The Dally M awards are just hours away. Here are my full predictions for the biggest night on the rugby league calendar.
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Fullback - Tom Trbojevic
The best fullback all year (no disrespect to James Tedesco) has been Tom Trbojevic, who has quite possibly had the greatest statistical season of all time, with tries, try assists and tackle busts galore.
Winger - Brian To'o and Alex Johnston
Brian To'o has had a breakout season and his running game surpassed that of any player in the NRL (with 232 metres per game), despite missing games towards the end of the season with an ankle injury.
Centre - Joseph Manu and Matt Burton
While Justin Olam has had a tremendous year and is in brilliant form, his Dally M vote count would likely be far lower than Burton and Manu, both of whom played parts of the season in key positions (five-eighth, halfback, fullback) and both of whom had man of the match performances.
While Manu is widely considered the next man to earn a $1 million per year contract in the NRL, Burton scored the most tries by a centre this year and is aiming to win a premiership before he moves to Belmore to play in the halves in 2022.
Five-Eighth - Cody Walker
15 tries and 37 try assists says it all. While Jarome Luai and Cameron Munster (the two State of Origin five-eighths) have both been impressive this year, Cody Walker has gone to a new level, with the Rabbitohs left side of Alex Johnston, Dane Gagai, Walker and Latrell Mitchell scoring try after try stripping the defences of lower-ranked teams.
Halfback - Nathan Cleary
2021 has finally been the year where Nathan Cleary has delivered on his potential. Taking a back seat to James Maloney in 2018 and 2019, and fading in the big games in 2020, Cleary was a big part of NSW's series win in the Origin series, and won every regular season and Origin match he played in 2021.
With an impeccable kicking game, an average of 70 possessions per game and the most kick metres and forced dropouts in the NRL, all while playing just 16 regular-season matches due to injury, Cleary has cemented himself as the game's best game manager and halfback. Credit should be due to Daly Cherry-Evans and Jahrome Hughes for their individually brilliant seasons.
Hooker - Brandon Smith
Apisai Koroisau, Harry Grant and Damien Cook have also had tremendous seasons, however, in 2021, The block of cheese has become one of the best attacking threats in the game from dummy-half and has scored tries for fun this season.
His brilliant performances this season have kept the QLD representative hooker Harry Grant on the bench, and his dual ability to play as a hard-running forward with Grant at dummy-half is a handy one-two punch for Melbourne.
Prop - James Fisher-Harris and Payne Haas
The evolution of Daniel Saifiti, the revival of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and the consistency of Christian Welch are certainly big stories in 2021, however, the award will go to the best prop in New Zealand, James Fisher-Harris, and the best prop in Australia, Payne Haas.
Haas' durability, power and defensive force is unrivalled in the NRL, and Haas played a major role in each of the Broncos' victories as they avoided the wooden spoon. On the other side of the table, Fisher-Harris' presence as an enforcer is incredible, with powerful tackles, runs and offloads. His impact is so great that he was third behind Cleary and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on the overall Dally M count before voting went behind closed doors.
Lock - Isaah Yeo
Pipping Cameron Murray, Jake Trbojevic and Dale Finucane, Penrith's captain cemented himself as the NSW number 13 this year with a string of brilliant performances. His skill as a link player between the forwards and Penrith's halves, as well as consistent 80-minute performances, often making more than 35 tackles and 100 metres makes him the best lock in the game, despite Murray's red-hot form this year for the Bunnies.
Second-Rower - Isaiah Papali'i and Viliame Kikau
Papali'i has had one of the greatest breakout seasons in recent memory. From a bench prop released by the Warriors in 2020 to the best and most consistent back-rower in the competition, his work ethic in defence and tackle-busting power in attack makes him one of the biggest wide threats in the league.
While my eyebrows were raised when David Fifita didn't even get a nomination for the award, Kikau (last year's winner) is probably the next closest thing. Reportedly receiving offers of nearly $1 million per year for his services, Kikau has repeatedly steamrolled defences on his way to 76 tackle breaks and 9 tries for the year.
Special mention to the Roosters' Tupouniua and the Sea Eagles' Olakau'atu who have both improved greatly in 2021.
Captain and Coach - James Tedesco and Trent Robinson
Amidst a horror injury toll, constant suspensions from Angus Crichton and Victor Radley, and a young roster, Robbo and Teddy carried the Roosters to a 5th-placed finish and while they didn't make the preliminary finals, their efforts were honourable.
Reports emerged that they played some games this year with only $3.5 million of their $9.8 million salary cap. Considering that Teddy is worth $1 million of that, it has been a remarkable attempt.
Rookie - Sam Walker
However, Walsh is unable to receive the award as a result of two suspensions this year, so Walker takes out the gong. For an 18-year old to score 8 tries along with 21 try assists in a rookie season is incredible.
The Dally M
Last week, the vote count up to Round 19 was released and the five highest final vote-getters were published.
Cody Walker - points after Round 19 - 17
Round 25 - Did Not Play - 0 points
Total tally - 22 points
James Tedesco - points after Round 19 - 15
Total tally - 26 points
Daly Cherry-Evans - points after Round 19 - 17
Round 23 - Sea Eagles win 19-18. Cherry-Evans 1 try assist, 1 field goal, 608 kick metres. 3 points (2 points to Hudson Young, 1 point to Haumole Olakau'atu)
Total tally - 26 points
Tom Trbojevic - points after Round 19 - 23
Round 20 - Sea Eagles win 40-22. Trbojevic 3 tries, 3 try assists 3 points (2 points to Braydon Trindall, 1 point to Will Kennedy)
Round 23 - Did Not Play - 0 points
Round 24 - Sea Eagles win 36-18. Trbojevic 3 tries, 9 tackle breaks. 2 points (3 points to Daly-Cherry-Evans, 1 point to Kieran Foran)
Round 25 - Sea Eagles win 46-18. Trbojevic 3 tries, 2 try assists, 19 tackle breaks. 3 points (2 points to Daly-Cherry-Evans, 1 point to Jake Trbojevic)
Total tally - 34 points
Nathan Cleary - points after Round 19 - 24
Round 20 - Did Not Play - 0 points
Round 21 - Did Not Play - 0 points
Round 25 - Panthers win 40-6. Cleary 1 try, 1 try assist, 611 kick metres. 2 points (3 points to Jarome Luai, 1 point to Brian To'o)
Total tally - 34 points
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