ESPN ranks the NRL halfbacks ahead of the 2020 season

With the retirement of Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston in recent years, the halfback position has yet to see the emergence of a new superstar. Ben Hunt, Daly Cherry-Evans, Michael Morgan and Nathan Cleary have all played representative football of late, but you'd be hard-pressed to name any of them a clear stand-out in the position.

Several halves have switched clubs, and a new star has arrived from England, as teams battle to find the perfect general to lead their team's 2020 premiership charge.

We take a look at the likely halves for each club and rank them from 16 to 1. Where does your club's No.7 sit in the pecking order as a new season dawns?

16. Lachlan Lewis - Canterbury Bulldogs

Lewis has looked sensational at times in his brief career with the Bulldogs. When he first came into first grade he made the most of running the show in Keiran Foran's absence and impressed with his calmness under pressure and willingness to throw his body in front of runaway buses. He possesses a solid kicking game, but his passing and match awareness can be an issue, particularly when the Bulldogs are on the attack. With Foran out again he will have to find a way with Jack Cogger to manufacture some sorely needed points for the struggling Bulldogs.

15. Kyle Flanagan - Sydney Roosters

Shane Flanagan's son was snapped up from the Sharks' lower grades by the Roosters as they search for a replacement for retiring superstar Cooper Cronk. He played nine first grade games at the Sharks but was largely stuck behind Chad Townsend. He has enormous shoes to fill at the Roosters and will rely largely on five-eighth Luke Keary to help him settle into the side. He could well shoot up this list if he finds his feet in the red-hot Roosters line-up.

14. Blake Green - New Zealand Warriors

Green is a solid player who had some of his better days at the Sea Eagles before departing to the Warriors. He stands out as a round peg in a square hole being a structured player in a team which often plays with no regard for the boring nature of completions and field position. It will be interesting to see whether he and Kodi Nikorima can combine better with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to improve the Warriors this year.

13. Ashley Taylor - Gold Coast Titans

Taylor has never really hit the great heights expected of him when he moved down the coast from the Broncos in 2016. To be fair he has been surrounded by some ordinary line-ups and a jumble of coaches and game plans. This year he'll be in a team which includes three other halves in AJ Brimson, Tyrone Roberts and Tyrone Peachey. He'll need to take a firm leadership role to turn the Titans' fortunes around.

12. Michael Morgan - North Queensland Cowboys

A player of Morgan's class should rank a lot higher on this list, but throughout last year he proved that halfback is probably not his best position. Morgan has always looked better running wide of the ruck in a Cameron Munster, Jack Wighton type role. If he can find his place in the team and utilize the speed and explosiveness of Valentine Holmes the Cowboys should find some improvement.

11. Chad Townsend - Cronulla Sharks

The premiership-winning halfback had a mixed 2019 season, struggling at times to work well with star signing Shaun Johnson. A large part of his role will be to get quality ball to his two attacking centres, Bronson Xeri and Jesse Ramien. He has the passing, kicking and organizational game to be a great club halfback, but seems to lack that extra spark that would take him to the next level.

10. Brodie Croft - Brisbane Broncos

The Broncos feel they have finally moved on from the halfback issues they have suffered since Ben Hunt left to become a Dragon back in 2016. Croft was expected to step into the boots of Cooper Cronk when he left the Storm for the Roosters, but never really made the position his own. He jumped at the chance to return to his home state to lead the Broncos resurgence under former Storm assistant coach Anthony Seibold. He'll have a lot of pressure on his shoulders at the Broncos

9. Jahrome Hughes - Melbourne Storm

The versatile Kiwi finds himself in the No.7 jersey for the Storm after being knocked out of the fullback role by the impressive Ryan Papenhuyzen. Hughes is a nuggety utility who has played three Tests for New Zealand and was instrumental in the Maori All Stars defeating the Indigenous All Stars last month. With Cameron Smith organizing most of what the Storm do, Hughes will be able to play his own game in sparking the attack.

8. Ben Hunt - St George Illawarra Dragons

Hunt has never really lived up to his million-dollar price tag since signing the healthy contract with the Dragons. He has had his moments of brilliance, but also some major mishaps along the way. With Cameron McInnes out injured, Hunt will have to quickly form a combination with veteran rake Issac Luke. Dragons fans will be out for blood if the team can't maintain form throughout the long season and Hunt needs to be leading that consistency.

7. George Williams - Canberra Raiders

The England and Wigan half joins the Raiders this year and from all reports he just might be the piece of the puzzle that takes them from unlucky Grand Final losers to Premiers. The 25-year-old has played 10 Tests for England and has featured in several Super League Grand Finals and a Challenge Cup final. A robust runner of the ball, he is solid in defence and is also a handy goal kicker should Jason Croker ever be unavailable.

6. Mitchell Pearce - Newcastle Knights

Pearce has had his critics, particularly at representative level, but in form, at club level, he is among the best halves in the game. He did take his place in the final Origin game last season and cast aside some of the demons that have plagued him at that level. He will start the new year at the Knights hoping to spark some winning form and with no noted five-eighth in the line-up it will all be on his shoulders.

5. Nathan Cleary - Penrith Panthers

The incumbent New South Wales half will continue to mature under the guidance of coach and father Ivan. The Panthers never really recovered from a disastrous off-field start to their 2019 season and they will turn to Cleary to get them off to a flyer in 2020. Cleary has all the big game attributes of a quality No.7 and plays best when his confidence is high. He will be without James Maloney this year, so there'll be no room to drift in and out of games.

4. Luke Brooks - Wests Tigers

The Tigers half had a mixed season in 2019, after his Dally M halfback of the year season in 2018. At his best he can change the course of a contest with his kicking and passing games. His first problem this season will be finding a combination with whoever takes the hooking role following Robbie Farah's retirement. Brooks needs to take greater control of the game, which is not always easy with Benji Marshall running around.

3. Mitchell Moses - Parramatta Eels

The 2019 Dally M halfback of the year, Moses proved himself to be a match-winner as the Eels charged towards a place in the finals. He has all the attributes of a quality half, in his kicking, passing and game management skills. He also has a blistering turn of pace and is hard to contain when on the attack. He just needs to improve his defence and composure under pressure and he'll push Cleary for that Blues jersey.

2. Adam Reynolds - South Sydney Rabbitohs

The seasoned campaigner has been named captain of the Rabbitohs this year and is ready to lead them in another premiership charge. When fully fit he pushes for the best half in the game, but has carried niggling injuries at key times in the past. With one of the best kicking games in the NRL, Reynolds will relish the senior role he will have to play following the departure of John Sutton, Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis. If he can find a way to bring Latrell Mitchell into the game as much as possible he'll go a long way towards taking the Rabbitohs back to the big dance.

1. Daly Cherry-Evans - Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

The incumbent Queensland and Australia halfback, Cherry-Evans tops the list going into 2020, but he's not the clear-cut position leader that James Tedesco is at fullback. Cherry-Evans has been around for a while now, and received his representative chances through injury and ultimately the retirement of Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston. He has the ability to lead the Sea Eagles deep into the finals this year, he just needs to be consistent and steer clear of injury.