Season 2019 is done and dusted so it’s time to look at my NRL team of the year.
Fullback – James Tedesco (Roosters)
The easiest position to decide. Statistically Tedesco is a freak. Third in the NRL for tries, first for line breaks, first for tackle breaks, he had 13 line break assists and 13 try assists. He was second for run metres and second for kick return metres.
But then you watch him play. In the preliminary final against the Storm, he came up with an incredible tackle to hold Brandon Smith up over the line and then minutes later scored the match-winning try. He has also been outstanding at Origin level.
Honourable mentions: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tom Trbojevic, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Wing – Daniel Tupou (Roosters)
Tupou got tagged as a lazy player a few years ago and that label has unfairly stuck, but he was excellent in 2019. There’s the obvious aerial threat he represents with his height, vertical leap and ability to take bombs over his head.
But he’s also a great finisher and selects his time to come in off his wing in defence clinically. But his best work is often at the other end of the park and often unsung. He makes a lot of tough metres coming out of his own end. He was fifth in the league for run metres and third for post-contact metres.
Wing – Ken Maumalo (Warriors)
Maika Sivo had a pretty eye-catching season but for every couple of good things he does there’s a bad.
Maumalo gives a lot of what Sivo does to a team and then some. Maumalo was fourth in the NRL for tries, third for run metres and first for post-contact metres. Like Tupou, a player that delivers at both ends of the park.
Honourable mentions: Blake Ferguson, Maika Sivo, Reuben Garrick
Centre – Latrell Mitchell (Roosters)
People will point to Mitchell’s Origin sacking and put forward a completely valid argument that his teammate Joseph Manu had a better season.
Mitchell has still been incredible this year and put several teams to the sword. He just has a pretty big gap between his best and worst. Mitchell was the season’s leading point-scorer and second for tries. He had more try assists than any other centre and was top ten for line breaks.
Centre – Kotoni Staggs (Broncos)
Centre is a challenging position. When you go through the lists there aren’t a lot of standouts.
Staggs really announced himself as an NRL quality player, particularly in the second half of the season, when he started finding the line regularly. I like how he does everything at pace.
I’m not entirely convinced he was better than Manu or Hopoate and I’m prepared for a bit of blow back here but it felt like a really important year for Staggs.
Honourable mentions: Joseph Manu, Will Hopoate, Jarrod Croker
Five-eighth – Luke Keary (Roosters)
Cameron Munster and Cody Walker were brilliant in the first half of 2019 but tapered away after Origin for different reasons. Jack Wighton grew into his season.
Luke Keary had a bit of a stop-start year with injuries but was great overall and built on his Churchill-winning 2018. Second in the league for try assists and first for line break assists. Keary was a lock for Origin selection until he was ruled out with injury.
Honourable mentions: Cameron Munster, Cody Walker, Jack Wighton
Halfback – Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)
Manly did brilliantly to finish so high on the table and get to the second week of semis when you look at the key players they were missing for so much of the season. DCE was the consistent link.
Third for try assists, sixth for line break assists and kick metres and led the league in 40/20’s. Mitchell Moses fans could make a convincing case, but for me, DCE’s big-game temperament gives him the edge.
Honourable mentions: Mitchell Moses, Cooper Cronk, Michell Pearce
Prop – Josh Papalii (Raiders)
Papalii has led the way for the new-look, more mobile Raiders pack. Papalii features prominently in the run metres (second for props) and post-contact metres (third for props) as you’d expect but there’s also a lot of less tangible elements to his game in the way he leads the Raiders and Queensland packs. A standout for mine as the best prop.
Prop – Payne Haas (Broncos)
Uncanny returns and performances from a 19-year-old playing in the toughest position on the field. First for run metres and post-contact metres for props.
Did I mention he’s 19? What will his returns look like in a decade? While he’s capable of playing massive minutes, he’ll be better served in the long term by being used a bit more selectively than being ground into the dirt.
Honourable mentions: James Fisher-Harris, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Matt Lodge, David Klemmer, Nelson Asofa-Solomona
Hooker – Cameron Smith (Storm)
I came so close to making a case for Josh Hodgson but I still think Smith is the best number nine in the game.
As good a season as Hodgson had and as much as Canberra rely on him, Smith still had more try assists, line break assists, run metres, tackles and forced dropouts than Hodgson. That’s how good Smith is – an opponent has an outstanding, breakout season but still doesn’t quite measure up.
Honourable mentions: Josh Hodgson, Damien Cook
Second row – John Bateman (Raiders)
This bloke won me over pretty quickly. I love players like him who put everything into every play they make. Looked at home on an edge, in the middle and even playing in the centres.
Even though he posted some impressive numbers – 116 metres and 36 tackles per game along with five tries, four line breaks, four line break assists and 40 offloads for the season – stats don’t tell the full story of his involvement.
Second row – Ryan Matterson (Tigers)
This was a tough position to pick with plenty of outstanding candidates, but I just loved what Matterson did this year. He can play a number of roles: workhorse, hard-running edge back-rower, ball-playing lock and even fill in at six or in the centres.
Matterson averaged 131 metres and 36 tackles and had five tries. He was the league leader for second-rowers in run metres and post-contact metres.
Honourable mentions: Boyd Cordner, Angus Crichton, Manu Ma’u, Josh Jackson, Briton Nikora
Lock – Cameron Murray (Rabbitohs)
It’s great to see the lock position evolving from effectively a third prop back to a more mobile and skilled forward. Murray is the prototype.
Top ten in the competition for tackles and his running game is surprisingly effective for a smaller man in the middle. So much has been made of his quick play-the-balls. He seems to have a knack for getting his body in the right position in the tackle so he lands on his front. He also scored 12 tries and made 47 line breaks in 2019.
Honourable mentions: Jake Trbojevic, Jason Taumalolo, Dale Finucane