Smart recruiting can make or break and NRL club's season. Which team pulled off the best buy of the 2018 Telstra Premiership campaign?
Michael Chammas (NRL.com chief reporter)
Kalyn Ponga. He's the best value buy of the year and while he may not have led Newcastle to finals football this season, it has the potential to be remembered as the best signing of the decade. A superstar on and off the field.
Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)
James Maloney. Names like Pearce, Ponga, Harris and Tedesco have drastically improved their new clubs but for me, where Penrith are now (in fourth and legitimate title contenders) compared to where they would be if they hadn't signed him given Nathan Cleary's early-season injury (possibly not even in the eight) makes Maloney the buy of the year despite a few dusty weeks coming out of Origin.
Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)
Tohu Harris. The former Storm forward has given the Warriors pack something it has been lacking for several years – legitimacy. Kalyn Ponga has shown he'll be a star of the future at Newcastle but for instant impact, Harris has been the top recruit for 2018.
Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)
Sometimes new signings are about bringing 'something else' to a club – belief, encouragement, promise – and Mitchell Pearce has done that. A premiership winner, a cool head, a cunning brain and a brilliant passing and kicking game, he is a bit more petrol on the fire that is the Newcastle Knights supporters base. He has lifted the Hunter with a big injection of optimism for not just this season but future seasons. Then there's his figures in a year truncated by a serious injury – nine try assists, five line-break assists and two tries in 12 games.
Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)
Kalyn Ponga. It's funny, I almost forgot that Ponga was new at the Knights this year because he was signed so long ago. Ponga is one of the most exciting young talents the game has ever season. He has a beautiful sidestep and when he's been missing the Knights have really struggled. What's even more impressive is that by all accounts he is a really special young kid who is very happy in Newcastle. I can't wait to watch him continue to grow and develop.
Andrew Marmont (NRL.com reporter)
Blake Green. The Warriors have benefited immensely from his calming influence and game management. Ever since James Maloney left they've lacked someone to complement Shaun Johnson's off-the-cuff talents, but Green has stepped into the breach superbly. Finals footy awaits for the first time since 2011 (and when Maloney was there).
Tanisha Stanton (NRL.com reporter)
Since Kalyn Ponga has come onto the scene he's revamped not only the Newcastle side, but created a massive following for the Knights and given their fans some hope again. The 20-year-old made his Origin debut in his first full NRL season and is also tipped to take out the Dally M medal. Ponga proves himself to be a tireless worker on a weekly basis, with a total of 2759 running metres and 134 tackle breaks this season.
Scott Hazlewood (NRL.com reporter)
It's tough to go past Kalyn Ponga for this award. Plenty of questions were left to be answered before this season: if he was worth the money, could he withstand a full season of NRL, was the hype train in overdrive? Ponga has answered all of those questions and then some and provides real hope for the future for the Knights. Honourable mention to James Graham helping shape the culture of the Dragons forward pack early in the season.
Hayley Byrnes (NRL.com reporter)
Blake Green. The New Zealand Warriors are on the cusp of making the finals for the first time since 2011, thankfully in part to Blake Green moving across the ditch. His calmness and ability to steer the ship have allowed Shaun Johnson to do what he does best – run instinctively. It's hard to imagine where they'd be sitting on the NRL ladder without him.
Dylan Morris (NRL.com reporter)
James Tedesco. The Tiger-turned-Rooster has been at times been untouchable in the number one jersey, and although part of his success stems from Cooper Cronk's presence on his inside, the fullback's individual efforts for the Roosters and New South Wales at fullback speak for themselves.
Peter Jolly (NRL.com reporter)
Cooper Cronk. Looking at his career stats there's no doubting his ability, and if the Roosters can finish 2018 off with a title it will prove to be well worth any salary. With his team current favourites for the premiership, Cronk has simply added to a star-studded backline of attacking weapons: Blake Ferguson, Latrell Mitchell and James Tedesco. Now they have well and truly gelled, I can't say they are unbeatable – but they are very close to it. While his skills have not surprised, the fact the club was able to fit him in with all the other talent, has made him an exceptional buy.
Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)
James Maloney. I cast my mind back to when the Panthers had a horrid injury toll early in the season and Nathan Cleary was out for eight weeks with a knee injury. Former Shark Maloney showed why he brings a pot of gold with every club he is involved in. If Penrith are going to feature heavy in the finals series, look out for the veteran playmaker to be the driving force.
Katie Brown (NRL.com reporter)
Jai Arrow. For someone who was playing off the bench for the Broncos less than a year ago, hasn't this lock turned his career from good to great. Jai Arrow has fought through injuries and still averaging 145.7 running metres a game, it only took him four performances at the Titans for his name to be tossed around the Origin scene and deservingly so, made his debut for the Maroons this year. The 22-year-old has added that X-factor to the Gold Coast and without a doubt has been the club's best all year.
Jamie Soward (Former Blues five-eighth)
Kalyn Ponga. He wasn't on many people's radars because he didn't go to a top eight team. Ponga's so good that he's going to change the way we view fullbacks, much like a Billy Slater. Put simply, if I was starting a team today, Kalyn Ponga is the first player I'd call. Honourable mentions: James Maloney, Blake Green.
Zac Bailey (NRL.com reporter)
Cooper Cronk. Yes the premiership-winning halfback had a slow start to his first season with the Roosters, but he is hitting his straps at the right time of the year. His combination with James Tedesco is now one of the best halfback-fullback combinations in the NRL and is a big reason why the Roosters are considered premiership favourites.
Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)
One of the best players of his generation, Cooper Cronk was signed by the Sydney Roosters to help deliver a premiership and is well on track to do exactly that. Cronk may be in the twilight years of his career but he makes the players around him better and is showing his class at the business end of the year in the absence of Luke Keary.
David Piepers (Big League editor)
It might be argued that by delivering exactly what was expected of him, James Tedesco might not look as impressive as the likes of Kalyn Ponga – but that's nonsense. Tedesco's influence might occasionally be lost in a talented roster of big names, but he's been a vital factor in the Roosters' success this season. His ability to break the line and score tries while saving them on the defensive end is everything the game's best custodians should be striving for, and with his first ever taste of finals on the horizon, we should expect him to get even better.
Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)
Ben Hunt. The former Broncos halfback has added another dimension to the Dragons attack and freed up skipper Gareth Widdop to play his own game. The confidence Hunt provided his new team-mates was a major reason they started the season so strongly and he will be a key player if the Dragons make the finals.
Neil Cadigan (NRL.com reporter)
Jai Arrow. To go from a fringe Broncos prop who had started in just three NRL games (plus 21 off the bench) to become the Titans' best forward and starting front-rower for Queensland is some leap. The extent of how good a signing he is for Gold Coast will be seen more next year when they will be one of the most improved teams in the competition.