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The NRL’s best halves make the better teams whole. So here’s our top 10

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They’re the commanders of the entire game and without a great one, you’re unlikely to see success at the most important times of the year.

The NRL is full of talented five-eighths and halfbacks that are expected to lead the team around through critical decision making, a strong kicking game, and of course, an ability to break the game open at the drop of a hat.

That’s why the best NRL halves get paid the big bucks; at the end of the day, win or lose, it usually all rests on their shoulders. It’s hard to find halves who can deal with that burden, but when you do, premierships, World Cups, or even Origin glory become much more realistic for a side.

The has been a rollercoaster over the past five years considering the retirement of potential future immortals in Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, leaving a path for the likes of Cameron Munster and Nathan Cleary to sit atop the throne.

Whatever top 10 we settle on, we’re aware debate will rage. But please acknowledge we’re determined to build a more balanced and logical list than what you’ll find on other click-hungry publications.

best NRL halves, 2023 Dally M contenders

NRL’s 10 best halves for season 2024

So here are 2024’s 10 best halves.

We’ve decided to combine the two key positions – five-eighths and halfbacks – to make this list essentially the best playmakers currently in league.

Note that we’ve considered 2023 generously, along with what we know they’re capable of based off previous output.

READ OUR OTHER TOP 10s: FULLBACKS, WINGERS, CENTRES, HOOKERS, EDGE FWDS, MIDDLES

1. Nathan Cleary

The one, the only, Nathan Cleary — Penrith, New South Wales and Australian halfback.

Now a three-time premiership winner with the Penrith Panthers, Cleary has established himself as the outright best player in the game, following his individual brilliance to steer Penrith past Brisbane in the Grand Final. 

At only 26 years old, Cleary is reaching what’s meant to be the peak age for a footballer — a scary prospect considering what we’ve already seen from him.

2. Cameron Munster

The runner-up for our best NRL halves – but our first five-eighth – is Cam Munster who has been widely considered one of the players going around for many years now, especially since 2020 where he helped lead Melbourne to their fifth* premiership and only a week later played one of the greatest State of Origin series performances of all-time.

Although Munster was patchy during the 2023 season, there’s no denying that when the big moments arrive and you need a star player to deliver, he’s the guy you want.

3. Nicho Hynes

2022 Dally M winner Nicho Hynes is still out to prove certain doubters that not only can he be atop the best NRL halves list in the coming years, but also that he can shine on the biggest of stages.

But some of that criticism is overblown. The fact is, he’s an incredibly silky footballer that’s elevated his Sharks side into a team competing in finals through insane statistics that he’s putting up — to highlight a couple: 28 try assists, average of 148 run metres, 33 line-break assists, tackle efficiency of 91%.

Nicho Hynes image

4. Shaun Johnson

The ‘Wahs’ become everyone’s second team in 2023, and the heartbeat of that side is no other than former Golden Boot winner Shaun Johnson.

Arguably robbed of what was meant to be his Dally M last season, Johnson somehow wound back the clock, leading the Warriors through to a Prelim — an unbelievable achievement, considering they finished 15th the year before. He’s getting long in the tooth, but has evolved gracefully and his impact will be paramount to New Zealand’s chances in 2024.

5. Daly Cherry-Evans

Rounding out our top five is none other than Sea Eagles and Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans, whose smarts and on-field performances continue to get better with age.

Despite regularly going up against sides that on paper should be stronger than his, Cherry-Evans has found ways to rise to the occasion, and especially for Queensland, come out on top.

His kicking game remains elite, the ball-playing is still there, his support game is valuable and his ability to identify the right times to tuck and run all continue to be strings to his bow.

6. Cody Walker

When South Sydney strangely let Adam Reynolds walk out the door, expectation of the club was shifted onto Cody Walker’s shoulders — and hasn’t he shown he can carry the burden.

The best NRL halves are able to break the game open in an instance, and not many can do it better than Walker. He scored nine tries (2nd most for the position behind Mam – 18), 19 try assists and 16 line-break assists.

Walker also has reentered the Origin conversation since Reynolds departed, returning for a Game 3 win for New South Wales in 2023, and is the front runner to retain the five-eighth spot come the 2024 State of Origin.

7. Ezra Mam

Ezra Mam’s rise was something to behold in 2023 — first complete season in the six jersey, deep finals run with many clutch moments, and a hat-trick in one of the best Grand Finals ever.

Many might think he shouldn’t be ranked above some star players below or even his halves partner in Adam Reynolds, but this ranking involves some recency bias, and after his incredible performances last season, we see him only getting better in 2024.

Mam has done an incredible amount in his first two seasons. Obviously no one is questioning his attacking capabilities, but defensively he also cuts blokes in half, but could improve his tackle efficiency (80%).

8. Ben Hunt

Ben Hunt is just pure class as a footballer, and would be ranked higher but it seems what makes him such a great player is his flexibility to also be one the best NRL hookers when he wears the number nine jersey in Origin.

Unfortunately for Dragons supporters, their team has a had a terrible run of form over the past few seasons – not Hunt’s fault – but he clearly wants out of that basket-case.

All that said, he’s been an enormous bandaid at the Red V in recent seasons; his production has masked a lot of the club’s deep deficiencies. His pending exit might just reveal the extent of his importance.

9. Mitchell Moses

Ranking ninth amongst the best NRL halves may sound low for many fans of Mitchell Moses, but he’s a top five halfback if you look exclusively at the number seven position on this list.

Moses’s strong suit is definitely his kicking game, and decent running game. But as Parramatta had such a bad year in 2023, some blame needs to go back onto the halfback as the conductor of the side.

But Moses is an Origin player and deserves the big bucks he’s on, and screams of a player that if he can get everything perfect, could be a Dally M medalist in the coming years.

10. Dylan Brown

Brown won’t be winning any popularity contests after his regretful off-field actions last season, but his on-pitch play the last two years is impossible to ignore and has him rounding out our best NRL halves list heading into the 2024 season.

At 23 years of age, the best is still most likely yet to come. And he’s everything you want in a modern five-eighth; busy, physical, fast, has a strong running game, is a great one-on-one tackler, and is versatile enough to be slotted anywhere in the backline in case of an emergency.

And considering he had such a rocky 2023 season, we can expect him to be extra motivated this year.

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