Part 1 released, Part 2 next week 50. Nathan Cleary (New entry) A cool head on young shoulders and the NRL's leading point-scorer this season, Nathan Cleary possesses a towering spiral bomb and is probably the best goal-kicker in the competition. With 10 four-pointers in 2017 he is as comfortable scoring tries as he is creating them for teammates, and at just 19 years of age Cleary looms as the future for not just the Panthers but also potentially the NSW Blues. 49. Josh McGuire (2016 rank: 40) Now a regular starter for Queensland, Broncos lock McGuire remains one of the NRL's busiest players and one of its most versatile big men. An enforcer in defence who is also the chief metre-eater in the Broncos' pack, McGuire has helped Wayne Bennett's side remain among the league's elite after the retirement of Australian international Corey Parker. 48. Will Chambers (New entry) One of just two regular NRL centres to make our list, Chambers is a fixture in the centres for Queensland and Australia and is a key part of the lethal Melbourne Storm backline. A fiery competitor with a terrific running game and a great knack for setting up tries for his winger Suliasi Vunivalu, it's no surprise Chambers tends to be on the winning side at every level of the game. 47. David Klemmer (New entry) The Bulldogs firebrand has become one of the most effective big men in rugby league, and was easily the biggest metre-eater in the NSW Blues' forward pack in this year's State of Origin series despite playing limited minutes off the bench in all three games. 46. Angus Crichton (New entry) One of the few bright signs for South Sydney this season has been the emergence of Angus Crichton as a genuine star in the making. Playing on the right edge for the Rabbitohs, Crichton has made more tackle breaks than any other forward in the competition this season, knows his way to the tryline and is the Rabbitohs' second-busiest defender behind Sam Burgess. Along the way he's rivalled Cameron Smith as the most valuable player in NRL Fantasy – a remarkable feat for a player in just his second year in the top grade. 45. Martin Taupau (New entry) Manly's rise from bottom-eight strugglers to top-eight contenders has been inspired by, among other things, a surge in form from Taupau – the NRL's most prolific offloader in 2017. Boasting one of the most powerful running games in the league (among forwards only Angus Crichton and Jason Taumalolo have more tackle busts) and the ability to create second-phase play out of nothing, Taupau has helped the Sea Eagles become one of the league's most lethal attacking sides, particularly in the centre of the field. 44. Josh Dugan (2016 rank: 33) Dugan has slipped in our rankings this year but he remains a quality player, earning selection in Mal Meninga's Kangaroos Origin Merit Team on the back of his efforts in the centres for the Blues. Rock solid in defence and with one of the strongest running games in rugby league, Dugan is set to line up in the centres for the Kangaroos in this year's World Cup. 43. Paul Vaughan (New entry) One of the buys of the season, Paul Vaughan's arrival at St George Illawarra from Canberra brought instant dividends with the Dragons' forward pack becoming one of the best in the league. The Dragons have made more run metres than any other club this year and Vaughan is the biggest metre-eater in that pack, but he's not just a workhorse – no front-rower has made more line breaks than Vaughan in the NRL in 2017. 42. Clint Gutherson (New entry) A revelation at Parramatta this season who has quickly emerged as one of the NRL's cult favourites, Clint Gutherson has made the step up from jack-of-all-trades backline utility into a genuine match-winner at the Eels. Gutherson has played at five-eighth, fullback and centre this season and excelled in all three roles – scoring tries in the opening three rounds of the season in the halves before bumping the talented Bevan French out of the fullback position. A natural footballer who has also taken on the goal-kicking duties in 2017, Gutherson has quickly become an incredibly valuable member of the Eels squad. 41. Valentine Holmes (New entry) Holmes has slotted into Ben Barba's old fullback role at the Sharks nicely this season and stepped up his impact at representative level, starting on the wing for Australia against New Zealand in May and scoring a hat-trick in Queensland's Origin series-deciding victory over New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium in July. 40. Corey Norman (New entry) Parramatta's rise in recent seasons has a lot to do with the form of their star five-eighth. After dominating the Auckland Nines tournament in 2016 Norman was equally superb in the Telstra Premiership, outshining halves partner Kieran Foran, and he's continued that form in 2017 as the club's chief playmaker. With mid-season recruit Mitchell Moses proving a perfect foil for Norman in the halves, Eels fans have good reason to be dreaming of a long-awaited premiership again. 39. Andrew McCullough (New entry) An 80-minute hooker who can make 50 tackles a week, McCullough has been one of the unsung heroes at the Broncos for the past nine seasons – an amazingly durable workhorse (this will be his first season since 2008 in which he hasn't played more than 20 NRL games) who allows the flair players around him to do their thing. Still only 27, there's plenty of footy still to come from him as well. 38. Josh Jackson (2016 rank: 43) Jackson is the kind of player whose value can't be reflected in the stats. The winner of the Brad Fittler Medal as the NSW Blues' best player of the State of Origin series in 2016, and the official Man of the Match in a losing side in Origin II this year, Jackson is all about quality over quantity. Other players may make more tackles and run metres but few hit harder or put an end to attacking raids quicker than Jackson, who is set to partner Boyd Cordner in the NSW second row for the foreseeable future. 37. Aaron Woods (2016 rank: 18) The NSW and Kangaroos front-rower may have dropped in our rankings this year but his raw stats still make for impressive reading – he ranks fourth among forwards for average run metres with around 160 per game, making him a standout in the Wests Tigers pack and an attractive buy for the Bulldogs next season. 36. Dane Gagai (New entry) The Newcastle Knights' only inclusion in our list, Gagai has excelled in a struggling team in recent seasons and his exploits at State of Origin level have been even more eye-catching – in 2017 he won the Wally Lewis Medal as Queensland's best player of a winning series, the first time a winger has taken out that award. A brilliant ball-runner capable of playing at fullback or in the outside backs, Gagai looks a quality recruit for the Rabbitohs next season. 35. Simon Mannering (2016 rank: 26) With 15 carries and 44 tackles a game, there's an argument to be made that Mannering may be the hardest-working player in the NRL. A defensive workhorse in the middle of the park, at the age of 30 Mannering has actually improved his output in attack this season – increasing from 90 metres a game to more than 125. If the Warriors had a few more players like the Kiwis veteran in their ranks they'd be a consistent top-eight side. 34. Josh Hodgson (2016 rank: 17) One of the most brilliant attacking dummy-halves in rugby league, Hodgson has slipped in our rankings following Canberra's underwhelming campaign but he remains among the very best in his position. Quick, skilful, decisive and ruthless when he spots a weakness in the defensive line, when Hodgson is on song the Raiders are almost impossible to stop. 33. Matt Moylan (2016 rank: 45) For years there had been speculation that Matt Moylan might one day follow in Darren Lockyer's footsteps and make the transition from playmaking fullback to elite five-eighth – but few would have expected him to thrive in the new position so quickly. After playing at pivot for NSW in last year's Origin Game Three win, Moylan has been brilliant in the No.6 jersey for Penrith in the second half of the season as they burst into the top eight. 32. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (2016 rank: 22) After only seven appearances for the Warriors in 2016, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was thrown the captaincy at the club at the age of just 23. Results may not have gone his way this season but the fleet-footed speedster remains one of the most dangerous fullbacks in the game, capable of slicing holes in the opposition defensive line in an instant. 31. Jordan Rapana (New entry) An absolute try-scoring machine last season, Jordan Rapana has been one of Canberra's few consistent performers over the past couple of seasons. Despite his team's struggles he remains among the league's top try-scorers and his ability to break tackles is matched only by Tigers livewire James Tedesco. He's more reliable than his partner on Canberra's right flank, Joey Leilua, and is the only full-time winger to earn a spot in NRL.com's top 50. 30. Gareth Widdop (New entry) Last season the Dragons had the third-worst attacking record in the NRL; two months into this season St George Illawarra had scored more points than any other team. That stunning turnaround had a lot to do with their chief playmaker Gareth Widdop, who was enjoying his best year since moving north from the Storm. With 10 tries and 18 assists this season no player has had more direct try-scoring involvements than Widdop in 2017, with the Englishman also improving his goal-kicking to be the league's second highest point-scorer. 29. Josh Papalii (2016 rank: 31) Papalii's barnstorming running game makes him a standout even in Canberra's huge pack and while the Raiders may not have matched the heights of their 2016 campaign, their best forward has had another strong individual season. He's ranked fifth among forwards for tackle breaks in 2017 and played all three games in another Queensland State of Origin series victory. 28. Tyson Frizell (2016 rank: 41) After bursting onto the rep scene last year Frizell now has five Kangaroos appearances to his name, coming off the bench for Australia against New Zealand in May. At club level he's been a key cog in arguably the best forward pack in the league, and was starting lock for the NSW Blues in all three Origins this year. 27. Jesse Bromwich (2016 rank: 4) Jesse Bromwich's numbers in attack and defence have dropped this season – hence his slide in our rankings – but Bromwich remains a class act in the front row, as the leader of the pack for the NRL's dominant club and New Zealand national team. 26. Mitchell Pearce (New entry) Pearce's status as the best halfback in NSW is so secure that Blues selectors again resisted the urge to look elsewhere this season despite the Roosters star's horror winning percentage at Origin level. While his Origin losing streak continues, he remains a dominant playmaker at NRL level, guiding the Roosters back from cellar-dwellers in 2016 to title contenders once more this year. He ranks second in the league for kick metres this season and no halfback gets through more defensive work each week, with Pearce also the Roosters' chief provider of try assists and line-break assists. 25. Jake Friend (2016 rank: 29) One of the busiest players in the game, Friend's combination of great work ethic and attacking creativity has made him a crucial cog in the Roosters' machine. He makes 49 tackles per match – not only the most at the club but the most in the NRL – and has a savvy playmaking game as well, kicking the team's only 40/20 this season. He leads a group of talented Queenslanders who will be vying for the Maroons No.9 jersey when Cameron Smith eventually hangs up the boots. 24. Tom Trbojevic (New entry) The only fullback in the NRL to have reached double figures for both tries and try assists this season, Tom Trbojevic is just a natural footballer – tall, quick, strong, elusive and a great passer of the ball. The Sea Eagles star is a real weapon at the back but has also starred on the wing or at centre in the past, making him an obvious choice to join the NSW Blues side next season. 23. Cameron Munster (New entry) One player who has already made the step up to Origin level – and thrived there – is Storm five-eighth Munster, who has made the most of a dream start to his NRL career playing alongside Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. A terrific ball-runner and all-round playmaker, Munster is already a star in his own right, with his Queensland debut in State of Origin III ranked among the best in history. 22. Anthony Milford (2016 rank: 25) "There's probably no better player in the game in broken field than Milford." That was the verdict of Dragons coach Paul McGregor after Milford engineered a win for Brisbane over McGregor's Dragons in Round 24. With brilliant footwork and the capacity to create something out of nothing from anywhere on the field, Milford leads the try assist tally for the best attacking team in the NRL and has an ability to squeeze out of tackles and pop offloads that few other halves can match. 21. Wade Graham (2016 rank: 34) There are few second-rowers in the game more skilful than Graham, and hardly any genuine playmakers who hit harder in defence. One of the NRL's best all-round footballers, Graham's ability to lay on a sharp pass or smart kick coupled with his penchant for bone-crunching tackles makes him a natural fit for State of Origin, where his only real weakness is a tendency to let his aggressiveness get the better of him. 20. James Graham (2016 rank: 5) The England star and Canterbury skipper has slid down our rankings after what has been a season to forget for the Bulldogs, but remains among the NRL's elite front-rowers. A strong and skilful ball-runner, fierce defender and one of the most passionate players in the game, there's a good reason why several clubs are interested in signing the 31-year-old for 2018. 19. Jake Trbojevic (New entry) Younger brother Tom may be producing the one-man highlight reels at Manly but Jake Trbojevic has been just as impressive, earning his first NSW Origin jersey this year and becoming the highest-ranked new entry in NRL.com's top 50. One of just two players to make more than 130 metres and 35 tackles a game in the NRL this season (Dragons lock Jack de Belin is the other), Trbojevic is more than just a workhorse – he's scored eight tries this season for the Sea Eagles and is a bruising defender for club and state. 18. James Maloney (2016 rank: 28) He may lead the NRL for missed tackles but Maloney's attacking game is so valuable that he remains among the rugby league elite. Before 2016 the Cronulla Sharks were a solid defensive team with a good forward pack that struggled to score points (think the Bulldogs of 2017) and the signing of Maloney paid instant dividends, with Cronulla winning the first premiership of their history. An elusive ball-runner and cool sharp-shooter who leads the reigning premiers for try assists and line-break assists this year, Maloney will once again be key to the Sharks' finals chances. 17. Michael Morgan (2016 rank: 21) Already considered an outstanding performer at club level alongside Johnathan Thurston and rep level as a super-sub utility, Morgan's stocks rose further this season following Thurston's season-ending injury. Many wrote off the Cowboys' finals prospects with both Thurston and Matt Scott on the sidelines but Morgan kept their hopes alive with a string of stunning individual performances at halfback. Not content with shining as a playmaker at club level, he also thrived when thrown into the centres for Queensland in State of Origin III. 16. Boyd Cordner (2016 rank: 24) Elevated to the NSW captaincy role this season after the rep retirement of Paul Gallen, Boyd Cordner led from the front – making the most hit-ups and run metres of any starting forward from either state. One of the best edge line runners in the game, Cordner's absence for much of the 2016 season was a big reason for the Roosters' poor campaign and he's helped make them premiership contenders again this year. 15. Shaun Johnson (2016 rank: 6) As the most talented player at the Warriors, Johnson cops a lot of criticism for his team's frustrating NRL performances but their horror recent losing streak with Johnson on the sidelines shows just how much they rely on him when he's fit. Blessed with the best footwork in the game, capable of skipping through a defensive line from a standing start, Johnson also boasts the most kick metres in the NRL this season and looms as the Kiwis' best weapon in the season-ending Rugby League World Cup. 14. Greg Inglis (2016 rank: 16) Remember Greg Inglis? It seems an age ago the Rabbitohs captain injured his ACL in Round 1, battling on to score a try anyway before being ruled out for the season. Once considered the game's best player, Inglis had been quiet by his usual standards in recent times before his injury but remains a weapon when fit – and a walk-up starter in the centres for Queensland and Australia. Don't be surprised if he's causing headaches for NSW defenders once again in 2018. 13. Matt Scott (2016 rank: 14) Another Kangaroos regular who has been a non-factor in 2017, Scott was ruled out for the season in Round 2 in a major blow to North Queensland's premiership chances. Until then he had been considered the best front-rower in Australia, a no-nonsense prop with 22 Test matches and 22 Origin appearances to his name and a regular starter for the Maroons and Kangaroos since 2010. 12. Andrew Fifita (2016 rank: 19) A precocious talent for years, Fifita has been unstoppable at times in the past 12 months on the game's biggest stages. A hulking front-rower with the ball-playing skills and defensive workrate of a player half his size, Fifita was huge for Cronulla in the 2016 NRL Grand Final and tore through Queensland at Suncorp Stadium in State of Origin I. Consistency may still be an area of improvement but among NRL forwards Fifita still ranks second for offloads and third for tackle breaks this season. 11. Matt Gillett (2016 rank: 8) Broncos and Queensland second-rower Gillett pips NSW rival Boyd Cordner as the best edge forward in our list. Brilliant with and without the ball, Gillett is among the game's best one-on-one defenders and was the only Maroons forward apart from Cameron Smith who played the full 80 minutes in all three Origin this year. The reigning Dally M Second-Rower of the Year can be expected to play big minutes again in the 2017 World Cup. 10. Sam Burgess (2016 rank: 13) The Rabbitohs may have had another season to forget but Burgess once again established himself as one of the game's most dominant players in 2017. The only player in the NRL to lead his club in run metres, offloads and tackles this season, Burgess has twice the workrate of a typical NRL forward and remains a brutally effective ball-runner – crossing for five tries in each of the last two seasons. He'll be the key man for England's World Cup campaign at the end of the year. 9. Paul Gallen (2016 rank: 7) One of the few players who can match Burgess's workrate is the Cronulla Sharks skipper, who at 36 has again outperformed a host of younger forwards to be ranked second for run metres in the NRL this year. In his first season since his retirement from representative football Gallen has showed no sign of slowing down – as evidenced by a massive 300-metre performance against Newcastle in Round 26. 8. Daly Cherry-Evans (2016 rank: 23) After signing a massive contract with the new-look Sea Eagles last year, to say there was pressure on Cherry-Evans to perform is an understatement. As Manly's new captain and highest-paid player, the halfback carried the expectations of a club on his shoulders and he's more than lived up to those, leading the league in try assists in what has been his best season in the top grade. A complete playmaker who thrives on producing clutch plays – kicking match-winning field goals off both feet, for instance – DCE and the Sea Eagles are capable of joining the league's elite in the years to come. 7. James Tedesco (2016 rank: 15) At the start of the year James Tedesco declared he aimed to become the best fullback in rugby league, and he's not far off achieving that goal already. At 24 years of age he's made the NSW fullback spot his own, ahead of international stars like Josh Dugan and Jarryd Hayne, and he's the most elusive ball-runner in the game with more tackle breaks than any other player in 2017. The scary thing is that when he moves from the struggling Tigers to premiership contenders the Roosters next season Tedesco should only get better. 6. Darius Boyd (2016 rank: 11) Now more mature off the field and as impressive as ever on it, Brisbane Broncos captain Boyd is the complete modern fullback – rock solid in defence and under the high ball, terrific in bringing the ball out of his own end and a superb playmaker. Boyd's exploits for Queensland and Australia in recent years were convincing enough for Maroons selectors to leave legendary custodian Billy Slater out of their Origin side this year (at least for Game One) and in the eyes of many he remains the best fullback in the game. 5. Billy Slater (2016 rank: 12) One of the great topics of debate in the NRL.com office when compiling last year's top 50 list was where to rank Slater. Yes he had been one of the rugby league's greatest No.1s, but after two injury-wrecked seasons surely he wouldn't return the same player he once was? This year the Storm legend proved all his critics wrong this year, showing all of the speed, elusiveness, ball-playing skills and unparalleled game awareness that made him the game's best fullback. He helped make an already-strong Melbourne Storm team just about unstoppable, while his return at Origin level in Game Two led to Queensland coming from behind to salvage yet another series win. 4. Jason Taumalolo (2016 rank: 9) Last year Taumalolo won the Dally M Medal, tied with Cooper Cronk, and in March he signed a massive 10-year contract with the Cowboys. Since then, the 24-year-old lock has somehow gotten better. With teammate Matt Scott sidelined for the season Taumalolo took it upon himself to lead from the front and he's done that like no other forward – making the most yardage of any player in the NRL with a frankly ridiculous 200 metres per game. Possessing a sublime combination of fitness, footwork and pure power, it's not hard to see why the Cowboys will be building their team around Taumalolo for the foreseeable future. 3. Cooper Cronk (2016 rank: 3) The very best sportspeople somehow manage to go out on top, and that's what Cooper Cronk is doing in his final season at the Melbourne Storm. The NRL's best example of "practice makes perfect", Cronk's fanatical training ethos has made him the game's most successful halfback at club, state and international level in a sport often dominated by pure natural athletes. The best organising No.7 in the game, Cronk is as consistent as they come and also capable of producing moment of magic – see his inch-perfect banana kick for Valentine Holmes that broke the Blues' hearts in Origin III – and it'll be no surprise if he finishes his Melbourne career with a premiership followed by a World Cup win. 2. Johnathan Thurston (2016 rank: 2) Is there anything left to be said about Johnathan Thurston? He's won the Dally M Medal as player of the year a record four times – the first more than a decade ago and the most recent in 2016. He's probably the game's most skilful player and its most fearsome competitor. He's a fan favourite who gives his headgear to kids in the crowd twice a game, he's a little guy who dominates a game built for giants, and he thrives under pressure – kicking the match-winning conversion in Origin II in a moment that will still be haunting NSW fans. 1. Cameron Smith (2016 rank: 1) This weekend Cameron Smith broke Darren Lockyer's all-time record for most games in first grade. He's won a staggering 70 per cent of those games, having already notched the most premiership wins, the most goals kicked and the most points by a forward, and become the first player to win 250 NRL games as captain. At State of Origin level he has the most appearances, most wins, and most series wins of any player in history. But those records aren't why Cameron Smith gets the No.1 spot on this list. He's here because he controls a game like no other player, from targeting a defensive line's weak spots to kicking crucial 40/20s. He captains the best teams at club, state and international level, he plays the full 80 minutes in rugby league's busiest position, he's a flawless defender and a strong goal-kicker, and he's playing as well as ever at the age of 34. Smith is the most important player for the top-ranked team in the NRL and – in our opinion – the best player in rugby league.