Influential. Having an ability to affect change.
That’s what this list is all about.
The Group 11 Top 20 is back again for another year, counting down the players who are not necessarily the best but those who have had the biggest impact on the competition so far this season.
There’s classy playmakers, lightning quick outside backs and a raft of the toughest forwards you’ll see in bush footy.
And with Zac Merritt now no longer in Group 11 there is a brand new number one.
The list is released on the long weekend and voting is open for roughly two weeks before results are published.
1. Jake Grace (Forbes)
The heart and soul of the Magpies. There’s no doubting it.
One of the toughest players around, Grace has carried injuries into nearly every game for the best part of two years but he continues to be one of the best back-rowers in the bush.
A tireless workhorse in defence who also takes at least one carry each set, the Forbes skipper leads by example and is simply a player who has to be admired.
If Forbes are to have a real impact this season, it’s all because of this man.
2. Chad Porter (Parkes)
The best number seven in Group 11 this year and the major reason Parkes has started the season so well.
He’s always been a talented playmaker but Porter has gone to another level this season and his combination with Joey Dwyer at five-eighth goes from strength to strength.
Take Porter out of the Spacemen and they don’t sit second on the ladder. They might not even be top five. That’s the reason he’s so high on this list.
3. Justin Toomey-White (Wellington)
There are a huge amount of people who deserve credit for the work being done at Wellington but Toomey-White adds the touch of class which takes the Cowboys from a good side to a genuine premiership contender.
As well as being one of the best back-rowers in the Western Rams region, Toomey-White is also a real leader who makes those around him better.
His shift to lock and the middle of the field makes him even more of a handful for opposition defences and he could well be the man to help the Cowboys end their long-running premiership drought.
4. Brad Pickering (CYMS)
The best fullback in Group 11 this year.
When he linked with CYMS two years ago it was seen as a handy pick-up given his ability to slot into any spot in the backline.
But following Kieran Cubby-Shipp’s departure, Pickering has taken to the fullback role brilliantly with his support play a real highlight of the opening weeks of the competition.
As well as that, he’s barely missed a shot at goal all year. He’s a player who continues to get better and better and more and more important for the Fishies.
5. Will Lousick (Wellington)
The Wellington Cowboys brought in a whole host of players in the off-season but it’s been a hometown junior who’s stolen the show so far.
He didn’t start the season as the biggest name in the rejuvenated Cowboys side but the half-turned-fullback has been simply brilliant for his side and is the only man challenging Pickering as the best number one in the competition.
He’s developed into one of the best finishers in the competition while his all-round game has come on in leaps and bounds this year. One of the most exciting players to watch.
6. Claude Gordon (Westside)
Quite simply, Westside wouldn’t be where they are without Gordon.
Returning to Group 11 after a stint with Bathurst Panthers, Gordon teamed up with Matt Naden to “basically rebuild” the Rabbitohs.
Gordon is constantly barking orders on the field while his ability to have an entire club, players and fans, improve their discipline and attitude is a credit to him and the new board.
As well as his playmaking, Gordon is also one of the best defensive halves in the competition and has put his body on the line time and time again this season.
7. Wes Middleton (Narromine)
Had one of the toughest jobs of anyone in Group 11 when taking over at Narromine during the off-season, Middleton confessed he basically had to rebuild from the ground up in very little time.
While the Jets are yet to win this season, Middleton has been class in the number nine and it was clear to see how much the side has missed his experience and direction in recent weeks after he suffered a knee injury.
Narromine is putting plans in place for the future on and off the field, and it simply wouldn’t be possible without Middleton.
8. Alex Bonham (CYMS)
It’s a mark of Bonham’s quality that he’s doing whatever is asked of him this season, and doing it all with class.
A star of the pre-season Challenge Cup win over Wests Rosellas, Bonham took somewhat of a backseat early in the Group 11 season as Luke Jenkins controlled things and young half Bayden Searle took over the number seven jersey.
However, five-eighth Bonham chimed in whenever needed and after Jenkins was injured he stepped up to the plate.
Quite simply, he’s got one of the best all-round games in the competition and adds real polish to an already elite CYMS outfit.
9. Ben Maguire (Forbes)
Forbes might not be getting the best out of Maguire right now, but he’s still one of the best forwards in the competition. That’s a mark of just how good he is.
Forced into the front-row due to a lack of size up front, Maguire has been a standout for the Magpies despite the fact he’s no longer causing terror with his outstanding running game out wide.
If he does get the chance to revert to the back row, look out.
10. James Fisk (Nyngan)
This season hasn’t gone the way the Nyngan Tigers had hoped after making the grand final last year.
Instread of tussling for top spot, the Tigers have just one win to their name and in danger of missing the finals.
However, as long as Fisk is part of the side there is a real spark. His versatility is massive for Nyngan and he’s taken on a key role in the halves after being more of a utility last season.
The Tigers lost a lot of players in the off-season but the fact they retained Fisk could turn out to be crucial.
11. Nick Harvey (CYMS)
Jarryn Powyer has been a regular on this list and was the best prop in Group 11 last year.
However, his suspension after round four and the fact CYMS haven’t stopped winning saw him miss out this time.
A big reason why the Fishies haven’t faltered is the form of Harvey. Corey Cox is another CYMS forward who could have figured on this list but it’s Harvey, the recruit from the Mudgee Dragons, who has taken on a leadership role and put his hand up whenever the going gets tough.
He’s become one of the standout forwards in Group 11 in no time and his stunning form could see him quickly become a premiership winner as well.
12. Alex Prout (Parkes)
Following on from club legends Pat Rosser and Dennis Moran as captain-coach of the Parkes Spacemen, Alex Prout had arguably the toughest job of anyone in bush footy this season.
However, the much-changed Spacemen sit second on the ladder with Prout not only being a fine leader, but also proving a threat regularly from dummyhalf.
There’s a huge mix of youth and experience at Parkes this season but Prout has got them to gel in no time at all, and a top three place at worst is on the cards.
13. Luke Jenkins (CYMS)
Might seem criminally low, but CYMS is now at a point where you take the club legend out of the side and there’s not a massive drop-off in quality.
However, in those moments that matter and when CYMS is tested, there’s no one better to be guiding the side around.
Still as quick a thinker as he’s ever been, Jenkins was incredibly active for the Fishies up until a potentially serious arm injury against Westside two rounds back.
While CYMS has elite talent everywhere, his experience and sheer class will still be missed for however long the champion hooker is out.
14. Lewis Dwyer (Parkes)
From off-season recruit to Group 11 representative in a blink of an eye, the hulking prop gives the Parkes Spacemen something completely different to the rest of the forward pack.
Quality props are worth more than gold in bush footy and while former union star Dwyer doesn’t have the sparkling reputation of some the region’s other front rowers, his go-forward, ability to attract defenders and also find his way across the line has been a big part of Parkes’ success this season.
Interestingly, in the two games he’s missed the Spacemen have suffered their one loss for the season and also conceded 42 points to Westside in a match which could have gone either way.
15. Matt Naden (Westside)
Sometimes it’s the action away from the ball where the former CYMS premiership winner shines.
Watch Westside play and Naden, the joint-captain-coach, takes time to talk to his younger players during breaks in play, offers a pat on the back, and gives a few pointers.
It’s those kind of things which is helping the Rabbitohs change, while Naden’s calming influence at five-eighth and his fine kicking game has also been massive for the men in red and green.
16. Aidan Ryan (Wellington)
Not all influence is delivered on the field. Ryan, more commonly known as ‘Mad Dog’ around Group 11 grounds, started rebuilding things at Wellington as under 18s coach in 2016 and has worked his way up.
In his second season as first grade captain-coach, Ryan has got the kind of side and the kind of attitude the fans of the Cowboys have wanted to see again.
As well as his role as leader, the versatile Ryan is also one of the toughest players in the competition and does a job in whatever position he places himself.
17. Jai Merritt (Macquarie)
It’s fair to say Macquarie hasn’t set the world alight this season but the few times they have caught the eye this season, the young Merritt has been involved more often that not.
Unfortunately he hasn’t been on the park regularly this season and if that can be fixed then there’s no doubt the Raiders can push back into that top four, and higher.
The biggest thing for the precociously talented halfback is attitude. Raiders coach Dylan Hill knows he’s got a genuine gamebreaker on his hands but the youngster, who possesses a brilliant kicking game, needs to realise that to and start getting out there and delivering each week.
18. Reece Goldsmith (Nyngan)
The player opposition sides, particularly CYMS, love to hate.
While his reputation as “a pest” now precedes him, Goldsmith is undoubtedly one of the elite players in Group 11.
Key to his side’s run to the grand final last year, Goldsmith has played just the once for the Tigers in 2018 given the fact he doesn’t live in Nyngan anymore.
However, his talent is undoubtable and if he can start playing regularly there’s no doubt Nyngan can work its way back into the finals conversation.
19. Charlie Staines (Forbes)
You want influence? Take a look at Charlie Staines’ performance for Forbes last week.
In his first game for the Magpies after helping Penrith’s SG Ball side to the title, the lightning quick fullback slotted into the fullback’s jersey seamlessly.
He scored a double, was safe at the back, and was a constant danger with his speed and footwork.
Could be whats needed to get the Magpies really firing this season.
20. Benny Cokanasiga (Nyngan)
Is there anyone tougher in Group 11 than Cokanasiga?
A rock of stability during his side’s run to the grand final last season, Cokanasiga has made the move from lock to the front row in recent weeks and has again been a mark of consistency in the heaving Tigers pack.
Gerald Mackey, Sione Fakahua and Tunui Maurangi have also been strong for Nyngan but you know exactly what you’re going to get from Benny, and yet he’s still hard to stop each and every week.