The Top 50 Players in the NRL (Part 1)

Filed in NRL, Top 50 by on September 28, 2012

For the fifth year, Making The Nut presents the top 50 players in the NRL. Rankings are based on contribution and performance at club level in 2012 though rep performances are noted. The performance of the team is also strongly considered.

A quick note: The number in the bracket is where the player finished last year with a * indicating they didn't play in 2011. In part two, I will provide the table of where players have finished in each of the four years.

Without further ado, players 50-26 of 2012. 

50. Feleti Mateo (New Zealand, 47)
For the second straight season, Mateo has snuck into the top 50 after leading the league in offloads. Often misused by Brian McClennan, Mateo playing 80 minutes just twice all year and more than 60 minutes just five times in the first 19 matches. With the Warriors losing their discipline this year under McClennan, their attack often was very lateral, making Mateo's offloads critical to the their ability to score.

49. Gavin Cooper (North Queensland, -)
One of the most underrated players in the game, Cooper combines hard running with a taste for heavy work, making him one of the top edge forwards in the competition. Cooper managed 10 tries, one of only three forwards to score double figure tries, and went at 34 tackles and 100 metres a game. His hands can be an issue but he is a legitimately top class backrower.

48. Liam Fulton (Wests Tigers, -)
The Wests Tigers backrower is capable of playing anywhere on a football field from centre and in the halves, to hooker and backrow. Perhaps only fullback and prop aren't suited to his skill-set. A stout defender and skilful ballplayer, his numbers don't reflect how good he actually is. The Tigers don't realise what a good player they have on their hands.

47. Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly, 14)
Didn't reach the heights of his debut season but certainly didn't suffer from second year syndrome. A classy halfback, Cherry-Evans plays with a calmness and intelligence greater than his experience. His try assists remained steady and his kicking game was again excellent, as was his defence for such a small frame, but his greatest quality was his elusiveness, leading all halves in tackle breaks. Suffered a representative setback this year but his time will come.

46. Ryan Hoffman (Melbourne, *)
A season with Wigan after the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal did Hoffman the world of good, allowing the backrower to shake the weaknesses out of his game and become a more mature player. Such has been his form in 2012, he has been touted as a surprise winner of Melbourne's best and fairest award, where he would become only the second player not named Smith or Slater to win the award since 2004. Hoffman's hard running was threatening and he was very strong defensively.

45. Shaun Johnson (New Zealand, 35)
The New Zealand halfback was unfairly pinned for the Warriors' collapse in 2012, dumped by Tony Iro for the last game of the year. It was a stupid decision. Johnson was the Warriors' most damaging player for most of the year and often the only playmaker performing like a first grader. Johnson scored 12 tries, the only half to score more than 10, and finished in a tie for eighth for combined tries/try assists, a very good effort on a team that had little direction at coach, five-eighth, fullback or hooker. An exceptional talent who can turn a game on its head.

44. Josh McGuire (Brisbane, -)
McGuire came from the clouds to overtake Ben Hannant and Petero Civoniceva as the Broncos' best prop. At the crossroads in 2011 after suffering a nasty eye injury, McGuire was unlucky not to get an Origin call-up this year with an excellent 100 metres/33 tackles a game, showing an ability to play big minutes, playing 59 or more on eight occasions. Big and tough, McGuire is fearsome in the middle of the field.

43. Josh McCrone (Canberra, -)
The Canberra half had a sneaky good year, finishing the season with 20 try assists, one of only eight players to reach the mark and the only non-rep player along with Ben Barba to pass 20. A strong gap runner, McCrone's kicking improved significantly this year and he stepped up as a leader at the Raiders. One of the driving forces behind Canberra's late-season resurgence.

42. Adam Reynolds (South Sydney, *)
South Sydney have been chasing a halfback for 40 years – and they may finally have found one in local junior Reynolds. A clear Rookie of the Year winner, Reynolds was better than any Souths person could have hoped for. Mature beyond his years and a great kicker both at goal and in play, Reynolds' greatest quality is his awareness of his own limitations. His importance was no better exemplified than when he went down with a torn hamstring in the first half of Souths' preliminary final loss to Canterbury. Finished second top pointscorer in his first season of first grade.

41. Justin Hodges (Brisbane, -)
The Brisbane centre, once regarded as the best in the game, scored just five tries in 18 games this year but led all backs in offloads by nearly one-third and finished top 20 in tackle breaks. He also led all centres in metres gained with 133 a game. Even when not at full fitness, Hodges is an elite three-quarter who is a match-up nightmare for opposition centres.

40. Bryce Gibbs (Cronulla, -)
Fuelled by being shunted out of his beloved Wests Tigers, the old school prop turned in the best season of his 10-year career. His value as an off-field leader and a player who brings a team together was evident this year when the Tigers imploded and the Sharks made an unexpected finals run. Add on top of that 128 metres (fourth among props) and 25 tackles a game and Gibbs was one of the value recruits of the season.

39. Corey Parker (Brisbane, 6)
Injuries and the poor form of the Broncos as a whole meant Parker failed to reach the heights of 2011 but he certainly was again excellent, averaging 40 tackles and 108 metres a game. Few have Parker's work ethic and it isn't just quantity either with Parker a fine support player and one that is difficult to bring down. A fantasy stud who deserves all the accolades he receives.

38. Scott Prince (Gold Coast, -)
Back into the top 50 after a year's absence following top 10 finishes from 2008-10, including the No.1 slot in 2010. Prince has lost some of his old zip but seemed to find his confidence this year, certainly benefiting from the addition of a competent five-eighth in Aiden Sezer. Prince finished with 21 assists and is one of the best structure halves in the game, when on-song. At the end of his career but is back on the path to leaving gracefully after a horror 2011.

37. Tim Grant (Penrith, -)
One of the few Panthers to show consistency in 2012, Grant took the step up to Origin level with class, laying former teammate Petero Civoniceva on his backside. A huge body, Grant could bend opposition lines and dominate the centre of the field. There is plenty of upside for this 24-year-old.

36. Ben Matulino (New Zealand, -)
Tough and uncompromising, Matulino was a real force in a Warriors pack that really failed to fire a shot this year. Averaging 127 metres with the ball, Matulino bent lines and was capable of busting tackles and getting an offload away. Not the most skilled prop but one that survives on a ton of heart.

35. Jarryd Hayne (Parramatta, 48)
The Parramatta fullback again failed to live up to his boom but was surprisingly consistent and played at a reasonably high level in an injury-hampered year. In 12 games, Hayne laid on 13 tries and scored eight himself. While he still showed a great deal of apathy, he did contribute, primarily as a kick returner and the Eels' chief playmaker.

34. Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra, 41)
There is no more reliable outside back in the premiership. Not flashy and not blessed with super speed, Nightingale's strengths are his smarts and his positional play. Whether on the wing or at fullback, Nightingale was as safe as the assumption that not a weekend would go by without a video refereeing fuck-up. Tough to tackle.

33. Josh Dugan (Canberra, -)
Aside from the lamentable shift to five-eighth, which ended exactly the way all sharp pundits predicted, Dugan had a quality year as one of the game's top kick returners. One of just 10 backs to average 140-plus metres a game, managed nearly 100 tackle breaks in just 15 games. His fragility is becoming an issue but there is no question that when fully fit, he is one of the most dangerous custodians in the competition.

32. Brent Tate (North Queensland, -)
Rejuvenated and survived a full season, a rarity for the injury-prone Tate, the Cowboys centre was as solid as you would expect from the ultra-reliable outside back. It is no surprise that his arrival at North Queensland has seen the club play tougher and more consistent football. With Jamie Lyon, was one of only two centres to have double figure try assists. Was arguably Queensland's best player during Origin playing out of position on the wing.

31. Trent Merrin (St George Illawarra, 45)
Merrin has played Origin in back-to-back years and for some reason, has been dropped for the decider in each. That's Ricky Stuart for you I guess. There are few more promising prop forwards in the game and there is no young prop aged under 25 outside of Sam Kasiano with more skill. Merrin can play big minutes and has outstanding instincts for a forward with lovely footwork. Will only get better.

30. Glenn Stewart (Manly, 7)
The talented Manly lock forward certainly didn't have his best year in 2012, managing just 14 games, where he had just three try assists and just 16 offloads. But Stewart's abilities have never been reflected in his numbers. He is a classy ball handler that is a key link-man between the Manly middle and Jamie Lyon, who is a strong defender to boot. He played injured most of the year.

29. Aiden Tolman (Canterbury, 18)
After leading the way for a battling Canterbury in his debut year at the club in 2011, Tolman rated as the third best prop at the team in 2012 but still managed to make it into the top 30 for the second straight season. More up and down than James Graham or Sam Kasiano, Tolman has an incredible thirst for work, averaging 123 metres and 31 tackles. It is unbelievable that he was again overlooked for Origin duty with New South Wales.

28. Brett Morris (St George Illawarra, -)
While St George Illawarra had to endure a tough 2012, Morris returned to close to his best, particularly when used on a wing, where he scored 10 tries in 10 matches. Finished third in tackle breaks for the season and scored 18.9 per cent of the Dragons' tries, second behind only Akuila Uate. More involved in 2012.

27. Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers, 4)
As always, the enigmatic five-eighth's numbers stack up with Marshall a clear leader in try assists with 37 – seven clear of the second-placed Cronk – and beat everyone bar Ben Barba in combined tries and try assists. But Marshall did not play to his standing and offered little in the way of much-needed leadership in 2012. Marshall was happy to play far too laterally and the maturity he showed in 2011 was nowhere to be seen this year. His defence was again a major concern. Has all the skills but needs to adjust his attitude, focus and discipline.

26. Akuila Uate (Newcastle, 11)
Led the NRL in percentage of tries for his club with 18 of the Knights' 80. Was disappointing in Origin and at the Dally M awards but got hot at the backend of the seasons, scoring in nine straight games. Finished top 10 in metres gained and recorded over five tackle breaks a game. There is no more dangerous attacking winger in the NRL.

Tune into Making The Nut next week to see the top 25 players of 2012.

Thanks to NRL Stats for the use of their numbers – it really is appreciated.


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Comments (1)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    These lists are always difficult because of how subjective they can be but I was surprised by how much of it I agreed with.

    I take issue with Dugan being rated so highly given how much football he missed (again) but he is a great talent. 

    Similary I would have placed Hoffman higher as he has been the Storm's most dominant forward in a number of games and I can't recall seeing him play better football. All in all a very good list and I look forward to part 2.