This story was first written for and published by NRL.com.
It’s time to come clean. As a Parramatta Eels fan, each week I commit a cardinal sin.
Even though the Eels have been my team since I was eight years old (and they will always be my number one team) ever since I started taking a deep interest in rugby league several years ago, I started to develop a string of second teams.
But who can possibly blame me?
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the characters that feature every week in the pantomime that is rugby league. Underdogs. Heroes. Villains. Each week these are the people that add colour to our game and make it so compelling to watch both on and off the field.
Aaron Woods is one of the reasons I have taken such a big interest in the Wests Tigers. I’ve always respected Boyd Cordner and Mitch Aubusson from the Sydney Roosters and Josh Reynolds made me enjoy watching the Canterbury Bulldogs again.
The more rugby league I watch, the more players I develop an interest in. This eventually leads me to developing a certain level of respect and interest in the teams that they play for.
Last year it was players like Nathan Ross from the Newcastle Knights, Matt Moylan from the Penrith Panthers, Jordan Rapana from the Canberra Raiders, Josh Hodgson from the Raiders, Nathan Cleary from the Panthers and Ashley Taylor from the Gold Coast Titans. I could go on.
With 10 rounds to go in this year’s competition, there have been a new group of stand-out performers this year and some players I have absolutely loved watching. I thought I would share some of them with you this week.
1. Clint Gutherson
I have a story about Clint Gutherson. When he first arrived at the Eels last year, he played on the wing and the truth is, not many Parramatta fans liked him.
Sensing an underdog story in the making, he very quickly became one of my favourite players and I have enjoyed watching him progress steadily.
But this year he has blown everyone’s minds. I would go so far as saying he is the most popular player in the NRL.
Despite being shifted around to several positions including halfback, five-eighth, wing and fullback he has demonstrated time and time again how crucial he is to the Eels attack. With nine tries, 12 line breaks, four try assists and four line break assits in 2017 so far, should the Eels make the top eight, Clint will have played a massive part in helping the team get there.
I haven’t even mentioned his hair…
On behalf of all Parramatta fans I would like to sincerely thank the Manly Sea Eagles for letting us have such a talented footballer.
2. Akuila Uate
Speaking of Manly, what a revelation Akuila Uate has been this year.
Festering away in the lower grades at the Newcastle Knights last year it was sad to watch what was once one of the most talented and exciting players in the NRL fall from grace in such a significant way.
A change in scenery has worked wonders this year.
Surrounded by some quality players like Daly Cherry-Evans, Api Koroisau and Martin Taupau, Akuila is a new player and he is reminding me of the player I loved to watch all those years ago.
In 12 games, he has already scored nine tries and made 11 line breaks.
Interestingly, with his try against the Newcastle Knights a few weeks ago, that now means that Akuila has scored a try against every single team in the NRL competition.
3. Brock Lamb
Funny that I mention the Knights, because they are one of my most improved sides this year.
I know they are still in the hunt for the wooden spoon but they are no longer the pushovers that they were last year and genuinely compete in most games for 60 minutes.
Plenty of people are critical of the Knights and I think make the mistake of bagging some of their players, just because they are towards the bottom of the ladder.
Brock Lamb is a player that I have really enjoyed watching this year. Considering Trent Hodkinson was the Knights first choice, it’s good to see a young player excelling and working hard to take control of his team.
But Brock Lamb isn’t the only exciting half in the competition this year. I’ve also enjoyed watching Matt Moylan, Cameron Munster and Gareth Widdop.
4. Paul Vaughan
Gareth Widdop and the St George Illawarra Dragons – haven’t they been a surprise packet this year?
I’m not too proud to admit that at the beginning of the year I had them picked as my wooden spooners.
Whilst they have not been as dominant in recent weeks, they were the stand out team in the opening weeks of the competition led by a monstrous forward pack including Paul Vaughan and Jack de Belin.
Paul Vaughan was so dominant in fact that many claimed he was robbed not to be picked by the New South Wales Blues for State of Origin Game I.
Quite an incredible turn around for a player that was a fringe first grader for the Canberra Raiders last year.
5. Nick Cotric
It’s fair to say that the Canberra Raiders have been one of my biggest disappointments this year – but the one shining light in their squad has been Nick Cotric.
Ricky Stuart may have re-signed recently and the majority of their squad is signed up for long-term deals, but Cotric is a player to be genuinely excited about and is my tip for rookie of the year.
I could go on. I didn’t even get the chance to mention Luke Lewis, Jack de Belin, Nathan Brown, Coen Hess, Jayden Brailey or Benji Marshall.
And while Parramatta will always be my team, I have no shame in jumping out of my seat and cheering on the rest of these outstanding footy players. At least that way, no matter the result, I always walk away feeling like a winner.