Sport NRL 2021: Halfback power rankings 16-1

04:25  13 september  2021
04:25  13 september  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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The regular season is done and dusted, and now it's time to look back at how some of the great individuals in the NRL performed in 2021.

Nathan Cleary, Jahrome Hughes and Adam Reynolds all had stellar seasons in the halves, while some other No.7s struggled for form.

Sporting News will be ranking all positions throughout the season, starting with the fullbacks below.

(Rankings are based solely on 2021 regular season performances and who played the most games for their club in that particular position).

16. Kyle Flanagan - Bulldogs

13 games - 4 try assists, 4 linebreak assists, 5 forced dropouts, 26 metres per game

Lorenzo Insigne et al. posing for the camera: Kyle Flanagan © Provided by Sporting News Kyle Flanagan

It's been a tough 12 months for Flanagan - he was axed by the Roosters after a solid first season at the club, and his form at the Bulldogs may have shown why Trent Robinson made that decision.

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He started the year as the first-choice halfback, but midway through the season things became shaky and Trent Barrett dropped him.

From there, Flanagan was in and out of the Bulldogs' lineup, and his spot in the side looks in severe jeopardy in 2022 with Matt Burton arriving.

The 23-year-old has been criticised for his running game, averaging the least amount of metres per game of any halfback in the NRL this year.

15. Brodie Croft - Broncos

12 games - 3 try assists, 5 linebreak assists, 1 forced dropouts, 57 metres per game

a man with a football ball on a field playing frisbee: Brodie Croft © Provided by Sporting News Brodie Croft

Not a great year for Croft, shuffled in and out of a revolving door of halfbacks under Kevin Walters.

The 24-year-old was a part of three of Brisbane's victories throughout the season, and while he showed glimpses of the player we know he can be, it simply wasn't consistent enough.

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Croft has now been let go by the Broncos and will move to the Super League in 2022, which could be exactly what the doctor ordered to get him back to his best.

Case in point is someone like Jackson Hastings, who moved overseas at a similar age and will return to the NRL next year with the Tigers.

14. Tom Dearden - Cowboys

17 games - 7 tries, 4 try assists, 3 linebreak assists, 80 metres per game

Wout Weghorst et al. watching a football game: Tom Dearden © Provided by Sporting News Tom Dearden

A strange year for Dearden, who was part of a mid-season merry-go-round and found himself at the Cowboys.

He had some good games, some indifferent games and some bad games at both Brisbane and North Queensland, but still

The 20-year-old is a great support player and isn't afraid to take the line on, but there's no hiding from the fact that the Cowboys went backwards once Jake Clifford departed and Dearden entered.

With premiership-winner Chad Townsend joining the Cowboys on a big-money deal from 2022 onwards, Dearden may struggle to hold his spot in the side.

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13. Sam Williams - Raiders

12 games - 4 tries, 5 try assists, 3 linebreak assists, 7 forced dropouts

a close up of a man in a green shirt: Sam Williams © Provided by Sporting News Sam Williams

The experienced campaigner and beloved clubman was forced into a tough spot, with namesake George heading home early in the season.

It left Canberra without a star halfback, and while Williams did his job well for the most part, the side struggled and missed the finals.

While his kicking game remains solid enough, Williams has been criticised for some of his defensive efforts, and rarely threatened the opposition defence with ball in hand.

Canberra have been linked to about half the No.7s in the competition for next year, so it would appear Williams time as the first-choice playmaker may be done.

12. Chad Townsend - Warriors

16 games - 14 try assists, 7 linebreak assists, 10 forced dropouts, 45 metres per game

chad townsend © Provided by Sporting News chad townsend

Another halfback that moved clubs during the season, Townsend didn't have a great year but was by no means terrible either.

The 30-year-old produced 14 try assists - 10 of which came before his move to the Warriors - and had some decent moments earlier in the season, despite not winning many games.

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His final moment in Cronulla colours was a field goal against local rivals St George Illawarra, but he struggled late in the year for the Warriors due to a nagging shoulder injury.

Next year, he will begin a three-year stint at the Cowboys on big money, and he will need to perform well to avoid criticism from the ruthless Queensland media.

11. Jamal Fogarty - Titans

20 games - 4 tries, 12 try assists, 11 linebreak assists, 10 forced dropouts

a football player on a field: Jamal Fogarty © Provided by Sporting News Jamal Fogarty

In a year where his side made the finals, it's hard to label Jamal Fogarty a standout performer.

The 27-year-old steered the ship, but was left out of the side for a couple of games late in the season as Ash Taylor and Toby Sexton took the reins.

Eventually, Fogarty earned his way back into the side and helped them into the finals, but he didn't produce the kind of footy we expected with such a strong forward pack in front of him.

With a young gun in Sexton waiting in the wings and AJ Brimson likely moving to five-eighth in 2022, Fogarty will need to start well or he could be on the outer.

10. Luke Brooks - Tigers

24 games - 16 try assists, 10 linebreak assists, 13 forced dropouts, 97 metres per game

a close up of Luke Brooks holding a football ball © Provided by Sporting News Luke Brooks

Arguably the most maligned player on this list, Brooks had another tough year at Concord and continues to be rumoured for a move away from the club.

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That being said, you can't argue with a couple of key stats - 16 try assists puts him in the upper-echelon in the competition, while his running game is still a prominent fixture of his game.

Unfortunately for Brooks, he is still yet to take his side to the finals and things actually look like they are going backwards at the Tigers with him wearing the No.7 jumper.

A fresh start sounds like it could be a good thing for all involved in 2022 - especially with Jackson Hastings arriving from the Super League.

9. Shaun Johnson - Sharks

10 games - 5 try assists, 8 linebreak assists, 15 forced dropouts, 68 metres per game

Shaun Johnson jumping in the air © Provided by Sporting News Shaun Johnson

He may have only played 10 games, but there's no arguing that Cronulla were a far better side with Johnson on the field and probably would have played finals footy had he not succumbed to a hamstring injury.

The 31-year-old has evolved as a player from the flashy kid who burst on the scene a decade ago, and is now a game manager that still has moments of brilliance up his sleeve.

Johnson's short kicking game has developed and his combination with Matt Moylan was looking very promising before both men went down with injuries.

The veteran playmaker will move back to the Warriors in 2022, and will hopefully get himself back to full fitness.

8. Mitchell Pearce - Knights

11 games - 7 try assists, 7 linebreak assists, 4 forced dropouts, 323 kick metres per game

Mitchell Pearce holding a football ball © Provided by Sporting News Mitchell Pearce

Another player who missed a large chunk of the season due to injury, Pearce is in the same boat as Johnson - his side is much better with him on the field.

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After a tough off-season that saw him removed as captain, Pearce then tore his pec in round four and the Knights really struggled without him.

Once he returned to the field, Newcastle's season turned around with a couple of wins before another injury hit. When he came back from that injury, Pearce led his side to four straight wins and a finals berth.

While they fell out in the first week of the finals once again, Newcastle will be full of confidence if they can keep their star halfback fit next season as the likes of Kalyn Ponga and Jake Clifford work on their combinations in the spine.

7. Sam Walker - Roosters

19 games - 8 tries, 19 try assists, 22 linebreak assists, 6 forced dropouts

a man with a football ball: Sam Walker © Provided by Sporting News Sam Walker

What a rookie year for the Roosters teenager!

Thrust into the side far earlier than expected due to their immense injury toll, Walker handled himself with class and plays well beyond his age and size each week.

The 19-year-old helped orchestrate a finals berth for the Tricolours, despite missing a large chunk of their roster due to long-term and short-term injuries, as well as suspensions throughout the year.

Walker's 19 try assists in the regular season put him behind just one halfback in the competition, which is a fantastic feat considering the circumstances.

6. Mitchell Moses - Eels

20 games - 18 try assists, 7 linebreak assists, 15 forced dropouts, 375 kick metres per game

Mitchell Moses et al. watching a football game © Provided by Sporting News Mitchell Moses

Similar to his former Tigers teammate Luke Brooks, Moses is a somewhat polarising figure and does have his critics, even to this day.

But the one thing you can't doubt is that on his day, the 26-year-old is among the best halfbacks in the competition and that's why Brad Fittler gave him an Origin debut when they were in the midst of an injury crisis.

Moses' kicking game is arguably the best in the NRL today, and his game management has improved enormously in the past 12-18 months.

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It was another really strong year for him overall, but the critics will remain as long as the Eels struggle to maintain their consistency and be a serious contender for the title.

5. Ben Hunt - Dragons

15 games - 5 tries, 13 try assists, 7 linebreak assists, 102 metres per game

a crowd of people watching a football game: Ben Hunt © Provided by Sporting News Ben Hunt

After struggling in recent years under Paul McGregor, 2021 saw a revitalised Ben Hunt named captain of his side and recapture the form that earned him his mega contract.

The 31-year-old was easily the Dragons' best player when he was on the field, but had a tough run of injuries that hampered his side's chances of making the finals late in the year.

Hunt won the club's player of the year award in a canter, was Queensland's best player during the Origin period and helped manufacture some performances from the Dragons early in the season that not many expected.

With full fitness and some big signings for 2022, things are starting to turn around for Hunt and his form should only get better next year.

4. Adam Reynolds - Rabbitohs

22 games - 5 tries, 6 try assists, 9 linebreak assists, 8 forced dropouts

a football player on a field: Adam Reynolds © Provided by Sporting News Adam Reynolds

Reynolds might not garner the stats or attention as some of the other halfbacks on this list, but his role in South Sydney's success can never be understated.

An elite game-manager with the best short kicking game in the NRL, the skipper's role in creating space for Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell is key to the mammoth amount of point the Rabbitohs can produce.

Reynolds has a calming influence in a star-studded lineup and remains a fan-favourite at Redfern.

But for some reason, the club refused to give him a long-term deal and he will now take his talents to Brisbane for the next three years.

3. Daly Cherry-Evans - Sea Eagles

22 games - 8 tries, 25 try assists, 17 linebreak assists, 16 forced dropouts

Dylan Walker, Daly Cherry-Evans are posing for a picture © Provided by Sporting News Daly Cherry-Evans

Tom Trbojevic dominated headlines and highlight reels all season long, but let's not forget about the Manly captain either.

Cherry-Evans' produced 25 try assists in the regular season - the most of any halfback in the competition - and continue to be a dangerous runner of the ball.

The 32-year-old also has an elite kicking game, can ice games with a field goal like nobody else and remains a fantastic support player, finishing off eight tries of his own in 2021.

In a year where he won't get much attention, DCE continued to prove why he is one of the best No.7s in rugby league today.

2. Jahrome Hughes - Storm

22 games - 9 tries, 19 try assists, 13 linebreak assists, 105 metres per game

a person with a football ball: Jahrome Hughes © Provided by Sporting News Jahrome Hughes

This is where the list gets real tough.

Hughes had an outstanding season for the minor premiers, rising to new heights despite some injuries to key players around him.

The 26-year-old has gone from a fullback who could play in the halves, to a genuine halfback that is a triple-threat player who can run, pass and kick all at the highest level.

Hughes was agonisingly close to gettting top spot on this list, and if this kind of form continues in 2022, he may claim top spot as far as current halfbacks go.

1. Nathan Cleary - Panthers

16 games - 10 tries, 19 try assists, 14 linebreak assists, 19 forced dropouts

a female football player on a field: Nathan Cleary © Provided by Sporting News Nathan Cleary

We just couldn't go past Cleary, even with the time he spent on the sidelines with a shoulder injury.

The 23-year-old was amazing early in the season, guiding Penrith to 12 straight wins to start the campaign and looked untouchable.

Cleary has developed every part of his game as a halfback, and was fanastic in the first two Origin games.

His kicking game - both long and short - is immaculate, his running game continues to improve and his pass selection is as good as you will see in the NRL right now.

If it wasn't for his injury, we'd probably be talking about Cleary as the likely Dally M Medal winner - perhaps another year.

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