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Season 2005 saw the Wests Tigers win the first Premiership by a joint venture club in the history of the game, New Zealand knock Australia off their perch and become the new Tri Nations champions and NSW recovering from a heartbreaking Game I loss to dominate Queensland in the State of Origin series.
So who are the Top 25 players from the season just past?
NSC delivers the verdict based on NRL, Test and Origin performances in 2005*.
Counting down from #25 to #1
26. Dallas JOHNSON, Storm & Cameron SMITH, Storm/QLD. Could not split the Melbourne pair. Johnson is a clone of defensive weapons Trevor Gillmeister and Dean Lance, while Smith proved in season 2005 he is the best Queensland hooker since Steve Walters.
(Yes it is now a Top 26 but these two demanded selection)
25. Aaron PAYNE, Cowboys. Absolute bolter from the clouds on this list but every week he was vital to the style of football the Cowboys showed us in 2005. Rarely gets noticed but has tremendous attacking instincts from dummy half and has adapted to the workload in the centre of the ruck despite his smaller frame.
24. Ty WILLIAMS, Cowboys/QLD. Scored some of the most memorable (and controversial) tries of 2005 for the Cowboys and Queensland. Had a great year on the flank but could be even better if switched to the centres in 2006.
23. Benji MARSHALL, Tigers/New Zealand. Setting up That Try in the Grand Final alone is a good enough reason to make this list. But throw in his step/step/step/pass on That Other Try against Cronulla and his touch of genius for The Other Other Try in the Anzac Test and there are two more good ones.
22. Matthew KING, Storm/NSW/Australia. Few will forget his barnstorming State of Origin Series on the wing for NSW but his quality performances year round earned him this spot in the rankings and recognition as a fine attacking three-quarter.
21. Mark GASNIER, Dragons/NSW/Australia. When Gasnier brought his A Game there was no defender who could shut him down on his favoured right hand edge. Watching Gasnier in 2005 made it easy to believe his Uncle Reg more than lived up to the Immortal tag.
20. Robbie FARAH, Tigers. Came along in leaps and bounds during 2005 and is developing into an incredibly skillful hooker and accurately drawing comparisons with Benny Elias.
19. Nathan CAYLESS, Eels/New Zealand. Quietly put together his best season since making the grade in 1997. Shrugged off injuries and lead his Parramatta team to the Minor Premiership with superb go-forward each week.
18. Stacey JONES, Warriors/New Zealand. New Zealand would not have won the Tri Nations had the little halfback not come out of a premature international retirement and commit to play for New Zealand coach Brian McClennan. His NRL form was so good that his move to France is sadly just as premature as that International retirement was.
17. Matthew BOWEN, Cowboys/QLD. Dynamic for most of the season for the Cowboys but lacked the kind of consistency needed to force his way into the Top 10. Stole Origin I with a memorable intercept and thrilled crowds with his natural attacking skills and breakaway speed.
16. Luke BAILEY, Dragons/NSW. Bailey will take over from the next man on the list as the NRL's most consistent prop when the latter retires but he came very close to taking the crown in 2005. Arguably the finest front rower from the Illawarra region to play in the top grade since Craig Young.
15. Shane WEBCKE, Broncos. Focusing his efforts on club football had immediate results as he turned in another stellar season leading the way for the Brisbane pack. Will not be around for too much longer so seasons like his 2005 should be remembered fondly.
14. Ruben WIKI, Warriors/New Zealand. Wiki along with Steven Price formed the foundations that kept the Warriors out of the cellar in the NRL but his International performances stood out. Still one of the most feared players running around at 32 years of age and he could keep playing for a few more years yet.
13. Luke O'DONNELL, Cowboys/Australia. Deserved his Kangaroo jumper after a great regular season and impressive Finals Series. Delivered on the promise he showed with the Tigers earlier in his career and with Paul Rauhihi off to England O'Donnell becomes the leader of the North Queensland pack.
12. Ben HORNBY, Dragons. Having a season that showcased him as the best player on a great football team proved that Hornby has only got better since his surprising Origin debut in 2004. Played his best football at fullback (without the defensive chores of halfback), with his ability to join the backline at his leisure making him deadly in attack.
11. Nathan HINDMARSH, Eels/NSW/Australia. The what if's surrounding his injury during the Finals aside, Hindmarsh was at his workaholic best during 2005 giving the Eels quality and quantity for their investment. After a great defensive Origin series, smart coaching from Brian Smith gradually helped him rediscover his running game before injury struck.
10. Tim SMITH, Eels. Sure the tricks didn't work in the Preliminary Final but this kid was by far the best of a very good rookie bunch in 2005. His kicking game was pure genius for a 20 year old. As he matures and gains experience in the halfback role the Eels may well take that (evidently tough) next step with Smith at the helm.
9. Jason SMITH, Raiders. Age before beauty is a term that definitely applies to this ranking. The crafty veteran toyed with opposition defences on a weekly basis and his undoubted class was the backbone of the Raiders early season success. Convinced himself he could go around again in 2006 with a superb year.
8. Roy ASOTASI, Bulldogs/New Zealand. His development from bench boy to a leader of men as the cornerstone of the Bulldogs forward pack was nothing short of astounding. His consistency in an inconsistent side was a testament to his drive and determination to take his game to another level.
7. Darren LOCKYER, Broncos/QLD/Australia. Before the Broncos late season slide Lockyer was a class above his peers as he directed Brisbane to the top of the table. Even during their losing streak he still showed his class more often than not and Australia missed him dearly in the Tri Nations.
6. Scott PRINCE, Tigers/Australia. Thrived in his coach's halfback orientated system and the Tigers became an attacking team to be reckoned with. Prince was the driving force behind the Tigers playoff run capping off string of outstanding performances with the Clive Churchill Medal in the decider.
5. Ben KENNEDY, Sea Eagles/NSW/Australia. The most influential NRL forward of 2005 and made a significant impact at Origin level. Held the Sea Eagles together with his determination during a late season fade that threatened Manly’s first playoff appearance since 1997.
4. Brett HODGSON, Tigers. There is simply no better support player in the game and Hodgson turned many half chances into points during a prolific 2005. His all round play improved and he was simply brilliant week in week out for the Premiers.
3. Anthony MINICHIELLO, Roosters/NSW/Australia. Another blockbusting season from the NRL's best custodian. It has been a long while since we've seen a running fullback as powerful as the Count and his durability is remarkable given the workload he has carried over the past few seasons.
2. Johnathan THURSTON, Cowboys/QLD. Emerged as a magician with the football and fully deserved his Dally M Award as the best NRL player over the course of the season. His Grand Final performance proved he could lift for the big game despite the result going against the Cowboys.
And the #1 player of 2005 is:
1. Andrew JOHNS, Knights/NSW/Australia. When fit there is no more dominant player in the game and his incredible Origin performance rivaled King Wally at his best. The exclamation point on his value to a side came when Newcastle were transformed from easy beats to world beaters post-Origin.
Ten on the Cusp (in alphabetical order):
Danny BUDERUS, Knights/NSW/Australia;
Paul GALLEN, Sharks;
Michael MONAGHAN, Sea Eagles;
John MORRIS, Eels;
Matt ORFORD, Storm;
Steven PRICE, Warriors/QLD/Australia;
Luke PRIDDIS, Panthers/Australia;
John SKANDALIS, Tigers;
John SUTTON, Rabbitohs;
Dean WIDDERS, Eels.
* Super League performances and UK based players exempt from this list.