Top of the Pops: We rank the best 40 NRL Players alive in the finals

Matt Cleary 4
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In the way of these things, in our inter-connected chatterbox world of punditry, opinion and Tweetering, twitting, whatever it is, it’s an Accepted Wisdom that Manly Warringah Sea Eagles possess the best and most potent player in the competition in “Turbo” Tom Trbojevic.

Hard to argue. The giant fullback has amazed even himself with his fast-big-kid-in-U/9s-like dominance of the frenetic, frothing, high-impact, action Jackson that is this man’s National Rugby League.

He’s been unbelievable, Tommy.

And on the back of a game plan effectively Give The Ball To Turbo, Manly has firmed into $6.50 to win the 2021 Telstra Premiership, sitting on the second line of betting behind Melbourne Storm ($2.50) and Penrith Panthers ($2.75).

Yet rugby league is, ultimately, a team game. And Manly’s – admittedly, so far, highly-effective – “teamwork” has consisted of 16 players giving one guy the ball.

But they will need more. And according to our definitive – that’s right, no argument, definitive – rankings of the top 40 players left in action in 2021, Melbourne Storm (12) and Penrith Panthers (8) have half of them.

And many of them are up there, top of the pops. Storm has four in the top-10.

Yes, we reckon Turbo’s the best player in the comp.

Yet there’s a reason Storm and Panthers are your likely grand final.

And it’s because: all these guys.


1          Tom Trbojevic Sea Eagles                              

Des Hasler and his committed and plucky band of in-form footy-heads may disagree but heart of hearts they know: Tommy in your team you’re top-4. Without him you’re back in the all-panting pack with Eels, Knights, Titans, Raiders, Sharks, those guys. What a player. Has entered the realm of the ridiculous. Think Steve Smith with a cricket bat.

2          Nathan Cleary Panthers

Complete halfback with all the skills in the form of his life. Captain of the club. Good people. Collaroy boy. Doing a bit right, our Nathan.

3          James Tedesco Roosters                                 

While this bloke has a beating heart, the Roosters roll into September very capable of very good footy.

4          Kayln Ponga Knights

Like Trbojevic, Ponga will need some mates to take the heat off. Yet the fullback remains among the most potent, all-action attacking weapons in the competition.

5          Cody Walker Rabbitohs

Potent? Walker is all footy player. Without Latrell Mitchell will need to find other avenues, a big test for the Cliff Lyons of his generation.

6          Cameron Munster Storm

When the big Storm pack get a roll-on, there’s no-one better placed to exploit ragged D-lines than the cymbal-crashing, plate-spinning nut-case that is our man Munster. They were calling him “Westpac” for a while because he was stealing the ball from people but now they don’t.            

7          Jarome Luai Panthers

Penrith Panthers are $2.75 with bookmakers for many reasons but high up in that top-40 is the complementary man-action Luai provides Cleary. With Walker, Munster and the next bloke here, Luai is among the most fun to watch footy players in the game.

8          Brandon Smith Storm

God only knows how Andrew Johns turned a Steve Roach reference into “chip off the old Block” which became “Hectic Cheese”. But things can stick and this one did. And today old Hectic Cheese causes more pain than gout.      

9          Josh Addo-Carr Storm                         

Someone, an expert in fast running told someone else, might’ve been Buzz Rothfield, that Manly’s Jason Saab would burn “The Fox” over a hundred metres. I would take the overs on Addo-Carr in a two-man match race. Better finisher than Winston Churchill.

10        Jahrome Hughes Storm

If there’s going to be quibbles in this list it’s here and probably Ponga, and a few other guys, particularly given old mate following we’ve ranked 13. As they say in The Mandalorian: This is the way. But this bloke is just consistently dangerous and consistently excellent. He’s top-10 last men standing. Craig Bellamy will fight anyone says different. Or maybe get Jesse Bromwich too. Regardless – this bloke is a beaut.   

11        Isaah Yeo Panthers                                 

Plays like another five-eighth in a team that already has a really, really good one. Yeo’s ball play is best practice. Has this pass that he turns across his body while his shoulders stay lateral with the line. It’s very, very good, and gifts his runners extra split seconds. Cracking footy player.

12        Cameron Murray Rabbitohs

Former inside-centre in schoolboy rugby union is among the most dangerous middle forwards in the maelstrom of first grade rugby league. He’s a cracker, too, Murray.                 

13        Daly Cherry-Evans Sea Eagles

With Turbo Tom occupying so much opposition head space, Manly’s captain is running and stepping and driving his footy club’s charge into September. Cleary is the best seven in the game. This bloke’s not far away.

14        Dale Finucane Storm                         

A consistent and quiet achiever; the glue in the Storm pack. Craig Bellamy said Finucane is the best player he ever coached. Which is bullshit but y’know, pretty nice thing to say. (He said something like it. Best trainer or something. I dunno. Who cares.)

15        Ryan Papenhuyzen Storm 

Super-speedy pinball who looks back to his all-shredding best. The lumbering forward’s nightmare.                  

16        Harry Grant Storm

Yes, the Storm’s bench-warming reserve hooker is among the top-20 NRL players still standing in 2021. That’s how good they are. What you gonna do?           

17        Villiame Kikau Panthers

As if the Panthers don’t have enough weapons out wide there’s this rampaging, all-action, athletic behemoth. The anytime try bettors’ go-to.                          

18        Christian Welch Storm

Another glue-man in the relentless Storm machine.

19        Nicho Hynes Storm

Breakout season for the fullback come five-eighth.

20        Josh Schuster Sea Eagles

Breakout season for the five-eighth come backrower with the best no-look pass in the game.

21        Mitchell Pearce Knights                       

22        Stephen Crichton Panthers                                 

23        Clint Gutherson Eels                             

24        Mitchell Moses Eels                             

25        Justin Olam Storm                         

26        Junior Paulo Eels                             

27        Liam Martin Panthers                                 

28        Alex Johnston Rabbitohs                               

29        Kurt Capewell Panthers                                 

30        Kenneath Bromwich Storm                         

31        Brian To’o Panthers                                 

32        Jared Waerea-Hargreaves Roosters                                 

33        Tino Fa’asuamaleaui Titans                         

34        Matt Burton Panthers                                 

35        Haumole Olakau’atu Sea Eagles                              

36        Jesse Bromwich Storm                         

37        Jake Trbojevic Sea Eagles                              

38        David Fifita Titans                         

39        Daniel Tupou Roosters                                 

40        Angus Crichton Roosters    


41        Nathan Brown Eels                             

42        Tevita Pangai Junior Panthers                                 

43        Api Koroisau Panthers                                 

44        Adam Reynolds Rabbitohs                               

45        AJ Brimson Titans                         

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4 thoughts on “Top of the Pops: We rank the best 40 NRL Players alive in the finals

  1. You’re kidding aren’t you with Brian To’o at 31. Mate go and get yourself a To’o highlights reel of the last 2 seasons and see what ‘go forward’ he gives the Panthers…Panthers don’t win the comp without him…🏉🏉

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