In an exercise that involved many late nights and even more mock drafts, Christopher Reive ranks his top 100 New Zealand men's rugby players.
Players who have been capped by other countries, such as Pablo Matera and Sekope Kepu, and those out with long-term injuries, such as Pari Pari Parkinson and Isaia Walker-Leawere, were not considered. Only players participating in this year's Super Rugby competition were eligible for selection.
100. Ollie Norris - prop, Chiefs
At 22, Norris is still a fresh face to Super Rugby, but everything about his approach to the game suggests he is one to circle for higher honours down the track. He attacks the game from a physicality standpoint, and can rack up a high tackle count on top of his work around the breakdown. He's a strong scrummager and if he can cement himself as a top option for the Chiefs, 2022 could see big things from the young prop.
99. Wes Goosen - utility back, Hurricanes
Competition for places in the Hurricanes backline will be hotly contested this season, but in Goosen, the side know what they're going to get. He's not a big metre-eater, but his speed, footwork, finishing ability, strength and ability to play anywhere in the backline outside of halfback and first five-eighth make him a real asset. He's made his career from being that reliable presence for the Hurricanes, and expect the same in 2022.
98. Levi Aumua - midfield, Moana Pasifika
Aumua plays the game like he's just been shot out of a cannon. When he gets the ball, he's running it hard and straight. His size and strength make him hard to hold out near the tryline and he's capable of putting in a good shot on defence. His consistency on both sides of the ball can let him down, but expect him to make his mark this season.
97. Jonah Lowe - wing, Chiefs
A move to the Chiefs really ignited Lowe's Super Rugby career after having extremely limited opportunities in a couple of years with the Hurricanes. Outside of natural try-scoring ability, Lowe brings a refreshingly physical style of play to the backline.
96. Mitchell Brown - utility forward, Chiefs
Providing cover at lock and in the loose forwards, Brown only knows how to play the game one way — hard. While his minutes may be limited this season as he's likely to find himself a victim of the depth in the squad, you can expect him to chase the action every time he's in the game.
95. Marty Banks - first five-eighth, Highlanders
With an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time and being ice cold under pressure, Banks will likely play a bench role and back up Mitch Hunt. But he'll probably have little issue with that situation — his best work tends to come in minutes 60 to 80-plus.
94. Bradley Slater – hooker, Chiefs
Anyone who watched Taranaki play in the most recent NPC season will know what Slater brings to the table. He's a reliable lineout thrower and maintains a high work rate, but he has a point of difference in the fact he can cover blindside flanker. Versatility is always an asset in a sport where injuries are common, so expect Slater to make his mark in one way or another.
93. Jackson Garden-Bachop - first five-eighth, Hurricanes
At his best, Garden-Bachop can manage a game well and makes the plays he needs to, and he can kick a goal. However, consistency is the big issue for Garden-Bachop preventing him from taking his game to the next level. Perhaps that will change in 2022.
92. Shaun Stevenson - utility back, Chiefs
Electric at NPC level, he has yet to quite show the same ability at Super Rugby level. Another year, another opportunity and now with the Chiefs missing Damian McKenzie, he could show his chops in the 15 jersey if given the opportunity or, at worst, make more of a mark on the team's attack.
91. Salesi Rayasi - wing, Hurricanes
After being kept largely under wraps for a season or two, Rayasi was unleashed by the Hurricanes late last season and showed his pace, athleticism and nose for the tryline. His defence can be a bit suspect, but if he can put that big frame of his to good use and get more physical on both sides of the ball this season, we could see big improvements.
90. Reed Prinsep - loose forward, Hurricanes
Prinsep has always been a workhorse defensively. There is always room in the game for good tacklers who commit to their craft, and it has served him well throughout his career. Now 29, the younger players in the squad will likely dominate the minutes, but look for Prinsep to be the impact man off the Hurricanes bench.
89. Naitoa Ah Kuoi – lock, Chiefs
Any Chiefs fan will know the 22-year-old can be a touch frustrating at times. When he's on his game, he's a terrific player who can make a huge impact, but through his Super Rugby career so far, he hasn't always showed up on game day switched on. He fell out of favour with the Chiefs last year, which seemed to give him the motivation he needed to stay focused as he came back in a big way late in the year. With the emergence of Josh Lord in 2021 and Brodie Retallick being back with the Chiefs, Ah Kuoi will have to fight for his minutes this year.
88. Josh Goodhue - lock, Blues
With Patrick Tuipulotu playing in Japan this season, expect Goodhue to play higher than this ranking. He'll have more responsibility at the lineout, adding to a high defensive work rate and physical approach to the game.
87. Luteru Tolai – hooker, Moana Pasifika
Tolai has a lot of potential to be an x-factor player for Moana Pasifika in their debut season. There was a time when he played in the midfield, and he hasn't lost that ball-running ability. Moana Pasifika have put together a solid trio of hookers with Ray Niuia and Sam Moli also on the books, but Tolai shapes up as the one to watch when he gets his opportunity.
86. Bailyn Sullivan - midfield, Hurricanes
Sullivan savoured limited opportunities at the Chiefs but after growing up in Hawke's Bay he now gets the chance to impress at his home franchise. After claiming two tries in Waikato's win over Tasman in the NPC final, he will hope to ride that wave into the Hurricanes midfield.
85. Alex Nankivell - midfield, Chiefs
Somewhat overshadowed by the rise of Quinn Tupaea, Nankivell remains a dynamic ball-carrier and strong defender. Though his impact will likely be in a bench role this season, that suits his high-energy style.
84. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi - halfback, Crusaders
With three caps for the All Blacks, Tahuriorangi is a familiar entity in the game but has often found himself at the mercy of the depth in whatever team he is on. Leaving the Chiefs to join the Crusaders, that only got worse. Still just 26 years old, there is plenty of time ahead in his career, but it's going to be another season where his opportunities are few and far between and his ranking reflects that.
83. Aidan Ross - prop, Chiefs
Injuries have been an issue for Ross in past seasons, but he has been a vital part of a strong Chiefs scrum when healthy and makes his mark through his physicality. If he can string together consistent time on the park, he could put himself in position to be a potential bolter for higher honours.
82. Kaleb Trask - first five-eighth/fullback, Chiefs
During his time in Super Rugby he hasn't looked like a playmaker who is going to set the game alight through running the ball or making fancy plays. Trask is more traditional in the sense that he controls the game with his boot and has a solid read of what's in front of him.
81. Pouri Rakete-Stones - prop, Hurricanes
The 24-year-old goes into the season as one of the prime breakout candidates given the state of the Hurricanes front row stocks. He can play both sides of the scrum with equal impact, and is an agile ball carrier. Expect to hear his name called a lot this season.
80. Julian Savea – utility back, Hurricanes
We all know what Savea is capable of, and The Bus still has gas in the tank. A vital member of the Hurricanes for both his ability and experience.
79. Ene Enari - halfback, Moana Pasifika
The livewire halfback will provide much-needed experience and leadership for the competition's new side, and his desire to play the game at speed will be a welcome feature. It can lead to the odd error or the wrong decision being made, but his pace can also catch opponents sleeping.
78. Daniel Lienert-Brown - prop, Highlanders
An experienced head in the Highlanders' front row, outside of his scrummaging, Lienert-Brown is a skilful player who is confident in his passing ability and happy to take on the line. Might not have the same impact across the park as other props, but he's a dependable talent.
77. Billy Harmon - loose forward, Highlanders
A change of scenery in 2021 saw Harmon excel with more opportunities, and that should continue in 2022. While his motor and ability to get around the park have been his calling cards, last season he got the chance to show just how effective he can be at the breakdown. He might not have the natural athleticism or talent of other loosies, but his work ethic is right up there.
76. Andrew Makalio - hooker, Highlanders
Replacing Ash Dixon at the Highlanders, Makalio figures to get a bit more game time than he did as Codie Taylor's backup at the Crusaders. While he joins Liam Coltman in Dunedin, the Highlanders have been great in rotating their hookers in recent years. It allowed Dixon and Coltman to shine together, and the same is expected for Makalio, who brings a good attacking threat and solid all-round game. He can have an impact on the play in whichever role the Highlanders give him.
75. Manaaki Selby-Rickit - lock, Highlanders
As you might expect for a lock, Selby-Rickit's strength is at the set-piece. Standing 2m tall, he's a terrific lineout target while he's also a strong tackler. With Pari Pari Parkinson ruled out with a long-term injury, Selby-Rickit should get his chance to stand out as a starting option for the Highlanders.
74. Brayden Iose - loose forward, Hurricanes
Iose's pace and tackle-breaking abilities give him that point of difference as an elusive loose forward. At 23, he's still finding his way in the game, and after what he showed in 2021 you can expect him to take things up another gear in 2022.
73. Billy Proctor - midfield, Hurricanes
Another breakout candidate for the 2022 season, Proctor is a defensive wall as far as midfielders go. Throughout his opportunities at Super Rugby and NPC level, he has shown speed and run good lines — he's also shown that he loves to make a tackle. A big one to watch this season.
72. Mitchell Dunshea - lock, Crusaders
Armed with speed and ball-handling skills you don't often see in the second row, Dunshea is a reliable safety net in a logjam of talent. Competing for time with All Blacks Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock, as well as talented youngster Quinten Strange, he'll have limited opportunities to make a splash in 2022.
71. Etene Nanai-Seturo – wing, Chiefs
A star in the sevens arena, Nanai-Seturo is electric with ball in hand. He has the speed, acceleration and footwork to be a menace for defences, and knows how to finish a try. Expect more of the same in 2022.
70. Tamaiti Williams - prop, Crusaders
A former loose forward who has declared he sees himself as a tighthead prop, Williams is one to watch. Just 21-years-old, he has the size and strength to impose himself on opposition front rows, and his days as a loosie have served him well in terms of skill on the ball. One of many young stars to keep an eye on in 2022.
69. Ruben Love - first five-eighth, Hurricanes
He's already shown glimpses of his talent and does not turn 21 until April, yet Love firmly falls into the 'next big thing' category. With hints of Beauden Barrett and Christian Cullen, it remains to be seen whether Love can mature into a first five-eighths capable of controlling matches.
68. Connor Garden-Bachop – outside back, Highlanders
If we can get a full season of Connor Garden-Bachop, this could end up being a severe miss in terms of where he should be ranked. Garden-Bachop ignites the turf with ball in hand and room to move, however he has had recent injuries — most notably a broken wrist which ended his 2021 season early — which have kept him off the pitch. He should get the nod at fullback for the Highlanders, and is one to keep an eye on this year.
67. Devan Flanders - loose forward, Hurricanes
Flanders is a battering ram of a ball runner, and has the strength to make things tricky for those trying to bring him down. Able to play all the positions in the back row, the 22-year-old will only continue to improve this season.
66. Liam Coltman – hooker, Highlanders
A stalwart for the Highlanders, Coltman plays the role in the most traditional sense. He's not likely to explode off the mark with ball in hand or try his hand as a playmaker. A core-role sort of player, Coltman is strong at the set pieces, defends well and works hard in the contact areas. He knows his job in the team and he does that job very well.
65. Tom Christie - loose forward, Crusaders
One of several players around the country who have been cursed by the injury bug, Christie hasn't really had the chance to show exactly what he could be capable of in recent years. Still just 23, 2022 shapes up as the year to change that for the impressive loosie.
64. Mitchell Drummond - halfback, Crusaders
With a strong pass and a boot to match, Drummond has carved himself a role as a player who does all the little things right. He won't often make the plays that appear on highlight reels, but he's a serviceable half who takes the right options for his team.
63. Lincoln McClutchie – first five-eighth, Moana Pasifika
There's big potential in the young Hawke's Bay first-five, and Moana Pasifika were quick to swoop in their recruitment process. While he has to contend for minutes with former Wallabies 10 Christian Leali'ifano, McClutchie looks like he has everything you could want from a 10 in the modern game. He can run the ball, his kicking game is strong and he has a good read of the game. Huge prospect, but it's yet to be seen how he handles the step up to Super Rugby level.
62. Kurt Eklund - hooker, Blues
What he lacks in size and athleticism, Eklund makes up for in doggedness. He's tough, goes looking for work and makes the most of his time on the pitch. He'll be splitting playing time with new addition Ricky Riccitelli this season, but expect him to approach his work with plenty of vigour.
61. Tom Robinson - loose forward, Blues
Robinson's talents have shown in recent years with his physicality and commitment to the contact areas of the game. The Blues loose trio is log-jammed this season, so the fact he can play lock should increase his opportunities for game time and let him play to a higher ranking than this one.
60. Zarn Sullivan - fullback, Blues
Sullivan made the most of his opportunities last season with his speed and elusive play, but could find them hard to come by in 2022 with a stacked Blues backline getting even moreso as Beauden Barrett and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck come in. He's still young, so he can bide his time.
59. Ricky Riccitelli – hooker, Blues
Having spent a short time in All Blacks camp on two separate occasions, Riccitelli leads the best of the rest in the hooking department. Stuck in a logjam at the Hurricanes, he joins the Blues to work in tandem with Eklund. Work rate is the key phrase when it comes to Riccitelli's game. He makes plenty of tackles, contests the breakdown and is active in the cleanout. His attacking game is good, but not at the level of the top four.
58. Atu Moli - prop, Chiefs
It's a real shame that Moli has been plagued by injuries in his career as the potential he has is enormous. A terrific young prop who earned his spot in the All Blacks' 2019 World Cup squad, he has shown his mobility and scrum prowess when healthy. However, with hip issues reducing his playing time in a severe way in recent seasons, it's hard to rank him any higher, though I expect this ranking to be proven wrong if he can stay on the pitch.
57. Bryn Hall - halfback, Crusaders
One of three quality halfbacks in the red and black this season, Hall has proven he can be just as effective starting or off the bench. He plays the game with a high energy and his leadership qualities have often been noted by coach Scott Robertson as a real asset to the team.
56. Mitch Hunt - first five-eighth, Highlanders
In interviews, Hunt has, himself, admitted he's not the flashiest player you're going to see in Super Rugby. But he doesn't need to be in order to have an impact upon the game. His game management and the way he drives his team are assets underrated by the wider audience and it will be interesting to see how that affects results this season with last-20 specialist Marty Banks now joining him.
55. Peter Umaga-Jensen - midfield, Hurricanes
Umaga-Jensen has had the benefit of running lines off Ngani Laumape in past seasons, but in 2022 he'll be the focal midfielder for the Hurricanes. He's a tough man to stop with a head of steam, elusive with his footwork and damaging with his strength.
54. Alex Hodgman - prop, Blues
Hodgman's talent can be defined by his workrate. He works hard in every phase of the game and looks to get himself involved in the physical side of the play, while he's strong when it comes to his core roles.
53. Josh Dickson - lock, Highlanders
Only a couple of seasons ago, people were talking about Dickson as a potential All Blacks bolter. He's a great lineout target and has great hands at the set piece - usually finding himself among the leaders in lineouts won. After coming back from injury in 2021, expect to see more from him this season.
52. Josh Lord - lock, Chiefs
All of a sudden the Chiefs locking spots are going to be heavily contested. Lord broke out in 2021 with some strong play for both the Chiefs and Taranaki. It remains to be seen what his role will be in 2022, but he's proven to be a talent for the future at any rate.
51. Stephen Perofeta - first five-eighth/fullback, Blues
At NPC level, Perofeta has been among the country's best talents. But when it comes to Super Rugby, he hasn't quite found the same success. He will likely spend more time at fullback than at first five-eighth for the Blues, with his vision, decision-making and ball running all valuable assets that allow him to switch between the two roles well.
50. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – midfield, Blues
In his schoolboy days, Tuivasa-Sheck was as electric and elusive as they come. There will be a lot of excitement seeing him back in the 15-man code, but we've seen the switch work for some and go badly wrong for others. With nothing to go on but pure talent, I'm taking the safe option and putting RTS smack in the middle.
49. Angus Ta'avao - prop, Chiefs
Ta'avao is among the more underrated players in the country, in my opinion. You just have to look at how he led the Chiefs at scrum time in 2021 to see the impact he has on a team through both his play and leadership qualities. Able to play both sides of the scrum, Ta'avao is a dependable anchor in the pack and is more than willing to flash his attacking skills if the situation requires it.
48. Ethan de Groot - prop, Highlanders
De Groot earned a spot in the All Blacks' end-of-year tour squad after a 2021 in which he impressed with his physical ball-carrying and strong scrummaging. The powerhouse front rower shapes up as a key member for the Highlanders in 2022 and is one to watch in terms of how his game develops moving forward.
47. Folau Fakatava - halfback, Highlanders
The live-wire halfback has shown what he's capable of, and many thought he might look to move away from the Highlanders in search of a starting role. That wasn't the case, and he'll be spending another season as Aaron Smith's understudy in the South, being called upon to attack tiring defences late in games.
46. Quinten Strange - lock, Crusaders
Almost-All Black Quinten Strange will be hoping to play his way into dropping that 'almost' tag in 2022. Selected for the 2020 Rugby Championship squad, but was forced out with an ankle injury before getting to make his debut. Reliable at lineout time and on the defensive side of the ball, Strange will have to fight for every opportunity in an overly crowded Crusaders squad.
45. Marino Mikaele-Tu'u - loose forward, Highlanders
Always happy to take a carry, and usually making a good amount of ground when he does with an eye for a hole, Mikaele-Tu'u is another in a fast-growing group of top level, dynamic loosies. His offloading game only adds to his dangerous skill set.
45. TJ Perenara – halfback, Hurricanes
This feels a bit rough given Perenara's performances in the past, but returning straight into the All Blacks ranks following a stint in Japan in 2021, Perenara looked a touch off the pace when he was in action during the end-of-year tour. He'll be one to keep an eye on in 2022, particularly with his work around the ruck and delivering the ball.
43. Finlay Christie - halfback, Blues
Christie is quick off the mark, and can burn a defence with his pace. His delivery and read of the game has come along in recent years as well, to the point where he is a clear contender for consistent higher honours.
42. George Bower - prop, Crusaders
Bower might be the fittest front rower in the country, he has shown an eagerness to learn and improve since being involved in the All Blacks, both at scrum time and when it comes to physicality in open play. Look for those improvements to continue to show this season.
41. Tyrel Lomax - prop, Hurricanes
A good scrummager, and active in open play looking for the tackle and trying to get stuck into the ruck, Lomax is a strong talent. However, he's been among one of the most penalised players in the game, which isn't exactly a title you want to hold.
40. Leicester Fainga'anuku - utility back, Crusaders
Another year, another campaign in which Fainga'anuku will be relying on injuries and the unavailability of All Blacks in order to get the opportunity to show what he can do. A damaging ball runner, 2021 saw him show he has all the skills to play in the midfield as well as on the wing, with a solid defensive game to go with his strong attack. The Crusaders have an embarrassment of riches in the backline, so opportunity will be the most important thing for Fainga'anuku in 2022.
39. Josh Ioane – first five-eighth, Chiefs
A change of scenery could be good for the one-test All Black this year, as he has failed to reach a level many expected of him as he came through the ranks. Still just 26-years-old, Ioane could yet take that next step, and he has the game to do so. He's got an eye for what's in front of him and plays what he sees. He has a tendency to overplay his hand at times, but should thrive steering this Chiefs team around the park and playing behind their impressive pack.
38. Tupou Vaa'i - lock, Chiefs
A young player with plenty of energy, Vaa'i plays hard and with vigour. A good lineout target and strong ball runner, he'll only continue to get better in 2022.
37. Ofa Tuungafasi - prop, Blues
Another of the many quality props at the Blues, Tuungafasi's point of difference is in his defensive game. Along with a quality defence, he is strong — making headlines for using a car as a scrum machine during lockdown in 2020 — and is good at the set piece, as you'd expect from an All Blacks prop.
36. Pita Gus Sowakula - loose forward, Chiefs
The man is a battering ram. Not only does he have the strength to break tackles or carry defenders over the line from close range, he has athleticism, speed and footwork, as well as a deft touch with his passing. Sowakula is the definition of an impact player.
35. George Bridge - wing, Crusaders
Speed? Check. Footwork? Check. Finishing ability? Check. Bridge is a great attacking weapon, though his defensive capabilities aren't probably at the same level as some of the country's other wingers.
34. Asafo Aumua – hooker, Hurricanes
Probably the most dangerous attacking hooker in the country, Aumua has speed, strength and footwork which make him a bit of an anomaly at the hooking position. While his game is perfect to be an impact player off the bench, he has shown he can have just as much of an impact in a starting role. The big thing holding Aumua back is his lineout throwing — kind of an important part of being a hooker. He's not the most accurate hooker going around by any means.
33. Samisoni Taukei'aho - hooker, Chiefs
Last year was a real breakout campaign for the Chiefs hooker, ending the year with nine caps for the All Blacks. Taukei'aho plays in a similar vein to Aumua — with a strong ball-carrying ability and surprising turn of foot — but has not had the same sort of trouble at lineout time. Now with the highest level of experience within the Chiefs hooking department, look for the 24-year-old to take another step in 2022.
32. Du'Plessis Kirifi - loose forward, Hurricanes
Kirifi only knows how to play the game one way and that's aggressively. Be it charging onto the ball, making a tackle or getting stuck into the breakdown, he doesn't do anything by half measures. It can at times be a negative on the defensive end, but he isn't deterred if he gives away the odd penalty. He knows where his strengths lie and plays the game accordingly.
31. Karl Tu'inukuafe - prop, Blues
When you think dominant scrummagers, you think Karl Tu'inukuafe. In recent years, Tu'inukuafe has been a force at the set piece — often in a role off the bench which allows him to steamroll the tired opposition front row. Great moustache, too.
30. Quinn Tupaea - midfield, Chiefs
With an ability to attack like he's got rocket afterburners, Tupaea is a handful when he gets room to move. Last year, he proved his game was effective at all levels after making his All Blacks debut, and he'll have every chance in 2022 to solidify his spot in the top squad.
29. Braydon Ennor - utility back, Crusaders
While Ennor would probably rather play in the midfield, he gets the utility tag because he's a Swiss Army knife in the backline. He has the speed and footwork to be a problem on the wing, the defensive ability to hold his own in the midfield, and the game IQ to be a successful fullback. The Crusaders could very well use him in all three positions during the year, though he will have to fight for every minute he gets.
28. Caleb Clarke - wing, Blues
Clarke didn't have the season he would have liked in 2021, capped by missing out on a spot in the Sevens team for the Olympic Games. He's got plenty of motivation coming into 2022 and his ability has been gushed over by fans and media alike in recent years. There's no doubt he can bounce back this year.
27. David Havili - utility back, Crusaders
He's spent more time in the midfield of late, but the Crusaders are stacked and he could turn up anywhere in the backline this year. Wherever he plays, he makes an impact through his running, tackling and kicking ability.
26. Sevu Reece - wing, Crusaders
Reece has always had that attacking flair, but in recent times his defence has developed in bounds, particularly with his effort to get involved in the breakdown and try to win turnovers. He doesn't just need the ball in his hands to have an impact on a match.
25. Cullen Grace - loose forward, Crusaders
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson summed up Grace brilliantly leading into the 2021 season, saying: "He's a real physical player; has an incredible shoulder on him." One of the stars of 2020, he was another who was hampered by injury niggles in 2021 and saw his opportunities limited. Able to play lock or in the back row, Grace is a talented player who has all the tools to be an All Blacks regular for a long time.
24. Nepo Laulala - prop, Blues
Laulala's strength is in his scrummaging, where he puts his power to great use. He's emerged as one of the country's top props, and will only be pushed by a competition for spots in a deep Blues squad this season.
23. Hoskins Sotutu - loose forward, Blues
One of the most skilful players in the country, Sotutu has the ability to do everything — even put in the odd kick if the situation calls for it. His decision-making at times has let him down in the past, but as he continues to play a pivotal role with the Blues, his IQ for the game will only improve.
22. Jack Goodhue - midfield, Crusaders
Injury has set Goodhue back in recent times but at his best he is among the top midfielders in the country — in fact, he might be the best of the lot. Reliable in all areas, he goes about his work in somewhat of an unassuming manner, quietly making an impact across the park.
21. Shannon Frizell - loose forward, Highlanders
With a strong and powerful running game, it's well known that Frizell can damage a defence, be it on a hit up or off the back of a set piece or ruck. He's a skilful player, with the ability to create chances at the smallest opening, or finish off opportunities created by a teammate. He's a good lineout target, and can cover several positions at a pinch.
20. Brad Weber – halfback, Chiefs
Weber's stocks have soared like a hawk in recent years. He has starred for the Chiefs with his ability to read the game and break it open when he puts the foot down. His delivery from the ruck is swift which allows his side to get on the front foot. A leader in the Chiefs group with plenty to work with on his tool belt, Weber has become a real star of the game.
19. Akira Ioane - loose forward, Blues
Is there a better weapon from the ruck within 5m of the try line in world rugby? Probably not. Ioane has a nose for thetry line and the strength to get there. In the past, his work ethic has been questioned but in recent times, particularly in his opportunities with the All Blacks, he has been among the hardest workers on the pitch. Getting involved in all areas, Ioane is a world beater when he's at his best.
18. Scott Barrett – lock, Crusaders
Discipline has, at times, been an area of weakness for Barrett, though he generally makes up for that through the rest of his play. Equally as comfortable at lock or blindside flanker, Barrett brings physicality every time he steps onto the pitch. He's added to his rugby resume with captaincy at Super Rugby level, which has only lifted his overall game.
17. Dalton Papalii - loose forward, Blues
Consistency is key, and Papalii delivers that in bunches. Usually boasting a high tackle count, plenty of carries and the odd try, Papalii is something of a weapon when he takes to the pitch.
16. Anton Lienert-Brown - midfield, Chiefs
Probably the best and most consistent player for the Chiefs in 2021, Lienert-Brown has become one of the most reliable midfielders in the country. Expect that to remain the case in 2022.
15. Dane Coles – hooker, Hurricanes
Injuries have robbed Dane Coles of plenty of time in his career, but he always comes back just as good, if not better, than when he left. The consummate professional, Coles has all the fundamentals on point, and his attacking prowess and knack for showing up on the wing to score tries started something of a trend for the country's hookers. Last year, Coles was one of the hardest workers on the field for his teams — particularly in the black jersey at the back end of the year. While Father Time waits for no man, he clearly hasn't come for the 35-year-old just yet.
14. Joe Moody – prop, Crusaders
The leader of the pack, Moody is as good a loosehead prop as this country has seen. A great scrummager with plenty of power, he has developed his game over the years to make an impact wherever possible. He has used elements from his background in wrestling — a national champion in both freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines — around the cleanout and in defence, while he has good agility and speed for someone in his position. While injuries have hampered him over the years, Moody remains the pinnacle in his position. He's also one of the best personalities in the game, for what it's worth — though that doesn't factor into this ranking.
13. Ethan Blackadder – loose forward, Crusaders
Goes from 0 to 100 as soon as the kick-off drops and plays the game all gas, no brakes. That style of play does come with its drawbacks, as Blackadder is prone to conceding the odd penalty or three, but it's a fair price to pay for all the good he brings to a team.
12. Luke Jacobson - loose forward, Chiefs
The man with concrete shoulders. I once asked Jacobson if there was a better feeling than nailing an opponent with a tackle and, boy, the smile that broke out over his face probably tells you everything you need to know about him. The man loves putting on a good hit and getting stuck into the contact areas, and he does both exceptionally well.
11. Rieko Ioane - utility back, Blues
Where is his best position? Nobody really knows. The main point is that Ioane has an impact on a game whether he's on the wing or in the midfield. After years of showing just how much of an attacking powerhouse he is, Ioane proved his defensive capabilities in 2021 in a midfield role. He's one to make any opposition team plan around, and can exploit any opportunity given to him.
The top 10
10. Sam Cane - loose forward, Chiefs
Injuries have been a blight in the career of the All Blacks captain in recent years, but he has come back every time in impressive fashion. Most recently, Cane made a huge mark in his return to the game with the All Blacks last season. His drive on the pitch and desire to succeed really shone through, and he looks to be in fine fettle for the Super Rugby season. His work rate is always high, he forces plenty of turnover ball and he has become a very good captain as well. Here's hoping he can stay healthy in 2022.
9. Codie Taylor - hooker, Crusaders
Codie Taylor is the type of hooker Southern Hemisphere rugby has grown to demand. He is equipped with a strong and swift running game, deft passing ability, a high IQ for the game, strong defence and a terrific engine — and I'm sure he could even dabble in a bit of kicking if he was asked to by his coaches. While it's all well and good to have the talent and the tools, it's another thing to put them to use successfully. Taylor does that and is rarely one to have a bad game.
8. Jordie Barrett - utility back, Hurricanes
The youngest of the Barrett brothers, it feels like the 25-year-old is a lot further along his rugby playing journey. He has shown growth year after year and, in 2021, he showed his maturity on the pitch. He was a vital member of the Hurricanes and his performances on the international scene saw him lock down the hotly contested All Blacks fullback role. Barrett is reliable to make the right play deep in his own territory and will, more often than not, win an aerial duel, while he is a handful on attack, solid defensively and, as an added benefit, is a great goal-kicker.
7. Will Jordan - utility back, Crusaders
If you asked a random punter to name the most exciting rugby player in New Zealand, there's a very strong chance their answer would be Will Jordan. Even with the smallest of opportunities, Jordan has an uncanny ability to make opposition teams pay with his speed and surprising strength with ball in hand. He is also smart with his carry; he doesn't go into the tackle too high and it's rare that a defence is able to prevent him getting to ground. The man knows how to score a try and is must-watch TV for any sports fan.
6. Richie Mo'unga - first five-eighth, Crusaders
Continually making strides in his game, Mo'unga is not the type to waste space in front of him when it comes available. He can dazzle defences with his speed and footwork, while he has great vision; if a kick is the best way to exploit the space, he won't hesitate to let one fly. He thrives in the high-paced style of game and is a top-tier goalkicker. He did struggle a little bit against the pressure defence of the Northern Hemisphere teams late last year, but no doubt he took a lot from that experience and will adjust accordingly.
5. Sam Whitelock - lock, Crusaders
Yet another who looked just as good as, if not better than, before on return from a short stint overseas, Whitelock is evergreen in his impact on the game. His leadership is a key quality — both through his voice and his actions, as Whitelock is one of the hardest workers you will see on a rugby field. He makes strong, effective tackles and looks for his opportunities to make a difference defensively. He's great at the lineout — as you'd expect in his position — and while he might not have the flashy passing or footwork of other forwards, he's more than capable, and more than willing, to take strong carries to help his side build on attack.
4. Beauden Barrett - first five-eighth, Blues
The All Blacks' odyssey at the back end of last year proved Barrett can handle himself against any opponent; be it the high-paced, open play game of the Southern Hemisphere, or the rushing defence, high-pressure approach of the North. Taking his talents to Japan in 2021, Barrett hadn't missed a step in his return to test level for the All Blacks and showed exactly why he has been a World Rugby Player of the Year twice and remains widely regarded as the best first-five in the country. He continues to do the remarkable, be it with his running game or play-making.
3. Brodie Retallick - lock, Chiefs
Retallick has one of the biggest gas tanks in the game and hasn't missed a step since his return from Japan. Retallick's effort on defence and around the breakdown is an asset for any team he suits up for — with a frequently high tackle count, he has the nous to put his physical gifts to great effect over the ball at the breakdown. He is a vocal leader when it comes to the lineout, and he's more than happy to get involved in the attack with some hard-run lines and the odd magnificent pass that leaves you having to check the jersey number of the bloke who threw it. In summary, Retallick is a real joy to watch.
2. Aaron Smith - halfback, Highlanders
Smith seems to be getting better with age. He's been the gold standard for halfbacks in New Zealand for much of the past decade and that doesn't appear to be changing any time soon. He has a terrific read and understanding of the game, and his decision-making is always smart. His delivery from the ruck is quick and accurate, while he's willing to put boot to ball or take off for a run if the opportunity is there. He also brings a contagious energy to the pitch, and lets his passion for the game show. He is already one of this country's great players, and his legacy just continues to grow.
1. Ardie Savea - loose forward, Hurricanes
If you were to create your own character on a rugby video game, you'd likely come up with something that resembles Ardie Savea. With strength and speed, Savea is a terror on the attack. You only have to look as far as his 30m match-winning try against the Blues in the second round of Super Rugby Pacific to see he's a game-breaker. He is a terrific ball runner, active around the breakdown and always a threat to take a cheeky dig from around the scrum. On the defensive side of the ball, he has just as much impact. He tackles well and with volume, and is always a threat to pinch a turnover. He's also a solid lineout target, his read of the game and rugby IQ are both at an elite level, and there is rarely a game where he doesn't stand out. Savea is the prototype for the modern loosie and, still only 28, he just seems to keep getting better.