Ben Barba took out this year's Dally M medal after a stellar season with the Bulldogs, but how high does he rank in the NRL's top 50 players?
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At the conclusion of the 2012 season, we put our heads together to rank the best 50 players in the NRL.
How does Bulldogs excitement machine Ben Barba rank against NSW Origin captain Paul Gallen? Is Cooper Cronk or Johnathan Thurston the game's best half? Is Benji Marshall or Robbie Farah the best player at the Tigers? Will Eels legend Nathan Hindmarsh retire as one of the NRL's best?
Putting together the list is no easy task, and several quality players missed the cut, including Rabbitohs and Kiwi hooker Issac Luke, Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce, Wests Tigers forward Gareth Ellis, Canberra wide man Blake Ferguson and Penrith centre Michael Jennings.
There is sure to be some debate about our rankings – as there was between our contributors – but here's how we see things at the end of 2012.
Note: Each player's previous ranking is in brackets.
BigPond Sport's Top 50 players in the NRL
50. (previously 44) Nathan Merritt – Rabbitohs winger
49. (38) Kurt Gidley – Knights halfback
48. (35) Shaun Johnson – Warriors and New Zealand halfback
47. (New entry) Ben Matulino – Warriors and New Zealand prop
46. (32) Nathan Hindmarsh – Retiring Eels second-rower
45. (34) Anthony Watmough – Sea Eagles, NSW and Australia second-rower
44. (40) Akuila Uate – Knights, NSW and Australia winger
43. (New entry) Michael Ennis – Bulldogs hooker
42. (49) Gareth Widdop – Storm and England five-eighth
41. (43) Ben Hannant – Broncos and Queensland prop
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40. (27) Kieran Foran – Sea Eagles and New Zealand five-eighth
39. (21) Luke Lewis – Departing Panthers captain and NSW and Australia forward
38. (33) Corey Parker – Tireless, goal-kicking Broncos and Queensland lock
37. (New entry) Sam Kasiano – Ball-playing Bulldogs big man and the Dally M Prop of the Year
36. (30) Dave Taylor – Towering and talented Rabbitohs, Queensland and Australia second-rower
35. (29) Greg Bird – Titans and NSW back-rower seemingly built for Origin football
34. (39) Brent Tate – Super-consistent Cowboys and Queensland centre/winger
33. (New entry) Aidan Tolman – Bulldogs prop who led the NRL in hit-ups in 2012
32. (New entry) Josh Reynolds – Arguably the most improved player in the NRL, and the Bulldogs' key playmaker this season
31. (New entry) Aaron Woods – A standout for the Wests Tigers and surely a future NSW Origin front-rower
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30. (New entry) Ryan Hoffman – Returned from the UK this year and instantly resumed his status as one of Melbourne's best
29. (17) Sam Thaiday – Replaced Darren Lockyer as Broncos captain and continued to be a leader of the pack for Queensland and Australia
28. (16) Jarryd Hayne – Still a weapon on the wing for NSW, but couldn't help the Eels avoid the wooden spoon
27. (50) Adam Reynolds – The NRL Rookie of the Year has a lock on the Rabbitohs halfback spot for years to come
26. (New entry) Josh Dugan – Played a big role in Canberra's late-season winning run, at fullback and five-eighth
25. (22) Tony Williams – The Manly and NSW back-rower is inconsistent but unstoppable on his day
24. (37) Feleti Mateo – One of the game's best ball-playing big men, Mateo led the league for offloads at the Warriors
23. (8) Todd Carney – One of the signings of the season, but a mediocre Origin series and a quiet end to the year for the Sharks sees Carney slide down our list
22. (14) Justin Hodges – A quality performer for Broncos, Queensland and Australia when fit... but the next injury always seems to be just around the corner
21. (45) Nate Myles – The State of Origin man of the series for Queensland and a tireless worker in the Titans pack
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20. (36) Brett Morris – The Dragons flyer was a standout in both attack and defence and earned a welcome Origin call-up alongside brother Josh
19. (10) Glenn Stewart – A class act in the back row for Manly, NSW and Australia
18. (20) Brett Stewart – The NSW fullback can't stop scoring tries for the Sea Eagles
17. (31) Josh Morris – Has stepped up a level since the arrival of Des Hasler, with the defensive game to defuse Greg Inglis at Origin level and the running game to notch 17 tries for the Bulldogs
16. (28) Sam Burgess – The super-talented England forward played a big role in the Rabbitohs' top-four finish
15. (12) Daly Cherry-Evans – No second-year syndrome for Manly's 2011 Rookie of the Year
14. (13) James Tamou – Proved why Australia and New Zealand were fighting over his services with a string of dominant performances up front for the Cowboys
13. (7) Benji Marshall – Not a great year for the Wests Tigers and New Zealand playmaker, but still one of rugby league's great talents
12. (23) Matt Scott – We rate the Cowboys, Queensland and Australia stalwart as the second-best prop in the business, just behind...
11. (19) James Graham – A sensational buy for the Bulldogs and comfortably the best bench player in the NRL
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10. (9) Robbie Farah – In what was a rough year off the field, Farah cemented his place as NSW hooker and the Wests Tigers' most important player
9. (11) Jamie Lyon – Simply a class act in the centres for the Sea Eagles
8. (15) Matt Bowen – Electrifying with the ball in hand and a terrific playmaker to boot, producing more try assists in 2012 than Johnathan Thurston
7. (18) Ben Barba – He was a huge talent in 2011 but this year became the complete package, producing try-saving tackles, laying on 23 try assists and leading the NRL try-scorers list with 22 four-pointers on the way to the Dally M medal
6. (6) Cooper Cronk – The Storm, Queensland and Australia halfback is as consistent as they come
5. (5) Johnathan Thurston – The Cowboys and Queensland star still gets our nod as rugby league's best playmaker, but only just
4. (3) Paul Gallen – The hardest-working player in the game and an inspiration for the Sharks, NSW and Australia
3. (4) Greg Inglis – Already the game's best centre, Inglis's switch to fullback made the Rabbitohs one of the most scintillating attacking teams in the NRL
2. (1) Billy Slater – In an era of great fullbacks, Slater remains the first-choice No.1 for Queensland and Australia for a reason. Brilliant in all facets of the game
1. (2) Cameron Smith – Exceptional in defence, controls the game in attack, a winning captain for club, state and country, probably the best No.9 of all time, and he kicks goals too for good measure.
Few of the rankings were unanimous among the contributors, with Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis all getting votes from our judges as the game's No.1 player.
The most represented clubs in our list are last season's grand final winners Manly and this season's minor premiers the Bulldogs. Melbourne, Souths and North Queensland – who finished second, third and fifth on the ladder in 2012 – all boast five names on the top 50. As in our previous list, the Sydney Roosters are the only club to miss out altogether.
As it turned out, our list was split evenly between backs and forwards, with 25 of each. The top 50 includes 11 halves, 10 second-rowers, eight props and seven fullbacks.
How do you rate our top 50? Let us know (politely) on Twitter @bigpondsport or on Facebook.