We're counting down the best players in the NRL right now. Our list kicked off last week with numbers 50-41, and this week we're revealing the players we've ranked 40th through to 31st. All rankings are based on votes from the NRL.com editorial staff, with the countdown to continue with a new group of 10 players each week throughout the NRL finals series.
40. Simon Mannering (Warriors)
He's the captain of his club and country, is known for doing the hard yards in the pack, is a hero to Holden NRL Fantasy coaches everywhere (he ranks fourth among second-rowers and first for centres for Fantasy points in 2014), and even became an unlikely try-scoring sensation for a couple of months in the middle of the year with eight tries in as many games. He fittingly scored twice in his 200th NRL match at the start of June and will be out to get the better of the Kangaroos in the Four Nations tournament at the end of the year.
39. Sam Tomkins (Warriors)
Superstar England fullback Tomkins didn't seem like the most obvious big-money signing for the Warriors at the start of the season, considering the Kiwi side already had a New Zealand Test fullback who had just worn the No.1 jersey in the World Cup Final. But Tomkins' combination with star halfback Shaun Johnson soon became one of the most dangerous in the NRL, with the pre-season Billy Slater comparisons not looking too far off the mark. The fleet-footed custodian – who boasted 13 tries, 11 line breaks and a team-high 13 try assists in his debut NRL season – isn't quite in the very top echelon of NRL fullbacks yet, but at the age of 25 he's got plenty of time to get there.
38. Matt Gillett (Broncos)
One of the best all-round forwards in the game, Gillett boasts the endurance to do the hard yards for the full 80 in the back row and the skill to fill in in the halves or the centres when needed. He came off the bench for the Kangaroos in the Test against New Zealand in May and played all three games for Queensland in the Origin series, and at 26 he already seems like a veteran of the rep stage. He's one of just three players to have scored 10 tries and made more than 500 tackles in the NRL this season, along with breakout Panthers star James Segeyaro (No.47 on our list) and Dally M contender Sam Burgess.
37. Josh Reynolds (Bulldogs)
Reynolds' reputation is as a battler – he's got the kind of intensity that screams "Origin player" – but that underestimates the Bulldogs pivot's class as a playmaker. Sure, he goes by the nickname of "Grub" and was put on report three times in only 15 NRL games this year, but he also leads the Bulldogs for line break assists (13) and has laid on 10 try assists in 2014. He may not have wowed audiences on the Origin stage but his elevation to the NSW side did coincide with a drought-breaking series victory, and he'll remain a key cog in Des Hasler's plans for a few years to come.
36. Josh Morris (Bulldogs)
Now having played alongside twin Brett in State of Origin and at the World Cup, Josh Morris remains one of the most talented and reliable centres in the game. Injury and the rise of Bulldogs centre partner Tim Lafai as an attacking weapon has largely kept Morris out of the spotlight at club level this season but he has repeatedly proven his worth for NSW, where he has the unenviable task of shutting down Greg Inglis.
35. Boyd Cordner (Roosters)
At the age of 22, Cordner already has a leadership role with the reigning premiers, has represented his state and country, and is one of the best all-round back-rowers in the NRL. He has made a dozen line breaks and scored nine tries this season, ranks second at the Roosters for metres gained, and is rock solid in defence. Sonny Bill Williams may be departing at the end of 2014, but the Roosters will remain very well stocked in the forwards for years to come if they can keep hold of the likes of Cordner.
34. Gareth Widdop (Dragons)
One of 2014's most interesting NRL questions was, "Just how good is Gareth Widdop?" The English fullback-turned-pivot had impressed alongside Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater at Melbourne as the lowest-profile member of the best spine in the competition, but he faced a new level of expectation as a star signing for the Dragons. He may not have guided the Red V back to the finals, but Widdop proved to be a great value signing nonetheless: he played all 24 games this season, led the club for try assists with 20 (fifth in the NRL), produced 21 line break assists (fourth in the NRL), kicked three field goals, and was generally the go-to man for St George Illawarra, even after Benji Marshall arrived.
33. Beau Scott (Knights)
It was a year to forget for the Knights but Scott only furthered his reputation as one of the best no-nonsense forwards in the game. The second-rower started for NSW in all three games of their long-awaited series victory, and he made a habit of pulling off key defensive plays for both club and state. He also was more of a presence in attack for Newcastle this year, notching eight line breaks, five tries and 38 offloads, and will provide some welcome stability to a club in transition after signing a new deal keeping him at the Knights until 2017.
32. Ryan Hoffman (Storm)
Scott's NSW second-row partner was Hoffman, who was awarded the Brad Fittler Medal for the Blues' player of the series along with Origin I star Jarryd Hayne. A major weapon on the left flank with a knack for creating chances for his outside backs, the classy forward has been the unofficial "fourth Beatle" at the Storm for much of the decade he has spent at the club. His departure for the Warriors next year will make for a testing time at Melbourne but could be just what the Kiwi club needs to become genuine finals contenders again.
31. Anthony Watmough (Sea Eagles)
He may have been subject to speculation off the field in recent times but on the field the hard-running Watmough remains one of the most dangerous forwards in rugby league. In a Manly side pipped to the minor premiership in the final week of the regular season, Watmough ranked second for offloads, third for run metres per game and fourth for both tackles and tackle breaks, with his presence in the back row one reason why the Sea Eagles haven't struggled since what turned out to be a season-ending injury to Glenn Stewart way back in Round 8.