The players who'll make or break your team's season

They are the players that could decide the Premiership and statistics revealed today by NRL.com demonstrate just how important they are to your club’s chances of lifting the trophy on the first Sunday in October.<br><br>While key players are normally perceived as coming from the ‘spine’ of a team (6,7,9 and 1) NRL.com today reveals that other positions can impact your team just as much - if not more. &nbsp;<br><br>Andrew Bryan talks to NRL.com’s resident analyst Peter Sterling to discuss the players that matter most to your side’s chances of lifting the Telstra Premiership trophy.<br><br><br><b>Penrith Panthers</b><br>He may be one of the smallest players on the field, but 20-year-old Lachlan Coote is invaluable to the Panthers' chances of winning their first Premiership since 2003.<br><br>Since making his debut in 2008, Coote has been a revelation at the foot of the mountains, making a name for himself as a gutsy fullback, with real pace and potency in the air.<br><br>In the 14 matches he has been missing over the last two seasons, the Panthers have managed to win only five times! &nbsp;<br><br>So what does Coote bring to Penrith’s game?<br><br><b>Sterlo says:</b> “Apart from his ability and enthusiasm, he was one of the main reasons they were scoring tries from kicks earlier in the season.<br><br>“He definitely brings a lot of energy to the team, which is infectious, but I also think he has some of the quickest hands in the game.<br><br>“His ability to get the ball from a dangerous situation down next to his body is some of the best in the league, and he is able to diffuse a lot of situations because he has really quick hands.<br><br>“You only have to hear the way coach Matt Elliott speaks about him in glowing terms to know that he thinks Coote is a special player.<br><br>"He looks a lot bigger this year and certainly is a lot more robust. He has obviously worked hard so that his body can handle the rigors of first grade.”<br><br>If Coote is the enthusiasm of the Panthers side, Petero Civoniceva is undoubtedly the heart and soul.<br><br>In 17 matches without their captain over the last two seasons, the Panthers have won only eight.<br><br>Why is Civoniceva so important to the Panthers chances of claiming their first Premiership since 2003?<br><br><b>Sterlo says: </b>“When they are looking for direction, a lot of times in the game the thing that is needed is for somebody to tuck the ball under their arm and run 10 tough metres and he is always first in line to do that. &nbsp;<br><br>“He is just a great leader and leads from the front, there is probably no-one better in the game that can just take the ball and lead the way up the middle.<br><br>The Final Word? <br><br>“I have a massive rap on Penrith, I think they are just suffering a crisis in confidence at the moment..."<br><br><b><br>Brisbane Broncos</b><br>While it comes as no surprise that the Broncos have won just one from seven games without Darren Lockyer in the last two seasons, Sam Thaiday is statistically just as important.<br><br>Brisbane have lost five from six without the rampaging Test and State of Origin backrower in their ranks.<br><br>Where is Darren Lockyer missed most?<br><br><b>Sterlo says: </b>“Brisbane didn’t play poorly by any stretch of the imagination last week (against the Eels), but there were just times in the game where they were looking for somebody to point them in the right direction.<br><br>“The influence of a guy like Lockyer is hard to define, but I guess in a way it is always a lot more noticeable when he’s not there.”<br><br>Thaiday has taken his game to another level this year, what has been the most impressive thing about him this season?<br><br><b>Sterlo says:</b> “The big thing about Sam this year has been his consistency, his work rate is phenomenal.<br><br>“Maybe in years gone past you would see those big performances once every four games, but now you know he is just about going to be the best player on the field each and every week.<br><br>“He is always looking to get those extra metres and he has really formed a great combination with Darren Lockyer on that right side.”<br><br><br><b>New Zealand Warriors</b><br>When you talk about a team’s key players, it is not often you look to the wing, but Manu Vatuvei isn’t your ordinary winger and NRL.com has the stats to prove it.<br><br>In the 11 games that Vatuvei has missed for his club over the last two seasons, the Warriors have incredibly lost 10! &nbsp;<br><br>It is a stat that defies his position on the field and shows just how important he is to his side.<br><b><br>Sterlo says:</b> “He is a bit more than just a winger.<br><br>“I give enormous credit to Ivan Cleary, going back a couple of seasons ago, for not dragging him off against Parramatta in that infamous game.<br><br>“His confidence could have been shattered that night for a long, long time, but Ivan left him out there and put him through that tough time and I have no doubt that we are seeing the fruition of that now in Manu.<br><br>“The big thing about Manu, other than his ability to score tries and get over the line, is how he starts their sets.<br><br>“If you can get some good runs in early and get the defence retreating on the back of that, then tackle three, four and five are going to be good.<br><br>“Manu invariably scatters defenders, whether it be off a change-over or kick return, he gets their sets off in strong fashion and I think that is an underrated aspect of his game.”<br><br>The Final Word?<br><br>“There is no doubt they are a team to watch come the finals, they have some stability in the halves and I think James Maloney has had a marvellous season for them.<br><br>“The other thing that is impressive about the Warriors is that we have seen them win tight games, and we have never really associated that with the Warriors.<br><br>“They have won some really tough hard battles and it is a credit to them – they will take some stopping.” <br><br><b><br>Manly Sea Eagles</b><br>While Manly by their own admission have been inconsistent all season, their captain Jamie Lyon has been anything but.<br><br>Lyon has been in tremendous form all year and will be high in the reckoning when the Dally M Medal counts are tallied. &nbsp;<br><br>The Eagles have won four from nine without Lyon in the side, but can he lead them deep into the finals?<br><br><b>Sterlo says: </b>“When Jamie Lyon is not there, they just aren’t as composed and definitely not as efficient in either attack or defence.<br><br>“Even though he plays a little wider out, the big influence he has is on the halves. I think they would struggle a lot more without his help and the pressure that he and Glen Stewart take off them.<br><br>“Their halves have been great, but I think Stewart and Lyon really give the team direction and good leadership.<br><br><b>&nbsp;<br>Canberra Raiders</b><br>Like Coote at the Panthers, Josh Dugan has quickly established himself as a match breaker in the nations' capital. His ability to bust tackles (153, the best in the league) and create attacking opportunities has largely helped the Raiders who are still in the hunt of playing finals football.<br><br>Without him they have won two from eight matches, so what does he bring to the Green Machine?<br><br><b>Sterlo says:</b> “There is not a whole lot of him, but he just looks a handful to tackle. &nbsp;<br><br>“If you look at the try Jarryd Hayne scored against Penrith and then look at the run of Dugan against the Roosters where he got tackled a metre out from the tryline, they are very similar.<br><br>“The first 10 or so metres they just step and move and have pace, and I guess there aren’t that many players that when they get the ball they invariably beat the first tackler and Dugan has that great ability to evade would-be defenders.<br><br>“He is obviously very important to Canberra, but Campese is the main man there and when he plays well, the Raiders play well.<br><br>The Final Word?<br><br>“We keep saying that there is a really good football team in there somewhere. They have been disappointing at times this year, but they are a really good football team if they could just produce their better performances more often.<br><br>“They are a real dangerous team and when they have confidence they are capable of beating anybody.<br><br>“I wouldn’t want to be playing them this weekend.”<br><br><b><br>Parramatta Eels</b><br>There is no question the influence that Jarryd Hayne can have on a football team, but the role of Nathan Hindmarsh isn’t one to be taken lightly. &nbsp;<br><br>The Eels have lost all four games that Hayne has missed and three from four when Hindmarsh has been unavailable.<br><br>But can these two get the Eels into the top eight?<br><b><br>Sterlo says: </b>“The thing about Hindmarsh is that you just know that on any of the big important plays where cleaning up needs to be done on the inside, it is going to be him who gets there.<br><br>“His workrate is phenomenal and the little things he does is invaluable, it often goes unnoticed.”<br><br>The impact Hayne has on the side is well documented, but when does he play his best football?<br><br><b>Sterlo says:</b> “I think less is more when it comes to Jarryd.<br><br>“I think he is really dangerous when he is not going into first and second receiver, when he picks and chooses to get involved. <br><br>“If the ball players around him can create space, we’ve seen how fast Hayne is on capitalizing on those half chances.”<br><br>The Final Word?<br><br>“The thing that gave me a lot of confidence with Parramatta is that they have been statistically one of the best defensive teams all year. I know they got blown away at the end by the Roosters, but the defence has been pretty solid all season.<br><br>“I think they have a really good defensive foundation and have just struggled at times to score points, but as we’ve seen with the Dragons, who are the best defensive side in the competition, it can win you a lot of games."<br><br><br><b>Wests Tigers</b><br>Tigers fans would be all too aware of the importance of their attacking duo – Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall - the club has not won in the last two seasons when either has been missing.<br><br>While their ability to score points has never been questioned, Sterlo believes they need to improve their decision making if they are any chance of winning the Premiership.<br><br><b>Sterlo says:</b> “There is no doubt when they get on a roll and the passes stick they can blow anybody off the park and run up a score, but if the passes aren’t sticking, the decision making can be quite poor.<br><br>“The Tigers need to learn in some games that they need to play the percentages. &nbsp;<br><br>“I think they should look to Gareth Ellis and Keith Galloway a bit more, those guys have been outstanding and can have as much as impact on a game as a Marshall of Farah.<br><br>“Sometimes you need to get the ball out of the playmakers hands and do the hard work up the middle, this is where Galloway and Ellis come in to their own.”<br><br><br><b>Sydney Roosters</b><br>Two weeks ago they were touted as a real Premiership force, and despite back-to-back losses, Sterlo believes they have the depth to go all the way.<br><br>It may be why in the five games that halfback Mitchell Pearce has missed, the Roosters have only lost once without him.<br><br>There is no question that he is a vital cog in the side and important for their finals chances, but the ability for the team to adapt and win without him shows they are a real contender in 2010.<br><br><b>Sterlo says: </b>“They have flexibility in their football team that they haven’t had before and if Mitchell Pearce isn’t there, Todd Carney and Braith Anasta slot in and can get the job done.<br><br>“I like the flexibility in their team, but also they have the right configuration and structure at the moment.<br><br>“I’ve been impressed by the Roosters this year, they have a great balance and the cleverest halves in the competition.<br><br>The Final Word?<br><br>“They are close enough if good enough.”<br><br><b><br>Gold Coast Titans</b><br>Gold Coast’s position on the ladder is no fluke and the fact they have won four from seven without Scott Prince shows they are more than a one player team.<br><br>But it has been their ability to come from behind and win games that really has Sterlo believing they could be in for something special this season.<br><br><b>Sterlo says: </b>“If anything they are the form team of the competition, they had tough away wins against the Dragons and the Warriors.<br><br>“They have plenty of character in their team, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have the best record coming from behind in games, it just seems to me that they have the ability to conjure wins, they are never down and out.<br><br>“They are well served in the key positions, Preston Campbell at fullback, Mat Rogers and Scott Prince in the halves, Nathan Friend at hooker and I have no doubt that when Greg Bird comes off the bench it will be in the backrow, and it is already an outstanding backrow.<br><br>“They are a really good football team and really well coached.<br><br>The Final Word?<br><br>“The icing on the cake is Prince, he is the key for them. When he plays well, they are better than a good football team.”<br><br><b>South Sydney Rabbitohs</b><br>The Rabbitohs have been hit by a swathe of season ending injuries to key players including John Sutton, David Taylor, Ben Lowe and Luke Stuart.<br><br>When it comes to South Sydney, everything starts with Issac Luke creating opportunities up the centre of the field.<br><br>They rely heavily on the dynamic hooker and have won only one from four without his presence. <br><br>But the Bunnies have bound together around a common theme: No Excuses!<br><br><b>Beau Champion says:</b> “Its just great to be back and I just know that whatever 17 players are out there, there are no excuses, we have to win with the 17 players we have and we are the only ones who can make a difference to the result.”<br><b><br>Nathan Merritt says:</b> “We have had a few injuries, but there are no excuses, we’ll go in to Friday’s clash as we do every week and look forward to coming away with a win.”<br><br><br><b>St George Illawarra Dragons</b><br>In a telling statistic on St George Illawarra’s consistency over the last two seasons, Jamie Soward has not missed a single match.<br><br>And the stability and confidence that he has on the team has been there for all to see. &nbsp;<br><br>Last year’s Minor Premiers are fast chasing down a repeat dose and their fans will be dreaming of success early in October.<br><br>&nbsp;<br>The key players and how your team has performed over the last two seasons without them<br><br><b>Broncos</b><br>Darren Lockyer 1 win from 7 <br>Sam Thaiday 1 win from 6 <br><br><b>Dragons</b><br>Jamie Soward has played every match over the last two seasons<br>Darius Boyd 3 wins from 6 <br><br><b>Titans</b><br>Scott Prince&nbsp; 4 wins from 7<br>Luke Bailey 3 wins from 6 <br><br><b>Tigers</b><br>Robbie Farah 0 wins from 3 <br>Benji Marshall 0 wins from 1<br><br><b>Panthers</b><br>Lachlan Coote 5 wins from 14 <br>Petero Civoniceva 8 wins from 17 <br><br><b>Roosters</b><br>Mitchell Pearce 4 wins from 5 <br><br><b>Warriors</b><br>Manu Vatuvei 1 win from 11 <br>Mannering 2 wins from 8 <br><br><b>Sea Eagles</b><br>Jamie Lyon&nbsp; 4 wins from 9<br><br><b>Rabbitohs</b><br>Issac Luke 1 win from 4<br><br><b>Eels</b><br>Jarryd Hayne 0 wins from 4 <br><br><b>Raiders</b><br>Josh Dugan 2 wins from 9 <br>