Our say: Best of the NRL in 2016 Part 1
With the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership season almost over, we at NRL.com look back at the standout players, teams and coaches of the year.
Who's your player of the year?
Tony Webeck, Chief Queensland Correspondent: Every time I watched Josh Hodgson play this year I marvelled at his skill. A dummy-half who can do it all, Hodgson's pass selection was sublime, his runs penetrating and his kicking game swung momentum the Raiders' way on countless occasions. And how he played those last two finals games was a medical miracle.
Chris Kennedy, National Correspondent: I couldn't go past Raiders rake Josh Hodgson. Some brilliant kicks out of dummy half, matched with 15 line break assists, 16 try assists and seven line breaks (each of those ranking him best among all NRL hookers this year) highlight his attacking brilliance.
Martin Gabor, National Correspondent: It's not often a player saves his best football for his 13th season of first grade, but Cooper Cronk has done just that in 2016. He's had 23 try assists, scored 11 tries and kicked a 40/20, and he just chalked up 300 games in a preliminary final. What can't he do?
Jack Brady, National Correspondent: Cameron Smith remains the best hooker in the NRL, and considering the year he has had, probably the best player in the world currently. Cooper Cronk, Josh Hodgson and Jason Taumalolo were all sensational as well.
Dominic Brock, Production Editor: Josh Hodgson has been the most important player at the Raiders and is probably the reason they've joined the NRL elite this year.
Andrew Bryan, Assistant Editor: Cooper Cronk just in front of Josh Hodgson. Cronk is ultra-consistent at the best of times, but he has been in superlative touch for the entire season and a major factor in the Storm winning the minor premiership.
Adrian McMurray, Producer: Josh Hodgson. After a strong debut NRL season last year, Hodgson took his game to another level in 2016. Dynamic in attack and defensively sound, the Raiders No.9 was at the heart of everything Canberra produced as they fell one game short of the grand final.
Who was the best rookie of 2016?
Tony Webeck: Purely for the number of games he played and role he performed in a team not expected to feature in finals football I can't go past Ashley Taylor. He was thrust into the team for Round 1 with a limited pre-season and showed incredible toughness to solider on when being targeted by other teams. After a dozen or so games, he became the Titans' go-to man.
Chris Kennedy: As good as Cody Walker and Suliasi Vunivalu have been, this is a two-horse race between Ash Taylor and Nathan Cleary. For me, Taylor's efforts to guide a team widely tipped to run last into the finals, playing 22 of 25 games and showing maturity well beyond his years gets him the nod.
Martin Gabor: Nathan Cleary. The Panthers halfback is still only 18 and became the first player in history to score over 100 points in both the NRL and NYC in the same year. Forget about him being a star of the future; his time is now.
Jack Brady: Ashley Taylor. If Nathan Cleary had played the whole season, maybe, but Taylor was incredible from start to finish. Penrith's James Fisher-Harris was the best rookie forward of 2016.
Dominic Brock: Nathan Cleary just edges Ash Taylor for me. The fact he seems so cool, calm and collected in attack and defence against top teams at the age of 18 is mind-boggling.
Andrew Bryan: Ashley Taylor. Had Nathan Cleary played the whole season in the manner in which he finished it he would have been a clear winner, but Taylor had a breakout year and helped the Titans make the finals against all odds, showing great poise and temperament throughout a gruelling campaign.
Adrian McMurray: Nathan Cleary. Scoring tries, assisting teammates, kicking goals and with a kicking game a seasoned NRL veteran would be proud of, the Panthers No.7 showed composure beyond his 18 years in his debut season.
The most improved player?
Tony Webeck: Kenny Bromwich went from a Queensland Residents rep to a Test debutant in the space of 12 months and has emerged as a key contributor to the Storm's premiership hopes. For so long in the shadow of brother Jesse, Kenny has this season stamped himself as a world-class back-rower.
Chris Kennedy: Ryan James, just edging out Raiders centre Joey Leilua. Leilua's always had more rocks than diamonds in his game but that equation shifted wildly this year. But for me, seeing the once penalty-prone Ryan James churn out mountains of stats (the most tackles of any NRL prop and more tries in a year than any prop in history) while leading the over-achieving Titans pack has him as my most improved player.
Martin Gabor: Joey Leilua. Bottled with plenty of potential, the Raiders centre has been uncorked in 2016 to produce some of the most scintillating attacking football we have seen in years. His combination with Jordan Rapana has been a revelation, he no longer drifts in and out of games, he is more disciplined than ever, and he has the ability to create something out of nothing.
Jack Brady: I refused to believe the Matt Moylan hype up until about two months ago when his form became too good to deny. Moylan had received unfounded raps for years now but in 2016 he finally lived up to his potential.
Dominic Brock: Ryan James was always a talent, albeit an inconsistent one, but he was incredible for the Gold Coast this season. Not only did he cut the errors and most of the penalties out of his game but his workrate and attacking threat was up there with the NRL's elite big men.
Andrew Bryan: Hard to go past Joseph Leilua who simply tore opposition teams to shreds to become one of the most feared attacking players in the game. His career was looking on the scrapheap not that long ago, it has been an amazing transformation.
Adrian McMurray: Ryan James. Eliminating many of the errors and penalties that plagued his game in past years, James transformed into a front-row powerhouse in 2016, averaging 39 tackles and 124 metres and featured in every game for Gold Coast this season. He looks set to take over captaincy duties in 2017.