Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith will head into the "dark" stage of Dally M voting with a lead over the rest of the NRL's playing group.
Heading into Round 14, Smith (19 points) is five points clear at the top of the Dally M voting leaderboard, ahead of St George Illawarra prop Paul Vaughan and Sharks captain Paul Gallen (both 14 points).
Two of the leaders, Smith and Gallen, will face off against each other on Thursday night in the grand final rematch at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Highlighting the closeness of the chasing pack, just four points separate Vaughan and Gallen (14 points) and 15th placed Billy Slater (10 points). Smith and Slater are currently the only previous winners of the Dally M medal in the top 15.
Ten clubs are represented in the top 15 players, highlighting the even spread across the competition.
At the conclusion of Round 14, voting for the 2017 Dally M medal will go behind closed doors ahead of the formal announcement of the winner in Sydney during Grand Final Week.
The black-tie event has earned a reputation for being rugby league's night of nights, from the red carpet to the vote count, which is screened live on Fox Sports.
The 2017 judging panel includes Greg Alexander, Danny Buderus, Brad Fittler, Mark Gasnier, Andrew Johns, Brett Kimmorley, Darren Lockyer, Peter Sterling and Kevin Walters.
Smith last won the coveted Dally M Medal in 2006. His Melbourne teammate Cooper Cronk was joint winner of the 2016 Dally M Medal, along with North Queensland's Jason Taumololo.
The 2017 event will also see the addition of the interchange position to the Team of the Year, acknowledging the importance of impact players in the modern game and their ability to change the momentum of a match and influence the outcome.
Consistent with the Dally M Medal tally, Team of the Year voting occurs after each regular season premiership match. Players who receive Dally M Medal points will automatically receive respective 3, 2, 1 Team of the Year points in their position. Players selected for the remaining positions will receive 1 Team of the Year point in their position.
Players who are suspended throughout the season are deducted three Dally M points for each week of suspension. Any player who is suspended for two separate offences in any one season becomes ineligible for the Dally M Medal and Team of the Year.
The 2017 event will be the first following a revised voting process and structure of the awards undertaken by the NRL, designed to provide greater integrity and transparency.
Changes include an independent voting process, a new panel of judges (all former players), the capping of matches for judges and the restriction of consecutive voting on one team, a specifically developed app used to accumulate votes, as well as the addition of accounting firm Ernst and Young to audit the count ahead of the awards ceremony.
The new voting process will exclude media partners as well as the NRL from knowledge of votes until a point determined by the NRL for event delivery purposes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Dally M Medal points awarded for representative matches, for example, State of Origin and Test Matches?
No. The Dally Ms recognise the best players across the 26 rounds of the NRL Telstra Premiership each year.
What happens when players are stood down from NRL Telstra Premiership matches for State of Origin duty?
To allow for the stand-down rounds during the State of Origin period, each player’s best 21 point-receiving matches are taken into account when determining the final points for each player.
How is each player’s position determined?
For each NRL Telstra Premiership fixture, players are allocated the position they are assigned in the final team list, which is submitted by each team’s football manager one hour prior to kick-off. Where there is an injury or late withdrawal after the final team list is submitted and prior to kick-off, players will receive the position they are playing at the start of the match. Once allocated, a player will retain their position regardless of whether he changes positions throughout the match.
What happens when a player plays more than one position throughout the season?
When calculating Team of the Year recipients, players will be allocated the position they polled the greatest number of Team of the Year points in throughout the season. Team of the Year points are not transferable between positions. However, leading players in the Top 10 of the Dally M Medal Count automatically receive their respective position in the Team of the Year.
What happens in the event of a tie?
Where there is a tie for the Dally M Medal, co-winners will be announced. If those players also happen to be allocated the same position, they will also be co-winners of that position in the Team of the Year.
Where two players are allocated the same position and share an equal number of points in the Dally M Medal Top 10, the player with the greatest number of Team of the Year points in their position will receive that positional award. Where the two players cannot be split, countback will revert to the player who was awarded the greatest number of ‘3 points’ in the Dally M Medal, then ‘2 points’, then ‘1 points’.
For positions not featured in the Dally M Medal Top 10, the player with the greatest number of Team of the Year points in those positions will receive that award. If there is a tie, countback will revert to the player who was awarded the greatest number of ‘3 points’ in the Dally M Medal, then ‘2 points’, then ‘1 points’.
Irrespective of the above methodology, final determinations on all Dally M Awards are made by the NRL.
Who is eligible for Rookie of the Year?
Players are only eligible for the Rookie of the Year in their debut year and the subsequent two seasons. Once a player plays his fourth NRL Premiership match (or English Super League match), he becomes ineligible for the Rookie of the Year in any subsequent seasons. The Rookie of the Year is voted on a 3, 2, 1 basis by the judging panel at the conclusion of the 26 Premiership rounds. A rookie who is suspended for two separate offences in any one season becomes ineligible for the Rookie of the Year award.