Rugby League

Best of the best: Phil Gould's NRL team of the year 2015

Obviously there is a fair bit happening in rugby league at the moment, however, at this time of year everything stops for our award ceremony. Despite the fact it is a team game, recognising the great individual performers in each category is a great talking point for all fans of the game.

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So, let's get on with it. 

Fullback of the year 

Shoo-in: Johnathan Thurston of the Cowboys.
Shoo-in: Johnathan Thurston of the Cowboys. Photo: Getty Images

Nominees: James Tedesco, Josh Dugan, Michael Gordon, Lachlan Coote 

And the winner is: 

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Photo: Getty Images


This young man could well prove to be the most dominant player in rugby league over the next decade. His performances this season since taking over the No.1 jersey at the Roosters have been nothing short of amazing. RTS tops the chart in almost every statistical category used to analyse a player in his position. He is No.1 in total runs, by a long way. He is No.1 in metres gained, again, by a long way.  He averages over 240m per match.   But what is most pleasing about Roger's development is the improvement in his passing game.  He is starting to develop the playmaking skills necessary for the modern-day fullback.  He is so powerful,  so quick and his footwork defies description.

Right winger of the year

Nominees: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Peta Hiku, Alex Johnston 

And the winner is: 

Valentine Holmes.

Valentine Holmes. Photo: Getty Images


Gee I really like this kid.  There is something about him.   He has speed to burn and a wonderful sense of anticipation.  Primarily a fullback coming through the junior grades he has had to bide his time playing on the wing for the Cronulla Sharks, but the fact he has handled this position so professionally only emphasises his long-term potential.  When he eventually moved to fullback for the Sharks I think, like  Tuivasa-Sheck, his game will go to a whole new level.  When you add to the mix his ability to kick goals, field goals and in general play,  there is no telling how valuable this player will become.  Even though he is playing out of position, Valentine is my right wing of the year. 

Left winger of the year

Nominees: Marika Koroibete, Curtis Rona, Manu Vatuvei 

And the winner is: 

Semi Radradra.

Semi Radradra. Photo: Getty Images


What a wonderful story for rugby league.  If you saw Semi interviewed on the Footy Show during the year, you will have witnessed a passionate and determined young man who is so proud to be playing in the NRL competition.  Not so much proud of himself but for his country and the youngsters who will follow in his footsteps.  I assure you that when they come to play Parramatta, every NRL coach in the league has a sleepless night wondering how they can prevent this man from scoring tries.  Big, strong, powerful and fast,  Semi has excited all fans who follow this great game. 

Right centre of the year

Nominees: Will Chambers, Blake Ferguson, Justin Hodges 

And the winner is: 

James Roberts.

James Roberts. Photo: Getty Images


This selection may surprise a few people given the other great players nominated in this category and the fact that his club team  has struggled this season.  However, I could not have been more impressed with the development of any player in this game more than young James Roberts.  We all know he has blistering speed and can score tries from anywhere on the field.  This year though his football has shown a consistent quality across the 80 minutes week to week.  He is now learning to create opportunities for others and has no fear of drifting infield looking for the ball.  This again is a wonderful story for   rugby league. I hope that one day James  tells his story because I'm sure it will be an inspiration to many youngsters.  It's not where you start,  it's where you finish that counts. 

Left centre of the year

Nominees: Steve Matai, Josh Morris, Jarrod Croker 

And the winner is: 

Michael Jennings.

Michael Jennings. Photo: Getty Images


I would say this has been Michael's best and most consistent season in rugby league. Since moving to the Roosters two seasons ago Michael has become quite the professional footballer. He has reached a new level of strength and fitness. It is obvious he puts a lot of work into his preparation.  His attacking abilities have never been questioned and he continues to display the blistering speed which keeps opposition defences on their toes in all parts of the field. Michael's defence has also improved significantly.  He has developed the ability to read the play very well and close down opposition attacking plays with an aggressive and fast-moving tackling style.  

Five-eighth of the year

Nominees: James Maloney, Gareth Widdop, Anthony Milford, Blake Austin 

And the winner is: 

Michael Morgan.

Michael Morgan. Photo: Ian Hitchcock


I agonised over this decision for some time.  I settled on Michael Morgan, though, because of his tremendous influence at the Cowboys and the fact that he broke into Origin football this year in Queensland's series win. The fact that he made the transition from fullback to five-eighth so seamlessly stamped him as a player of outstanding talent.  Michael taunts opposition defenders,not just with his speed, but with his unpredictable change of pace. You think he's going quick – then he shows you what quick really is.  

Halfback of the year

Nominees: Ben Hunt, Shaun Johnson, Benji Marshall 

And the winner is: 

Johnathan Thurston.

Johnathan Thurston. Photo: Getty Images


Spare a thought for the other players nominated in this position.  They have all had outstanding seasons for their clubs and influenced a lot of results along the way. However, there is no one equal to  Thurston in the game today.  In fact, there are very few throughout history. We are talking about one of the greatest players of all time and his name will stand alongside the past champions of our game for evermore.  The thing that has impressed me most about Johnathan this year has been his coolness under pressure.  So many times his Cowboys team has given away big starts at the opening of games, yet Thurston has never shown one sign of panic.  His leadership skills are extraordinary.  On many occasions he has single-handedly lifted his side to extraordinary comeback victories.  He is the most competitive footballer I have ever seen.  

Lock of the year

Nominees: Martin Taupau, Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho 

And the winner is: 

Corey Parker.

Corey Parker. Photo: Getty Images


Talk about getting better with age.  Corey Parker is a marvel. It is  testimony to his professionalism, commitment and desire that this man is able to continue playing such high quality football at this stage of his career.  In fact, I don't think I've ever seen him play better. This is a guy who leads from the front and his presence has been so important to the development of the younger Broncos players who are now starting to find their feet in the top grade.  His ability to create second-phase play through his brilliant offloads has been a major feature of the Broncos' attacking game. 

Right second-row of the year

Nominees: Beau Scott, Bryce Cartwright, Tyson Frizell 

And the winner is: 

Josh Jackson.

Josh Jackson. Photo: Getty Images


Plenty of contenders in this position as well, but I have settled on Josh Jackson simply because on so many occasions this year I found myself applauding some of the tremendous work he was producing.  This guy is not a one-dimensional footballer.  He has many strings to his bow.  Whether it be bruising tackling style,  covering for his teammates in the defensive line,  or churning out the tough metres with his strong runs, Josh Jackson is always a major contributor to the Bulldogs performance on any given day.   

Left second-row of the year 

Nominees: Gavin Cooper, Wade Graham, Boyd Cordner 

And the winner is: 

Sia Soliola.

Sia Soliola. Photo: Getty Images


Yes, that's right: Sia Soliola. At this point I can see your eyebrows are raised in a manner that basically questions my sanity. However, I urge you to do two things.  Firstly, go back and review the games this man has played during the course of the season.  Secondly,  interview a few of the players he has played against. I'll be surprised if he doesn't receive glowing praise. It is often the case that you find out the true value of a player when he is missing, and that has certainly been the case at the Raiders this season.  His absence has been noticeable.  We are talking about a player who regularly leads the tackle count and work rate in attack.  His runs are always incisive.  When he hits in defence, they know they have been hit. 

Front row of the year 

Nominees: Aaron Woods, Matt Scott, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Ben Matalino, James Tamou, Jake Trbojevic 

And the winners are: 

Jesse Bromwich and Sam Kasiano.

Jesse Bromwich and Sam Kasiano. Photo: Getty Images



No prizes for selecting Jesse Bromwich as one of the front-rowers of the year. Amongst his peers Jesse is probably the most respected forward in the NRL today. He is  genetically blessed with his size and athleticism. However, he just doesn't rely on his natural gifts.  This player works so hard for his team and his team mates in all facets of the game.  Big Sam Kasiano? Well, he is also genetically blessed –  and extremely talented.  I think it's fair to say that at times he does just rely on his talent rather than forcing himself to contribute to other effort areas of the game.  But I don't think there is a more damaging forward in the NRL today. He is a halfback in a front-rower's body. He has beautiful hands,  wonderful touch,  great vision and tremendous game awareness. 

Hooker of the year

Nominees: Issac Luke, Michael Ennis, Mitch Rein 

And the winner is: 

Jake Granville.

Jake Granville. Photo: Getty Images


Boom. Every now and then a player just jumps out of the ground. Jake Granville has been that player in season 2015.  He has added a whole new dimension to the Cowboys. He has been outstanding. Also showed his potential when given limited opportunities at the Broncos,  but with more exposure to the top grade at the Cowboys this young man has proven to be a dummy half of the highest order.   The thing I like most about him is that he is also so very confident in his own ability.  To be able to play his own game so instinctively, despite the fact he has the great Johnathan Thurston calling for the ball outside him, speaks volumes about the mental strength of this young man. A long career in the NRL awaits. 

Coach of the year 

Wayne Bennett.

Wayne Bennett. Photo: AAP


The boss is back in town and the Broncos have responded accordingly. 

Leader of the year 

Michael Ennis.

Michael Ennis. Photo: Getty Images


Please note, I didn't say "captain of the year". I said "leader of the year". I don't think any player in the competition has had more influence on the character and demeanour of the football team than Michael Ennis at the Sharks this season. 

There you go folks. That's my opinion. Fight over that lot. Enjoy your football.