Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston proved the difference in Round 25, as his side beat the Sharks in golden point.
Twenty-five rounds into 2014, irrepressible Rabbitohs lock Sam Burgess refuses to drop out of Dally M calculations following a massive effort in his side’s 21-18 win over the Bulldogs last Thursday night.

Among his chief competition for the award (albeit one which he has publicly said he has no interest in), Jarryd Hayne wasn’t bad so much as anonymous as his side were thumped up in Newcastle. The other main contender, Johnathan Thurston, hardly ran riot against the impressive and undermanned Sharks on Monday night in a game where Cronulla fullback Michael Gordon was deemed best on field and young Cowboys back-rower Jason Taumalolo was arguably best for his side.

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When voting went behind closed doors after 16 rounds, Ben Hunt and Thurston (19) held a slender one-point lead over Hayne, Burgess and Dragons pivot Gareth Widdop (all 18).
Since then, we estimate Big Sam has racked up potentially as many as three points in Rounds 25 against the Bulldogs, Round 22 against Manly, and Round 19 against Parramatta, with two points in Round 23 against the Broncos and possibly a point or two in a dour loss to the Titans where he topped the tackle count for the match and the run metres for his side – for a theoretical maximum, currently, of 31.

Hayne has been mostly all-or-nothing in that time, with near-certain three-point efforts against the Titans in Round 20, Sharks in Round 21, and Raiders in Round 22. He was very good in a narrow loss to the Bulldogs in Round 23, a match where Aiden Tolman excelled – for argument’s sake we’ll assume a maximum of two points – and another two against Manly the following week behind man-of-the-match Isaac De Gois, for a theoretical maximum of 31.

Thurston’s likely three-point efforts came against the Bulldogs in Round 20, Titans in Round 21, Wests Tigers in Round 22 and Rabbitohs in Round 24 (which is a little harsh on Matt Scott, who was titanic in at least two of those games). ‘JT’ may also have minor points from a Round 19 win over Cronulla, the Round 23 loss to Penrith and the Round 25 win over the Sharks – allowing a point for each of those games gives him a total of 34 with a game in hand.

Assuming Gareth Widdop – whose likely three points against Wests Tigers in Round 20 is just about the extent of his polling in that period – is too far off the pace, that leaves just Ben Hunt.

The much-improved Broncos halfback had possible three-point efforts against Penrith in Round 18, the Bulldogs in Round 22 and the Dragons in Round 25, and that’s being somewhat optimistic for argument’s sake. And although the Broncos lapped Newcastle in Round 24 it’s impossible to see him having polled in front of Justin Hodges, Corey Parker and hat-trick hero Ben Barba, while he may have scratched out one point against Warriors in Round 19, leaving him with – at best – 28, and just a little too much to do to get the top gong.

So there you have it. Using cold, hard science, NRL.com predicts Thurston can wrap up the 2014 Dally M with a single point in his last game, with Burgess and Hayne the outsiders and each needing a huge Round 26 to have a chance at the top gong.

Hypothetical maximum Dally M tallies pre-Round 26:

Johnathan Thurston 34
Jarryd Hayne 31
Sam Burgess 31
Ben Hunt 28

* NRL.com estimate.