Monday, April 15, 2024

NRL 2024: The top 50 players

As every rugby league fan knows, the NRL is blessed with an abundance of superstars. It is home to all the world’s best league players.

But narrowing the list down to determine the best of the best is no easy task. So to mark the start of the 2024 NRL season, experts from The Sydney Morning Herald and Nine’s Wide World of Sports have come together to give their views – and a collective verdict – on who are the best 50 players in the game right now.

A panel of 10 judges was put together: Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer, Brad Fittler, Allana Ferguson, Emma Lawrence, Danika Mason, Roy Masters, Andrew Webster, Michael Chammas and Adam Pengilly. Together, they have many decades’ experience of playing, coaching, covering and analysing rugby league at the highest level. The players chosen as the top 50 current NRL players can be sure that they’ve earned their selection.

Each judge was asked to compile a list of their own top 30 current NRL players. They were to order the list 1-30, with the player they considered their No.1 allocated 30 points, their No.2 allocated 29 points, and so on, with the 30th player allocated one point.

After all the judges had submitted their top 30, the total number of players named by the 10 different judges tallied close to 60. We then added up all the points awarded to each player and listed them from most to least. Where there was a tie we sorted it by alphabetical order. The player with the most points was crowned our judges’ pick for the NRL’s No.1-ranked player.

That player will be unveiled on Friday, when Wide World of Sports and the Herald publishes the final article in our 50-1 series. We kicked it off with the players ranked 50-41 on Monday. Numbers 40-31 were revealed on Tuesday. And today it’s 30-21.

30. BEN HUNT (St George Illawarra, 40 points)

All you need to know about Ben Hunt is that at 33 he’s still getting picked to start at hooker in a Queensland side that has Harry Grant. He may not have won much at club level but he’s got a winning mentality, and even at the highest level he never lets his team down. You know you’re going to get at least an eight-out-of-10 performance from him every game and he’s versatile enough to be a top class No.7 who can turn into an Origin level hooker at a pinch. Mr Reliable.
Danika Mason

Ben Hunt consistently puts in top performances for a struggling side.

Ben Hunt consistently puts in top performances for a struggling side.Credit: Getty

29. MITCH MOSES (Parramatta, 45)

His greatest strength is his kicking game. It’s easily one of the best in the competition. He’s always cool and calm under pressure with great variety as well. At 29 years old, Moses has developed into a great leader and communicator who directs the Eels around the park with ease. He’s also one of the quicker halfbacks in the competition so loves a bit of open space. He’s proven himself on the big stage, and if it wasn’t for Nathan Cleary, would have played more games for NSW.
Emma Lawrence

28. JAHROME HUGHES (Melbourne, 54)

This guy is just fun to watch, and he’s become one of the most important cogs in the Storm machine. He’s a perfect foil for Cameron Munster because he brings the side great direction, which gives his five-eighth the freedom to make things happen out of structure. His decision-making is excellent and so is his kicking game, but the cherry on top is his ability to see an opportunity on his edge and to take it by calling his halves partner, then using his pace to flatten up the attack and capitalise on a weakness in the defensive line.
Allana Ferguson

Jahrome Hughes is one of the key cogs in the Storm machine.

Jahrome Hughes is one of the key cogs in the Storm machine.Credit: Getty

27. ADAM REYNOLDS (Brisbane, 55)

He just knows the game. In a time when so many athletes play at NRL level, he’s the big footy brain that knows what to do and when to do it. It’s no coincidence the Broncos have become a force since he moved there. They’ve had parts of a great footy team for a while but only since handing the keys to Reynolds have they put it all together. His kicking game is absolutely elite and he’s one of the best in the NRL at getting his side around the park.
Brad Fittler

26. BRIAN TO’O (Penrith, 56)

He just gets it done. There’s no fanfare, no carry-on, you know what you’re going to get every week. Behind James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota, he’s Penrith’s main go-forward man. Wingers in the modern game are an extension of front-rowers, and no one gets them going forward like the pocket rocket, who always plays with a smile on his face.
Andrew Johns

25. LINDSAY COLLINS (Roosters, 66)

He’s had a big couple of years and made some big plays at the highest level of the game. He’s a big body and he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work, but he also pops up in situations where you might not expect to see a front-rower. Catching that kick over the top of James Tedesco in Origin is a perfect example of something you wouldn’t expect from him, but he’s just a competitor. He wants to win and, when he’s in your team, you’ve got a better chance of doing that. Two years ago, there’s no way he would have made an NRL top 50 list but he’s had a really strong 18 months, which he should get extra credit for considering the Roosters have been disappointing in that time.
Darren Lockyer

Lindsay Collins took his game to a new level last season.

Lindsay Collins took his game to a new level last season.Credit: Getty

24. NICHO HYNES (Cronulla, 73)

His versatility ranks him No.24 but his best positions are fullback and in the halves. Representative selectors will always be tempted to find a position for him on the bench because he can fill in on the wing, or even around the ruck, as he did with the Storm. However, when he is playing away from his preferred positions against the best in big games, he can be exposed. His former Storm teammate, Cameron Munster, knew he had it over Nicho in last year’s Origin series when Hynes was drafted in as centre late in a match. Munster locked eyes with Nicho, briefly hypnotised him and found the gap for a match-winning try. Loved for his advanced sense of social justice, he has to become more self-centred and shed his crises of confidence.
Roy Masters

23. JOSEPH TAPINE (Canberra, 90)

The Canberra enforcer finished voting as the fifth-best prop in the game behind Payne Haas, James Fisher-Harris, Addin Fonua-Blake and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. Tapine possesses great skill for such a big and powerful forward and has taken over from veteran Josh Papali’i as the leader of the Raiders pack in recent seasons. Tapine has averaged more than 155 metres per game in the past two seasons and has proven his durability by featuring in 49 of Canberra’s 52 games over the past two seasons.
Michael Chammas

22. CODY WALKER (South Sydney, 101)

Is it really possible he didn’t make his NRL debut until 26? In terms of late bloomers, there arguably hasn’t been one better, and he shows no signs of slowing down yet at 34. It’s hard to define what makes Walker the player he is, but his touch is so deft it was said he doesn’t leave fingerprints on the ball. The marshall of South Sydney’s left-side attack, who grabbed his latest chance in NSW colours in Origin III, he rarely makes the wrong call with his array of passes, creating space for his outside men by taking the ball deep into the line.
Adam Pengilly

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21. LIAM MARTIN (Penrith, 104)

At a time when bush football’s existence and relevance is under threat, Temora’s Liam Martin is a reminder of why it remains rugby league’s great nursery. Last September, Panthers legend Greg Alexander called him the game’s best back-rower, and it’s difficult to dispute. Martin’s toughness and relentless approach on either side of the ball has made him a mainstay of NSW and Australia teams, not to mention the three premierships with Penrith. When he’s not running into the teeth of the defence, you’ll often find him running the right line and hitting the right gap for a try.
Andrew Webster

The NRL’s Top 50:

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