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Experts Roar: Who is most improved player

Many players have improved in the NRL this year – some have gone from fringe first-graders to permanent starters while others have broken into the representative ranks and thrived.

But who has been the most improved player of 2022?

The Cowboys and Broncos have been the two biggest climbers up the ladder when it comes to team success so it’s no surprise many players from those two teams are having career-best years.

Both those clubs were recognised at representative level too with their highest number of Origin contingents for several years.

The Roar experts have their say and if you’d like to do likewise, fire away in the comments section below.

Experts Roar – Most Improved Player

Michael Hagan (premiership-winning player and coach)

Reece Robson has been outstanding at hooker for the Cowboys. He’s gone from averaging 50 to 80 minutes per game and has given excellent service from dummy-half, showing some real craft at the ruck. He’s also a strong defender and a tough competitor.

Paul Suttor (Roar expert)

Tom Dearden was unable to hold down a spot in a struggling Broncos side last year and even after a mid-season switch to the Cowboys, the jury was still well and truly out on whether he could cut the mustard as a first-grade playmaker.

North Queensland coach Todd Payten surprisingly put his faith in Dearden ahead of Scott Drinkwater as Chad Townsend’s halves partner at the start of the year and he has gone from strength to strength.

Cameron Munster’s bout of COVID-19 led to Dearden getting an unexpected Origin debut but he showed he belonged in elite company with a five-star performance to help the Maroons upset the Blues in the decider.

Dearden’s Cowboys teammate Reuben Cotter would have been most improved if not for the hamstring injury sidelining him for the past six weeks.

Patrick Carrigan

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

Patrick Carrigan has been absolutely incredible this year and one of the reasons the Brisbane Broncos are looking so strong leading into the finals. Last year Carrigan was not a fan favourite at the Broncos but has dramatically improved this season.

He was very much deserving of his State of Origin call-up and then he won the Wally Lewis Medal as player of the series.  Given his form this year, he would not look out of place in a Kangaroos jersey.

Joe Frost (Roar expert)

Dominic Young. In a disappointing year for Knights fans, the former Huddersfield Giant has been a rare shining light, scoring eight tries, racking up 10 line breaks and averaging 126 running metres.

A certain starter for Jamaica in the World Cup at the start of the year, England selection is far more likely based on his performances in 2022.

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Stuart Thomas (Roar expert)

Dolphins-bound Jeremy Marshall-King is the most improved player in the NRL this season. Even amidst the Bulldogs’ disastrous start to the season, as former coach Trent Barrett failed in his attempts to draw wins and points from his struggling unit, Marshall-King was one of Canterbury’s best on a week to week basis.

Having not missed a game thus far, the 26-year-old has blossomed even further under Mick Potter, scheming and creating around the ruck as the blue and whites have all of a sudden found the scoring punch that their fans have been waiting for in recent seasons.

Defensively, Marshall-King is near perfect most weeks, his dummy half work has been competent and controlled and his general poise and composure improved greatly from some of the panicky moments he was prone to in the past.

Currently sitting sixth in the NRL Fanatsy hooker category, the man who only 1.56% of players took on as a member of their squad has made enormous improvements in 2022 and subsequently been rewarded with the chance to be Wayne Bennett’s inaugural hooker at the Dolphins. 

Danielle Smith (Roar expert)

Jason Taumalolo was surrounded by rumours that he was leaving the Cowboys and being caught up in dramas with coach Todd Payten last year – JT13 was far from the wrecking ball we knew him to be. Come this season, he is back to his best, leading from the front, pumping those tree trunk legs and causing damage once more.

He’s just ahead of another couple of Cowboys – Val Holmes since his move to the centres has become “Time Machine Holmes”, rising to the best levels he displayed at Cronulla. And his goal kicking stats are back up to where they were at the Sharks. Reece Robson has been one of the best defensive hookers in the game, he has come on leaps and bounds since last year. He should have been the starting No.9 for the Blues.

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Tim Gore (Roar expert)

Referee Peter Gough. He has been running sidelines in the top grade for around a decade and began getting a few pocket ref gigs in 2019. Once the NRL returned from the enforced COVID-19 shut down the pocket ref role was gone and Gough began taking on lead referee positions.

There were a few bumpy performances to start with but this year he has noticeably stepped up to become an effective and authoritative referee who displays a really good feel for the game – although his choice of facial hair can sometimes be suspect.

Gough has now established himself as a permanent fixture at this level.

Matt Burton

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Mike Meehall Wood (Roar expert)

This is a tough one: the obvious answer would be guys like Reuben Cotter and Tom Dearden, who have gone from being young first-graders to Origin players, but instead, I’m going to go for Matt Burton.

Burton was the Dally M Centre of the Year last year, so it’s not as if nobody had heard of him, but the way that he has become one of the best five-eighths in the comp is one I didn’t see coming, especially in a team like the Bulldogs.

Cast your mind back to the first two months of the season, when the team could barely score a point and were going absolutely nowhere: Burton had three halves partners in five weeks before Kyle Flanagan was settled on.

Now, he’s the leader of one of the most exciting teams to watch, one of the most dangerous kickers in the comp and an Origin player to boot. He should, and probably will, make the Kangaroos squad for the World Cup.

AJ Mithen (Roar expert)

Joe Tapine. He has always been good, but 2022 has seen him make a giant leap to being great. After moving to the front row pretty much full-time, his ability to bend the line, keep play running via an offload and dragging defenders for those critical post contact metres has him in the elite of the elite with the likes of Payne Haas and James Fisher-Harris.

There’s also been more growth as a leader in Canberra and for New Zealand, captaining the Maori All-Stars and being spoken of as captaincy material for club and country moving forward. Tapine is on track for career-best stats across every field and he’s fourth in the NRL for run metres right now with 2966, surrounded by fullbacks and wingers.

His increase in quality of output couldn’t have come at a better time either, with his contract up and him being able to basically name his own price. It wouldn’t surprise to see Tapine become the game’s highest-paid forward for his next deal, wherever it may be.

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