As the Super Rugby Aotearoa, Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competitions inch closer to kick-off, a panel of RugbyPass writers have taken it upon themselves to rank the best players across New Zealand and Australia in each position.
Some have gone for a statistical approach, while other have trusted their gut, but the end result has yielded a list of the top 10 players per position.
The writer-by-writer rankings will soon be available on Instagram, but here is the overall rankings that have been calculated as an average of the five scribes’ lists.
1) Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
There are few loose forwards worldwide who are as hard to bring to the ground due to their sheer determination as Ardie Savea.
Possessed with a monstrous leg drive and powerful running ability, the 27-year-old also boasts an outstanding work ethic and is equally adept on the defensive side of the ball – whether that be through his tackling or ability at the breakdown – as he is on attack.
All that, combined with his leadership at stature at the Hurricanes, has made him an influential figure not only in the Kiwi capital, but, evidently, throughout all of Super Rugby.
2) Harry Wilson (Reds)
After emerging as one of the best young talents Australia had to offer in 2020, the secret is out about how good of a player Harry Wilson is.
A behemoth of a man who isn’t afraid to impose his physical presence on others, the 21-year-old exploded onto the scene last year with his blockbusting ball-running and big-hitting defence.
Both of those attributes were on full show as Wilson featured regularly for the Reds and Wallabies, and much of the same will be expected of him over the coming weeks.
3) Hoskins Sotutu (Blues)
There wasn’t much separating the top three No. 8s in our collective rankings, but the fact that Blues standout Hoskins Sotutu is in third place is indicative of how much talent there is in this position across Super Rugby.
Another youngster who came to life emphatically last year, the 22-year-old was a key component of the Blues’ renaissance as part of a fit and firing forward pack that had long underperformed.
Whether it’s with ball in hand, in the defensive line or at the lineout, Sotutu stands as a considerable threat for any opposing Super Rugby side, and it will be intriguing to see him and Wilson go toe-to-toe over the next decade.
4) Pete Samu (Brumbies)
A two-time title-winning loose forward at the Crusaders, Pete Samu has gone from strength-to-strength since returning to his homeland on the opposite side of the Tasman.
Born in Melbourne and having also lived in Brisbane and Sydney, it’s in Canberra where the 29-year-old has found a home for himself in Australia, becoming a core member of a strong Brumbies outfit that claimed the Super Rugby AU title last year.
Like any good No. 8, Samu is a powerhouse on both sides of the ball, with his running game particularly eye-catching, so it will be little surprise to see the Brumbies go well in 2021 for as long as the 10-test Wallaby is involved.
5) Isi Naisarani (Rebels)
It’s been a whirlwind adventure in Australian rugby for Isi Naisarani since he first ventured to his adopted nation from Fiji in 2016.
Year-long stints with the Western Force and Brumbies exemplified how lethal of an attacking weapon the 25-year-old can be, and it’s the Melbourne Rebels who have been reaping the rewards of Naisarani’s offensive prowess since 2019.
Standing at 1.95m, Naisarani also offers both the Rebels and Wallabies a safe option at the lineout, so it’s unsurprising to see him rate so highly on our rankings given the multi-faceted threat he poses.
6) Whetukamokamo Douglas (Crusaders)
A veteran of New Zealand rugby, Whetukamokamo Douglas has become a staple of the Crusaders’ forward pack since debuting for the Christchurch franchise in 2017.
Since then, the 29-year-old has played over 30 times for the side, with a brief spell in Italy with Benetton Treviso interrupting his impact on Scott Robertson’s squad.
Now entering his second season with the Crusaders without Kieran Read blocking his path for starting honours, expect Douglas to throw his weight around regularly at Orangetheory Stadium in 2021.
7) Kazuki Himeno (Highlanders)
With COVID-19 limiting the induction of overseas stars into Super Rugby this year, the Highlanders will undoubtedly be stoked to have Brave Blossoms star Kazuki Himeno in their ranks this season.
The 26-year-old was a standout for Japan at the 2019 World Cup as he helped them reach the quarter-finals of the tournament for the first time in their history through his heavy ball-carrying, tremendous work ethic and safety at the set piece.
Capable of filling all three loose forward roles, as well as in the second row, Himeno won’t be available for the Highlanders until a few weeks into Super Rugby Aotearoa, but he is bound to make a mighty impact once he gets his chance.
8) Marino Mikaele-Tu’u (Highlanders)
Like Wilson and Sotutu, 2020 was a breakout season for Highlanders youngster Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, who spent the prior couple of seasons beforehand biding his time behind the likes of Luke Whitelock and Elliot Dixon.
The 23-year-old’s patience was well-rewarded, though, as he proved himself as one of New Zealand’s best attacking forwards throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa.
While that earned him the starting No. 8 role all of last year, such luxuries will be harder to come by in 2021 given the Highlanders’ strong off-season recruitment in the loose forwards.
However, if given the chance to impress early on, it may be the new and returning faces who will have the uphill battle of trying to snare a starting role of Mikaele-Tu’u.
9) Liam Squire (Highlanders)
Remarkably the third Highlanders player to feature on this list, Liam Squire has returned to the franchise he established himself as New Zealand’s heir apparent to Jerome Kaino as the bone-rattling enforcer of the All Blacks.
The only problem was the 29-year-old wasn’t in the right frame of mind or physical condition after three impressive years between 2016 and 2018, which led to a move to Japan ahead of the 2020 Top League season.
Now refreshed and ready for action, Squire – who is more often a blindside flanker, but had his vote split between here and the flanker rankings by our writers – is primed to reclaim his place in the national squad.
10) Tom Sanders (Crusaders)
After moving to the Crusaders from the Chiefs in 2018, Tom Sanders has been in a tight tussle with Douglas for the No. 8 jersey since the defection of Read to Japan at the end of 2019.
Who is the better option at the back of the scrum is up for debate, but it has to be said the 27-year-old caught the eye for the reigning Super Rugby Aotearoa champions last year, to the point where he earned selection for the North vs South clash.
Unfortunately, though, a cheek fracture has left Sanders sidelined for between eight-to-10 weeks, meaning he likely won’t be sighted until the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition.
As is usually the case, a select few players were nominated for these rankings by individual writers but failed to make the final cut.
However, some of these names – such as Akira Ioane (Blues) and Cullen Grace (Crusaders) – are likely to feature on the flanker rankings, given that’s where they predominantly play.
Others who were put forward for consideration included Pita Gus Sowakula (Chiefs), Glasgow Warriors-bound Jack Dempsey (Waratahs), Gareth Evans (Hurricanes), Luke Jacobson (Chiefs), Brynard Stander (Force) and Rob Valetini (Brumbies).
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