Brailey not driven by rookie honours
While the general consensus is that Canberra Raiders winger Nick Cotric has the Rookie of the Year title sewn up with two rounds remaining, Sharks hooker Jayden Brailey can still dare to dream.
The 21-year-old beat out a host of more experienced teammates for Cronulla's No.9 jersey vacated by Michael Ennis at the start of the year and wasted little time convincing the rugby league world that he belongs in first grade.
Brailey has scored three tries and averages 36.6 tackles per game in 2017 and would have played more than 16 matches had he not broken his jaw in two places in Round 16.
His stats mightn't be as flashy as Cotric's 16 tries from 22 appearances, but his ability to slot into such a crucial role with relative ease and the fact the Sharks are ahead of the Raiders on the ladder work in his favour.
Should Brailey claim Rookie of the Year honours, he would become the second Shark in three seasons to win the award after Jack Bird claimed the medal in 2015.
He would also become the second player in a row to be named the Holden Cup Dally M Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in consecutive seasons after Ash Taylor achieved the feat in 2015 and 2016.
Brailey knows he will be hard-pressed besting guys like Cotric and Panthers duo Dylan Edwards and Corey Harawira-Naera for the award and says he's more focussed on helping the Sharks go back-to-back.
"I think Birdy won it a couple of years ago and it'd definitely be a massive honour to win that," he said.
"In saying that, maybe that time out will hurt me a little bit, but it's not the end of the world. I know there are a lot of other rookies like Cotric and Harawira-Naera, and they've been killing it and they've played a lot more football now that I've missed that little period.
"If it comes, it comes, but I'm just focussing on this finals series for the Sharks."
Given everything he's been through in his rookie year, Brailey could be forgiven for getting caught up in the moment two weeks out from his first finals series in the NRL.
Others might struggle with the pressure, but don't expect his calm on-field demeanour to change come the business end of the season.
"It's crazy. I haven't really known what to expect from the start of the year so I'm definitely pinching myself. As a kid I've always wanted to be here and as long as I can remember I've always wanted to play in the NRL so it's definitely very special," he said.
"I was probably a little bit more nervous on Saturday given I was out for a little bit, but the nerves are always going to be there and I've just got to try to stay as calm as I can going into finals because when I'm nervous I might be a bit worried about making errors and whatnot. When I'm calm and relaxed, that's when I'm playing my best football."