NRL team of the 21st century: We pick our top XIII

Andrew Reid
·13-min read
Pictured here, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater celebrating their 2017 grand final win.
Cameron Smith and Billy Slater were a key part of one the greatest NRL teams of the 21st century. Pic: Getty

With the NRL season shut down and no footy to discuss, we thought it as good a time as any to pick our greatest team of the post-2000 era.

Comparing players from different eras is always tricky and we'd be lying if we said there weren't a lot of arguments, but here is Yahoo Sport Australia's NRL Team of the 21st Century.

FULLBACK

Contenders: Billy Slater, Jarryd Hayne, James Tedesco

James Tedesco is the best player in the game right now. Individually and with the Roosters and NSW, he was won everything. Silverware with the Kangaroos is really the only box left to tick but he's still got plenty of footy left in him.

Jarryd Hayne won two Dally M medals in an era that also coincided with Slater, which is a testament to how good he was at the peak of his powers. A losing grand finalist with Parramatta, Hayne's career was hindered by a move to the NFL.

Billy Slater's consistency over such a long period of time makes him a clear standout. As well as two NRL premierships with the Storm, Slater was instrumental in eight Origin series wins for the Maroons, as well as a Four Nations and World Cup triumph with Australia. Safe as houses as the last line of defence, one of the best talkers on the field and incredible in attack. The fact he's the second greatest try scorer in Australian rugby league history is proof of that. A future Immortal.

OUR PICK: Billy Slater

Seen here, Billy Slater representing Australia at Test level.
Billy Slater was rugby league's premier fullback for well over a decade. Pic: Getty

WINGERS

Contenders: Valentine Holmes, Semi Radradra, Brett Morris, Josh Addo-Carr, Manu Vatuvei

All the wingers on this list have left their mark on the NRL as try-scoring machines, with most replicating that form at representative level. While Semi Radradra has since been lost to rugby union, the mark he left on the NRL is unquestionable. With 24 tries in the 2015 season he still holds the club record at Parramatta. His strike rate of 82 tries in 94 NRL games is astonishing and he was a two-time Dally M Winger of the Year in his five seasons.

Manu Vatuvei is no stranger to records either, the giant winger holds the distinction of being the greatest try-scorer in Warriors history and the first man to score 10 tries or more in 10 consecutive seasons.

Brett Morris is the 10th highest try scorer in Australian rugby league history (153 tries) and his consistency over more than a decade makes him almost impossible to overlook. He's won two premierships, two Four Nations titles and a World Cup triumph with the Kangaroos in 2013 in a glittering career that still hasn't finished.

Valentine Holmes has reinvented himself as a fullback nowadays but before his failed attempt at cracking the NFL, he was the best winger in the NRL. A key part of the Sharks' first and only NRL premiership win in 2016, an Origin series winner with the Maroons and a record-setting World Cup winner with Australia in 2017, Holmes is a freakish talent that doesn't come around every day.

OUR PICK: Brett Morris, Semi Radradra

Pictured here, Roosters winger Brett Morris and Semi Radradra during his Eels playing days.
When it comes to try-scoring prowess, there are few better than Brett Morris and Semi Radradra. Pic: Getty

CENTRES

Contenders: Greg Inglis, Mark Gasnier, Jamie Lyon, Justin Hodges

A two-time premiership winner with Manly and a multiple winner of the Dally M centre of the year, Jamie Lyon was recently voted into the NRL's team of the decade from 2010 to 2020. Despite featuring for NSW and the Kangaroos early in his career, his reluctance to play representative footy while at the peak of his powers was a real shame but his influence at club level made him a Manly legend.

Origins, premierships, Tri Nations, Four Nations... there isn't much Justin Hodges didn't win over an illustrious career that spanned the best part of 15 years. A constant menace alongside Greg Inglis in the most dominant Maroons side in Origin history, Hodges was a class act.

Like others before and after him, Mark Gasnier's career was punctuated by a stint in another sport. Despite joining rugby union in 2008 as an Origin series winner with the Blues three years earlier, Gasnier returned to the NRL in 2010 to help the St George-Illawarra Dragons win the joint venture's first and only premiership to date. A regular with the Blues and Kangaroos, Gasnier was also part of the Kangaroos' 2006 Tri Nations victory and is a multiple NRL Centre of the Year winner.

Greg Inglis played a major part in an unprecedented period of Queensland Origin domination - involved in each of the 10 series victory in 11 years that the Maroons inflicted on NSW between 2006 and 2016. Played in three grand final-winning teams (two Storm titles were later stripped), Inglis is a Clive Churchill medallist, a Golden Boot winner and with 18 tries (in 32 matches) he is the Maroons' greatest try-scorer in Origin history.

OUR PICK: Greg Inglis, Mark Gasnier

Maroons legend Greg Inglis and Blues great Mark Gasnier take on the defence during their playing days.
Greg Inglis and Mark Gasnier were among the hardest centres to stop in their prime. Pic: Getty

FIVE-EIGHTH

Contenders: Johnathan Thurston, Darren Lockyer, Brad Fittler

All three men on this list will almost certainly take their place among rugby league's Immortals at some point in the future.

Brad Fittler played the majority of his professional career in the 1990s but still won plenty post-2000. Captained the Kangaroos in two World Cup victories, including 2000 and won the 2002 NRL premiership with the Roosters as well as appearing in the 2000, 2003 and 2004 grand finals with the Tri Colours. Played in two Origin series wins, including the 2004 series when he came out of rep retirement to score the final try in game three. Hung up his boots as the most-capped Blues player and third most-capped Kangaroo in history. Back-to-back series wins in 2018 and 2019 as NSW coach merely cement his status as one of the sport's greats.

Darren Lockyer, like Fittler, was an inspirational leader for club, state and country. Went from the game's best fullbacks earlier in his career to its best five-eighths, seamlessly. Captained the Maroons in five Origin series wins from 2001 to 2011 and is the most-capped Kangaroos player 59 Tests) and leading try-scorer of all time for Australia (35 tries). Won an incredible four premierships with the Broncos. An absolute God amongst men.

Johnathan Thurston is quite simply one of finest rugby league players of all time, with many good judges insisting he's the greatest in the history of the sport. We're unapologetically including JT as a five-eighth on this list because of a certain other No.7 who we just couldn't leave out. The Maroons, Kangaroos and Cowboys legend is the first and only four-time Dally M medal winner and three-time Golden Boot winner. The record point scorer for Queensland and Australia, Thurston has also won two NRL premierships, 11 State of Origin series and a World Cup with the Kangaroos.

OUR PICK: Johnathan Thurston

HALF-BACK

Contenders: Andrew Johns, Cooper Cronk

One of only 13 Immortals, Andrew Johns is another player regarded by many as the best that's ever played rugby league (depending what side of the Tweed River you hail from). Joey's influence for club, state and country was unrivalled during his playing days, as was his skill-set and creativity. Tough as nails, a freakishly good kicker and a genius with ball in hand, Johns was one of only two players to have won three or more Dally M medals. Played in the Knights' only two grand final triumphs (including 2001) and three Origin series wins for NSW including 2005 when he returned from injury to mastermind what would prove to be their last for almost a decade.

Cooper Cronk hung up his boots at the end of the last season having joined an exclusive club of players to have won multiple premierships with different clubs. Part of the Big Three at the Melbourne Storm where he won four grand finals (two titles were later stripped), Cronk added the 2018 and 2019 premierships to his collection after moving to the Roosters for the final two seasons of his career. A Clive Churchill medallist, two-time Dally M and World Cup winner, Cronk also played in a whopping eight Origin series wins, playing 22 times.

OUR PICK: Andrew Johns

Seen here, two of rugby league's greatest playmakers Johnathan Thurston and Andrew Johns.
Johnathan Thurston and Andrew Johns are two of the finest playmakers rugby league has ever seen. Pic: Getty

PROPS

Contenders: Petero Civoniceva, Shane Webcke, Matt Scott, Jesse Bromwich

Since debuting for the Melbourne Storm in 2010, Jesse Bromwich's consistency as one of the best props in the game has been phenomenal. Dally M prop of the year in 2016, Bromwich has won two premierships with the Storm and his work rate for one of the best defensive teams of the last decade is exceptional.

Matt Scott, like Bromwich, gets through a ton of work out on the field and makes very few mistakes. A Dally M prop of the year in 2011, Scott has won eight Origin series with Queensland, a World Cup with the Kangaroos and a premiership with the Cowboys. Played his entire 16-year NRL career with the Cowboys and was consistently mentioned as one of the game's premier front-row forwards.

Petero Civoniceva was a mainstay for the Maroons and Kangaroos for the majority of the 2000s, winning premierships with the Broncos in 2000 (he was injured for the grand final) and 2006 (to go with his first in 1998). An absolute beast on the footy field, Civoniceva was notoriously hard to stop and possessed a deadly offload game to boot. Got through a mountain of work in defence and was a leader on the field and off. Dally M Prop of the Year in 2008, Civoniceva won silverware with the Maroons and Kangaroos and became the first forward in Australia's history to be capped 40 times (eventually retiring with 45 caps).

Civoniceva's partner in crime for much of his Broncos, Maroons and Kangaroos playing career was Shane Webcke, with the pair forming one of the most devastating front-row combinations the game has ever seen. Webcke's toughness was typified by the fact he played through the pain of a broken arm in the 2000 finals series to help the Broncos claim the NRL premiership - his third with the club. Webcke would go on to win a fourth premiership in 2006 before announcing his retirement. A three-time Dally M Prop of the Year (from 2000-2002), Webcke also won Origin series with the Maroons and a World Cup for Australia.

OUR PICK: Petero Civoniceva, Shane Webcke

Pictured here, legendary Maroons front-rowers Petero Civoniceva and Shane Webcke.
Petero Civoniceva and Shane Webcke formed one of the most formidable front row partnerships for club, state and country so we couldn't look past them. Pic: Getty

HOOKER

Contenders: Cam Smith, Josh Hodgson, Danny Buderus

By far the easiest and least controversial selection for us in this NRL team of the 21st century. No offence to Josh Hodgson and Danny Buderus, but they are up against another man who will almost certainly become one of rugby league's Immortals. Cameron Smith is simply incomparable when it comes to rugby league hookers. An inspirational leader on and off the pitch, his longevity is almost as legendary as his influence on games.

With an all-time record of 413 first grade appearances and counting, Smith has also played the most Origin matches in history (42) and with 56 Tests is the second most-capped player (behind Lockyer) in Australia's history.

Two-time Dally M Medal and Golden Boot winner, he's claimed the NRL Hooker of the Year award an astonishing seven times. Smith has also won the Origin series on 11 occasions, played in four grand final victories (two titles later stripped) and won the World Cup twice with Australia. One of the greatest players ever.

OUR PICK: Cameron Smith

In this picture, Cameron Smith throws a pass while playing for Australia.
Cameron Smith's inclusion as hooker was an absolute no-brainer. Pic: Getty

SECOND ROWERS

Contenders: Boyd Cordner, Sam Burgess, Gordon Tallis, Steve Menzies, Luke Lewis

All five men on this are premiership winners, most on more than one occasion. Mainstays of their respective sides for long periods, they all share an insatiable appetite for work and would consistently rack up big numbers in attack and defence. All destructive ball runners in their own way, Menzies has the distinct honour of being the most prolific try-scoring forward in Australian rugby league history.

Menzies' 180 first grade tries puts him third on the all-time list, behind fellow Manly legend Ken Irvine (212 tries) and Billy Slater (190).

While the other four can't boast that sort of try-scoring threat, their leadership qualities can't be underestimated. Tallis won three premierships before the turn of the century but still managed to nab one more in 2000 before hanging up the boots at the end of the 2004 season.

Lewis and Burgess were both Clive Churchill medal winners in their respective grand final triumphs, but back-to-back Origin series victories and NRL premierships, as captain, makes Cordner impossible to ignore.

OUR PICK: Steve Menzies, Boyd Cordner

Seen here, Roosters captain Boyd Cordner and Manly legend Steve Menzies.
Boyd Cordner and Steve Menzies were key to the two premierships they won with their clubs.

LOCK

Contenders: Jason Taumalolo, Jake Trbojevic, Paul Gallen

Jake Trbojevic is arguably the best tackler in the game and he gets through a mountain of work on the field. Ever-reliable in defence, he is also effective with the ball in hand and frequently chimes in on attack for Manly and NSW. He'd be one of the first names picked ono the team sheet at club and state level.

Paul Gallen was an inspirational leader for the Sharks and NSW before retiring at the end of last season. With 19 seasons in first grade rugby league, Gallen holds the Australian record. It's a testament to his incredible longevity. A versatile player, who featured across all forward positions, Gallen was a renowned warrior who would sacrifice his blood, sweat and tears every time he stepped onto a footy field.

When it comes to influence in a match, however, there is simply no way to look past Jason Taumalolo. With the exception of Cam Smith, it's rare for a forward to win the Dally M medal but such is the impact Taumalolo has on the Cowboys, he managed to do it in 2016. A three-time NRL Lock of the Year, the other JT also helped North Queensland win their first and only NRL premiership in 2015. Consistently one of the top forwards for run metres, solid as a rock in defence and an absolute menace to stop in attack, Taumalolo is the premier No.13 of his generation.

OUR PICK: Jason Taumalolo

Pictured here, Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo taking a hit-up.
Jason Taumalolo is consistently among the NRL's top-performing locks. Pic: Getty

Interchange: Matt Scott, Gordon Tallis, Sam Burgess, Darren Lockyer

With Yahoo Sport staff