Ahead of the Awards nights that will crown the game’s best player and best team of the season on September 20 and September 25 we rank the top five contenders for the positional awards.
When is Dally M Medal night?
The Dally M Medal Awards ceremony will be held over two nights on Monday September 20 and Monday September 27.
How is team of the year selected?
For positional awards, every time a players 3-2-1 that is added to their tally towards the team of the year. Then each judge is allowed to cast a vote for which player they thought was the best in that position.
What was the leaderboard before voting stopped after Rd 12?
Nathan Cleary (Panthers) 21
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors) 17
James Fisher-Harris (Panthers) 16
Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles) 15
Latrell Mitchell* (Rabbitohs) 13
Will Kennedy (Sharks) 12
James Tedesco (Roosters) 12
Ryan Papenhuyzen (Storm) 12
Adam Doueihi (Tigers)11
Tom Trbojevic is the favourite to win the top honour so naturally he leads the race for fullback of the year.
We’ve seen this season just how much of an impact Trbojevic has on the Sea Eagles.
They lost their first four games as he watched on from the sidelines with a hamstring injury. Manly then got their first win of the year in a one-point thriller over the Warriors the week before Trbojevic returned. And what happened after that? They won five of their next six games. Trbojevic has 29 linebreaks, 116 tackle busts, 25 tries and 30 try assists in just 16 games.
The Roosters skipper is a two-time Fullback of the Year and won the top gong in 2019. While the likes of Luke Keary, Angus Crichton, Victor Radley, Josh Morris, Brett Morris, Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend have all been sidelined for big chunks of the season or have retired, Tedesco has carried the Chooks on his back.
Latrell Mitchell deserves plenty of credit for his season until it was cut short by a second suspension for a hit on former teammate Joey Manu. However due to multiple suspensions Mitchell is ineligible.
Nicho Hynes starred in the No. 1 jumper once Ryan Papenhuyzen went down injured and represents the closest challenger to Trbojevic and Tedesco.
William Kennedy had a breakout year for the Sharks with 18 linebreaks, 14 tries and 16 try assists in 24 games. His form saw the club recruit Hynes to play in the halves, which shows the faith incoming coach Craig Fitzgibbon has in the Cronulla No.1.
Ryan Papenhuyzen may have missed a fair chunk of the season due to concussion issues from a magic Round clash with the Dragons, but his form prior to that had him touted as a Blues Origin debutant. Papenhuyzen still has 12 linebreaks, 13 tries and six try assists in just 14 games. Papenhuyzen was one of the early contenders for the award before it went behind closed doors and is therefore likely to have fallen down the pecking order.
Verdict: Tom Trbojevic
Alex Johnston leads the tryscorer’s race this season with 27, two ahead of Manly teammates Jason Saab and Tom Trbojevic on 25. Granted it doesn’t hurt being on the end of a lethal Rabbitohs backline, but Johnston’s eye for the tryline has been exceptional in 2021.
Brian To’o has had a breakout season for the Panthers running for a whopping 4,425 metres, which is the most in the NRL and nearly 1300 more than the next best Penrith player Stephen Crichton. He also has 23 linebreaks and 14 tries in just 19 games.
Josh Addo-Carr has again been superb for the Storm with 28 linebreaks, 23 tries and six try assists and would have had more if he wasn’t sidelined with a hamstring injury late in the season.
Reuben Garrick has been one third of Manly’s formidable back three with a whopping 43 linebreaks, 21 tries, five try assists and a season best 308 points becoming just the third player to reach that mark.
Jason Saab is arguably the most improved player in the competition scoring 25 tries to go along with 19 linebreaks and six try assists in his first season at Manly. For some perspective Saab had just four tries from seven games for the Dragons since his debut in 2019 prior to this season.
Verdict: Alex Johnston and Brian To’o
Joey Manu continued on from his strong form over the course of the last few seasons finishing with 14 linebreaks, 94 tackle busts, 10 tries and five try assists. Unfortunately Manu’s season was cut short by a cheekbone injury, but he deserves plenty of credit not only for his play at centre, but for filling in a number of other positions along the way due to the Roosters’ horror injury run.
Justin Olam has had a breakout season for the minor premiers with 13 linebreaks, 85 tackle busts, 12 tries and eight try assists to date.
Matt Burton started the season not even in the first choice 17, but has dominated since his switch to the centres with 24 linebreaks, 69 tackle busts, 16 tries and 12 try assists.
Dane Gagai has saved his best season at centre for the Rabbitohs until last with 17 linebreaks, 89 tackle busts, 10 tries and 10 try assists as the Bunnies sit one game away from a grand final berth.
Verdict: Joey Manu and Justin Olam
Cody Walker scrapes through, despite a one-match suspension for an elbow to Nick Meaney. Walker became the first player to notch over 50 linebreak assists since records have been kept to go with nine linebreaks, 50 tackle busts, 13 tries and a season best 37 try assists.
Jarome Luai’s form has tailed off since his injury that ruled him out of Origin III, but he has still been one of the best five-eighth’s with five linebreaks, 33 tackle busts, 19 try assists and two tries.
Cameron Munster’s form has improved over the course of the season as the Storm went on a record 19-match winning streak. Munster has seven linebreaks, 66 tackle busts, seven tries and 14 try assists to date and is peaking at the right time of year.
Kieran Foran has been the comeback story of the year to help lead the Sea Eagles to a fourth placed finish. Foran has wound back the clock and has four linebreaks, 30 tackle busts, three tries and 12 try assists in 23 games to date.
Adam Doueihi has been one of the Tigers most consistent players all season and finished with nine linebreaks, 50 tackle busts, nine tries and 16 try assists to establish himself as the club’s five-eighth before injury cruelly ended his season.
Verdict: Cody Walker
Nathan Cleary was unlucky not win the Dally M award last year after being pipped by Jack Wighton by two points. If it weren’t for the fact he had injured his shoulder in Origin he would be a close favourite for the main gong. However, owing to his time on the sidelines he may have slipped down the pecking order. That has opened the door for Jahrome Hughes – in just his second full season in the role – to enter the conversation. Hughes finished the regular season with 23 try assists and four tries of his own across 22 games.
Souths skipper Adam Reynolds and Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans both finished the year strongly and have been crucial to their sides’ top-four finishes. Reynolds has two linebreaks, 23 tackle busts, five tries, 11 try assists and 256 points to date. Cherry-Evans has the second most try assists with 30 to go with six linebreaks, 67 tackle busts and eight tries of his own.
Mitchell Moses had a minor form slump after a back injury in Origin III but has the fourth most try assists for the year with 27 to go with eight linebreaks, 41 tackle busts, three tries and 144 points.
Verdict: Nathan Cleary
Brandon Smith probably started the 2021 season not even expecting to be the Storm’s starting No. 9. But after Harry Grant struggled with injury for most of this year or was used off the bench, Smith has made the jersey vacated by namesake Cameron his own and has 13 linebreaks, 66 tackle busts, 11 tries and nine try assists to date.
Damien Cook has had a strong year but has perhaps been outshone by the likes of Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker, but he still has nine linebreaks, 49 tackle busts, two tries, nine try assists and 866 tackles in the middle, the fourth most in the NRL.
Jayden Brailey has been one of the Knights’ most-consistent performers and the same applies for Parramatta’s Reed Mahoney, although the latter has been out injured for the back end of the season. Brailey has an NRL best 1,022 tackles to go with six linebreaks, three tries and four try assists. Mahoney had five linebreaks, three tries and 11 try assists in 17 games before his season was cut short by injury.
Harry Grant may have played just 14 games and most of them off the bench, but his numbers stack up well against many starters with 12 linebreaks, 33 tackle busts, five tries and 11 try assists.
Verdict: Brandon Smith
Penrith’s James Fisher-Harris was just behind Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary in the running for the top prize when voting stopped after Round 12. Averaging 140 metres across 20 games this season, Fisher-Harris would have been a walk-up contender to be crowned the game’s best prop. But having missed a chunk of games to return to Sydney for the birth of his child, the Panthers front-rower may well have lost ground on other hopefuls, most notably Brisbane’s Payne Haas. Despite another disappointing season for the Broncos, Haas has led the team to victories on his own effort and will. The fact Haas has played so well in a team that has often struggled could work in his favour whereas Fisher-Harris has been a part of a team that enjoyed sustained success.
Daniel Saifiti has surpassed David Klemmer as the leader of the Knights’ pack and has enjoyed one of his best seasons to date to clock an average of 138 metres per game.
Melbourne’s Christian Welch has been another impressive performer, while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has rolled back the years and clocked up some 80-minute performances to carry the injury-hit Roosters.
Verdict: James Fisher-Harris and Payne Haas
Isaiah Papali’i is arguably the buy of the year given his modest contract — believed to be only around $150k, with the Eels as he has the second most metres at his club behind only Clint Gutherson to go with seven linebreaks, 104 tackle busts, seven tries and three try assists to date.
David Fifita may have come off the bench strategically later in the year, but he was one of the Titans’ best finishing with an NRL best 156 tackle busts to go with 22 linebreaks, two try assists and 17 tries.
Keaon Koloamatangi has had a breakout year for the Rabbitohs with seven linenbreaks, 27 tackle busts, three tries and five try assists.
Josh Schuster may be in the running for rookie of the year, but that won’t stop him pushing for Dally M team honours such has been his dominance for Manly. Schuster has seven linebreaks, 56 tackle busts, two tries and eight try assists, which is not bad considering he is a five-eighth by trade.
Haumole Olokau’atu is the other half of Manly’s versatile second row with the imposing enforcer making six linebreaks and 58 tackle busts to go with eight tries and three try assists to date.
Verdict: Isaiah Papali’i and David Fifita
Cameron Murray has been the glue that has held the Rabbitohs together on their charge to the preliminary final and has five linebreaks, 33 tackle busts, five tries and two try assists to date.
Isaah Yeo has been at his consistent best for the Panthers with the co-captain making over 2,200 metres to go with four linebreaks, 34 tackle busts, two tries and three try assists in another stellar campaign.
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui has had a ridiculously good first season at the Titans with nearly 3,000 metres to go with six linebreaks, 46 tackle busts, four tries and over 600 tackles in the middle.
Dale Finucane rarely if ever has a bad game and it was no different in 2021 with the Storm skipper helping himself to 1,594 metres, two linebreaks, 339 tackles, two tries and a try assist to help lead the Storm to the minor premiership.
Jake Trbojevic has bounced back from a tough 2020 campaign to re-establish himself as one of the best locks in the game with over 1,700 metres, a linebreak, 741 tackles and three tries.
Verdict: Cameron Murray
Sam Walker has played with maturity beyond his years in a breakout first season for the Roosters, which includes the second most try assists of any teammate bar James Tedesco with 21. Walker has also made seven linebreaks, scored eight tries himself and kicked three match winning field goals.
Reece Walsh was so good in his rookie season he was called up for his Origin debut after just seven games but was cruelly ruled out through injury. Walsh had 14 linebreaks, 60 tackle busts, nine tries and 11 try assists in a breakout year.
Stefano Utoikamanu was consistently excellent in a poor Tigers outfit this season finishing with 1,885 metres, 494 tackles, four linebreaks, 38 tackle busts and six tries.
Josh Schuster played one game for Manly last season at five-eighth but has made a stunning switch to second row to accommodate Kieran Foran’s return and was even touted as a Blues bolter for Origin I until injury intervened.
Daine Laurie came to the Tigers with three games under his belt for the Panthers and started every game at fullback until injury cut his season short after producing 13 linebreaks, 75 tackle busts, seven tries and 10 try assists to be a rare shining light for the Tigers.
Verdict: Sam Walker
Source: Top 5 Dally M Contenders