Radley, Burgess, Frizell and Merrin to shape NRL finals
Victor Radley started the 2018 Telstra Premiership season as anything but a household name.
But after a series of strong performances, the big-hitting back-rower established himself as a key man in the Sydney Roosters' premiership drive.
Writing in this week's Big League magazine, premiership winner Michael Ennis said Radley has the ability to make a difference in both attack and defence.
"In a year where the Roosters weren't consistent with their attack in the early stages of the season, it's been a masterstroke by coach Trent Robinson to move Victor Radley into that ball-playing role," Ennis said.
"He's changed the whole dynamic of the Roosters' attack and he's got a wonderful ability to inject himself at the right time and come up with the right play that's let their attack find rhythm, giving Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary a good balance.
"As a defender, blokes are running in the opposite direction. He plays above his weight and he's the left-field key for the Roosters heading into September."
When the time came to look at other players with the ability to make-or-break their club's finals hopes, Ennis identified a trio of key forwards.
Ennis said the much-vaunted left edge attack of the South Sydney Rabbitohs owed a lot to the monster season enjoyed by prop George Burgess.
"There's been so much focus this year on South Sydney's left edge and the success they've had there," he said.
"In my opinion, the form of all their influential players has come off the back of prop George Burgess.
"The Burgess twins prove unstoppable when they're in form, but at times Tom is the consistent one, so the challenge for George is to find that same consistency for the remainder of the season."
Ennis said Dragons, NSW and Australian representative Tyson Frizell's importance will only have risen following the season-ending injury suffered by Blues prop Paul Vaughan.
"When the Dragons have been at their best this season, it's been when they've dominated the middle-third," he said.
"Sometimes things just fall into place and it's been the injury to prop Paul Vaughan that has forced coach Paul McGregor to move him into the middle. By doing this, Frizell has brought the Dragons back to life.
"His inspirational carries, his leg speed through the middle and the aggression he runs with inspires the rest of the forward pack to lift. I think the energy he brings is the key for the Dragons this year."
When attention turned to the Panthers, Ennis said middle forward Trent Merrin needed to lead from the front for what is a largely inexperienced Panthers pack.
"In a side full of youth, they are going to depend on premiership winners James Maloney and Trent Merrin," he said.
"We all know what Maloney brings to the big stage, but the challenge is that Merrin struggles for form at the back-end of the year.
"He had a really good start when he was moved to the front row, and now he finds himself on the bench. If the Panthers are to have success with this group of exuberant youth, they're going to rely on leaders and Merrin needs to stand up."