North Queensland’s James Tamou is the highest ranked forward in the voting for the Harvey Norman NRL All Stars, capping a dream year for the 23-year-old in which he debuted for Australia and New South Wales and cemented himself as one of the game’s best forwards.
Such is the rapid rise of Tamou - he is currently outshining perennial fan favourites Billy Slater, Paul Gallen, Cooper Cronk and Michael Jennings with just over a week to go in Phase One of voting.
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Parramatta fullback Jarryd Hayne leads the voting ahead of Akuila Uate, Brett Morris, Tamou and Slater.
The Cowboys enforcer was surprised when told he was in the top five of voting for the NRL All Stars team to be coached by Wayne Bennett.
“It’s very flattering to have so much support,” Tamou told NRL.com.
“It’s a game I’d love to play in and I haven’t had the chance to yet. When I’ve watched it, I’ve been pretty envious.
“The All Stars game has become a big part of our season and to be recognised as being good enough to be part of the NRL All Stars team would be a huge honour.
“Just having another chance to play alongside the high-profile players in the game, and spend time with them in camp, would be a buzz.”
South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds’ breakout debut season has also earned the attention of fans, with the 22-year-old comfortably near the top of the voting – surprisingly ahead of Kangaroos and Queensland half, Cronk.
The 2012 rookie of the year helped guide South Sydney to the NRL finals in his debut season and was unfortunately injured during an exhilarating Preliminary Final against the Bulldogs in front of more than 70,000 fans at ANZ Stadium.
FuiFui MoiMoi’s cult following has also ensured he is at the top of voting, despite Parramatta’s disappointing season in 2012. While the Eels finished with the wooden spoon, the popularity of the big forward has not waned with fans.
Brett Morris has bragging rights over his twin-brother Josh, but both are proving popular and are in the top 10 of voting.
The first stage of voting for the NRL All Stars team, which includes fans picking two forwards and two backs from each club finishes on November 26.
The second phase will begin on December 10 and will require fans to trim down the list of 64 players to just 16, with coach Wayne Bennett to handpick two players to go along with Australian captain Cam Smith and New Zealand captain Benji Marshall who are automatic selections in the squad.
The Indigenous All Stars side voting will also start on December 10, with coach Laurie Daley able to select three players to add to the squad picked by the fans.
Voting closes January 14, with the teams to both be named on January 16.
The NRL All Stars game will kick-off on Saturday February 9 at Suncorp Stadium.
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The top 10 players in NRL All Stars voting:
1. Jarryd Hayne
2. Akuila Uate
3. Brett Morris
4. James Tamou
5. Billy Slater
6. Fuifui Moimoi
7. Adam Reynolds
8. Josh Morris
9. Michael Jennings
10. Cooper Cronk