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Medal of honour: History beckons for brilliant Trbojevic

Come Monday, Tom Trbojevic will either be reflecting on an unbelievable season or cranking up preparations for his first grand final.

Whatever the outcome of Manly's preliminary final against the Rabbitohs, Turbo will head to the Dally M Awards in Brisbane that night widely tipped to become the third Sea Eagle to win the game's highest individual honour after Cliff Lyons and Matt Orford.

The leaderboard after 19 rounds has Panthers supremo Nathan Cleary (24) leading Trbojevic by one vote, with Bunnies No.6 Cody Walker (17), Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans (17) and Roosters fullback James Tedesco (15) completing the top five.

Incredibly, Trbojevic had accumulated those 23 votes in just 10 games, compared to Cleary's 12 games, Walker's 17, Tedesco's 14 and Cherry-Evans' 16.

Between rounds 20 and 25, Trbojevic played five games and won four of them, scoring 10 tries, dishing off 11 try assists, running for 225 metres per game and racking up an astonishing 53 tackle breaks.

If Manly's No.1 gun does walk away with the top prize on Monday, it will cap the greatest 15-game stretch in the modern era, a season that began with frustration and ended with exaltation.

After a hamstring injury kept him out of the first five games, few could have imagined how quickly the 24-year-old would hit his straps and how long the hot streak would last.

Dally M contender - Tom Trbojevic

During the NRL era, the only man to win the Dally M after playing less than 20 games was Canberra's Jack Wighton, who appeared in 19 matches in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Storm legend Cameron Smith's second Dally M in 2017 came on the back of 20 games, polling 33 votes to win in a canter from Cowboys playmaker Michael Morgan (25).

Two years later Smith ran second in the count to Rooster James Tedesco, whose winning tally was 34 votes from 21 games, while Johnathan Thurston also played 21 matches in his medal-winning 2015 season.

In 2014, Thurston tied with Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne, both men earning 32 votes as the prestigious prize was shared for the first time in its history. Hayne played 21 games that season and Thurston 22.

For Hayne, that was his second Dally M, having collected his first in 2009.

Just 21 at the time, Hayne produced a season of dominance to rival what Trbojevic has delivered in 2020, although his tally of 30 votes will be blown out of the water by the Sea Eagles supremo.

Between rounds 19 and 24 of the '09 season, Parramatta's No.1 collected the three Dally M votes in six consecutive matches to catapult his team into the play-offs.

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Hayne was simply untouchable as the Eels accounted for the Storm, Bulldogs, Sharks, Knights, Warriors and Wests Tigers to turn around a season that looked all but lost when they sat 3-6 after 10 rounds.

After knocking off minor premiers St George Illawarra in week one of the finals courtesy of another Hayne masterclass the Eels downed the Titans and Bulldogs to progress to the big dance, only to succumb to the Storm.

Trbojevic and his Manly teammates will look to book their ticket to the decider by beating the Rabbitohs, and it would seem only fitting that the superstar fullback's remarkable season is capped with a grand final berth.

 

The last time the boys from Brookvale played in a decider was 2013, two years before the young Trbojevic announced himself with eight tries in nine games in his debut season.

It was clear from the outset that the lanky kid on the wing was going to be something special, bagging a double in his debut game against the Raiders in round five, 2015.

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With another of Manly's favourite sons, Brett Stewart, holding down the fullback spot, Trbojevic parked himself on the flanks until the middle of 2016 when a knee injury cut short Stewart's season and ultimately his career.

"The Prince of Brookvale" signed off with a club recored 163 tries, a magical mark the "Fresh Prince" will look to surpass as his career reaches even greater heights on the back of his stunning 2021 season.

Already boasting 75 tries from 113 matches, Trbojevic is on a trajectory that could take him past not only Sea Eagles royalty but also the king of all try scorers, Ken Irvine, whose stellar 16-year career netted him 212 tries.

Plenty of water needs to go under the Narrabeen Bridge before Trbojevic scales those heights but adding a Dally M Medal to his CV would send his stocks soaring and cap a dominant season reserved for the truly elite.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.