The NRL's top five centres
NRL.com's writers have entered their votes for the five best centres in the competition heading into 2015 and have come up with two Kiwis and three Kangaroos – one of whom the NSW Blues would dearly love to come out of rep footy retirement.
We've already had our say on the NRL's top five fullbacks and best five wingers heading into the 2015 season, and in the next few weeks will reveal our picks for the competition's top halves, props, back-rowers, hookers, forward packs, backlines and spines.
5. Dean Whare (Panthers)
Greg Inglis singled him out as the toughest one-on-one match-up he's ever faced. Full stop, dead end, turn back. When someone makes such an imprint on a future Immortal, then there need be no more recommendations for a spot on this list. The one-time Manly ring-in has made a permanent home in Penrith's backline, and earned himself a holiday house in New Zealand's one too. Admittedly, his 2014 numbers of 24 games, 10 tries, nine line breaks, 17 offloads, and eight try assists don't automatically jump off the page, but his acrobatic flick-pass try assist from the 10th row of Wembley Stadium in last year's World Cup semi-final certainly still does.
4. Steve Matai (Sea Eagles)
You don't last over 12 seasons in this game without hurting something, so the mocking of Matai's injuries needs to stop. You also don't have a career resurgence in this modern game without re-inventing yourself in some sort of way, so the recognition needs to start. The Manly centre is still the side's resident hitman – see Penrith rookie Dallin Watene-Zeleniak get put on his backside, Round 25 – but under the tutelage of Geoff Toovey, Matai has been reborn into an attacking force, crossing 13 times and setting up nine more tries in what was an impressive 2014 season.
3. Michael Jennings (Roosters)
Unlike a number of his high-profile teammates, centre Michael Jennings simply doesn't know how to slow down. The Roosters fell two games short of achieving the ultimate back-to-back premiership challenge last season, with many of their 2012 grand final-winning side either retiring, jumping codes or regressing slightly. But the fleet-footed three-quarter on the left edge was arguably their shining beacon in 2014, a light he shared alongside flank partner Daniel Tupou in the Blues' breakthrough Origin win, and then with housemate Josh Mansour during a strong Four Nations campaign where he notched a tournament-high 22 tackle breaks. A centre in his prime.
2. Justin Hodges (Broncos)
Justin Hodges set up a try last year by playing tunnel ball. Who does that? On second thought, who does any of the things this loony Bronco does on a football field? Watching Justin Hodges is like watching a SWAT team's dry run – you know something's about to go down, you just don't know what. Here's a case in point: his 13 try assists and 16 line-break assists were the most of any centre in the league last season. Having spent years introducing his right palm to would-be defenders, the Maroons veteran turned into a deadly deliveryman last year, with that tunnel ball the best of the lot.
1. Jamie Lyon (Sea Eagles)
While the Sea Eagles were winning grand finals, NSW were losing Origin games, so there was many a time when a blue bat signal was sent for the game's premier three-quarter, Jamie Lyon. Fortunately for Manly fans, the call was never answered and Lyon went on to appear in eight straight finals campaigns, including four grand finals and two premierships. Still, nothing screams out "best centre in the competition" more than the desperate cries of an entire state. It has to be said though, that in the same year the Blues eventually broke the longest ever Origin dynasty, Lyon had a slight drop off in numbers. But we still regard him as the number one centre in the game.