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.
Earlier this week, we revealed who we believed to be the best fullbacks throughout Australasia, but now we turn to the wings, a position that certainly has no shortage of talent on either side of the Tasman.
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) Caleb Clarke (Blues)
One of the stars of the World Sevens Series, Super Rugby Aotearoa, the Bledisloe Cup and the Tri-Nations last year, Blues sensation Caleb Clarke is being backed to capitalise on his breakout campaign in 2021.
That has been reflected in how our writers ranked the 21-year-old, with four of our five pundits picking him in the No. 1 spot, while the other ranked him the second-best wing in all of New Zealand and Australia.
Standing at 1.89m and 107kg, Clarke’s brute power, top-end speed and barnstorming runs earned him Jonah Lomu comparisons following an outstanding display against the Wallabies.
Having shown no sign of slowing down leading into this year, it’s no surprise to see him top the rankings as Super Rugby’s premier wing.
2) Sevu Reece (Crusaders)
Although he was handed limited opportunities for the All Blacks last year, there’s no denying the flair and talent Sevu Reece possesses, making him one of the most dangerous players in this corner of the globe.
A hot-stepper capable of breaking open many defences with his sharp footwork, the 23-year-old has become a valued asset for the Crusaders since being called into the squad as injury cover in 2019.
With 23 tries to his name in just 27 Super Rugby outings, Reece yet again looms as one of Super Rugby’s biggest threats after having already played a key role in the last two of the Crusaders’ four straight titles.
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3) Marika Koroibete (Rebels)
In a time when rugby in Australia and the Wallabies are shadows of their former selves, few players have stepped up and performed like their predecessors as well as Marika Koroibete has in recent years.
The former NRL champion was the recipient of the John Eales Medal in 2019, which reflects both his ability and importance to Australian rugby, and, in this case, the Rebels.
One of only six capped Wallabies at the Melbourne franchise, Koroibete will be heavily relied upon if his side are to improve on their third-place finish in last year’s Super Rugby AU.
With considerable size and pace to burn, Koroibete can provide plenty when needed, making him Australia’s best wing.
4) George Bridge (Crusaders)
Ruled out of action for the first few weeks of action due to a chest injury that left his test aspirations in tatters last year, George Bridge can expect to slot straight back into the Crusaders’ starting lineup upon his return.
That’s saying something as well, given the depth the reigning Super Rugby Aotearoa champions have at their disposal in the outside backs.
However, with a knack for finding himself in the right place at the right time, Bridge has flexed his finishing prowess in years gone by and has created a formidable wing partnership with Sevu Reece over the past two seasons.
That was enough to make him a starting All Black right up until his current injury, and it’s enough to see him rank as the fourth-best wing in Australasia.
5) Filipo Daugunu (Reds)
Just as capable of producing a moment of brilliance as he is at being the centre of disaster, Filipo Daugunu would do himself little harm by implementing a bit more consistency into his game.
Doing so would make him one of Australia’s only elite-level wings alongside Koroibete, which is a testament to the talent Daugunu already holds.
The man who once scored five tries and was then red carded in a Reds pre-season match went on to debut for the Wallabies last year on the back of his standout displays for the Queensland side.
An impressive physical specimen who also represented the Fiji U17 football side as a goalkeeper, Daugunu will look to call on his strengths – namely his running game – as the Reds aim to go one place better than their runners-up finish in Super Rugby AU 2020.
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6) Mark Telea (Blues)
One of the breakout stars for the Blues in their resurgent campaign last year, Mark Telea was probably the top performer for the Auckland franchise prior to the arrival of COVID-19.
The limelight on Telea shrank once Caleb Clarke returned to the Blues set-up for Super Rugby Aotearoa, but that’s not to say the 24-year-old performed poorly.
In fact, Telea managed to cross for seven tries in his 14 appearances in his debut Super Rugby campaign, proving he has a nose for the tryline, which will be invaluable for the Blues as they eye their first title in 18 years.
7) Leicester Fainga’anuku (Crusaders)
Heftily built with a frame of 1.88m and 109kg, and still only 21-years-old, Leicester Fainga’anuku’s potential is as limitless as his ball-carrying and attacking threat is frightening.
A former New Zealand Schools and New Zealand U20 representative, Fainga’anuku played a much more prominent role for the Crusaders last year than he did in his debut campaign in 2019, taking full advantage of enhanced game time.
Catching the eye through his powerful runs, the Tongan-born wing, who can also play in the midfield, impressed enough to earn selection for both the South Island in the North vs South game and Moana Pasifika in their maiden clash with the Maori All Blacks.
Naturally, the next step would be to play test rugby, and if Fainga’anuku can stay on the trajectory he finds himself on, it will only be a matter of time before he dons the black jersey.
8) Suliasi Vunivalu (Reds)
The subject of the most high-profile transfer over the Super Rugby off-season, new Reds recruit Suliasi Vunivalu is set to take the competition by storm in his return to rugby union for the first time since he was a schoolboy.
After starring for the St Kentigern College 1st XV in Auckland, Vunivalu crossed the ditch to throw his lot in with the Melbourne Storm in the NRL, where he scored 86 tries in 111 outings en route to becoming a two-time NRL title-winner.
Standing at 1.92m and 99kg, it’s no wonder why the Wallabies were so eager to bring him into their training camp as soon as his commitments at the Storm ended last year, and he will be odds-on to play for Dave Rennie’s side by the end of 2021.
As for the Reds, they have acquired one of Australia’s brightest talents across both union and league, with Vunivalu expected to flourish at Suncorp Stadium.
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9) Tom Wright (Brumbies)
An underrated figure outside of Australia prior to his test debut for the Wallabies, Tom Wright made everyone sit up and take notice upon his introduction to international rugby against the All Blacks last year.
With his first touch of the ball, Wright scored his first test try inside the opening three minutes to kick-off what was a great performance as the Wallabies shocked the All Blacks with a 24-22 victory in Brisbane.
Another NRL convert, the former Manly Sea Eagles playmaker will hope to bring that kind of form to the Brumbies as they look to retain their Super Rugby AU crown.
10) Jona Nareki (Highlanders)
While the Highlanders struggled to rekindle their best form throughout the majority of last year, the emergence of young wing Jona Nareki was a bright spot in a largely unsuccessful campaign.
Small in stature, standing at only 1.75m and 80kg, Nareki punched well above his weight, taking the talent he had shown off as one of the key members of the All Blacks Sevens side and put it into practice for the Dunedin franchise.
Quick, agile and equipped with a raking left boot, the 23-year-old impressed in his debut Super Rugby campaign last year, and needs to be an integral member of the Highlanders squad if they are to improve on their fourth-placed finish this season.
A few players were named in the top 10 rankings of certain writers, but didn’t rank high enough – or rank at all – on the lists of others.
These players, such as Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Salesi Rayasi (Hurricanes) and Shaun Stevenson (Chiefs), make up our list of honourable mentions, and could force their way into our overall top 10 as the season progresses.
The same can be said for Wes Goosen (Hurricanes), Byron Ralston (Force), Solomone Kata (Brumbies) and James Ramm (Waratahs), who all featured on at least one writer’s rankings.
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