Who makes the NRL team of the decade?
As we close in on 2020, MATTHEW MCINERNEY and MATTHEW ELKERTON name their NRL team of the 2010s. Let the debate begin.
1. Billy Slater
The man who revolutionised the fullback position, Slater won two premierships at Melbourne (plus the Clive Churchill Medal in 2017) and six State of Origin series, and was twice named the 'fullback of the year'. A Wally Lewis Medal winner in 2018, the year he retired, Slater instantly improved his teams simply by being in the line-up.
2. Jarryd Hayne
Perhaps more notable now for his less-than-exciting return after a stint chasing his NFL dream, Hayne was an incredible player in the first half of the decade. He dominated the comp in 2014, winning the Dally M and 'fullback' and 'rep player of the year' awards in a season when he scored the decisive try for NSW as they ended Queensland's era of dominance.
3. Greg Inglis
The Melbourne Storm version of Inglis was a gamebreaking centre and five-eighth in the 2000s. A shift to Souths for 2011 - and move to fullback in 2012 - resulted in Inglis stepping up a gear. Inglis didn't dominate individual awards as much as he did a decade before, but he was easily among the first picked in any rep team. He helped Souths break a four-decade premiership drought in 2014 and was a member of Queensland's all-conquering Maroons.
4. Jamie Lyon
Often overlooked, partly due to his decision to stop playing representative rugby league, Manly star Lyon was the best centre this decade. He captained Manly to the 2011 title from centre, the same year he was named the best in that position in the world, and won the Dally M 'centre of the year' award in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. He gets the nod over Justin Hodges courtesy of his versatility, goalkicking and record.
5. Brett Morris
He's battled some injuries in the latter seasons of this decade, but Brett Morris remains just as dangerous as he was 10 years ago. He bookended the decade premierships, winning with the Dragons in 2010 and Roosters in 2019, and won a World Cup in 2013, on top of 15 career appearances for NSW.
6. Johnathan Thurston
This decade, he was twice the Dally M 'player of the year', won four Dally M positional awards in a row (five-eighth 2012-14, halfback 2015) and secured the Golden Boot three times, among numerous other awards. He was instrumental in Queensland's decade of dominance and earned immortality (and a statue) by kicking the winning field goal, in golden point no less, to steer the North Queensland Cowboys to their first title in 2015.
7. Cooper Cronk
One of the most professional athletes to have played rugby league, Cronk is the only man to have won two NRL grand finals at two clubs. He finished the decade with three premierships in as many years, the first with Melbourne and two with the Roosters. He famously played the 2018 grand final with a broken scapula. A four-time 'halfback of the year' this decade, two-time Dally M 'player of the year' and a key member of the dominant Queensland State of Origin teams, Cronk retired after achieving everything possible in the game.
8. Matt Scott
The man they call Thumper played his entire 16-year career at the Cowboys and was a pivotal member of the Queensland and Australian front row for the first half of the decade. Scott was the 'prop of the year' in 2011 and a key part of the Cowboys' roster in their first title win, in 2015. He featured in nine Origin series, winning eight times, before hanging up the boots in 2019.
9. Cameron Smith ©
The man we've appointed captain of this team is a modern-day great. Smith's honour roll is too big to list, but rest assured there are numerous Dally M 'hooker', 'captain' and 'representative player of the year' awards mixed in. The goalkicking hooker has won 71 per cent of all games he has played for Melbourne, made 42 State of Origin appearances and represented his country 56 times. He's enjoyed an incredible career that's not yet over.
10. Jarred Waerea-Hargreaves
The man who leads the Tricolours into battle week in, week out, Waerea-Hargreaves is the enforcer every other club wishes they had. A three-time premiership winner at the Roosters, Waerea-Hargreaves has also represented New Zealand 32 times in his career. He's never taken a backwards step in his life.
11. Boyd Cordner
The 27-year-old, Taree-born second-rower has achieved a lot in his career, but his 2019 season was nothing short of remarkable. He captained NSW to a memorable State of Origin series win, led the Roosters as they won their second straight NRL premiership, and captained Australia to victory over New Zealand. He's had some injury battles, but Cordner is one of the most reliable second-rowers in the business.
12. Sam Burgess
The recently retired Rabbitohs warhorse was the best second-rower/lock in the competition early this decade. He couldn't be stopped from 2012-14, and played almost the entire 2014 grand final with a fractured cheekbone as he led Souths to a drought-breaking premiership. Burgess failed to regain those lofty heights but was arguably the most important player on any Souths roster after he returned from a stint in rugby union in 2016 to his retirement at the end of the 2019 season.
13. Jason Taumalolo
The one-man wrecking ball is undoubtedly the premier forward in the game today. A three-time Dally M 'lock of the year' and the Dally M 'player of the year' winner in 2016, Tauamlolo is one of the fiercest competitors in the NRL. But his biggest impact might've come off the field. His decision to represent Tonga led to a rebirth of international rugby league, which reached its highest point this year when Tonga beat Australia.
14. Luke Lewis
The 300-gamer was one of the most underrated players in any team in which he played. He spent the 2000s in Penrith's centres and halves, but shone the brightest when he moved to lock in 2009. He came into his own this decade, and a move to Cronulla in 2013 breathed life into his career. Lewis was part of the Sharks' first title-winning team and played for NSW 17 times.
15. Paul Gallen
A Cronulla Sharks legend, Gallen retired at the end of 2019 after 348 games for the one club since his 2001 debut. While always among his club's best, it was in the Origin arena he truly shone. He was arguably the linchpin of NSW's forward packs this decade and became the Sharks' first premiership captain in 2016.
16. James Tedesco
A two-time Dally M 'fullback of the year', he finished the decade with the Roosters with one of the greatest individual seasons on record. After winning his first 'fullback of the year' gong in 2016, despite his Tigers finishing ninth, Tedesco was at the top of his game in his first season with the Roosters in 2018, but found another gear in an elite 2019 when he also won the Dally M. He can't knock Slater out of the No.1 jersey, but he's earned his place in our 17.
17. James Graham
The Englishman is one of the hardest-running, no-nonsense forwards in the game. He celebrated his 400th first-grade game this year in a career extending back to St Helens in 2003. Graham burst onto the Australian league scene when he joined the Bulldogs in 2012. He was part of their losing grand final teams in 2012 and 2014, but has been a figure of consistency in his 180 NRL appearances.