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NRL: Five greatest Australian players of the 21st Century

The 2024 NRL season is set to get underway and it is an exciting time to be a supporter of rugby league down under.

The NRL is packed with talented players who are sure to excite over the coming months, some of whom could go on to be among the best that have ever played the game.

They include the likes of Penrith Panthers superstar Nathan Cleary, but they are not there just yet and there is a bit of work still to be done.

So, with the new season starting this weekend, let’s take a look at five of the greatest players of the NRL era.

Considering Laurie Daley, Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis and Brad Fittler did not make the top five, that just shows the quality that has graced the NRL down the years.

Here are five of the best.

Johnathan Thurston

Starting with arguably the greatest of all-time, Johnathan Thurston made 323 NRL appearances scoring 90 tries.

He also made 37 appearances in State of Origin and played 38 Tests for Australia.

Thurston won his first premiership as a youngster with the Bulldogs, but it’s his time with North Queensland Cowboys that will be forever remembered.

The star five-eighth helped put the Cowboys on the map during a successful era that saw them win the premiership in 2015.

Thurston booted the winning drop goal in extra-time to seal the win and write his name into the history books.

Andrew Johns

Andrew Johns was not only blessed with amazing skills, he also had a great rugby league brain, that made him one of the best to have played in the NRL.

Johns is credited with saving the Newcastle Knights from extinction as he helped guide them to two premierships.

Johns not only starred in the NRL, but was also a legend in State of Origin, playing 23 matches and delivering series successes for New South Wales.

The five-eighth also played 23 Tests for Australia, scoring nine tries

Cameron Smith

No-one has played more games in the NRL than Cameron Smith.

Smith played 413 games in the NRL and right up until his final appearance for the Melbourne Storm he was still dominating games.

Smith was part of a hugely successful Storm side that won two premierships, while he also represented Queensland on 42 occasions in State of Origin.

The playmaker also represented Australia in 56 Tests and scored nine tries.

Darren Lockyer

Darren Lockyer quickly became a legend for the Brisbane Broncos as they went on to win four premierships.

He made 355 appearances, scoring a massive 123 tries, while he was also a star for Queensland in State of Origin.

Lockyer helped the Maroons wrestle dominance back from New South Wales during his 36 appearances, when he scored nine tries.

He also played 59 Tests for Australia, scoring 35 tries.

Billy Slater

Last but not least, Billy Slater was another legend of very successful Melbourne Storm and Queensland sides, starring alongside Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.

Slater made 319 NRL appearances, scoring 190 tries as the Storm won the premiership in 2012 and 2017.

The star fullback also scored 12 tries in 31 State of Origin appearances and 27 tries in 30 Tests for Australia.

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