NRL Rd 12 - Sea Eagles v Panthers
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 01: Nathan Cleary of the Panthers kicks during the round 12 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Penrith Panthers at Lottoland on August 01, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

The Dally M Medal will now have a new favourite with the NRL controversially ruling that Penrith half-back Nathan Cleary is still eligible to keep all his points despite breaching COVID-19 protocols earlier this year, per The Daily Telegraph.

The 22-year old was fined $30,000 and suspended for two games following TikTok footage of him and teammate Tyrone May interacting with female friends in defiance of NSW's lockdown laws at the time. Cleary described his actions at the time as "irresponsible, selfish and stupid".

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo publicly confirmed that because Cleary's incident was an off-field issue, he would not be docked the typical three points players are when missing games through suspension.

This contradicts earlier statements from those within the NRL with the league's manager of major awards, Frank Pulentua releasing a NRL statement in August which said: "Players who are suspended throughout the season are deducted three Dally M Medal points for each week they are out of play".

A new statment was released by the league on Monday which clarified their position: "Consistent with previous seasons, players will only be deducted Dally M points for on-field suspensions handed down by the Match Review Committee or Judiciary."

This rule was in play last year with Broncos star Payne Hass, who won Dally M front-rower of the year last season despite missing the opening four rounds for an integrity unit investigation.

Cleary was already the favourite for the award after starring for the minor premiers Penrith this season, but with all his points now valid he will be very hard to stop when the award is given grand final week, with Luke Keary, Clint Gutherson, Cameron Smith and James Tedesco his main opposition.