The NRL is almost back, with this Thursday’s match between Penrith and Manly kicking off the 2022 season.
To mark the occasion The Inner Sanctum has decided that the time is right to look at the top 10 players heading into the season.
Whether it be on late season form, recent awards or their scintillating potential they have all earned their spot on this list.
They are must watch players, the ones you love on your team and hate on the opposition. From Trbojevic to Cleary, Tedesco to Munster, who will come out on top?
So here it is, The Inner Sanctum’s top 10 players heading into the 2022 NRL season.
#10 – Payne Haas
It is hard to believe that Brisbane Bronco Payne Haas is still only 22 years of age, with the forward proving over the last three seasons that he deserves to be on any list of top current players.
The prop averaged over 160 metres per match last year, often sparking attack out of nothing for his Brisbane team mates.
His Origin series also proved his class, coming out comfortably on top of both Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita to help his state secure the shield.
After spending his early career with limited help Haas will finally have a supporting cast, filled with Origin second rower Kurt Capewell and new captain Adam Reynolds.
With these players alongside him don’t be surprised if he is further up this list come the end of 2022.
#9 – Kalyn Ponga:
One of the most exciting players in the current NRL competition, a list of the top 10 players would not be complete without Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga.
The fullback had another solid season last year, taking games away from opposition sides single handily to help Newcastle to a seventh place finish.
Ponga could be so much higher on this list if injuries would stop plaguing his career, with the Knight not playing a full season yet in his NRL career.
2022 is shaping to be a big season for the Queenslander with many predicting a difficult year in the Hunter.
If Ponga is able to stay fit and consistently demonstrate his potential he will go a long way to ensuring that the Knights will at least have a competitive season.
#8 – Cameron Murray
South Sydney’s new captain is the highest ranked forward on this list, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagreed with this selection.
The 24-year-old has been brilliant over the last few seasons, raising his game to levels that many didn’t even think were possible.
His defensive ability is what teams are built upon, whilst his ability to bend a defensive line whilst also getting the next play started quickly is why he is regarded as arguably the best lock in the game.
Whilst South Sydney have lost some key players from their 2021 grand final run, with Murray at the helm it is difficult to see them slipping too far outside the top four.
Expect a big year for the lock as he looks to cement himself as one of the premier players in the NRL.
#7 – Latrell Mitchell:
Despite ending in controversy 2021 was a season to remember for Latrell Mitchell and made his inclusion on this list a rather easy decision.
After a solid first season at fullback for South Sydney the 24-year-old took his game to new levels last year, helping his side to third on the ladder before missing out on their finals run due to suspension.
Whilst his offensive abilities have never been questioned it was his defensive positioning that looked greatly improved in 2021, something that he will have likely worked on extensively during the off season.
Whilst his footballing style may not be for everyone Mitchell is the definition of a ticket seller, with any game that he plays being a must watch.
A season without suspension will only see the young fullback land higher on this list in 2023.
#6 – Brandon Smith:
At the beginning of 2021 many did not even tip Brandon Smith to start at hooker for Melbourne, just six months later and he was the Dally M Hooker of the Year.
‘The Cheese’ as he is affectionately known around the league was instrumental in the Storm’s historic 2021 season, with his absence for much of their Preliminary Final due to injury, being partly blamed for Melbourne’s disappointing exit.
His work in both offence and defence was the platform on to which the Storm built their 2021 season upon, and with numerous players leaving the club in the off season he will again need to be at the top of his game if he wants to win another premiership in Melbourne.
The hooker recently announced that this will be his last season in Victoria, trading purple for the tri colours in 2023. With the pressure of contract negotiations off his back expect the Kiwi international to have a big last season for the Storm.
More NRL News:
#5 – Cody Walker:
Not many would have predicted the heights that Cody Walker has reached when he debuted as a 26-year-old in 2016, becoming one of the very best players in the NRL.
Alongside his mate Adam Reynolds the pair have dominated defences over the last few seasons, with the five eighth scoring 16 tries and assisting another 33 last year.
One of the most naturally talented players on this list, he is the type of footballer that gets people into the stadium and excited for his matches.
With Reynolds now playing in Brisbane it proves to be a big year for Walker, will he rise to the occasion or struggle without his halves partner?
#4 – Cameron Munster:
You can not have a list ranking the top players in the NRL without putting Queensland and Melbourne star Cameron Munster right near the top.
A few years ago the five-eighth would have likely found himself a few places higher, however after a relatively disappointing 2020 and 2021 where he finished outside of the Dally M top 10 this is where he lands.
This hasn’t meant that Munster has been poor, he picked up a Wally Lewis Medal in 2020, however with such high standards the five-eighth would likely be wanting a bit more in 2022.
With the talent that the Storm star has, a maiden Dally M could easily be just around the corner, something which would likely propel him to the very top of this list.
#3 – James Tedesco:
It is strange to think that nine tries and fourth on the Dally M ladder is considered a poor season by James Tedesco, however that is truly just a testament to the quality of the Roosters fullback.
It was a difficult season for the Roosters in 2021, with their squad decimated with injuries to players in almost every key position.
Much of the pressure fell on the shoulders of Tedesco, who still recorded 22 try assists and 17 line breaks to help the Roosters to a fifth place finish.
There is no lower on this list that the fullback could possibly fall, and with a refreshed Roosters squad ready for 2022 it could be a massive year for Tedesco as he looks to assert himself as the best in the game.
#2 – Nathan Cleary:
The Penrith halfback was yet again almost unstoppable in 2021, adding a Grand Final ring and Clive Churchill medal to his already incredibly large list of accolades.
Some 231 points, 10 tries, 26 forced drop outs and 21 try assists highlight the season that he had, with the halfback recording these statistics despite missing part of the year with his well-documented shoulder injury.
The calls that Cleary does not have the ability to get the job done on the biggest stage have completely been dismissed.
His first two games of Origin in 2021 helped the Blues complete a historic series and his Grand Final performance whilst clearly still injured is one that should fit into NRL folklore.
The only thing that is missing from his trophy cabinet is a Dally M Medal. If the halfback wins that this year there will be almost no denying him the claim of best player in the NRL.
#1 – Tom Trbojevic:
2021 was the year of Tom Trbojevic, with the Manly fullback being awarded the Dally M Player of the Year despite only playing 18 matches throughout the season.
After years of injuries plaguing his clear potential the competition was put firmly on notice as the fullback had one of the most dominant seasons in NRL history.
28 tries, 28 try assists, 33 line breaks and an average of over 200 run metres per game is all that you need to know to justify his place at the top of this list.
To partner this his return was also fundamental in the complete turn around of Manly’s season last year, taking them from potential wooden spoon contenders to a fourth place finish and a preliminary final.
If the Manly local can stay fit coming into this season there is no doubting that he will be firmly in contention for every possible award, and will be fundamental in another Sea Eagles finals run.
Subscribe to our newsletter!