The votes are in for the NothingButLeague player of 2021. During the season our writers judged their best on field on a 3-2-1 vote basis. Here’s the top 10 players of 2021, with a joint winner for the season’s best player.
10. Kalyn PongaEmbed from Getty Images
Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga made fifteen appearances for his side in 2021, scoring eight tries and setting up a further fifteen.
Ponga had match winning performances against in both of the Knights victories over the Raiders (Wagga Wagga and Suncorp Stadium) and Sharks (McDonald Jones Stadium).
A groin injury mid-season halted Ponga’s season and resulted in a two-month layoff.
9. David FifitaEmbed from Getty Images
David Fifita made an impact in his first season for the Gold Coast Titans scoring a career high seventeen tries, and leading the NRL in the most tackle busts in 2021 with 156.
Towards the end of the season Fifita started from the bench which raised eyebrows to how Justin Holbrook was using his prized forward.
His most dominant performance was against the Dragons in Round 19. Coming on after 23 minutes, Fifita scored a try, made two line-breaks and had a try assist, in a game where he ran for 160 metres in 15 hit-ups.
8. Cameron MunsterEmbed from Getty Images
Cameron Munster was Melbourne Storm’s leading player in 2021, scoring seven tries with 15 try assists.
Munster was best on field in Melbourne’s loss to Penrith at BlueBet Stadium in Round 3 and in Round 21 where they knocked off the high flying Manly Sea Eagles at Suncorp Stadium.
It was going to be a transition season for the Storm and Munster played a senior role on moving this team past the Cameron Smith era. He was ably assisted by the emergence of Nicho Hynes as a superstar.
7. Adam DoueihiEmbed from Getty Images
The Wests Tigers always looked dangerous in attack when Adam Doueihi was on song. In 20 appearances for the Tigers in 2021, he scored nine tries with 16 try assists. He was also the club’s leading tackle buster with 50.
Doueihi’s most notable performance of the season came against the Broncos where he set up five tries in an outstanding 42-24 win at Suncorp Stadium.
He controversially missed out on the Wests Tigers Player of the Year honour, awarded jointly to Daine Laurie and Luke Brooks.
6. Clint GuthersonEmbed from Getty Images
Once again, Parramatta Eels fullback Clint Gutherson led from the front in another successful campaign for the club. He scored 13 tries, had 19 try assists and made more metres than any other Eels in 2021.
Notable performances included his dominant effort against the Sharks in Round 3, before backing up a week later against the Tigers.
His partnership with Mitch Moses will continue to be a key to how successful the Eels will be in the coming years.
5. James TedescoEmbed from Getty Images
Sydney Roosters needed their skipper to stand up in a season where they lost the likes of Jake Friend, Boyd Cordner to retirement and long-term injuries to Luke Keary, Lindsay Collins and Brett Morris.
James Tedesco showed a lot of class leading the Roosters and miraculously into the Finals series before being knocked out in week 2.
The NSW captain was the chief playmaker with 28 try assists, made 148 tackle breaks and averaged 150 run metres per game.
Tedesco starred in the Roosters annihilation of Manly in Round 1 scoring a hat-trick of tries. Other notable performances came against Newcastle in Round 19 and the Dragons in Round 23 where he was outstanding with 4 try assists in both games.
4. Mitchell MosesEmbed from Getty Images
Halfback Mitch Moses had an outstanding year for the Parramatta Eels and was rewarded with his first New South Wales Origin jersey in the process.
His 2021 record was 28 try assists with 9,164 kicking metres, 8 line breaks and 41 tackle bursts. His kicking game improved significantly in 2021 and on it’s day could be as dangerous as Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary.
Moses was instrumental in the Eels’ five game winning streak which started with a match winning performance against the Raiders at GIO Stadium and included a great effort in leading the Eels to victory over the Roosters in Round 9.
Late in the season his Origin selection for the injured Cleary was sealed with solid performances against the Tigers and Bulldogs.
3. Cody WalkerEmbed from Getty Images
Cody Walker continued to be one of the game’s best playmakers in 2021 which almost came up dividends for the Rabbitohs as they went agonisingly close to winning the Grand Final.
Walker led the way with 37 try assists, with Alex Johnston being the recipient at the end of many of those plays as he broke the 30 try barrier in 2021.
23 of the 37 try assists happened in a golden patch for the Rabbitohs between Round 12 (vs Eels) and Round 22 (vs Titans). In back-to-back weeks against the Bulldogs and Warriors he tore apart some weak defence, and two weeks later he did the same against the Dragons in his side’s 50-14 win.
His individual try against the Panthers on Grand Final night kept South Sydney in the game, however, the playmaker’s intercept to see Stephen Crichton score was a telling play in deciding the result of the match.
JOINT WINNER – TOM TRBOJEVICEmbed from Getty Images
Dally M Award Winner Tom Trbojevic is NothingButLeague’s join winner of the NRL’s best player in 2021.
Turbo’s season may take some beating as he overtook James Tedesco as the premier fullback in the competition. In eighteen games he scored 28 tries and set up as many Sea Eagles tries as Daly Cherry-Evans (31). Had he been fit for the whole season, he would have finished number one in most tries and try assists, such was his influence on the games he played.
Week after week, he seamlessly pulled sides apart. It started with his Round 6 return against the Titans where he quickly stamped his authority in Mudgee, scoring a try with two try assists. Between Round 6 and 10, he won our Man of the Match on four occasions.
Trbojevic warmed up for the NRL Finals series with back-to-back exceptional performances against the Bulldogs and Cowboys. He was well contained in the Grand Final Qualifier against South Sydney which saw the Sea Eagles bow out of the competition.
A fit Tom Trbojevic puts Manly in the box seat to be a NRL Premiership favourite in 2022.
JOINT WINNER – NATHAN CLEARYEmbed from Getty Images
Clive Churchill Medal Winner and NRL Premiership Winner Nathan Cleary is the join winner of NothingButLeague’s 2021 player of the year.
Nathan Cleary established himself as one of the top 5 players in the NRL with his influence over the Penrith Panthers side this season. In the past two seasons, Cleary has only been on a Panthers losing side three times in the 41 games he’s run out in.
Cleary’s golden period came between Round 6 and Round 11, where he won 5 of his 9 Man of the Match awards. At Magic Round he had the ball on a piece of string as he scored a hat-trick and set up a further two in a 28-point haul. Another notable performance came against the Roosters in Round 15 when the Panthers put away the Roosters 38-12.
His shoulder injury in Origin game 2 kept the Panthers skipper out of the side for seven weeks, before returning late in the season to help his side make back-to-back Grand Finals.
Cleary’s influence on the Grand Final saw him awarded best on field with 111 runs from 22 metres and a kicking game that forced South Sydney under immense pressure at times in the opening 40 minutes of the decider and got Penrith out of trouble in the final 40.