The Penrith Panthers have been rewarded for their outstanding season with five players named in the Dally M Team of the Year on Monday night.
For the first time a full team of 13 players was announced with Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo, Stephen Crichton, James Fisher-Harris and Viliame Kikau all getting the nod ahead of their premiership tilt on Sunday.
Cleary had been favoured to take home the Dally M Medal but came up just short in a tight race with eventual winner Jack Wighton and Parramatta's Clint Gutherson.
Topping off a memorable night for the Panthers their coach Ivan Cleary was named the Dally M Coach of the Year.
'The King' tops the NRL rankings for kick return metres with 1618, more than 300 ahead of second-placed James Tedesco, and as a player in support where he bobbed up 252 times. Gutherson also finished No.2 in total run metres (4186), third in total runs (419), sixth for line-break assists (17) and eighth for try assists (17). The Eels skipper crossed for 10 tries (his second-best season total), made 61 tackle busts and 12 line breaks, while averaging 190 run metres a game.
Josh Addo-Carr returned to his best in 2020 and played all but two regular-season games as Melbourne battled through an extended injury crisis which sidelined their best players. Addo-Carr is tied for fourth on the try-scoring list with 16, posting five doubles, and is fifth for line breaks with 18. He also has five try assists and 66 tackle breaks.
David Nofoaluma was close to unstoppable, no matter the opposition. Nofoaluma finished third on the try-scoring table with 17 four-pointers, including a hat-trick and three doubles, and third for tackle breaks with 118. He also tallied seven try assists, 17 line breaks and averaged 178 run metres while playing a full slate of 20 regular-season games. Such was his form in 2020 that Nofoaluma was a controversial early omission from Brad Fittler’s Blues train-on squad.
Stephen Crichton has been a revelation after entering the season as a teenager with just four games and no tries under his belt. He started off on the bench but tries in his opening two games saw him earn a spot in the centres where he quickly became a fixture. He ranks second for intercepts with four and his 16 tries in 2020, including back-to-back doubles against the Tigers and Sharks, are good for equal fourth on the try-scoring table. He also hinted at another string to his bow with seven conversions from 10 attempts including a perfect three-from-three against Newcastle in round three.
Numbers don’t tell the story for Brisbane’s rising star Kotoni Staggs, who missed six games through injury in 2020. But there was no doubting his impact for the Broncos when he was on the field. He scored 10 tries in 14 outings and averaged just under one line break and 3.3 tackle busts a game. Staggs had a hat-trick in Brisbane’s 22-18 round three win over Souths and didn’t miss a conversion over the last six rounds, kicking 12 from 12 while adding a try in the first three of those games.
The Raiders pivot grew so successfully into the No.6 role that he posted a career-best 13 tries (10th in the NRL) including five doubles and a total of nine in a stretch of seven late-season games. Wighton also finished tied second for 40/20 kicks (two), sixth for kick metres (6089) and seventh for total kicks (182). He had eight forced dropouts, eight try assists, eight line-break assists and five offloads while averaging 102 run metres and 277 kick metres. Capped a stunning year by taking home the game's most coveted prize, the Dally M Medal.
Nathan Cleary tops the NRL in field goals (four, double the next best), kick metres (10,142), total kicks (355), 40/20s (four, again double No.2) and engaging the line (151). Cleary is also second in points (200), third in goals (84) and seventh for try assists (17). On top of all that he crossed for seven tries (including a hat-trick in the qualifying final win over the Roosters), forced 27 dropouts and dished out 11 line-break assists and 11 offloads while averaging 507 kick metres and 86 run metres.
Yeo developed into the consummate middle man in 2020. The skilful Panther ranks 10th in the NRL for tackles, 19th for runs (327), 19th for post-contact metres (1136) and 20th for total metres (2987). He crossed for two tries, has made seven line breaks and dished out six offloads and one line-break assist while averaging 142 run metres.
One of the NRL’s most devastating edge weapons, Kikau has averaged almost a try every two games over the past two seasons. No forward has scored more four-pointers than Kikau’s seven in 2020 and only one big man has tallied more than his 61 tackle breaks. Billy Kicks has averaged 9.9 hit-ups and 97 metres a game while racking up 641 post-contact metres and dishing out 21 offloads.
Veteran back-rower Tohu Harris led from the front as the Warriors confronted the most challenging 2020 of any team in the NRL. Harris played all 20 games and finished eighth-best in competition for tackles with 845, ninth for post-contact metres (1339), 12th in total runs (352) and 11th in total metres (3465). He also scored a try, made one line break and dished out 10 offloads and three line-break assists.
James Fisher-Harris has churned through a mountain of work for the minor premiers. He ranks second in post-contact metres with 1486, second in total runs with 486 carries (just six behind No.1 James Tedesco), and third in total run metres with 3980. Fisher-Harris missed just one match in 2020 while also compiling 755 tackles (which ranks him 11th), 16 offloads, 13 tackle breaks and an average of 15.9 hit-ups.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart challenged Josh Papalii to take the team on his shoulders early in Canberra’s season and the veteran pro came up big in every way. He played every game apart from round 20 when Stuart rested the bulk of his top team, and confirmed his status as the leader of the pack. Papalii scored five tries and tallied 44 tackle busts, 24 offloads and 1208 post-contact metres (good for 13th in the competition) while averaging 13.2 hit-ups per game.
The 37-year-old Storm rake gave Father Time another hiding in 2020 as he stretched his NRL games record to 429 with another to come in the grand final. Smith ranks fourth for goals (81), fifth for points (170), sixth for dummy-half runs (86), eighth for line-break assists and equal 10th for try assists (15). He has also scored two tries, forced eight dropouts, popped 11 offloads and averaged 123 kicking metres in his 18 games.