The 2016 Telstra Premiership season was one of the tightest competitions on record, with nail-biting matches often coming down to clutch after-the-siren conversions. Here's NRL.com's look at the 10 best kickers in the game – not necessarily based on numbers, but rather on who you'd want kicking if your life depended on it.
10. Tyrone Roberts
It's still not 100 per cent clear who the number one kicker on the Gold Coast is, but safe money suggests Tyrone Roberts has the slight edge over Ash Taylor. While the pair shared kicking duties in 2016, Roberts finished the year as the first-choice sharp-shooter, a moniker he earned with a career-best 82.35 strike rate with the boot. In the 19 matches he kicked, he only missed multiple goals once (in Round 20 against the Eels).
9. Cameron Smith
It says a lot about Cameron Smith that he was able to have his most prolific season with the boot in his 15th year in the NRL. While his percentage was slightly lower than last year, the Storm skipper landed 92 goals to better his previous best of 88 back in 2007. His eight goals from eight attempts in Brisbane were top shelf, but nothing will top his sideline conversion against the Roosters where the ball sailed between the sticks despite Smith slipping over as he struck the Steeden.
8. Jordan Kahu
NRL Fantasy coaches were screaming "Ka-who???" when the Broncos outside back started to take the kicking duties away from Corey Parker as early as Round 2. The injury-plagued 25-year-old had only taken 32 shots before 2016 but landed 42 goals last season to finish three behind his teammate. With Parker enjoying retirement, expect Kahu to take over on a permanent basis, with Broncos fans hoping he can add to the 10 goals from 11 attempts he managed in the finals series.
7. Nathan Cleary
Your humble correspondent has been pumping up his tyres all season and the statistics certainly back up the hype. The 18-year-old defied his age to put up stellar numbers in his 15 NRL matches in 2016. Cleary slotted 53 goals from 65 attempts and another 64 goals in just 10 appearances in the NYC. His most memorable kicking performance came in the Panthers' semi-final loss to the Raiders when he nailed two clutch sideline conversions to silence the raucous crowd of 21,498 in the nation's capital.
6. Michael Gordon
Any kicker in the NRL would be satisfied with a percentage of 78.02, especially when that includes 91 shots at goal. But because of his incredible recent record, Michael Gordon's 2016 performance would probably only be a pass mark. The Roosters-bound fullback is one of the sharpest shooters in the competition, famously kicking all but four of his 61 shots at goal in 2009. It might have been his worst kicking season since 2007, but you can only imagine that it will be a 'flash' in the pan for Gordon.
5. Trent Hodkinson
The good news is that Trent Hodkinson landed 83.93 per cent of his shots at goal in 2016. The bad news is that he only was allowed 56 attempts from 23 matches for last-placed Newcastle. The Knights halfback was a perfect 16 from 16 through the first seven rounds before finally missing against the Sea Eagles on Anzac Day. The former NSW Blues playmaker is one of the coolest customers when it comes to knocking over difficult kicks, and it's just a shame that he didn't have more opportunities to show off his skills. As a result, he finished on 99 points for the second year running.
4. Adam Reynolds
It might have been his worst year with the boot, but Adam Reynolds is still one of the premier goal kickers in the competition. Nothing will ever top his incredible 100 from 111 attempts in 2013, and while he finished just above 75 per cent this season, his horror injury run can be partly blamed for the slight drop in form. The Rabbitohs halfback showed glimpses of his best when he kicked an 80th-minute sideline conversion to give Souths a famous two-point win over a desperate Eels team.
3. Jarrod Croker
The Raiders skipper is well on his way to breaking Hazem El Masri's NRL point-scoring record, and his lethal left boot is to thank for his staggering hauls over the past few years. His competition-best 296 points in 2016 was the third season in a row he had gone past the 200-point barrier, and was easily his best output since debuting in 2009. Croker kicked a whopping 112 goals last season – 16 more than the next best (Johnathan Thurston) – and has averaged roughly 84 per cent with the boot over the past four years. Incredibly, the Green Machine have another dead-eye shooter at their disposal, with Aidan Sezer boasting an even better career percentage (82.99) than Croker.
2. James Maloney
Statistically, 2016 was Maloney's worst year with the boot since 2012. But he'd gladly cop that given he's now a two-time premiership winner. The Sharks five-eighth kicked 100+ goals in his three years with the Roosters, but fell six short in his first season in the Shire. No player kicked more penalty goals than Maloney last season, and his trusty right boot played a key part in his club's drought-breaking grand final win. In a year that saw the Sharks win 11 matches by single digits, goal kicking was telling in most of those matches; Maloney's 80th-minute sideline conversion against the Bulldogs that hit the post and went in arguably his biggest kick of 2016.
1. Johnathan Thurston
He's been the best in the business for what seems like forever so Thurston earns our vote as the number one kicker in the game. Like his Maroons skipper Smith, JT had his best year with the boot in his 15th NRL season. His 96 goals surpassed the 93 he kicked in both 2014 and 2015, while his 84.21 per cent strike rate was his best since 2010. His job wasn't made any easier with 68 of North Queensland's tries coming on the extreme edges and only 15 scored through the middle. His ability to bend the ball both ways is second to none, while few can vary their trajectory quite like the Cowboys legend. Thurston added two more highlights to his ever-growing list of clutch kicks, with the maestro slotting late penalty goals against the Broncos in Round 4 and the semi-finals to send both games into extra-time.
This article first appeared on NRL.com