Graham Murray, former NSW and Cowboys coach, NRL.com
My money is on Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston to take out a record-equalling third Dally M Player of the Year Medal on Monday week (September 6), despite playing only his second NRL game in almost two months last weekend.
Thurston led the field comfortably with 24 points at the end of Round 16 when voting went behind closed doors, which was also when he played his last club game before injuring his knee in Origin III.
Paul Gallen was second at the time (18) and like Thurston, he has since missed some games with injury, while third-placed Billy Slater (Storm) and Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles), both with 15 points, have had the perfect opportunity to close the gap.
Not only have their sides have been winning and coincidentally are running first and second on the premiership ladder, but the Cowboys have lost their last two games since Thurston returned - while the Sharks have lost their past four consecutive matches.
Thurston won the Dally M Medal in 2005 and 2007 and if he takes out the prestigious award again this year he will equal the record held by one of the game’s greats, Andrew Johns, who collected the honour in 1998, '99 and 2002.
Thurston’s 2007 win is one I won’t forget as I was his coach at the Cowboys at the time. I almost cost him the prize because I nearly left him out of the last game of the season. We weren’t aware of it at the time though as voting in the final eight rounds is always behind closed doors.
It was the last round and we were preparing to play the Bulldogs in Townsville. We were running third and they were sixth, so regardless of the result we were set to play each other again the following week at home in the first week of the finals series.
I tried to talk Johnathan out of playing. He was due to have two shoulder operations in the off-season. Regardless of the result we couldn’t finish any better or worse on the ladder. (Cowboys football manager) Peter Parr and I thought there was a chance he could do further damage to his shoulders or possibly even get suspended.
He came to me and said he wanted to play. Paul Bowman was due to become the first player to play 200 games for the Cowboys and Thurston said he didn’t want to miss it. As a club when a player had a milestone game we tried extra hard to make it a special occasion by playing well for them.
Thurston said he really wanted to do everything he could to help Bowman win his 200th game. So we relented. It was such a noble gesture. We won the match and he got three Dally M points. As was revealed at the Dally M presentation, Thurston was two points behind Robbie Farah going into that game. Those three points won it for him.
The thing I love about that is that he did it for the right reasons - for his mate. He wanted him to remember that game with a victory, and we won easily. We beat the Bulldogs the following week too. That tells you something about JT, wanting to play with two busted shoulders, and doing it for his mate.
I was taught at a young age to celebrate other people’s success. I went to school with swimmer Michael Wenden, who won two Olympic gold medals. The whole school was excited for him.
Likewise when JT won his first Dally M, everyone at the Cowboys was excited for him, but we didn’t see him for a few days after the awards night until we arrived in Sydney. He was already in Sydney and had stayed there until we came down for our game that weekend. He was that excited about winning that he came and met us at the airport.
Every player feels good about winning the Dally M Medal. It’s the pinnacle - one of those awards that you feel really humble about and really excited about being No.1. Generally I think the judges are looking for the people who influence the game - those who have the biggest impact on how the game is won.