Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
They secured a record eighth straight State of Origin victory this year and legendary Maroons halfback Allan Langer believes Queensland will add another notch to their belt when the 2013 Dally M winner is named on Tuesday night.
This year’s Dally M medal count looks like being one of the closest on record with at least half a dozen players in contention. They include 2010 winner Todd Carney, Newcastle playmaker Jarrod Mullen and South Sydney five-eighth John Sutton, however the strongest challenge is likely to come from north of the border with Queensland stars Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans among the favourites for the top gong.
Should any of those claim the medal it will be the third year in a row a Queenslander has been named Dally M Player of the Year after Billy Slater in 2011 and Ben Barba last year.
Langer, who won the Dally M medal in 1996, told NRL.com he expected the Maroons contingent to have a big say in this year’s Dally M battle.
“It’s been another great year for Queensland and it will be a big fight on Tuesday but I think it will be a great night for one of them,” he said. “The only thing I’m sure of though is that there won’t be a runaway winner. I think there will be a lot of players in contention.”
When Dally M voting went behind closed doors after Round 16 it was Cronk leading the way on 16 points ahead of Inglis, Sutton and Mullen all just a single point behind.
However, it was the presence of Thurston and Cherry-Evans on 13 points that has piqued Langer’s interest given both North Queensland and Manly enjoyed particularly strong finishes to the regular season with their star playmakers at the helm.
“Certainly Johnathan Thurston will be up there,” Langer said. “He didn’t start the year off so well but he finished off great and you’ve got to look at the teams still around so Cherry-Evans will be in contention too.
“He has come such a long way in such a short space of time. I’ve been involved with him for the Origin side and he just has a bright future ahead of him. He’s got a great head on his shoulders and he loves his footy. That’s the way he plays. You see on the field he always has a smile on his face and is joking around. He’s a really impressive young player.”
Others to keep an eye on include Roosters duo Sonny Bill Williams and James Maloney although they have some ground to make-up after sitting six points behind Cronk when the voting went behind closed doors.
WHERE THEY STOOD
16 C Cronk (Storm)
15 G Inglis (Rabbitohs)
15 J Sutton (Rabbitohs)
15 J Mullen (Knights)
13 D Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)
13 J Thurston (Cowboys)
13 R Farah (Tigers)
12 C Parker (Broncos)
12 J Reynolds (Bulldogs)
12 T Carney (Sharks)
12 A Woods (Tigers)
11 C Smith (Storm)
10 G Bird (Titans)
10 A Kelly (Titans)
10 I Luke (Rabbitohs)
10 J Maloney (Roosters)
10 S B Williams (Roosters)
Greg Inglis would appear to be a lock given he sat six points clear of next best fullback, Jarryd Hayne, after 16 rounds. Billy Slater and Darius Boyd are his most likely challengers while Brett Stewart’s injury-plagued season will likely count against him.
One of the hardest fought positions this season. Roosters winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has stunned all with his athleticism while the Knights’ James McManus managed to overshadow the Newcastle’s Fijian Flyer Akuila Uate in 2013 with 19 tries. Penrith winger David Simmons is a great chance after also scoring 19 tries while David Williams has been in great form for Manly during the back-end of the season.
There is every chance the winner of this award will be looking for a double celebration come grand final day with Manly duo Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai having both excelled in 2013 and Roosters star Michael Jennings back to his best since changing clubs in the pre-season. A dark horse might be Melbourne’s right centre Will Chambers who proved nearly unstoppable over the closing rounds.
A battle royale looms here with two-timer Dally M winner Johnathan Thurston a great chance of making it three. But first he’ll have to ward off the challenge of his fellow No.6s – and plenty have put their hand up in 2013. John Sutton, Todd Carney, Kieran Foran and James Maloney all have reasonable claims to the title of Dally M Five-Eighth of the Year.
This looks like a race between Maroons teammates Cooper Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans. Cronk was the overall points leader after 16 Rounds with Cherry-Evans three points behind but the form of the latter during the second half of the season is hard to resist. Remember, too, that Cronk also led the way after 16 Rounds in 2012 but eventually finished a full seven points behind winner Ben Barba! Roosters half Mitchell Pearce and Warriors dynamo Shaun Johnson produced enough big games to make things interesting.
It’s tough to pick a clear winner here – a cause not helped by the tendency of some coaches to swap their players around from week to week. Rabbitohs enforcer Sam Burgess is an example given he has played front row, second row and lock in 2013. Still, he should be a leading contender for at least one of those positions alongside Manly’s Glenn Stewart and tireless Broncos veteran Corey Parker.
Can anyone stop Sonny Bill Williams? His impact this season has been profound and alongside Greg Bird he was the leading back-rower after 16 Rounds with 10 points. SBW missed some games through suspension later in the year which could hurt his cause although it is likely this will be a race between the Kiwi superstar and Bird. Smokeys could be fellow Rooster Boyd Cordner and Canberra’s Josh Papalii.
What an impact the big men have had on this 2013 season. Grand finalists the Roosters might have been strong all year but they have looked a very different side when Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has been missing. His presence has been crucial all year but he faces some tough challenges for this award with Cronulla’s Andrew Fifita, North Queensland Matt Scott and South Sydney giant George Burgess all superb this year. Fifita in particular emerged as one of the best forwards in the game with a series of match-winning performances in which he ran for well over 200 metres.
Cameron Smith will be tough to beat – as usual. Even when the Storm’s form was patchy, Smith was consistently their best player. He will face some strong challenges though from South Sydney’s Issac Luke and the ultra-impressive Jake Friend. Robbie Farah actually topped the list of hookers on 13 points after 16 Rounds with Smith on 11 and Luke 10 but the Tigers’ woeful year and the cheek fracture that sidelined him mid-season could have cruelled his cause. Smith looks to be the leading contender again.
The NRL’s production line of young talent produced some crackers in 2013 with the likes of George Burgess, his South Sydney teammate Dylan Walker and Canberra’s Anthony Milford among the standouts. Burgess must be an early favourite given he is also a contender for Prop of the Year although Milford certainly made his presence felt in an otherwise forgettable season in the nation’s capital.
Although super coach Wayne Bennett won the sentimental vote as Newcastle made a late charge through the finals, it’s hard to go past his other three “final four” rivals to fight it out for this award. Leading the way is the Roosters’ young coach Trent Robinson who has taken his side from 12th to the minor premiership and grand final in just 12 months. Michael Maguire continues to work wonders at South Sydney while Manly’s Geoff Toovey has done a remarkable job to guide his team through to the decider. Notably, he is just the sixth Sea Eagles coach to achieve a top-four finish in each of his first two seasons in charge.