The 2020 NRL season is now in the books so we’ve taken a look at a standout player from each club over the course of the season.
Kotoni Staggs (Brisbane Broncos)
It will no doubt be a year to forget for Brisbane as they finished with the wooden spoon for the first time in their history. In an otherwise torrid year for the Broncos, the performances of young gun centre Kotoni Staggs was certainly something to behold. The 22-year-old staked his claim as one of best centres in the league with his strength and skill with the ball in hand and you only have to watch his Try of the Year winner against the Dragons to see just how dangerous he can be.
Jack Wighton (Canberra Raiders)
The 2020 Dally Medal winner is an out and out warrior whenever he steps out onto the rugby league field. The 27-year-old continues to be the man that makes things happen for Canberra with 13 tries and 12 try assists in 2020 and whether its throwing in the kitchen sink defensively or providing an attacking spark, Wighton is usually right at the heart of it.
Raymond Faitala-Mariner (Canterbury Bulldogs)
They may have spent most of the season right at the foot of the ladder, but a late escape saw the Bulldogs leapfrog Brisbane to avoid the wooden spoon. It was still another difficult year for the Bulldogs, but Faitala-Mariner can certainly be proud of his efforts throughout the season. The 27-year-old played all 20 games for Canterbury over the course of the season with his much improved work rate alongside his exceptional defensive work and ball carrying . Overall, he averaged over 100 metres and 30 tackles per game and was a bright spark in a struggling side.
Shaun Johnson (Cronulla Sharks)
After a shaky first season with Cronulla, Johnson looked to be settled in more come his second year and started to produce some of the magic we have seen on plenty of occasions throughout the years. The 30-year-old was pinnacle to the Sharks’ run to securing eighth place and a NRL finals berth after tallying 23 try assists.
Moeaki Fotuaika (Gold Coast Titans)
There is no questioning the fact that the Titans had one of the most improved years out of any team in the league. After succumbing to the wooden spoon in 2019, Gold Coast hit back this year with coach Justin Holbrook and went on to secure ninth place, only two points adrift of a finals spot. Over the last couple of seasons, it is fair to say that Fotuaika has been one of their most consistent performers. The 21-year-old is one of the most exciting young forwards in the game and led the way in metres (2,464) and tackles (550) for the Titans over the course of the season while earning a Queensland call up in the process.
Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly Sea Eagles)
It was a year to forget for many Manly supporters as their side’s campaign was constantly hampered by injuries to key players. However, as the likes of Tom Trbojevic and Dylan Walker spent time on the sidelines, captain Daly Cherry-Evans took up playmaking duties and again showcased why he is one of the best number sevens in the business. The 31-year-old secured 21 try assists and led from the front as he continuously looked to inspire the Northern Beaches side in tough circumstances.
Ryan Papenhuyzen (Melbourne Storm)
When you think of the some of the league’s most elite full-back the likes of James Tedesco, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kalyn Ponga and Tom Trbojevic all immediately spring to mind. However, after an outstanding second season coupled with a polarising Grand Final performance, Papenhuyzen looks to be one of the most talked about names in the league right now. The 22-year-old boasts a frightening amount of speed whilst also having the creativity and skill to match, making him a player difficult to contain when he gets into top gear.
Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights)
The Knights made their first NRL finals appearance in seven years this season with Ponga continuing to cement his superstar status after another stellar year. The 21-year-old is one of the most elusive and electric players in the league with a lethal step that can leave his opponents reeling. The 22-year-old had 10 tries and 16 try assists for Newcastle in 2020 whilst also chalking up 2,726 run metres, 113 tackle busts and 14 line breaks.
Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys)
There is not much more this man can do on a rugby league field and despite a season to forget for the Cowboys, Taumalolo was still the talisman that they desperately needed. The likes of Kyle Feldt and Scott Drinkwater had solid years with the former leading the side in tries throughout the year but in terms of pure work rate and impact it is always hard to not look past the Tongan powerhouse. The 27-year-old averaged a mammoth 193 metres and 34 tackles per game throughout the course of the season and is one of the best number 13s the sport has to offer.
Clint Gutherson (Parramatta Eels)
There probably was not a more important figure in the Parramatta set up this year than their captain Gutherson. The Eels’ attack consistently ran through the 26-year-old as more often than not he was the beating heart of Parramatta victories throughout the year and would go on to lead the side in try assists throughout the year with 19 with Mitch Moses closest to him with nine. An outstanding season would also see him earn his first call up to the New South Wales squad as well as placing second in votes for the Dally M Medal.
Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers)
The star half-back may have missed out on the Dally M Medal but there will still be no question as to how good this man is on a rugby league field. On plenty of occasions this year the 22-year-old has been Penrith’s biggest catalyst and inspired them to several wins throughout the season. There were many questions at the start of the year as to how Cleary would cope without James Maloney alongside him, but those queries have certainly been answered and without a doubt he remains the present and future of the Panthers.
Cody Walker (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
He may have been late to the party, but Walker’s creativity, flair and general influence were a massive factor in the Rabbitohs’ red hot run towards the end of the year. The 30-year-old was the biggest difference maker for Wayne Bennett’s side as they went on to reach the preliminary finals which many may have expected them not to reach in the middle of the season. Overall, Walker went on to score 10 tries and grab 24 assists throughout the year and is undoubtedly playing some of the best rugby of his career.
Matt Dufty (St George Illawarra Dragons)
It may another disappointing season for the Dragons, but it was a year of resurgence for Dufty. The 24-year-old was a constant spark of attack all year for his side, leading the way in both tries (13) and try assists (15) whilst also totalling 51 tackle busts and 2,219 metres during the year.
Luke Keary (Sydney Roosters)
The three-time NRL champion again solidified his status as one of the best stand-offs in the world with another influential season with the Roosters. Trent Robinson’s side did not always have it their own way in 2020 but whenever they needed to find something in attack, Keary had something to do with it as he spearheaded plenty of tough wins for the Roosters. The 28-year-old finished with 10 tries and 20 try assists for the year while finishing fifth on the 2020 Dally M leaderboard.
Tohu Harris (New Zealand Warriors)
For the Warriors it will be a season that many fans will not forget as their selfless act to re-locate to Australia during the coronavirus pandemic allowed the NRL season to take its course without any further interference. With this, not many could have predicted the year the Warriors would go on to have as despite being tipped to be one of the favourites to finish bottom, they instead went on to prove plenty of doubters wrong and found themselves with a chance to make the NRL finals, albeit a slim one. As standout players go, you can easily look to the ever-inspirational Roger Tuivasa-Sheck but Harris was superb in the Warriors’ forward pack. The 28-year-old bulldozed his way to 2,888 run metres while leading the way in tackles for his side with 761 to his name and was also named as one of the best second-rowers in the league at the 2020 Dally M Awards.
David Nofoaluma (Wests Tigers)
It may have been another disappointing season for the Tigers as they finished outside the top eight once again. But if there were any positives to take away then Nofoaluma’s efforts will certainly be a huge plus. The 26-year-old has solidified himself as of the top wingers in the competition with his ability to break tackles, pile up the metres and his eye for the try-line made him a lethal attacker for the Tigers. The Samoa international was awarded for his efforts during the season after being named one of the best wingers in the league alongside Josh Addo-Carr at the Dally M awards.
Watch NRL and live stream every NRL game to keep up with how Tom Burgess, Josh Hodgson, Ryan Sutton, Elliott Whitehead, Luke Thompson and George Williams and all the others are getting on Down Under.
Listen to The Final Hooter podcast, featuring exclusive interviews, every week. SUBSCRIBE to Love Rugby League on Apple Podcasts.