The 2017 Group 11 season is shaping as one of the most competitive in years.
A number of individuals have shone so far this season and put their hand up for the most important player in the Group.
But only one person can take top spot...
1. Reece Goldsmith (Nyngan Tigers)
The difference between making Nyngan a very good side and a genuine premiership contender. It’s as simple as that and the reason why Goldsmith is number one on this list.
The hooker just oozes class on the ball and his ability to set up play from dummyhalf is better than anyone else in the competition. In a side with so many big bodies up front it is crucial for the Tigers to get a roll on and Goldsmith allows that to happen. Strong in defence as well, it’s no coincidence the only match the Tigers lost this season was one where Goldsmith started on the bench.
2. Zac Merritt (Forbes Magpies)
Described by many players and fans as the best player in Group 11 and it’s hard to argue against that. One of the major reasons Forbes won last season’s title, Merritt has been leading from the front again this season to ensure there’s no premiership hangover.
An athletic prop with size, strength and the ability to offload, Merritt basically has it all and is the undoubted star of what is a Magpies side stacked with talent. Key to his side’s hope of back-to-back titles.
3. Willie Wright (Dubbo Macquarie)
Not much was known about Wright when he made the move from Walgett to Macquarie. But in a short time he’s become one of the most dominant playmakers in the competition.
Partly due to Josh Merritt’s suspension, Wright had to come in and take over immediately and he’s done so brilliantly, with his kicking game quickly rivalling the best in the competition. The Raiders might have only won twice so far this season but the side would have less than that if it wasn’t for Wright.
4. Sam Dwyer (Parkes Spacemen)
It’s sometimes easy to forget how young Dwyer is. The Western Rams under 23s captain seems to take on more responsibility at the Spacies with every game while his game has gone to another level and there’s no doubt he is now the premier fullback in the competition.
Dennis Moran may be the heart and soul of the Spacemen but Dwyer is the spine and his ability to get his side out of trouble and set play up from the back is unrivalled.
5. Luke Jenkins (Dubbo CYMS)
You can’t have a list like this without ‘Jenko’ featuring somewhere towards the top.
The CYMS veteran still gets the job done and is as key as ever and after some time spent at lock in recent years he’s back at hooker now, a place he owns. The general who organises his side and sets the standard for fitness and professionalism, Jenkins is just as important off the field as he is on it for the Fishies and is one of the major reasons the men in green and white have been so dominant for so many years.
6. Aidan Ryan (Wellington)
The turnaround at Wellington has been immense and a strong and competitive Cowboys outfit is good for Group 11.
Ryan has to take much of the credit for changing Wellington from a side which won just once last season to a team which sits just outside the top five approaching the season’s midway point.
A longtime Cowboys player, Ryan stepped up to the captain’s coach role this season and has got players putting the work in and taking some pride in the Cowboys jersey. He’s also doing a job on the field as well.
7. Dennis Moran (Parkes Spacemen)
An absolute must on this list. Moran missed most of last season with injury and it was Parkes’ worst season in a number of years. That’s all you need to know. The former Paramatta Eel has stepped back a bit this season with his move to the centres but his leadership and experience is invaluable.
He’s still getting the job done on the field as well and seems to pop up everywhere despite playing that bit wider now. A genuine class player and a Group 11 great.
8. Jake Grace (Forbes Magpies)
One of the smartest operators in Group 11, Grace is the inspirational captain-coach of the Forbes Magpies.
But it’s not just his mentoring and ability to bring real unity to his side which impresses, he’s also one of the toughest back rowers in the competition and has picked up this year where he left off in 2016, when he led the Magpies to a stunning premiership victory. Also possesses a very handy ability to offload.
9. Jarryn Powyer (Dubbo CYMS)
In years gone by the one comment people would make about CYMS in regards to a possible weakness was the fact the side lacks real size.
But when you’ve got a prop as strong and athletic as Powyer that doesn’t matter. For all his side’s talent across the park it is more often that not Powyer who carts the ball up and helps get his side into attacking territory. Also has a real knack of getting across the tryline.
10. Jacob Neill (Nyngan Tigers)
You can have a monster pack or an electric backline but without someone in the middle guiding the side around its never going to reach its potential. That’s what Neill provides for Nyngan.
Not the most flashy half in the competition but he controls play for his side and the experienced former Western Ram guides his side around the park and is in the thick of nearly all the Tigers’ best moments.
11. Alex Bonham (Dubbo CYMS)
As someone who makes CYMS tick and guides his side around the park, it might seem unfair to have Bonham this low. But the sheer strength of CYMS from 1-17 makes it hard to single out someone as the most vital cog in the team.
But with his tireless workrate and fine kicking game, both in play and off the tee, Bonham is as important as anyone in the CYMS side and is well on his way to finishing as the competition’s leading point-scorer again.
12. Alex Sambrook (Narromine Jets)
Narromine has clearly struggled without injured captain-coach Luke Thompson out there on the field.
But in his absence, Sambrook has stepped up.
Regularly one of the top tacklers and metre-eaters in the Jets side, Sambrook leads from the front and without him the Jets season would be much worse than it is at the moment. A classic front rower who gets through a mountain work.
13. Jack Medlyn (Parkes Spacemen)
Medlyn’s isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of the Parkes Spacemen but the big second-rower is key to his side’s hopes of premiership glory this season.
A hard runner who forms part of a dangerous left fringe for the Spacies, Medlyn is difficult to stop while he also has one of the best offloads in Group 11, which creates opportunities for the many dangerous attackers in his side.
A Parkes man through-and-through, Medlyn is also a real leader for the men in red, white and blue.
14. Wade Kavanagh (Dubbo CYMS)
It’s fair to say the thought of Kavanagh appearing on this list this time last season would have been ridiculous.
A fringe first grader, Kavanagh has just got better and better with every match since being called up by coach Tim Ryan midway through last season.
So often a versatile utility, Kavanagh has found a home in the centres this season and is currently the leading try-scorer in the competition while his aggression helps fire up the Fishies when matches turn into an arm wrestle.
15. Jone Yacadrau (Nyngan Tigers)
One of the many fan favourites at Nyngan, Yacadrau has become one of the premier backs in Group 11 in recent years.
A natural try-scorer who is almost unstoppable when he’s at full flight, Yacadrau also muscles up in defence and has rattled many a ribcage in the competition while his work in running the ball out of trouble at his own end is huge for the Tigers.
16 Ash Widders (Dubbo Macquarie)
‘Flash’ has been one of the best wingers in Group 11 for some time and he continues to get the job done this season despite a lack of opportunities.
The Raiders have struggled for points at times and it might seem strange for a winger to be deemed as influential but nine times out of 10 Widders gets across the line when given a chance, and that has been crucial for Macquarie this season.
17. Jesse Wighton (Forbes Magpies)
Ask anyone within Group 11 what they think of when they think of Forbes and more often that not the answer has something to do with the Magpies’ powerful forward pack.
The big men up front set the standard for the defending premiers but Wighton, who linked up with the side during the off-season, has added another dimension and his ability to create something from nothing has been a huge boost for a side. Also, the one game the Magpies lost this season was one Wighton didn’t finish due to injury.
18. Norm West (Wellington Cowboys)
The Cowboys have improved all over the park this season but West’s performances at the back have been one of the big reasons why the side sits just outside the top five at this point.
Slick in attack and solid at the back, West has done everything asked of him this season and he helps ease the pressure on some of the younger players in key positions.
19. Carl Ralph (Dubbo Westside)
It hasn’t been an easy season up to this point for Dubbo Westside and Ralph is one of many who has failed the hit the kind of form seen in season 2016.
Despite the fact the Rabbitohs haven't won a game this season and Ralph hasn’t quite discovered his top form he is one of the regulars who does a job every week. His talent is proved by the fact he has been moved around a number of positions as the club attempts to keep him involved as much as possible.
20. Luke Thompson (Narromine Jets)
This probably seems like a bizarre inclusion seeing as though Thompson hasn’t played this season and appears a slim chance of pulling on the Jets jersey in 2017.
But it’s only when ‘Thommo’ isn’t there when you realise how important and influential he is. The Jets just missed out on finals last season and improved during the off-season with the likes of EJ Fernando and Darryl Kemp joining the side. But with no Thompson to lead from the front and pull the side out of the trouble the Jets are second from bottom without a win to their name.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Jyie Chapman (Dubbo CYMS), Fletcher Strong (Parkes Spacemen), Stewart Mills (Nyngan Tigers), Nathan Smith (Wellington Cowboys), Zac Rennick (Dubbo Macquarie), Ben Maguire (Forbes Spacemen), Corey Cox (Narromine Jets), Robbie Olsen (Westside), Chad Porter (Parkes Spacemen)