Taumalolo and Thurston earn ultimate praise from peers
The Cowboys have had a season to forget but it's no surprise to the club's inner sanctum that Johnathan Thurston and Jason Taumalolo are still rated among the game's elite by their peers.
Thurston has been named the top halfback in the NRL.com Players' Poll while Taumalolo has been voted the best middle forward in the game, as well as the hardest player to tackle.
Cowboys coach Paul Green said external criticism of Taumalolo's form in 2018 didn't wash with him.
"I don't know whether or not Jase has been under pressure but I suppose he feels he's had to do a fair bit of work for us this year," he said.
"People expect so much of him, he was still running for probably more than 150 metres, not that that's everything. But people look at stat sheets and go, 'well Taumalolo hasn't run for 200, he mustn't be playing very well.'
"The expectation on him personally was probably higher, so when he doesn't live up to that expectation people are critical. I don't think he's playing that bad, just not as good as people expect."
Cowboys and former Storm utility Ben Hampton remembers what it was like to face Taumalolo and is happy they are on the same side these days.
"There's a lot of great forwards in our game - I don't really think there's one that I'd rather face less than Jason," Hampton said.
"One on one with Jase if you end up stopping him you're doing pretty good. Just his power game ... his strength, in defence and in attack. His power running is definitely what makes him one of the best forwards in the game."
- NRL.com Players' Poll: Part 1 - Best coach, fullback, five-eighth, half, hooker
- NRL.com Players' Poll: Part 2 - Best player, winger, centre, forwards
- NRL Players' Poll: Part 3 - Rule changes, best young player, hardest to tackle, biggest hitter
As for Thurston, it's his will to win which makes him a champion, according to Hampton.
"I'm going to say his competitiveness, in everything that he does he competes to the end, whether it's chasing someone down, being the first one to a loose ball," he said.
"Just his competitiveness and drive is one of the things that stands out for me."
Dragons playmaker Ben Hunt was runner-up to Thurston in the halfback poll with Penrith young gun Nathan Cleary and Warriors star Shaun Johnson equal third.
Taumalolo edged out Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Sharks prop Andrew Fifita in the hardest player to tackle category while he polled ahead of Sam Burgess and Jake Trbojevic in the middle forward vote.