And so we arrive at the top ten players in the game for 2019. It’s a question that is debated all year, and while the best player in the game might virtually pick himself, the rest of the ten certainly don’t.
From the most-improved half in the game, to a premiership winner and a man who was so vital to his team they fell apart without him, here are my top ten for the 2019 NRL season.
10. Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: 6
Ah Latrell. What to make of Latrell?
Some great games, particularly in the second half of the season where he really seemed to play well. Some not so good games, where he seemed to fall apart.
But, in saying all of that, there is no disputing the immense talent of the Taree junior.
His field goal from 40 metres out, near enough to the sideline, to win a game over the Melbourne Storm in Melbourne earlier this year is a testament to that.
To see him dropped from Origin was a curious call, but he has now played a big part in two premiership-winning teams, and I expect to see him back in sky blue next year.
9. Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly Sea Eagles)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: N/A
Cherry-Evans is another of a host of players who have improved out of sight in 2019, and the highest-ranked of those who weren’t named when I put my pre-season list together.
I’ve always maintained Cherry-Evans has one of the best short-range kicking games in the competition, but it was his leadership, his running game, and his control under pressure which came to the fore this season.
Taking an unheralded, under-strength and at times very broken Manly team to the top four, and getting them into the semi-finals was more than anyone expected this year.
Des Hasler has worked wonders for the form of Cherry-Evans, and with a year under the belt for the inexperienced talent, the sky is the limit with their half and new Queensland captain leading the charge.
8. Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: 3
Cook has dropped down this list a little bit, and rightly so given the Rabbitohs’ struggles. It’s not all his fault of course, with South Sydney’s forwards struggling to provide him the platform he needs.
It’s not to say Cook had a bad or average season – he was still outstanding, and played extremely well under the intense pressure of Origin – but he is certainly a little bit behind the two best hookers in the game.
I won’t go as far as to call Cook a flat-track bully, because he still does chip in with his kicking, and is an outstanding defender, but certainly, his flair in attack is very different when Souths are going well, compared to when they aren’t doing so well.
7. Tom Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: 14
When you’re creating a list like this, a big part of the decision-making process has to be how important each individual player is to their respective team.
In the case of Tom Trbojevic, there are few who stood out more.
While he only played half of the regular season through injury, Manly’s record with and without him was night and day, the club winning eight out of twelve with him, and only four without their fullback.
It’s clear to see why he was picked out of position and Origin, and why Manly fans hearts broke when he was injured ahead of the finals.
6. Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: 4
I can already read the comments this will be met by. “Jason Taumalolo isn’t as good as he used to be.”
Are you sure about that though? Or is that narrative only because the media have stopped talking about his performance every week?
I’m going to go with the latter, because Taumalolo is still the best forward in the competition. It’s just that his usual performance isn’t talked about each week, because it’s just that. Normal.
Except, it’s not normal. He has averaged almost 200 metres per game again, and while the Cowboys struggled, the big lock is worth every cent the organisation are paying him to stay in Townsville.
5. Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: 21
I played around with having Munster everywhere from two to ten in this list. His performances this year warrant a high mark and good grade, but he couldn’t get the Storm over the line against the Roosters in the finals, and that does have to count for something unfortunately.
However, the Storm won the minor premiership by six points, and the way Munster has been able to stand up and control the team on the back of guidance from Cameron Smith has been strong.
His running game is excellent, the one performance at fullback in Origin was pretty sound as well, and he will continue to improve as a player in the coming years.
4. Luke Keary (Sydney Roosters)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: 20
Keary has rocketed up the rankings at the end of 2019, and with good reason.
One of the best halves in the game, he was instrumental in taking the Roosters to the premiership, with his kicking game paving the way.
He was on track for an Origin debut in sky blue this year as well until a nasty concussion ruled him out of the series, and left him on the sidelines for a number of weeks.
His stats from 2019 are phenomenal: 22 try assists, 16 forced drop outs and 20 line break assists. When you have the best fullback and the best half in the game, it’s not really a mystery as to why the tri-colours won the premiership.
3. Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: 2
This might come as a shock to many readers, but no longer is Cameron Smith the best hooker in the NRL. Of course, he is still up there. His defence, vision, execution, kicking game and leadership, after 400 first grade games, absolutely demands every bit of it.
Until the day he retires, Smith will be at the top echelon of the NRL, and if he wanted to still play representative footy, you can bet he would be the first man selected for both his state and country.
He was pivotal in the Storm winning the minor premiership by six points, and was a huge part of the reason they were able to coast at the back end of the season, but, there is a reason he isn’t the top hooker in the game anymore…
2. Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: 15
And that reason is Josh Hodgson.
I never thought I’d see the day when the NRL had an Englishman inside its top two players, but here we are. Hodgson is just that good.
It’s not a coincidence that with Hodgson spending a fair chunk of 2018 on the sidelines, the Raiders struggled big time, and that when he returned, they suddenly make the grand final.
No one expected them to go that well, but Hodgson showed his class all season long, directing the Raiders, controlling them, and being influential on both ends of the park in the number nine jumper.
1. James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)
My ranking at the beginning of 2019: 1
For the second year in a row, Tedesco is the best player in the game, and you’d be a brave man to suggest that is likely to change in the near future.
Whereas the best player in the game has often been up for dispute over the last decade, it feels like an absolute no-brainer just at the moment.
James Tedesco is the best player in the NRL, and it’s not even close. He is just so good, and rises to the occasion no matter what the situation – a rainy night at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of 11 people, or an Origin decider in front of 80,000.
If I was to have one player playing for my life, it’d be Tedesco. His attack, his defence. He has the whole package.
50. Daniel Tupou
49. Cody Walker
48. Josh Morris
47. Shaun Lane
46. Clint Gutherson
45. Mitchell Pearce
44. Siosiua Taukeiaho
43. Josh Jackson
42. Wade Graham
41. Jai Arrow
40. David Fifita
39. Felise Kaufusi
38. Viliame Kikau
37. Josh Addo-Carr
36. Cameron McInnes
35. Adam Reynolds
34. Jesse Bromwich
33. Jack Wighton
32. Maika Sivo
31. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
30. Chad Townsend
29. David Klemmer
28. Andrew Fifita
27. Kalyn Ponga
26. Sam Burgess
25. Blake Ferguson
24. Dale Finucane
23. Joseph Manu
22. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
21. Addin Fonua-Blake
20. Mitchell Moses
19. John Bateman
18. Cameron Murray
17. Cooper Cronk
16. Josh Papalii
15. Jake Trbojevic
14. Payne Haas
13. Boyd Cordner
12. Martin Taupau
11. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
10. Latrell Mitchell
9. Daly Cherry-Evans
8. Damien Cook
7. Tom Trbojevic
6. Jason Taumalolo
5. Cameron Munster
4. Luke Keary
3. Cameron Smith
2. Josh Hodgson
1. James Tedesco
These were the players who were included on my pre-season list, but have dropped away.
8. Gareth Widdop
9. Greg Inglis
13. James Maloney
19. Shaun Johnson
25. Angus Crichton
26. Tariq Sims
27. Nathan Cleary
29. David Fusitu’a
34. Paul Vaughan
36. Jamayne Isaako
38. Matt Moylan
39. Alex Johnston
40. Aidan Sezer
41. AJ Brimson
42. Joey Leilua
43. Andrew McCullough
44. James Graham
45. Paul Gallen
46. Anthony Milford
47. Josh Mansour
48. George Burgess
49. Ben Hunt
Twenty-two players have dropped out since the pre-season list was published, which could be considered a substantial amount.
This confirms my theory that there has been a real changing of the guard in the game this year, and also helps to put an idea together as to why it was so much more difficult this year than I have ever found before to do.
Hopefully, you have enjoyed the series as I counted down my top 50 players in the NRL. It’s certainly not an easy task, as illustrated by the robust debate on site this week.
Do you agree with my top 50? Drop a comment and let us know.