Tom Trbojevic is on the verge of one of the most remarkable Dally M Medal triumphs in the history of the prestigious award.
The Manly superstar looked to compile enough votes in 15 games to outpoll an elite field of rivals who played significantly more matches and therefore had more chances to pile up the votes.
From the moment he returned to the field in round six, Turbo was on another planet, dragging his team back from a 1-4 start to the season and producing the sort of football reserved for a special few.
Many judges believe the Manly superstar is a certainty to collect the game's top prize on Monday but Nathan Cleary, James Tedesco, Cody Walker and Daly Cherry-Evans may have other ideas.
Dally M contender - Tom Trbojevic
For & Against - Tom Trbojevic is a Dally M certainty
For - NRL.com senior journalist Martin Lenehan
If Tom Trbojevic is crowned Manly's first Dally M Medal winner since Matt Orford in 2008, he may well raise a glass to one of NSW's finest wine regions Mudgee as he reflects on an unbelievable season.
The picturesque town some 260km from Sydney played host to the champion fullback's return from a hamstring injury in round six, and the league-loving fans packed into Glen Willow Oval on that sunny Saturday afternoon were treated to something very special from Turbo Tom.
With Manly coming off their first win of the season in round five, the Mudgee jaunt provided the perfect opportunity to build on the momentum and that's precisely what they did in a six-try romp.
It is Tom Trbojevic's world, we are just living in it!
Trbojevic carried the ball a game-high 187 metres and his 166 metres in the first half was almost as much as the entire Gold Coast starting forwards (171m) combined.
“It is always tough watching and the first four weeks made it even tougher," Trbojevic said after the 36-0 victory.
"There is no other way to put it and that has kind of been the story for me the last little bit so hopefully now I can just get back on the field and keep performing like that, and keep winning games."
True to his word, Tommy kept performing and kept winning as the Sea Eagles soared from 12th at the end of that weekend to fourth by the finish of the regular season.
Of the 15 games Trbojevic played, Manly won 12, the points and superlatives flowing as the gun No.1 racked up 25 tries, 27 try assists, 30 line breaks and a staggering 105 tackle breaks, including 19 in the final round against the Cowboys.
Dally M contender - Nathan Cleary
The numbers alone should be enough to ensure Trbojevic becomes the third Sea Eagle on the Dally M honour roll behind Orford and Cliff Lyons (1990 and 1994), but there's so much more to his 2021 dominance than flashy figures.
This is no one-man team, as the stellar performances of Jason Saab, Reuben Garrick, Daly Cherry-Evans, Marty Taupau, Jake Trbojevic and Kieran Foran would attest, but Turbo's presence makes all of those around him better and has been the catalyst for an unlikely preliminary final berth.
Unlikely not because they didn't have the talent, but unlikely because they looked bereft of ideas at 1-4 and had been blown off the park by the Roosters (46-4), Rabbitohs (26-12), Dragons (38-12) and Panthers (46-6) before sneaking past the Warriors by a point.
Conceding 34 points per game after five rounds, it seemed Manly were on the road to another lost season after finishing 13th in 2020.
Dally M contender - James Tedesco
Then they headed to Mudgee with Tommy back on the bus and the atmosphere within the group lifted immediately. Des Hasler had his spark back, Jake Trbojevic had his brother back, Manly fans had their swagger back and the good times rolled for the next five months.
In the middle of the season, Trbojevic added his considerable talents to the Blues' Origin cause and another series victory followed.
Hasler gave his main man a breather in rounds 14 and 18 but such was the confidence flowing through the group by that stage that they took care of the Cowboys and Dragons with ease.
Remarkably, Turbo found another gear in the latter stages of the season to bamboozle the Sharks, Eels and Cowboys, producing the solo try of the season against Todd Payten's men in round 25 in Townsville as Manly wrapped up the double chance.
Very few superlatives are left to describe Tom Trbojevic in 2021... apart from Dally M Medalist. And that should be taken care of on Monday night.
Dally M Medal 2021
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Against - NRL.com senior journalist Paul Zalunardo
Remember when Nathan Cleary was a certainty to win the 2020 Dally M Medal after having clearly been the best player in the NRL.
He was a certainty until he wasn’t and Jack Wighton was rewarded for a stellar campaign.
Well, here we are again and all we have to do is switch Tom Trbojevic in for Cleary heading into the announcement of the prestigious individual next Monday.
The case for Tommy Turbo is arguably more compelling than was the case for Cleary last year, but the nine games Trbojevic missed means there are a lot of potential points left on the table.
If Trbojevic had played another six or seven matches at the same standard as the 15 he did play during the home and away season, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Two of the players who are chances to out-polling Trbojevic are Cleary himself and Roosters fullback James Tedesco.
When voting went behind closed doors after round 12, Cleary was six points ahead of the Manly fullback.
Monday's night announcement that Cleary was still one point ahead of Trbojevic after 19 rounds indicates a close finish is looming. Cleary missed rounds 20 and 21 but Trbojevic didn't play in round 23.
Penrith weren’t shy on wins in matches Cleary played and as has been the case over the last few years, he is usually among the best couple of players on his team.
This certainly calls on pause for thought regarding his chances of doing to Trbojevic what Wighton did to him.
Every try from finals week two
Tedesco is another who cannot be discounted despite being seven points behind Cleary after round 19.
It is hard to remember Roosters matches in which he wasn’t his side’s best, or second-best, player.
Along with Cleary, Trbojevic and Tedesco, Cody Walker and Daly Cherry-Evans were in the top five after round 19.
The strong form of Cherry-Evans could result in him taking a few votes off his fellow Sea Eagle star in the final weeks while Walker's electrifying style of play lends itself to winning the attention of voters.
Trbojevic will certainly start as favourite, but if last year is anything to go by it’s best to keep the champagne on ice until round 25 votes are announced.
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