Updated: Feb 10, 2022
1. Nathan Cleary
Statistically, Cleary is by far the most dominant player currently in the NRL. What makes him remarkable is his ability to score across multiple scoring categories. He dominates the kicking responsibilities in the Penrith Panthers line-up, which is reflected in him having the highest kicking metres in the competition, despite missing nine rounds. Further, he kicks goals, sets up tries consistently, averages over 100m a game and busts tackles. This broad spectrum of scoring opportunities and a dominant Panthers line-up means that Cleary will be the most sought-after player in the 2022 NRL season.
2. Daly Cherry-Evans
It was quite a tight battle for the 2nd spot; however, it must go to Cherry-Evans. The start of the 2022 season was rough and cannot solely be attributed to the lack of his star fullback. In the first 12 rounds of the season, DCE failed to create a single try assist in 9 of those games. However, his form after the first state of origin game was a stark contrast. In his next 10 appearances, DCE generated 18 try assists and generated at least one try assist in 9 of those games. This second half of the season also saw a significant reduction in missed tackles, and an increase in metres gained. This alongside his ability to back up from origin duties cements his place in the number two spot.
3. Tom Trbojevic
2021’s Dally M player of the year produced one of the most dominant runs of form during the regular season of the NRL. Coming back into a Manly team that had one of the worst starts in NRL history, there was an immediate change in fortunes for the club with his re-introduction in round 6 with 1 try, 2 try-assists, 2 line breaks, and 2 line break assists. While some categorised this as just a strong display against a weak Titans outfit, Trbojevic continued this form against the rest of the NRL, racking up 25 tries, 27 try assists, 35 line breaks, 30 line break assists and 105 tackle busts in only 15 rounds. This run of form eventually led to him becoming the most viable captaincy option in the post-origin period. However, what places him lower on the list is his inability to gain kick metres like those higher on the list, and uncertainty over whether he will be able to replicate the sustained injury-free run that he was able to achieve in 2021.
4. David Fifita
David Fifita had some of the most contrasting performances throughout the NRL. On his day, he looked like he was playing a different game to the rest, however, there were games where you forgot he was even on the field. Yet putting this into perspective, this was only Fifita’s third full season in the NRL, and he is only 21. On top of this, statistically, this was Fifita’s best season with a league-high 155 tackle breaks and 17 tries (the first forward to do so since Steve Menzies in 1998). The increased scrutiny comes from his staggering $1.2 million a season, but statistically, Fifita is delivering and looks to improve on his 2021 season with another big jump in performance. Yet Fifita is ranked lower than the others on this list due to uncertainty over his role for 2022. His tendency to drift in and out of games cost him a starting spot in the second half of 2021, with Titans Coach Justin Holbrook deciding to have Fifita on the bench and limit his minutes. Whether this continues remains to be seen, but don’t be too surprised if he races up this list during the 2022 season.
5. Ryan Papenhuyzen
Papenhuyzen seems to be a forgotten man during the 2021 season, he was arguably one of the best in the first 5 rounds (despite missing round 2). He scored 7 tries, kicked 20 goals, created 4 try assists, 6 line breaks, 3 line break assists, and made 21 tackle busts (all in four rounds). Yet his season was derailed by his battle with concussion, and he was a shadow of himself until the last round of the season. Hopefully, a sustained run of games in 2022 will see Papenhuyzen back to his best.
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