The POPE has blessed the 2021 NRL team of the year. Today we look at the most underrated NRL players of 2021.
There are no eligibility criteria for this team. State of Origin and international players are very unlikely to make an appearance, but they’re not precluded.
It’s simply analysis of performance compared to my observation of a player’s place in the rugby league zeitgeist.
Click here for my POPE ratings.
Fullback: Nick Meaney, Canterbury-Bankstown (677 POPEs)
Meaney’s POPE rating suffers a little from spending some time on the wing, not to mention playing for one of the worst teams of the ARL/NRL era. It’s hard to make an impact when you play for the 2021 Bulldogs.
Meaney’s underlying numbers compare well to players like Reece Walsh, Will Kennedy and Dane Laurie. It’ll be fascinating to see what he can do at Melbourne.
Winger: Greg Marzhew, Gold Coast (689)
Marzhew has played only eight NRL games so it’s a very small sample, but his incipient career has displayed considerable potential.
Some have called Marzhew a budding Brian To’o. I wouldn’t go that far, yet. The run metres and tackle busts in those first eight games are very encouraging.
Centre: Murray Taulagi, North Queensland (657)
Taulagi’s rating comes with a caveat: he spent quite a bit of time on the wing in 2021. He looks like he’s going to be a centre, though. He could be a very good one.
Unlike most Cowboys, he didn’t make many mistakes or miss many tackles. In possession, he made a big impact in terms of run metres and tackle busts. He’s one to keep an eye on.
Centre: Patrick Herbert, Gold Coast (578)
I don’t know what to make of Herbert. He could be a better defender but he’s not bad. He could be more involved but he’s not a guy doing unusual things in a small sample.
The Gold Coast has a very talented and very raw squad of players. Can they take another step in 2022?
Winger: Mikaele Ravalawa, St George Illawarra (673)
Say what you will about Ravalawa – he’s about as quick as Aaron Woods in high heels and has roughly the same turning circle – but he gets it done.
If the Dragons ever return to respectability, they probably can’t carry Ravalawa as a winger. For now, they could be doing a lot worse.
Five eighth: Drew Hutchison, Eastern Suburbs (516)
It’s easy to look at Hutchison and wonder what might have been at the Dragons. Then again, I doubt he’d be as effective as he is today if he’d stayed. Easts could probably have figured out a way of making Corey Norman an effective footballer.
Hutchison is a good playmaker and a strong defender. While he doesn’t run the ball much, he’s very good when he does. Come home, Drew.
Halfback: Jake Averillo, Canterbury-Bankstown (513)
Consider me astounded. There wasn’t much difference between Averillo and Mitchell Moses in terms of their POPE rating and underlying numbers in 2021.
Moses is a better ball player, Averillo runs the ball just as well as Moses and is a better defender. Canterbury should give Averillo a chance at halfback. If that doesn’t work out, he could make a very good dummy-half.
Prop: Taniela Paseka, Manly-Warringah (508)
Where do Manly keep finding these big boppers? By way of comparison, Daniel Saifita scored 510 POPEs in 2021.
Dummy-half: Mitch Rein, Gold Coast (458)
This is not to say I think Rein’s a good player. One of my favourite pastimes when Rein was at the Dragons was complaining about him.
He’s a handy player as part of a dummy-half rotation. Rein and Erin Clark were a decent one-two punch for the Gold Coast in 2021. Rein could be a handy part-time player for Parramatta if rumours of his pending arrival are true.
Prop: Aaron Woods, Cronulla-Sutherland (491)
There’s still value in the old warhorse. Woods gets through a mountain of work, most of it good. He brings loads of experience and seems like a nice guy. He should be a positive contributor for the Dragons next season.
Second row: Euan Aitken, New Zealand (536)
A theme’s emerging here. Former Dragons who’ve found a place and their mojo elsewhere.
Second row: Hudson Young, Canberra (493)
By way of comparison, Kenny Bromwich and Angus Crichton were both worth 496 POPEs in 2021.
Lock: Alex Twal, Wests (496)
Fun fact: in 1,351 minutes of NRL game time, Twal did not record a single error. Based on Wests’ recruitment, Twal will be a prop in 2022 – a good one.
Bench prop: Toafofoa Sipley, Manly-Warringah (542)
The poor man’s Nelson Asofa Solomona.
Bench second rower: Brodie Jones, Newcastle (495)
Jones was a solid contributor in most facets off the bench for Newcastle. He might push Mitch Barnett for a starting spot next season.
Bench utility: Jeremy Marshall-King (462)
I’ve always liked Marshall-King and I think he could be a good utility for a decent team.
Utility back: Connor Tracey, Cronulla-Sutherland (617)
Produced very good numbers primarily from the wing in 2021. He can do a job in just about any position in the backs.