The NRL's top five fullbacks
We're kicking off a new series ranking the best of the best in the NRL heading into the 2015 season. The writers at NRL.com have put our heads together, engaged in some heated debate and come up with our ranking of the five best fullbacks, wingers, centres, halves, props, hookers, back-rowers, backlines, forward packs and playmaking spines in the game.
We start with the No.1s – the last line of defence and an increasingly crucial position in attack. These are the top five fullbacks in the game right now, according to NRL.com.
5. Matt Moylan (Panthers)
He was the Panthers' rookie of the year in 2013 but Moylan stepped up another level last season, repeatedly grabbing the headlines for match-winning clutch plays – from an ice cool sideline conversion to beat the Bulldogs in Round 3 to last-gasp field goals that earned Penrith wins over the Broncos and Cowboys. He's more than just a classy finisher though; Moylan picked up nine tries in 2014, plus 14 line breaks, nine try saves, 27 offloads and 18 try assists. And at age 23 he's only going to get better.
4. Sam Tomkins (Warriors)
When the Warriors splashed out on English star Tomkins – effectively pushing out incumbent Kiwis custodian Kevin Locke in the process – the pressure was on for Tomkins to make an immediate impact in the NRL. There were teething problems at first, with Tomkins coughing up some worrying errors under the high ball as the Warriors lost five of their first seven games of the year, but by the end of the season the Englishman had proved his worth. His 13 tries were second to only Manu Vatuvei at the Warriors, with the custodian also laying on 13 try assists and a club-high 108 tackle breaks – ranking him below only Jarryd Hayne, Anthony Milford and Greg Inglis among NRL fullbacks. Tomkins' combination with Shaun Johnson was lethal at times in 2014 and is sure to improve in the fullback's second season in the NRL.
3. Brett Stewart (Sea Eagles)
The Prince of Brookvale has been regarded as a try-scoring sensation since his first season for Manly, having crossed for 146 tries in 200 games to date. But as he nears 30 the Sea Eagles veteran is making more of a mark as a playmaker and last-ditch defender. Sure, Stewart grabbed another 10 four-pointers last season, but he also produced a staggering 22 try assists in as many games – first in the league amongst fullbacks, and fourth among all players – plus nine try saves. He's literally the first name on the team sheet for the classiest backline in the competition, and should be as good a chance as any of replacing Jarryd Hayne in the NSW side in 2015.
2. Billy Slater (Storm)
Slater is coming off one of his most forgettable seasons. His Melbourne side missed the top four for the first time since 2005 (apart from the salary cap scandal season of 2010), his Queensland team finally lost the State of Origin title they had held since 2006 and he missed the season-ending Four Nations tournament through injury. And yet Slater is still arguably the most complete fullback in the game. His positional play is second to none, his combination with Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith is sublime and he's generally safe at the back and lethal in attack. After all, if a player like him can pick up a dozen tries and the same number of try assists, plus 13 line breaks and half a dozen try saves in a quiet year, he's capable of anything if he and the Storm get back to their best in 2015.
1. Greg Inglis (Rabbitohs)
Inglis might not possess some of the finer points of Billy Slater's positional play, but what he does have is speed, power, a hulking 105-kilogram frame and one of the meanest fends in rugby league. The Rabbitohs superstar was the pick of the fullbacks at the Four Nations and played a huge part in South Sydney's drought-breaking premiership win, leading the NRL for kick return metres per game and earning 13 tries, 15 try assists, 18 line-break assists and a whopping 112 tackle breaks. Safe at the back and simply devastating with the ball in hand, it's no surprise Inglis was responsible for the two best tries of 2014 (both against the unfortunate Broncos).
Stay tuned for NRL.com's top five wingers, to be announced on Wednesday.