AFTER much deliberation and number crunching we finally arrive at RLW’s century of champions.
From sensational rookies to evergreen veterans – the game’s elite 100 players have been revealed.
Let the debate begin . . .
Top 100 players in the world (100-91)
Top 100 players in the world (90-81)
Top 100 players in the world (80-71)
Top 100 players in the world (70-61)
Top 100 players in the world (60-51)
Top 100 players in the world (50-41)
Top 100 players in the world (40-31)
Last year: 75
There was no second-season slump for the 2015 Dally M Rookie of the Year. Bird proved that he’s pound-for-pound one of the toughest runners of the ball in the world, and his competitive drive is up there with anyone in the NRL. Mongrel could be his middle name, as he proved when he made his Origin debut late in Game Two and never took a backwards step. In the grand final he cranked out metre after metre despite playing with a busted arm, and at just 21 he looks the sort of player whose talent and determination mark him as a future leader.
Last year: 55
Holmes’ knack for scoring dazzling long-range tries and finishing off Cronulla’s potent backline movements overshadows one of his great strengths: he takes the ball back on kick returns like a human pile-driver. Val surely would’ve got a spot on the wing for Queensland this year if he hadn’t been held out for disciplinary reasons, and his form says he’ll terrorise the Blues if given the chance in 2017. At just 21, he’s still mastering his craft and adding power to his frame, so his climb up the Top 100 is a good bet to continue.
Last year: 4
In round five RTS streaked away on the back of a brilliant backline movement to score the winner over the Roosters – and had he not done his knee two games later, that surely wouldn’t have been his only try all season. A good measure of his talent is how sorely he was missed by the Warriors; another is the fact he was averaging 177 metres a game before his campaign ended. Tuivasa-Sheck is on track with his rehab and aiming to come back in the Auckland Nines. Unless injury hammers him again, he’ll stake his claim as the best fullback in the world in 2017.
Rapana’s 2016 stats were monumental. After 26 rounds he led the comp in line breaks, ran away with the tackle breaks category, finished second for tries scored and cracked the top 10 for metres run. If you had a dollar for every time he unleashed a vicious run off the back of a ball from Joey Leilua, you’d be able to afford a house in Sydney. Well, maybe a parking spot. The 27-year-old exploded last season, showing he’s just as good at going through blokes as he is at running around them. Great pace, an exceptional nose for the tryline and a love of heavy contact saw him break the Raiders’ record with 23 tries – an exceptional feat.
Last year: 16
The reason coach Paul McGregor’s experiment with Dugan as a centre didn’t work is one of the keys to his fall down the RLW Top 100: for all his talent and heart as a ball-runner, he can’t set his teammates up to score and his passing game is nearly non-existent. “Doogs” had just four line-break assists and one try assist last season, yet he remains arguably the best player in the side due to his work with Steeden in hand. Injury hampered him once again, as did the Dragons’ across-the-park problems in attack, but it’s a measure of his talent that his Kangaroos call-up didn’t raise an eyebrow in spite of that.
Last year: 79
Even Queenslanders had to give Frizell a standing ovation for the game in which he really came of age: Origin Two. When he chased down a flying Dane Gagai he showed the sort of heart and desperation NSW had been missing, and made the selectors look stupid for not giving him a run in Game One. The term “made for Origin” is a bit hackneyed but it’s tailor-made for the back-rower; he might not have killer stats but he’s put a lot of Wollongong steel into the Dragons and Blues in 2016. His Kangaroos call-up was thoroughly deserved.
Last year: 24
Considering the controversy that dogged him all year – a loudly decried selection for Australia, domestic violence charges, nicking off to Fiji, a rumoured move to rugby union – Semi did well not to free-fall down this list. The Eels were one of the comp’s worst attacking teams, but they would’ve been historically awful if it weren’t for his 12 tries from 19 games, not to mention his hammering kick returns to get Parra’s sets started on the front foot. Efforts like his brilliant, 90-metre intercept try against Souths in round 15 prove that on his day, he’s still the equal of any winger in the world.
Last year: 41
When Merrin joined Penrith, club supremo Phil Gould hailed it “one of the most significant player signings this club has made” – and the ex-Dragon proved him right with a stellar year. The 27-year-old doesn’t have the flash of Bryce Cartwright or Moylan, but he’s every bit as important to the team, leading them for average metres gained, runs made and tackles made. He led the way in their big round 20 win over Brisbane, grinding out 227 metres, 36 tackles and a try, and finished fourth in the NRL for offloads after 26 rounds. If you sum up his season in two words, they’d have to be “consistently excellent”.
Last year: 26
Good judges had him primed to jump up this list significantly in 2016, not slightly. Morgan played a starring role in many games for the Cowboys, such as the semi in which he scored the winning try to sink the Broncos, or the round eight win over Parra in which he notched two pearlers and set up another. But by August, coach Paul Green was saying Morgan needs to put himself in the game a little bit more. And that’s it in a nutshell: Morgan’s a great player, deceptively strong and equally adept at going himself or putting a teammate over – he just didn’t do it week in, week out. Rectify that in 2017 and the sky’s the limit.
Last year: 69
When a side’s got Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana manufacturing tries at the same rate Toyota manufactures cars, it’s easy to overlook the blokes who set the platform for them. Canberra had plenty of great big men this year – Boyd, Soliola, Paulo, to name a few – but Papalii was a cut above everyone in their pack bar Josh Hodgson. Fear factor, exceptional running, underrated offloading ability, on-field leadership – the Maroons hitman brings all that and more to Ricky Stuart’s team.