Kiwileaguecentral.com is celebrating the 50 best New Zealand league players on the planet right now, with the release of our annual NZ Top 50.
* Note this list is based on Kiwi-eligible players who haven’t represented another tier-one nation, not who a player last played for at Test level. (Main photo: NRLPhotos).
50 – Zane Tetevano
One of the bargain buys of the year, Tetevano appeared in 21 games for the Roosters through the regular season, becoming a staple of their bench. Made only three errors in 2017 and was a reliable performer for coach Trent Robinson.
49 – Tuimoala Lolohea
It’s unlikely Lolohea ever saw season 2017 going this way for him, with a drawn out battle between himself and the New Zealand Warriors resulting in a lengthy stint playing reserve grade and eventual release to join the Wests Tigers. He arrived at his new club overweight and had some shockers early on, but gradually got better as his running game returned.
48 – Iosia Soliola
While many will dwell on his hit on Billy Slater, which earned him a lengthy ban, ‘Sia’ had another solid year despite his minutes at the Canberra Raiders often being reduced due to the emergence of some younger players in the pack. Soliola played 19 games and averaged 30 tackles.
47 – Gerard Beale
Hardly ever stands out, but Beale is super consistent and managed to hold down a spot in what is a very talented backline at the Cronulla Sharks. The fact that he makes minimal mistakes is why he has been signed to play for the Warriors, and why he continues to be selected at Test level
46 – Matt McIlwrick
The Canterbury product enjoyed his best season since cracking the NRL back in 2012, becoming the first-choice No.9 at the Wests Tigers and earning himself a contract extension in the process. McIlwrick averaged 27 tackles and missed only one game all year for Ivan Cleary’s side.
45 – Kenny Bromwich
Got a rare opportunity to be a starting forward in coach Craig Bellamy’s side to start the season and looked at home in the back-row. His minutes dropped off at the back end of the year, but he remained a reliable presence, whether used on the edge or in the middle of the park.
Kenny Bromwich. Credit: NRLPhotos
44 – Thomas Leuluai
Playing in the Super League these days, but Leuluai remains an NRL-quality player. Set up 11 tries for the Wigan Warriors and troubled teams with his running game, breaking 42 tackles. A classy presence whether in the halves or at hooker.
43 – Herman Ese’ese
The big boy from Mangere East started to make his mark this year, forcing his way into the starting side at the Broncos for a number of games. Ese’ese had 10 regular season games where he surpassed the century mark in yardage, and across the season averaged 10 metres per carry.
42 – Dean Whare
Managed more than 13 games for the first time since 2014, appearing predominantly at right centre for the Panthers and forming a strong edge combination with fellow Kiwis Corey Harawira-Naera and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.A sound reader in defence whose footwork in attack is a point of difference.
41 – Bryson Goodwin
An underrated back who was one of South Sydney’s most consistent in 2017. The Leigh-bound centre/wing averaged over 100 metres and scored nine tries for the Bunnies, in a backline which suffered a number of injuries and personnel movements.
40 – Benji Marshall
While it appeared to have been one of the weirdest transfers of 2017, Marshall’s move to Brisbane ended up working well for both parties. After some early injury issues, Marshall played much of the back half of the season for the Broncos off the bench, and was a starting half on six occasions. We saw some vintage Benji, which was enough to earn him a contract with the Wests Tigers for 2018.
Benji Marshall. Credit: weststigers.com.au
39 – Brad Takairangi
A reliable presence at centre, feeding ones of 2017’s best attacking weapons in Semi Radradra. While he’s not the most dangerous attacking back, the 28-year-old Kiwi international works hard out of yardage and is a strong defender.
38 – Kenny Edwards
It can be really hard to like Kenny, really hard. A professional pest and achieved agitator, he’s also a very good footballer who complimented Parramatta’s pack nicely this season when coming off the bench. Can ball play at the line and is a tough tackler.
37 – Te Maire Martin
Unwanted at Penrith, Martin made a mid-season switch to effectively become Johnathan Thurston’s replacement, and slotted in seamlessly. Has plenty of errors and missed tackles in his game, but once he finds his groove on the run he’s a real danger. Starting to fine tune his kicking game and pass selection.
2017 REVIEW | Te Maire Martin
8 line breaks
— KiwiLeagueCentral (kiwileague) October 3, 2017
36 – Addin Fonua-Blake
Appears to have sorted things off the field and is reaping the rewards on it. In his second year of first grade ‘AFB’ became an important part of the Manly bench, playing all but three games and running for over 90 metres on 13 occasions. Has a nice confrontational style which is always appreciated in a young forward.
35 – Bodene Thompson
Couldn’t match the form he displayed over the last two seasons and was at times uncharacteristically bad in defence. But Thompson continued to run excellent lines and get through plenty of work, averaging 36 tackles before tearing his pectoral in Round 21.
34 – David Fusitua
Started the year with three tries, and they kept coming in a season where he scored 12 in 24 games. While the initial plan was to use Fusitua as a centre in 2017, he was at his best when playing on the wing, averaging 123 metres per game and clocking 11 line breaks.
33 – Konrad Hurrell
It was another season somewhat disrupted by injury, but Hurrell started to show glimpses of the form that once had him tipped as a Kiwi international in the making. The powerful centre was selected in the Rugby League Players’ Association ‘Dream Team’.
32 – James Gavet
A shining light for the Warriors despite their forward pack as a whole tending to struggle most weeks. Gavet brought aggression, a quick play the ball and a desire to succeed which saw him average 112 metres per game. Had his season ended prematurely by injury but looks set to play an even bigger role for the New Zealand club in 2018.
31 – Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Very busy on the right flank, showcasing a work ethic which sets him apart from many NRL wingers. Failed to run for over 100 metres just four times in 24 games this year, and averaged a line break every two games.
30 – Danny Levi
Continued to grow despite playing in the NRL’s worst team for the third year in a row. A tough defender for his size, Levi has improved his vision and running out of dummy-half this year and was duly rewarded with a Test debut at the World Cup.
Danny Levi. Credit: NRLPhotos
29 – Corey Harawira-Naera
Burst onto the scene and quickly commanded a place in the Penrith line-up each week. A dynamic edge runner who broke the line 12 times in 22 games. Few second-rowers presented the threat ‘CHN’ did near the line this season.
28 – Jordan Kahu
Mr reliable on the wing for Wayne Bennett at the Broncos, playing 25 games and scoring nine tries. Brave under the high ball, Kahu is the guy you want defusing aerial threats, and anytime he is fit he should be a first-choice option for the Kiwis.
27 – Sosaia Feki
Now a frontline NRL winger, where his strike rate of a try every second game stands up with a number of bigger names. The 26-year-old carried for over 90 metres in 20 of 24 games for the Sharks.
26 – Alex Glenn
Asked to play a few different roles for the Broncos this year, but seems to get the job done in any circumstances these days. The talented Northcote junior averaged over 26 tackles per game and 106 metres and was a genuine threat on the ball, breaking the line nine times.
25 – Suaia Matagi
Big Suaia had his most consistent season in the top grade, becoming a staple of the Parramatta pack. It was the first season where he really showed the hardened edge required by NRL bookends, playing 26 games and averaging a touch under 100 metres per game.
24 – Isaac Liu
A productive middle presence whether coming off the bench or starting at lock or prop. Liu does most of the technical aspects of forward play well and gets to a quick play the ball more often than not. Made only eight errors across 22 club appearances and earned a Kiwis call-up.
23 – Joseph Tapine
Took strong club form into the Kiwis’ camp for the World Cup and was one of their better forwards. At his best when encouraged to offload, Tapine was used both as a middle and edge forward in 2017.
22 – Nelson Asofa-Solomona
Arguably the breakout Kiwi of 2017, this Wellington-born colossus played a leading role in Melbourne winning the Premiership and then backed it up by being arguably New Zealand’s best players at the World Cup, where he averaged 140 metres per game.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Credit: NRLPhotos
21 – Leeson Ah Mau
He gets hardly any plaudits, but Ah Mau is one of the most impressive forwards in the NRL when it comes to his output to error ratio. In 24 games this year he made just four errors and missed only 18 tackles, while making 593. Not just a safe option, the 27-year-old also averaged well over 100 metres per game.
20 – Ben Matulino
One of the Warriors’ best forwards in 2017, with 100-metre plus games the norm for ‘Ben 10’. Played some big minutes and showed glimpses of the form which at one stage had him ranked among the world’s best props.
19 – Issac Luke
It certainly wasn’t one of his better years in the NRL, but even at his 2017 levels ‘Bully’ is one of the best rakes in New Zealand. Averaged over 30 tackles per game, with his work ethic off the ball his best attribute lately.
18 – Kevin Proctor
Only managed 16 games due to suspension and injury, but led from the front for the Titans on both sides of the footy. On his day he remains one of the better gap-running forwards in the competition.
17 – Jason Nightingale
The St George Illawarra veteran had some massive games this year, twice scoring hat-tricks of tries on his way to a season haul of 16. Whether at fullback or wing, ‘Gypsy’ was superb and averaged 140 metres per game.
16 – Tohu Harris
Missed the first nine games of the year through injury, but made an immediate difference to the Melbourne Storm when he returned. Averaged 116 run metres and 30 tackles, but perhaps more importantly added another edge to his side through his ability to ball play and promote second phase.
15 – Adam Blair
Worked hard all year in the middle for Brisbane, while his aggressive approach was often a key part of his side nullifying opposition halves. Earned a big money retirement package at the Warriors, where it remains to be seen if he can make a difference for the Auckland battlers.
14 – Russell Packer
Started 2017 as one of the best front-rowers in the whole competition, carrying the ball like a man possessed. While he couldn’t match it in the back part of the season, this was one arguably Packer’s best effort at NRL level.
13 – Kieran Foran
Managed only 17 games thanks to his start-of-season suspension and a number of subsequent injuries, but still showed his class on a number of occasions. Set up 10 tries and averaged 82 running metres, despite his hamstring never looking 100 per cent. Looks a great addition for the Bulldogs in 2018.
12 – Manu Ma’u
Now a certain starter every week for Parramatta, where his consistency and workrate are features. Averaged 10 metres per carry across the year, making 24 appearances for Parra.
11 – Sio Siua Taukeiaho
Missed the first two months of the competition while recovering from injury, but wasted no time when he got back to action. In games where he played more than 30 minutes, ‘SST’ never once failed to run for under 100 metres, almost always averaging well in excess of 10 metres per carry. An absolute beast who could be anything in 2018.
10 – Elijah Taylor
The Wests Tigers’ best player in 2017, whether at lock, second row or hooker, Taylor did his job to perfection with a huge work rate in defence. To go with 42 average tackles per game, the 27-year-old Hawera product made just seven errors in 21 games.
9 – Kodi Nikorima
We finally got a decent look at Nikorima in the halves this season, and it’s where he played his best footy, combining his dynamic skillset with improved set management. A genuine game-breaker now, particularly late in halves when forwards start to tire, Brisbane’s No.7 jersey is his to lose in 2018.
Kodi Nikorima. Credit: NRLPhotos
8 – Jesse Bromwich
Despite his well-publicised off-field indiscretion, Bromwich enjoyed another strong year in the middle for Melbourne, where he averaged over 10 metres per carry to maintain his standing as one of the game’s elite props. Ran for over 100 metres in every game where he played more than 25 minutes, and was huge for the Storm come finals time.
7 – Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Frustratingly we still didn’t get to see the best of ‘JWH’ at Test level, but for the Roosters he was a clear standout in 2017. Often playing close to an hour on the field, he was a consistent source of go-forward this year and hade some huge games where he was far and away the best player on the park.
6 – Martin Taupau
On his day one of the most destructive forwards in the world, Taupau was immense for Manly this year in the engine room. In 13 of his 22 games he powered through for over 150 metres, and when he turned it on few could do anything to stop the roll. Backed it up with a solid campaign for the Kiwis at the World Cup.
5 – Simon Mannering
If just half of his club teammates could match Mannering’s 2017 effort, they would have made the finals with a month to spare. Topped the Warriors tackle count with over 200 more than the next closest player (averaging 45 a game), carried for more than any other forward at the club and at 31 years of age continues to be one of the best in the business.
4 – Jordan Rapana
The best winger in the NRL. Scores tries other people can’t, does it more often than most, and can create line breaks for himself or others on any part of the field. In 23 games Rapana scored 21 tries, made 24 line breaks and ran for under 90 metres just twice.
3 – Shaun Johnson
He will always cop unfair criticism when his team struggles, due to the ridiculous idea that he should be breaking the line every game while also managing it like Cooper Cronk. The reality is Johnson is the most important player on the Warriors’ roster and prior to his injury this year had been performing. He laid on 17 try assists in 18 games for a really bad team.
Shaun Johnson. Credit: NRLPhotos
2 – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
A relentless force at the back for both club and country this year. Tuivasa-Sheck had only 10 games all year where he ran for under 200 metres, while he had a hand in 18 tries in 23 appearances. Had plenty of errors in his game this year, but the massive upside you almost always get with ‘RTS’ easily outweighs that. The 24-year-old was one of the Kiwis’ best at the World Cup as well.
1 – Jason Taumalolo
No forward in the world came close to having the impact Taumalolo did this year. Over 26 games the south-Auckland raised powerhouse averaged 206 metres run per game, carrying the ball for 11 metres on average every single time he took a run. Taumalolo was the main reason North Queensland were able to defy the odds and make it through to the NRL Grand Final, excelling as the pressure came on following a host of injuries to other frontline players. After choosing to represent Tonga over the Kiwis, Taumalolo dragged his form over to the World Cup to be one of the best forwards at the tournament.