NRL.com's top 50 players: The top 10
This is it – the top 10 players in the NRL, according to the editorial team at NRL.com. Our top 10 includes four stars from a single club, two New Zealand internationals, eight Kangaroos, and a unanimous choice as No.1.
10. Daly Cherry-Evans (Last year's rank: 9) – He may not be the most popular man on the Gold Coast but there's good reason why Daly Cherry-Evans is considered one of the most valuable players in rugby league. A gifted playmaker with probably the strongest defence and running game of any NRL halfback, DCE ranked fourth in the league for try assists this season despite Manly missing the finals.
NRL.com's Andy Bryan: "Manly's No.7 won a premiership and an Australian Test jersey in his debut season in the NRL, and won a Clive Churchill Medal in a losing grand final two year later. Safe to say he was a player in high demand coming into the 2015 season and the intrigue reached boiling point when he signed with the Gold Coast Titans only to renege and sign a 'lifetime' deal with the Sea Eagles. While the sorry off-field contract saga may have strained his image to the fans, there is no question that on the field Cherry-Evans is among the game's best. The 26-year-old has every weapon at his disposal in attack: the footwork, speed, soft hands and vision, while he is also an astute kicker and tenacious defender. All eyes will again be on DCE when the 2016 season rolls around to see how he'll go without his running partner Kieran Foran."
9. Jesse Bromwich (21) – New Zealand's rise to the top of the international rugby league rankings has coincided with the rise of Bromwich, arguably the best front-rower in the game. Now unquestionably a member of the Storm's 'Big Four', Bromwich made more metres than any other NRL forward this year but also boasts the kind of footwork and ball-playing ability that few big men can match.
NRL.com's Chris Kennedy: "The Storm and Kiwi prop is the only front rower in the top 10 for a reason. Bromwich has been one of the best go-forward men in the competition for a couple of seasons now and is a prototype of the modern bookend – not just big and strong but fast and agile with dangerous footwork at the line and the ability to hit holes as well as a good late offload."
8. Billy Slater (10) – Still the first-choice No.1 for Queensland and Australia despite the rise of Greg Inglis in recent years, Slater's reputation is yet to wane despite being on the wrong side of 30. The Storm lost five of their next six matches following his season-ending injury in Round 10, proving just how crucial the custodian is to one of the NRL's perennial powerhouses.
NRL.com's Jack Brady: "Despite not playing since State of Origin II Billy Slater still secured a top 10 berth in NRL.com's Top 50. Easily the best fullback in the game for almost a decade – even with Jarryd Hayne about – Slater will go down as one of the best No.1s in the game's history and his absence in the backend of this season will not affect that, regardless of whether Cameron Munster can lead the Storm to a grand final win."
7. Shaun Johnson (17) – Since we published our 2014 top 50 list Shaun Johnson conquered the rugby league world, leading New Zealand to glory in the Four Nations and the Anzac Test and taking out last year's Golden Boot award. The Warriors and Kiwis No.7 possesses the kind of footwork that thrills the fans and that most rival players can only dream of.
NRL.com's Adrian McMurray: "The 2014 Golden Boot winner had a conservative start to the season, but exploded after starring in the 2015 Anzac Test. Equally capable of the sublime and the ridiculous, Johnson's purple patch came to a halt after a broken ankle en route to the try-line ended his season. With Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on their way to Auckland in 2016, a fit-again Johnson should flourish with the added creativity his new teammates provide."
6. Corey Parker (12) – The grey-haired lock and NRL Fantasy legend took out the Man of the Series gong in Queensland's Origin win this year and has also been close to Brisbane's best in their return to title contender status under Wayne Bennett.
Andy Bryan: "An integral member of the Broncos, Queensland and Australia sides, the 33-year-old forward is improving with age and seemingly becoming more important to his side with each passing year. Parker's ability to stand through contact and get an arm free to offload the ball to create second phase for his team has an overriding sense of inevitability about it, no matter how teams try to combat it. He's got a massive engine and is one of the game's sharpest goal kickers."
5. Paul Gallen (8) – Injury may have reduced his effectiveness this season but Gallen remains one of the game's dominant all-action forwards, earning a massive 219 metres gained per game – about 50 more than any other NRL forward.
NRL.com's Dominic Brock: "The biggest thing you can fault Paul Gallen for is trying to do too much for his team at times. The Sharks skipper could be the hardest working player in rugby league, with more carries per game than anybody plus the ability to break the line, pop an offload, and make 40 tackles when he's not wreaking havoc in attack. As a captain who leads from the front, they don't get much better."
4. Cooper Cronk (6) – It should be no surprise that Queensland's State of Origin fortunes have been tied to the presence of the cool, calm and collected Cronk in recent seasons. Put simply: if Cronk is fit and firing, the Maroons tend to win. The halfback gets the most out of the players around him and is the man you want in your team when the game is on the line.
NRL.com's Tony Webeck: "Cooper Cronk stands alone as the most brilliant tactician of the past decade. His flawless execution of a game plan – whether for the Storm, Maroons or Kangaroos – allows any team he plays for to position themselves for victory. He kicked a second Origin match-winning field goal in Game One of this year's series and has been integral in guiding a relatively inexperienced Storm team to within one win of yet another grand final appearance. Cronk had to learn the art of halfback play but he is now a master of the craft."
3. Greg Inglis (5) – Greg Inglis is an athlete simply made for rugby league, with a combination of size, speed and power that's unmatched in the game's history. Scored in both Queensland's Origin wins and at club level complemented his stunning running game with an underrated passing game that has netted him the third most line-break assists in the NRL after 26 rounds this season.
Adrian McMurray: "The South Sydney fullback was unable to lead the Rabbitohs to back-to-back premierships but remains as one of the competition's elite. Able to turn a game on its head, Inglis developed as a leader in 2015, stepping up as captain of the famous club and taking on a more prominent role with the Indigenous All Stars team. Also slotted in at fullback in the absence of Billy Slater in Queensland's massive Origin III victory, cementing his place as one of the game's best big-game players."
2. Cameron Smith (1) – The Melbourne, Queensland and Australia captain helped the Maroons regain the Origin shield this year and helped carry the Storm into the NRL's final four once again. Still the best hooker in the NRL, Smith controls the attack from dummy-half, barely makes a mistake, has a strong kicking game, kicks goals, and is one of the competition's best defenders.
Chris Kennedy: "The Melbourne, Queensland and Australian skipper is now commonly regarded as one of, if not the, best No.9s of all time. His ability to control the pace of a game is second to none while his durability in one of the toughest positions on the field is unbelievable. He has been central to the amazing success of all three sides he has been a fixture of over his senior career."
1. Johnathan Thurston (4) – Already considered the best playmaker in the game, last year's joint Dally M winner inspired the Cowboys to an 11-game winning streak this season, helping the traditionally travel-shy North Queensland become a dominant force on the road. He finished the regular season with 28 try assists and 26 line-break assists – easily the most of any player in the NRL – and starred in Queensland's record-breaking State of Origin III thrashing off the Blues.
Tony Webeck: "The players have spoken with a fourth RLPA award and the Dally M judges are sure to soon follow suit; Johnathan Thurston is unanimously the best player in the NRL at present. Highly skilled and blessed with an incessant competitiveness, there is no more involved player in the game with his ability to play both sides of the field separating him from most other halves. His simple act of handing the kicking tee back to the ballboys has also influenced a generation of goal-kickers. Simply the best."