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Opinion

Walsh's weapons, 'beautiful' Harry Grant - NRL regular season Team of the Year

Roar Guru
4th September, 2023
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Roar Guru
4th September, 2023
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1435 Reads

That’s it. The regular season for 2023 is in the can. September footy is a whole new competition.

Before we reset and the tension ratchets up, let’s reflect on season 2023 with my team of the year.

Fullback – Reece Walsh

Fullback is normally the most competitive position. Injuries and form slumps have seen maybe a changing of the guard in 2023. What I like most about Walsh is that he has so many weapons in his arsenal.

In the Broncos’ Round 2 game against the Cowboys, with the score at 10-10, Walsh laid on one try with a kick, set up another one with a pass from a kick return and then scored one himself with his slashing speed.

Honourable mentions: Kalyn Ponga, Dylan Edwards, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Clint Gutherson

Wingers – Jamayne Isaako and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

Since coming into first grade, Isaako has looked like a player with all the physical gifts but rarely able to put it all together at the same time. He’d have a blinder and then look ordinary for the next month.

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He’s been a model of consistency in 2023 and will finish the season as the NRL’s leading try-scorer and leading point-scorer. He’s also third among wingers for run metres, third for line breaks and fourth for tackle breaks.

The second wing spot could have gone to any of half a dozen players. DWZ is another player with all the attributes who has struggled for consistency. 2023 is without doubt his best season in the NRL. He’s benefited from having Shaun Johnson and CNK running beautiful plays inside him, but his finishing has been spectacular

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Honourable mentions: Greg Marzhew, Dom Young, Brian To’o, Mikaele Ravalawa, Selwyn Cobbo, Sunia Turuva

Centres – Stephen Crichton and Kotoni Staggs

Crichton plays left and right centre equally well and plays whichever side Ivan Cleary needs him. He’s arguably the best defensive centre in the competition and takes intercepts for fun. Could be accused of having ‘glue hands’ in the past, but has eight try assists this season (nine is the highest for a centre) to go with his 14 tries.

Staggs’ attacking prowess has been well known, but I’ve had a knock on his defence in the past. Clearly he’s worked on it because he’s arguably the best defensive centre in the comp this season, with his 85 one-on-one tackles making him far and away the league leader for centres.

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Honourable mentions: Bradman Best, Herbie Farnworth, Dane Gagai, Valentine Holmes, Izack Tago

Five-eighth – Ezra Mam

Nuggety five-eighth built low to the ground. Great front on defender and brilliant support player… you know that’s in my wheelhouse!

Mam is a key ingredient to the Broncos’ attacking game. He plays link man and support player equally well, but is also a threat running at the line himself. Absolutely sweet timer of a front-on hit with perfect technique.

(Dis)honourable mentions: Dylan Brown, Tyson Gamble, Kieran Foran

Halfback – Shaun Johnson

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I wouldn’t be in a rush to offload a 7 on the wrong side of 30 (if we had one). The game seems to slow down for them and you could argue Daly Cherry-Evans, Adam Reynolds but especially Shaun Johnson are in career-best form.

Johnson has always been a brilliant attacking and support player who clocks up plenty of attacking stats. This year he’s first in the competition for try assists, try involvements and leads kick metres by a mile. For halfbacks he’s second for line breaks and third for line break assists. His best contribution has been his ability to direct the Warriors around the park. Should be a shoo-in for the Dally M.

Honourable mentions: Daly Cherry-Evans, Nathan Cleary, Nicho Hynes, Jackson Hastings, Jahrome Hughes

Props – Addin Fonua-Blake and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui

AFB has taken his game to another level this season and has become a genuine leader. Leads the stats for front-rowers in runs, run metres, runs over eight metres, line breaks, tries and try involvements. A phenomenal season.

Big Tino averages more minutes than any other prop and plays every second with total intensity. Third for props in average run metres. He’s also developed a nice offload and a knack for scoring tries through the middle. Big, fit, tough, mobile, skilful. I’d say he’s the prototype for the modern front-rower but you so rarely see all those things in the one package.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

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Honourable mentions: Payne Haas, James Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota, Toafofoa Sipley, Lindsay Collins

Hooker – Harry Grant

Not a stellar year overall for the 9s. Grant gaps the field by a margin.

I’ve always said the mark of a good hooker is his first movement from dummy half. Did he pick the right option? Has he drawn in the markers and a defender? Has he created space or trouble for his first receiver? Cameron Smith was the best I’ve ever seen and I thought it would be a while before another came along, but Grant is beautiful to watch.

Honourable mentions: Jeremy Marshall-King, Mitch Kenny, Billy Walters, Blake Brailey, Phoenix Crossland, Wade Egan

Second row – David Fifita and Liam Martin

Fifita has finally delivered the season we’ve all suspected he’s capable of. The Titans – and more particularly Kieran Foran – have found a way to unlock Fifita and get him involved. Who’d have thought that using him as a decoy or attacking down the other side of the field wasn’t the way to get the best out of him?

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Obviously, I’ve used statistics to support why I’ve selected certain players here. Liam Martin is a player it’s impossible to do that for. He doesn’t produce big numbers anywhere on the stats sheet.

What he does do is make all the effort plays. Watch him through the semi-finals. He’ll pick one or two players on the opposition and target them as mercilessly as Glenn McGrath targeting an opposition skipper. When his team needs it, he’ll take the tough carry, make the big hit or run the suicide line.

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Honourable mentions: Briton Nikora, Jacob Preston, Eliesa Katoa, Nat Butcher, Isaiah Papali’i

Lock – Patrick Carrigan

Lock is always an intriguing position that probably evolves more than any other. Across my footy-watching life at different times locks have been defensive experts, extra second-rowers, ball-players or a third middle forward.

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Modern locks arguably have to do a bit of all of it, which is why Carrigan gets the nod. Need a forward running the hard yards in the middle? Tick. Big motor, big minutes? Tick. Brutal front on defender? Tick. Genuine ball-player and link man? Tick. Great communicator and leader? Tick. Doesn’t kick goals… as far as I know.

Honourable mentions: Isaah Yeo, Cameron Murray, Tohu Harris, J’maine Hopgood

So, what do you reckon? Have I got any of these right? How badly have I got them wrong? Who have I forgotten?

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