The players have had their say on the key issues in the game in the NRL.com Players' Poll so I thought I'd throw my two cents in as well.
In my view, Wayne Bennett's still the best coach, Cameron Smith is the cream of the playing crop, Kalyn Ponga will be a star for many years to come and the NRL should look west when it comes to expanding the game's horizons.
Who do you consider to be the best coach? Wayne Bennett. His record and longevity is without peer and this year he has done a wonderful job with a team of young kids. They are winning games and are still a chance of finishing in the top four. Wayne has defied what everybody predicted would happen this year. Under constant pressure, he's produced the goods. Craig Bellamy is a great coach, but overall Wayne is still No.1.
Who is the best fullback? Billy Slater. I believe Billy is the best fullback to have played the game. We saw the impact he had in the second State of Origin, even though Queensland lost. He was on fire in the third one and showed what a great player he still is in that arena. He is still a standout for Melbourne each week. Next in line is without doubt James Tedesco. He's had a great year for the Roosters and was outstanding in the Origin series.
Who is the best five-eighth? James Maloney has the jump on the rest. I love the way he can control a game from start to finish. He is direct, he has a go and no one intimidates him. Maloney is a big-game player. We've seen that in grand finals for the Roosters and Sharks.
Who is the best halfback? Johnathan Thurston, without a doubt. He is a future Immortal and even though the Cowboys are struggling this year he's still the top dog. He is the best competitor in the game and we saw it the other night against the Knights where he had a hand in all the Cowboys' tries, and scored one himself.
Who is the best hooker? Cameron Smith. He is the leader. He is the general. He can manipulate a game just with his smarts from dummy half. The last Origin game he played was at Suncorp Stadium last year. I watched him closely and Smith just ran the show and didn't seem to raise a sweat. So long as he is on the field for the Storm they will win the grand final.
Who is the best player? Cameron Smith. A couple of weeks ago Phil Gould was in commentary and pointed out all the little things he does that are just a cut above. The Storm had scored a try and Gus pointed out how Smith created it with his subtleties and mastery. No one else could have done it. If a game needs to be sped up or slowed down, Smith does it. He is 10 steps ahead of the rest.
Who is the best winger? Valentine Holmes. I know he plays fullback for the Sharks but at rep level he's a winger who scores tries from anywhere. He is always jogging on the spot in support and he's a great opportunist. He is an outstanding finisher and we've seen for Australia and Queensland he is just a prolific try scorer. That is what wingers are there for.
Who is the best centre? Greg Inglis. GI dominates out in the centres and makes his presence felt. He's still an intimidating figure even though he's had to adjust his game after his knee injury. He still scores tries just through his brute strength, but he has silky skills and sets them up as well. We saw it at Origin level this year that the bigger the occasion, the better he plays.
Who is the best middle forward? Jake Trbojevic. I love the way he plays the game. He is just a footy player. He dominates and puts himself in the match Jake is good with the ball, takes a lot of right options and injects himself at the right time. His tackles are old school but when he hits them they know about it.
Who is the best edge forward? This is a tough one, but I still favour Matt Gillett. The Broncos are missing him because he has got it all. He has great skill for a back-rower and a running style that makes him so hard to handle. In defence, he reads the play so well and when a try needs to be saved, he's the one to do it.
Who is the hardest player to tackle? Kalyn Ponga. I'd hate to have to get hold of him. With his footwork you just don't know what he's going to do. He has speed as well off the mark so as a defender you'd be wondering which way he's going to go … and by then he'd be gone. I had a lot of big centres running at me when I played but back then I always found Paul McGregor the toughest to get hold of because he was so good on his feet.
Who is the best player under 22? Kalyn Ponga. He proved it to me in his State of Origin debut for Queensland. He came on in a foreign position and I thought he was going to run himself out of gas. He tackled everything that moved. Then he started making those runs and doing what he does. It was like he'd played Origin for years. A star announced himself that night.
Who is the hardest hitter in the NRL? Dylan Napa. I watched him annihilate the Warriors this year over there and that is hard to do. Some of the hits he put on that day made them look like little boys. He has no fear and there is a touch of madness about him, which I don't mind.
Are you happy with the automatic seven-tackle set for all 20m restarts? Yes. I don't have a trouble with it. It has stopped negative kicking. It sends a message to teams that if you are negative you are going to face the consequences.
How should drawn matches be decided – golden point, a draw, golden try or extra time? I am happy with golden point. It is 50-50 and makes the game exciting. At the end of a game it gets the crowd on the edge of their seats. It makes a close match even better for spectators.
Which suburban ground in Sydney did you love playing at the most? I was intimidated by them all. I hated Brookvale Oval, and Belmore Sports Ground was terrible. I didn't like going to Kogarah either. They weren't great to play at,to be honest. If I had to pick one, it would be Leichhardt Oval. I went back there last year for the Koori Knockout and it is a real rugby league ground. It has that intimacy about it.
What was your favourite time to play? Sunday at 3pm. That was what I grew up watching in the 1970s and 1980s. I remember watching Sunday afternoon grand finals at home when Parramatta dominated. I then had the opportunity to play in3pm grand finals on a Sunday in Sydney.
Does the NRL Nines have a place in the calendar? Yes. It is just something different that appeals to a different market. When I first watched the Auckland Nines in New Zealand it was a party atmosphere and I thought that I'd love to be there. It is our version of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. Mates of mine go there and make a big thing out of it and I think the NRL Nines can be the same.
Where would you like to see the NRL expand with another club? Perth. There is a good market there for rugby league in what is an AFL town. There has been a lot of work going on over the years on a Perth bid and we've seen the success the NRL has had taking games there. I played against the Western Reds over there and they always had decent crowds. It is time to build on all of that and if we are going to be a national game it is a great opportunity to bring that to fruition. The Melbourne Storm has been a success, and I think a team in Perth is an obvious target.
Would you like to see the NRL play a competition game in the United States? No. I think the US is fine for the international game to grow, but we are still pushing to get Western Australia involved in rugby league so let's focus on that until we get that expansion team in Perth.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.
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).