NRL 2021: Stats Insider's Team Of The Month - March
The calendar is being flicked over from March to April, so it's time to check in with the first Stats Insider Team of the Month of the 2021 NRL season.
How is the Stats Insider Team of the Month Selected?
Based on Stats Insider’s NRL Player Ratings, a player’s game by game ratings (when named to start in each position) are added together for the relevant month. The players with the highest overall rating in each position are then selected in the Team of the Month.
Outside of players named to start on the interchange bench, players are only eligible to score in the position they were named to start the match. That is why you might see someone like Brett Morris, who had a great month of footy in June 2020 but played across three different positions, miss out on selection. Halves are also grouped into a single position for selection purposes.
So, who cracks it this month?
Stats Insider's Team of the Month (March, 2021)
1. James Tedesco
The Sydney Roosters fullback has a mortgage on this jersey.
James Tedesco's 173 running metres are down considerably on his 231 per game average of last season, but he has already scored six tries in three games in 2021. While he might not be getting quite so far up the field, Teddy is breaking almost seven tackles per game.
Tedesco is more than just the numbers. He's an elite support player, a gravitational pull to the defence, and has a ridiculous knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Brett Morris nailed it last week: "Teddy’s normal game is far above every other bloke out there."
2. Brett Morris
Brett Morris produced the above quote when talking about claiming three Dally M points across each of the two opening rounds. His points total has created plenty of controversy, but back-to-back hattricks in Round 1 and 2, along with a seventh try in Round 3, have him named in the SI Team of the Month.
3. Dane Gagai
Veteran South Sydney Rabbitohs centre Dane Gagai slots into the first centre spot this season.
While he does have the pleasure of playing within the most dangerous left-edge attack in the NRL, Gagai isn't simply reaping the rewards of brilliance inside him. He's doing the hard yards getting South Sydney's sets off to a strong start.
Gagai's 138 metres per game is his highest average in a season since 2014. We can expect him to set a new career-high by the time Round 24 wraps up too. Souths were poor to start in Round 1 and took a while to get going in dire conditions in Round 2. Once the Rabbitohs start to hit their straps, Gagai's yardage and finishing on the edge will be at the forefront.
4. Joseph Manu
Joseph Manu has played outside Luke Keary and inside Brett Morris. He hasn't always been asked to do much, but Manu has done the job asked of him to start the season.
His three try assists in 2021 is already just two short of 2020's season total, the 114 running metres per game is on track for a new career-high, and the 24-year-old has broken 11 tackles along the way.
Things start to get a little bit more difficult for Manu now, though. With Keary out and an inexperienced half now beside him, the 96-game centre needs to do more if the Roosters are to be relevant in September.
5. Brian To'o
Brian To'o plays in one of the best attacking teams in the NRL and outside perhaps the best backrow/centre combination in the competition. However, the 22-year-old has dotted down just once so far this season.
It's his work in yardage that places him inside the Team of the Month.
To'o leads the NRL with 221 running metres per game through three rounds while falling behind only David Fifita in tackle breaks at 7.3 per game. Whether it be in exit sets, off kick returns or the first play from a scrum, To'o is getting the Panthers downhill and playing a big part in what eventuates at the other end of the field.
6. Luke Keary
It's bittersweet for the Sydney Roosters faithful to see their man here.
Luke Keary cracks the Stats Insider Team of the Month for March, but it will be his last appearance this season after sustaining a significant knee injury in Round 3.
Up to that point, Keary had already accumulated an NRL-high seven try assists as the Roosters ran rampant down his new home on the right edge. If that's what things looked like while Keary grew accustomed to his new role, it's scary to think how lethal the Roosters right side would have been by the end of the season.
Sam Verrills and Victor Radley will help keep the Roosters above water, but there is no replacing Keary who looked every bit like one of the best halfbacks in the game to start 2021.
7. Nathan Cleary
Nathan Cleary didn't need to play in Round 3 to earn his spot here.
The 23-year-old is averaging a whopping 82 touches per game as he guides the Panthers around the park. He's handed out two try assists in as many games, but much of Cleary's influence in the side comes in the pressure he builds with his boot. His 441.7 kicking metres per game ranks 3rd in the NRL while no player has forced more dropouts than Cleary's six in two games.
He's doing what he wants with the ball, and a lot of that comes from his threat as a ball-runner. The best halves run the ball regularly, but elite halves pick the right moments. Cleary is doing that while averaging a career-high 125 running metres per game in 2021.
8. Tevita Pangai Jr.
Tevita Pangai Jr. hasn't done himself many favours over the last 12 months. If it wasn't an on-field suspension keeping him off the field last season, it was an off-field incident causing problems. But with a full pre-season under his belt and as a leader of this Brisbane Broncos forward pack, the 25-year-old has stood up through the first three rounds of the 2021 NRL season.
Pangai Jr's numbers are what get him into the TOTM. He's averaging 154 running metres per game and has thrown 13 offloads and broken 10 tackles along the way. Defensively, he's missed just two of his 86 attempted tackles. However, it's the eye-test that gives confidence to the idea that the new-and-improved TPJ is for real. He's putting his foot down until the final whistle and the Broncos look a lot better for it.
9. Jayden Brailey
Limited to just two games last season leaving Adam O'Brien to rotate through a handful of makeshift hookers, a healthy Jayden Brailey has been a game-changer for the Newcastle Knights.
He has scored a try, handed out two, forced a dropout and run for a career-high 44 metres per game to start 2021. The 24-year-old is a tackling machine making 54.6 tackles and missing just one per game.
He's passing players onto the ball and making good decisions from behind the ruck. Brailey's experience at the position has freed up Mitchell Pearce and will soon help Blake Green and Kalyn Ponga return from injury. The NRL is full of excellent hookers, and Brailey is now putting himself into the top tier conversation.
10. Junior Paulo
Is Junior Paulo the best prop in rugby league right now?
This is a conversation worth having while he carries the Parramatta Eels up the field before throwing a 15-metre pass to the edge or tips the ball onto a teammate in good ball. He's already equalled his career-high for tries scored in a season with two through three rounds.
The things Paulo can do with his hands and feet is jaw-dropping for somebody his size. There is a good chance his numbers continue to improve and we see him in here a few times throughout 2021 too.
11. David Fifita
David Fifita has scored three tries and broken 24 tackles already this season. He's throwing away defenders like paper plates while producing a career-high 146 running metres per game.
The Gold Coast Titans are feeding him early ball. It's almost predictable for the defence at times. Still, there is nothing they can do to stop this freakish specimen from casting defenders aside and crossing the advantage line.
They had to shell out the big bucks to bring Fifita down the M1, but he's proving to be worth every penny to the Titans so far this season.
12. Viliame Kikau
He's a key feature in one of the best attacking edges in the NRL and his try-saver in Round 3 will be replayed for years to come.
Viliame Kikau is no longer just a big body being used as a battering ram out wide. The Penrith Panthers are running him out the back of shape and varying the angles at which he takes the ball. As a result, he's added almost 30 metres to his 2020 number to be averaging 125 running metres per game in 2021. Isolating him onto defenders, Kikau has picked up 13 tackle breaks and broken the line four times already. He finished 2020 with ten linebreaks (19 games).
He has been considered a top tier backrower for a few years now, but Kikau might be the best in the business by the end of Round 25.
13. Isaah Yeo
He has somehow managed to get through three rounds without being awarded a single Dally M point, but Isaah Yeo receives the credit he deserves in the Stats Insider Team of the Month.
Yeo has been a crucial part to the Penrith Panthers 3-0 start to the year. He picks up his typical 148 running metres per game along with 34.6 tackles per game. However, it's his involvement as a link man in the attack that makes him so valuable to the Panthers and, perhaps, so easily passed over by Dally M judges.