With the first ten players in our top 50 countdown of the most important players for the 2020 season published yesterday, we move into the second group today, with some surprise moves in both directions from this time last year.
Cronulla Sharks | Prop | Last year: 11 (-29)
In hindsight, Fifita was probably far too high last year on this list (11th), but then, he may well be too low this time around.
When it comes to the Cronulla forward pack, there is no players nearly as important as Fifita, and that can both be a good and bad thing.
If Fifita is on song – like he was in the 2016 grand final for example – there is no stopping him, and he becomes the most damaging prop in the competition.
However, when he gets too much going in his game, tries to run sideways, and ends up making countless bad errors, he can de-rail the momentum of his club.
Still, he is a great player, and the positives far outweigh the negatives.
South Sydney Rabbitohs | Halfback | Last year: 47 (+8)
When it comes to having a strong kicking game, there a few players you’d prefer on your team than Adam Reynolds.
Whether it’s his short game or his long game, to go with excellent vision, and good timing and placing on his passes, he is one of the better controlling halves in this competition.
While South Sydney have a fairly strong side right across the park, Reynolds is the glue that holds it all together, and it’s little wonder that since he hit his stride, Souths have always been there and around the top four at the end of the season.
A well-earned promotion on this list.
Melbourne Storm | Winger | Last year: 32 (-6)
If you were going to pick one word to describe Josh Addo-Carr, it’d probably be something along the lines of ‘deadly’, because, frankly, if you’re an opposition winger, good luck stopping him.
Deadly in the air, deadly on the ground, deadly in defence, and he has blinding pace, outstanding agility and brilliant acceleration to with it, as well as a freakish ability to find the tryline.
In the modern game, every good team needs at least one great winger such is the importance of finishing moves out wide. Addo-Carr is exactly that for the Storm.
Gold Coast Titans | Lock | Last year: 52 (+15)
I’ve got Arrow a little bit higher than 37 on my own list, but I can see the reasoning for him being a little lower, with the big lock playing in a team who have really, very little hope of making much of a difference on the NRL landscape in 2020.
It’s a shame, because a bona fide Origin player of Arrow’s calibre, who is off to South Sydney next year, should have a lot more to play for this year than trying to avoid a wooden spoon, but at the moment, that’s all it feels the Titans will be doing.
Still, Arrow has a good running ability and is very fast with his hands, making the right pass or offload more often than not.
His defence is first-class as well.
Sydney Roosters | Centre | Last year: 51 (+15)
With Latrell Mitchell departing the club, Joseph Manu will finally be able to attract the limelight as the best centre at the tri-colours.
The only question, really, is whether he can rise to that pressure, however, all the evidence presented suggests he will take to it beautifully.
Manu has quietly become one of the best in his position over the last 12 months, running the ball well, finishing nicely out wide and defending greatly.
He first came of age in the 2018 finals and didn’t take a step back during 2019.
North Queensland Cowboys | Halfback | Last year: 24 (-11)
In case you have forgotten, Michael Morgan is a premiership winner, an Origin player and just a few short years ago was being talked up as one of the top players in the game.
Morgan may have struggled for injuries and form over the last 24 months, but it doesn’t change just how important his role is with North Queensland this year.
To put it bluntly, another finals miss is going to see a major shake-up in Townsville, and Morgan, alongside coach Paul Green, could have his head on the block.
Morgan needs to get back to basics. Kick the ball well, organise his team. There is enough talent at the Cowboys that the big picture will fall into place if the little things are done right.
Newcastle Knights | Halfback | Last year: 26 (-8)
One of the most maligned players in the competition, but an undoubted entry on any list such as this, it’s time for Pearce to deliver the Knights some finals footy in 2020.
With the Origin monkey thrown off the back last year, Pearce, who is a high-quality organising half, must do just that at the Knights this year.
So important is he to their charge, if he was to cop an injury, you’d put a line through Newcastle’s finals hopes straight away.
Parramatta Eels | Winger | Last year: 46 (+13)
One of the best wingers in the game, Blake Ferguson has continued his rapid improvement over the last couple of years.
The Parramatta superstar makes a positive impact almost every time he is on the park with his huge runs from the back getting sets going in the right direction more often than they don’t.
Ferguson could be deemed unlucky to have missed out on the State of Origin opener last year, and there is little question he’ll be in the running to retain his spot on the wing when the team discussion for Game 1 begins in a few months’ time.
What is most impressive about Ferguson is the way he has improved his defence and safety under the high ball over the last year or two with his position on this list consistently improving.
Brisbane Broncos | Second-rower | Last year: N/A
There is no question that Fifita is one of the brightest young prospects in the game. Bursting onto the scene last year, he had a mammoth season for Brisbane and will look to continue his rapid improvement in 2020.
Already an Origin player, it’s his running game that sparks fear into his opponents, with the big second rower being incredibly hard to stop once he gets a full head of steam.
Defensively, some work is still required for Fifita to become an all round superstar of the game, but the youngster’s stock is rapidly rising.
One suspects he could well be on the radar for Australian selection at the end of the year.
Melbourne Storm | Lock | Last year: 88 (+57)
If the omission of Arrow on this list last year was baffling, then the fact Finucane didn’t even make the top 80 is downright ridiculous.
Always consistent, Finucane is the player that every team would love to have, and every team who is going to go for premiership glory needs to have.
He has turned himself into an Origin player under the coaching of Craig Bellamy, and while he will never be the most flashy player, when he does elect to go second-phase, it’s usually with a high degree of success.
If you were picking a team to play for your life, Finucane would be there.
The top 50 so far…
50. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
49. Josh McGuire
48. Chad Townsend
47. Tevita Pangai Junior
46. Valentine Holmes
45. Paul Vaughan
44. Ryan Papenhuyzen
43. Cameron McInnes
42. Josh Jackson
41. Cody Walker
40. Andrew Fifita
39. Adam Reynolds
38. Josh Addo-Carr
37. Jai Arrow
36. Joseph Manu
35. Michael Morgan
34. Mitchell Pearce
33. Blake Ferguson
32. David Fifita
31. Dale Finucane
30. Tyson Frizell
29. Nathan Cleary
28. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
27. Clint Gutherson
26. Martin Taupau
25. Sio Siua Taukeiaho
24. Mitchell Moses
23. Viliame Kikau
22. Payne Haas
21. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
20. Latrell Mitchell
19. David Klemmer
18. Cameron Murray
17. Jack Wighton
16. John Bateman
15. Boyd Cordner
14. Kalyn Ponga
13. Josh Papalii
12. Wade Graham
11. Daly Cherry-Evans