The modern-day lock is the glue that sticks a forward pack together. Required to do the work of a prop in the middle of the field while also expected to offload and ball-play, a good lock can be one of a team's most valuable players.
This article first appeared on NRL.com
2016 stats: 23 games, 116.7 avg metres, 858 tackles; 18 offloads, 316 runs
Young Manly prop-turned lock Jake Trbojevic has arguably had two successive breakout seasons in a row. In 2015 he went from little-known youngster coming off a serious injury to a first-grade regular starting prop. In 2016 he upped his game from already impressive levels after shifting to the No.13 jersey where he started all but two of Manly's 2016 games (Round 1 he was at prop and he missed Round 5 through injury). Not only that, an injury to Raider Josh Papalii opened the door for the Mona Vale junior's first Kangaroo tour and he made an impressive, try-scoring debut against Scotland in what looks to be the start of a very long senior rep career.
2016 stats: 25 games, 155.6 avg metres, 861 tackles, 56 offloads, 418 runs
Merrin was already a Test and Origin player when he departed the Shellharbour beaches for a fresh start in Sydney's golden west at the end of 2015 and – a curious Origin non-selection aside – had surely the best season of his career so far in terms of his individual efforts. Merrin was a powerhouse for the Panthers and finished the year off as an automatic selection for Australia in the No.13 jumper following a brilliant Four Nations campaign. His tireless runs and tackles and relentless offloading was a massive part of the platform that helped a young Panthers outfit exceed expectations in 2016.
2016 stats: 20 games, 175.6 avg metres, 600 tackles, 31 offloads, 392 runs
Long-serving Sharks skipper Gallen's representative career closed in 2016 with a typically robust effort in a narrow Origin series loss as well as a man-of-the-match effort in his Test swansong (a 16-0 win over the Kiwis in the May Test). But no doubt the personal highlight was a powerhouse season at club level, in which he captained Cronulla to a maiden premiership. The tireless 35-year-old also decided his battered body had one more year of NRL left in him and Sharks fans will no doubt be relieved to see the gladiatorial lock go round for one final season in the Shire.
2016 stats: 23 games, 153.5 avg metres, 803 tackles, 49 offloads, 399 runs
It's possible nothing Burgess does for the rest of his career will quite match the stunning heights of 2014, when a towering season at the Bunnies was capped by a historic Clive Churchill Medal-winning performance in an emotional grand final. But don't discount the tireless contributions he made on his return from the 15-man code in 2016 despite the fact Souths missed out on the finals. While his 21 penalties conceded and seven errors may indicate a man who at times may have tried for a bit too much, the new England Test captain's talismanic presence lifts any team he plays in.
2016 stats: 27 games, 165.0 avg metres, 645 tackles, nine offloads, 419 runs
How could the 2016 co-Dally M winner (the first non-hooker forward to win since Cronulla's Gavin Miller in 1989) be anything other than top of this list? The New Zealand Test lock had the best year of his career to date and will be even more of a key man for the 2015 premiers in the absence of James Tamou and Ben Hannant in 2017. His belligerent runs – which saw him alternately cut between defenders or trample straight over the top of them – caused countless headaches this year. Worryingly, he told NRL.com that he'll be looking to add more ball skills and offloading to his game next year as he looks to become an even more dangerous player.