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For & Against: Tom Trbojevic is best in the NRL

Since starting his season in round six, Manly gun Tom Trbojevic has certainly made up for lost time.

The Sea Eagles and Blues superstar has sparked a stunning turnaround for his club side and played a leading role in NSW's 2-1 Origin triumph.

Making his Origin heroics even more remarkable is the fact he played out of position in the centres because the Blues boast another of the game's elite talents, James Tedesco, at fullback.

Such has been Turbo's dominance in 2021 that many now consider him to be the game's best player, but he has plenty of worthy rivals for that tag.

For & Against - Tommy Turbo is the NRL's best player

For - senior journalist Martin Lenehan

When it comes to hot streaks, they don't come any hotter than Tom Trbojevic's run since he returned from a hamstring injury on April 17.

With the Sea Eagles floundering at 1-4 and conceding 34 points per game, they welcomed back their champion No.1 for a must-win clash with the Titans in Mudgee.

What unfolded at the picturesque Glen Willow Oval was one of the finest individual performances of 2021as Turbo ran for 189 metres, had two line breaks, two try assists and four tackle breaks to single-handedly destroy the Gold Coast and breathe life into Manly's season.

Tom Trbojevic claims Wally Lewis Medal

A week later against Wests Tigers, Tommy upped the ante again with 210 metres gained, five tackle breaks, two line breaks, two try assists and one almighty statement.

Since then the wins and the superlatives have kept flowing as the Sea Eagles have climbed to sixth on the ladder and their No.1 gun has staked an undeniable claim to the tag of "game's best player".

At 194cm and 102kg, Trbojevic has the strength to play in the front line and take a hit-up when his fowards need a rest or power over for a try from close range.

He has the speed to match motors with the game's quickest men and he has the vision and passing skills of the elite playmakers.

His incredible array of skills have been on show as Manly have emerged as dark horses for the title with nine wins in the 12 games since his return. 

Such is the confidence he has instilled in his teammates, two of those victories came in the matches he sat out, against North Queensland in round 14 and the Dragons in round 18.

The decision by Hasler to rest his main man after the first and third Origin games was both astute and well earned, with Turbo sliding into the centres in a star-studded Blues backline and setting the series alight to claim the Wally Lewis Medal.

Saab unleashed and Turbo looms up inside to score

Among the other contenders for the player of the series honour were his Blues buddies Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell, two men who also feature heavily in the conversation when talk turns to the NRL's best player.

Tedesco's CV includes a Dally M Medal and Wally Lewis Medal in 2019 when he spearheaded the Roosters' premiership drive and the Blues' Origin success.

Mitchell is one of those freakish athletes who can turn a game on its head in a twinkling with a tackle-busting surge or miracle offload, like the one he delivered to Daniel Tupou in the 2019 decider to set up the mach-winner for Tedesco.

Throw in Cameron Munster and Nathan Cleary and you have a red hot field of contenders for the No.1 ranking but right now, Tommy Turbo stands head and shoulders above the pack.

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Against – senior journalist Paul Zalunardo

Tom Trbojevic’s form in 2021 has been irrepressible. 

A wonderful combination of speed, skill, strength and tactical nous has played a huge role in Manly going from being in the early-season wooden spoon talk to now being a legitimate top-four hope. 

He won the Wally Lewis Medal as the player of the Origin series. 

That has him in the mix for the best player in the NRL but he probably isn’t there just yet. 

Three of his fellow Blues and one man in Maroon are the others in the mix for this honour right now. 

Let’s start with James Tedesco and the fact he was never going to be budged from the No.1 jersey for the Blues and would also be named (without hesitation) in that position if an Australia team was picked tomorrow. 

How can people say Turbo is be the best player in the NRL if he isn’t even the best player in his position? That may oversimplify the issue, but it is the way the cards have fallen in 2020.

The Roosters are going through a bigger period of regeneration than most people are willing to admit, yet the sight of Teddy with the ball in his hands remains the stuff for nightmares for opposition players, coaches and fans. 

Right now, you’d think most judges would still take the former Roosters man if they had the chance to grab any one player and drop them into their team. 

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After Tedesco, Nathan Cleary probably sits alongside Trbojevic, but only a shade away. 

Cleary was at the height of his powers before being injured in Origin II, and his peak still looks to be a few years away. 

He is probably the one most likely to knock Tedesco off his perch. 

Cleary’s imperious kicking skills and ability to run a team are supplemented by an underrated running game, sublime passing skills and strong defence. 

The other NSW player who deserves a spot in this conversation is Latrell Mitchell. 

Mitchell played every bit as well as Trbojevic across the 2021 Origin series and has also been a major contributor to South Sydney being just two points adrift of top spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder. 

Maroons v Blues

Being able to add brute physical force to his silky skills is enough to have him in this elite company. 

The lone Queenslander in this group, Cameron Munster hasn’t looked like the best player in the NRL this season but his record for producing when it matters most means you can’t leave him out. 

Yep, he was largely anonymous in the opening two matches of the ’21 Origin series, but Trbojevic, Cleary, Mitchell and Tedesco would all have been equally as quiet if on their lonesome in a side so-badly beaten. 

Like Tedesco, Munster’s name should already be on the team sheet when Australian selectors sit down to name their next Test team. That’s how good this lovable rogue is. 

Back to where we started, settling on the best player in the NRL will never be an exact science, but while Tom Trbojevic is among the top handful right now, James Tedesco is still wearing the crown. 

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


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