NRL.com Players' Poll: Part 1 - Best coach, fullback, five-eighth, half, hooker

NRL.com Players' Poll: Part 1 - Best coach, fullback, five-eighth, half, hooker

The Melbourne Storm's dominance during the past few years has been reflected in the 2018 NRL.com Players' Poll, with Craig Bellamy, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater all featuring heavily in voting.

Bellamy has been named the top coach, Smith got the nod for hooker and Slater is still the No.1 for fullbacks, according to the players.

NRL.com polled more than 100 players this season from all 16 clubs. The players, who were polled prior to the representative season, were asked about a range of topics.

In today's first instalment of the four-part series on the results, the winners of the four key spine positions - fullback, five-eighth, halfback and hooker - are announced as well as who the players consider to be the best coach in the NRL.

Part two will be published on Friday featuring the rest of the player positions, part three on on-field issues will be announced on Saturday morning with the final instalment going live on Sunday morning on other key topics in the game.

One of the most intriguing responses was in regards to the question of who's the best coach with Bellamy receiving almost half of the votes to win that category.

Wayne Bennett is regarded by many as the greatest coach in the history of rugby league, but perhaps the constant scrutiny over his future this year has somewhat battered his reputation.

Bennett finished third in voting, with Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary, who has coached at three NRL clubs, finishing second with 17 per cent of votes.

Slater was far and away recognised as the best fullback in the game, with his skipper winning the best hooker category by an even bigger margin. While the Storm didn't win the best five-eighth category, the top four vote earners (James Maloney, Gareth Widdop, Cameron Munster and Blake Green) have all come through the Storm system at some point in their career.

The remaining position in the spine went to Johnathan Thurston despite the Cowboys' struggles in 2018. Thurston is still regarded as the best in the business as he approaches his final days in the NRL.

The verdict: It's hardly a surprise to many that Craig Bellamy was voted the best in the business by the players. Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary finished in second position, perhaps aided by the fact he's coached at three clubs. Wayne Bennett will go down as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game but it appears his aura may have taken a hit among the current crop of players.

The surprise: Stephen Kearney's selection also comes as a surprise but the Warriors' resurgence in 2018, and the fact he's coached many players at club and international level, may have helped his cause. South Sydney coach Anthony Seibold would have likely polled better if it was conducted after the Origin series. Interestingly there was no room for Roosters coach Trent Robinson in the top five.

The verdict: Rated by many as the best fullback of all-time, Slater won this category in a landslide with 60 per cent of votes. It's the second biggest winning margin of all the positions voted by the players.

The surprise: James Tedesco was voted the RLPA player of the year last year. He polled well but it appears the emergence of Kalyn Ponga and the improvement of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at the Warriors saw votes move elsewhere.

Others who polled well: Darius Boyd, Clint Gutherson.

The verdict: Some get better with age and that's clearly the view of James Maloney from the players. The five-eighth category was probably the most open of all positions but Maloney was well ahead of the pack. At the time of voting Gareth Widdop was on fire with the Dragons which no doubt contributed to his numbers.

The surprise: Many would have assumed Cameron Munster would have polled better. So too Michael Morgan, who last year was considered as the best player in the competition for his role in leading the Cowboys to the grand final.

Others who polled well: Corey Norman, Michael Morgan.

The verdict: It's not the fairytale finish he would have hoped for but Johnathan Thurston's reputation hasn't taken a huge shot as a result of the Cowboys' nightmare season. Nathan Cleary's stocks continue to rise.

The surprise: Last year most people would have said Cooper Cronk was the next best halfback in the game but that hasn't been reflected in the votes for the Roosters halfback. Perhaps a slow start to the season from the Roosters contributed.

Others who polled well: Luke Brooks, Daly Cherry-Evans, Mitchell Pearce.

The verdict: This was the most comprehensive-winning category of all positions, with Cameron Smith racking up two-thirds of all votes for hooker of the year. The off-contract Issac Luke is still highly-regarded by his peers as Damien Cook continues to impress. It would be interesting to see how high Damien Cook would have finished if votes were submitted post-State of Origin.

The surprise: There was no room for Queensland State of Origin hooker Andrew McCullough in the top five. Josh Hodgson may have suffered from being out of sight, out of mind while sidelined for much of this season with a knee injury.

Others who polled well: Nathan Peats, Andrew McCullough

 

Part two will be published on Friday featuring the rest of the player positions, part three on on-field issues will be announced on Saturday morning with the final instalment going live on Sunday morning on other key topics in the game.

 

The NRL.com Players' Poll is independent of the National Rugby League. The survey was undertaken by 117 NRL players across all 16 clubs. The survey questions and results have not been designed or endorsed by the NRL or the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA).