Buzz's NRL Top 50: Million-dollar stars can’t make the cut
Pick a list of the top 50 players in the NRL shouldn't be that hard.
You begin by selecting stars from State of Origin, the Kangaroos, Tonga, the Kiwis and England.
You then check out each club for their million-dollar players, who should be automatic inclusions.
James Tedesco, Jason Taumalolo, Cameron Smith, Tom Trbojevic, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Daly Cherry-Evans pick themselves and dominate the top 10.
Yet it's not that simple.
You get to big-money playmakers like Ben Hunt, Ash Taylor, Kieran Foran and Anthony Milford and it's not even a tough call - they're out.
These guys are earning $20,000 a week but can't make the cut. In some cases they are not even close.
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Hunt might be a regular in the Queensland State of Origin team and Mal Meninga's Kangaroos but on club form for St George Illawarra he has done nothing to justify his $1.2 million salary.
In fact, nowhere near it. Neither has Milford at the Broncos or Taylor on the Gold Coast.
Foran at least can blame a shocking run with injuries at his past three clubs, the Eels, Warriors and Bulldogs. He has missed more than 60 games in the past four seasons.
Others on the big bucks - Josh Dugan ($900,000), Shaun Johnson ($850,000), Jack Bird ($800,000), and Darius Boyd ($800,000) - have missed out too.
Last week on the Gold Coast we spoke to new Titans coach Justin Holbrook about the pressure of being a million-dollar man on his playmaker, Taylor.
Holbrook had no doubt the 24-year-old halfback could still provide value for money and steer the Titans off the bottom of the ladder this year.
"We all know Ash had a number of issues last year in his personal life," Holbrook said. "But he's been terrific for the whole pre-season.
"He's got his enjoyment back for rugby league and he's ready to go."
There has been a massive changeover of players - 22 from last year's top 50 are not included.
Seven of them have retired or left the NRL - Cooper Cronk, Sam Burgess, James Maloney, Greg Inglis, Jordan Rapana, Gareth Widdop and Paul Gallen.
Now we have three players in the top 10 who were not even in the top 50 last year - Josh Papalii, David Fifita and Jack Wighton (pictured).
Sharks front-rower Andrew Fifita suffered the biggest fall of any player still in the NRL - from 15th last year to missing out altogether.
The likes of Papalii, Payne Haas, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Addin Fonua-Blake are now clearly better front-rowers.
The list again highlights the fact that the salary cap is not working.
The Wests Tigers and Canterbury Bulldogs don't have a player. You could argue to include Luke Brooks, Benji Marshall, Josh Jackson, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak or Will Hopoate.
They were all close.
The Titans, Dragons and Warriors have only one player, while the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm dominate with seven each.
The difference is their million-dollar men are aiming up.
BUZZ'S TOP 50 NRL PLAYERS
50. Bronson Xerri (Sharks)
Position: Centre Supercoach 2019 avg: 56
Buzz says: Blinding speed and acceleration. Scored 13 tries and had 75 tackle busts in debut season. Potential top-20 player - hopefully at the Sharks, not the Roosters.
49. Jarrod Croker (Raiders)
Position: Centre Supercoach avg: 53
Buzz says: Never seen him have an off day. The most consistent player in the NRL. Set to become only the seventh player in history to score 2000 points.
48. Clint Gutherson (Eels)
Position: Fullback Supercoach avg: 57
Buzz says: Gets better every year with his leadership at Parramatta. Made a career-high 140 metres per game and 17 try assists last season.
47. Blake Ferguson (Eels)
Position: Wing Supercoach avg: 54
Buzz says: Returns the football from kicks better than any winger in the competition. Has scored 10-plus tries in each of the past eight seasons.
46. Nathan Cleary (Panthers)
Position: Halfback Supercoach avg: 68
Buzz says: Much-maligned, like all NSW halfbacks, but a quality player and great goalkicker. Scored four tries against the Knights last year.
45. Adam Reynolds (Rabbitohs)
Position: Halfback Supercoach avg: 55
Buzz says: Could go to another level after being made captain. Has forced more dropouts than any other player in past three seasons.
44. Jai Arrow (Titans)
Position: Lock Supercoach avg: 62
Buzz says: Nothing flashy but a rising star among middle forwards and great work ethic. Had a second straight season of 125-plus metres and 26 plus tackles per game.
43. Marty Taupau (Sea Eagles)
Position: Prop Supercoach avg: 61
Buzz says: He's a really tough man. For a fourth straight season he made 135-plus metres and 20 plus tackles per game last year.
42. Kotoni Staggs (Broncos)
Position: Centre Supercoach avg: 48
Buzz says: Classy player. Had a strong finish to the season, scoring 11 tries and making nine linebreaks in his final 13 games.
41. Nick Cotric (Raiders)
Position: Centre Supercoach avg: 40
Buzz says: Powerful ball runner who made his Origin debut last season and helped the Raiders to their first grand final in 25 years.
40. Brandon Smith (Storm)
Position: Utility Supercoach avg: 46
Buzz says: On All Stars form you'd put him higher. Career best in almost every statistical category, including runs (221), run metres (2058), tackle busts (43) and tackles (505).
39. Dale Finucane (Storm)
Position: Lock Supercoach avg: 56
Buzz says: Mr Consistent. Equal-best 2992 run metres in a season, career-best 25 tackle busts last season.
38. Josh Addo-Carr (Storm)
Position: Wing Supercoach avg: 53
Buzz says: Lightning speed and acceleration and the best finisher in the game. Last year was his third consecutive season scoring 16 tries or more
37. Michael Morgan (Cowboys)
Position: Five-eighth Supercoach avg: 51
Buzz says: Had a relatively quiet 2019 but still managed to set up 21 tries. His combination with Holmes is crucial to the Cowboys' chances.
36. Dave Klemmer (Knights)
Position: Prop Supercoach avg: 61
Buzz says: Still a powerhouse up front. Had more than 3300 run metres for a fourth consecutive season, a career-best 30 tackles per game last season.
35. Victor Radley (Roosters)
Position: Lock Supercoach avg: 52
Buzz says: Put on size that will make him even better. A big hitter and dangerous ball carrier. Career best in run metres (1542), try assists (6) and tackles (879) last season.
34. Josh Hodgson (Raiders)
Position: Hooker Supercoach avg: 54
Buzz says: A crafty playmaker, solid defender and the king of the one-on-one steal - he had 14 last season and the next most was five.
33. Jesse Bromwich (Storm)
Position: Prop Supercoach avg: 49
Buzz says: One of the toughest and most consistent front-rowers in the competition. One of four players to run more than 27,000 metres in the past decade.
32. Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm)
Position: Prop Supercoach avg: 53
Buzz says: Surprisingly agile for a giant man. Set personal bests for metres gained, linebreaks, offloads and tackles last season.
31. Mitchell Moses (Eels)
Position: Halfback Supercoach avg: 62
Buzz says: Finally the Eels have found their next Peter Sterling who could end their almost 40-year title drought. Had a competition-leading 31 try assists in 2019.
30. Cody Walker (Rabbitohs)
Position: Five-eighth Supercoach avg: 65
Buzz says: In amazing form before Origin last year. Would have made top 10 from form in first eight rounds. Finished season with 16 tries, 21 try assists, 12 forced dropouts.
29. Addin Fonua-Blake (Sea Eagles)
Position: Prop Supercoach avg: 66
Buzz says: Bends the line every time he charges into it and hugely underrated. Set a career-high in just about every stat in 2019.
28. Maika Sivo (Eels)
Position: Wing Supercoach avg: 59
Buzz says: An excitement machine on the wing for the Eels with 22 tries in his debut season. No wonder they are comparing him with Eric Grothe.
27. Val Holmes (Cowboys)
Position: Fullback Supercoach avg: N/A
Buzz says: Would be higher up list but for his year off in the US. Back in the NRL and ready to take the comp by storm again. Scored 22 tries in 26 games in 2018.
26. Mitchell Pearce (Knights)
Position: Halfback Supercoach avg: 49
Buzz says: Finally got his Origin victory last year and will become a 300-gamer in 2020. Had 20 try assists and 14 forced dropouts last season.
25. Wade Graham (Sharks)
Position: Second-row Supercoach avg: 57
Buzz says: Missed most of last season with a knee injury but returned in round 20 to help Cronulla qualify for the finals with four wins in the final six games.
24. Tyson Frizell (Dragons)
Position: Second-row Supercoach avg: 47
Buzz says: Carried injuries last season but still the best forward for the Dragons. Has averaged 10-plus runs and 24-plus tackles per game for the past five seasons.
23. John Bateman (Raiders)
Position: Second-row Supercoach avg: 72
Buzz says: A cult hero in Canberra after just one season. Averages 105 metres, 32 tackles and three tackle busts per game. Class player.
22. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Roosters)
Position: Prop Supercoach avg: 57
Buzz says: Vital component in Roosters' back-to-back titles. Made 130 metres per game last year.
21. Billy Kikau (Panthers)
Position: Second-row Supercoach avg: 58
Buzz says: Would be top 10 if he injected himself more. Had injuries last season but is a rampaging ball runner when fit. Averaged 113 metres and 22 tackles last season.
20. Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)
Position: Lock Supercoach avg: 63
Buzz says: Archetype of modern-day work horse. One of four players last season to make more than 1000 tackles. Plays 80 minutes, week in, week out. Tough and hard.
19. Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)
Position: Halfback Supercoach avg: 62
Buzz says: Top playmaker, top leader. Had career-best try assists last season (25) and equal best in linebreak assists (21, 2017).
18. Joseph Manu (Roosters)
Position: Centre Supercoach avg: 49
Buzz says: A really tough and top-quality centre who will get a lot more attention now Latrell Mitchell has departed. Career best in run metres last season (2390m).
17. Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)
Position: Fullback Supercoach avg: 77
Buzz says: Manly won 10 of the 12 games he played last season and five of 14 he didn't. Had 15 linebreaks in 12 games.
16. Cameron Murray (Rabbitohs)
Position: Lock Supercoach avg: 69
Buzz says: Class young player. Never slows down. Big boots to fill with departure of Sam Burgess but showed he is up to the task. Made Test and Origin debuts.
15. Payne Haas (Broncos)
Position: Prop Supercoach avg: 78
Buzz says: Big, strong, blockbusting runner. Broke more tackles (91) and made more metres (3694) than any other forward last season. Has deadly combination with Fifita.
14. Cameron Munster (Storm)
Position: Five-eighth Supercoach avg: 69
Buzz says: One of the first chosen for Queensland and Australia. Career-high tries (8) and try assists (20) last season. Will be the Storm's main man when Smith retires.
13. Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Roosters)
Position: Prop Supercoach avg: 58
Buzz says: Has established himself as one of the game's premier middle forwards. Averaged career-high run metres last season (139 per game).
12. Damien Cook Rabbitohs
Position: Hooker Supercoach avg: 76
Buzz says: The best dummy-half runner in the game. He had 20 try assists last year - double his previous best season.
11. Latrell Mitchell (Rabbitohs)
Position: Fullback Supercoach avg: 70
Buzz says: Best player in the world on his day but needs to prove it week in, week out in new position at a new club.
10. Josh Papalii (Raiders)
Position: Prop Supercoach avg: 65
Buzz says: Ricky Stuart called him the "best middle forward in the game" last season. It was coach bias, but 2019 was his best season. Ran a career-high 3597 metres.
9. David Fifita (Broncos)
Position: Second row Supercoach avg: 54
Buzz says: The most explosive young forward in the game. Busted 31 tackles in two games at the back end of last season. No wonder everyone is chasing him.
8. Boyd Cordner (Roosters)
Position: Second-row Supercoach avg: 55
Buzz says: Has captained back-to-back Origin and premiership victories and leads the Kangaroos. Six straight seasons of 110-plus metres and 20-plus tackles a game.
7. Jack Wighton (Raiders)
Position: Five-eighth Supercoach avg: 53
Buzz says: Charges into the top 10 after missing a top-50 spot last season. Capped off a great year with a Clive Churchill Medal. Unbelievable competitor.
6. Luke Keary (Roosters)
Position: Five-eighth Supercoach avg: 61
Buzz says: Three-time premiership winner who had another great season in 2019. Career-high numbers for try assists (28) and forced dropouts (16).
5. Kalyn Ponga (Knights)
Position: Fullback Supercoach avg: 68
Buzz says: Most electrifying player in the game with all the skills. Can bob up anywhere from fullback. Last year got 11 tries, 11 try assists and 19 linebreaks.
4. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors)
Position: Fullback Supercoach avg: 71
Buzz says: What a quality player. Is unstoppable at his best with speed and the finest sidestep in the game. Dally M champ in 2018 and continues to chalk up big numbers - 14 try assists and 16 linebreaks in 2019. The only Warrior on the list, which shows the type of pressure he faces every week.
3. Cameron Smith (Storm)
Position: Hooker Supercoach avg: 74
Buzz says: Has achieved everything there is to do in the game, but just keeps on going to remain on top after 411 games at 36 years of age. Made his 15,000th NRL tackle last season and still had time to set up 17 tries and force 19 dropouts. Was No.1 in our list last year and has only dropped marginally.
2. Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)
Position: Lock Supercoach avg: 78
Buzz says: The hardest man to stop in the game with his powerful surges in the middle or on the edge. Averaged 165-plus metres for four straight seasons. Has almost single-handedly turned Tonga into a tier-one nation in a massive boost for international rugby league. An inspiration for the Cowboys.
1. James Tedesco (Roosters)
Position: Fullback Supercoach avg: 84
Buzz says: Genuine champion. Career-high tries (18) and linebreaks (30) last season while busting easily the most tackles (136) and setting up 15 tries. Fast becoming an all-time great of the game with two premiership titles and two straight Origin series wins … plus a Dally M Medal. Says he is still improving. Watch out!