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Nine's The Greatest reveals top 10 players of the NRL era

North Queensland Cowboys great Johnathan Thurston has been named the greatest player of the NRL era, beating out the likes of Andrew Johns and Cameron Smith.

Via: NRL on Nine

Thurston won everything there is to win in the game in his illustrious career with both the Cowboys and the Bulldogs, cementing his status as one of the legends of the game with his 2015 premiership win.

The Cowboys and Queensland legend placed ahead of Johns and Smith, while Darren Lockyer, Billy Slater, Brad Fittler, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Jason Taumalolo and Laurie Daley rounded out the top 10.

5. BILLY SLATER: RECORD: 319 games (190 tries), 31 Origins (12 tries), 30 Tests (27 tries); 2x premierships (2012, 2017), 2x Clive Churchill Medal (2009, 2017), Dally M Medal (2011), 3x Dally M Fullback of the Year (2008, 2011, 2017), Dally M Representative Player of the Year (2010), Golden Boot Award (2008), 2x Wally Lewis Medal (2010, 2018).

Another of the Storm and Queensland golden generation, Billy Slater's arrival helped transform the Melbourne Storm into a ruthless winning machine.

Slater combined to lethal effect with Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk throughout the majority of their careers, winning two NRL premierships together.

According to Gould, Slater's legacy will be how he changed the fullback position.

"There were a lot of fullbacks who could do some of the things Billy could do, but they couldn't do all the things he could do," he said.

"When you were planning to play against a team with Billy Slater in it as a fullback, we talk about the fullback having a relationship with the dummy half, the halfback and the edge both inside and outside, Billy Slater could do that on one play.

"He could actually be behind the dummy half, but receive the ball three passes wide on the same play and support every one of those playmakers along the way. No player I have ever seen could do all of that in the one play.

"It was like having two extra players on the field for the Melbourne Storm."

Gould also said Slater's ability to remain at full-speed for the entirety of games made him stand out from his adversaries.

"I know he was fast, he wasn't slow, but the thing about Billy was that he wasn't blinding quick, but he was flat out the whole time," he said.

"He was never not at full pace and he just seemed to have a great sense of timing of where to be and the timing of his run."

"You could never relax against him out there because he could hurt you through the middle, with his play, with his aversion, he's the thinking man's fullback," league great Peter Sterling added.

"When he didn't have the football as well, I think he revolutionised the way that fullbacks defend.

"The video work he'd do on opponents and to know what was coming, he was equally as effective without the football."

3. CAMERON SMITH: RECORD: 413 games* (45 tries), 42 Origins (5 tries), 56 Tests (9 tries); 2x premierships (2012, 2017), 2x Dally M Medal (2006, 2017), 8x Dally M Hooker of the Year (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2019), 4x Dally M Representative Player of the Year (2007, 2011, 2013, 2016), 5x Dally M Captain of the Year (2011, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019), 2x Golden Boot Award (2007, 2017), 4x Wally Lewis Medal (2007, 2011, 2013, 2016).

The NRL's games record holder, Cameron Smith's consistency even at an advanced age is simply beyond belief.

Throughout the game's rich history, there has been no one to maintain the level of excellence that Smith has displayed for as long as he has.

Smith has always had the poise in his game, and his long-time teammate Billy Slater said that his ability to dominate games without standing out was what made him most dangerous.

"I've seen first-hand throughout my career what Cam brings to a team," Slater told The Greatest.

"He's got so many great attributes a rugby league player needs like his skill, he's so calm and he's got time with the footy, but he's often the best player and the most influential player on the field and the opposition don't even notice him.

"That's the scary thing about Cameron Smith, he can beat you without you even knowing he's beating you.

"He's the ultimate teammate, he puts others around him in better positions. He touches the ball first in every play the ball and he makes the first decision on every play the ball so that sets the team up for success."

Slater also praised the way the Smith has evolved over the years in order to stay effective.

"He's had to evolve because he's played in different eras, but he's always had that calmness," he said.

"He's always been this type of player that's just a leader, a guy that is never flustered or overawed by a situation.

"I think he's just gotten better with his timing and skill and the way that the modern day game is now, No.9 is an integral part of the team and I think it's probably the most important position nowadays in rugby league."

While Smith may not have the physique of some of the players around him in the top 10 list, Slater said the Storm skipper works as hard as anyone.

" He's a first-class (trainer) although his body might not reflect that. He works as hard as anyone," he said.

"I went to training one day and he was doing his goal kicking after everyone left.

"There was a couple of media people there, so he did his interviews and then he went back for goal-kicking.

"He doesn't care what time he leaves the training paddock, he doesn't care what time he finishes his recovery, he's as hard a worker as I've seen."

Legendary halfback Peter Sterling praised Smith's ability to control the tempo of the game as one of his best traits.

" I don't think I've ever seen a player who understands momentum better than Cameron Smith," he said.

"When they need to play up tempo, he somehow generates that, and when they need a break and they need to slow the game down, he's the one that somehow invariably gets the job done in that area."

Top 10: Laurie Daley, Jason Taumalolo, Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis, Brad Fittler, Billy Slater, Darren Lockyer, Cameron Smith, Andrew Johns and Johnathan Thurston.

Via: NRL on Nine

Acknowledgement of Country

Melbourne Storm respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.