This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
Today The Roar continues its countdown of the top 50 NRL players with 20 through to 11.
Compiling my top 50 was exceptionally difficult so it has been fascinating to see how my list, combined with the list of the other experts, has turned out. Suffice to say after seeing the results, it’s clear that I missed a couple of players – and that other rugby league experts think much higher of Blake Ferguson and Darius Boyd than I do.
So here’s the next instalment of The Roar’s top 50 players. How many of them make your list?
20: Wade Graham
Graham can defend with force, run great lines on the edge, make a hit up five metres off his line, and bend the defence back – all while having the skills of a half, with a great kicking game and ball-playing ability.
In 2018, Graham needs to demand the ball more and take some pressure off his new left-edge half, Matt Moylan.
Expect to see him starting in a Blues jersey.
19: Josh Hodgson
The crafty dummy half set the NRL alight in 2016 with his ability to create opportunities for himself and his array of dangerous support players.
Hodgson would have been hoping to have a big 2018 but his plans have been affected significantly on the back of an ACL tear during the World Cup. He will be hoping the Raiders are still in finals contention when he returns towards the middle of the year.
18: Josh Jackson
Jackson is a tough, rugged defender who runs good lines and plays hard for 80 minutes, including at a representative level.
At times his lack of speed can hamper the Bulldogs when they attack an edge, but he’s suited to play in the middle.
In 2018, Jackson will play with the (c) next to his name and if the Dogs are to have a resurgence, the skipper will be a big factor.
17: James Graham
Graham is the kind of tenacious leader who would run through a brick wall if it meant he could win a game of football. He was criticised for getting in the way of the Bulldogs halves, but he does have some sneakily good ball-playing skills.
This year, the Englishman has a great opportunity to help the Dragons play with a bit more mongrel. Fans will be looking to him to help push the Red V to the next level in the finals.
16: James Maloney
A player that has to be admired for his calmness under pressure and his ability to make clutch plays, Maloney heads to the Panthers to partner one of the game’s hottest prospects in Nathan Cleary.
Maloney will have plenty of responsibility at Penrith and it will fascinating to see if he can steer his new teammates to a grand final win – like he has done multiple times before.
15: Cameron Munster
Munster’s performance in Game 2 of Origin last year was one of my favourites of 2017. He can play fullback, centre and five-eighth, is a strong ball runner, has great speed, and begins plenty of Melbourne’s second-phase play.
I can’t wait to see him with his hands on the ball more, as he eases the pressure on Brodie Croft.
14: Daly Cherry-Evans
Cherry-Evans probably did not get the accolades he deserved for his performances in 2017. What always impresses me is, despite his average game management, he has an uncanny ability to create something out of nothing.
DCE will be without Blake Green this season, so he needs to get more involved and not remain perched on the right edge. Should he perform to the best of his ability, he is a front runner to replace Johnathan Thurston for the Maroons.
13: Andrew Fifita
Fifita is a Jekkyl and Hyde player. He can be the most destructive front rower in the game, then struggle to make an impact. He’s at his best when he runs directly at the line with late footwork and that giant fend, rather than drifting sideways and trying to run around defences.
This shapes as a make-or-break year – he’ll have a big say in how the Sharks perform as the main force in an ageing pack, and needs to work hard to keep his Blues jersey with plenty of players ready to take his place.
12: Anthony Milford
I did not include Milford in my list – by error – so it should tell you how highly he was ranked by the other experts that he just missed the top ten.
Milford showed tremendous maturity last year when asked to guide the Broncos around as a result of injuries and form dips. He is a clever five-eighth with great footwork and a short kicking game that is a pleasure to watch.
With Ben Hunt now at the Dragons and Kodi Nikorima partnering him in the halves, 2018 will see Milford be Brisbane’s game manager. He should earn another opportunity to play Origin.
11: Shaun Johnson
Based on raw skill and talent, there are few in the game better than the Warriors halfback. He’s an electrifying ball runner with a kicking game capable of single-handedly turning a game on its head.
The only reason he wasn’t in each expert’s top ten is likely because he can be injury prone and does have a habit of drifting in and out of games.
Johnson will be paired with a capable game manager in Blake Green this season, which should allow him to play his natural role – bamboozling defensive lines and causing havoc for the opposition.