The NRL's top five backlines
Sure, everyone closely associated with the game will tell you that games are won and lost in the middle – and to a large extent they'd be right – but you don't get points on the scoreboard for metres made or dominant tackles.
You need flash to go with the starch and NRL.com believes that these five backlines boast attacking threats capable of dismantling any defensive structure.
They may not have a bona fide fullback on their books as it stands at present but in Brett Morris and – according to club legend Terry Lamb – Jacob Loko, the Bulldogs have a couple of likely prospects capable of big things. Incumbent Origin halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson will know better how to handle the demands of state commitments while Tim Lafai and Josh Morris could very well be the Blues' Origin centres when Game One rolls around. Sam Perrett is the consummate professional and Corey Thompson's 10 tries in 2014 was second only in the club to Lafai (14, along with 12 try assists). Whether they go left or right, Bulldogs are a serious threat.
The achilles injury to Darius Boyd takes something of the gloss of the Broncos' pre-season surge in premiership consideration but they have adequate cover and strikepower across the park. Ben Hunt came of age in 2014 (19 try assists, 20 line breaks) and the addition of Anthony Milford to the Brisbane halves should only help to elevate his game further. Justin Hodges continues to confound would-be tacklers (he virtually dragged the Broncos into the finals by himself) while Dale Copley's 16 games in the centres (and club-high 16 tries for the season) proved exactly what he is capable of when injury free. If Jordan Kahu is given a shot at fullback early in the season – and makes the most of it – the Broncs will possess a potent combination.
As they proved against the Rabbitohs in Round 26 and against the Cowboys in their semi-final, when the Roosters run hot, not even the best teams in the comp can stop them. A resurgent Mitchell Pearce playing direct at the line and James Maloney spearing in at any hole in the wall provides all the time and space players of the class of Michael Jennings and Shaun Kenny-Dowall need. Jennings is fast becoming one of the very premier centres in the game with his sheer speed netting him 13 tries, 10 line breaks and 56 tackle breaks in 2014. Of course, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck must now fill the designer shoes of Anthony Minichiello but we're confident his fast feet will feel right at home.
What's that, the mountain men can play some footy? You betcha, and they boast one of the youngest and best balanced three-quarter lines in the competition. Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Dean Whare and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak were all chosen to play in the season-ending Four Nations tournament and Jamal Idris was named man of the match in the City-Country fixture earlier in the year in Dubbo. Add a halves pairing that boasts a Jamie Soward who appears finally comfortable with himself and his place in the game and the ice-cool temperament of Peter Wallace and you have a seriously good backline that is only going to get better over the next two seasons.
1. Sea Eagles
Quite simply, the Sea Eagles have players in every position in the backline that other clubs would dearly love to have on their roster. Who knows, perhaps by the end of 2015 some of them will but the club has made it abundantly clear that keeping halves Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans is their No.1 priority. The pair who played under-20s together at Manly and in November faced off as opposing five-eighths in the Four Nations final are marquee players in their own right but together form the perfect mix of guile and aggression. Both Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai use a combined 23 years of NRL experience to make younger, faster centres look silly and at the back they have a custodian in Brett Stewart who not only scored 10 tries but laid on an astonishing 22 try assists in 22 games, a strike rate bettered only by Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk. Peta Hiku is the Kiwi fullback but scored 17 tries on the Sea Eagles win in 2014 while Jorge Taufua will be determined to bounce back after a somewhat disappointing season. Defending these guys is the NRL's toughest assignment.