|By Jack Brady
National Correspondent, NRL.com
As we count down to the kick-off of the 2016 Telstra Premiership season the NRL.com team have our say on the best of the best heading into the new season.
This one comes down to the hookers, the linchpins who touch the ball more than any other player on the field and are quickly becoming as important as the halves.
5. Michael Ennis (Sharks)
2015 Stats: Tackles per game – 35.7; Dummy half runs – 104; Try assists – 18
They say a change is as good as a holiday, and that was certainly the case in Michael Ennis' move to the Sharks. The 2015 Dally M Hooker of the Year's move from the Bulldogs paid off handsomely, and Cronulla may not have made the Preliminary Final without the veteran. The focal point of the Sharks' attack, only halves Johnathan Thurston, Benji Marshall and James Maloney produced more try assists in 2015.
4. Issac Luke (Warriors)
2015 Stats: Tackles per game – 30.3; Dummy half runs – 195; Try assists – 5
The Rabbitohs' loss is the Warriors gain in 2016 and oh what a loss it could prove to be. Luke's last season in the cardinal and myrtle was marred by troubles with the judiciary but regardless he was always going to factor in the game's top five rakes. While his move to the Warriors came as a massive shock, Luke's move back home could see him reach new heights alongside his fellow Kiwis Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
3. Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers)
2015 Stats: Tackles per game – 41; Dummy half runs – 111; Try assists – 5
One of rugby league's most maligned figures, with his career at his beloved Wests Tigers thrown into disarray in recent months, Farah's focus now thankfully lies on playing the game itself. New South Wales first choice hooker, even Blues Origin coach Laurie Daley has previously said that he'll still pick Farah even if his club coach Jason Taylor plays him in NSW Cup. If that's not a testament to his skill then nothing is.
2. Jake Friend (Roosters)
2015 Stats: Tackles per game – 44; Dummy half runs – 75; Try assists – 6
He is Queensland's and the Kangaroos' hooker-in-waiting and while Friend will have to wait until Cameron Smith retires to earn any sort of debut it doesn't mean he can't star in the NRL. The Roosters co-captain missed the early stages of the 2015 season due to an off-season shoulder injury, during what was his club's toughest period of the year. But it didn't take long for Friend and his troops to overcome it before finishing as minor premiers for the third straight season.
1. Cameron Smith (Storm)
2015 Stats: Tackles per game – 45; Dummy half runs – 155; Try assists – 11
Undoubtedly the game's premier hooker, the Storm, Queensland and Australian skipper may be getting older but his skill level hasn't been influenced. High up the pecking order as one of the NRL's greatest players, the Storm are never too far away from the premiership with the 32-year-old around – his 15th season in first grade just around the corner.
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* This article first appeared on NRL.com