Increased minutes is the major trend in the opening month of the season with the VB Hard Earned award acknowledging some of the hardest-working toilers in 2019.

Where no star playmaker or highly paid outside back is in sight, the VB Hard Earned award recognises the true performers of our game through pure hard work.

Based off an index point-scoring system, players' efforts are calculated with a focus on runs, tackles, offloads, tackle busts, support and decoy plays plus charge downs.

Players will lose points for negative plays including one point for every missed tackle, four points per error or penalty conceded, while a sin-binning will cost them eight points.

Manly forward Jake Trbojevic leads the way after four rounds. He won the award last year and the other players in the running need to put in the hard yards to catch up to the tireless Origin and Kangaroos star.

Stay tuned to NRL.com for updates on the Hard Earned Award each month to see if Trbojevic can hold onto his mantle at the top of whether one of the challengers will knock him off top spot.

After four rounds of the Telstra Premiership, five props, two back-rowers and a lock make up the top eight leaderboard.

The VB Hard Earned Leaderboard

8. James Fisher-Harris (Penrith Panthers)

Penrith's quiet achiever, James Fisher-Harris is often overlooked to many externally but those at the foot of the mountains appreciate his efforts in the engine room. Fisher-Harris hasn't missed a minute of game time to open the season after averaging just 50 over the past three seasons. His numbers have increased to coincide, with the Kiwi international averaging a career-high 111 metres per game and 44 tackles.

7. John Bateman (Canberra Raiders)

The Englishman couldn't have made a more positive impression on his Raiders teammates, the club and rugby league supporters across the game in the opening month of the season. Bateman joined the Green Machine with a big reputation in the northern hemisphere and has already built a reputation down under on the back of hard work. Bateman has a try assist, two line breaks and 21 tackle busts in four games, along with a 137-metre running average and 146 tackles in total.

6. Aiden Tolman (Canterbury Bulldogs)

A consistent and proven worker, experienced Bulldogs prop Aiden Tolman is back where he belongs in the top eight after missing more than two months with an ankle injury last year. The 30-year-old has had to lift his numbers following the loss of David Klemmer to Newcastle last season. Tolman is averaging 150.2 metres and 37 tackles in 2019, his best figures in more than five seasons.

5. Alex Twal (Wests Tigers)

A newcomer in the starting side for Michael Maguire but Lebanon international Alex Twal has taken the opportunity with both hands. Twal has churned out consistent numbers in the opening month of the Telstra Premiership to cement his spot in the middle and keep Russell Packer waiting in the wings on the bench. Twal's minutes have seen a considerable increase from 37 to 56 in 2019 and he's generating career-high numbers accordingly.

4. Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks)

Another player who has excelled with injuries around him. Fifita is playing an additional nine minutes on average per game in comparison to last season with setbacks to Wade Graham (knee), Paul Gallen (rib), Ava Seumanufagai (Super League) and Aaron Woods leaving him with little choice but to get through some additional work. Fifita's numbers in attack have dropped slightly but he's been doing a lot more defensive work in 2019 with at least six extra tackles per game on average.

3. Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra Dragons)

The Dragons were dealt a double blow losing Jack de Belin (stood down indefinitely) and Tyson Frizell (testicular injury) in the opening month of the season but the NSW prop has stood up with the players around him. Like Klemmer, the Dragons prop has seen an increase in minutes (48 to 58) on average in 2019 which has brought upon an increase in his work rate too. Vaughan is averaging 15.8 carries per game along with 37 tackles and a 93.6% tackle efficiency. He's also second in the competition behind Josh Aloiai for decoy runs on 37.

Knights prop David Klemmer.
Knights prop David Klemmer. ©Paul Barkley/NRL Photos

2. David Klemmer (Newcastle Knights)

A change of club in the off-season has brought an even higher work rate for the former Bulldog. Klemmer's minutes have jumped from a 54 average in 2018 to 64 in the Hunter, seeing the Knights prop jump into the top five with the extra workload as a result. The NSW and Australian international leads the competition in post-contact metres with 265, while he's averaging 195 running metres per game alone.

1 Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)

The 2018 champion, Trbojevic has picked up where he left off last year by getting through plenty of work to inspire the Sea Eagles in the opening month of the season. With a guaranteed 80 minutes on the field every week, Trbojevic's numbers have remained at their consistent best - 132.5 running metres and 43 tackles per game at a minimum.