1. Sonny Bill Williams (LW: 1)
The man below him was the 26 Rounds Man Of The Match, but it still wasn’t enough to displace the superstar back-rower from the top slot — especially when you consider that Sonny Bill has just completed only his sixth game in five years.
He didn’t have a single offload in this one, and his work rate wasn’t especially high: just seven runs for 47 metres with 21 tackles. But 26 Rounds made the point in the match report on Monday that we can’t judge him by typical second-rower standards. He’s a hybrid back-rower/five-eighth at this stage of his career, and the results are there for everyone to see.
He had that boner-worthy cut-out for The Sheck, plus two tries and five tackle busts against his former club in a performance made all the more impressive considering the unbelievable pressure he would’ve been under.
Through a quarter of the season he has four tries, four line breaks, 11 offloads, 156 tackles and just five misses according to NRL.com, and four try assists according to SMH.
I would have no qualms if Nick Politis offered him $2 million per season, and I doubt anyone would after returning to the top of the pile as one of the top five players in the game after half a decade out of the game.
2. James Maloney (LW: 2)
The BBQ was a smidgen away from taking the number one slot in this one. He has been the best five-eighth in the league this season and is firmly in the running for the vacant number 6 jersey alongside Mitchell Pearce.
Against the Bulldogs he was the best player on the field, even with all that SBW did in that game. He scored a try, set one up, consistently threatened the line and kicked well throughout.
He and MP7 are splitting the responsibility of directing the team down the middle and it’s worked very well so far. They split the long kicking duties, but the BBQ is the ball runner who works with the left-side attack and is looked to for short kicks, while Pearce takes the line on and hits runners with short balls just before it and is relied on for bombs in the opposition 40 and chips to the wing.
3. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (LW: 3)
Poor JWH is always the bridesmaid but never the bride.
He’s been the form front rower in the game and his effort against the Dogs was one of his best, with nine runs for 91 metres with an impressive four offloads, one eventually leading to the final try for Michael Jennings.
On any other team he’d be number one, but the two chaps above him have been a shade in front overall this season. Although he really isn’t far behind.
He is the defensive anchor for this squad and through six games is averaging just under 30 tackles a match with just two misses. Just two.
His 10 offloads for the year also ranks him second in the team behind just Williams.
He’s been rewarded with a call-up to the New Zealand team, which has been six months in the making.
4. Mitchell Pearce (Last week: 5)
Mitchell Pearce is back, even though he never really left.
He is picking his spots perfectly every time, and his two late passes at the line set up the two SBW tries in the second half against the Dogs. His kicking game in the first half was a bit down by his lofty standards, but he took control in the second half when the Chooks blew them away.
He’s a backrower in defence and the most trustworthy halfback in the game close to the line — he had 21 tackles for just one miss. And his long kicking game continues to find grass almost every time, and against the dogs he kicked nine times for an amazing 394 metres, an average of 43.8 per kick. Just outstanding.
He hasn’t broken the line this year but really hasn’t needed to with the strike weapons at his disposal. His responsibility is to organise, find grass on kicks and take it to the line and put runners through. Lately he’s been doing that to near-perfection.
5. Michael Jennings (LW: 4)
Jennings and Daniel Tupou were completely ignored in the shut-out win over the Dogs. MJ ran it just six times, but still managed a try, two tackle busts and a line break, while continuing to disprove questions about his defence. He had 16 tackles for just one miss against the Dogs, and still managed to remind everyone of his pure class despite barely seeing the ball all game.
So far this season he’s had seven line breaks, two tries, 10.5 runs a game and 88 tackles for just two misses.
He spent the first two weeks atop the rankings and one silent week isn’t enough to bump him out of the top five.
6. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (LW: 7)
The Sheck’s combination with SBW out wide is a sight to behold, and the step he put on Ben Barba on Friday was good enough to get a nun horny.
He’s come along for the Roosters following a poor showing in the first round and has been near-faultless in the past five matches. It’s hard not to see the future of the fullback position being wasted on the wing, but he’s serving his apprenticeship on the wing and Mini’s earned the right over his career to first refusal at this spot.
If he keeps this up though, it’s going to be hard to keep him out of the number 1 slot.
Against the Dogs he ran it a game-high 18 times for a game-high 153 metres, with four tackle busts and five tackles (no misses) against Josh Morris and Mitch Brown.
This season alone he’s been brilliant, with an average of 115 metres made per game, four tries, 19 tackle busts, four line breaks and roughly 20 busted ankles from players trying to defend that electric step of his.
7. Jake Friend (LW: 8)
Jake Friend has made it all the way back from an early season slump when people — 26 Rounds included — were calling for more minutes for back-up Daniel Mortimer. And last week was his best game this season.
He had 26 tackles with no misses, four runs for 46 metres and two try assists using two weapons: a grubber for James Maloney and an in-and-away following a JWH offload to set up Jennings’ try out wide to close the match.
The game against the Dragons will be his 100th game — an amazing feat for a now-mature young player who found himself out of the game four years ago due to off-field indiscretions. He plays hard every single game, and that’s all you can ask from a hooker that’s no taller than most grannies.
8. Anthony Minichiello (LW: 6)
Mini had a spill attempting what we want him to do off every kick return: run it back hard. The ball just happened to bounce off his chest is all. Regardless, he’s captaining the club well and using what he has left to its maximum.
He has errors in his game, but all players do as we saw with Darius Boyd and Jarryd Hayne over the weekend — even Greg Inglis threw two balls over the sideline. On the balance of everything Mini is playing well for what he has in the tank.
RTS is still the better option, but Mini is so loved and respected by his teammates and the coaching staff that the spot is his until he retires — or he relinquishes it.
9. Boyd Cordner (LW: 10)
26 Rounds has said it before, and 26 Rounds will say it again: this guy is the future captain of this proud club.
Only one player could have two head splits and a busted shoulder which requires surgery at the end of the season and play five of six games already in 2013.
This mutherfucker be tough, yo.
He was quiet against the Dogs with just seven runs for 61 metres and 16 tackles, but it’s hard to be involved when you have blood dripping down your face like its a fuckin’ Stephen King novel.
10. Marty Kennedy (LW: NR)
Kennedy played well against the Dogs and showed fans he might be about to turn the corner. he had 10 runs for 88 metres with two tackle busts and 25 tackles without a miss in just 42 minutes.
He’s been criticised for slowing down at the line but against the Bulldogs he drove through the line several times and was one of just three forwards who hit double-digits in hit-ups: Sam Moa (12 runs for 85 metres with two errors) and Luke O’Donnell (11 runs for 91 metres). Is he back? Not quite. But his performances the last two rounds have been his best of the season following two years hampered by injuries.
Sam Moa, who falls out of the top 10 after a quiet outing against the Bulldogs and because of the superior play of Kennedy; Mitch Aubusson, who played the full 80 on Friday; and Daniel Mortimer, who had a great running game off the bench against the Dogs (eight runs for 73 metres in just 29 minutes) and scored a try with his trademark support play.