This is the time of the year when footy dreams are free.
This is the time of the year when footy dreams are free.

Power rankings: Every NRL club’s playmakers rated

THIS is the time of the year when footy dreams are free. And right now every NRL coach and player would be dreaming big in the countdown to the new season.

So to keep the rest of us just as excited over the holiday break, we have compiled a series of power rankings which break down every team's strengths and weaknesses. We have ranked them from one to 16 in respect to spines, forwards and backs.

Today PAUL CRAWLEY delivers his verdict on the all-important spines.

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As we all know, the spine is where premierships are won and lost. A coach only has to get one piece of the puzzle wrong, or suffer an injury at the wrong time, and an entire season can collapse.

James Tedesco would be every team’s No.1. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
James Tedesco would be every team’s No.1. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

1ST SYDNEY ROOSTERS

1. James Tedesco

6. Luke Keary

7. Kyle Flanagan

9. Jake Friend

CRAWLEY SAYS: Cooper Cronk's retirement puts enormous pressure on Keary. But for all Keary has already achieved - and Tedesco, for that matter - I still don't think they are anywhere near the top of their games. That is the real positive for the Roosters after already claiming back-to-back titles. Young Flanagan will be living the dream playing alongside Keary, while also having access to Cronk's astonishing footy IQ as part of the Roosters' coaching staff. At hooker, Friend is an inspiration and young Sam Verrills has shown he is an outstanding dummy-half. Even without Cronk, this is still the best spine.

2ND MELBOURNE STORM

1 Ryan Papenhuyzen

6 Cameron Munster

7 Jahrome Hughes

9 Cameron Smith

CRAWLEY SAYS: Craig Bellamy quickly shot down the story that Smith would be shifting to halfback. Regardless of where Smith plays, he is still the best game manager in the business. While I believe the jury is out on Hughes at halfback, Smith makes his job a lot easier. Also, every coach would kill for a five-eighth with Munster's class, while young Papenhuyzen will only be better after another summer working closely with Billy Slater. Put that all together and you can see why the Storm will still be backing themselves against the best.

How important is this man to Canberra. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
How important is this man to Canberra. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

3RD CANBERRA RAIDERS

1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

6. Jack Wighton

7. George Williams

9. Josh Hodgson

CRAWLEY SAYS: I haven't seen enough of Englishman Williams to say categorically he will be a success in the NRL. What I do know is that Ricky Stuart's strike rate in respect to his Pommy recruits is top-notch. The big question will be how Williams combines with Wighton in the halves given both are natural runners and not organising playmakers. It probably means Hodgson will still run the team, and if he stays fit the Raiders will be heading for another big year. CNK was a revelation last year and should only get better.

4TH SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

1. Adam Doueihi

6. Cody Walker

7. Adam Reynolds

9. Damien Cook

CRAWLEY SAYS: While we wait to see where Latrell Mitchell will end up, the Rabbitohs already have a spine that can match the best. Reynolds, Walker and Cook are at the elite level and young Doueihi has the potential and courage to make his mark if he wears the No.1 jumper. A few little glitches were exposed last year that would have concerned Wayne Bennett, especially in the preliminary final loss to Canberra when the Rabbitohs took some really poor options. The fact they still went so close to winning that game has probably given Bennett more motivation than anxiousness.

Can Trbojevic take the Sea Eagles even higher this season? Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Can Trbojevic take the Sea Eagles even higher this season? Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

5TH MANLY SEA EAGLES

1. Tom Trbojevic

6. Dylan Walker

7. Daly Cherry-Evans

9. Manase Fainu/Cade Cust

CRAWLEY SAYS: Manly would be regretting letting Api Koroisau return to Penrith given Fainu's future will be determined in court. As we saw with the Dragons last year in respect to Jack de Belin's situation, these incidents can have a huge impact on team culture and confidence. If Fainu plays, I would have the Sea Eagles in my top four spines. However, any side with Tom Trbojevic and DCE will win more than its share of games, especially with Des Hasler as coach.

6TH NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS

1. Valentine Holmes

6. Scott Drinkwater/Jake Clifford

7. Michael Morgan

9. Jake Granville/Reece Robson

CRAWLEY SAYS: I really like the look of this Cowboys spine. After losing Ben Barba during pre-season last year, Holmes is a massive addition. How quick he finds his feet after returning from the NFL will be crucial. This also has to be the season Morgan rediscovers his 2017 form. Drinkwater is a super talent who is putting pressure on Clifford to wear the six, while Te Maire Martin will probably go to the top of the queue if he is fit to return. New recruit Robson from the Dragons is also an exceptionally talented and tough dummy-half who will give Granville a fight for the No.9 jumper.

Lomax could be the difference for the Dragons this year. Photo: AAP Image/Craig Golding
Lomax could be the difference for the Dragons this year. Photo: AAP Image/Craig Golding

7TH ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA

1. Zac Lomax

6. Corey Norman

7. Ben Hunt

9. Cameron McInnes

CRAWLEY SAYS: After a disappointing 2019, the Dragons are going to be under the pump from round one. And with Gareth Widdop gone, no one will be feeling the heat more than Hunt. I worry that Mal Meninga is right in saying Hunt's best position is hooker because the Dragons paid top dollar for Hunt to run this team as a No.7. They also won't be moving Hunt to hooker while McInnes is playing like he did last year, when he was easily the team's best. Young Lomax has a big job to prove himself at fullback but I reckon he's up for it.

8TH NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

1. Kalyn Ponga

6. Mason Lino/Phoenix Crossland

7. Mitchell Pearce

9. Jayden Brailey

CRAWLEY SAYS: There can be no more excuses for Newcastle, regardless of the fact they have brought in a rookie head coach in Adam O'Brien to replace Nathan Brown. This is Pearce and Ponga's team and they need to own the results. The Knights showed when Pearce and Ponga were on what this team can do, though the finish to the season bordered on embarrassing. The addition of Brailey to play dummy-half should take a lot of pressure off Pearce, although I still reckon he needs a more experienced halves partner.

Will King Gutho reign in 2020? Photo: AAP Image/Brendon Thorne
Will King Gutho reign in 2020? Photo: AAP Image/Brendon Thorne

9TH PARRAMATTA EELS

1. Clint Gutherson

6. Dylan Brown

7. Mitchell Moses

9. Reed Mahoney

CRAWLEY SAYS: After a promising season, the Eels copped a huge reality check when crushed by Melbourne in the semi-finals. I still think the best is ahead for Brad Arthur's young spine, which should take tremendous confidence from how they grew together last year. You can only admire Brown's enormous maturity as a teenager playing in the halves, and Mahoney is as courageous as he is cunning. While Gutherson is the team's heartbeat, Moses needs to pull the margin back between his best and his worst because his best is brilliant.

10TH NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

6. Kodi Nikorima

7. Blake Green

9. Wayde Egan

CRAWLEY SAYS: Talent is not the problem here, consistency is. If every player at the Warriors was as consistent as their skipper they wouldn't have a problem. But it doesn't seem to matter how well RTS plays, someone always finds a way to bring this joint tumbling down. While it's not necessarily the spine's fault, let's hope this is the start of a new era. Nikorima and Green have plenty of experience and new recruit Egan is as talented a dummy-half as there is coming through in the NRL. No excuses.

Cronulla need more from Shaun Johnson this season. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Cronulla need more from Shaun Johnson this season. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

11TH CRONULLA SHARKS

1. Matt Moylan

6. Shaun Johnson

7. Chad Townsend

9. Blayke Brailey

CRAWLEY SAYS: On their day, Moylan and Johnson are world-beaters. The trouble is, their best days don't come around often enough. In fairness, their 2019 seasons were interrupted by injury, Johnson only playing 18 games and Moylan 11. Townsend played all 25 games and was again ultra-consistent as he led the way with try assists. Young Brailey is a classy dummy-half who the Sharks believe in, evidenced by the fact they let his brother Jayden move to Newcastle.

12TH PENRITH PANTHERS

1. Dylan Edwards

6. Jarome Luai/Matt Burton

7. Nathan Cleary

9. Api Koroisau

CRAWLEY SAYS: Losing James Maloney will increase the pressure on Cleary but you get the feeling he is ready for it. Cleary also has a ready-made bond with Luai from their time playing together in the Panthers' junior rep system. Edwards had an inconsistent 2019 but is a quality player when confident, while the arrival of Koroisau will take a lot of pressure off Cleary given his work out of dummy-half is up with the best.

Jamayne Isaako heads a talented but inexperienced Broncos. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Jamayne Isaako heads a talented but inexperienced Broncos. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

13TH BRISBANE BRONCOS

1. Jamayne Isaako

6. Anthony Milford

7. Brodie Croft

9. Jake Turpin/Andrew McCullough

CRAWLEY SAYS: Anthony Seibold has potentially gambled his coaching future on achieving what Craig Bellamy could not with Croft in Melbourne. Given the youth of the Broncos' likely spine and the fact Isaako, Milford and Turpin are all instinctive players, the pressure will be on Croft to conduct perhaps the most naturally brilliant roster in the league. His inability to do so is believed to be the reason Bellamy let him go. It is no good having the best crop of young players in the competition if the team lacks direction.

14TH WESTS TIGERS

1. Corey Thompson

6. Benji Marshall

7. Luke Brooks

9. Josh Reynolds/Jacob Liddle

CRAWLEY SAYS: I love the energy Thompson brings and Benji and Brooks had really solid 2019s. But the Tigers' hard chase for Latrell Mitchell tells you they don't have the strike power to consistently match the best teams over a gruelling season. I'm also worried about the retirement of Robbie Farah. Reynolds can do the job at dummy-half but he plays his best at five-eighth. Liddle is a fine young talent but can't take a trick when it comes to injuries.

Lachlan Lewis is a source of optimism for Canterbury fans. Photo: Alix Sweeney
Lachlan Lewis is a source of optimism for Canterbury fans. Photo: Alix Sweeney

15TH CANTERBURY BULLDOGS

1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

6. Lachlan Lewis

7. Jack Cogger/Brandon Wakeham

9. Jeremy Marshall-King/Sione Katoa

CRAWLEY SAYS: The Bulldogs' finish to last year would have motivated young players such as Lachy Lewis, Jack Cogger and Brandon Wakeham for a big pre-season. The battle for the halves spots is not as clear as many might think. Wakeham is thought to be right in the mix, Marshall-King was good last season and Katoa will provide stiff competition. I have ranked them 15th mainly because of their inexperience, but I see a lot of upside for this young Bulldogs spine.

16TH GOLD COAST TITANS

1. AJ Brimson

6. Tyrone Roberts

7. Ash Taylor

9. Nathan Peats/Mitch Rein

CRAWLEY SAYS: Last year I picked the Titans to finish in the top eight because of the likes of Ash Taylor and AJ Brimson. But after watching what Taylor dished up, you can only hope he fights back from his problems and fulfils his enormous potential. At his best, Taylor is as talented as any halfback in the game, and that is the challenge for rookie head coach Justin Holbrook. Peats is also coming into the final year of his contract with a point to prove. Could surprise us because talent is not the issue.