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Bang for bucks: Each club's best value for money men

Money makes the world turn, and value for money turns the NRL ladder on its head.

The resurgences of Manly, Canberra and Parramatta in 2019 have come with lesser lights playing well above their financial weight, success stories like Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Maika Sivo and Reuben Garrick all proving cheap as chips.

Meanwhile the slides of Gold Coast, North Queensland and the Dragons, among others, remind exactly how fickle and influential the recruitment and retention game can be.

And so with an eye for the bargain buys, rising stars and a few big names providing serious bang for their buck, runs through each club's best value player of 2019.

Broncos – Jake Turpin

Turpin started 2019 earning a little more than the NRL's $72,500 minimum wage before being upgraded to Brisbane's top 30 in May.

A new three-year deal is his reward, in the face of offers from Canterbury and the Warriors, for a breakout year in which he has provided sorely-needed spark around the Broncos ruck and cover at halfback following injuries to Tom Dearden and Sean O'Sullivan.

Raiders – Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

The Kiwi kid has proven himself the best value buy of the season since arriving at Canberra in February, originally as merely one fullback option to allow Jack Wighton to move to five-eighth.

His two-year Raiders deal is understood to be worth around $150,000 a season, but Nicoll-Klokstad's running game is on par with the best No.1s in the game with 10 tries, 88 tackle busts and 174 metres a game. Negotiations have started around a well-deserved upgrade.

Nicoll-Klokstad gets there first

Bulldogs – Jack Cogger

Cogger arrived from Newcastle with the chance to be a starting NRL half as Canterbury's biggest selling point, his pathway in the Hunter blocked by Mitch Pearce and Mason Lino.

He's since established himself as the club's first choice to partner Kieran Foran when the veteran is fit, guiding the Dogs to impressive wins over Cronulla, Newcastle, Penrith and the Tigers in the past six weeks as one of the NRL's cheapest playmakers.

Honourable mentions to Nick Meaney, who knocked back a more lucrative Tigers offer to land at Belmore, and try-scoring winger Reimis Smith.

Sharks – Briton Nikora

A virtual unknown at the start of the year, Nikora is now a Kiwi international with a healthy representative bonus understood to be included in his initial Cronulla contract.

The Sharks last month upgraded him with an extension through until the end of 2022. Fellow back-rower Kurt Capewell is also punching well above his paycheck with Newcastle circling as a result.

Johnson feeds Nikora

Titans – Moeaki Fotuaika

The roster in need of reshaping more than any other at least boasts one of the game's more promising young front-rowers at a reasonable price.

Fotuaika is signed long-term to the Gold Coast, with understanding his back ended three-year-deal will see him pick around $200,000 this season.

Still only 19, Fotuaika is starting to punch out big minutes in the middle and increasingly big metres, averaging 131 a game for the struggling Titans.

Sea Eagles – Reuben Garrick

Garrick had a verbal agreement to join Manly on a three-year deal when Trent Barrett was at the helm, only for Des Hasler's arrival to scale it back to a one-year contract with every chance to earn an extension.

One of several Sea Eagles upstarts that started the year earning well under $200,000, Garrick has been re-signed until the end of 2021 thanks to 15 tries and 148 points out on the right wing.

Storm – Ryan Papenhuyzen

A serious contender for the Dally M bench player of the year and a bargain one at that, with the former Tiger still on small bickies in his first NRL season.

With six tries in his custom-made 'bench fullback' role, Papenhuyzen is well and truly in Craig Bellamy's long-term plans and wouldn't be the worst shout as a bolter for Australia's Nines squad if he stars during Melbourne's finals campaign.

Papenhuyzen goes 85 metres

Knights – Kalyn Ponga

Plenty questioned the $3 million, five-year deal tabled by Newcastle when Ponga had played two games with the Cowboys. Now the discussion has shifted to whether the Knights' head geared hero is worth seven figures a season.

Newcastle's gamble two years ago has netted them a player every club would love to call their own, and they would all spend well beyond the $600,000 or so Ponga takes up in their cap.

Warriors – Lachlan Burr

Burr arrived at the Warriors during the pre-season having survived on a minimal wage and a carpentry apprenticeship at the Bulldogs, still claiming their Canterbury Cup player of the year award and earning a two-year deal with the Kiwi franchise. understands Burr ranks as one of the cheapest forwards on the Warriors' books, but he has averaged 50 minutes and 35 tackles each outing and only missed one game this year.

Cowboys – Tom Opacic

In a backline rocked by injury and with serious dollars set aside in the hope that Val Holmes could be a Cowboy by 2020, Opacic has proved a handy pick-up in his first season in Townsville.

Three weeks after re-signing with Brisbane on a mid-to-lower-tier contract, North Queensland effectively bought out his two-year deal with more starting opportunities on offer under Paul Green.

Opacic has since turned that chance into seven tries from 15 games with an honest work rate to boot.

Eels – Maika Sivo

Parramatta are in the process of upgrading and extending 2019's greatest success story.

Having started the year on the NRL's minimum wage plus match payments, Sivo's competition-best 16 tries have come at an absolute steal.

To think this Fijian farmer still sleeps on his floor because he finds it more comfortable than the stock standard Australian mattress.

Super Sivo finds a way

Panthers – Brian To'o

Take your pick out at the foot of the mountains, with Brent Naden, Mitch Kenny, Liam Martin and To'o all earning a little more than $100,000 each this year through base level contracts and match payments.

We've gone with To'o as a genuine breath of fresh air when the Panthers were in all sorts. His enthusiasm and pre-game kung fu have been backed up with serious playing chops – the 20-year-old is averaging just under five tackle busts and 166 metres from the flank.

Rabbitohs – Ethan Lowe

Lowe went from reserve grade with the Cowboys to a Queensland Origin debut – with a very handy nudge at game three heroics from the kicking tee – in less than six months.

It's understood he took the best part of a six-figure pay cut to make the move to South Sydney and he's been a superb addition, be it starting, off the bench or plugging a hole out in the centres.

Liam Knight has also begun to deliver on his long-touted potential since shifting to Redfern on a relatively modest deal.

Dragons – Corey Norman

At his full freight, there's better value for money options in the Red V's underperforming roster than Norman. But with Parramatta paying around a third of his 2019 wage, the Dragons have got a State of Origin half taking up a little over $500,000 of their cap.

That arrangement ends next year, but in his debut Dragons campaign Norman has been better than most of his teammates, booting a couple of match-winning field goals amongst 12 try assists and 13 line break assists.

Roosters – Sitili Tupouniua

The premiers have been patiently sitting on Tupouniua for a while now, confident a breakout year was in the works for the Auckland-raised back-rower.

After some eye-catching performances, he was bumped up on a two-year extension in May that still saw him knock back more money on offer from rival clubs including the Warriors.

Tigers – Benji Marshall

Marshall's renaissance at the Tigers is believed to be costing the club at most $200,000 this year, money for jam considering the old stager's influence amid another coaching change and resulting roster upheaval.

On the paddock Marshall is making hay too with 10 try assists and nine line break assists as he weighs up whether to go around once more in 2020.

Benji rolls back the years

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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