We’re getting to the pointy end of proceedings here, as we look at players ranked 20-11 in the NRL.
It’s worth remembering that with 30 players in each of the 16 clubs’ elite squads for a total of 480 full-time first graders, we have been discussing the truly elite players in the competition all this week.
Nevertheless, when you miss the top ten by such a narrow margin, there can be a sense of disappointment (and I know all these ten players totally, totally read my opinions each week – sorry fellas but Frost has spoken).
And perhaps the most disappointed of all will be the man who we ranked at number 20…
South Sydney Rabbitohs | Centre/fullback | Last year: 5 (-15)
It’s a big drop off for Mitchell, who last year was rated by The Roar as the fifth-best player in the NRL.
The funny thing is, while he got a lot of bad press in 2019, he still played Origin footy, won a second-successive premiership and kept his place in Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos side, while his 273 points – including 19 tries, which had him second behind only Maika Sivo for the Ken Irvine Medal – made him the comp’s highest point-scorer for the second year running.
Tally those individual achievements up and you’ve got what most players in the history of rugby league would proudly call their best-ever season. Yet we’re dropping him 15 places!
That’s the level of expectation a kid of Mitchell’s talent faces.
Still, if he’s happily settled at Souths in 2020 and his claims that fullback is his preferred spot are true, imagine what he’ll achieve this year!
Newcastle Knights | Prop | Last year: 29 (+10)
Klemmer made the move from Belmore to Eleebana ahead of the 2019 season and only enhanced his reputation as one of the premier props of the modern era.
He led his new club in virtually every statistic that matters to a forward, while his average of 169.5 metres gained per match was only bettered by Jason Taumalolo and Payne Haas of all the NRL’s pigs.
But perhaps the best thing about having Klemmer in your team is the fire and brimstone he brings. He hates to lose and has the craziest eyes in the game – perhaps best evidenced by him fearlessly squaring up against Manu Ma’u, who has spent time in prison.
South Sydney Rabbitohs | Lock | Last year: 76 (+58)
Cam Murray had a breakout 2019, playing for the victorious NSW Blues in all three State of Origin matches, being named the Dally M lock of the year, and capping it off with a debut Kangaroos cap.
It was a year that established the 22-year-old as one of the premier locks in the competition – and, indeed, there are only two rated higher by us here at The Roar.
Of course, he is subject to one of the biggest off-season switches ahead of 2020 kicking off, with Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett moving the Newington College product to the edge.
Is the supercoach messing with a good thing, or will the added space and eased defensive workload see Murray crash over for even more than the 12 tries he managed in 2019?
Canberra Raiders | Five-eighth | Last year: N/A
There were legitimate concerns this time last year that Jack Wighton was going to be yet another wasted Canberra talent, after he missed the final ten games of 2018 for… well, let’s just say for being a dickhead.
However, his move from fullback to five-eighth – as well, undoubtedly, with a much-improved attitude – in 2019 saw Wighton finally become the player he had long promised to be.
Wighton played all three Origin games for NSW – and who even remembers that pass in Game 1 after his subsequent pair of performances – then led his club side to the grand final.
It wasn’t to be for Ricky Stuart’s men, however Wighton still left the ground that night with some silverware, having been adjudged the Clive Churchill medallist as best on ground.
He’s been rewarded with a fat new contract and shapes as a key player in a Raiders side that could well do one better in 2020.
Canberra Raiders | Second-rower | Last year: N/A
Speaking of key players for Canberra…
Bloody hell, where did this bloke come from?
John Bateman was the biggest surprise packet of the 2019 season, primarily because who the hell had even heard of him prior? Well they have now, as the lad from Yorkshire exploded onto the scene to secure the Dally M second-rower of the year award.
As for concerns he may suffer from second-year syndrome, they can largely be allayed by the fact you don’t ‘work out’ a player like John Bateman. He’s got skills for sure, but while he led Canberra for offloads, his best attributes are his heart and guts – and you can’t blunt those qualities.
Sydney Roosters | Second-rower | Last year: 15 (+/- 0)
Honestly, I’m stunned that Boyd Cordner is this far down the list.
We’re talking about the captain of the team that won the last two premierships, the captain of the team that won the last two Origin series, and the captain of the best national side in the world (yes, the Kangaroos lost to Tonga, but they’re still No.1 by a mile).
Cordner isn’t the skipper of these sides by accident – he runs hard, tackles all day and chases every kick. His performances week in and week out have earned the respect of the finest players in the land such that they are more than happy for him to lead them onto the park.
I’ll chalk it up to the simple fact second-rowers don’t generally feature in the ‘best in the comp’ conversation, because The Roar only rated one ahead of this three-time premiership champion.
Newcastle Knights | Fullback | Last year: 6 (-8)
Kalyn Ponga had a quiet year by comparison to his freakish 2018, but – like his fellow generational talent Latrell – this was another case of failing to live up to ridiculously high standards.
KP’s touted move from fullback to five-eighth was written off as a failure when it didn’t immediately work, and no one looked good in a Knights team that limped to the end of the season under a coach who seemingly managed to both quit and be sacked.
But Ponga lit it up for Queensland in a second Origin series, featured for Australia in the Nines, and was at his brilliant best when things were clicking for Newcastle in the middle of the season.
He needs to take more ownership of his team, but he’s got a multi-million-dollar contract extension in front of him for a reason.
Canberra Raiders | Prop | Last year: 63 (+50)
Was there a scarier sight for opposition packs last year than Papalii standing next to the ruck?
Because that was what he did – just stood there. Where other props get a full head of steam from ten metres back, the nuggety Queenslander needs approximately two steps to seemingly be at full pace, and then all of a sudden he’s pinballing off a dozen blokes to score under the sticks.
Haas was the only forward in the game with more post-contact metres than Papalii’s 1374 – and no one in the NRL enjoyed making them more than the Raiders rock. He’s like Nelson Muntz scoring a touchdown, making sure he knocks every other player over along the way.
Papalii is our highest-rated prop – fight us (as long as we can have Josh on our team).
Cronulla Sharks | Second-rower | Last year: 33 (+21)
We’ve got Wade Graham listed as a second-rower, but how do you pigeonhole a bloke who can come off the bench in Origin 2 and play most of the game at five-eighth?
Oh, and do so well that he’s considered one of the front-runners to play in the halves again for the interstate decider?
The Sharks skipper gets called the ‘prototype modern forward’ but he’s not. Because no other forward does the things Wade Graham does – I mean, most halfbacks can’t do the things he does.
He’s got size, skill and smarts. If he was a prototype, they’d get the subsequent models, form an army and take over the world.
After an injury-interrupted 2019, Graham shapes as the key if Cronulla are to succeed in the post-Paul Gallen era.
Manly Sea Eagles | Halfback | Last year: 22 (+11)
A few years ago, the bigwigs on the Northern Beaches decided Daly Cherry-Evans was the man they were staking their future on, signing him to an eight-year deal worth a reported $10 million.
It remains the fattest contract in the NRL – and you don’t get a ‘bargain’ for that kind of money – but Daly has earned every cent of it thus far.
He led the way for Manly as they battled through some lean years and now looks primed to make the most of those hard seasons, after new-old coach Des Hasler took the Sea Eagles back to the finals in 2019.
Not for nothing, but Cherry-Evans has also been anointed as the man to lead Queensland into their Origin future.
As for the why of it all, when you stop reading the stories of how DCE rubs people the wrong way, you remember he’s a gun – one of the best halfbacks of the past decade.
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
Join us tomorrow as Tim Gore reveals the top ten.