Top five back fives in the NRL
The big blokes take the plaudits from the coaches and the halves collect the awards at the end of the season but if the men tasked with turning opportunities into points don't excel it's very hard to win football games.
Every NRL team boasts players with flash who can bring a crowd to their feet with a long-range line break but these are the five we think that – on their day – are next to unstoppable.
1. Michael Gordon, 2. Latrell Mitchell, 3. Blake Ferguson, 4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 5. Daniel Tupou
The ever-reliable Michael Gordon brings something to the Roosters backline in 2017 that they severely lacked in 2016: balance. Gordon's calming influence on a brilliant but sometimes erratic Roosters back five should equate to more opportunities turning into points and not being squandered. Latrell Mitchell's debut season was good enough to win NRL Rookie of the Year almost every other season and he too will benefit from having Gordon to look to as he moves towards a permanent move to the fullback position. Blake Ferguson was superb for the Kangaroos in the Four Nations tournament and Shaun-Kenny-Dowall is… well, he's just Skiddsy and will move past club legends Brad Fittler, Craig Fitzgibbon and Kevin Hastings to be third on the all-time list of Roosters appearances if he plays 14 games.
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. David Fusitu'a, 3. Solomone Kata, 4. Tuimoala Lolohea 5. Manu Vatuvei
The Warriors or New Zealand backline? If David Fusitu'a continues on his upward trend it could be difficult to tell the difference by the end of the 2017 season. Averaging 175 metres per game prior to his knee injury, we will never truly know the impact the loss of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck after just seven games had on the Warriors this year and Solomone Kata's experience in the Four Nations with the Kiwis will accelerate his development even further. If Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran have good seasons, these guys will score an absolute bucketload of tries in 2017.
1. Matt Moylan, 2. Josh Mansour, 3. Dean Whare, 4. Peta Hiku, 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
How good is the Panthers' best back five for 2017? In order to squeeze Kiwi internationals Dean Whare and Peta Hiku back into the centres we had to omit two players who scored 21 tries between them in 2016. Waqa Blake will start the season on the wing given the serious knee injury to Josh Mansour but being able to call in two classy centres in Whare and Hiku to a team that was two wins from a grand final shows the impressive depth coming through out west. Matt Moylan's Test and Origin experience this year will elevate his game to even higher levels and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak returned from a collapsed lung to play all 26 games this year. So much talent here it's scary.
1. Darius Boyd, 2. Corey Oates, 3. James Roberts, 4. Jordan Kahu 5. David Mead
Only James Roberts is yet to play either Test or Origin football in Brisbane's strongest back five and one could argue that a Blues call-up is in the offing for 'The Jet' if he can find peace off the field and build on his maiden year as a Bronco in 2017. Although raw, Corey Oates transitioned into the Queensland team with aplomb in 2016 and the addition of former Titan David Mead provides energy from the start of sets and proven finishing ability where it counts. These five scored 57 tries between them in 2016; the challenge for Wayne Bennett is keeping them fit and on the paddock each and every week.
1. Jack Wighton, 2. Edrick Lee, 3. Jarrod Croker, 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Jordan Rapana
The most potent attacking team in the Telstra Premiership in 2016 needs first-class finishers and the Raiders have them in abundance. The new combination of 'Leipana' (Joseph Leilua and Jordan Rapana) was devastating on Canberra's right edge with 40 line breaks and 34 tries between them but the left side was similarly effective, captain Jarrod Croker topping the point-scoring tally courtesy of 18 tries and 112 goals for a personal haul of 296 points. (For comparison, wooden-spooners Newcastle scored a total of 305 points.) The Raiders scored more than 100 points more than the next best in 2016 and with an unchanged back-five should be even more lethal next season.