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In Touch: Most Underrated Player Award goes to …

Leila McKinnon, Channel 9 NRL.com Tue, Aug 02, 2011 - 8:30 AM

Ashley Graham ... most 'underrated' player says Leila McKinnon Copyright: NRL Photos

According to the brilliant and unflinchingly controversial writer Christopher Hitchens, the four most overrated things in life include champagne, lobsters and picnics (as this a family site, I can't repeat the fourth; you will have to read Hitchens' work for that one). I'd be tempted to put Justin Bieber in there, yum cha, the Beatles (hey, they were a band), and probably Christmas.

But are Jamie Soward and John Sutton the lobster and champagne of the NRL? This year's Rugby League Week Players Poll has awarded them the dubious honour of being our most overrated players.

The vote always creates a sensational headline, a spicy story, and a passionate debate ... three of my favourite things. But this year all the heat is gone. The Dragons' Soward and the Rabbitohs' Sutton each won just seven votes from a possible 100. The real winner was "no comment" with 44 votes. And by not speaking, the players have spoken.

Even in an anonymous poll, nearly half the respondents refused to participate. Congratulations guys on a great decision. Not only is the vote mean-spirited, it's unfair.

I'm no wowser. I'm all for the "biggest grub" award. In fact I'd like to have it awarded in the media too. This year, for the second year running, the players have given it to the Bulldogs' Michael Ennis. He took it with an outstanding 51 per cent of the vote. That tells a player something, and it's a direct response to his actions on the field.

To his credit, Ennis proved that he could take it as well as dish it out, telling Fox Sports News "there's no hiding behind the fact that I compete the way I do.

"Grub's a strong word," he said, but "each to their own I suppose".

A grub is a grub. But an overrated sportsman is someone who receives more positive attention than his ability and performance warrants. That's the flaw in the overrated player competition; the problem can lie with the people who are mistakenly praising and rewarding the player, not the player himself. But that's not the way it's interpreted.

Does Jamie Soward fail to live up to his reputation? I don't think so. He played a major role in leading the Dragons to premiership glory last year; he's the eighth highest scoring player this season; and if you're looking for a field goal, the only player who's scored more in 2011 is the Rabbitohs' Chris Sandow.

I'm sure it's no fun winning the over-rated tag, but Soward didn't take it too seriously. He told the SMH's Adrian Proszenko: "The blokes that have won it before, Braith Anasta and Brad Fittler, have played for Australia and won competitions. I join a pretty good class. At least I pick up an award.''

He has the right attitude. How seriously can we take a poll in which the Tigers' Benji Marshall earns four per cent of the vote? You four know who you are. I wish you could tell me how the highest scoring player in the competition this year can be overrated? Benji's better than good ... he's unbelievably talented, but even he can't do any better than out-score everyone else.

With "no comment" taking the vote so easily, perhaps it's time for a replacement question. How about who is the most underrated player? This year I think there's a stand-out.

My vote goes to North Queensland winger Ashley Graham. He's never played representative football; his Wikipedia entry is 34 words long; but this season he's made more metres than any other player … a total of 2702, and that's from a massive 328 hit-ups.

So congratulations Ashley. You are the winner of the inaugural Leila McKinnon's Most Underrated Player Award. It's not the world's greatest award, but to paraphrase Jamie Soward, at least you pick up an award.