At the Auckland Nines in February, Shaun Johnson carried the expectation of a nation, and very nearly took his Warriors team all the way.

They're the men who pull the strings, who create the big plays, who are so often the difference in the big games. They are the NRL's best halves, and these are the best five currently in the competition – according to the writers at NRL.com.

5. Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles)

There need be no introduction to Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran, who regularly presents himself shoulders first to most players on an NRL field. There is actually no weakness in his game. A renowned hitman with no consideration for his body in his first few seasons, Foran displayed a more classy area of his game in 2014, putting up more bombs and cross-field kicks than his clubmate Cherry-Evans – kicks that more often than not landed on a dime. Will be one of the most sought-after players in the free agent market next year.

4. Shaun Johnson (Warriors)

It's not often rugby league's romantics are seduced by one-game wonders, particularly those of the touch football kind. But it's also not often that athletic marvels like Shaun Johnson can stand up an NRL icon like Greg Inglis, an outrageous moment of madness in the Four Nations final that instantly shifted the Warriors pin-up onto this list. We won't even bother looking up his 2014 statline: the fact that he continued the job against the Kangaroos, a go-for-the-kill quality that has eluded him since his arrival as a touch footy prodigy, is enough proof that the kid's one of the top halves in the game. Taking out the 2014 Golden Boot award doesn't hurt either.

WATCH: Four Nations final highlights

3. Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)

Halfway through last season, Daly Cherry-Evans was on the top of the list. In fact, halfway through last season he would've been at the top of the New York Times best-sellers list, such was his ability to lulling defenders into a classic tale of run, show, fend, pass try. His deceiving upper body strength is the first thing comes to mind: his 32 offloads last year was the most of any playmaker, an overlooked trait that perfectly supplements his deadly dummy arguably ranked the best on the planet. But his return to the stratosphere after, by his lofty standards, a sub-par back end sat him back down at spot three. 

2. Cooper Cronk (Storm)

Cooper Cronk is the NRL's Roger Federer: rarely panicking, barely sweating, and always on the money. They really should check the both of them for ice in their veins. No one in the NRL – save for maybe his captain Cameron Smith – is cooler under pressure or manages a game better than the Melbourne Storm halfback, who reliably fills his duties at club, state and international level with barely a hiccup. A combined 40 try and line break set-ups cements second spot behind his representative partner. 

1. Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys)

We won't call him peerless, because there are four other players on this list who've stood either alongside or just above him on the international rugby league pedestal. But we certainly won't label him ordinary either, because there are only a select few who can set up a dozen more tries and line breaks than any other player, on either side of the ruck, like he did in 2014. What we will name Johnathan Thurston, is a future Immortal. A pointscoring wizard who, like the eight before him, will rank as one of the greatest players to ever play the game. 

The NRL's top five fullbacks
The NRL's top five wingers
The NRL's top five centres