Top 50 Players in the NRL: Part 1
We've put our heads together in the NRL.com offices to rank the best 50 players in the game right now. It's no easy task, with a few big names missing out and some tight competition for top spot, but after plenty of debate in the office and analysis of the stats we've come up with our list of the best of the best.
Today we reveal the players we've ranked 50 through to 41, with the next 10 players to be announced on NRL.com next week.
50. Shaun Fensom (Raiders)
The Raiders may have endured a horror season but their no-nonsense lock has only cemented his place as one of the most tireless workers in rugby league. Fensom's 45 tackles per games ranks him first among back-rowers and second in the NRL, and he's the only player in the competition to average more than 100 metres and 40 tackles every week. That workrate is yet to be rewarded with representative honours, but Fensom is a hero to Holden NRL Fantasy coaches everywhere with his 58.6 points a week making him the seventh most valuable player in the game.
49. Luke Lewis (Sharks)
Lewis has had little to write home about at NRL level this year – playing just eight matches in what was a season to forget for Cronulla – but he holds a spot in our top 50 as a reliable contributor on the rep stage, playing in all three State of Origin clashes for the victorious Blues after recovering from a shoulder injury suffered in last year's World Cup. With experience and utility value few can match in the NRL, Lewis was the only member of the 2014 NSW squad to have won an Origin series before this year.
48. Jamie Soward (Panthers)
After a miserable exit from the Dragons midway through last season it was anyone's guess how effective Soward would be as a star signing for the Ivan Cleary's Panthers. But the headgear-sporting playmaker has become one of the year's best recruits, helping guide Penrith towards the NRL's top four and then producing some standout performances after losing halves partner and club skipper Peter Wallace to injury.
47. James Segeyaro (Panthers)
Segeyaro's transition from bench impact player to 80-minute star has been a key reason for Penrith's rapid rise this season, with the Papua New Guinea-born hooker among the league's best attacking weapons. Only Robbie Farah and Issac Luke have made more metres from dummy half this season, and neither of those two have gone near matching Segeyaro's nine tries and 14 line breaks.
46. Trent Hodkinson (Bulldogs)
The Bulldogs halfback has made a habit of producing the big clutch plays this season. The coolness he showed under pressure in twice kicking match-winning field goals for Canterbury in the early stages of the season helped earn Hodkinson a NSW Origin debut, and he repaid the selectors' faith by scoring the only try of Origin II and slotting the conversion himself to end the Maroons' eight-year domination of the series. Also a halfback who prides himself on his defence.
45. Aidan Guerra (Roosters)
One of the unsung heroes of the Roosters' premiership-winning campaign last year, Guerra has since become a rep regular as a standout of Italy's World Cup campaign before playing his way into Queensland's starting side during the Origin series. A strong ball-runner and defender who can play the full 80 minutes, Guerra is one third of the best back row in the NRL alongside Boyd Cordner and Sonny Bill Williams.
44. Steve Matai (Sea Eagles)
At 30, the Kiwi international is still going strong. Matai has been one of the best performers from a Manly side that has been amongst the league leaders all season, frequently testing the opposition defence from the left edge. He leads his side for line breaks this season with 16 (second among centres, fifth in the NRL) and has a dozen tries to his name in 2014.
43. Ben Hunt (Broncos)
Ben Hunt was a man under pressure at the start of the year, as the only recognised first-grade half in a Broncos side coming off its worst-ever season. For Brisbane to become a finals contender again Hunt needed to fire – and fire he did. He has led his team for line breaks (19), try assists (19) and line break assists (18), while also scoring a dozen tries – more than any other halfback in the NRL. He's been arguably the most improved player of the season and has made the famous Broncos No.7 jersey his own for the foreseeable future.
42. James Tamou (Cowboys)
The Cowboys prop has been a fixture at NSW Origin and Australian Test level for the past few seasons, and while he has been overshadowed by club front-row partner Matt Scott at club level this year the 194cm, 113kg enforcer remains one of the most formidable big men in the game.
41. Jake Friend (Roosters)
The premiership-winning hooker earned a call-up to the Queensland extended squad this season is on track to be the Maroons' successor to Cameron Smith. With 45 tackles a week he's the second-busiest defender in the game, and is a constant danger in attack as well with half a dozen line breaks, eight line break assists and 26 tackle breaks this season. Those stats – and the ability to play the full 80 minutes – have also made Friend the Roosters' best Holden NRL Fantasy player in 2014.