Firstly, I must insert a disclaimer to say that I do not watch every game of every weekend. I would guess that I watch between five to six games each weekend.
Some teams like the Storm and Broncos (for scheduling reasons) appear often when I am already on assignment.
1. BEN BARBA
I watched Ben Barba play at Ringrose Oval, Wentworthville in the NSW Cup in 2010. I remember him making a mockery of the game in that he scored or assisted in tries whenever he felt like it. Fast forward two years and he is doing it in the NRL.
The brightest star in the NRL by a long way, his tremendous individual feats in both attack; 19 tries (1st), 20 line breaks (2nd), 119 tackle busts (1st), 18 try assists (5th) and defence; 12 try saves (1st) assures him of collecting some individual awards at season's end and also the most popular NRL player for kids aged 12 years and below.
Brilliant player, brilliant year.
2. GREG INGLIS
I personally would vote for GI as the most talented player in the NRL. Michael Maguire had the foresight to move GI from centre to fullback and GI has repaid the coach with outstanding individual efforts. Greg Inglis is the strike player that all teams will fear in the playoffs. Unfortunately I have seen how he can change games by himself up close
3. JAMES GRAHAM
I was lucky to have the opportunity to coach ‘Jammer’ at St Helens. He was a raw boned talent who developed into a world class front rower. He always wanted to prove himself in the NRL and in his rookie year, has earned rave reviews from all sections of the game. I’m sure his subtle passing game was not lost on Des Hasler when he introduced the Bulldogs' forwards passing game.
4. TODD CARNEY
Some players have turbulent careers. Todd Carney has ridden the roller coaster for the last five years. Canberra starlet in the making, de-registered in the NRL following, NRL Dally M Player of the Year after that, sacked by the team he took to the Grand Final after that, followed by redemption at the Cronulla Sharks. Plays every game without shackles or pre-conceived ideas. If Cronulla Sharks make the playoffs it will in large part be as a result of his individual attacking brilliance.
5. DALY CHERRY-EVANS
Daly Cherry-Evans was expected to fall victim to ‘2nd year syndrome’ in 2012. The NRL Rookie of the Year last year, his performances for Manly Sea Eagles has been consistently high quality and mature for a player only 23-years-old. DCE has steered the ship selflessly and relentlessly whilst still delivering impressive individual statistics: 13 try assists, seven tries, 63 tackle busts. These stats even though he has been without his running mates Kieran Foran, Brett Stewart and Glenn Stewart for most of 2012.
Players reputations are forged depending on how they perform in representative fixtures, playoffs and grand finals. I’m looking forward to see who stands tall during September.