They're the edge weapons that are not only charged with a heavy defensive workload, but the responsibility of running off their side's chief orchestrators in attack. Who are the game's elite second-rowers going into the 2017 season? The NRL.com team got together and settled on the following five players.
5. Matt Gillett
2016 stats: 81.2 metres per game, 38 tackles per game, 38 tackle breaks
Despite missing a portion of the season with a shoulder injury, the Broncos back-rower still managed 21 NRL appearances, played in all three Origin games for Queensland and starred in Australia's Four Nations triumph. Now established at representative level, will be a key man for Brisbane as they usher in the next generation of forwards in 2017.
4. Josh Papalii
2016 stats: 121.8 metres per game, 23 tackles per game, 59 tackle breaks
Much was made of Canberra's right-edge colossus Elliott Whitehead in his first NRL season, but our writers opted to include the man on the other side of the Raiders pack instead. Papalii played in the mid-year Test for Australia, the first two Origin games and was ruled out of the Four Nations due to an ankle injury. One of the hardest-hitters in the game and still just 24, the Raiders wrecking ball still has his best years ahead of him.
3. Tyson Frizell
2016 stats: 92.9 metres per game, 33 tackles per game, 43 tackle breaks
Frizell's 2016 campaign was a breakout season if there ever was one, going from being on the cusp of representative selection to bona fide NSW and Australia star. Equally adept at playing in the middle or on an edge, Frizell showed his never-say-die quality in an ultimately unsuccessful chase down attempt on a runaway Dane Gagai in Origin II. Now the Dragons' main man up front, looks to be a mainstay of the Blues and Kangaroos teams for many years to come.
2. Tohu Harris
2016 stats: 133.4 metres per game, 31 tackles per game, 62 tackle breaks
Melbourne's back-row workhorse enjoyed another stellar campaign as his side came up just short in the 2016 decider. He spent time in the centres and at five-eighth when required, but his best work was undoubtedly while in the forwards. He scored eight tries for the Storm and played every Test for the Kiwis. With fellow New Zealand rep Kevin Proctor now on the Gold Coast, will lead the Storm pack alongside Kiwis skipper Jesse Bromwich.
1. Boyd Cordner
2016 stats: 150.4 metres per game, 28 tackles per game, 34 tackle breaks
As the Counting Crows told us in their 2002 cover of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi, "Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone". The Roosters weren't blaming the absence of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Mitchell Pearce and Cordner for their slow start to 2016, but missing those three men was never going to help Trent Robinson's remodelled side. Cordner returned in Round 8 and played four NRL games and Origin I before injury again sidelined the forward until Round 18. But Cordner's form towards the back end of the season was remarkable, as he scored four tries and averaged 153 metres across the last eight games of the season. He returned to the Kangaroos squad for the season-ending Four Nations and – along with Gillett and Merrin – formed one of the most dynamic back row combinations of recent years.
This article first appeared on NRL.com