Top 50 players in the NRL: 10-1

Top 50 players in the NRL: 10-1

We've come to the end of this year's top 50 players list, ranking the best of the best in the NRL. Once again, our list simply ranks the best players in the game – not the best players of the 2017 season. (For that list, check out NRL.com's Team of the Year or stay tuned for the Dally M awards.) 

In terms of representative stats, Queensland has the most inclusions in the list – unsurprisingly – with 20 inclusions, ahead of New South Wales with 19. There are seven New Zealanders in the list, and four Englishmen. 

Halves were the dominant position in the list with 13, ahead of fullbacks (nine), props, second-rowers and locks (seven each), hookers (four), centres (two) and lone winger Jordan Rapana.

The Melbourne Storm's six inclusions was the most of any one team, ahead of the Broncos and Sharks (five each) and the Cowboys, Dragons and Sea Eagles (four each). All NRL clubs bar the Titans had at least one player make the cut.

 


If you disagree with the order of our rankings, well so did we. The only positions we agreed on unanimously were the rankings of the No.1 and No.2 players on this list, with a total of 70 players earning votes from at least one member of the editorial team.

All that being said, after collating our votes here are the players we at NRL.com rank as the best of the best in the NRL.

10. Sam Burgess (2016 rank: 13)

The Rabbitohs may have had another season to forget but Burgess once again established himself as one of the game's most dominant players in 2017. The only player in the NRL to lead his club in run metres, offloads and tackles this season, Burgess has twice the workrate of a typical NRL forward and remains a brutally effective ball-runner – crossing for five tries in each of the last two seasons. He'll be the key man for England's World Cup campaign at the end of the year.

9. Paul Gallen (2016 rank: 7)

One of the few players who can match Burgess's workrate is the Cronulla Sharks skipper, who at 36 has again outperformed a host of younger forwards to be ranked second for run metres in the NRL this year. In his first season since his retirement from representative football Gallen has showed no sign of slowing down – as evidenced by a massive 300-metre performance against Newcastle in Round 26.

 

 
8. Daly Cherry-Evans (2016 rank: 23)

After signing a massive contract with the new-look Sea Eagles last year, to say there was pressure on Cherry-Evans to perform is an understatement. As Manly's new captain and highest-paid player, the halfback carried the expectations of a club on his shoulders and he's more than lived up to those, leading the league in try assists in what has been his best season in the top grade. A complete playmaker who thrives on producing clutch plays – kicking match-winning field goals off both feet, for instance – DCE and the Sea Eagles are capable of joining the league's elite in the years to come. 

7. James Tedesco (2016 rank: 15)

At the start of the year James Tedesco declared he aimed to become the best fullback in rugby league,  and he's not far off achieving that goal already. At 24 years of age he's made the NSW fullback spot his own, ahead of international stars like Josh Dugan and Jarryd Hayne, and he's the most elusive ball-runner in the game with more tackle breaks than any other player in 2017. The scary thing is that when he moves from the struggling Tigers to premiership contenders the Roosters next season Tedesco should only get better. 

 


6. Darius Boyd (2016 rank: 11)

Now more mature off the field and as impressive as ever on it, Brisbane Broncos captain Boyd is the complete modern fullback – rock solid in defence and under the high ball, terrific in bringing the ball out of his own end and a superb playmaker. Boyd's exploits for Queensland and Australia in recent years were convincing enough for Maroons selectors to leave legendary custodian Billy Slater out of their Origin side this year (at least for Game One) and in the eyes of many he remains the best fullback in the game.

5. Billy Slater (2016 rank: 12)

One of the great topics of debate in the NRL.com office when compiling last year's top 50 list was where to rank Slater. Yes he had been one of the rugby league's greatest No.1s, but after two injury-wrecked seasons surely he wouldn't return the same player he once was? This year the Storm legend proved all his critics wrong this year, showing all of the speed, elusiveness, ball-playing skills and unparalleled game awareness that made him the game's best fullback. He helped make an already-strong Melbourne Storm team just about unstoppable, while his return at Origin level in Game Two led to Queensland coming from behind to salvage yet another series win.

4. Jason Taumalolo (2016 rank: 9)

Last year Taumalolo won the Dally M Medal, tied with Cooper Cronk, and in March he signed a massive 10-year contract with the Cowboys. Since then, the 24-year-old lock has somehow gotten better. With teammate Matt Scott sidelined for the season Taumalolo took it upon himself to lead from the front and he's done that like no other forward – making the most yardage of any player in the NRL with a frankly ridiculous 200 metres per game. Possessing a sublime combination of fitness, footwork and pure power, it's not hard to see why the Cowboys will be building their team around Taumalolo for the foreseeable future.

 

 
3. Cooper Cronk (2016 rank: 3)

The very best sportspeople somehow manage to go out on top, and that's what Cooper Cronk is doing in his final season at the Melbourne Storm. The NRL's best example of "practice makes perfect", Cronk's fanatical training ethos has made him the game's most successful halfback at club, state and international level in a sport often dominated by pure natural athletes. The best organising No.7 in the game, Cronk is as consistent as they come and also capable of producing moment of magic – see his inch-perfect banana kick for Valentine Holmes that broke the Blues' hearts in Origin III – and it'll be no surprise if he finishes his Melbourne career with a premiership followed by a World Cup win.

2. Johnathan Thurston (2016 rank: 2)

Is there anything left to be said about Johnathan Thurston? He's won the Dally M Medal as player of the year a record four times – the first more than a decade ago and the most recent in 2016. He's probably the game's most skilful player and its most fearsome competitor. He's a fan favourite who gives his headgear to kids in the crowd twice a game, he's a little guy who dominates a game built for giants, and he thrives under pressure – kicking the match-winning conversion in Origin II in a moment that will still be haunting NSW fans. 

1. Cameron Smith (2016 rank: 1)

This weekend Cameron Smith broke Darren Lockyer's all-time record for most games in first grade. He's won a staggering 70 per cent of those games, having already notched the most premiership wins, the most goals kicked and the most points by a forward, and become the first player to win 250 NRL games as captain. At State of Origin level he has the most appearances, most wins, and most series wins of any player in history.

But those records aren't why Cameron Smith gets the No.1 spot on this list. He's here because he controls a game like no other player, from targeting a defensive line's weak spots to kicking crucial 40/20s. He captains the best teams at club, state and international level, he plays the full 80 minutes in rugby league's busiest position, he's a flawless defender and a strong goal-kicker, and he's playing as well as ever at the age of 34. Smith is the most important player for the top-ranked team in the NRL and – in our opinion – the best player in rugby league.

 

The full top 50 list
50. Nathan Cleary
49. Josh McGuire
48. Will Chambers
47. David Klemmer
46. Angus Crichton
45. Martin Taupau
44. Josh Dugan
43. Paul Vaughan
42. Valentine Holmes
41. Clint Gutherson
40. Corey Norman
39. Andrew McCullough
38. Josh Jackson
37. Aaron Woods
36. Dane Gagai
35. Simon Mannering
34. Josh Hodgson
33. Matt Moylan
32. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
31. Jordan Rapana
30. Gareth Widdop
29. Josh Papalii
28. Tyson Frizell
27. Jesse Bromwich
26. Mitchell Pearce
25. Jake Friend
24. Tom Trbojevic
23. Cameron Munster
22. Anthony Milford
21. Wade Graham
20. James Graham
19. Jake Trbojevic
18. James Maloney
17. Michael Morgan
16. Boyd Cordner
15. Shaun Johnson
14. Greg Inglis
13. Matt Scott
12. Andrew Fifita
11. Matt Gillett
10. Sam Burgess
9. Paul Gallen
8. Daly Cherry-Evans
7. James Tedesco
6. Darius Boyd
5. Billy Slater
4. Jason Taumalolo
3. Cooper Cronk
2. Johnathan Thurston
1. Cameron Smith