NRL.com's Alliteration 17
The 16 NRL clubs may be on leave but the team at NRL.com never sleep, so in order to help speed up the off-season we put our heads together to come up with a hard-hitting, surprise-laden selection of the players... whose first name starts with the same letter as their surname.
Coached by South Sydney mentor Michael 'Madge' Maguire, NRL.com's Alliteration 17 hosts a blend of experienced players and young guns who on their day could take on the competition's best. If we're talking about expansion in the next couple of years then a side assembled with these players would be a literary delight. Who knows, one of these players could one day win the 'Clive Churchill' Medal.
1. Michael Morgan (Cowboys)
Flexing his muscles in the fullback role at the Cowboys in 2014, Morgan took the competition by storm with 10 tries, 13 line breaks and 20 try assists to his name by season's end.
2. Reece Robinson (Raiders)
Robinson had an unhappy season with the Raiders going ever so close to the wooden spoon. While he has crossed for 10 tries and made 11 line breaks, errors and misreads in defence cost the winger. His demotion from the NRL at times throughout 2014 was an indication of this but hey if the Raiders don't want him we will. Obviously this is dependent on the Eels releasing him from his newly signed contract.
3. Timana Tahu (Knights)
Tahu made his return from an ACL injury for the Newcastle Knights NSW Cup midway through 2014 and was going well enough for Wayne Bennett to give him a two-game promotion back in the NRL. What better way for the 12-time NSW representative and five-time Kangaroos star to continue his reintroduction to the NRL then through the Alliteration 17? We will be waiting by the phone if you can't find anything to do in your post-Knights career, Timana.
4. Moses Mbye (Bulldogs)
While he is usually found in the halves, Mbye made his NRL debut earlier this season in the centres. His 10 tackle breaks and two try assists in his nine appearances in the NRL this season should give the rest of the squad the required confidence to believe in Mbye out wide.
5. Sami Sauiluma (Raiders/Sharks)
Sauiluma featured sporadically in the NRL this season but the winger, much like Canberra and 'Alliteration 17' teammate Robinson, has fallen down the pecking order in the nation's capital with Bill Tupou, Matt Allwood, Edrick Lee and Brenko Lee performing well on the flanks for Canberra throughout the year. The Raiders loss is our gain and the Sharks for that matter with the club signing Sauiluma for 2015.
6. Ben Barba (Broncos)
While he didn't have the greatest of seasons at the Broncos in 2014, Barba should shine in NRL.com's 'Alliteration 17' under the tutelage of Maguire. While he only produced eight tries and six try assist this season, Barba is a worthy addition to the team.
7. Cooper Cronk (Storm)
Earmarked to be the captain and the highest paid player of the 'Alliteration 17' is Storm halfback Cooper Cronk. The 22-Test and 14-time Queensland representative is the poster boy of the franchise and considering he has produced 23 try assists for the Storm this season, we will be raiding the NRL slush fund to secure him.
8. Robbie Rochow (Knights)
Rochow is no stranger to playing in the front row. While he has spent the majority of the season in the back row for the Knights, Rochow's move to a more centralised forward's role should boost his averaged 26.6 tackles and 90.7 metres per game to even greater heights.
9. Kevin Kingston (Panthers)
We'd have to convince him out to come out of retirement of course but with James Segeyaro taking over the Panthers hooking role in 2014, it shouldn't be hard to convince the man to jump ship and come have a game with us. The dummy-half specialist averaged 34.3 tackles this year and will add much-needed steel around the centre of the paddock.
10. Pauli Pauli (Eels)
Four line breaks, three try assists, three tries, three line break assists – doesn't sound like a forward does it? We have struck gold with 20-year-old Pauli Pauli who looked right at home playing in the NRL for the Eels this season. Cleary his parents thought they would go one better than a mere single letter alliteration by naming him after his grandfather which is of course a massive boost to the team.
11. Josh Jackson (Bulldogs)
While he has been on the fringe of a State of Origin call-up this season for Blues, Jackson is an absolute shoo-in for this team especially with his recent call-up to the Kangaroos squad. The Bulldogs second-rower was a driving force in Canterbury's charge to the Grand Final and his capacity to mix it up with attack (97.1 metres per game) and defence (30.7 tackles pg) is something every team needs.
12. Manu Ma'u (Eels)
Ma'u burst onto the scene in Round 1 with a man-of-the-match performance on his NRL debut. While an arm injury kept him in the casualty ward for the back half of the year his four line breaks, 27 tackle busts and 106.2 metres per game are enough to solidify his place in the starting team.
13. Mark Minichiello (Titans)
Minichiello has been searching for a team like this his entire life – a team that brother Anthony can't possibly make. For younger brother Mark, his experience in the forward pack will add some much needed grunt in the middle. Considering he spent the majority of the year in a struggling Titans outfit, the 32-year-old's 26.4 tackles per game is admirable. It should be easy to convince him not to go to England next year and have around with us.
14. Matt Moylan (Panthers)
A handy gain off the bench, Moylan is very unlucky to miss out on the starting team but will get his chance if injuries factor into the equation. The Penrith fullback could easily fit in the halves judging by his 18 try assists and 14 line break assists.
15. Nathaniel Neale (Rabbitohs)
Made one appearance in the NRL earlier this season and didn't let anyone down. The raw prop only made 15 tackles but he'll be a better player for it as he progresses and matures in the Alliteration 17 squad.
16. Sauaso Sue (Tigers)
A secret weapon for the Tigers off the bench, Sue played 18 games this season with noticeable effect, earning a Samoan berth in the meantime. The 22-year-old Samoan representative made 21.4 tackles and 62.2 metres per game.
17. Matt McIlwrick (Raiders)
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart only used young McIlwrick seven times this season. Comfortable at either hooker or lock, McIlwrick averaged 20.9 tackles and broke three tackles in limited game time for the Green Machine. Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney saw enough in him though to name him in the extended New Zealand squad for the Four Nations.
Coach: Michael Maguire (Rabbitohs)
A coach who has delivered the Rabbitohs a long-awaited premiership after taking the team to consecutive preliminary finals in his first two seasons? Don't mind if we do.
**Sharks, NSW and Kangaroos back-rower Luke Lewis was originally named but unfortunately had to withdraw from the squad due to injury.