15: David Havili (Crusaders)
There are two standouts for the fullback role – Havili of the Crusaders and Solomon Alaimalo of the Chiefs. Both are capable of utility roles, Havili in the midfield and Alaimalo on the wing. Havili was a key contributor for the Crusaders, often demonstrating a fine sense of timing for his backline incursions. Alaimalo was more likely to create something out of nothing by his actions. However, within the confines of the overall Crusaders' structure, and with a slight edge in experience, Havili edges it. But Alaimalo has been one of the comers of the season.
14: Waisake Naholo (Highlanders)
Continuing his ability to prove a key finisher for the Highlanders, right wing Naholo remains one of the most dangerous players in the competition. His speed is undiminished while he appeared a more involved player this season. Seta Tamanivalu pushed him hard and performed well for the Crusaders but Naholo finished higher on the try-scoring list. Julian Savea rounded out his Super Rugby career with some cameo moments while Toni Pulu scored some fine tries for the Chiefs.
13: Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs)
Often under-rated, Lienert-Brown had a fine year for the Chiefs, wasn't too troubled by injury and contributed to the Chiefs' offensive play, especially giving the side an added edge on the back of contributions by Solomon Alaimalo and Damien McKenzie in terms of carries made and clean breaks. Pushed hard by Jack Goodhue, who was a key performer for the Crusaders, and Rob Thompson, who shone for the Highlanders, Lienert-Brown plays with a level of confidence reflecting the benefit of experience gained.
12: Ryan Crotty (Crusaders)
It is a measure of how well equipped New Zealand is for midfield backs at the moment that there were contenders from each of the franchises for this berth. Crotty claims it on the back of the organisation he demonstrates week-in and week-out in the Crusaders' backline. His defensive approach is unquestioned and the only concern is his susceptibility to head knocks. Hurricane Ngani Laumape was a worthy challenger, although under-utilised by his side in the semifinal while Rieko Ioane proved no slug when used in the position by the Blues.
11: Rieko Ioane (Blues)
Given the season the Blues had, again, Ioane still shone on the occasions he was used on the wing. Ever dangerous, his ability to use his speed to create opportunities when nothing looked on was impressive and he continued his growth as one of the most exciting players on the planet. He needed to be because Crusader George Bridge, and Hurricane Ben Lam, finished ahead of him on the try-scoring ladder with 15 and 16 respectively, but they were also on the end of more functional backlines.
10: Richie Mo'unga (Crusaders)
An outstanding season for Mo'unga, in spite of the early broken jaw he suffered, was a crucial factor in the Crusaders' overall success. A much more rounded player, undeterred in taking the ball to the line, doing his work on defence, landing goals from all around the field and unleashing his acceleration to open up opposing screens, Mo'unga showed substantial growth in an area of great strength in the New Zealand game. Damian McKenzie benefitted from a full season in the position, Beauden Barrett was sound, which is still better than most players in the world, while Lima Sopoaga capped his career in style. Stephen Perofeta demonstrated potential for the Blues to build a team around.
9: TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)
Feisty, competitive, unrelenting Perenara at his best was typified by the set-piece intercept try he scored against the Brumbies in Canberra. Efficient in clearing ball, covering ground from breakdown to breakdown, Perenara adds a leadership factor to his game which was important for the Hurricanes in their reaching the semifinals. There is never a lot between him and Aaron Smith while the Crusaders pair of Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond pushed hard this year, each offering their own benefits to the overall team game and especially in clearing breakdown ball.
8: Akira Ioane (Blues)
In the extended absence of Kieran Read, Ioane was the top performing New Zealand forward in terms of clean breaks and defenders beaten, both categories seeing him as the best forward in the competition. Still not the complete package, he carries a lot of weight in the Blues processes and made an impact on limited opportunities this year. He edged Highlander Luke Whitelock, whose tackle contribution on its own was memorable while Read, in the few games he played at the end of the Crusaders' campaign showed he remains the measure of players in his position.
7: Matt Todd (Crusaders)
A splendid season for one of the key contributors to the Crusaders' campaign, Todd enjoyed a big year, in a position which is notable for its share of casualties, as Sam Cane can attest from the Chiefs. He was outstanding week in and week out with consistent support play, link work in broken play and at the breakdown. A mature contributor he offers a sense of still having much more to give to his side and even at a higher level in the future. Cane and Hurricane Ardie Savea were frustrated by injuries during the year while Highlander Dillon Hunt emerged as a player to watch in the future.
6: Jordan Taufua (Crusaders)
Injury denied Taufua his crowning glory for the season which was a great shame because he was massive all season. Playing well above his size he dented opposition sides all season with the ball in hand while also contributing in the cleanout phases and in support play. Taufua is the sort of player that every successful side needs and while he doesn't always get the public plaudits his teammates know how much he contributes. Injury again denied Liam Squire more opportunities although Shannon Frizell took his. A comer is Chief Luke Jacobson.
5: Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
It would have been easy to consider Scott Barrett for this position but Whitelock remains the measure and sets a standard that others need to surpass. There is a relentlessness about his play which is notable for the consistently high standard he plays at and which allows him to take on the captaincy of the side with ease. He remains the go-to man in a key lineout situation. Barrett's time is coming and it may be the Crusaders' organisation have got a seamless transition ahead in the role.
4: Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
A colossus in any pack in which he plays, Retallick continues to dominate and the confidence he engenders in his pack mates is evident anytime he takes the field. Anyone attempting to beat the Chiefs knows they have to contain Retallick, or at least the influence he wields in a game. Thriving on hard work he adds to his list of credits as each season goes by. He ranks with the finest in his position produced by New Zealand, and that says it all. And still, after completing all his core duties, he can play a decisive role standing off rucks and mauls and looking to get among the running action.
3: Owen Franks (Crusaders)
Franks may have had a delayed start to the season but there is no doubt his presence was an absolute must for the stability of the Crusaders' pack. Unsighted in the final, which was just as it should be for tight forwards, it is possible to imagine the sheer delight he felt as the Crusaders drove back each attempted lineout maul from the Lions and in giving no ground at scrum time. Angus Ta'avao made an impression when called up by the Chiefs while Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and Ofa Tu'ungafasi have ensured rare depth in the position.
2: Codie Taylor (Crusaders)
A stellar season for the Canterbury rake Taylor is another player growing in stature and who sets the pace in the absence of Dane Coles. A big final against the South African champion Malcolm Marx, Taylor can feel well pleased with his year. Typically supportive in the game-breaking try scored by Mitch Drummond in the final, Taylor offers another dimension with his play in keeping with the finest hookers. Ricky Riccitelli enjoyed a big year in the absence of Dane Coles while Liam Coltman was consistent for the Highlanders.
1: Karl Tu'inukuafe (Chiefs)
In an era when bolters are few and far between Tu'inukuafe has managed to show it can still be done. Called up from nowhere to fill a role for the Chiefs he ended up winning All Blacks selection and that was a fair reflection of the impact and strength he brought to the role in such a compelling manner. Heads off Joe Moody who suffered injury and suspension in a reduced campaign while Tim Perry was able to add to his standing in Moody's absence on occasion for the Crusaders.