Hard Earned Highlights of the Month: New leader emerges

Injuries, the bye period and State of Origin commitments have mixed things up in the race to be crowned hardest working player in the VB Hard Earned award for 2019.

Last month's top eight has taken a hit with a new leader and three players dropping off the leaderboard due to injury and the effects of Origin leaving some rested. 

With no star playmaker or highly-paid outside back in sight, the VB Hard Earned award recognises the true performers of our game.

Based off an index point-scoring system, the 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.

Stay tuned to NRL.com for updates on the Hard Earned Award each month to see who will challenge for award. 

The VB Hard Earned Leaderboard

8. Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks)

A six-minute cameo due to a hamstring injury suffered in round nine has seen Fifita drop five places on the leader board, while his time on the paddock has plummeted in recent weeks to average just 50 minutes per game. But in the final three games of the month, there was no questioning the Tongan forward's work rate which included a season-high nine offloads against Manly.

7. Josh Jackson (Canterbury Bulldogs)

The Bulldogs captain enters the top eight for the first time in 2019 and it comes as no surprise with the workhorse churning out 80-minute performances for his beloved blue and white outfit over the past month of the competition. Jackson's defensive work has always been the forefront of his game but a recent increase in attack has boosted his overall index score.

6. Jordan McLean (North Queensland Cowboys)

An increase in defensive work with Cowboys teammate Josh McGuire out for three weeks with a calf injury and Origin has elevated prop Jordan McLean into the top eight for the month. McLean managed a season-high 44 tackles against the Titans in round 11, while he's had six tackle busts in his last four games. A hamstring injury means he'll miss the side's next clash against the Wests Tigers which could see his time on the leader board short lived.

5. James Tamou (Penrith Panthers)

Penrith skipper James Tamou is another newbie on the leader board, just one point ahead of McLean. If James Fisher-Harris is the side's shining light in a season of struggle, Tamou isn't far behind. Made captain of the club by Ivan Cleary two months ago, the 30-year-old has got through plenty of defensive work over the past month, missing just four tackles.

4. Alex Twal (Wests Tigers)

Another consistent month from Alex Twal has lifted the Wests Tigers prop into fourth position overall on the VB index. Twal hasn't made the yardage over the past fortnight but has backed it up with 45 and 49 tackles respectively – including no misses. While the futures of forwards around him have been mentioned at Concord, Twal's workload sells itself to make him one of the more consistent no-nonsense props in the game.

3. Aiden Tolman (Canterbury Bulldogs)

The heroics of Bulldogs veteran Aiden Tolman continues in 2019 with the prop churning out a season-high 169 metres in a beaten side against the Dragons. Throw in a 38-tackle average over the past month and you can see why Tolman's name is floated among the hardest workers in the game.

2. Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)

The reigning champion comes in at second but for Manly fans out there sweating over their NSW lock, just remember he didn't play against the Panthers in round 12 which makes things difficult in terms of scoring any further points. Trbojevic backed up from Origin I with an 80-minute performance that included three tackle busts, 52 tackles and a casual 166 running metres.

1. James Fisher-Harris (Penrith Panthers)

Kiwi international James Fisher-Harris is continuing his hard-working ways in 2019 to race to the top of the VB Hard Earned index leader board after 13 rounds. Fisher-Harris has had the luxury of an extra game under his belt in comparison with the likes of last month's top four Trbojevic, Fifita and Knights workhorse David Klemmer, who is out injured. The Panthers forward has been their most consistent player on the paddock to average 119 metres per game and be ranked third in overall tackles made with 567.