As it does every year, the NRL season delivered no shortage of surprises, including the arrival of the next generation of stars.
The likes of Latrell Mitchell, Kalyn Ponga, Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr became bona fide stars, while David Fusitu'a, Jamayne Isaako, Robert Jennings, Nick Cotric, Matt Dufty and AJ Brimson stamped themselves as ones to watch over the next couple of years.
It wasn't just the young guns setting the Telstra Premiership alight. Seasoned campaigners James Tedesco, Blake Ferguson, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Gareth Widdop, Valentine Holmes and James Maloney also stood out in a vintage year for backline players.
The 2018 Dally M Awards will take place on Wednesday, September 26 at The Overseas Passenger Terminal, Sydney.
Picking a team of the year might seem impossible, but here are the main contenders at each position.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Valentine Holmes, Kalyn Ponga, James Tedesco, Billy Slater
The toughest position to settle on a top five. Check out some of the names that missed out – Tom Trbojevic, Alex Johnston, Moses Mbye, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Matt Dufty, Jarryd Hayne, Will Hopoate, Darius Boyd. RTS is said to be the favourite for the Dally M Player of the Year, which makes him a certainty for Fullback of the Year. But it might not be that cut and dried.
Tedesco was superb in the second half of the season but, like the rest of the Roosters, took some time to find his groove. Holmes was arguably Cronulla's best and most consistent performer, while Slater was his usual electric self, but missed eight games. Rookie sensation Ponga was must-watch TV but also missed games, leaving RTS as the standout candidate after he led the Warriors into the finals when most pre-season polls had them finishing near the bottom of the ladder.
Tedesco finishes great Roosters try
David Fusitu'a, Josh Addo-Carr, Blake Ferguson, Robert Jennings, Corey Oates
Most wingers this season did what wingers have always been supposed to do – finish. Of the NRL's five leading try-scorers, four were wingers, while the fifth – Valentine Holmes – was a winger-turned-fullback. Fusitu'a was a revelation for the Warriors, racking up a competition-leading 23 tries, while Jennings emerged from his brother Michael's shadow to become a prolific try-scorer with the Rabbitohs – crossing for four in one game against Parramatta.
Oates was fourth overall in tries and Addo-Carr fifth, while Roosters star Ferguson frequently found the line and also topped the NRL in runs and run metres. Perhaps the most glaring omission from this quintet is Canberra teenager Nick Cotric, who was one of the leaders in line breaks and tackle breaks.
Greg Inglis, Latrell Mitchell, Joey Leilua, James Roberts, Euan Aitken
With all due respects to the many candidates, this was probably the easiest category to narrow down, with most of the top five picking themselves. Mitchell, Inglis and Roberts were shoo-ins, while Aitken and Leilua got the nod ahead of several honourable mention types including Dean Whare, Dane Gagai, Joseph Manu, Will Chambers and Solomone Kata. Inglis continues to reign as the game's most respected and feared centre, but Inglis-clone Mitchell is ready to take that baton as Inglis's career begins to wind down.
Inglis soars over Tedesco
Cameron Munster, James Maloney, Gareth Widdop, Blake Green, Cody Walker
Despite keeping his team near the top of the ladder virtually season, Cody Walker somehow manages to remain underrated, but opponents know what the Rabbitohs playmaker can do. Whether he's been more influential or dominant than the likes of Munster and Maloney is open to debate.
Munster is generally regarded as the game's best five-eighth, but Widdop put together an excellent season for the most part, while Green was widely viewed as the buy of the year alongside Maloney and Kalyn Ponga. Some of the big names to miss out were Matt Moylan, Luke Keary and Anthony Milford.
Luke Brooks, Cooper Cronk, Adam Reynolds, Chad Townsend, Mitchell Pearce
Plenty of worthy candidates in the best No.7 category and narrowing it down to five was no easy feat. Strong cases could be made for Daly Cherry-Evans, Nathan Cleary and Johnathan Thurston, while Kodi Nikorima and Ben Hunt can't be counted out. But they don't quite stack up against the top five. Pearce brought some much-needed veteran leadership to the Knights and Brooks was one of the Tigers' most consistent contributors.
Townsend proved he can run a top-flight football side without James Maloney alongside him, Cronk overcame a slow start to be the main man for the Roosters (not counting Latrell Mitchell), while a re-born Reynolds had his best season in four years.