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RTS best of 2018? Tackling NRL Fans Poll

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has demonstrated why the battle to keep him from the clutches of the All Blacks was so significant for the Warriors and coach Stephen Kearney is tipped to be rewarded for overseeing the team's success this year with a similar long-term deal.

However, the pair deserve more accolades for their roles in helping the Warriors to their first finals series in seven years.

This columnist was among more than 40,000 people to complete's 2018 Fan Poll since last Friday and in my opinion, Tuivasa-Sheck has been the best player in the Telstra Premiership, while Kearney should be coach of the year.

Here are my responses to other key questions in the poll.

Q: Who has been the best player in 2018?

A: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. The Warriors captain is a major reason for his team making the finals for the first time since 2011, leading the NRL for metres from kick returns per game (59.75m), being fourth for all run metres (186.63mpg) and fifth for tackle breaks (111), 

Q: Who has been the best coach in 2018?

A: Stephen Kearney. Under Kearney's guidance the Warriors have been a much more consistent and durable team than in previous seasons, as evidenced by the number of games they managed to win in the absence of big names stars such as Shaun Johnson.

Q: Who has been the best fullback in 2018?

A: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. In addition to the statistics outlined above, Tuivasa-Sheck has made 13 line breaks, produced eight try assists and his 4058 metres with the ball includes 1093 post-contact metres. In the round 23 clash against Newcastle, Tuivasa-Sheck ran a season high 338 metres.

Q: Who has been the best winger in 2018?

A: Blake Ferguson. It's baffling to understand how the Roosters are letting Ferguson go given the value he gives to the team running the ball from his own line and in attack at the opposite end of the field. Ferguson has scored 17 tries, made 19 line breaks and 89 tackle breaks and ran the ball further than anyone in the NRL (4793m, or 199m per game). He is also behind only Jason Taumalolo and David Klemmer for post-contact metres (68.7mpg). 

Q: Who has been the best centre in 2018?

A: Latrell Mitchell. It's hard to believe Mitchell has only recently turned 21 years old, given the influence he has had on the Roosters winning the minor premiership and NSW claiming the State of Origin series. Mitchell has scored 17 tries, made 19 line-breaks and been responsible for six try assists to more than justify comparisons to Greg Inglis.

Q: Who has been the best five-eighth in 2018?

A: Gareth Widdop. The St George Illawarra captain was a leading contender for the Dally M awards last year, despite missing a number of matches through injury, and the arrival of Ben Hunt this season has seen Widdop's game go to another level. Widdop is fourth for try assists (16) and seventh for line break assists (13). His return from a dislocated shoulder will be crucial to the Dragons' finals hopes.

Q: Who has been the best halfback in 2018?

A: Johnathan Thurston. The Cowboys may have suffered a dramatic fall from grace and Thurston didn't receive the send-off he deserved but it wasn't through lack of effort from the future Immortal, who still led the NRL for try assists (22) and line engaged runs (131) in a team that narrowly missed the wooden spoon.

Q: Who has been the best middle forward in 2018?

A: Sam Burgess. It's no coincidence that the Rabbitohs finished near the top of the table after a season in which Burgess recaptured the form he displayed in leading the club to the 2014 premiership. Burgess may be closer to the end of his career than the start but he is still one of the most intimidating forwards in the game.

Q: Who has been the best edge forward in 2018?

A: Tyson Frizell. The Dragons second-rower plays long minutes, hits hard in defence, regularly busts tackles, possesses great speed and athleticism for a forward and has matured into a leader this season at both club and representative level.

Q: Who has been the best hooker in 2018?

A: Cameron Smith. The Melbourne captain just gets better with age. His decision to retire from representative football contributed to Queensland's State of Origin demise and helped the Storm to remain one of the leading premiership contenders despite the loss of Cooper Cronk.

Q: Who has been the best player under 22 (at the start of the 2018 season)?

A: Kalyn Ponga. Anyone who had seen Ponga play knew he was good but the 20-year-old has exceeded expectations in his first season at Newcastle and if he'd been able to play more regularly with Mitchell Pearce the Knights might be in the finals.

Q: Who has been the rookie of the year?

A: Jamayne Isaako. In his first season of regular NRL, Isaako is the leading point scorer (233 points) and has played every match for Brisbane on the wing or at fullback, while earning a Test debut for New Zealand against England in Denver.

Q: Who has been the buy of the year?

A: James Maloney. Where would the Panthers be without the NRL's most winningest player? Wherever Maloney goes he has success. When Nathan Cleary was out with injury earlier in the season, he steered the team around. When he was out they didn't win a game without him.

Q: Who is the NRL's hardest hitter?

A: Tariq Sims. The St George Illawarra second-rower has been terrorising rival playmakers with some brutal tackles in his role on the left edge for the Dragons and earned a call-up for NSW in State of Origin.

Q: Who has been the most improved player?

A: Damien Cook. The NSW hooker had never previously held a regular starting spot at the Dragons, Bulldogs or Rabbitohs but only injury can deny him from becoming the man to replace Cameron Smith in the Australian No.9 jersey after a breakout season of epic proportions.

Q: Who will win the 2018 premiership?

A: Rabbitohs. There are no holes in the South Sydney roster, they have good depth and are able to adapt to any style of game.

Q: Should there be a seven-tackle sets for 20m restarts?

A: Yes. The rule was introduced to stop teams deliberately kicking the ball dead rather than risk fullbacks running it back at staggered defensive lines.

Q: How should the referee's bunker be used?

A: More. At the trials I saw before the bunker was introduced, officials were able to review onside and grounding of the ball before the referee had even asked them to.

Q: Should the game introduce a five-minute sin bin for minor indiscretions?

A: No. I used to think so but using the 10-minute sin bin more this season has been effective.

Q: Should sin bins be used for foul play?

A: Yes. The perfect example was Dylan Napa being sin binned after knocking out Andrew Mcullough. It would have been unfair if the Broncos had lost a player because of an illegal incident but the opponent responsible for that had simply been placed on report.

Q: How would you rate the referees' performance?

A: Good. There have been some errors but referees rarely get credit for good calls and there have been a lot of games in which the officiating has been outstanding. People will always debate 50-50 calls.

Q: Do you think the current judiciary process is fair?

A: Yes. There haven't been many controversial hearings this season.

Q: How should drawn matches be decided?

A: Golden point. Why are we even debating this anymore?

Q: Would you consider becoming a referee?

A: No.

Q: What's the main reason you wouldn't consider becoming a referee?

A: It's a lot easier to ignore criticism on social media than it would be from fans at games and coaches during post-match press conferences. 

Q: Are State of Origin matches at neutral venues a good idea?

A: Yes. The television ratings in Melbourne for State of Origin after taking matches there on a regular basis since 2006 demonstrate the concept is the NRL's best tool for promoting the game to new audiences.

Q: Which venue is your favourite?

A: Suncorp Stadium. There isn't a bad seat in the house.

Q: Which venue do you not like?

A: Lottoland. I have been covering the game for 25 years and there has been little change to the facilities at Brookvale Oval during that time.

Q: What is your favourite timeslot to watch games?

A: 8pm Friday night if I am watching on television but 4pm Sunday afternoon if I am attending a game.

Q: Where should the NRL's next expansion team be based?

A: Perth. One-town teams like the Brisbane, Melbourne and the Warriors are well supported and resourced and a Perth team would be too. The Western Reds were successful but it was travel costs for the game that led to them being shut down. Attendances at matches in Perth indicates the support remains.

Q: Should the NRL play a competition game in the USA?

A: Yes. The game needs to grow support in new markets or be left behind by other codes with greater global reach. I've never met an American who has seen rugby league who didn't like. We just got to expose them to the game.

Q: How important is pre-match entertainment on Grand Final night?

A: Don't care unless the NRL get Cold Chisel back to perform as they did in 2015.

Q: How would you describe the media's coverage of the NRL?

A: Mostly positive. The negative voices always seem louder but there have been a lot of good stories this season and no real scandals.

Q: Who is your favourite television commentator?

A: Andrew Voss. His knowledge and genuine passion for the game is obvious in every call.

Q: Who should be the next Immortal?

A: Darren Lockyer. If not the greatest player whose career I had the privilege of watching from start to finish, Lockyer would be in the final with Andrew Johns, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater. Lockyer was among the best in two positions – fullback and five-eighth – and re-defined the role of captain to a statesman-like position.

Don't miss out on seeing your team chase premiership glory. Make sure to get your tickets to week 1 of the 2018 NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series

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