Buy, sell, hold – Who are the 10 most valuable players on the NRL trade market?


Rugby League does not have a transfer window or trade period. Unlike American Sports, where players are moved without their consent, Rugby League movement is usually one way, with teams losing players for nothing in return.

But what if the NRL had a trade market? Which players would have the highest value, forcing clubs to fork out a sizeable transfer fee or package of players?

Considering this, I have crafted a list of the 10 most valuable players as though it was a rugby league stock market and I was a league-mad Jordan Belfort – minus the white Ferrari, Margo Robbie as my ex-wife and substance abuse issues.

This list represents a snapshot of the current player’s value. A year is a long time, especially in Rugby League, and I am sure there are players on the list now who won’t be there next year.

Ezra Mam celebrates with teammates after scoring in the GF. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Before we begin, a couple of points. First, for this exercise we won’t be considering player’s contracts due to their contracts and performance incentives being only rumoured and not released publicly.

Second, some important selection criteria which form the basis of the list:
– Position Matters: As much as I love Brian To’o, spine positions are the most important in the NRL. While there are great players in other positions, they do not have as much influence on the result and therefore won’t place as highly.
– Age: A player on the wrong side of 30 won’t have as much value as a younger player, despite their accomplishments.
– Availability: An overlooked consideration, a player’s injury history certainly comes into the calculations when considering where they place.

So without further ado…

10. Ezra Mam – Age 21

2023 Season Stats: 25 Games Played | 18 Tries | 9 Try Assists | 10 Line Breaks | 10 Line Break Assists | 98 Run Metres Per Game

What should have been a game-winning hatrick, Ezra Mam’s grand final performance elevated him into the Rugby League spotlight. Ezra’s grand final heroics were not out of the blue, having been named Dally M five-eighth of the year in his first full season of first grade. His support play is his greatest asset, highlighted by his 18 tries. His game will only continue to flourish as he assumes more responsibility in Brisbane’s attack.

North Queensland’s Scott Drinkwater runs the ball. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

9. Scott Drinkwater – Age 26

2023 Season Stats: 21 Games Played | 11 Tries | 25 Try Assists | 14 Line Breaks | 31 Line Break Assists | 157 Run Metres Per Game

From being released by Melbourne, stuck in Cowboys’ reserve grade at the beginning of 2022 to being NSW’s 18th man in Game Three last year, it has been quite a rise for Drinkwater. Drinkwater finished 4th in the Dally M points total in 2022 and 3rd in 2023 (while ineligible due to a suspension at the beginning part of the year). Only 26 and with his best years ahead of him, Drinkwater is the lifeblood of the Cowboys attack with his quality in generating points evident in him being second for try involvements last year with 36 (behind Shaun Johnson).

8. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui – Age 24

2023 Season Stats: 19 Games Played | 6 Tries | 168 Run Metres Per Game | 32.9 Tackles Per Game | 2.7 Tackle Breaks Per Game | 1.7 Offloads Per Game

The first non-spine player on the list, Tino combines the dynamism of an outside back with the brutality of a middle forward. Front rowers usually aren’t as polished as young as Tino is, and as he continues to gather more experience his performance will only grow. Such is his quality, Melbourne offered him a lifetime deal to lure him back to his first club, forcing the Titans to sign Tino to a $12 million contract.

Queensland’s Tino Fa’asuamaleaui deep in conversation with New South Wales prop Payne Haas. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

That’s just enough to get you a one-bedroom apartment in Sydney. Already a mainstay of the Queensland and Australian sides, Tino’s next challenge will be to elevate a talented Titans team to continued finals appearances.

7. Payne Hass – Age 24

2023 Season Stats: 23 Games Played | 1 Try | 187 Run Metres Per Game | 29 Tackles Per Game | 4.9 Tackle Breaks Per Game | 2.17 Offloads Per Game

Like Tino, it is shocking the success Hass has had in his relatively young career. Unlucky not to be a premiership winner, his performance in the grand final against a bruising Penrith pack only cemented his stature as the best forward in the game. His motor is unmatched and the development of his offloading last year (2.17 per game compared to 1.1 the year before) demonstrates that he is far from a finished product.

6. Nicho Hynes – Age 27

2023 Season Stats: 21 Games Played | 5 Tries | 28 Try Assists | 83 Goals | 33 Line Break Assists | 148 Run Metres Per Game

The man with perpetually wet hair, Nicho has experienced the roller coaster of stardom all in the space of a year. The highs of representative debuts for state and country were offset by another disappointing exit in the finals.

But what has been lost in the Hynes audit is the way he has transformed Cronulla’s attack. The 2022 Dally M Award Winner’s lack of big game success is what has kept him from being higher on the list but having been a late bloomer in the halfback position and with Cronulla’s improving roster, Nicho is sure to have the opportunity to right these wrongs.

Queensland’s Cameron Munster with fans in the crowd. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

5. Cameron Munster – Age 29

2023 Season Stats: 22 Games Played | 8 Tries | 15 Try Assists | 13 Line Breaks | 6 Line Break Assists | 125 Run Metres Per Game

The oldest player on this list, I did consider moving Munster further down. But Munster has been far and away the best five-eighth for the last five years and that has to count for something. He might not sit atop the statistical categories, but he may be top of the list for players opposing teams are most fearful of with the game on the line, a fear I have seen continuously come to fruition as an NSW fan.

4. Harry Grant – Age 26

2023 Season Stats: 25 Games Played | 9 Tries | 12 Try Assists | 9 Line Breaks | 70 Run Metres Per Game | 42.6 Tackles Per Game

Melbourne replacing Cameron Smith with Harry Grant is like the Godfather sequel having Rob De Niro play Vito Corleone after Marlon Brando. Grant has firmly established himself as the leading hooker in the game. His performance last year only solidified his value, with Grant still proving reliable, persistent and dynamic out of dummy half despite playing behind a forward pack depleted of experience and quality. The only thing missing from Grant’s resume is a premiership.

Kalyn Ponga is one of the NRL’s most exciting talents. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

3. Kalyn Ponga – Age 25

2023 Season Stats: 20 Games Played | 9 Tries | 21 Try Assists | 19 Line Breaks | 27 Line Break Assists | 145 Run Metres Per Game

What a difference a few months make. Concussion-riddled and flying to Canada for neurological tests, Ponga’s career hung in the balance. His return to Australia resulted in a Dally M Medal and dragging a Newcastle side with not much spine quality to the finals. Ponga is his side’s attack and may be the most entertaining player to watch in the NRL. Even in light of his chequered injury history, his talent is undeniable. Considering the year he had and the fact he is still only 25, it would be malpractice to have him any lower on this list.

2. Reece Walsh – Age 21

2023 Season Stats: 22 Games Played | 9 Tries | 26 Try Assists | 21 Line Breaks | 37 Line Break Assists | 152 Run Metres Per Game

Reece Walsh at 21 has won a State of Origin Series and made a Grand Final appearance. At 21, I fell asleep watching Adam Gilchrist’s highlights from his 57-ball century at the WACA in 2006. Envy aside, Walsh is the best young player in the game, combining obvious potential with proven ability to perform on the big stage as evidenced in strong showings in the finals for the Broncos (grand final aside) and Queensland in Origin. Walsh looms as the key figure in Bronco’s young nucleus looking to emulate the Brisbane teams of the 90’s and early 2000’s.

Penrith’s Nathan Cleary is the best in the business. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

1. Nathan Cleary – Age 26

2023 Season Stats: 22 Games Played | 8 Tries | 20 Try Assists | 89 Goals | 18 Line Break Assists | 125 Run Metres Per Game

Expecting someone else? Nathan Cleary is by far the most accomplished player in the NRL and perhaps the most decorated 25-year-old in the competition’s history. A three-peat and the Panthers’ best player, his position as the best player in the game has long been solidified. His final 20 minutes last year in the grand final elevated him to a place where he is not compared to any current players, but chasing the greats of the game. Based on the start of his career, it would be a brave man to bet against him catching them.

Honourable Mentions

A mention for those who were close but just came up short: Tom Trbojevic (Manly), Latrell Mitchell (South Sydney), James Tedesco (Roosters), David Fifita (Gold Coast Titans) and Cameron Murray (South Sydney).

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