Valentine Holmes has surged into contention for the Dally M Medal with his blistering finish to the season but Cronulla teammate Andrew Fifita is also shaping as a dark horse for the prestigious award.
When the Dally M voting went behind closed doors after round 12, Fifita was the only forward among the top five players on the standings.
Forwards are in the minority on the Dally M Medal's honour roll since its inception 38 years ago but former Panthers halfback Greg Alexander, the 1985 winner, believes Fifita is a strong chance to strike a blow for the big men this year.
"Andrew Fifita is a unique individual in all facets," Alexander said.
"There's not a man who is 120 kilos who has got his footwork, his speed. There are big blokes at a few clubs with speed, but Fifita has acceleration.
"He can change direction, he can off-load, he is simply a handful whenever he carries the footy."
Fifita was tied on 16 points with Kalyn Ponga (Knights) and Luke Brooks (Wests Tigers), one behind Panthers five-eighth James Maloney.
Dragons captain Gareth Widdop rounded out the top five on 14 points, two clear of a three-way tie between Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Titans forward Jai Arrow and Rabbitohs rake Damien Cook.
The 2018 Dally M Awards - highlighted by the player of the year, positional awards, captain, coach, rookie awards, female player, top points scorer, top try scorer, plus the Provan-Summons, Ken Stephen Medal and the Peter Frilingos Memorial award - will be announced on September 26 in Sydney.
Former Penrith and South Sydney forward, Frank Puletua, is the NRL's senior manager of the game's awards like Hall of Fame, the Immortals, and Dally Ms. He felt the leaders in the points race after 12 rounds held a few surprises.
"It's an interesting make-up of players and clubs," Puletua said. "Three players there are from teams who haven't made the finals.
"It's a night we celebrate all the players in the Telstra Premiership club competition and not just those whose clubs make the top eight."
The 2004 Dally M player of the year, Danny Buderus, said reinforcement of Ponga's sterling 2018 came with his popularity in the voting over the first half of the season.
"I don't think he surprised too many people, who had seen him play in North Queensland, from an individual point of view," Buderus told NRL.com.
"But what he could do to lift an entire team was probably a bit of a surprise.
"Any time the Knights were doing well was on the back of Mitchell [Pearce] or Kalyn so they probably took some points off each other."
That could also be said of Widdop and his halves partner Ben Hunt.
"They were shooting the lights out for the majority of the season," Buderus said. "But we haven't seen much of Gareth for the last month and a half due to injury, so it will be interesting to see how much that affects his points tally."
A knee injury picked up in the Origin series could have penalised Arrow.
"Pre-Origin he was great with a lot effort in every area of the game – Jai was making a real name for himself at the Titans," Buderus said.
"He's a real team man who does a lot of work."
Lifting a team was also a part of Maloney's DNA, Alexander said.
"Voting went private before Origin game one was played, when James had a really good series. But he had a great period when Nathan Cleary missed seven weeks after round three with his knee injury," Alexander told NRL.com.
"James was very dominant then so it's no surprise to see him at the top after 12 rounds.
"And that goes for Luke Brooks, who has had his best season, I think. He lost a little of his dominance when Robbie Farah joined the Tigers, as the dynamic changed between Brooks, Benji [Marshall] and Robbie."
Alexander said that could end up being Fifita's fate as well.
"For Andrew to continue to poll well he was up against teammate Val Holmes, who would have picked up a lot of points in the second half of the season," he said.
"From Origin onwards Holmes has been close to the best player in the game.
"That goes for Roger [Tuivasa-Sheck] too. He's been amongst the Warriors best for the second-half of the season. I reckon he would have polled well for that period.
"And Damien Cook's form throughout the whole year has been outstanding. He's one player whose form didn't drop off after Origin."
Alexander and Buderus are among the 24 former players who are the Dally M judges.
They vote 3-2-1 on games, with all those points automatically transferring to the positional player awards. The judges then add 1-point votes for the remaining positions in each match.