Matt Encarnacion, NRL.com
As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our MVPs for 2014.
It's particularly telling that Josh Reynolds was openly upset about Ben Barba's controversial exit from Belmore last spring. Without the explosive fullback at the Bulldogs in 2014, will Reynolds manage to keep up the form that earned him NSW Origin selection last season?
With that fact in mind, we open this MVP nomination with a piece of Bulldogs trivia: which one-time prodigy managed to spend 160 minutes on the field with legendary fullback Rod Silva? Here's a clue: he's still (barely) running around today, but lasted long enough to score 46 points in an unofficial Test match over the summer.
It may have only been against Hungary, but Braith Anasta's massive performance in that game shows there is still life in the Wests Tigers veteran yet.
And Anasta could well be the proof that Reynolds can still succeed without Barba playing alongside him.
Okay, we realise we're drawing quite a delicately long bow here but hear us out: Rocket Rod was the Dally M Fullback of the Year in 1993, won a premiership with the Bulldogs in 1995, and appeared in another grand final two years later. In every essence he was the jack-in-the-box type, not unlike one Ben Barba, who was the darling of the NRL just 12 months ago.
Josh Reynolds isn't far off how old Braith Anasta was when he debuted alongside Silva in 2000. Like Anasta, Reynolds is a running five-eighth, the kind that takes half the defence to bring down after he's made more dents in it than a Saturday at your local smash repairs.
Like Anasta, Reynolds is a representative player no less than three seasons into his career (Anasta did it in two).
And, like Anasta, he's done it with a fullback who has a reputation for making defenders tackle air.
Just two games into the Silva-Anasta combination, the indigenous star announced his retirement. The veteran No. 1 was shunted to centre in Anasta's debut in 2000. He played his final game in the last round of the regular season the following year.
Anasta went on to enjoy a somewhat decorated career that included 10 Origins, four Tests, one premiership, and two grand finals. Come March, the former Roosters will enter his 15th and probably final season of first grade wearing the same jumper famously worn by Benji Marshall for so many years at Leichhardt.
In contrast, Reynolds will be welcomed into his fourth season of NRL in 2014 as one of the leading five-eighths in the competition.
Last year, the local junior was equal first among five-eighths in tries and offloads, second in tackle breaks and equal second in line breaks. And with Barba now gone, much of the Bulldogs' offensive ability will revolve around the direct-playing No.6.
It's a situation not too dissimilar at the beginning of the 2002 season when a young Anasta and his Bulldogs side, without Silva, tallied 45 competition points.
History will tell you salary cap breaches meant that team finished at the bottom of the ladder. What it won't tell you was how Anasta truly came of age that season and went on to have a fruitful first grade career, and why Josh Reynolds is set for the biggest season of his career so far.
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