Each week in the lead-up to Origin, NSWRL.com.au pick the best-performing NSW-eligible players from the NRL. Selections are based on the previous round only.
1 – Lachlan Coote (North Queensland Cowboys, second appearance)
Coote was one of the best on the field on Saturday night as the Cowboys gradually overcame the Eels in Townsville. The fullback was a constant force at the back and had many spruiking him for the VB Blues’ number 1 jersey, particularly after a dominant. The game included a try in the 23rd minute with some good support play of Michael Morgan – and he would have returned the favour had Morgan not been taken without the ball chasing down a Coote grubber. Along with a trysaver on Danny Wicks, it was an impressive game from the Penrith junior.
2 – Josh Mansour (Penrith Panthers, fifth appearance)
The Panthers’ winger returns to the Team Of The Week in Round 8 with another strong performance on the flank against Cronulla. It wasn’t Mansour’s best game of the season, with less involvement in defence and no points to show for his efforts, but with a standard tally of 164 metres he still proved himself willing with the ball in hand.
3 – Josh Morris (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, third appearance)
Morris put forward another solid performance for the Bulldogs on Saturday, as one of five Canterbury-Bankstown players to crack 200 running metres. The experienced centre showed plenty of skill to bat the ball on to Curtis Rona for his 14th-minute try and also produced a line-break – but we can suggest he leave the kicking to his halves after his field goal attempt in the final minute sailed just wide.
4 – Joseph Leilua (Canberra Raiders)
Leilua was nothing short of exceptional in the Raiders’ 54-point thrashing of the Wests Tigers on Saturday night, earning him a maiden Team Of The Week selection. Canberra’s right edge – also including Kiwi winger Jordan Rapana – was unstoppable at GIO Stadium leading coach Ricky Stuart to nominate both as the best on the field. The former Knight himself scored two tries, set up Rapana twice and made 155 metres in his best game for the Green Machine.
5 – Tom Trbojevic (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, fourth appearance)
Round 8 is the fourth consecutive week in which Trbojevic has made our best 17, following another solid game for the Sea Eagles. The 19-year-old shifted to fullback in the second half when Brett Stewart failed to return from the sheds, scoring a try and running 134 metres in the Anzac Day victory. Trbojevic too, however, failed to see out the full 80 minutes, coming from the field late in the game with an ankle complaint. Should he be deemed fit and find himself in the fullback position again next week, it presents a good opportunity for the youngster.
6 – Josh Reynolds (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, third appearance)
Despite one unlucky error inviting the Titans back into the game on Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs five-eighth can be largely credited with his team’s one point victoy at ANZ Stadium. Reynolds ran the ball significantly more than any other game this season – 15 runs for 133 metres – and managed two fantastic try assists for Sam Perrett and Josh Jackson. He also, of course, kicked the match-winning field goal in tough conditions in Extra Time – but will still be less-than-satisfied with his three errors and three penalties conceded.
7 – Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks, fourth appearance)
After a stellar start to the year, Townsend finds himself back in the Team Of The Week with a solid 80 minutes for the Sharks. That included a line-break and try assist for halves partner James Maloney, while the halfback could’ve scored a four-pointer himself if he wasn’t judged marginally offside from a Jack Bird kick. Townsend is probably not getting the praise that he was for the Warriors last year, but is a vital factor in the Sharks’ improvement this year.
8 – Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks, sixth appearance)
Fifita was judged the Best on Ground on Sunday and in the Cronulla team, the prop was second only to Gallen in run metres (191) and tackles (33). Fifita looked at his damaging best, also getting away three offloads but giving away no penalties and making no errors. The 26-year-old was unlucky to be pulled down just short of a deserved try in the first half, thanks to some good Penrith cover defence.
9 – Michael Ennis (Cronulla Sharks, second appearance)
Many consider Ennis to be the form number 9 in the NSW ranks and while this is just his second selection in our top 17, it is hard to disagree after his game against the Panthers. The true competitor wasted little time in getting his side on the board, burrowing over from dummy-half in the third minute, and provided good service for the ensuing 77 as Cronulla edged out Penrith. While his unnecessary push on Matt Moylan after a monster Luke Lewis hit was an obvious lowlight, it was Ennis’ only penalty of the game – an improvement on his three in Round 7 against Canberra.
10 – David Klemmer (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, second appearance)
In a 2016-high of 55 minutes on the field, Klemmer had his best performance of the year for the Bulldogs. While Des Hasler’s Round 7 experiment – in which he and Tim Browne started in the front row – wasn’t given a second chance, the rampaging prop reminded us of his impact off the bench, running 214 metres and also making 30 tackles in the golden point thriller.
11 – Trent Merrin (Penrith Panthers, second appearance)
Cronulla’s clash with Penrith saw two of the NRL’s best locks face off with each other and while Gallen won that battle, Merrin still rose to the occasion. The former Dragon cracked 200 metres for the first time in Panthers colours and muscled up for a huge 40 tackles – only narrowly falling short of Gallen’s numbers at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Both men are more than capable of playing anywhere in the pack and how they fit into the VB Blues’ puzzle is an intriguing question.
12 – Greg Bird (Gold Coast Titans, third appearance)
Bird is another lock forward that makes up our second row and was possibly the Titans’ best on Saturday. He was sorely missed when he left the field for a concussion test in the second half, but made up for it upon his return with a brilliant cut-out ball to send David Mead over to score. His metres (203), runs (21) and tackles (29) were all his highest of the year to date, while his attacking game has been flourishing in 2016.
13 – Paul Gallen (Cronulla Sharks, third appearance, captain)
In Round 8, Gallen managed to improve on his earth-shattering game against the Raiders to leave little doubt that he is still Origin and international material. A tally of 246 metres, 24 runs and 43 tackles is generally considered a good day at the office and earns him the captaincy for the first time this week. It was the Cronulla skipper's final chance to impress ahead of Tuesday's Kangaroos team announcement, but it’s hard to see how he could be overlooked; read what the man himself had to say about his representative aspirations.
14 – Boyd Cordner (Sydney Roosters)
Cordner made a promising return from a pectoral injury in the traditional Anzac Day clash against the Dragons, despite being on the wrong end of a tight scoreline. The VB Blues regular was a force to be reckoned with in his 78 minutes; 153 metres, a line-break and 27 tackles showed little evidence of the injury that sidelined him for the competition’s opening seven weeks.
15 – Paul Vaughan (Canberra Raiders, second appearance)
Vaughan has showed a lot of improvement in 2016, but like many of the Canberra side took things to another level against the Tigers. He ran 177 metres and made 26 tackles in his 52 minutes, deservedly bagging a four-pointer as the home side put the foot on the accelerator early in the second half.
16 – Aiden Tolman (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, third appearance)
Tolman is a valuable type of player most of the time, but particularly when the heavens open like they did at ANZ Stadium. The 27-year-old matched the huge legwork of front row partner James Graham with 223 metres under the belt, which is his highest tally for the year, and increased his minuted on his previous month of football.
17 – Jake Trbojevic (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, fifth appearance)
The 22-year-old joins his younger brother in the Team Of The Week for the second time in his fifth appearance overall this season. Jake had Tom’s measure when it came to line-breaks (2) and all metres run (138), also creating two offloads and scoring a try in the dying stages. Despite playing vastly different roles, we’ve awarded Jake the points in the sibling rivalry stakes this week.
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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the NSWRL.