as Taumalolo was during his first really big season.
Don’t get me wrong, Taumalolo’s efforts are still applauded and appreciated, but it’s become expected, so he doesn’t get talked about nearly as much for ‘doing his job.’
He is still the best lock in the game by a distance.
14. Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights)
If there is a more exciting youngster in the game than Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga at the moment, I’d like to hear about him.
While he doesn’t take the fullback spot in this team, he does get a run on the bench as the utility, a role he played well during the Origin campaign for Queensland.
He is likely to move into the halves next year, and if he isn’t in the team of the year at the end of 2018 as one of the halves, something will have gone a bit skewed.
15. Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
The Rabbitohs were one of the big shocks throughout the 2018 season under Anthony Seibold, and a big part of the reason was their forward pack, who were enormous from the start of the season to the end of that.
That forward pack was led by Slammin’ Sam Burgess.
Yes, it was a team effort. No, Burgess was probably not the best forward in the game, but he does deserve a spot in the top 17 of the year just gone.
Where Burgess was so dominant was his offloads, ending the year with 37, while he could always be relied on to give out a handy yardage and tackle advantage.
16. Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
Jake Trbojevic is one of the most consistent performers and mighty unlucky to not make the top 13. In fact, the only reason he misses out is because of the freakishly talented Taumalolo from the Cowboys, and the fact there is only a single lock forward in the team.
Playing in a battling Manly outfit, you just know what you’re going to get from Trbojevic week in and week out.
By the end of the season, he was averaging about 40 tackles per game and was also involved in plenty of solid plays with brother Tom through the middle third of the field.
17. Villame Kikau (Penrith Panthers)
In a year of breakout players, Kikau was one of the best. The damaging Fijian second rower was sensational, causing headaches for defenders all year long.
The statistics – 78 tackle breaks and 43 offloads – tell you the story. He ran hard, kept the eyes open and was never easy to tackle.
He played somewhat injured doing the finals, so it’s scary to think about where Penrith might have ended up if he stayed fit and healthy.
Roarers, what did you make of 2018. Who would have made your team of the year?