There are no more important positions in the game of rugby league than those wearing the number six and seven.
Even in the age of the fullback, with players like Tom Trbojevic, James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell dominating, the halves, especially the halfback, are the core of a good team.
If a teams' halves are lacking, you can guarantee they are going to struggle.
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As we head into the 2022 NRL season, there is plenty of change for fans to adjust to. Adam Reynolds is wearing seven for the Brisbane Broncos and Nicho Hynes will pull on the sky blue jersey of the Cronulla Sharks.
Whether they've got a star recruit or developing within, plenty of teams will be hoping their halves will be able to lead them to the promised land, but who sits on top?
16. Newcastle Knights - Adam Clune and Jake Clifford
For the Newcastle Knights, there isn't much to say. Selecting them at 16th was the easiest decision of the bunch.
The Knights struggled with direction and leadership last year, even in the games Mitchell Pearce played. Without him, I expect those troubles to double.
Adam Clune is a solid half who worked well at times with Ben Hunt in 2021 but he seems more comfortable as the secondary playmaker. That might mean Jake Clifford has a more prominent role for the Knights in 2022, I'm not sure that's a good thing.
Clifford is a good five-eighth with solid potential but he isn't ready to be a team's key half.
Luckily for the Knights, they might have enough around this weak combination to make something of the season, but there is no doubt they are last in these rankings.
15. North Queensland Cowboys - Chad Townsend and Scott Drinkwater/Tom Dearden
There are a few teams that have multiple options in the halves but I tried to select their best option. The fact that was too difficult for the Cowboys isn't a great sign.
In a perfect world, giving Scott Drinkwater and Thomas Dearden time to create a combination would be best. After spending big money to bring Chad Townsend to North Queensland, that isn't going to happen and it seems Dearden will get the nod ahead of Drinkwater.
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While Townsend has been brought in to bring leadership and game management to the cowboys, the fact is he lacks the talent of the better players at his position. Dearden should perform well next to a halfback who can get the simple things right and lead the team.
I don't know what the Cowboys should or will do, and it doesn't seem like anyone who works there does either.
14. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs - Kyle Flanagan and Matt Burton
The same issue the Cowboys have is seen here with the Bulldogs and who is going to partner Matt Burton in the halves. Kyle Flanagan and Jake Averillo bring different problems but the Bulldogs need a halfback. Flanagan is a halfback.
There is no doubt that Burton is a future star of the competition but we are yet to see what he is as a consistent NRL five-eighth.
In the few games Burton played in the halves for the Penrith Panthers last year, he showed flashes of stardom. For the most part, he looked like a young half who doesn't know what to do.
The Bulldogs are undoubtedly on the right track and in a year or two should be nearing the top of the ladder. However, a young five-eighth who doesn't know who his halfback is with just over a week until the season starts isn't a great recipe for success.
They'll be fun to watch though.
13. Gold Coast Titans - Toby Sexton and AJ Brimson
The Titans halves are almost a complete unknown as we head into the 2022 season.
A young half next to a young fullback is not optimal in the NRL. Perhaps in another sport, where the media doesn't tear you to shreds if it even looks like you're even thinking about taking time to develop your squad.
If this list was 'ranking the best halves combinations in five years' the Titans might be at the top of the list. Toby Sexton has the potential to be a very high-level halfback for a long time and AJ Brimson could become a Cameron Munster, Jack Wighton type running five-eighth and star with the six on his back.
I don't think either of those things will be true for 2022. While this duo should, or could, improve the team's play from 2021, I don't see it making too much of a difference.
12. New Zealand Warriors - Shaun Johnson and Chanel Harris-Tevita
The Warriors have numerous questions heading into the season and to answer them, they needed to experiment in trial matches.
In an article by Alex Powell, assistant coach Justin Morgan stated that who they select at lock could determine their number 14 option and thus who will partner Shaun Johnson.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, their second trial was cancelled and they will have to answer those questions without all the information. Ashley Taylor, Chanel Harris-Tevita and Kodi Nikorima all bring different things to the table, with Nikorima having performed well on the representative stage alongside Johnson.
Whichever one Nathan Brown selects will do fine, but Harris-Tevita provides the best offence-defence combination and was in fine form last year before his injury.
With Johnson and a solid roster, the Warriors need a solid, consistent performer and Harris-Tevita brings that more than the others.
We all know what Johnson brings to a team, the question is whether he can stay healthy. If he can and his five-eighth can be healthy, consistent and (preferably) the same person the entire season, the Warriors could ruffle some feathers.
11. Cronulla Sharks - Braydon Trindall and Nicho Hynes
This is where it gets interesting, from here to the top five, anyone could have a different order. Almost every team from 11-5 has a similar halfback and five-eighth duo; a star and a young player or borderline reserve-grade player.
To say Braydon Trindall is almost reserve-grade level is harsh but if you have watched Cronulla play and vehemently disagree, you don't watch them play.
Trindall makes his tackles and gets the ball where it needs to be, but he struggles to game-manage, his kicking game isn't great and he often makes mistakes. He could thrive next to someone who does most of the attacking for him and he might have that someone in 2022.
I say 'might' because we don't know what Nicho Hynes is capable of as a full-time five-eight (or halfback). I'm sure he will be great, but how does he go kicking for field position 15 times a game? Or keeping calm and finding a repeat set after attacking the opponent's line twice already?
These are questions we don't know the answer to yet, but if Trindall is his partner (or if it's Matt Moylan), Hynes better excel in all the areas we didn't see him star in at the Melbourne Storm.
10. Canberra Raiders - Jamal Fogarty and Jack Wighton
While tenth isn't a fantastic position to be in, the Raiders are in a good spot.
The Raiders will improve from last year to 2022, simply by replacing a revolving door of Matt Frawley and Sam Williams with the now-injured Jamal Fogarty. If the rest of their team can pull it together, this one change could be enough to get them back in grand final contention where they should be.
Jack Wighton is one of the best five-eighths in the game and while he needs a halfback who takes control of the team and its kicking to perform at his best, his best is worth it.
Fogarty doesn't control games like Cooper Cronk or kick like Johnathan Thurston, but he might be good enough to give Wighton the freedom he needs.
9. St George Illawarra Dragons - Ben Hunt and Talatau Amone
It looks like Moses Mbye will be playing in jersey number 14 this year, which means young Talatau Amone will be wearing six for the Red V.
It is a lot easier to find someone who can play the five-eighth role, take care of his side of the field and run the ball than to find a solid halfback. Luckily for the Dragons, they have Ben Hunt.
Hunt is undoubtedly one of the best halfbacks in the game. With a superb long and short kicking game and a passing game to die for, they don't need Amone to come in and be Darren Lockyer.
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They need him to run the ball when he thinks he can break the line, and pass it when he thinks someone else can. The game should be that simple for him. Let Ben Hunt take care of everything else.
8. Wests Tigers - Luke Brooks and Jackson Hastings
This was a really tough one to place. Firstly, because Adam Doueihi will be returning in the next two or so months and secondly, they've only played one trial match together and Hastings hasn't played an NRL game since 2018.
We all know what Luke Brooks can do and the talent he has. While Benji Marshall has predicted he will win Dally M Halfback of the Year, he has failed to perform to his potential in any year, even in 2018 when he did win the award.
Whether Hastings or Doueihi partners Brooks, the Tigers could have one of the better halves combinations in the competition.
They just have to be allowed to play at their best, and then to do it. Only time will tell.
7. South Sydney Rabbitohs - Lachlan Ilias and Cody Walker
People underestimate the difference between a halfback and a five-eighth. They underestimate and ignore the importance of positions in general.
You see it all the time. "He's fast and has a good step, put him at centre" or "That winger can pass pretty well, why isn't he five-eighth".
It doesn't work like that.
The halfback is the games' most important position. An incredible five-eighth is usually not enough to counteract a poor halfback whereas plenty of great halfbacks have made up for a lacking five-eighth.
That isn't to say Ilias is lacking, but he is young and won't be able to fill the shoes of Adam Reynolds in his first year. This forces Cody Walker to share the game managing and kicking roles of Reynolds.
While Walker may be able to do that, it takes away from what he does best. He did it all in the grand final, but asking him to do it across an entire season is asking too much.
6. Brisbane Broncos - Adam Reynolds and Billy Walters
Adam Reynolds is possibly the second-best halfback in the competition and is at worst sixth, and you would have to hate him to have him sixth.
A teams kicking game (which falls mostly on the halfback) is the most important aspect of an NRL game. If your kicking game is great, chances are you win. Next to Nathan Cleary, Reynolds has one of the best kicking games in the NRL.
Combine that with everything else he brings and it almost doesn't matter who your pair him with. Which is a good thing for the Broncos because they're struggling to find someone.
After the trials, it looks like Billy Walters will claim five-eighth. While the coaches son shouldn't be picked over those more deserving, it is clear to anyone who watched the Broncos trial games that Walters is their best choice.
I don't expect Walters to set the world on fire. All he has to do is the simple things and Reynolds will take care of everything else.
5. Sydney Roosters - Luke Keary and Sam Walker
While their two combined weights might be less than Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, running over people isn't part of the job description.
Unfortunately, making tackles is, which is one of the reasons Luke Keary and Sam Walker find themselves at five rather than two or three.
Though he returns from an ACL injury and stress fracture in his foot, Luke Keary is possibly the best half in the game.
Keary returns to a team that fought their way to the finals and battled valiantly with one of the worst injury lists we have seen. The same team has provided Keary with a rookie halves partner who got five years' worth of experience in his first year. Add Keary to that and he should push the Roosters over the top.
There is little doubt that these two could combine for the NRL's most unstoppable offensive force. Most teams are struggling to get one competent halfback, the Roosters have two.
4. Parramatta Eels - Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown
The Eels are known for (rightly or wrongly), failing to get the job done in crunch time. In 2021 they came closest to beating the Premiers and Mitch Moses was one of the biggest reasons for that.
Earlier I said that Adam Reynolds had the best kicking game next to Nathan Cleary. Looking back at the semi-final between Parramatta and Penrith, and the Fury V Wilder III of kicking battles Moses and Cleary had is making me rethink that claim.
Nevertheless, Moses is undoubtedly one of the best halfbacks in the competition and was the catalyst of almost everything for the Eels did in 2021.
Dylan Brown is one of the best defenders in the competition, making 93.6% of his tackles in 2021.
Brown cops criticism for his lack of try-assists. While a lot of Parramatta's eventual tries started of a line break he either put someone into or made himself.
Clint Gutherson and Mitch Moses racked up the majority of the assists, but Brown did plenty of playmaking.
This combination has proven they can handle themselves against the best. With another year under their belt, I expect more development between the two.
3. Manly Sea Eagles - Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran
Daly Cherry-Evans was incredible in 2021.
Tom Trbojevic rightly gets most of the praise for Manly's performance in 2021 but their Captain was crucial to their turnaround last year.
A complete offensive weapon and one of the best defenders at his position, Cherry-Evans does everything you want from a halfback, better than most.
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As for Kieran Foran, what a bounce-back season he had. One of the games' best short passers, Foran puts his body on the line to make the right pass.
With sustained health, I expect Foran to be better this year. With that and Cherry-Evans continued success, these two should be able to lead Manly to the top.
2. Melbourne Storm - Jahrome Hughes and Cameron Munster
It was an extremely difficult decision to leave this Storm duo at two.
In 2021, Jahrome Hughes was this close to winning halfback of the year. If he played any other position, he was guaranteed a spot in the Dally M Team of the Year.
Unfortunately, Nathan Cleary exists. But that doesn't take away from what Hughes did last year. Any time the Storm needed something to happen, Hughes made it happen. He is the x-factor of all x-factors.
Cameron Munster is the best five-eighth in the game. Simple. You can lock him into the Australian World Cup team right now if he's healthy.
He looks fit and ready to go after a bit of off-season drama. Munster should shine for the Storm in 2022.
1 . Penrith Panthers - Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai
Massive shocker this one. The duo that won the NRL Grand Final and State of Origin together is the best combination in the competition.
Cleary is the halfback that every other halfback is compared against. He is the best halfback in the competition. While Luai might not be the best five-eighth, it's their chemistry that makes this combination so special.
While their individual talent is key, there's nothing like playing together since you were 15. They know each other like the back of their hand and it shows in the ease with which they play.
I expect it to be much of the same in 2022.