Another day, another edition of The Roar’s top 50 NRL players for 2019.
30. Ben Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons)
The million-dollar-a-season man had a yo-yo year in 2018, after starting on fire for the Dragons.
Unfairly blamed for Queensland’s loss in the Game 2 State of Origin decider, he was promptly dumped from the team by coach Kevin Walters.
When Hunt is on song he is a great game a manager and an effective ball runner who knows his way over the stripe, scoring seven tries for last season.
If he and England international Gareth Widdop can sing from the same hymn book in 2019, before Widdop returns to the old dart, then Hunt will quickly erase those Origin woes.
29. David Klemmer (Newcastle Knights)
The big metre-eater took a last-minute preseason decision to have a tree change in the Hunter Valley and join the Knights after being granted a release from the last two years of his contract by the Bulldogs.
The 25-year-old is tough, passionate and intimidating. All healthy traits for a rugby league front rower.
Despite the Dogs’ lack of success in 2018, Klemmer managed to average 181 metres per game – the highest for any front rower.
The change of scenery and colours will enhance his game even further, and he will be expected to play a leadership role, setting the platform for his backs.
28. Luke Keary (Sydney Roosters)
Luke Keary’s slight frame doesn’t seem suited to the brutal arena of the NRL.
Deceptive is a word I could use a lot when describing him. He is quicker and more skillful than he seems at first glance and a solid defender despite his size.
Keary beat Cooper Cronk’s scapula fracture to the Clive Churchill Medal, after his man of the match performance in last year’s grand final victory against the Storm. With Cronk a passenger, Keary took the running of the team, playing both number 6 and 7 at times.
He backed it up last weekend with a polished performance in the Roosters’ 20-8 victory in the World Club Challenge.
Look for Keary to further improve his combination with Cronk in 2019.
27. Anthony Milford (Brisbane Broncos)
Unlike my colleagues, I couldn’t find a place in my top 50 for Anthony Milford. A massively talented player, I have kept a close eye on the Milf since his days of being a rising junior star in the nation’s capital.
He has an innate ability to get through opposition defences and a high propensity to execute offloads.
However, his defence and ability to control a game lets him down.
The fortunes of the Broncos will rely heavily on whether he can combine well with fellow half Kodi Nikorima.
26. Mitchell Pearce (Newcastle Knights)
Mitchell Pearce is a great halfback at club level. Superbly fit and strong, he is a tough competitor.
Moving away from the heady Eastern suburbs life to the slightly slower pace of Newcastle seems to have been a successful career transition.
With 13 try assists ‘Ju’ had a solid first season with the Knights, after being restricted to just 15 games due to a pectoral injury. On the upside, he became the youngest player in NRL history to play 200 first-grade matches.
Pearce is set to work up a potentially lethal halves combination with rising star Kalyn Ponga that should see Novocastrians talking about finals football for the first time in a while.
25. Martin Taupau (Manly Sea Eagles)
When Marty lives up to his ‘Kapow’ nickname he is devastating in attack and a sledgehammer in defence.
Running on the edge of the ruck and steamrolling small defenders is the name of the game for the 190cm and 112kg forward, who is arguably the strongest man in the NRL.
In the past, Taupau has been guilty of inconsistency and ill discipline, however he has improved both these areas to become a mainstay of the Manly and New Zealand packs.
Taupau finished second for offloads last season, behind Andrew Fifita, getting the ball away 71 times.
Marty is an entertainer and a fan favourite. If Manly can get a roll on in 2019, Taupau will play a big part in bringing the crowds back to Brookvale.
24. Michael Morgan (North Queensland Cowboys)
Michael Morgan didn’t make my top 50 for the simple reason that he only managed to play 11 games in 2018 due to injury. To be honest, even in the games he played, he was hampered by an abdominal issue.
One fellow judge agreed with me, while the other three obviously have clear memory of Morgan’s outstanding 2017 season, where he picked up Dally M halfback of the year.
At his best, Morgan possesses a great turn of speed, anticipation, vision and a good kicking game.
With Johnathan Thurston watching from the stands, Morgan will feel an extra weight of expectation on his shoulders in 2019.
23. Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne Storm)
Jesse Bromwich has been a key cog in Craig Bellamy’s well-oiled machine for nine years.
A no-nonsense prop who gets the job done, he’s a coach’s dream.
Melbourne recently named Bromwich and Dale Finucane as vice-captains to Cameron Smith, with Jesse expected to get first dibs when Smith hangs up the boots.
Bromwich was able to make amends in the New Zealand national team after a period of exile following a recreational drugs incident in 2017.
Playing against the England team, Bromwich scored a try and set up another in the Kiwis’ 34-0 win at Elland Road in the third Test.
22. Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly Sea Eagles)
I will admit to Daly not being my favourite player, however he is immensely gifted, with an ability to sniff out an opportunity.
Statistics don’t lie – or so they say – and Cherry-Evans has the numbers to back his credentials. Sixth in the NRL for total points, with 164, Daly also came up with 15 try assists (seventh) and 17 line break assists (first).
With Queensland losing the Origin series, Cherry-Evans came in for the demoted Hunt in Game 3 and played a starring role in the Maroons’ victory, prompting coach Walters to say the Manly halfback would retain his spot in 2019.
21. Angus Crichton (Sydney Roosters)
Angus Crichton wrote his own chapter in Rusty Crowe’s Book of Feuds in 2018 when he signed with the Roosters.
Following the path of many before him, Angus crossed the neighbourhood line from Redfern to Bondi, which to be honest is not such a huge leap for a boy who went to school at Scots College in Bellevue Hill.
Crichton is a big, athletic backrower who seems to always be in the right place at the right time and has a good offload.
The Roosters manage at least one marquee signing per season, as club chairman Nick Politis rarely misses his target.
Now pass me that tequila!
The Roar’s top 50 NRL players (so far)
50. Elliott Whitehead
49. Dane Gagai
48. David Fusitu’a
47. Adam Reynolds
46. Blake Ferguson
45. Tyson Frizell
44. Tariq Sims
43. Cody Walker
42. James Roberts
41. Josh McGuire
40. Ryan James
39. James Graham
38. Andrew McCullough
37. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
36. Josh Jackson
35. Luke Brooks
34. Matt Moylan
33. Wade Graham
32. Josh Addo-Carr
31. Viliame Kikau
30. Ben Hunt
29. David Klemmer
28. Luke Keary
27. Anthony Milford
26. Mitchell Pearce
25. Martin Taupau
24. Michael Morgan
23. Jesse Bromwich
22. Daly Cherry-Evans
21. Angus Crichton
Check back in tomorrow as we reveal players 20-11…