Standouts and flops in our review of NRL year
IT'S brickbats and bouquets time again when we look back on the 2016 NRL season and hand out annual gongs.
As always, these awards are just opinions which will no doubt generate a fair bit of debate among rugby league fans that may agree or disagree, so feel free to add your thoughts and opinions.
THE BIGGEST FLOPS
This is the toughest of all categories and the one likely to cause the most debate. If you base it purely on expectations heading into the season then Brisbane centre James Roberts tops the list although he has picked up his act heading into the finals.
If your criteria is how much players are being paid then Martin Tapau, Trent Hodkinson, Warriors duo Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke, Dylan Walker and South Sydney's Sam Burgess are among the finalists.
The winner: Issac Luke.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The nominations include Gold Coast halfback Ashley Taylor, Roosters young gun Laurel Mitchell and Penrith teenager Nathan Cleary.
Taylor was the back-up for the back-up when Daly Cherry-Evans bailed on a deal and then Kane Elegy went down injured for the season; Mitchell emerged as one of the finds of the season; while Cleary has done an exceptional job leading the Panthers around the park despite being the youngest player in the NRL.
The winner: Nathan Cleary
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The usual suspects here, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith, both great competitors; James Maloney, who has been great for the Sharks; Josh Hodgson, the one player who has got the Green Machine rolling; and Aaron Woods and Mitchell Moses who've been the driving force behind the Tigers.
The winner: Josh Hodgson.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2017
Heading the contenders are Elliot Whitehead, who has been terrific on the right edge for the Raiders; and future Kiwi Test player James Fisher-Harris. When you are 20 years old and get spoken about as the next Gorden Tallis then you have a big future ahead.
Then there's Cody Walker. Good judges believe once Walker settles into the No.6 role we will see a special player who is very clever and creative with the ball. There's also big wraps on Ata Hingano, seen as having the potential to be New Zealand's next Test No.7, so keep an eye on him.
The winner: Elliot Whitehead.
BIGGEST ISSUES FACING THE GAME IN 2017
The NRL's judiciary needs to get its act together and provide some consistency with players believing its current system on pleas and loadings needs scrapping.
Golden point also will be reviewed. The Bunker's role may change in 2017 with officials experimenting with a captain's challenge for tries only.