After a dominant 2019 season that was capped with a second premiership and the Dally M Medal, James Tedesco completed his ascent to Rugby League’s summit.
The Roosters fullback had a year to remember by leading the competition in tackle breaks (166), metres run (4,920) and finishing third on the try scorers table with 18 in the home and away season.
Before a crucial pair of finals tries, Tedesco was also named 2019’s Wally Lewis medalist for his standout origin campaign for the Blues.
Although this season his statistical output is south of his 2019 standard, this Mexican feels that ‘Teddy’ is still the number one player in the competition.
I am not alone in this consensus. Just last month, 49% of the competition’s players voted the dual international as the NRL’s best current talent.
With the Roosters destined for the finals, look for the Sydney speedster to again set the competition ablaze at the business end of the season.
— Nike Australia (@nikeaustralia) June 21, 2017
Now that Tedesco’s position is entrenched atop NRL’s Everest, we must search further down the totem pole.
If the Australian and Roosters full back is the gold standard, who takes home the competition’s silver medal?
Either through resume or recent form, here are a number of names that must be included in the conversation.
Agree? Disagree? Who did we miss?
Let us know.
THE DALLY M CONTENDERS
After the Dally M market closed, these were the players whose form looked most likely for reward come the season’s end.
With 12 votes already on the board, West Tigers’ hooker Harry Grant is having the season of his young life. On loan from the Melbourne Storm (the first deal of its kind), the 22-year-old was voted by his peers as both the best buy and the best rookie of 2020.
Grant was also ranked as the third best hooker in the league, proving himself with 83 dummy half runs. A two-way footballer, the youngster has also amassed 504 tackles so far this season.
Adored by all in the 2150 postcode, Clint Gutherson has been a key factor in the Eels’ success this season. The Parramatta skipper has led his troops with aplomb from the back with superb numbers in try and linebreak assists.
Gutherson has also torn up the turf with a massive 2,515 metres gained. Should ‘The King’ remain healthy and in form, blue and gold fans can continue dreaming of their first premiership since Peter Sterling had hair.
— NRL (@NRL) August 2, 2020
Standing at 6 foot three and weighing a whopping 117 kilograms, Jason Taumalolo is the league’s premier forward. The North Queensland Cowboy is having a season that befits his size and strength, with the most metres gained in the comp (2,680) and the most gained post contact (1,151).
The South Auckland born prop has a visible 11 Dally M votes so far this season and has not only the NRL’s second best player, but the player most likely to win the medal. For the past three seasons, Taumalolo has also been elected as the player defences least like to tackle. Who could blame them?
The men that make it happen. The creative types that crowds flock to see wield their magic wands. This quartet are worth their weight in gold.
Consistently lighting it up south of the border, even the most ardent AFL supporters know who Cameron Munster is. The Rockhampton native has previously filled in at fullback for Craig Bellamy, but it is at five-eighth that Munster has shone for both Melbourne and Queensland.
Adept with ball in hand or on his boot, Munster was crowned 2019’s Dally M five-eighth of the year. After suffering a suspected medial injury against the Bulldogs on Saturday, both Storm and Maroons fans can be excused for gnawing their nails as they wait for a prognosis.
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) August 25, 2018
With a trio of premiership rings already and more potentially in the pipeline, Luke Keary is running out of fingers. The Roosters five-eighth was last month voted as the premier player for the position with 41% of the vote.
Having engaged the line on 92 occasions this season and setting up 13 tries, Keary is at the top of his game. With Munster out injured, this has got to be the year that the Ipswich born playmaker finally gets his origin chance.
Are you coached by your old man and do you line up in a prized position? If you answered yes, you either don’t play professionally or you’re Nathan Cleary. The Penrith halfback has begun to build an impressive resume with origin selection last year and 11 Dally M votes already in an interrupted season.
Cleary currently sits second for points (110) and kicks this season (196), but atop the pile for kick metres (5,941). Of these near double century of kicks, 3 have been 40/20’s – the most this season. No doubt banned from Tik Tok by his father Ivan, expect to see the Panther’s junior save his smooth moves solely for the field.
THE MEN AT THE BACK
With goosesteps, high grabs and the ability to put on the after burners, if you give these three space, they’ll bid you farewell.
It’s not uncommon to see defensive lines at ‘sixes and sevens’ when the ball is in the hands of Tom Trbojevic. The Manly full back may be sidelined the present, but when in full flight, not many have a chance against ‘Tommy Turbo’.
Despite only managing to play twelve games last season, Trbojevic’s numbers confirmed his class. At an average of 162 metres gained and 4.6 tackle breaks per game, the younger of the Trbojevic brothers had the Brookvale crowd in raptures. Already a New South Wales origin staple and only 23, be prepared to hear his name well into the future.
When Roger Tuivasa-Sheck said he was coming home to join the New Zealand Warriors, celebrations broke out across the shaky isles. ‘RTS’ is not only one of best number ones in the business, but is the first out and out champion to call Mount Smart home since Stacey Jones.
Since crossing from the Roosters, the Samoan born speed demon has been given the captaincy and won the 2018 Dally M. With 277 runs for 2,609 metres gained, it’s no wonder Tuivasa-Sheck is seen as a top three full back in the eyes of his opponents.
— SBS News (@SBSNews) September 27, 2018
Possibly the most freakish talent in the game, at times Kalyn Ponga looks as though he is made of rubber. The Newcastle neophyte can consider himself fortunate that his sidestep hasn’t yet been considered a weapon of mass destruction.
Having this season broken 76 tackles from 258 runs and 762 kick return metres, Ponga has also dotted down on six occasions. With three origin caps already to his name, get used to the 22-year-old cutting your team’s defence to ribbons for many more seasons to come.
— Will Blackmon 🍷 (@WillBlackmon) June 14, 2020
You’ll find them audibly directing traffic with their index fingers extended. With the repeat set rule in play, this pair are lethal off the back of the ruck
Unlucky not to be a premiership co-captain, Josh Hodgson is making use of the rule that cost Canberra in last season’s decider. The English import has made 40 runs from dummy half this season for four try assists.
Although a popular leader in the nation’s capital, the major knock on Hodgson’s game is his inability to stick tackles. Having missed 104 tackles last season, the Raider has failed to ground a further 52 runners this year. Despite this, the English hooker has been voted as a top five talent in the position for the past two seasons.
As a former beach sprinting champion, the set restart rules suit Damien Cook to a tee. The Rabbitohs hooker is not only proficient on offence with 114 dummy half runs, but puts in when the Bunnies are without the ball.
Having honed his tackling technique with UFC champion Robert Whittaker, Cook leads the league in tackles this season with 651 after a mammoth 1,173 last season. Having already represented his state on six occasions, the Sutherland speedster is in his prime.
THE FORWARD FRATERNITY
When your team needs metres, they look to the big boys. These two are first class.
Seen by Canberra fans as a key cog in the green machine, Josh Papalii does mind the tough stuff. In 2019, the 112-kilogram prop ran for a total of 1,374 metres after contact in a season that ended in Grand Final defeat. Even with his numbers down (782 so far) in that department, the dual international and perennial Queensland selection is still viewed as the second best prop by his peers.
When watching Manly you are almost certain to see Jake Trbojevic in the thick of it. The elder of the Sea Eagles siblings was chosen behind only the hulking Taumalolo as the best lock in league.
After taking his opponent to ground over a thousand times last season, Trbojevic is on track again with 567 so far. A Blue and a Kangaroo like his brother Tom, the Eagles’ finals chances would be at sea without Jake.
THE DORMENT VOLCANOS
We’ve all borne witness to these flyers’ ability, just not so much this season.
After a ring last season and all of the plaudits the eastern suburbs of Sydney could offer, Latrell Mitchell packed his boots and headed for Redfern. Some cynics may suggest he left his best footy in Bondi, but at only 23, you wouldn’t find many putting their houses on him bottoming out.
Mitchell’s 2019 season belied belief with 273 points from 19 tries and 98 goals for the Chooks. Sadly, for Bunnies’ fans, since arriving south of the CBD and shifting from centre to full back, the prodigious talent hasn’t been able to replicate this form.
All of Latrell Mitchell's tries from 2019 right here 👇
Thanks to @DrinkWiseAU 🙌 pic.twitter.com/SBUGMP6pbb
— NRL (@NRL) April 9, 2020
A great mate of Mitchell’s, Josh Addo-Carr is also in a similar slump. The Fox had Storm fans ecstatic with his 16 linebreaks for 16 tries last season. Dropping out of the conversation for the league’s best winger for the first time in three seasons, Addo-Carr will be hoping to regain his past form before finals and origin time.
You just can't give Josh Addo-Carr any space to move!
— NRL (@NRL) August 28, 2016
I know, I know. How could a Melburnian not have Smith at number one? Well rest assured; I have not forgotten about the man destined for immortal status.
Smith’s resume doesn’t need to be read; it speaks for itself. However, if you need a refresher, feast your eyes on these.