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Adam Reynolds anc Cody Walker.

It was a tight battle, but the South Sydney spine of Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds and Damien Cook has been voted the best in the NRL.

The Rabbitohs quartet finished with 28 per cent of the votes cast by visitors, narrowly ahead of the Storm.

The fact Melbourne finished so highly despite Cameron Smith being increasingly unlikely to return says a lot about the faith people are placing in Harry Grant.

Penrith were the only other side to reach 10 per cent of the vote.

Best spine

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Brisbane struggled in nearly all aspects in 2020, their spine included. This year they will be without retired veteran Darius Boyd, while Jamayne Isaako is the front-runner to start at fullback with youngster Tesi Niu set to shift to the centres. Supporters will be hoping new coach Kevin Walters can turn Isaako, Anthony Milford, Tom Dearden and Jake Turpin into a cohesive unit.

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Provided Josh Hodgson can return to his best, the Raiders are looking as good as anyone. Fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad still looks as though his best days are ahead of him while Dally M Medal winner Jack Wighton and England No.7 George Williams are a top-shelf scrumbase duo.


It's not unfair to say the jury remains out. The addition of Maroons fullback Corey Allan and young prodigy Kyle Flanagan are marked improvements, but the No.6 and No.9 jerseys remain far from settled. The arrival of Matt Burton for 2022 will further boost the Bulldogs' stocks.


The expected return of Shaun Johnson into the No.6 jersey a third of the way through the season will see a reshuffle. Then we will see either Matt Moylan (who should start the year at five-eighth) and Will Kennedy in a battle for the fullback spot. Chad Townsend appears a lock for halfback, while it is time for Blayke Brailey to turn potential into consistently-strong performances. 


AJ Brimson, Jamal Fogarty and Ash Taylor all finished 2020 in something circling career-best form. There is nothing stopping that talented trio from staying at that level for all of this season. Mitch Rein will have plenty of powerful forwards working around him, and that should provide room to explore around the ruck. 

Sea Eagles

Tom Trbojevic can push James Tedesco for the mantle of best fullback in the game on his day and Daly Cherry-Evans proved in last year's Origin series that he is as good as they come in a No.7 jersey. Questions over the No.9 and No.6 jerseys are the problems Manly coach Des Hasler needs to solve, with returning star Kieran Foran back at the club and Josh Schuster and Dylan Walker also contenders for the five-eighth role.

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Only the Storm could make up for the high likelihood Cameron Smith won't return to the No.9 jersey by recalling Maroons' hooker-in-waiting Harry Grant from a superb one-year apprenticeship at a rival NRL club. Ryan Papenhuyzen is match-winner and Cameron Munster is the best five-eighth in the game. Then there is a Kiwi-international (Jahrome Hughes) at halfback. Injuries aside, there isn't even a hint of a problem here.


Kalyn Ponga isn't expected to start the year but once he's back the No.1 jersey is his. Mitchell Pearce and Kurt Mann remain largely unproven as a combination in the halves while Jayden Brailey is returning from an ACL operation. Questions remain.

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Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will want to make every post a winner before his move to rugby union. Expect him to redouble his already considerable level of output. He's the big drawcard in a Warriors spine also expected to include hooker Wayde Egan and halves Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita.


Valentine Holmes found the going tough in his return to the NRL in 2020, while injury limited marquee man Michael Morgan to just six games. Both need to fire if new coach Todd Payten is to turn things around. Five-eighth Scott Drinkwater needs to narrow the gap between his good and so-so performances while Reece Robson appears to have the inside running for the hooker role.


The Eels spine is locked in and loaded with talent. Mitchell Moses, Clint Gutherson and Dylan Brown are all match-winners on their day and hooker Reed Mahoney could be set to make further progression in his still-young career. The big question is: are they good enough to take the Eels to a premiership?


Stability will be a key to the Panthers' search for redemption in 2021 and their grand final spine of Dylan Edwards, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary and Api Koroisau will again call the shots. Cleary took his game to a whole new level in the run to the 2020 decider and if the No.7 maintains that high standard they can again challenge for the crown.

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More questions than answers at the Red V as the Anthony Griffin era begins and it's hard to imagine the spine staying the same for the whole season. Matt Dufty is far from a certain starter at fullback while the eternally under-pressure Ben Hunt played everywhere from halfback to hooker to five-eighth in 2020 and came off the bench in four games. Cameron McInnes has been super reliable at hooker but he's already signed with the Sharks for 2022 so you couldn't blame him for losing drive if the season starts poorly.

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With Latrell Mitchell back on deck in the No.1 jersey after missing the final seven games last season the Bunnies' fab four are ready to fire. Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds are an elite halves pairing, producing 29 try assists between them in 2020 while dynamic hooker Damien Cook also chimed in with eight assists of his own. And the addition of Benji Marshall adds depth when rep duty or injury forces a reshuffle.


The skills, and consistency, of James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Jake Friend are well known. That leaves the No.7 jersey to be settled. Kyle Flanagan lasted just one year. That leaves a battle between Lachlan Lam, Sam Walker and possibly Adam Keighran. They don't need brilliance – an organiser who makes their tackles and kicks well in general play will do just fine.

Wests Tigers

Harry Grant's return to the Storm hurts. A predicted round one spine of Paul Momirovski, Moses Mbye, Luke Brooks and Jacob Liddle lacks the firepower of many other teams in this list. But, if the forwards can put the team on the front foot more often than not, they could surprise.


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

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