Rabbitohs superstar Greg Inglis and Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith are both worthy inclusions in our Dream Team of the Year.
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It's the final week of the Toyota NRL Dream Team season, with a lucky few looking forward to this weekend's head-to-head grand final match-ups and many others dreaming of what might have been.
While the Dream Team coaches still in contention this weekend weigh up how to cover for the absence of Robbie Farah, Liam Fulton, James Maloney and Ashley Harrison, as well as the worrying question of whether Craig Bellamy will rest his big-name Storm stars this week, it's also a good time to look back on the best and worst of the Dream Team season.
So, without further ado, here are our NRL Dream Team gongs for 2012.
Fullback/winger of the Year
He may have started and ended the year in the casualty ward but between times Eels star Jarryd Hayne cemented his place as the most valuable man at the back in Toyota NRL Dream Team, averaging 52 points a game (including an injury-affect nine-pointer back in Round 2). Hayne's running game, coupled with plenty of kick metres and the ability to create as well as score tries, combined to make him a Dream Team points machine. But will he be moved into the halves under new Eels coach Ricky Stuart in 2013?
Next best: Todd Carney (Sharks) 51 points a game; Ben Barba (Bulldogs), 50 ppg.
Centre of the Year
Rugby league's best centre became arguably the game's best fullback this season, with Michael Maguire's decision to switch Greg Inglis to the back proving to be a masterstroke for both South Sydney and Inglis's Dream Team scores. With hundreds of points in tackle breaks, Inglis was one of the major beneficiaries of the new NRL Dream Team scoring system in 2012, peaking with scores of 98 against the Sharks in Round 9 and 96 against Parramatta in Round 25.
Next best: Tony Williams (Sea Eagles), 49 ppg; Michael Jennings (Panthers) Jennings 45 ppg.
Half of the Year
He was the best buy of 2011 and is the reigning NRL Rookie of the Year, and Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans only cemented his place as a Dream Team gun with another sterling season this year. DCE started the season with a bang by bringing up a ton against the Wests Tigers in Round 2, and averaged 58 points a week over the course of the season. A strong defender for a halfback, Cherry-Evans proved to be the best all-round scorer of the playmakers in 2012.
Next best: Cooper Cronk (Storm) 56 ppg; Jarryd Hayne; Todd Carney; Benji Marshall (Tigers), 51 ppg; Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys), 50 ppg.
Second-rower of the Year
Sharks captain Paul Gallen just got the edge on Brisbane workhorse Corey Parker this season, with Parker's injury woes preventing him from being Dream Team's best player in 2012. Gallen was a tower of strength for the much-improved Sharks, hitting 104 in Round 4 and averaging 63 points a game, although his absence between Round 13 and Round 22 did cause some headaches for Dream Team coaches and Cronulla fans.
Next best: Corey Parker (Broncos) 62 ppg; Nathan Hindmarsh (Eels) 57 ppg; Shaun Fensom (Raiders) 56 ppg.
Front-rower of the Year
The departure of Wests Tigers prop Bryce Gibbs to Cronulla this season opened up a starting spot for Wests young gun Aaron Woods, who built on a very good debut 2011 campaign with a sensational year as the leader of the Tigers' pack in 2012. Woods has been easily the most consistent of the big men in Dream Team this year, starting every game for the Tigers and scoring 50 points a week.
Next best: Trent Merrin (Dragons), 49 ppg; Sam Burgess (Rabbitohs) 48 ppg; James Tamou (Cowboys) 48 ppg.
Hooker of the Year
Once again taking out the Dream Team player of the Year title is Storm, Maroons and Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith, who has led all comers with a huge 68 points a game. Smith's recent form in particular is sensational – leading into the final week of the regular season the Melbourne rake has notched consecutive scores of 75, 72, 110, 84 and 75. A goal-kicking tackle machine who makes his fair share of run metres and tackle busts from dummy half, Smith will once again be the game's most expensive player in 2013.
Next best: Robbie Farah (Tigers), 55 ppg; Kevin Kingston (Panthers) 53 ppg; Issac Luke 52 (Rabbitohs) 52 ppg.
Rookie of the Year
South Sydney young gun Adam Reynolds started the season as a debutant halfback with a $77,100 price tag, and by Round 20 he was worth a whopping $340,100 in NRL Dream Team. Reynolds' success was no shock – the departure of Chris Sandow from South Sydney left Reynolds as the only front-line halfback at the club – but his rapid rise surprised a few, including those Dream Team coaches who cashed him out before his mid-season scoring spree (at one stage Reynolds put together consecutive scores of 80, 93 and 63 against the Panthers, Knights and Roosters). A shoe-in for the NRL Rookie of the Year gong, Reynolds will be a popular buy again in the upcoming Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals competition.
Next best: Josh Jackson (Bulldogs, $221,200); Josh Mansour (Panthers, $214,200); Ben Henry (Warriors, $213,200), Konrad Hurrell (price peak of $279,900, current price $168,300).
Mid-season buy of the year
There were a few middle-of-the-road players who stepped up to become big scorers in the back half of the season, proving great value for money. Sharks prop Andrew Fifita was the best of them, averaging more than 59 points a game since round 14 and seeing his price jump from $234,700 to a whopping $326,700. Other late bloomers were Mitch Rein, who averaged close to 58 since round 17 and went up $102,000 in value, along with try-scoring wide men Kane Linnett (56 ppg since round 15) and Akuila Uate (55 ppg since round 18). Of the rookies, Josh Jackson and Josh Mansour both excelled after making their debuts midway through the season.
It's a little rough to hand this "award" to a player scoring an underwhelming but hardly embarrassing 42 points a game, but in a season with few genuine flops St George Illawarra playmaker Jamie Soward gets the gong. Soward started the season as a $330,800 Dream Team heavyweight but the Dragons' poor form in attack hurt his scores badly, with the five-eighth losing $141,200 in value by the end of round 25 (he now costs just $189,600). Just behind Soward in the flop stakes is James Maloney, whose price has crashed from $334,000 to $206,100 before he was dumped by the Warriors for their final game of the year.
Most injury-plagued star
Injuries to big-name Dream Team players was the predominant theme of 2012, making this one a hotly contested category. Corey Parker's multiple injuries – including the horror gash to the leg suffered in Origin II – kept him to just 15 games so far this season, while Paul Gallen's abdominal problems and a rough bye draw over the Origin period reduced him to just 14 appearances at the end of round 25.
But the undisputed champion of this category is Manly man mountain Tony 'T-Rex' Williams, who through a combination of suspension and injury has been kept to just a dozen games this season. A seven-match ban for a lifting tackle in round 3 was instantly followed by a back injury in Origin I, which meant he didn't start getting regular matches under his belt until round 16. Fortunately for those who kept the faith, Williams has proved a solid performer since then.
It's been a quietly successful year for Canberra Raiders fans – sure, not that many of them have actually turned up to games (they're the only club to average fewer than 10,000 people at home matches) but their team has managed to scrape into finals contention, and on top of that they've proved themselves to be some savvy league experts by topping the NRL Dream Team club rankings. Green Machine supporters just edged fans of the Warriors, Eels and Sea Eagles at the top of the table, with Melbourne Storm faithful at the foot of the ladder just below Titans and Rabbitohs supporters.
The Toyota NRL Dream Team of the Year
Fullbacks/wingers: Jarryd Hayne, Todd Carney, Ben Barba
Centres: Greg Inglis, Tony Williams
Halves: Daly Cherry-Evans, Cooper Cronk
Second-rowers: Paul Gallen, Corey Parker, Nathan Hindmarsh
Front-rowers: Aaron Woods, Trent Merrin
Hooker: Cameron Smith (c)
Reserves: Shaun Fensom, Robbie Farah, Benji Marshall, David Taylor