As I said yesterday, the new NRL season can’t get here fast enough.
That said, us footy fans have to have something to do in the off-season, so today we’re continuing our countdown of the top 50 players in rugby league.
In this penultimate edition, we look at the players from 20-11. They rank among the best in the game, but for whatever reasons are just outside that top echelon.
20. Greg Inglis (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
It may be somewhat of a shock to some to see Greg Inglis at number 20. His career has been sometimes exciting, sometimes dominant but always must-watch. 2019 will be Inglis’ 15th season in the NRL and he’s cemented a place as one of the game’s greats.
After a dry period of try scoring in the last few years (bar 2017 when Inglis was injured), last season the centre found his way to the try line again, crossing ten times. His ability to hit up in defence out wide and in the middle when it’s needed has been a key feature of Souths’ recent improvement.
With Wayne Bennett at the helm, who knows how to get the best out of his superstar veterans, it’ll be interesting to see what 2019 has in store.
19. Shaun Johnson (Cronulla Sharks)
Mercurial, game-breaking and maddeningly inconsistent. Shaun Johnson has been the best player in rugby league and he’s been the most invisible player in rugby league – sometimes in the same game.
There’s no doubting his immense talent. He can sniff a line break better than most, he knows where to put himself to make the biggest impact and his decision-making when a try is on offer is second to none. With his move to Cronulla he’ll be even more dangerous behind the likes of Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita.
Does he have anything to prove? You betcha. He’ll be leaned on to be a driving force behind a team that may have off-field troubles but still has a roster capable of winning it all. Can he carry them with him?
18. Tom Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
Ah, Tommy Turbo. Burst onto the NRL scene in 2015 flying past hapless defenders grasping at dust like Wile. E. Coyote reaches out for the Roadrunner.
Trbojevic has quickly settled down to business and his business is tries. Scoring tries, setting up tries, making line breaks that lead to tries, you name it. If there’s four points to be had, chances are Tom Trbojevic will be involved somewhere along the line.
We did have to ask though – was he more than speed and flair? Where’s the substance? Those questions were answered during the 2018 Origin series, his first real test in an intense pressure scenario. Queensland targeted Trbojevic under the high ball dozens of times and Trbojevic stayed solid, eventually forcing a change of approach before making his impact up at the other tryline.
He’s maturing as a player, he’s incredible to watch and he’s only 22. He’ll be fun to watch for a long time.
17. Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders)
Personally, I had Hodgson in the top ten because once he’s arrived in the NRL he has quickly become one of the game’s elite number 9s. He’s a little under the radar in the nation’s capital but he’s a phenomenal talent.
The fact that Hodgson has been named co-captain at the Raiders alongside Jarrod Croker shows how highly he’s regarded. If you want an example of his influence, see how Canberra floundered in attack during the first half of 2018 without Hodgson after he tore his ACL in the 2017 world cup.
When Hodgson returned he played 11 games and racked up nine try assists and seven line break assists. Damien Cook, the popular choice as the game’s best 9, had eight try assists and nine line break assists in 25 games.
Hodgson has a canny kicking game, knows when to pull the ball in and steal some ground and has solid defence. He’s my best hooker by a mile, but this is a combined list so I will support him in the top 20.
16. James Maloney (Penrith Panthers)
He just wins, that’s what James Maloney does. Any club he goes to plays finals and wins. He takes on the defensive line more than any other player (115 times in 2018) and it’s almost a weird feeling watching him do post-game interviews without his head strapped or a nick around his eyes.
Maloney cops a lot for his defence, or apparent lack thereof. He misses a phenomenal amount of tackles but that can be misleading as he still slows up the runner.
But his influence on the field cannot be denied. Whether he’s at five-eighth or halfback, Maloney controls the tempo of his team’s attack to great effect and he’s a fantastic teacher for his young padawan Nathan Cleary.
15. Boyd Cordner (Sydney Roosters)
Premiership captain. Origin winning captain. Boy Cordner’s an inspirational leader, a fixture in the game’s best teams. But for some reason Cordner still doesn’t float everyone’s boat. His efforts in the 2018 State of Origin shut quite a few critics up but there’s still a few battlers out there who can’t understand what Cordner brings to the table.
Cordner’s a consistent performer who plays a role in his team that he’s perfectly suited for. He’s a strong runner and solid in defense who covers a number of positions across the defensive line.
His leadership and organisation are also obviously respected throughout the league.
His work is not flashy, it’s not fancy. But it’s damn effective and it’s what every club needs.
14. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand Warriors)
The reigning Dally M Medallist is one of the most exciting talents in the game, able to destroy defences from anywhere on the field. He busts tackles, he makes metres, he runs kicks straight back down his opponent’s throat and he’s a constant attacking threat.
After his bad knee injury in 2016 ‘RTS’ came back better than ever and he’s grown into the captain’s role under coach Stephen Kearney.
Tuivasa-Sheck is the Warriors’ first Dally M medallist and he’s still only 25. We’ll be marvelling at him for a while yet.
13. Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers)
In Cleary’s three years as in the NRL the Penrith halfback has not missed finals and he’s also the reigning State of Origin winning halfback. Not bad for a 20-year old. He’s an exciting talent whose decision making is highly regarded across the game.
New South Wales coach Brad Fittler has described Cleary as his long term Origin halfback and he’ll be the better for his 2018 experience in the game’s hottest cauldron.
For the first time in his career Cleary will be under the spotlight – from Panthers fans who want him to take their club to the next level, and from the rest of us who want to see how he’ll go being coached by his dad…
12. Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
Trbojevic the elder is somewhat of a quiet achiever. He churns through metres and nails his tackles. His 967 tackles last year was fourth in the competition and a career best. Trbojevic has been improving every season since his debut.
He’s a leader at his club, has played for his country and delivered great performances for New South Wales in the State of Origin arena. The personification of the phrase ‘built for Origin’.
All things going well, Jake T will play his 100th game for Manly in Round 6. He’s only 25, a local boy on the threshold of a fantastic career. I’m very interested to see how he thrives under prodigal Sea Eagle Des Hasler.
11. Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks)
He’s rough, he’s tough and he’s definitely an acquired taste. If he was on your team you’d love him but he’s not, so you probably hate him. Andrew Fifita is a genuine superstar when he’s on his game, arguably even the game’s best forward.
Fifita’s best outings stand out so much he cops a bit of flack around consistency and his apparent love of giving away penalties. But it’s worth remembering Fifita led the NRL in offloads (82), he busted 117 tackles (4.5 per game, third in the NRL and most by a forward) and he made 1.1 kilometres after contact last season from a league-leading 435 runs.
He’s a durable attacking weapon opposition teams struggle to contain who has won grand finals and Origin games almost singlehandedly. If he’s switched on, there’s not a lot your mob will be able to do about it.
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
20. Greg Inglis
19. Shaun Johnson
18. Tom Trbojevic
17. Josh Hodgson
16. James Maloney
15. Boyd Cordner
14. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
13. Nathan Cleary
12. Jake Trbojevic
11. Andrew Fifita
Check back tomorrow as we reveal 10-1 and crown the best player in the NRL today.