We've reached the conclusion of our countdown of the top 50 players in the NRL. Who is the best player in the game, according to the writers at NRL.com?
This isn't an easy list to put together, with some terrific players missing the cut – including 2016 NRL.com Team of the Year members Jarrod Croker (55th), Joey Leilua (64th), Ryan James (65th) and Jordan Rapana (69th).
Fifteen of the 16 clubs are represented in the list, with the Cowboys, Broncos and Sharks leading the way with six entries each and the Storm the next most prominent with four.
The vital role of fullbacks in the modern game is reflected in the fact 10 custodians made the list – more than any other position – ahead of props (eight), second-rowers (seven), halfbacks, hookers and locks (six each), five-eighths (four) and wingers (three).
The list is dominated by Australians – 22 eligible to play for New South Wales, 16 Queenslanders, plus new Kangaroo Semi Radradra – along with eight New Zealanders and three Englishmen.
But just a single NSW Origin player made the top 10, compared with five Queenslanders, three Kiwis and one Englishman.
So who makes up that top 10? Here it is.
10. Corey Parker (2015 rank: 6)
The retiring Broncos lock slipped a little in our rankings in his final year in the NRL but remains a top-10 player in our eyes. Parker will go down as one of the greats of NRL Fantasy due to his ability to make an impact in just about every facet of the game – a tireless defender and sensational offloader who can bust tackles, play big minutes, and kick goals to boot. Parker will hang up the boots while still at the top of his game, as the incumbent No.13 for Queensland and Australia.
9. Jason Taumalolo (2015 rank: 47)
Taumalolo has made a massive rise in our rankings this year after a season that saw him named the Rugby League Players Association's Players' Champion for 2016, ending Johnathan Thurston's three-year reign of winning the award. The bullocking Cowboys lock is one of the hardest men to stop in the NRL – finishing second in the league for run metres and forming a sensational combination with fellow internationals Matt Scott and James Tamou. With arguably the most powerful running game in the league plus some underrated footwork, Taumalolo leads North Queensland for tackle breaks this season and was the only forward in the league to make more than 10 line breaks in the regular season.
8. Matt Gillett (2015 rank: 35)
Only two forwards stayed on the park for every minute of Queensland's two State of Origin wins this year – captain Cameron Smith, and Matt Gillett. Gillett's a player who is deceptively vital to his team's chances – the Broncos won 14 of 19 regular-season games with him in the team, but just one of five while he was injured. Strong defensively and capable of doing the hard yards and producing skilful plays when needed in attack, Gillett's taken over the mantle from the retiring Corey Parker as Brisbane's most important back-rower.
7. Paul Gallen (2015 rank: 5)
The Sharks captain has his critics but at the age of 35 he's still one of the most valuable forwards in the NRL, ranking first among all players for average run metres in 2016 with a whopping 176 per game. No player tries harder for his team than Gallen, who finished his State of Origin career with a win as NSW captain in Game Three – as well as a perfect career goal-kicking record after slotting his only attempt at goal in the final minutes of that game.
6. Shaun Johnson (2015 rank: 7)
Johnson's club team may have missed the finals and his New Zealand side was beaten by Australia in the May Test, but the Warriors No.7 remains among the game's elite. Despite his club's woes he finished the regular season ranked equal first with Johnathan Thurston for line-break assists, first for kicks in general play, fourth for try assists and 10th for line breaks. When your team needs a try to win with a minute to go, there's no player you'd rather throw the ball to than the fleet-footed Johnson.
5. James Graham (2015 rank: 12)
The biggest metre-eater in the NRL in 2016, James Graham has only grown in our estimation despite a disappointing end to the season for his Bulldogs side. Few big men can match Graham's combination of ball-playing skill and pure work ethic – he's the only NRL player to sit in the top 10 for both run metres and tackles, while also frequently acting as first receiver at a Bulldogs side lacking an experienced halfback after the exit of Trent Hodkinson.
4. Jesse Bromwich (2015 rank: 9)
The best prop in the world, Jesse Bromwich has made talk of a "big three" at the Melbourne Storm at thing of the past. In 2016 he led the metre count and offload tally for the NRL's best team over the course of the regular season, and also captained the world's No.1-ranked Test nation, New Zealand, for the first time.
3. Cooper Cronk (2015 rank: 4)
The only unanimous selection in voting for the NRL.com top 50 was that Cooper Cronk should take out the No.3 slot. With 11 tries and a league-high 23 assists (matching his Queensland halves partner Johnathan Thurston), the Melbourne Storm halfback was directly responsible for more tries in 2016 than any other player.
2. Johnathan Thurston (2015 rank: 1)
Last year's Dally M Medallist remains the best playmaker in rugby league. No other player created more tries or line breaks for teammates than Thurston did this season. He's also the game's best goal-kicker, and fiercest competitor – at just 179cm and 87kg Thurston hardly has the size of a dominant defender, and yet he ranks fifth in the NRL for tackles that lead to turnovers. And like Johnson and Cronk, he's a master at producing the match-winning play when the game is on the line – as he did with last year's grand final-winning field goal, and last week's match-winning try assist against Brisbane in extra time.
1. Cameron Smith (2015 rank: 2)
"Cam Smith's the best player I've ever seen. Ever played with, ever played against."
So said Smith's long-time State of Origin rival Paul Gallen back in July, ahead of Gallen's final game against Smith's Maroons. Cameron Smith is the complete package – quality playmaker (15 try assists and a league-high five 40/20s this season), superb defender (ranked fourth in the league for total tackles), and excellent goal-kicker (third for goals in the NRL). But his ability goes beyond the raw numbers. The Australian skipper controls the play like no other and is a master at spotting weaknesses in the defensive line. He also sweet-talks referees better than any other captain in the game. For us, he's the NRL's No.1 player right now.
This article first appeared on NRL.com