The New Daily‘s 2015 NRL Team of the Year contains only a few players from the cream of last year’s crop.
They were selected alongside a couple of buy-of-the-year contenders, a handful of emerging young guns and some established stars who enjoyed a renaissance this season.
If Johnathan Thurston has been the standout individual performer this season, Sydney Roosters fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck rates as a clear second.
The 22-year-old – in his first full year in the No.1 jumper – is redefining fullback play, combining tryscoring prowess, slick ball-playing and breathtaking clean-up work at the back with tough, mid-set carries into the teeth of the defence.
RTS has destroyed former mentor Anthony Minichiello’s NRL record for running metres in a season.
With Australia dodging post-season international competition this year, the Kiwi with the electric feet will be a Golden Boot front-runner if he can steer the Roosters to another title before starring on New Zealand’s end-of-year tour of England.
Injuries affected the usually brimming pool of fullback-of-the-year contenders in 2015, but James Tedesco and Lachlan Coote – who both returned from long layoffs in spectacular fashion this season – were the competition’s other standout custodians.
The NRL’s wingers may get a raw deal at the representative selection table with the next-best fullbacks and centres picked on the flanks instead, but the mesmerising wing-play of a host of specialists has been one of the standout features of 2015.
Destined to become a top-line fullback, Cronulla 20-year-old Valentine Holmes has rocketed into the consciousness of rugby league fans as a bona fide match-winner in the roving winger role. As well as scoring 16 regular-season tries – the first player from the dour Sharks to notch a double-figure season tally since 2008 – Holmes has kicked three game-deciding field goals and is a gifted ball-player.
Semi Radradra, a member of TND‘s 2014 Team of the Year, topped the competition’s tryscoring with 24 touchdowns in just 18 games, also eclipsing Parramatta legend Steve Ella’s long-standing club record.
Curtis Rona, Marika Koroibete, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Lachlan Maranta would have been worthy wing inclusions in any other season.
The centre selections were equally difficult to settle on – but only because there were so few genuine standouts.
Gold Coast’s James Roberts was the notable exception, coming of age with a club record-equalling 16 tries, while Melbourne gun Will Chambers gets the nod for the other berth in our Team of the Year after bagging 10-plus tries for the fifth straight season.
Michael Jennings, Blake Ferguson, Justin Hodges and Jarrod Croker all produced admirable campaigns.
Five-eighth was arguably the most hotly contested position, with Michael Morgan, James Maloney and Anthony Milford lighting up the premiership at various stages, but we’ve gone for Canberra’s Blake Austin in a photo-finish. A relatively unheralded recruit from Wests Tigers, utility-back Austin established himself as one of the NRL’s premier game-breakers, scoring 14 tries and pushing hard for NSW Origin selection with his robust running, classy ball-playing and peerless support play in the lime-green No.6 jumper.
The mercurial Johnathan Thurston is set to win the Dally M Medal in a landslide after taking his virtuoso performances to another plane in 2015. The 32-year-old co-captain has guided the Cowboys to their first top-four finish since ’07 and shapes as the most influential player of the finals.
Ben Hunt produced a fine follow-up to his breakout 2014 season, Benji Marshall turned back the clock with a mixture of consistency and individual brilliance, while Shaun Johnson produced some of the year’s most spell-binding moments before a broken ankle shattered his and the Warriors’ campaign.
The lock spot went to another Maroons old-stager, 33-year-old Brisbane stalwart Corey Parker. His extraordinary work-rate and leadership has been integral to the Broncos’ resurgence, and he just edged a trio of Kiwis – Cowboys wrecking-ball Jason Taumololo, Roosters breakout star Siosiua Taukeiaho and Tigers enforcer Martin Taupau – for the No.13.
Tyson Frizell tapered off slightly towards the end of the regular season after an injury break, but the Dragons’ powerhouse was arguably the standout forward of the first half of 2015, earning an 18th man call-up for the Blues.
Partnering Frizell in the second-row in our Team of the Year is Cronulla’s tough, durable ball-player Wade Graham, who embodies the ‘young veteran’ handle – the 24-year-old has already played 150 games. Pivotal to the Sharks’ stirring charge to the finals, Graham is a leader at his club and should be in the reckoning for an Origin debut in 2016.
Bryce Cartwright, Gavin Cooper, Sia Soliola and Josh Jackson all went desperately close to a place in this side.
The third member of the 2014 Team of the Year to return this year along with Radradra and Thurston, Jesse Bromwich has taken a stranglehold on the game’s No.1 prop mantle with his consistent, dynamic displays for Melbourne on both sides of the ball. Fellow New Zealander Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who lost ground last season after a stellar 2013, roared back into the top echelon of the NRL’s front-rowers with a brutal and brilliant campaign that was cruelly cut short by a knee injury.
Emphasising the Kiwis’ outrageous front-row depth, Sam Kasiano and Ben Matulino were strong contenders for the Team of the Year, while Origin stars Aaron Woods, Matt Scott and James Tamou all produced fine seasons, and Dylan Napa is on the cusp of a state call-up.
Two of 2015’s best buys duked it out for the hooker spot: Cronulla veteran Michael Ennis and North Queensland livewire Jake Granville. The 26-year-old Granville – who boasted just 10 first grade games for the Broncos before heading to Townsville this year – wins selection by a nose, scoring 10 tries and challenging Issac Luke as the most dangerous attacking No.9 in the NRL. He has been widely touted as the missing link in the long-suffering Cowboys’ premiership puzzle.
Hunt, Kasiano, Cartwright and Taukeiaho secured interchange berths in our Team of the Year 17.
Wayne Bennett is our coach of the year after steering the Broncos into second spot in his first season back in Brisbane after the glamour club had endured three years in the doldrums. He narrowly ousted Roosters mentor Trent Robinson, whose achievement of three minor premierships in his first three seasons as a first grade coach is unlikely to ever to be repeated.
Warriors utility-back Tuimoala Lolohea‘s sizzling late-season form in a flailing team has bumped him ahead of boom Sharks five-eighth Jack Bird in our rookie of the year calculations, while Tom Trbojevic, Cameron Munster, Solomone Kata, Albert Vete, Chris Grehvsmuhl, Kane Elgey and Reagan Campbell-Gillard round out one of the most talented rookie fields in recent memory.