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The Roar's NRL top 50 players: 10-1

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Expert
5th March, 2020
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Well, here it is people! The business end of The Roar’s top 50 NRL players countdown.

This year we have five new entrants into the top ten. Three spots were made vacant by the departures of Gareth Widdop, Sam Burgess and Cooper Cronk, while Kalyn Ponga dropped to 15th and Latrell Mitchell to 20th.

There were only three players that all five of us unanimously included in our top ten. And we were completely unanimous about the current best player in the game. Only two players in our top ten weren’t selected by each of us at least in our top 20.

As you can imagine, there has been a bit of argy-bargy between myself, Mary Konstantopoulos, Scott Pryde, AJ Mithen and Joe Frost in regard to who got ranked where. Needless to say, harsh words have been spoken and long-term friendships were destroyed. However, we did it all for you, the readers.

I do want to point out that I am the only judge who put Mitch Aubusson – a triple premiership player who has held his spot for years in a star-studded side – in my top 60 players.

And if you’re reading this Mary, I’m really sorry I called you those names. Please return my calls…but AJ, you can take your top 60, print it on a pineapple and shove it!

10. Luke Keary

Sydney Roosters | Five-eighth/halfback | Last year: 28 (+18)
28-year-old Luke Keary is at the top of his game. A veteran of 134 NRL games – including three grand final wins – the lad from Ipswich is one of only two halves in The Roar’s 2020 top ten NRL players.

Last year we ranked him 28th, so he’s moved up 18 spots, mostly thanks to myself, AJ and Scott all ranking him in our top four players. In 2019 he assisted 28 tries and 29 line breaks.

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While Mitch Moses had two more try assists, I still rank Keary as the most influential playmaker of 2019. Fittingly, he created the opportunity in the 72nd minute of the 2019 grand final that saw James Tedesco touch down for the match-winning try.

Only injury has kept him from playing Origin and expect him to debut this year. This is a bloke with skill, self-belief and arrogance to burn.

He knows he is good. He knows he can beat you. He’s going to tell you that, too – if he hasn’t already.

He is ready to take the mantle from Cooper Cronk and lead the Tri-Colours to the first three-peat since the great Parramatta Eels side of 1981-82-83. Just watch him.

Luke Keary

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

9. Damien Cook

South Sydney Rabbitohs | Hooker | Last year: 7 (-2)
Damien Cook had an explosive 2018 and last year we at The Roar ranked him seventh in our top 50. He has grabbed the NSW number nine jumper with both hands and made it his own.

This year he drops only two spots to ninth, Mary, Scott and Joe being his biggest supporters to achieve that ranking. Now at his third NRL club, the 28-year-old hails from the Shire.

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Cook’s danger is that he is incredibly quick off the mark.

Mix that with his excellent vision and superb passing on both sides of his body and you have a star player. In 2019 he boasted 20 line-break assists and 20 try assists. Those are the best attacking stats of any hooker last year.

Although diminutive in size, he gets through an immense amount of defensive work, averaging 42 tackles a game for only 1.7 misses. He is pivotal to the Rabbitohs’ chances going forward and every opposition player knows that if they want to beat the Cardinal and Myrtle then they have to stop Cook.

The problem is actually doing that. Some trivia for you, his cousin is former NRL gun touch judge Luke Potter.

(AAP Image/Darren England)

8. Josh Hodgson

Canberra Raiders | Hooker | Last year: 17 (+9)
The Canberra Raiders’ Josh Hodgson moves up nine places from 17th in 2019, mostly courtesy of Mary K not totally forgetting to include him in her top 60 players this year – although both Mary and Joe didn’t rank him in their top ten players.

They are clearly a very tough crowd. In a team that now has a lot of notable players, Hodgson is very arguably the Raiders’ best. The 30-year-old from Yorkshire is now entering his sixth season with the team and he’s not showing any signs of slowing.

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Like a fine red wine, he’s just getting better with age. Not only is his dummy-half service and running superb, his skills extend to playmaking and tactical kicking, with regular 40/20s coming off his boot.

Further, he is the stripping king of the NRL, regularly taking the ball off opponents just when his side needed it. He was the Raiders’ leading provider of line break and try assists in 2019.

Now co-captain of the Green Machine, he is a very tough bugger and his value to the team is never clearer than when his side is facing adversity.

When Nic Cotric was sent off in their Round 17 game against the Dragons, Hodgson took tight control of his side’s direction, leading his them to outscore the Dragons 10-4 in those last 20 minutes.

Further, when Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was sin-binned with ten minutes left in the preliminary final against South Sydney last year, Hodgson’s leadership saw the Raiders grind the field position that led to Josh Papalii crashing over to score the winning try.

If the Raiders are to go one better in 2020 then Josh Hodgson is the key.

Josh Hodgson of the Raiders

(AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

7. Tom Trbojevic

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Manly Sea Eagles | Fullback | Last year: 18 (+11)
This bloke is a total star. Did you know that Tommy Turbo is only 23 years old? It seems like he’s been around for an age.

He’s played 89 NRL games since his debut in 2015 and he has impressed from that moment on. He has gone from strength to strength in both attack and defence. He has been in light blue for NSW since 2018, only missing Game 1 in 2019 through injury.

He started as a winger and has now made the Sea Eagles number one jumper his own. However, Brad Fittler put him in the centres for NSW and it fit him like a glove.

He only managed 12 games for Manly Warringah in 2019 but starred every time he turned up. He averaged 162 metres and 4.6 tackle breaks a game, while he laid on nine try assists and 12 line-break assists.

The injury he suffered against the Sharks in week one of the 2019 finals was the death knell for the brave Sea Eagles’ premiership aspirations. Not only is he a superb player, but he’s also a really good human.

Further, he’s really smart. He scored 94.3 per cent on his HSC and he is currently attending Macquarie University, where he is studying a double degree in Applied Finance and Economics.

Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans celebrate.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

6. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

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New Zealand Warriors | Fullback | Last year: 14 (+8)
Here’s a question for you all: just how awful would the New Zealand Warriors be without Roger Tuivasa-Sheck? I’m going with absolutely woeful.

Sure, since RTS arrived at the Warriors in 2016 they have only made the finals once. However, without him, they’d have picked up at least one wooden spoon.

Born in Samoa, Tuivasa-Sheck is an electric player. His ball running is arguably as good as any in the NRL. He can step off both feet and he runs like the wind blows.

On top of that, he is glorious to watch too. In 2018, in the same competition that Cam Smith, Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco played in – Tuivasa-Sheck won both the Dally M player of the year and the Dally M fullback of the year.

Last season he averaged 184 metres a game and 4.6 tackle breaks for the Warriors – while playing virtually every minute of every game they played. Of the meagre nine wins the Auckland based club had in 2019, I watched RTS be the difference between his side winning and losing in at least four.

He is just brilliant, and I am a huge fan of this perfectly mannered and respectful man.

He has two of the finest wingers in the game in Ken Maumalo and David Fusitua on his flanks. If he could just get a forward pack that could actually get him some space, then who knows where he could take the Warriors?

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5. Jake Trbojevic

Manly Sea Eagles | Lock | Last year: 12 (+7)
Jake Trbojevic is possibly the best lock forward I’ve seen since Brad Clyde. And Brad Clyde is the best lock forward anyone has ever seen.

Better than John Sattler, Ray Price, Bob Lindner, Nathan Hindmarsh, Ben Kennedy, Jason Taumalolo and Sam Burgess.

Just like Clyde did, Jake Turbo has an amazing capacity for really hard work, is usually the first forward back to take a hit up, can tackle all day (brilliantly) with rarely a miss and has a superb capacity to both break the line and put his teammates through it.

Look at these 2019 stats per game: 100 metres, 12 runs and 41 tackles for just one miss. Plus – unlike Burgess and Taumalolo – Jake Turbo plays the full 80 minutes virtually every game.

So while he might not have the battering ram characteristics of those two, he’s got a motor they didn’t or don’t have. He’s the best of all the current locks for minutes played.

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He’d be in the starting 13 of any league side in the world and will be a fixture in sky blue and green and gold for the foreseeable future.

Like his brother Tom, he is also a well-raised and decent human. Now that I’ve blown all that smoke up his posterior, here’s a video taken by brother Tom of brother Ben pushing Jake into a golf pond.

Jake Trbojevic

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

4. Cameron Munster

Melbourne Storm | Five-eighth | Last year: 10 (+6)
The 25-year-old from Rockhampton, Queensland, is the first of only three players that all five judges agreed was in the top ten. He’s climbed six spots in our cumulative esteem, from the tenth spot last year to our fourth best-rated NRL footballer.

Of the 17 halves that were selected in our top 60 players, Munster is only the second that has made it into our top ten. His form has only gotten better since he exploded on the scene back in 2015 with the Storm.

Now a veteran of 113 NRL games, four for Australia and seven for Queensland, Munster is a very influential player and the heir apparent to Cam Smith’s crown at the Storm.

In 2019 Munster had 20 try assists and 20 line break assists to his name, with 2.5 tackle breaks a game as well. He also broke the line 11 times and scored eight tries.

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He has stepped up to be a chief playmaker for the Storm and Queensland and totally looks the goods. Like Luke Keary, Munster has arrogance and self-belief to burn, and he is totally up for the contest.

One thing is for sure: the Storm’s plans going forward – and you know Craig Bellamy has a very well-thought-out one – revolve around Cam Munster, and rightly so.

Cameron Munster runs with the ball.

(AAP Image/Darren England)

3. Jason Taumalolo

North Queensland Cowboys | Lock | Last year: 2 (-1)
When you play your first top-grade game at the tender age of 17 years, two months and 21 days then it is possible to have amassed 180 NRL games by the time you are 26. Also a veteran of 23 Test matches for New Zealand and Tonga, the only people who don’t wish that he could play for Queensland are the NSW players and their fans.

Vaai (his teacher called him Jason because should couldn’t pronounce his given name) Taumalolo is a behemoth of our game. No other forward in the NRL averages more runs a game than the big Cowboy (17.6).

Further, his 183 metres a match is the best of any forward in the NRL – in fact, only Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and James Tedesco average more metres per game – and they are carrying at least 20 kilos less on their frames.

He’s already won the Dally M player of the year award once and the odds are good that he’ll win it again. Taumalolo is the rarest of beasts, a forward who is a genuine and consistent game-changer.

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His continual, battering runs regularly swing the momentum of games and render the best defensive outfits to the status of speed bumps.

He is in the prime of his career and – while surrounded by superb teammates like Michael Morgan, Valentine Holmes, Jordan McLean and Josh McGuire – he is the key reason that the Cowboys are a genuine premiership contender in 2020.

Jason Taumalolo

(Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

2. Cameron Smith

Melbourne Storm | Hooker | Last year: 4 (+2)
There is one thing for sure about Cam Smith: everyone has an opinion about him. Those opinions widely vary from him being a dastardly, corrupt and villainous character, right through to those who think he is a saint and pure as the driven snow.

One thing everyone pretty much agrees on is that he has been the most dominant player of the last two decades. Not only has he redefined the role of the hooker position to raise the bar so high that few – if any – will ever be able to reach it, he has been one of the best leaders and game managers the game has ever seen.

However, the reason he comes in as the second-best player on this list is that – at almost 37 years of age – he still is all of those things. He was crowned – again – the Dally M hooker and captain of the year in 2019.

If he made himself available, he’d still get picked for Queensland and Australia.

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In spite of his side losing two icons in Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, the side he led in 2019 only lost six games by a combined total of 18 points. Smith has played 411 NRL games, 56 games for Australia and 42 games for Queensland over 18 seasons.

That’s 28.3 games a season with an overall win ratio of 70.3 per cent across his entire career.

In 2019 he played all 27 of the Storm’s games and they achieved a 77.8 per cent win ratio. And he is still playing 80 minutes every game against players who were still in nappies when he debuted, while making 35 tackles and only missing one.

All the while he had 17 try assists and 20 line-break assists. That is phenomenal. If he is not made an immortal as soon as the requisite wait period expires then we’ll need new judges. But these Roar judges all agree: old man Cam Smith is still right at the top of the tree.

Cameron Smith and Brendon Smith.

(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

1. James Tedesco

Sydney Roosters | Fullback | Last year: 1 (+/- 0)
The only unanimous selection all five of us had was that James Tedesco is the game’s best player right now. Like Billy Slater before him, Tedesco is a match-winner.

He can win matches for his team that they don’t deserve simply because his individual brilliance is just too good for pretty much any defence.

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Not only is he incredibly fast, he can step off both feet and he accelerates like a Moto GP bike. Further, his instinctual positional play – both in attack and defence – is perfect. He is brilliant under a high ball and chases kicks as well as Brett Mullins did in his prime.

On top of that, in 2019 we saw him really develop his passing and playmaking, chiming into the Roosters and NSW backlines to throw panic into the opposition defences, drawing defenders and putting his teammates away for tries.

He ran for more metres in the NRL in 2019 than any other player, and he achieved that in just 24 games. He scored 18 tries – including the winner in the 2019 grand final – while laying on 15 tries and 18 line breaks.

He personally broke the line 30 times while breaking 5.7 tackles a game. These stats do not include his contribution to NSW or Australia either. In 2019 he deservedly won every single award he possibly could except the Clive Churchill medal.

I guess nobody’s perfect. However, James Tedesco comes very, very close.

James Tedesco.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The Roar’s top 50 NRL players in 2020

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
10. Luke Keary
9. Damien Cook
8. Josh Hodgson
7. Tom Trbojevic
6. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
5. Jake Trbojevic
4. Cameron Munster
3. Jason Taumalolo
2. Cameron Smith
1. James Tedesco

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The countdown might be over, but there’s still more to this series: check out how each expert voted, as well as how each club and position fared.