Australian fans have named England Test stand-off Gareth Widdop as the best NRL recruit of the 2014 season.
Some 30 per cent of the 10,000 fans polled by the Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper reckoned he was the best buy of the year after switching from Melbourne Storm to St George Illawarra at the end of last season.
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His transformation since leaving the comfort zone of playing with the Storm’s big three of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk has been nothing short of remarkable. In recent weeks his combination with Benji Marshall, who returned to the NRL after a failed dalliance with rugby union in New Zealand, has been particularly effective.
The only player to poll anywhere near Widdop was Jamie Soward, who joined Penrith after a short stint with the London Broncos. He received more than 27 per cent of the vote.
Nathan Peats (from South Sydney to Parramatta) was third in the voting with almost 15 per cent and England World Cup fullback Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors to New Zealand Warriors) fourth on six per cent, just ahead of his former Wigan team-mate Pat Richards, who joined Wests Tigers.
Another England international Sam Burgess was rated the second toughest player in the NRL, behind NSW State of Origin captain Paul Gallen.
The fans voted Parramatta’s Jarryd Hayne the best player in the game Down Under (32.40 per cent) from Greg Inglis (20.98) and Johnathan Thurston (14.92). Then came Smith (7.81) and Burgess (7.53).
The Storm’s Craig Bellamy was rated the best coach (26.43) ahead of Souths’ Michael Maguire (14.9) and Penrith’s Ivan Cleary (14.62).