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NRL Players' Poll: Part 1 - Best player, positions, coach, captain and more

The annual NRL Players' Poll has thrown up plenty of surprising answers and crowned a new king as the best player in the competition with Cameron Smith finally being dethroned.

NRL.com, in conjunction with The Sydney Morning Herald, polled 150 players from all 16 clubs to get their responses about a range of topics.

In part one of the two-day reveal, the players anoint the game's best in each position, the leading coach, the premier player, the best buy, who will win the competition and which team they would join if they had to leave their club.

Part two, released at midday on Tuesday, will delve into the biggest talking points in the game, including the success of the rule changes, the performance of head office, the potential for a standalone Origin series in the middle of the season, when the grand final should be played and more.

2020 players' poll results: Part 1

Who is the best fullback in the NRL?

The verdict

Sydney Roosters superstar James Tedesco has unsurprisingly taken out the game’s best fullback for the second year in a row. Tom Trbojevic’s strong start to the season has seen him climb from fifth in 2019 to knock Roger Tuivasa-Sheck out of second spot.

The Warriors captain has managed to keep rising star Kalyn Ponga at bay for another year. Four of the top five from last year remain, with Dylan Edwards replacing Clint Gutherson in the group.

The surprise

Gutherson and Ryan Papenhuyzen missed the top five. Latrell Mitchell only polled one vote.

2019 votes: James Tedesco (55%), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (23%), Kalyn Ponga (9%), Clint Gutherson (5%), Tom Trbojevic (3%)
2018 results: Billy Slater (60%), Kalyn Ponga (11%), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (10%), Tom Trbojevic (6%), James Tedesco (5%)

Who is the best winger in the NRL?

The verdict

The Roosters wingers have finished in the top two, with Daniel Tupou pipping veteran Brett Morris to replace Blake Ferguson as the game’s premier winger in the eyes of the players. Ferguson is the only member of last year’s top five wingers to retain his position in the group.

A strong start to the season for the Wests Tigers has lifted David Nofoaluma to third spot, the first time he has finished in the top five since the poll began in 2018.

The surprise

NSW and Australian winger Josh Addo-Carr has dropped out of the top five altogether, despite finishing in the top two the past two years.

2019 votes: Blake Ferguson (33%), Josh Addo-Carr (24%), Corey Oates (10%), Ken Maumalo (8%), Jordan Rapana (7%)
2018 votes: Josh Addo-Carr (27%), David Fusitu’a (21%), Jordan Rapana (12%), Valentine Holmes (10%), Corey Oates/Blake Ferguson (8%)

Who is the best centre in the NRL?

The verdict

Joseph Manu has dethroned former Roosters teammate Latrell Mitchell as the best centre in the NRL. The Kiwi international was the standout centre, with Roosters teammate Josh Morris rewarded for his strong form to finish in second.

Another veteran experiencing a return to his glory days, Parramatta’s Michael Jennings, finished third. He managed to pip the likes of young guns Bradman Best, Kotoni Staggs and Stephen Crichton.

The surprise

Only two votes for Latrell Mitchell, despite the South Sydney fullback collecting 80% of votes last year. While he is playing out the back for the Bunnies, he is considered by many experts as the game’s best centre, and will be considered as a centre by NSW coach Brad Fittler.

2019 votes: Latrell Mitchell (80%), Jarrod Croker (4%), Joseph Manu (3%), Michael Jennings (3%), Dane Gagai (2%)
2018 votes: Will Chambers (31%), Greg Inglis (21%), Euan Aitken (13%), Latrell Mitchell (11%), Josh Dugan (4%)

Who is the best five-eighth in the NRL?

The verdict

The five-eighth was one of the most contentious position selections, but Luke Keary capped off an all Roosters backline to knock off Melbourne’s Cameron Munster as the game’s best No.6.

Eels young gun Dylan Brown finished in third, while Jack Wighton’s successful transition into the halves for the Raiders has also been recognised by his peers.

The surprise

No room for South Sydney’s Cody Walker, despite finishing last year’s votes in third. Cronulla’s Shaun Johnson, among the Dally M leaders, has also missed out.

2019 votes: Luke Keary (41%), Cameron Munster (32%), Cody Walker (18%), Shaun Johnson (3%), Anthony Milford/James Maloney (2%)
2018 votes: James Maloney (36%), Gareth Widdop (20%), Cameron Munster (13%), Blake Green (11%), Anthony Milford (9%)

Who is the best halfback in the NRL?

The verdict

The halfback spot was arguably the most contentious, with very little splitting the top three. Not even the red-hot form of Nathan Cleary could deny Newcastle’s Mitchell Pearce from receiving the most votes.

Cleary finished equal second alongside Queensland and Australian halfback, Daly Cherry-Evans. Mitchell Moses appears to have suffered from being a little out of sight, out of mind, finishing fourth despite leading the Eels to the top of the ladder.

The surprise

Ben Hunt finishing in the top five, despite playing hooker. Although it provides an indication of how talented he is when he’s on.

2019 votes: Cooper Cronk (39%), Mitchell Pearce (14%), Daly Cherry-Evans (11%), Adam Reynolds (7%), Chad Townsend (6%)
2018 votes: Johnathan Thurston (35%), Ben Hunt (19%), Nathan Cleary (11%), Shaun Johnson (11%), Cooper Cronk (9%)

Who is the best prop in the NRL?

The verdict

Under-siege Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake has climbed to the top of the prop rankings, despite failing to finish in the top five the past two years. Two of last year’s props from the grand final rounded out the podium, with Canberra’s Josh Papalii knocking off the Roosters’ Jared Waerea-Hargreaves by a single vote to grab second spot.

Brisbane’s Payne Haas may have finished higher had his Broncos played better over the opening nine rounds of the season.

The surprise

No room for NSW and arguably Australia’s best prop, David Klemmer. Last year’s top two props voted by the players, Siosiua Taukeiaho and Jesse Bromwich, both dropped out of the top five.

2019 votes: Siosiua Taukeiaho (26%), Jesse Bromwich (18%), Andrew Fifita (7%), Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (6%), David Klemmer (5%)
2018 votes for best middle forward: Jason Taumalolo (34%), Sam Burgess (23%), Jake Trbojevic (10%), Reagan Campbell-Gillard (5%), Jesse Bromwich and Andrew Fifita (4%)

Who is the best second-rower in the NRL?

The verdict

Penrith wrecking-ball Viliame Kikau has moved up one spot over the past 12 months to claim the best second rower title, despite David Fifita being in negotiations for one of the most lucrative contracts in the NRL.

He takes over from the retired Sam Burgess, who collected more than half the votes in 2019. Roosters captain Boyd Cordner finished second, which may have been different if Brisbane’s Fifita (third) was on the field more often to start 2020. NSW back-rowers Wade Graham and Tyson Frizell round out the top five.

The surprise

Last year’s Dally M second-rower of the year, John Bateman, polling just one vote, although he has been sidelined with a shoulder injury in 2020.

2019 votes: Sam Burgess (54%), Viliame Kikau (10%), Boyd Cordner (9%), John Bateman (7%), Tohu Harris (7%)
2018 votes: Tyson Frizell (22%), Matt Gillett (21%), Boyd Cordner (15%), Tohu Harris (13%), Wade Graham (9%)

Who is the best lock in the NRL?

The verdict

For the third straight year, Jason Taumalolo has been crowned the best lock in the business. The Cowboys enforcer received more than double the votes of his nearest counterpart, Manly, NSW and Australian lock Jake Trbojevic.

Injured Roosters forward Victor Radley still polled well to claim his first top five finish in third spot.

The surprise

Penrith’s Isaah Yeo finished ahead of South Sydney’s Cameron Murray and Melbourne’s Brandon Smith.

2019 votes: Jason Taumalolo (45%), Jake Trbojevic (20%), Cameron Murray (15%), Dale Finucane (8%), Jai Arrow (5%)
2018 votes for best middle forward: Jason Taumalolo (34%), Sam Burgess (23%), Jake Trbojevic (10%), Reagan Campbell-Gillard (5%), Jesse Bromwich and Andrew Fifita (4%)

Who is the best hooker in the NRL?

The verdict

No surprises with Cameron Smith taking out best hooker, but the margin was closer than many may have tipped. Apisai Koroisau has turned Penrith into premiership contenders since his arrival in the off-season and was rewarded with second spot.

Rookie Harry Grant has captured a lot of attention at the Wests Tigers, so much so he edged out international hookers Damien Cook and Josh Hodgson for third.

The surprise

Harry Grant finishing in third position ahead of Damien Cook, the NSW and Australian No.9.

2019 votes: Cameron Smith (44%), Damien Cook (36%), Josh Hodgson (5%), Reed Mahoney (3%), Jayden Brailey/Robbie Farah (2%)
2018 votes: Cameron Smith (66%), Issac Luke (11%), Damien Cook (8%), Apisai Koroisau (4%), Cameron McInnes (3%)

Who is the best player in the NRL?

The verdict

Cameron Smith’s reign as the best player in the NRL is over. James Tedesco is the new king of rugby league, claiming almost half of the votes from the players.

Smith, who has won this category the previous two years, has dropped to third with Cowboys skipper Jason Taumalolo leapfrogging him into second spot.

Manly’s Tom Trbojevic and Mitchell Moses entered the top five for the first time in their careers, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Latrell Mitchell both dropping out from last year.

The surprise

Cameron Munster and Kalyn Ponga edged out by Mitchell Moses, who finished fourth in the halfback category.

2019 votes: Cameron Smith (31%), James Tedesco (19%), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (12%), Latrell Mitchell (10%), Jason Taumalolo (8%)
2018 votes: Cameron Smith (45%), Johnathan Thurston (12%), Jason Taumalolo (6%), Billy Slater (6%), James Maloney (5%)

Who is the best coach in the NRL?

The verdict

Craig Bellamy’s reign as the best coach in the business is also over, with the man at the helm of the back-to-back premiers now deemed the No.1 coach in the game.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson has dominated the poll ahead of Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy and South Sydney’s Wayne Bennett. Adam O’Brien and Ivan Cleary, the coaches of the two most improved teams, also snuck into the top five.

The surprise

There was no room for then coach of last year’s grand finalist, Ricky Stuart. Brad Arthur, the coach of the competition frontrunners Parramatta, also missed out.

2019 votes: Craig Bellamy (31%), Wayne Bennett (19%), Trent Robinson (13%), Stephen Kearney (6%), Ricky Stuart/Brad Arthur (5%)
2018 votes: Craig Bellamy (48%), Ivan Cleary (17%), Wayne Bennett (8%), Paul Green (4%), Stephen Kearney (4%)

Who is the best captain in the NRL?

The verdict

No surprises Cameron Smith dominated the best captain category, as he did last year. Boyd Cordner climbed up two spots into second position, while Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck dropped two spots into fourth.

Mitchell Pearce, Daly Cherry-Evans and James Tamou also made their way on to the leaderboard.

The surprise

Despite leading the Raiders to the grand final last year, Canberra captain Jarrod Croker missed out on the top five.

2019 votes: Cameron Smith (51%), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (12%), Sam Burgess (8%), Boyd Cordner (8%), Paul Gallen (5%)

Who is the most impressive rookie in 2020?

The verdict

An easy win for Wests Tigers hooker Harry Grant among an impressive bunch of debutants. The form of Newcastle’s Bradman Best hasn’t gone unnoticed, either, finishing ahead of Warriors forward Eliesa Katoa and Penrith duo Matt Burton and Stephen Crichton.

The surprise

The Brisbane Broncos are renowned for having the best youngsters in the competition, but none have made the top five.

2019 votes: Briton Nikora (36%), Maika Sivo (16%), Bronson Xerri (13%), Chanel Harris-Tevita (10%), Thomas Flegler (7%)

Who has been the best buy of the year?

The verdict

The Wests Tigers have pulled off the best signing of the season in the swap deal with the Melbourne Storm, gaining hooker Harry Grant for Paul Momirovski. He received almost double the votes of his nearest rival, Penrith hooker Api Koroisau.

Veteran Josh Morris has also been recognised for his return to form since joining the Roosters. Ryan Matterson, George Williams and Latrell Mitchell round out the leaderboard.

The surprise

The amount of votes Grant received ahead of Koroisau. The Penrith No.9 has transformed the Panthers into premiership contenders, but the Tigers rookie has captured all the headlines.

Who is the most damaging tackler in the NRL?

The verdict

Dylan Napa has lost his mantle as the game’s biggest hitter. Victor the inflicter is now the top dog of the tackling game, narrowly edging out Jorge Taufua despite the Manly winger possessing a highlight reel that has gone viral.

Napa finished a distant third ahead of Parramatta’s Junior Paulo, former Roosters teammate Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Penrith’s James Fisher-Harris, who is in the top five for the third straight year.

The surprise

Tariq Sims has missed out altogether. Perhaps suffering from being out of sight, out of mind while injured.

2019 votes: Dylan Napa (33%), Victor Radley (26%), Sam Burgess (19%), James Fisher-Harris (7%), Tariq Sims (5%)
2018 votes: Dylan Napa (33%), Sam Burgess (15%), James Fisher-Harris (13%), Jack de Belin (11%), Tariq Sims (9%)

Who is the hardest player to tackle in the NRL?

The verdict

It’s a three-peat for Jason Taumalolo, winning in a landslide ahead of Melbourne forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona.

Viliame Kikau finished in equal third place in the battle of the giants, while the fancy footwork of Kalyn Ponga and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck saw the respective fullbacks round out the top five.

The surprise

No room for Parramatta's Maika Sivo despite the winger owning a few players in recent weeks.

2019 votes: Jason Taumalolo (45%), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (17%), Viliame Kikau (10%), Kalyn Ponga (7%), Latrell Mitchell (6%)
2018 votes: Jason Taumalolo (52%), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (9%), Andrew Fifita (6%), Kalyn Ponga (5%), Greg Inglis (5%)

Who is the best sledger in the NRL?

The verdict

The retirement of Melbourne centre Will Chambers has led to his former Origin teammate Josh McGuire being recognised for the gift of the gab.

McGuire was the overwhelming winner ahead of passionate Wests Tigers five-eighth Josh Reynolds. Veteran Cameron Smith also finished among the leaders.

The surprise

Jarome Luai isn't renowned for his trash-talking, but it appears he has got under the skin of a few during his short career.

2019 votes: Will Chambers (41%), James Maloney (15%), Josh Dugan (3%), Latrell Mitchell (3%), Tariq Sims (3%)

Who do you think will win the 2020 Dally M Medal?

The verdict

While the Cowboys may be struggling, the same can't be said for their lock, Jason Taumalolo. More than half the players in the NRL believe he will go on to win this year's top individual accolade ahead of reigning champion James Tedesco.

The surprise

The Dally M leader after nine rounds, Clint Gutherson, languishing in equal fifth. If the Eels continue their winning ways, expect him to go close.

2019 votes: Cameron Munster (29%), James Tedesco (20%), Cody Walker (16%), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (11%), Cameron Smith (3%)

Apart from your team, who will win the 2020 premiership?

The verdict

The players believe it will be a Roosters-Eels grand final. The premiers remain the team to beat with 46% of votes to take out this year’s title, but Parramatta aren’t too far behind. The Eels registered 30% of votes.

The surprise

Penrith beating Melbourne for third spot came as a shock, with players also writing off the injury-depleted Raiders, preferring the Knights.

2019 votes: Roosters (49%), Rabbitohs (30%), Storm (10%), Wests Tigers (4%), Sharks (2%)

If you had to leave your club, which team would you want to sign with?

The verdict

The Roosters remain the ideal destination for off-contract players, once again pipping the Broncos and Storm for top spot as they did last year.

The Rabbitohs and Titans dropped out of the top five, replaced by Adam O’Brien’s Newcastle and Des Hasler’s Manly.

The surprise

The Broncos doing so well in the poll, despite their poor form to start 2020.

2019 votes: Roosters (27%), Storm (15%), Broncos (15%), Rabbitohs (9%), Titans (8%)