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Experts' view: Who's NRL's most improved player?

Year-on-year improvement is the quest for all NRL players, be they wily veterans or unproven youngsters.

Each year some players take bigger steps than others and elevate themselves into most-improved conservations.

With more than half of the shortened season now in the books, the experts at have selected who they think has made the biggest leap forward in 2020.

Experts view

Jamie Soward (former Blues five-eighth)

Reagan Campbell-Gillard. He has shown that he can play big minutes and is playing better than when he played Origin a couple of years ago. Love the tough carries and also the variation with his offloads and passing game.

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

For me it's Ryan Matterson. He had a very good 2019, however, his move to Parra has seen him go to another level. He is much more of a complete player this year. Whether it's the change of environment and/or a new coach, the Eels are benefiting.

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Margie McDonald ( senior reporter)

James Fisher-Harris. Yes, he was Panthers' player of the year in 2019 but he’s shifted up another gear in the middle moving from lock to prop for the past nine games. He’s averaging 195 metres a match as a front-rower. Then there’s the off-loads, footwork and tireless defence.

Paul Suttor ( editor)

Stephen Crichton looked a player of promise last year and after blitzing it from the bench in the first two rounds, he was elevated to Penrith's starting side and the speedy centre has not looked back. A mix of pace and power, he has future representative star written all over him and will be crucial to Penrith's chances of making a deep finals run.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

It might seem bizarre to suggest that an Origin player has been most improved in 2020, but last year I queried Daniel Saifiti's selection. This year, he is actually playing like a NSW prop. His performance against the Panthers especially stands out.

Lone Scout ( Fantasy guru)

For the first six years of his career, Kurt Mann was a jack-of-all-trades who never really nailed down a specific position. But this season he's been handed a simple role at five-eighth and thrived with five tries, five try assists and a dangerous running game that has made him one of Newcastle's best-attacking players.

Tanisha Stanton ( reporter)

It's Isaah Yeo for me. He's moved into the lock role, where he's playing bigger minutes and having more of an impact on the team's performances. With more ball in hand, he's playing an important linking role between the halves and the edge.

Joel Gould ( reporter)

For a player who had only lined up in two NRL games before this year, Wests Tigers hooker Harry Grant has shot out of the blocks to now be one of the leading No.9s in the game. He led the Dally M Medal points table through 11 rounds and has showcased the toughness, game smarts and match-winning traits of his old Storm mentor Cameron Smith.

Chris Kennedy ( reporter)

In a strong field, I can't go past Eels prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard. Down on form and confidence after some serious injuries, the former Test prop was last year relegated briefly to reserve grade at Penrith. RCG has been a rock for the Eels this year and has gotten better and better as the season's gone on.

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Troy Whittaker ( reporter)

Matt Dufty has gone from a fringe first-grader to one of the game's form fullbacks. The Dragons speedster has unlocked impressive passing and short kicking skills while rediscovering the confidence that made him such a threat in 2018. 

Martin Lenehan ( senior journalist)

The Sharks have won five of their past six matches on the back of the sizzling form of Shaun Johnson. The sublimely talented Kiwi already has 16 try assists in 2020, the same amount he tallied for the entirety of 2019. At his most dangerous when he runs the ball, Johnson has engaged the line 83 times in 11 games this year compared to 92 times in all of 2019. Right now he's the Sharks' most improved and most influential.

Zac Bailey ( reporter)

Nathan Cleary. Yes, he was already a State of Origin representative before this year, but there was extreme pressure on Cleary and the Panthers heading into 2020. After an underwhelming 2019 campaign and the departure of James Maloney, Cleary had to get better. He's done that and more, lifting the Panthers to the top of the league after 11 rounds.

Brad Walter ( senior reporter)

Matt Dufty. After a disappointing 2019, the Dragons fullback was no longer wanted at the club but chose to stay and fight for his position. Dufty's greatest asset has been his speed but he now possesses handy passing short-kicking games which have yielded seven tries for team-mates. He has also scored eight four-pointers in nine matches for the Red V. 

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Alicia Newton ( reporter)

The second year in the NRL for Parramatta five-eighth Dylan Brown could've gone either way after being hampered by a back injury in his debut season. But the 20-year-old has gone to another level in 2020, increasing his numbers in all attacking areas from try assists, runs, running metres, kicking metres and offloads. 

Kenny Scott ( Sunday Session podcaster)

Recency bias is probably to blame with his two most recent games being heroic stints at prop but Reagan Campbell-Gillard is seemingly having a breakout year, all over again. There have been long stints in the middle, high tackle counts and epic meterage, not to mention a 50m runaway try. Its been a great season for RCG.

Dan Walsh ( reporter)

Reagan Campbell-Gillard. This time last year he was one of the most expensive reserve graders in recent NRL memory. Has found his mojo, career-best form and then some at Parramatta to be churning through 184 metres a game (fourth-best for a forward in the NRL) and 80-minute performances, thriving in a six-again environment that could’ve easily had him struggling. 


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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