So here it is: The Roar’s top ten NRL players for 2019.
The top four were clear between all five judges.
In only three cases did a player in the final top four not appear in a judge’s top four. The lowest any player in our final top ten was ranked by an individual judge was 22nd. Further, in only two cases were players in the top ten ranked outside the top twenty by any judge.
There are five returning players from the Roar’s 2018 top ten, the other five – Tom Trbojevic, Michael Morgan, Boyd Cordner, as well as retirees Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston – making way.
10. Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm)
The 24-year-old Rockhampton native shares a birthday with Shane Warne (13 September). While we always knew he had real talent, Munster has really cemented himself as one of the games top players in the past two seasons with his stellar performances for Queensland and for the Storm.
While we know ‘Munny’ has a bit of a temper on him – as evidenced by his kick to Joseph Manu’s melon in the 2018 decider – he’s generally a pretty cool and focused customer on the field.
Not only is he rapier quick and brilliant at spotting and creating attacking opportunities, Munster’s defence is first rate. Anybody who targets him in the defence line is very optimistic or a bit dim – or both. Following the retirement of Billy Slater, Munster is now the key to the Storm’s chances in 2019.
9. Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons)
The second thoroughbred from the Craig Bellamy stables. The 29 year old from Halifax, Yorkshire, is a nine-year veteran of the NRL. With 187 games under his belt, as well as 28 games for England, Widdop is a dominant playmaker capable of controlling games.
He has risen six spots in our rankings since last season on the back of his strong performances.
In 2018 ‘Gaz’ laid on 17 tries and 14 line breaks, showing his vital importance to the Dragons attack. He missed four games for the Red V last season and they never looked anywhere near as good as when he was leading them around.
While his playmaking is top shelf, his bleached hair has drawn a fair bit of negative comment. Although it went over better with Dragons fans than Widdop’s announcement that 2019 would be his last with them. Expect him to go out with a bang.
8. Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Burgess retains his eighth place from our 2018 rankings. However, in 2018 the big Yorkshireman got back to some of his best form in the wake of his unfortunate flirtation with rugby union.
Once called Great Britain’s Sonny Bill Williams when playing for Drewsbury, the 6’5″ and 116 kilo Yorkshireman averaged 153 metres a game from an average 19 runs, while also making 37 tackles in 2018. That form was a fair bit better than his 2017 season too, so he’s building to something even bigger.
It’s fair to say he’s got a fair bit of presence on the field. While carrying a smashed cheekbone through all 80 minutes of the 2014 NRL grand final will probably be what he is remembered for – making 199 metres from 22 runs and 35 tackles in that state is pretty impressive – his best may still be yet to come.
Under coach Wayne Bennett – also his England coach – we may see Burgess become even more dominant in 2019.
7. Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
The Rabbitohs and NSW hooker was nowhere to be seen in our 2018 rankings. His stellar form last season sees him catapult into the top ten.
It took Shire born Cook four attempts to find a regular first grade starting spot. Having previously been with the Panthers, Dragons and Bulldogs, it wasn’t until he landed at Redfern that he was able to really spread roots and flourish.
And boy how he has flourished.
He averaged 42 tackles and 100 metres a game, while breaking the line at will and setting up plenty of tries. Along with these stats his speed off the mark is prodigious. It forced his way into Freddie Fittler’s Blues side where he starred.
Cook also picked up a fair few awards for his 2018 form, including:
• NSWRL People’s Choice Award
• RLPA Hooker of the Year
• Dally M Provan-Summons People’s Choice Award
• Dally M Hooker of the Year
• George Piggins Medal (South Sydney First Grade Player of the Year)
I see Cook getting even better. A very scary thought for oppositions.
6. Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights)
Also nowhere to be seen in our 2018 rankings, this kid is magic.
The Knights took a big punt in giving the untested Kiwi/Aussie such a huge contract to lure him away from the Cowboys but it really paid off. Ponga is a natural sportsman.
Although born in Port Hedland Western Australia, and spending lots of his youth in Mount Isa and Mackay, the time he spent in Palmerston North, NZ (his parents are Kiwis), saw him playing rugby league, touch football, hockey, rugby union, golf and soccer and excelling at all of them. In 2010, he won New Zealand’s under-13 national golf championship.
However, at the start of last year he declared his allegiance to Queensland and Australia. He made his debut for Queensland in Game 2 of the 2018 series and while his side lost, Ponga’s 50+ minutes were outstanding. He is likely to be a fixture in Maroon going forward.
For the Knights in 2018 he averaged 145 metres a game and he broke 140 tackles during the year, while breaking the line 12 times, scoring six tries and setting 11 up.
And he’s only 20… How much better will he get?
The next Darren Lockyer and maybe even better.
5. Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters)
While the 21-year-old from Taree in Biripi country did not feature in the Roar’s 2018 top 50 players, it wasn’t because of this judge.
I saw this bloke’s freakish talent in back in 2016 when he started with the Roosters first grade side, having heard whispers about him from my Tri-colour supporting mates. Big, strong and fast, the only handicap was his tendency for brain explosions.
However, under the tutelage of Brad Fittler in 2018 with the NSW Blues the ability for opponents to bait or goad him into error drastically diminished and what was left was pure rugby league beauty.
In 2018 Mitchell made 18 line breaks, scored 17 tries, set up eight tries and averaged five tackle breaks a game. At just 21 years of age ‘Trell’ knows how to get the job done.
He is unlikely to be out of the NRL’s top ten players for the foreseeable future. I am a massive fan and so should you be. Make sure you see him play live so you can tell your grandkids about it.
4. Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm)
With the retirement of Johnathan Thurston I ranked Smith the best player in the game. My colleagues have dragged this legend down to fourth place.
Let me tell you why they are wrong. Firstly, Smith is the most capped player for Australia and for Queensland with 56 and 42 respectively. Secondly, his 384 NRL games are the most any player has ever managed and he’s done it with an unbelievable 71 per cent win rate. He’ll break 400 games this year.
Thirdly, he has all of those games under his belt because he is incredibly good. A hooker with the brain of a Peter Sterling and the guts of Ray Price, he controls a game like no one else I’ve ever seen.
He guides teams around the pitch like a maestro, while also getting right into the hard stuff in the middle for 80 minutes a game, every game.
No one can convince a ref of his own righteousness better than the Referee Whisperer either. While he can be underhanded, the guy would be the most influential player of the NRL era and, turning 36 this June, he still is (in my opinion anyway).
3. Cooper Cronk (Sydney Roosters)
We ranked Cronk fourth in 2018 and he has rightly risen one spot. Back at the end of 2017 I said that Cronk was risking his legacy by going to the Roosters. I wasn’t sure that he could flourish outside of Bellamy Ball and that by going to the Roosters he risked demonstrating that he was less than a three dimensional player.
Who plays a Grand Final with a badly busted shoulder and is still that influential? Tough as well as talented, Cronk is one serious and focused dude. He brought a control and focus to the Roosters that really helped them prevail when the whips were cracking in 2018.
At 35 years of age, 2019 is likely to be the crooked-nosed Queenslander’s last season. However, he’ll click over 350 games in round one. And with the Roosters list looking really good, he may well finish the year and his career with yet another premiership.
2. Jason Taumololo (North Queensland Cowboys)
This is what I said of Taumololo in 2018:
“He’s like a bull running on its hind legs. But a bull with incredible speed, step and a capacity for massive collisions that Mal Meninga circa 1989 would admire. He is a behemoth… Every side knows that to beat the Cowboys you need to control Taumololo but no side really has been able to do it.”
Rinse and repeat.
However, with the retirement of Thurston there is far more pressure on Taumololo to lead the Cowboys to victory.
He’ll be 26 in May and is now in the peak of his career. He once more won the Dally M Lock of the year in 2018 and it is no surprise when he averaged 178.5 metres a game (with 76 of those being post contact metres) along with 27.6 tackles and 4.3 tackle breaks.
Now playing his representative football for Tonga, he has been denied the chance to play for Queensland although he moved to Townsville at the age of 13 and went on to represent the Queensland under-18s and Australian Schoolboys at the age of 16. I guess the bit where he played for New Zealand is a bit of an issue.
While I’d love to see Taumololo in Maroon, you can be assured that the New South Welshmen are very pleased this tackle busting bull won’t be opposing them.
1. James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)
Why is James Tedesco our number one player? Because his 2018 statistics are unbelievable. 199 metres a game (up from 165 in 2017), 15 line breaks, 15 try assists, less than one missed tackle a game and 158 tackle breaks at 6.3 a game was a huge reason why the Roosters raised the 2018 Premiership Cup.
We knew this bloke was amazing when he was at the struggling Wests Tigers. Now at the star-studded Tri-Colours he has so much more ability to shine and shine he has. A fixture in the NSW Blues side, he has also debuted for Australia in 2018.
It is hard to see the Roosters not making the top four again in 2019 with ‘Teddy’ at the back. He is so very quick and so skilled at getting through the line.
This guy is a total joy to watch and rightly our top-ranked NRL player in 2019.
The Roar’s top 50 NRL players
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
10. Cameron Munster
9. Gareth Widdop
8. Sam Burgess
7. Damien Cook
6. Kalyn Ponga
5. Latrell Mitchell
4. Cameron Smith
3. Cooper Cronk
2. Jason Taumalolo
1. James Tedesco