Master coaches flex their muscles as rookie sensation caps epic rise: 2020 NRL Power Rankings

Master coaches flex their muscles as rookie sensation caps epic rise: 2020 NRL Power Rankings


Darcie McDonald

  • December 10, 2020 8:58am
  • Source: FOX SPORTS

This year has thrown many curveballs.

Crowds were locked out of stadiums, the season was suspended, players and coaching staff lived in a bubble and it was too hot to wear a NSW or QLD beanie while watching State of Origin.

But amongst it all some real — and unexpected — winners emerged. If we think back to the start of this year we wouldn’t have tipped to see the likes of a two-game rookie Harry Grant and Warriors assistant coach Todd Payten in the 2020 NRL power rankings come December.

But here we are. A lot has happened. Grant is now a household name and Payten was in the running to be crowned coach of the year.

Along with Grant and Payten there is of course the usual suspects like Storm duo Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith as well as Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett… but the wild year of 2020 means there’s some new influential figures on the block. has selected the top 20 most influential figures in the game after the 2020 season. The list is made up of players, coaches and officials.

For players, their form, achievements and overall impact on their team and the game was taken into consideration.

For coaches, we’ve taken in how they fared this year in all facets of their job, how the team developed under their watch and how their team is looking for 2021.

For officials, it simply came down to powerplays and or what they’ve done for the game in 2020.

Here are the NRL Power Rankings…


A bit left field to start off with but Justin Holbrook deserves a lot of credit for what he’s achieved with the Titans this year. He took the club from a wooden spoon to a ninth place finish pushing hard for finals at the end of the regular season. Holbrook came up with the simple idea of putting the No.6 on Ashley Taylor’s back to ease the pressure on the playmaker and it ended up working wonders. Aside from the on-field improvement, Holbrookmanaged to snatch David Fifita from the Broncos.A lot of pundits have the Titans finishing in the eight next year and that’s a real credit to Holbrook’s work in 2020.

Gold Coast Titans coach Justin Holbrook. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


Rewind to just over a year ago and Trent Barrett was out of work. Manly had axed him in favour of Des Hasler and his coaching career looked like it had been put on the ice for the moment. He then linked up with Ivan Cleary on Penrith’s coaching staff and make no mistake the Panthers would not have been so successful in 2020 if it wasn’t for Barrett. The players have repeatedly credited him for improving their attack. Barrett impressed so much that he landed the Bulldogs’ head coaching gig for 2021 and has made a number of good signings on the field and more notably off the field — Steve Hansen is a standout.

Trent Barrett played a huge role in the Panthers’ success in 2020. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


In the world of business in the NRL they don’t come much more powerful than Nick Politis. The Roosters boss locked in the clubs two most important players — James Tedesco and Luke Keary — on multi-year deals and there’s no doubt he would have played a huge role in snatching teen prodigy Joseph Suaalii from rivals South Sydney. The Roosters may not have reached the same success of the previous two seasons but off the field the club is still stronger than ever under Politis’ watch.

Roosters chairman Nick Politis. Picture: Sam RuttynSource: News Corp Australia


Overall it wasn’t Tedesco’s most dominant year — it’s hard to top his 2019 success — but it’s impossible to leave out the most consistent player in the game and one that many consider the best in the world. The 27-year-old became the first player in the Roosters’ history to win the club’s player of the year honour in three consecutive seasons and his undying effort was rewarded with a multimillion-dollar contract extension to keep him in the Tricolours until the end of 2024.

Star fullback James Tedesco. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


A CEO we didn’t hear too much from — at least in Australia — until this year. The Warriors faced the most challenges and uncertainty throughout 2020 and the man guiding them through it all was Cameron George. He handled the adversity with grace and patience, was honest and didn’t lose his sense of humour along the way.

Warriors CEO Cameron George. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


Say what you want about him but Sonny Bill Williams had an impact on the game in 2020 — even if he did play just five games. Given his superstar status there was a fair bit of hype around his return to the NRL. In the days leading up to his return match for the Roosters, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo predicted SBW would bring in around $30 million worth of media value. That’s a big win for the competition given the financial setbacks of COVID and reaffirms just how influential SBW is.


It’s been another big year for the Storm winger both on and off the field. Addo-Carr won his second premiership with the Storm, was named in the Dally M Team of the Year and was one of NSW’s best in a disappointing series for the state. Away from the field, the 25-year-old has dominated headlines for the last few months due to his desire to move to Sydney. The Wests Tigers also locked him in, the Bulldogs have since tabled him a four-year offer and the Knights and Rabbitohs are said to have shown some interest in acquiring the game’s best winger. He’s fast becoming one of the biggest names in the game.

Josh Addo-Carr lifts the premiership trophy up. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


If we didn’t know just how good Ryan Papenhuyzen is, we sure do now. The Storm speedster played his first full season in the No.1 jersey and was simply mind-blowing to watch. He’s now put himself in the top three fullbacks in the competition. The 22-year-old had a lot of superstar moments in 2020 but it’s the thrilling field goal to beat the Roosters in Round 8 and that freakish jump over the sideline where he batted the ball back in the grand final that are the most memorable. Papenhuyzen won the Clive Churchill Medal and to top off a sensational season he was picked in the NSW extended squad. He was very unlucky not to make his debut for the Blues.

Ryan Papenhuyzen with the Clive Churchill Medal. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


A huge year for the Eels skipper. He took out the Dally M Fullback of the Year honour and made his State of Origin debut. Gutherson once again was the Eels best all season and swept up at the club’s end of season awards night winning the Ken Thornett Medal and the member’s player of the year. Without his season-long form and leadership the Eels wouldn’t have finished in the top four.


The Warriors may not have played finals in 2020 but Todd Payten was a genuine contender for coach of the year after leading his players through an incredibly challenging period off the field and turning around their form at the same time. Payten was in the dark just as much as Stephen Kearney and the players when Kearney was sacked. But he stepped up to the plate and managed to transform the Warriors into a finals-worthy team. Whether it was his straight-shooting honesty or high expectations, Payten had an incredible success at the helm. Like many of his players, he spent four months away from his family but in the end it was all worthwhile because his class and determination while coaching the Warriors earned him the Cowboys gig.


While Peter V’landys received the loudest applause — and deservedly so — for getting the game back up and running, we should be singing Andrew Abdo just as much praise. Abdo stepped into the interim CEO role in the midst of the coronavirus crisis after Todd Greenberg resigned. He weathered the storm alongside V’landys and made a huge impression on all the people that matter while doing it. In September he was officially locked in as the NRL’s CEO. V’landys went as far as saying after the appointment that Abdo “will be the best CEO the NRL ever had.”

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo. Picture: Brett CostelloSource: News Corp Australia


From doubts over whether the Panthers made the right coaching call to a minor premiership and grand final appearance… it’s been a dramatic 12 months for Ivan Cleary. He blooded exciting rookies in 2020, further developed some emerging players and now with the Panthers overflowing with talent he holds power in deciding who stays and who goes.


Is he the best coach we’ve seen in the NRL era? Not many would argue against that. After the Warriors, the Storm faced the most adversity in 2020. They were uprooted from their home base in Melbourne and relocated to the Sunshine Coast. The situation was really going to test their professionalism and Bellamy’s guidance as a coach. Of course, they barely had a hiccup. The most put together club overcame any obstacle thrown their way with ease to claim the premiership in the most challenging year. A true testament to of course the players and club officials but particularly the man steering the ship, Craig Bellamy.


The Storm skipper continues to prove that age is just a number. It still remains to be seen whether the 37-year-old will hang up the boots but what we do know is that Smith is still worth every cent of a million-dollar contract. In his 19th season Smith was still one of the most in form and influential players. He once again led the Storm to the premiership and claimed the Dally M Hooker of the Year honour for the ninth time. Truly one of the best to play our great game.


2020 was a career-defining year for Nathan Cleary. He had a bumpy start with the Tik Tok scandal but the 23-year-old overcame his mistake to play his best footy. The Dally M Halfback of the Year cemented his spot in the game’s circle of elite players and was breathing down Jack Wighton’s neck for the top honour. He’ll be disappointed with how his year ended: a grand final loss; Origin series loss and a lot of critics pointing the finger at him but we cannot ignore how influential he was in the Panthers’ dream run of 17 straight wins.


The Dally M Medal winner deserves a spot in our top five. Another outstanding year for the Raiders playmaker and overall was the form five-eighth of the competition. Unlucky not to have been given the opportunity to play in his preferred position for NSW but if he puts in another season of consistently great performances the Blues selectors surely can’t deny him again.


The master coach proved once again just why he’s one of the best we’ve ever seen. Bennett took his Bunnies on a rollercoaster ride of blistering form in the back end of the season that had many tipping them to be there on grand final day. When the season was done and dusted Bennett took the reins of QLD and led them to a stunning upset series win over NSW.

Maroons coach Wayne Bennett. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


It’s incredible to think that last year Harry Grant was playing in Queensland Cup. He’s now the reigning Dally M Rookie of the Year, scored the series-winning try on debut for the Maroons and has been locked in as Cameron Smith’s successor. The 22-year-old truly has had a spectacular year and should already be considered in the top five hookers of the competition. The Storm are so invested in Grant that they’re willing to lose Brandon Smith — the man who was long considered Melbourne’s next No.9 — in order to keep him at the club.


What a year it’s been for the Melbourne Storm superstar. He didn’t win the Dally M but Cameron Munster finishes 2020 as the most powerful player in the competition. Not only did he win the grand final with the Storm with a busted knee but he backed up to star for the Maroons in their upset series win over the Blues. Munster deservedly topped off the year with the Wally Lewis Medal for best player of the Origin series. His form this year should put to bed any doubt that the Storm won’t be as dominant if Cameron Smith retires.


The people’s champ. V’landys is another person we rarely heard from until 2020. He became the face of the NRL during an unprecedented time and was at the forefront of all of the major decisions that helped the NRL overcome COVID. Without V’landys would the game have gotten back up and running so quickly after the shutdown? Probably not. On top of juggling everything that came with getting the season back, V’landys wasn’t afraid to try new things. He introduced the six-again rule, which ended up being a huge success and he oversaw the trial of rule changes — including a change in the bunker referral process — at the end of the season. An advocate for the fans and the real MVP of 2020.

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