Top 50 players in the NRL: 40-31
We continue our countdown of the top 50 players in the NRL, as voted by the editorial team at NRL.com.
Our criteria is simple: assuming all NRL players are fit and available, who are the most valuable in the game? We're not judging who have been the best players this season, and all current players are eligible for the list whether they are injured or not.
This week we have three New Zealand internationals and one England star, with four new entries who didn't make the cut last year.
40. Corey Norman (New entry)
Parramatta's rise in recent seasons has a lot to do with the form of their star five-eighth. After dominating the Auckland Nines tournament in 2016 Norman was equally superb in the Telstra Premiership, outshining halves partner Kieran Foran, and he's continued that form in 2017 as the club's chief playmaker. With mid-season recruit Mitchell Moses proving a perfect foil for Norman in the halves, Eels fans have good reason to be dreaming of a long-awaited premiership again.
39. Andrew McCullough (New entry)
An 80-minute hooker who can make 50 tackles a week, McCullough has been one of the unsung heroes at the Broncos for the past nine seasons – an amazingly durable workhorse (this will be his first season since 2008 in which he hasn't played more than 20 NRL games) who allows the flair players around him to do their thing. Still only 27, there's plenty of footy still to come from him as well.
38. Josh Jackson (2016 rank: 43)
Jackson is the kind of player whose value can't be reflected in the stats. The winner of the Brad Fittler Medal as the NSW Blues' best player of the State of Origin series in 2016, and the official Man of the Match in a losing side in Origin II this year, Jackson is all about quality over quantity. Other players may make more tackles and run metres but few hit harder or put an end to attacking raids quicker than Jackson, who is set to partner Boyd Cordner in the NSW second row for the foreseeable future.
37. Aaron Woods (2016 rank: 18)
The NSW and Kangaroos front-rower may have dropped in our rankings this year but his raw stats still make for impressive reading – he ranks fourth among forwards for average run metres with around 160 per game, making him a standout in the Wests Tigers pack and an attractive buy for the Bulldogs next season.
36. Dane Gagai (New entry)
The Newcastle Knights' only inclusion in our list, Gagai has excelled in a struggling team in recent seasons and his exploits at State of Origin level have been even more eye-catching – in 2017 he won the Wally Lewis Medal as Queensland's best player of a winning series, the first time a winger has taken out that award. A brilliant ball-runner capable of playing at fullback or in the outside backs, Gagai looks a quality recruit for the Rabbitohs next season.
35. Simon Mannering (2016 rank: 26)
With 15 carries and 44 tackles a game, there's an argument to be made that Mannering may be the hardest-working player in the NRL. A defensive workhorse in the middle of the park, at the age of 30 Mannering has actually improved his output in attack this season – increasing from 90 metres a game to more than 125. If the Warriors had a few more players like the Kiwis veteran in their ranks they'd be a consistent top-eight side.
34. Josh Hodgson (2016 rank: 17)
One of the most brilliant attacking dummy-halves in rugby league, Hodgson has slipped in our rankings following Canberra's underwhelming campaign but he remains among the very best in his position. Quick, skilful, decisive and ruthless when he spots a weakness in the defensive line, when Hodgson is on song the Raiders are almost impossible to stop.
33. Matt Moylan (2016 rank: 45)
For years there had been speculation that Matt Moylan might one day follow in Darren Lockyer's footsteps and make the transition from playmaking fullback to elite five-eighth – but few would have expected him to thrive in the new position so quickly. After playing at pivot for NSW in last year's Origin Game Three win, Moylan has been brilliant in the No.6 jersey for Penrith in the second half of the season as they burst into the top eight.
32. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (2016 rank: 22)
After only seven appearances for the Warriors in 2016, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was thrown the captaincy at the club at the age of just 23. Results may not have gone his way this season but the fleet-footed speedster remains one of the most dangerous fullbacks in the game, capable of slicing holes in the opposition defensive line in an instant.
31. Jordan Rapana (New entry)
An absolute try-scoring machine last season, Jordan Rapana has been one of Canberra's few consistent performers over the past couple of seasons. Despite his team's struggles he remains among the league's top try-scorers and his ability to break tackles is matched only by Tigers livewire James Tedesco. He's more reliable than his partner on Canberra's right flank, Joey Leilua, and is the only full-time winger to earn a spot in NRL.com's top 50.