Top 50 Players in the NRL: Part 3
We've put our heads together at NRL.com to put together our list of the best 50 players in the game right now. From rising stars to Test veterans and everything in between, we've analysed the stats and had plenty of debate in the office to come up with our top 50.
Today we reveal players we've ranked 30 through to 21, with the next 10 players to be announced on NRL.com next week.
30. Justin Hodges (Broncos)
A walk-up starter for Queensland and Australia until injury ruled him out of last year's World Cup, Hodges remains a brilliant – albeit injury-plagued – attacking threat for the Broncos at right centre. One of the best dummy-half runners in the game and also a great option at fullback, Hodges has made the most of his limited game time in 2014 with 13 try assists and 16 line breaks in just 16 NRL matches – plus more metres out of dummy half than any other non-hooker in the competition.
29. Sam Thaiday (Broncos)
The Broncos lock is one of league's most decorated veterans – with 22 Queensland Origin appearances and 23 Tests to his name – but as he gets closer to 30 the former Brisbane skipper isn't quite the game-breaking big man he once was. He's still a fixture for the Maroons and only missed May's Kangaroos-Kiwis Test through injury, but with only three line breaks and four offloads in the regular season, plus a solid but unspectacular 86 run metres a game, Thaiday is making more of an impact in defence these days with his 32 tackles a game coming at an tackle percentage of 95.5.
28. Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers)
The biggest metre-eater at the Wests Tigers, Woods ranks in the top 10 for tackles, hit-ups, tries, run metres, line breaks and offloads among props in the NRL in 2014, and started in the front row for NSW throughout their drought-ending Origin series win. He'll be one of the cornerstones for the young Tigers side to build on if they are to become a finals force again in the next few seasons.
27. Trent Merrin (Dragons)
Merrin is the unofficial leader of the pack at St George Illawarra where he boasted the most offloads, runs and run metres and the second-most tackles at the club this season. A popular player among Holden NRL Fantasy coaches – where he averaged more than 50 points a game – Merrin also managed to make headlines in the gossip pages after becoming one half of a new sporting glamour couple with surfing star Sally Fitzgibbons.
26. Andrew Fifita (Sharks)
In many ways it was a season to forget for Fifita, but the Sharks big man remains one of the most destructive forwards in the competition. Injuries restricted him to just a dozen matches for Cronulla but he made the most of them, producing more tackle breaks per game of any forward and more offloads per game than any player in the NRL. Those numbers – combined with a quality workrate in defence – made Fifita one of just six players to score more than 60 points a week in NRL Fantasy, but the Sharks will want even more out of him as they attempt to climb off the foot of the ladder in 2015.
25. Anthony Milford (Raiders)
Canberra's loss is Brisbane's gain, but at least Raiders fans have had the chance to enjoy one of the best natural talents in rugby league over the past few seasons. Milford's quick hands and fast feet have made some of the NRL's best defenders look second-rate at times, with the one-time bench impact player becoming his team's key playmaker by the end of 2014. The Samoa international played every game of his final season with the Raiders, leading his team for line breaks, tackle breaks, try assists, line-break assists, try saves and field goals, while ranking second at the club for run metres and third for offloads. His arrival at Suncorp will mean Broncos fans have another reason to smile in 2015.
24. Brett Morris (Dragons)
Arguably the best winger in rugby league, Morris notched 14 tries and 16 line breaks in 18 matches for St George Illawarra this year, but his knack for pulling off heroic feats in both attack and defence is what really captured the attention. His gravity-defying try against Cronulla in Round 3 was one of the most unforgettable plays of the season, while his bravery at State of Origin level helped end Queensland's eight-year domination. After injuring his shoulder scoring NSW's opening try in Origin I, Morris played on and pulled off a try-saving (and match-winning) one-on-one tackle on Darius Boyd in the dying minutes to hand the Blues a crucial series lead.
23. Josh Dugan (Dragons)
He's got his share of critics but it's hard to deny Dugan's ability on a footy field, especially after the Dragons star made a seamless mid-season switch from his natural fullback role to the right centre position – and then competed there at the highest level in a successful Origin series for his Blues. After starring for St George Illawarra with 46 points in 10 games for his new club last year, Dugan has shared the limelight with fellow big-name recruits Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall this season but continued to impress with strong defensive performances in the front line and five tackle busts a game – more than any other centre in the NRL.
22. George Burgess (Rabbitohs)
Following his breakout 2013 campaign, George Burgess has been overshadowed a little this year by older brother Sam – playing in his finest and final season for the Rabbitohs – but remains one of the most damaging ball runners in the game. Incredibly hard to stop when he gets going, the 120kg behemoth has made more tackle breaks than any other prop in the NRL and will only take on more responsibility at Souths next season with Sam departing for English rugby.
21. Jesse Bromwich (Storm)
If an early finals exit and the departure of favourite son Ryan Hoffman put a dampener on the Storm's season in 2014, the rise of Jesse Bromich as one of the best front-rowers in the competition was Melbourne's good news story. With four NRL seasons and eight Tests for New Zealand under his belt before this year Bromwich was hardly an unknown quantity, but in the 2014 he ranked third among forwards for run metres – pumping out 145 metres a game – plus four try assists, 37 tackle breaks and a couple of tries.
Stay tuned next week as we start counting down the best 20 players in the NRL, and the following week we'll reveal NRL.com's No.1 player, which players just missed the cut, and a breakdown of how we voted.