NRL's Top 25 Most Important Players 2015
by Ed Burton
August is over. That means 3 things; spring has sprung, the Warriors have collapsed and it is time to name the top 25 Most Important Players in the NRL.
As you can tell by my lack of articles lately, I have been spending all of my time watching NRL footage and really looking to nail the top 25 list this season*
A quick re-run of the rules here for clarity –
I’m looking for the Most Important Player (MIP) in the league in terms of deciding where the Premiership for 2015 ends up.
This of course means that a players value is heavily weighted towards how well his team is doing and how much of a chance they have of actually taking home the title.
So, a player like Dylan Napa might not be the player that Kieran Foran is, but given that the Roosters will be fighting for the Minor Premiership this weekend and the Eagles will be extremely lucky to sneak into the Top Eight. Napa would be the more IMPORTANT player.
I’m officially using the following criteria to judge –
1. How much involvement does he have in his team’s fortunes? Meaning, is he influential within the team? Does all of the attacking play go through him? Does he score a lot of tries? Does he do the hard work in the forwards? Is he the teams tackling machine? (Involvement Value)
2. How replaceable is he? If he was to cop a 5 week suspension, or injure his hamstring this weekend, just how much trouble is his team in? How much of a drop in quality is his replacement? (Injury Value)
3. How likely is his team to win the premiership with him in good form? How likely are they to win the premiership if he is in poor to average form? (Title Value)
25 – James Graham – Last Year – Honourable Mention
I probably underrated his influence at this point last season as he dragged his team to one win shy of a premiership, but not this time. The emotional leader of the big Bulldogs pack, his metres and tackles may be able to be duplicated by others, but losing his heart and leadership is what would throw the Dogs off on their late season comeback.
24 – Marika Koroibete – Last Year – N/A
What a piece of business the mid-season move to the Storm last year looks to be now. Melbourne’s reputation for turning talent out continues here. The Tigers didn’t seem to know what to do with him (a theme at that club for a while now) but Melbourne knew that the best thing to do is give him the ball and get out of the way. The absence of Billy Slater has seen him lead both the try scoring and line break stats at the Storm and without him, the Storm would lose a lot of attacking brilliance.
23 – Sam Moa – Last Year – N/A
The Tongan named Sam Moa. A player that has had an important role at Bondi will now come far more into focus as he attempts to replace the production of Jared Warea-Hargreaves. Losing JWH looked like it might set back the Roosters’ aspirations this year, but if big Sam can step up, Easts are still on track to play in October
22 – Curtis Rona – Last Year – N/A
Hands up who wants a 6’5”, 23 year old outside back who scores almost a try a game in the NRL. Well the Bulldogs have one. Second only to Semi Radradra on the competition try scoring ranks, Rona has been a revelation for the boys from Belmore this year and they will need his try scoring antics if they are to make another run at the Grand Final this year.
21 – Matthew Scott – Last Year – N/A
The perennial quiet achiever has gone about his business once again this year, laying the foundation for the Cowboys to go on a 15-wins-in-16-games run, all while being a staple of the QLD and Australian sides. He is not as dynamic as he once was, but at 30 years old, with 19 Origins and 17 Tests, he will provide the experience that the Cowboys will need if they are to get through the next month.
20 – Michael Ennis – Last Year – N/A
I have never really thought much of Michael Ennis. As a player or a man. But when you look through this Sharks team and try to work out how they have turned their season around, he is the one name that stands out. He has the experience and the leadership aspects that Cronulla needs, but he also leads the team in Try Assists. By a long shot. If Ennis is out, so are the Shire boys.
19 – Daniel Tupou – Last Year – N/A
It is hard to call a 2 metre tall, 100 kg winger with 16 tries this season inconspicuous, but that is what I am doing. Others at the Roosters might get the more plaudits, but is there a more reliable threat in the league than a cross field kick to Daniel Tupou’s wing? When the Roosters are stuggling or are out of ideas it is the best fall back option in the competition, and they don’t have anyone else that can quite replicate it.
18 – Adam Reynolds – Last Year – 15th
Souths were already starting to slide at Easter, but it is easy to forget that at the time that Reynolds suffered what appeared at the time to be a season ending injury against Canterbury, the Bunnies were in first place. He hasn’t seemed quite the same player since, but if he can get himself back to the form that saw him lead Souths to a Premiership, Club World Cup and Nines tournament win, you can’t rule the Rabbitohs out completely.
17 – Brett Morris – Last Year – N/A
Just a winger they said. Not worth that much they said. Well as a fullback he is a different player. He has always had the attacking chops, but what has most impressed me this season with Brett is the way he has improved his defensive positioning and used his increased strength to save the tries that he has. His experience will be key for the Dogs to keep fighting
16 – Cameron Smith – Last Year – 8th
Love him or hate him, he is Cameron Smith. He is consistent, he is experienced and he is a leader. He contributes tremendously to both the attack and defence of the Storm, and his ability to kick from dummy half really helps the 5th tackle options of the Melbourne side. He has chipped in with his fair share of try assists this year, even without his muse Slater around, and you can never write off this team, especially when they appear to be coming good at the right time of the year.
15 – Andrew McCullough – Last Year – N/A
Pure bred tackling machine. That is the only way I am willing to describe McCullough. If he wasn’t putting his hand up to make all of these tackles, the rest of the Broncos team wouldn’t have the energy to make the plays that they have made all season. If he can continue to be the first in on defense, the Broncos have their best chance at a title in recent memory
14 – Adam Blair – Last Year – N/A
Every Tigers fan is well and truly entitled to ask – where on earth has this been? It is almost as if Brisbane sent Marty McFly and the Doc back to the end of 2011 and kidnapped Blair before he boarded a plane to Sydney and replaced him with a dim witted son from the future. This is the Blair that left Melbourne with a great reputation, and he has been fantastic for the Broncos. Poor Tigers**
13 – Lachlan Coote – Last Year – N/A
I really don’t want to jinx the kid, but I am glad to see Coote move on from a few seasons of injury problems. At that age, it can ruin a player. Thankfully he found what has to be one of the best ball players that the sport has seen to help put him into holes and the rest is history. I never thought I would write these words, but in a short time, I think Lachlan Coote may have struck up an even better combination with Thurston than his old sidekick Matt Bowen
12 – Dylan Napa – Last Year – N/A
He is the tireless defender for the best defensive team in the league bar none. He is also a fierce metre maker at the same time who doesn’t allow the excuse of having to tackle stop him from attacking the line with the ball. At only 22 it is surely only a matter of time before the big redhead is seen in a Maroons jersey. It will be well earned if he can continue the trajectory of this season.
11 – Cooper Cronk – Last Year – 7th
The difference between the QLD Origin team with and without Cronk is like night and day. The same goes for the Storm. While they might be a long shot to win it all with Slater on the sidelines, Cronk can still pump out the try assists and keep the team ticking long enough to be a menace to play against in September. With a bit of luck, they could find themselves in the final 4 and if they are, Cronk will have to be a part of that.
10 – Greg Inglis – Last Year – 5th
For all of the well documented struggles that Inglis has had in attack this year, last week’s match against the Broncos shows exactly what he brings to the team defensively. Souths were a mess in that department as every half break turned into a try. additionally, not having Inglis even lurking in the background of raids into the opposition 20 saw the Bunnies come up empty time and time again. It is the best evidence of his Injury Value that you can get.
9 – Isaac Luke – Last Year 9th
If the Souths defence is a mess without Inglis, the attack is equally messy without Luke. Souths work best – and almost exclusively – with the opposition on the back foot. Luke’s movement out of dummy half creates this more regularly than almost any individual in the league can. Of course, as he is prone to do, he has gone and done something utterly stupid and may have played his last game for the Bunnies, but if Souths can somehow manage to get through enough games to see him come back from suspension, all bets are off.
8 – Jake Friend – Last Year 25th
Friend is another one that I have never really rated as a player or person, but he has started to turn me around (on the player front at least). He is a defensive machine and a crucial part of the Roosters spine and has played a big part in the late season run that they are currently on. The absence of Pearce means that he will have to play a bigger role in the attack or their season could be hanging by a thread by the time Pearce is fully fit again, and in his current form, that shouldn’t be a problem.***
7 – Anthony Milford – Last Year – N/A
I have to put my hand up here. I was wrong. This kid is a player. I had him tipped as another Office Hot Raider that would go on to not much once he left, but in just his first season as a five eighth he has done more than John Morris did in his entire 84 matches as a number 6. The natural instincts are there, and he has the full kit bag of tricks that he needs. If he continues on this trajectory, he will have some career. For this season, he will need to use it all to try and get the Broncos over the line.
6 – Michael Morgan – Last Year – N/A
Paul Green seems to have been the first coach to realise that the best way to get everything that you can out of Thurston is to have a high quality five eighth for him to work with. He seems to have found that with Morgan. His totals for the season in Tries, Line Breaks, and Try Assists are all in double figures and he finally gives JT the all-round foil that he has always needed. If the 1, 6 and 7 are all firing for the Cowboys, they will be hard to stop.
5 – James Maloney – Last Year – 10th
The Roosters can clearly survive without Mitchell Pearce. They will probably survive without JWH. They might even survive without Jake Friend (should they need to). Without James Maloney? I don’t see it. If it is not his goal kicking, it is his organisation. If it is not his creativity, it is his short kicking game. The variety in the Roosters attack in the opposition 20 comes from James Maloney and it will need to be on point for the next 5 weeks or the Roosters will be kicking to the corner like a faltering Souths side.
4 – Ben Hunt – Last Year – N/A
Earlier this season I doubted that Wayne Bennett was the man to win you a premiership in 2015, and I am still not completely convinced, but what I can tell you is that he couldn’t have timed his return to Brisbane any better. Young ambitious and talented describes the whole team, but it particularly describes Hunt. After showing last year that he can really play, the 25 year old halfback with a tonne of experience for his age has shown this season that he knows how to win. It is a quality that all the talent in the world can’t make up for, and might just be the thing that takes Brisbane all the way.
3 – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – Last Year – N/A
When the Warriors signed RTS at the start of the season I thought that they had picked up a pretty good player who had a solid chance of contributing, but also, could just as easily become a Wade McKinnon; occasional glimpses, mostly nothing. But I have to say that after the season he has had, I will be bitterly disappointed if he and Isaac Luke (should he manage to stay on the park) can’t turn the Warriors into a strong finals team. If you had told me that he would be a competitor for the Dally M a year ago, I would have told you to fuck off back to Bondi - but that is the reality now. He has great stats in Line Breaks, Tries and Try Assists, and he leads the league in metres made by so far that he has almost single handedly made the statistic irrelevant. If he continues the way he has been lately, the Roosters will be almost unstoppable
2 – Corey Parker – Last Year – N/A
For almost his entire career he has been the under-rated quiet achiever that was most notable for being the games best goal kicking forward and having grey hair. But he is now close to, if not the best forward in the game at the moment. He is definitely the most consistent forward in the NRL and is absolutely the heart of the Broncos team. His leadership around such a young team is invaluable and they are going to need to call on every minute of his 300+ career games to guide them through this tough close to the season followed by a rugged finals campaign. You can absolutely count on the fact that Parker will be there pushing for every metre and making every tackle count to get Brisbane to October
1 – Jonathan Thurston – Last Year – 17th
They may have had a bit of a slump recently, but if you think that Thurston's play is not the biggest factor in deciding if the Cowboys get the title or it ends up in someone else’s hands this year, then I don’t know what to tell you. He is the player most capable of single handedly turning a game out of the teams that are REALLY in the running to take it out this year, and if he is on point, there is nobody better in the game. He leads the Try and Line Break Assist categories for the league by a long way and he is one of the few halfbacks in the game that simply plays what is in front of him rather than to a playbook. That makes him really difficult to plan for, and almost impossible to stop. On the flip side, his Injury Value is immense. Without him the Cowboys are unlikely to win a finals match. With him there are few teams in the comp that can take them.
Feel free to tell me how wrong I got it on Twitter @gsalmanac
*Either that or I am getting married and have been way too busy to write. Yeah, probably that.
**Alternatively, it could just be in his time at the Tigers, Blair didn’t have a coach that had a clue what to do with him or tried to get him ticking the way he needs. Some players need the right conditions to thrive. He is clearly one of them. Yeah, probably that.
***Side note, how much damage has the last few weeks done to the arguments of Pearce sympathisers who always bring up his work for the Roosters when he is hammered at Origin time? Is it possible that he hasn’t had all that much to do with it? Is it possible that the Roosters are a better side without him? They certainly don’t appear to be significantly worse so far…