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Who are the NRL’s best 10 halfbacks for season 2023?

With the 2023 NRL season kick-off looming closer, The Roar is counting down until the footy starts with a ranking of each position on the field.

Not just who had a great 2022, but those that are the best in their role currently in the NRL. 

Next on the list, the little generals barking orders – and the toughest category to rank so far – Halfbacks.

1. Nathan Cleary (Panthers)

Although 2022 may not have been his best individual season, Cleary is still one of the best number sevens we have ever seen.

Questions were raised about whether he was indeed the game’s best playmaker when the Panthers halfback came undone after a losing Origin campaign, and then again when he was suspended for five matches after a tackle on Dylan Brown went wrong. But he came back from his stint on the sideline with a vengeance and guided his side to back-to-back premierships.

Cleary came out on top when it came to World Cup selections, knocking over DCE for the number seven (or what it number 12, or 52?) jersey for the Kangaroos.

Heading into his eighth season in the NRL, he has three grand final appearances with two premierships, took home Dally M Halfback of the Year in 2020 and 2021, was Clive Churchill Medal winner in 2021 and has one of the most lethal pinpoint kicking games in the league.

The Panthers are in very good hands.

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

2. Ben Hunt (Dragons)

Remember, not the best from 2022, but the best heading into the 2023 season.

Finishing off his 14th season in the top grade, Ben Hunt needed this off-season more than anyone after carrying the entire Dragons team on his back all year.

One of the toughest men on the field, Hunt is a workhorse who just never gives up.

Six tries and 21 assists, 57 tackle busts and 37 offloads. He kicked the most 40/20s of the year with six, forced nine dropouts and managed 305 kicks in play averaging 417 metres.

He was one of the best for Queensland, breaking the hearts of all Blues fans when he locked up the series for the Maroons with his last-minute try. He played in every game for the Kangaroos and will be gearing up for another big year for the Red V.

Ben Hunt celebrates with Josh Kerr

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

3. Nicho Hynes (Sharks)

Wow.

No really. Wow.

No one made an impact for their new club this season the way that Hynes did.

He took to halfback like a duck to water and was one of the main reasons Cronulla finished in second spot.

He had a hand in a whopping 26 try assists, second only to Mitch Moses for the year, and scored six of his own. He kicked the most field goals of the year with four and made the most tackles out of any halfback with 483. He made 320 kicks in play averaging 374 metres, as well as 34 offloads and 59 tackle busts and finished the year with 84 conversions.

But it wasn’t just about stats – he won the Dally M Player of the Year award with a record-breaking 38 points, and also took home Halfback of the Year.

The sky is the limit for this talented 26-year-old.

4. Mitch Moses (Eels)

It’s no wonder the Tigers are willing to throw everything including the kitchen sink to try and lure this guy back.

After four seasons at Leichhardt, Moses heads into his seventh at the Eels, still chasing premiership glory.

He came ever so close last year, guiding Parramatta to the Grand Final but falling short at the final hurdle.

He had a huge 2022. Seven tries with 28 assists, the most from any player in the NRL this year. He also made the most kicks in play with 364, averaging 430 metres, as well as finishing the year off with 51 tackle busts, nine offloads and was awarded Dally M Tackle of the Year.

He also led his beloved Lebanon at the World Cup.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

5. Jahrome Hughes (Storm)

When your team boasts the names of Cam Munster, Ryan Papenyuyzen and Harry Grant, what a deadset underrated superstar this guy becomes.

But the 2021 Storm Player of the Year stood up when everyone around him was injured, suspended or away for Origin.

Hughes scored 12 tries – the most from any halfback – along with 15 assists during his 21 games. He finished the year with 79 tackle busts, 15 line breaks and 12 offloads.

He was also the least penalised halfback, giving away just one for the season.

Forming a lethal combination with Munster in the halves during the NRL season, Hughes was against his usual partner when he represented New Zealand at the World Cup.

6. Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)

While his club crumbled around him after the Pride Jersey Saga, the Manly skipper did his best to steady the ship. The Manly, Maroons and (kind of) Kangaroos halfback showed he is still a top-notch number seven.

Heading into his 13th season at Brookvale, DCE is just one of those guys that you know will give it his all. The inspirational leader was once again at the forefront of a Maroons series win, and before the end-of-season collapse, he was one of the leading halves of the game.

He finished the year with five tries and 20 assists, along with 24 offloads and 52 tackle busts. He also made 427 tackles and eight line breaks – the second most from any halfback. DCE kicked two winning field goals and proved over and over again during press conferences and post-match interviews the class that he possesses.

7. Chad Townsend (Cowboys)

It’s possible he may have had a few sessions in teammate Val Holmes’ time machine as he certainly turned back the clock.

Many questioned and even laughed at Cowboys coach Todd Payten for signing up the 31-year-old, with Townsend leaving the Sharks mid-way through 2021 and finishing the season for the Warriors on the injury list.

But it was the 2022 Dally M Coach of the Year who got the last laugh.  

The premiership-winning 12-year veteran’s mix of experience and leadership was exactly what North Queensland needed. Taking young five-eighth Tom Dearden under his wing and forming a solid partnership together in the halves, as well as being a great guide for many of the other young talent coming through.

His kicking game became such an advantage to the Cowboys, finishing the season with a huge 22-try assists. He also scored two of his own and made the second-most tackles of any halfback this season with 446.

Chad Townsend passes

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

8. Adam Reynolds (Broncos)

Everyone thought this ex-Bunny was going to be the signing of 2022. While he didn’t quite live up to the hype thanks to injury, he still had a massive impact at Brisbane – and his resume speaks for itself.

Ten seasons at Redfern saw Reynolds become the club’s highest-ever points scorer, as well as kick the second-most goals ever in a season behind the great Eric Simms. He also steered the boys around the park for their 2014 grand-final win over the Dogs.

He still managed to have a hand in 21 tries last season and scored six of his own. His 300 kicks in play averaged 442 – the second-highest from any halfback this year.

If he can remain fit and on the field in 2023, we should see him back to his electrifying best.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

9. Sam Walker (Roosters)

In just two seasons at the top, everyone knows just how good this kid will be.

The 2021 Dally M Rookie of the Year cemented his spot in the halves in 2022 and has become an integral part of the Roosters backline.

He scored 7 tries and made 16 assists during his 25 games this year, along with 39 tackle busts, 13 offloads and 5 line breaks. He put in 193 kicks in play averaging 196 metres per game.

If he and Luke Keary can stay healthy, they could become one of the best halves pairing in the game.

10.Lachlan Ilias (Rabbitohs)

This kid went from villain to hero very quickly – thankfully he didn’t let being hooked get in the way of showing us how well he can play.

With the pressure he faced after the departure of number eight on this list, he had Bunnies fans asking ‘Reynolds who?’ by the end of the season. In his first full year in the top-grade Ilias played with a maturity level and calmness well beyond his 22 years.

Five tries and 11 assists during his 26 games, as well as 213 kicks averaging 234 metres. He completed 101 runs, 29 tackle busts and six offloads.

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