I wasn’t going to submit this piece because it’s inherently negative and might elicit a few angry responses.
The following selections have been made in the same way as the all-underrated team. It is analysis of a player’s performance in 2021 compared to my observation of the player’s standing in rugby league.
I don’t dislike your favourite team or player. Wait, scratch that. I don’t dislike them any more than all the others who aren’t St George Illawarra.
Before you ask, yes, there is a Dragons player in this team – and he’s there on merit. But let’s face it, it’s hard for most of the current Dragons roster to qualify as overrated. Not even I rate them.
For those not familiar, here’s the POPE rating system.
Fullback: Reece Walsh, Warriors (688 POPEs)
Walsh will have a good career. But his 2021 season wasn’t what many made it out to be.
There were lots of errors and missed tackles, which is to be expected from a 19-year-old.
My main concern is his running game, which was well below average for a fullback. I’m not yet convinced Walsh will be a fullback in the long term.
Winger: Xavier Coates, Brisbane (629)
By way of comparison, Corey Thompson scored 747 and Sione Katoa scored 710.
Coates doesn’t produce the run metres expected of an NRL winger. Thompson ran for 152.6 metres per 80 minutes. Coates ran for just 99.5.
Centre: Jarrod Croker, Canberra (469)
Croker’s season was interrupted by injury, but even so his attacking output was almost non-existent.
Throw in uncharacteristically poor defence and it’s starting to look like Croker’s in terminal decline.
Centre: Campbell Graham, South Sydney (542)
While I’m ducking under the parapet, I’ll just say this. Graham is a rock-solid defensive centre with some attacking value. But not much.
As far as the POPE is concerned, Graham and Tom Opacic are almost indistinguishable.
Winger: Jason Saab, Manly (659)
There’s a small vanguard who regard Saab as one-dimensional, an athlete rather than a fully formed footballer. It’s hard to argue.
He doesn’t do much other than score tries and miss tackles. He’s two-dimensional then.
Five-eighth: Jake Clifford, North Queensland and Newcastle (419)
We should probably cut Clifford some slack on account of having to adjust to a new environment during the season.
That said, his actual performance doesn’t align with the reviews he received late in the season. He had too many errors and not enough facilitation compared to other halves.
Halfback: Chad Townsend, Cronulla and Warriors (376)
The Clifford defence doesn’t apply here. Townsend spent most of the season with Cronulla.
I won’t mince words. Townsend was the worst half of the 2021 NRL. He didn’t run the ball and his defence was atrocious. Even I was surprised by how badly he rated. Enjoy, Cowboys supporters.
Prop: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Roosters (466)
Waerea-Hargreaves gets through as much work as any prop not named Payne Haas. But it looks like the law of diminishing returns is starting to kick in.
Tom Burgess (516), a comparable player in terms of minutes and work rate, produced far more run metres and tackle breaks, and conceded far fewer penalties.
Hooker: Josh Hodgson, Canberra (407)
I don’t think a down year in what seemed a tumultuous environment in Canberra necessarily signals Hodgson’s irreversible decline. His ball-playing still compares well to a player like Api Koroisau.
The problem is Hodgson’s running game. He doesn’t engage the line enough and, from my qualitative observation, doesn’t pick his moments well. Hodgson is better suited to lock.
Prop: Joe Ofahengaue, Wests Tigers (480)
He is by no means a bad player, just below average. His selection for Queensland this year was more indicative of Queensland’s depth than Ofahengaue’s form.
Second rower: Tariq Sims, St George Illawarra (467)
Sims is another case of diminishing returns. He and Angus Crichton (496) are very similar in terms of minutes and work rate.
Sims does far less with his involvement. He’s still a strong defender but just doesn’t threaten opposition defences like he once did.
Second rower: Kurt Capewell, Penrith (442)
The way Penrith deploy their three primary second rowers – Capewell, Viliame Kikau and Liam Martin – seems very calculated. They’re the kamikaze kids.
Capewell and Martin played an almost identical number of minutes in 2021. Kikau played a small amount more, for obvious reasons.
They all play at a high intensity work rate, make mistakes and miss lots of tackles, until they’re spent. It looks like a trade-off. They can live with mistakes if they’re hurting their opponents.
Capewell is the least valuable of the trio and his numbers don’t compare well to other representative second rowers. Maybe that’s not the point though.
Lock: Victor Radley, Roosters (429)
When Radley wasn’t suspended, he was largely ineffective. When he wasn’t committing illegal tackles, he was missing them. When he ran the ball, not much happened.
Bench prop: Jesse Bromwich, Melbourne (496)
I know Bromwich isn’t a bench prop but the format I’ve used to date doesn’t work here. Who rates your typical bench player highly?
In the case of Bromwich, he had diminishing returns and too many missed tackles.
Bench second rower: Elliott Whitehead, Canberra (441)
Whitehead is not running the ball often or well and he’s missing tackles like one of Penrith’s kamikaze kids. I’m not sure that’s what Ricky Stuart has in mind.
Bench utility: Moses Mbye, Wests Tigers (439)
I don’t think anybody’s high on Mbye right now, but he has just been signed by an NRL club who presumably had a choice in the matter. Hopefully, he’s just depth.
Bench utility back: Corey Allan, Canterbury (506)
Compared to where he was 12 months ago, it’s been quite a fall for Allan.