NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15: Connor Watson of the Newcastle Knights in action during round one NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 15, 2019 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

The NRL season is done, the Penrith Panthers are the premiers, and it’s time to count down the best players from the season just gone.

Today, in Part 1 of this five-part series, we look at players 50 to 41 on the list.

50. Connor Watson (Newcastle Knights)
Connor Watson transformed himself during the 2021 season and has a shiny new contract at the Roosters to show for it.

Still used at times as a bench utility, the longer the season went on, the more Watson became an explosive lock forward for the Knights. His ball-playing ability and footwork at the line made him incredibly hard to contain.

He will be a monstrous loss for the men from the Hunter in 2022.

CONNOR WATSON
Five-eighth
Knights
2021 SEASON AVG
0.2
Try Assists
0.1
Tries
4.6
Kick Metres

49. Moeaki Fotuaika (Gold Coast Titans)
The big Titans' prop was a wrecking ball. Maybe his best asset is the way he is able to play big minutes without his production dropping off in the middle third of the field.

So often, Fotuaika found himself defending set after set in what was, at times, a difficult season for the Titans, only to back it up with a gut-busting run up the middle.

He also added plenty in terms of offloading and breaking the line, helping some of his teammates including AJ Brimson and Jamal Fogarty to put points on the board.

It's little surprise he was included in Queensland's Origin squad in the middle of the year.

MOEAKI FOTUAIKA
Prop
Titans
2021 SEASON AVG
138.1
All Run Metres
0.1
Tries
2.6
Tackle Breaks

48. Keaon Koloamatangi (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
The South Sydney second-rower would have played every game this season if not for suspension, and what a season he had.

With over a kilometre of post-contact metres in the bank, he was one of the best ball-runners in the competition. He also regularly broke the line and came up with some superb offloads as part of one of the NRL's most dangerous attacking outfits.

For a second-rower, 131 metres per game is also right up there with the best of them.

Maybe it was his defence which stood out though, barely missing a tackle in most games despite South Sydney's at times poor defence, and the high-scoring nature of games this season.

KEAON KOLOAMATANGI
Second-row
Rabbitohs
2021 SEASON AVG
28.4
Tackles Made
0.1
Tries
1.3
Tackle Breaks

47. Reuben Garrick (Manly Sea Eagles)
The Manly winger scored more points than any other player this season and was phenomenal in finishing tries on the edge for the Sea Eagles.

Manly's attack was a little inconsistent - basically whenever Tom Trbojevic wasn't playing, however, Garrick rarely missed a beat during a phenomenal season.

His goal kicking alone was at the top of the class throughout the season, but his ball running as part of Manly's dangerous back three who regularly started sets on the front foot was outstanding.

Well and truly deserves his place in the top 50.

REUBEN GARRICK
Wing
Sea Eagles
2021 SEASON AVG
0.9
Tries
156.4
All Run Metres
4.7
Tackles Made

46. Josh Schuster (Manly Sea Eagles)
Another Manly young gun who, until injury struck, was rumoured to be an inclusion in the New South Wales Blues State of Origin camp.

In his first full season of first grade, Schuster, who captained the New South Wales under-18 team just two years ago, was phenomenal on the edge for Manly in a damaging forward combination alongside Haumole Olokau'atu.

He has now been picked by New Zealand in their wider squad for next year's World Cup, and while it's unclear where his representative eligibility lies, it's clear he will be a big part of this Manly side moving forward as they push to breakthrough for a premiership.

JOSH SCHUSTER
Five-eighth
Sea Eagles
2021 SEASON AVG
0.4
Try Assists
0.1
Tries
14.5
Kick Metres

45. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Gold Coast Titans)
Talk about a breakout year!

Fa'asuamaleaui was a high-profile signing from the Melbourne Storm, despite being relatively early in his NRL career.

He didn't let a man down on the Gold Coast either. He might be still in the process of discovering his best position, whether that is front-row, lock or second row, but he played excellently wherever he was placed by coach Justin Holbrook in 2021.

His biggest asset is his ball-playing, which is likely to see him line up at lock long-term, but there is no doubt he is one of the best runners in the competition.

TINO FA'ASUAMALEAUI
Prop
Titans
2021 SEASON AVG
130.5
All Run Metres
0.2
Tries
2.2
Tackle Breaks

44. Angus Crichton (Sydney Roosters)
In an injury-ravaged Roosters' team, Crichton just kept turning up week after week.

He did cop a suspension late in the season, but outside of that, his numbers and production levels were off the charts.

Churning out big metres and creating plenty of attacking opportunities for his teammates, there are few players you'd want going into battle for you more than Crichton.

An Origin player through and through, he will be back in Sky Blue in 2022.

ANGUS CRICHTON
Second-row
Roosters
2021 SEASON AVG
31.6
Tackles Made
0.4
Tries
3.1
Tackle Breaks

43. Harry Grant (Melbourne Storm)
Grant was a curious case this season. He spent a lot of it injured, but then was reduced to a bench role behind Brandon Smith, who is off-contract at the end of next season and has more speculation surrounding him than just about anyone in the game.

Grant was great off the bench, however, there were times, particularly in a game with Smith off the field late in the season, where he looked as if he had stagnated Melbourne's attack more than helped it.

That again looked to be the case in the preliminary final against Penrith.

Still, Grant is a phenomenal player, a long-term Queensland State of Origin option, and when Smith was on the field, had a big hand in orchestrating the competition's most damaging attacking outfit.

HARRY GRANT
Hooker
Storm
2021 SEASON AVG
28.7
Tackles Made
0.3
Tries
0.4
LB Assists

42. Adam Doueihi (Wests Tigers)
The Tigers' best this season without a doubt. It's an enormous shame Doueihi injured his ACL at the end of the season and will almost certainly miss the opening rounds of 2022.

It didn't seem to matter to the former Rabbitoh where he was lining up, with his position changed between the centres and halves during the season.

He led from the front with his kicking game, wasn't scared to take the line on, and it's fairly clear the Tigers' dismal season would have been a whole lot worse without the efforts of the star.

ADAM DOUEIHI
Five-eighth
Wests Tigers
2021 SEASON AVG
0.9
Try Assists
0.5
Tries
160.1
Kick Metres

41. Viliame Kikau (Penrith Panthers)
The explosive Penrith second-rower might have been demoted to the bench late in the season, but it only seemed to light the fire within him to get back to his best.

Kikau started and finished the season strongly, and while he does have the propensity to lose his head at times, the Fijian is going to demand a big increase in salary at the end of his current deal.

He has an ability to break the line and offload like through other forwards in the game, and when he gets it right in defence, he is not the player you want to run into.

You have to wonder how high on this list he might have been if he spent all of the season coming off the bench and limiting his minutes to an hour, particularly given his performances during the finals in that role.

VILIAME KIKAU
Prop
Panthers
2021 SEASON AVG
114.2
All Run Metres
0.3
Tries
3.3
Tackle Breaks

Check back in on Zero Tackle tomorrow when we will reveal players 40 to 31 on the list.

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