Just eight clubs remain in the running for the 2017 NRL premiership after the home-and-away season came to a thrilling conclusion on Sunday.
It has been a year dominated by the Melbourne Storm, as shown in The New Daily’s fourth annual NRL Team of the Year.
Putting their heads together to select this year’s side were rugby league authors and The New Daily journalists Will Evans and Andrew Marmont and they were joined by The Guardian’s Nick Tedeschi and rugby league historian Andrew Ferguson to complete the difficult task.
TND‘s 2017 Team of the Year
1) Tom Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
2) Suliasi Vunivalu (Melbourne Storm)
3) Will Chambers (Melbourne Storm)
4) James Roberts (Brisbane Broncos)
5) Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm)
6) Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons)
7) Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly Sea Eagles)
8) Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra Dragons)
9) Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm)
10) Scott Bolton (North Queensland Cowboys)
11) Angus Crichton (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
12) Matt Gillett (Brisbane Broncos)
13) Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)
Bench: Nathan Cleary (Penrith), Billy Slater (Melbourne), Boyd Cordner (Sydney), Josh McGuire (Brisbane Broncos)
How it was decided
Manly’s 20-year-old full-back Tom Trbojevic was one of just two players to keep his spot from 2016, edging out Melbourne icon Billy Slater for the coveted position.
Slater’s teammates had more luck, though, with wing pairing Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr – who combined for 42 tries in 2017 – winning selection ahead of Jordan Rapana and Jason Nightingale.
Freakish Fijian Vunivalu, the NRL’s top try-scorer for the second season running with 23, was picked by all four judges, while Addo-Carr collected two votes.
In the most contentious selection battle, Melbourne’s Will Chambers and Brisbane’s James Roberts won centre spots with two votes apiece, while Dylan Walker, Latrell Mitchell, Dane Gagai and Jarrod Croker got one each.
St George Illawarra linchpin Gareth Widdop, a member of our inaugural 2014 Team of the Year, polled three votes to Cameron Munster’s one to snare the five-eighth spot.
No.7 opponents in this weekend’s elimination final – and potentially next year’s Origin series – Daly Cherry-Evans tipped out Nathan Cleary for the halfback role after a countback.
A clear-cut choice at hooker, Cameron Smith joined teammate Vunivalu as the only other unanimous pick by our judges.
The Storm skipper looks certain to clinch his second Dally M Medal in a 2017 campaign already saturated with remarkable milestones.
Marquee prop Jesse Bromwich’s three-year streak of being named in our NRL Team of the Year was halted by reborn Dragons recruit Paul Vaughan, named by three of the four judges, and veteran Scott Bolton, who took on the role as the Cowboys’ front-row leader following a slew of injuries to earn two votes.
It was a close-fought battle in the second-row stakes, but with two starting team votes each Souths tearaway Angus Crichton and Broncos stalwart Matt Gillett claimed Team of the Year nods – ahead of Boyd Cordner, Felise Kaufusi, Coen Hess and Luke Lewis.
Manly No.13 Jake Trbojevic, who debuted for Australia and NSW in the past 12 months, was a standout choice at lock in our 2017 line-up, winning favour with three experts and getting a bench vote from a fourth.
Like his brother, Jake was also in TND’s 2016 side.
Slater, Cleary, Cordner and Broncos forward Josh McGuire were awarded interchange spots as the most-voted players that missed selection in the starting XIII.
Unsurprisingly, runaway minor premiers the Storm were the best represented club with five players, while the Sea Eagles and Broncos had three each.
New South Wales claimed state bragging rights with eight eligible players to Queensland’s seven.
Fiji’s Vunivalu and Englishman Widdop made up a record-low international contingent, with at least six non-Australians winning selection from 2014-16.