The NRL Finals Series kicks off in few days, but before we turn our attention to the competitions best eight teams, let’s take a look at the competitions best players in their positions in 2012 and try and fit them into a starting 13.
Given the dominance that the top teams have shown this year it’s hardly surprising that 10 out of the 13 players selected below come from teams inside the top 5, and only two come from outside of the top 8.
Here is my 2012 NRL team of the season, based on players picked in their most favourable positions.
Fullback: Ben Barba (Bulldogs)
The games most electrifying player this season and Dally M favourite, Ben Barba has had a stellar season, racking up 21 tries (equal 1st), 22 line breaks (equal 2nd) and the most tackle busts in the NRL. It’s unimaginable that just 12 months ago many NRL pundits were questioning his ability to play the fullback position, given his problems with balls in the air and some lacklustre one-on-one defence. In 2012 Barba has not only excelled with the ball in hand (especially returning it from kicks), but he has also been a menace in defence against would be opposition try scorers close to the line. A joy to watch.
Wingers: Ash Graham (Cowboys) and Brett Morris (Dragons)
Ash Graham is far from the hardest working winger in the NRL, but he sticks to what he is good at and that is scoring four pointers. The natural try-scorer has linked up beautifully this season with a fully fit Brent Tait and masterful Matt Bowen. With 21 tries and 17 line breaks from 22 games Graham is impossible to ignore.
He may have started the year slower than Graham, but Brett Morris has been one of the NRL’s most consistent outside backs. Beginning the season on the wing, before moving to fullback, Morris was moved back closer to the sideline following a brilliant performance in jersey number 2 for NSW in State of Origin 3. Morris got over the stripe 14 times and broke the line on 16 occasions this year, but what has been really impressive is his run metres – the highest in the league.
Centres: Jamie Lyon (Manly) and Kane Linnett (Cowboys)
Were it not for his retirement from representative football, Jamie Lyon would be the first player picked in the centres for the Blues. The fourth highest point scorer in the competition, Lyon is just about the complete player – rock solid defensively, excellent footwork and a pure football brain that allows him to make correct decisions time after time.
One of the buys of the season, Kane Linnett has been a revelation at the Cowboys. Playing outside Jonathan Thurston, the former Rooster has developed into one of the game’s premier gap runners, scoring 12 tries and breaking the line on average once per game.
Halves: Josh Reynolds (Bulldogs) and Cooper Cronk (Storm)
Playing his first full season in the top grade, five-eighth Josh Reynolds has embodied all that is good about the Bulldogs in 2012 – skilful, enthusiastic and aggressive. His ability to run hard at the opposition’s defensive line and his support play this season have been eye catching.
While this season hasn’t been Cooper Cronk’s best, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been a very good one for the number 7. Playing behind a Storm pack that has been far from dominant, Cronk has been consistently good and finishes the 2012 regular season with the second most try assists.
Props: James Tamou (Cowboys) and Sam Burgess (Souths)
James Tamou combines a tough running style with clever footwork, meaning that it often takes three players to take the big man down. The Kiwi/New South Welshman secured the third most run metres in the NRL.
Playing with the energy of four Burgess brothers (which there will be at Souths next season), oldest brother Sam has shrugged aside a couple of injuries to have his most productive NRL season yet. Starting 2012 in the second row, the damaging Englishman has played a great part of the season in the middle of the field where he has continued to cause havoc with his strong running and brutal defence.
Hooker: Cameron Smith (Melbourne)
The games most intelligent player, Cameron Smith is both a workhorse and a magician. Consistently racking up 40 tackles a game doesn’t stop Smith from being the games most effective dummy half, controlling the pace of the game dutifully. His kicking game is also invaluable; both from inside his own half and close to the line.
Second Rowers: Frank Pritchard (Bulldogs) and Nate Myles (Titans)
Often much maligned for being a lazy edge player, Frank Pritchard has benefited most from the arrival of coach Des Hasler. This season the Kiwi international has found the mongrel that he possessed back at Penrith and has been a dominant gap runner.
One of the games most durable players, Nate Myles has played through the pain barrier for most of 2012, yet it has been one of his best seasons yet. Injury interrupted years for fellow rep players Ash Harrison, Luke Bailey and Greg Bird meant that Myles often ploughed through 80 minutes in the middle of the field. A pure workhorse.
Lock: Paul Gallen (Sharks)
No one works harder during a game than NSW captain Paul Gallen. Despite only playing 15 club games this season Gallen has achieved the 12th highest run metres in the NRL. A threat both through the middle of the field and on the edges, this year the Sharks number 13 has also added some clever ball playing responsibilities that make him a handful in all areas of the footy field.
So what are your thoughts? Which players do you disagree with and who would you have in your own NRL team of the season?
- Dogs to scoop pool at Dally M’s (news.smh.com.au)
- Captains agree it’s between Manly and Dogs (news.smh.com.au)