Top 50 players in the NRL: 50-41
Picture this: there's a new month-long rugby league tournament about to begin. You're in charge of a brand new team. All players currently in the NRL are fit and available.
Which player is your first choice? Who is your second?
That's roughly the mindset we've put ourselves in at NRL.com, attempting to rank the 50 best players in the game. Note the list is not simply the players who have performed the best this season – there's the Dally M awards night for that. Note also that all current NRL players are eligible, injured or not injured. So Johnathan Thurston can make the cut, as can Greg Inglis and Matt Scott.
With more than 400 players taking the field in the NRL this season, this is a tough list to put together, and a lot of quality players have missed out in 2017. The likes of Jack de Belin, Kieran Foran, Jarryd Hayne, James Roberts, Trent Merrin, Nathan Brown and Suliasi Vunivalu are among those who narrowly missed the cut.
So who did make the list? Read on for the first 10 names, and we'll count down with another 10 each week.
50. Nathan Cleary (New entry)
A cool head on young shoulders and the NRL's leading point-scorer this season, Nathan Cleary possesses a towering spiral bomb and is probably the best goal-kicker in the competition. With 10 four-pointers in 2017 he is as comfortable scoring tries as he is creating them for teammates, and at just 19 years of age Cleary looms as the future for not just the Panthers but also potentially the NSW Blues.
49. Josh McGuire (2016 rank: 40)
Now a regular starter for Queensland, Broncos lock McGuire remains one of the NRL's busiest players and one of its most versatile big men. An enforcer in defence who is also the chief metre-eater in the Broncos' pack, McGuire has helped Wayne Bennett's side remain among the league's elite after the retirement of Australian international Corey Parker.
48. Will Chambers (New entry)
One of just two regular NRL centres to make our list, Chambers is a fixture in the centres for Queensland and Australia and is a key part of the lethal Melbourne Storm backline. A fiery competitor with a terrific running game and a great knack for setting up tries for his winger Suliasi Vunivalu, it's no surprise Chambers tends to be on the winning side at every level of the game.
47. David Klemmer (New entry)
The Bulldogs firebrand has become one of the most effective big men in rugby league, and was easily the biggest metre-eater in the NSW Blues' forward pack in this year's State of Origin series despite playing limited minutes off the bench in all three games.
46. Angus Crichton (New entry)
One of the few bright signs for South Sydney this season has been the emergence of Angus Crichton as a genuine star in the making. Playing on the right edge for the Rabbitohs, Crichton has made more tackle breaks than any other forward in the competition this season, knows his way to the tryline and is the Rabbitohs' second-busiest defender behind Sam Burgess. Along the way he's rivalled Cameron Smith as the most valuable player in NRL Fantasy – a remarkable feat for a player in just his second year in the top grade.
45. Martin Taupau (New entry)
Manly's rise from bottom-eight strugglers to top-eight contenders has been inspired by, among other things, a surge in form from Taupau – the NRL's most prolific offloader in 2017. Boasting one of the most powerful running games in the league (among forwards only Angus Crichton and Jason Taumalolo have more tackle busts) and the ability to create second-phase play out of nothing, Taupau has helped the Sea Eagles become one of the league's most lethal attacking sides, particularly in the centre of the field.
44. Josh Dugan (2016 rank: 33)
Dugan has slipped in our rankings this year but he remains a quality player, earning selection in Mal Meninga's Kangaroos Origin Merit Team on the back of his efforts in the centres for the Blues. Rock solid in defence and with one of the strongest running games in rugby league, Dugan is set to line up in the centres for the Kangaroos in this year's World Cup.
43. Paul Vaughan (New entry)
One of the buys of the season, Paul Vaughan's arrival at St George Illawarra from Canberra brought instant dividends with the Dragons' forward pack becoming one of the best in the league. The Dragons have made more run metres than any other club this year and Vaughan is the biggest metre-eater in that pack, but he's not just a workhorse – no front-rower has made more line breaks than Vaughan in the NRL in 2017.
42. Clint Gutherson (New entry)
A revelation at Parramatta this season who has quickly emerged as one of the NRL's cult favourites, Clint Gutherson has made the step up from jack-of-all-trades backline utility into a genuine match-winner at the Eels. Gutherson has played at five-eighth, fullback and centre this season and excelled in all three roles – scoring tries in the opening three rounds of the season in the halves before bumping the talented Bevan French out of the fullback position. A natural footballer who has also taken on the goal-kicking duties in 2017, Gutherson has quickly become an incredibly valuable member of the Eels squad.
41. Valentine Holmes (New entry)
Holmes has slotted into Ben Barba's old fullback role at the Sharks nicely this season and stepped up his impact at representative level, starting on the wing for Australia against New Zealand in May and scoring a hat-trick in Queensland's Origin series-deciding victory over New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium in July.
Next week: players 40-31