NRL Players' Poll: Part 2 - Hardest hitter, best sledger and transfer window

Referees are performing markedly better than in previous years according to players, as the game’s next generation has their peers in raptures.

Over 150 players polled from all sixteen clubs by NRL.com also voted overwhelmingly for the NRL to introduce a player transfer window, golden point to stay and the Nines to return to the rugby league calendar.

Following part one of the NRL Players' Poll – where the best players in each position were crowned – players were quizzed on a range of on and off-field issues across the game.

The whistle-blowers have emerged with a much-improved report card, players voting their performance across the first 10 rounds of 2019 as the best they’ve seen in recent seasons.

Still on the field and budding Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga leads an impressive array of young talent in the NRL.

Rival players have endorsed both Ponga’s spellbinding step and his potential as a franchise player for a new club, while Victor Radley has already become one of the hardest hitters in the game.

But when it comes to the dark art of sledging, it’s still an old hand that reigns supreme.

Off the field almost three-quarters of players polled support the introduction of a transfer window with more focus than ever before on player contracts.

How best to finish off a drawn game and when and where rugby league should expand are also put to players, as well as the club they’d most like to join, and love to beat.

Biggest hitter

The verdict

Dylan Napa retains his title as the game’s resident bone-rattler, despite injuries limiting his game time since shifting from Bondi to Belmore. While Sam Burgess, James Fisher-Harris and Tariq Sims have lost none of their impact since last year’s player poll, rising rookie Victor Radley’s has already carved out a serious reputation among his peers. Despite packing in at just 92 kilos, Radley’s superb timing and kamikaze attitude make him one of game’s most feared defenders.

2018 votes: Dylan Napa (33%), Sam Burgess (15%), James Fisher-Harris (13%), Jack de Belin (11%), Tariq Sims (9%)

Hardest to tackle

The verdict

Tongan powerhouse Jason Taumalolo is still putting opposition defences in a spin, his speed at the line, footwork and formidable frame crowning him the hardest player to handle for a second year running. As in 2018, Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has ranked second with his fleet feet still confounding defenders as much as ever. Viliame Kikau, Kalyn Ponga and Latrell Mitchell all head up the next generation taking the game by storm, but surprisingly there’s no room for Roosters No.1 James Tedesco, despite his 219 tackle busts being the most by any player since the start of last year.

2018 votes: Jason Taumalolo (52%), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (9%), Andrew Fifita (6%), Kalyn Ponga (5%), Greg Inglis (5%)

Best Sledger

The verdict

With over 40 per cent of votes, Will Chambers is the official master of tongue-fu in the NRL. Ironically the veteran Storm centre’s most prominent verbal battles have come when he’s been given a bath by Roosters and NSW counterpart Latrell Mitchell, but rival players clearly see, and no doubt hear, value in Chambers’ on-field chirping. No surprise to see James Maloney poll next either.

2018 votes: Question not asked.

The next coach in waiting

The verdict

Just like he was a product of Tim Sheens’ coaching production line out of Canberra in the 80s and 90s, Craig Bellamy’s influence at Melbourne will carry on for a while yet in the eyes of current players. Melbourne captain Cameron Smith has all the makings of a first grade coach according to more than one in three who voted, while Cooper Cronk could also make a fair fist of it with 18 per cent of votes. Both champion playmakers have repeatedly gone on the record saying they value their sanity too much to take up the clipboard. Blake Green on the other hand, could be a good shout given his nous as a game manager and his long rise to the NRL, a facet that is often found in those that go on to coach at the highest level.

2018 votes: Question not asked.

Best start-up player for a franchise

The verdict

A very interesting mix of potential and leadership in the one, with Kalyn Ponga the popular choice for one in five players polled. Still just 21 but already seen as a Queensland Origin certainty and a franchise player for Newcastle, building a club around Ponga is a sound move. So too though the theories behind Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk’s nominations – champions both on and off the field and products of Melbourne, the most professional outfit in Australian sport. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and James Tedesco represent the middle ground, growing role models and superb players with up to another decade of footy left in them.

2018 votes: Question not asked.

Best step

The verdict

Good luck trying to stop either man one-on-one. But Kalyn Ponga’s emergence has seen him claim officially claim the crown from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for shiftiest shoes in the NRL. The two custodians are far and away the best proponents in the game, with new Sharks five-eighth Shaun Johnson the only other to enter the conversation, and even then only briefly.

2018 votes: Question not asked.

Origin winner

The verdict

The Maroons dynasty is well and truly done according to the players, with a whopping 72 per cent tipping a Blues win. Almost half of those polled see Brad Fittler and his side keeping the shield south of the border despite Queensland jagging one win in the series, while a quarter think it will be the first NSW clean sweep since 2000. Less than a third of players polled see Queensland getting up.

2018 votes: Question not asked.

Origin rookie

The verdict

With a Kangaroos debut, a Clive Churchill medal and a second premiership already in his keeping, it’s no surprise to see Luke Keary tipped into a NSW debut. Storm lock Dale Finucane has long been made for the Origin arena too in the eyes of many, not least his peers with 18 per cent of votes. The Rabbitohs’ strong form over the last 18 months has also floated the representative boats of Cody Walker (13%) and Cameron Murray (11), with both firmly in the frame for Blues call-ups.

2018 votes: Question not asked.

Too many teams or not enough?

The verdict

Almost a straight split on this one, with 50 per cent of players wanting the 16-team competition to grow beyond its current format. Just as in the eyes of NRL officials though, expansion is no clear cut thing, with 45 per cent of players wanting to keep the status quo of 16 teams, though no option of relocation was given in this poll.

2018 votes: Question not asked.

Deciding drawn games

The verdict

Golden point has only grown in popularity with NRL players. The ‘first points scored after regular time’ format was preferred by 44 per cent of the 154 players polled by NRL.com, an increase from last year’s 35% of 117 players that voted. Preference for a draw to be left as is after 80 minutes also dropped while golden try was slightly more popular than last year.

2018 votes: golden point (35.3%), (golden try 10.3%), (draw 24.1%), extra time (30.2%)

Expansion

The verdict

Western Australia is now overwhelmingly the players choice to take the game next, with 41 per cent voting to have the NRL’s next team based out of Perth. That increase from last year’s 27 per cent has come at the expense of a second Brisbane team – which has dropped from 26 per cent to 18 in the last 12 months. A second team in Queensland is still the next most popular choice, followed by Wellington and the NSW Central Coast.

2018 votes: Perth (27 %), Brisbane (26%), New Zealand (15%), Fiji (11%), none (9%)

Referees

The verdict

Players believe the NRL officiating had improved on previous years, no doubt a reflection of new edicts from head office after last year’s crackdown on ruck infringements.

Referees performances were rated a 3.1 out of five on average across players polled, a marked increase from the 2.6 – just over a pass mark – that whistle-blowers have been given in the past few seasons.

The Nines

The verdict

The majority of players would welcome the return of the NRL Nines in 2020, with the festival format gathering momentum after a three-year hiatus. 67 per cent of players voted ‘love it’ in regards to the concept, while 30 per cent are indifferent. Parramatta’s Bankwest Stadium will host the World Nines in October this year, while several cities including Perth, Melbourne and Newcastle have been touted as locations for a club-based event should it get off the ground next season.

2018 votes: The Nines should be included in the NRL calendar (73.5%), there is no place for it (26.5%)

Transfer window

The verdict

Almost three-quarters of players polled would welcome a transfer window being introduced to the NRL. It’s a proposal that has long been mulled over in rugby league but has gained traction in recent years with more and more players signing with rival clubs up 18 months before they actually trade colours, and an unprecedented focus on player contracts, salaries and movement.

2018 votes: Question not asked

Ideal club to join

The verdict

The game’s glamour club and reigning premiers are more popular than ever among rival players, with 27 per cent of those asked who they would want to join voting for the Roosters. Perennial powerhouses Melbourne have waned slightly, as have Brisbane in their struggles to adjust to life under Anthony Seibold. The Rabbitohs have surged thanks to Wayne Bennett’s arrival, having not even featured in last year’s top 10. Despite another lacklustre start for the Titans – prompting a club wide performance review just this week – the Gold Coast remains a popular choice.

2018 votes: Broncos (20%), Storm (17%), Roosters (11%), Titans (9%), Dragons and Sea Eagles (6%)

Team you love to beat

The verdict

Getting a win over Melbourne is the most satisfying for their 15 NRL rivals, with 21 per cent of players polled voting for the Storm as the team they most love to beat. The Roosters also rank highly, followed by clubs who have been there abouts come finals time for almost all of the past decade – Brisbane, Cronulla and South Sydney.

2018 votes: Question not asked.

 

The NRL.com Players' Poll was undertaken by 154 NRL players across all 16 clubs. The survey questions and results have not been designed or endorsed by the Rugby League Players Association.