Media reports on the weekend stated that Cronulla Sharks five-eighth Todd Carney is the short-priced favourite to win the 2013 Dally M Medal, the award that honours the best player in the NRL.
Tabcorp’s corporate betting arm, Luxbet, listed Carney at the odds of $2.75 to take home Australian rugby league’s highest individual accolade. The odds for the Sharks number 6 were surprisingly short, considering the wealth of talent on show in the NRL this season.
If Carney were to take home the silverware, he would become just the seventh man in the history of the award to win it twice, an amazing achievement that would see his name alongside all-time greats like Andrew Johns, Johnathan Thurston and Peter Sterling.
Amid all the drama of the ASADA investigation, along with a fairly up and down season from the Sharks, Carney has been absolutely sensational for Cronulla.
Always blessed with a lot of ability, Carney is now complementing his physical skills with supremely intelligent football. He’s a lot more patient with the ball in his hands, and gives the impression that he is constantly thinking a few plays ahead, rather than attempting to do everything in just one play.
Many pundits often criticise players who run across the field with the ball in their hands, yet with Carney, it’s actually a unique strength of his game. Far form it being a case of him ‘going nowhere’, his superb cross-field play actually opens up channels and attacking options for the Sharks, as he links up with teammates running good angles.
Carney has always had the ability to put players into gaps with short balls, or show off other feats of amazing individual brilliance. It’s certainly always been exciting to watch, but it hasn’t always necessarily been fantastic tactical football.
Yet he is now a legitimate football general, directing traffic, and competing in a more methodical and calculating manner.
He’ll notice weaknesses in the defensive line and exploit them carefully and adroitly. He’ll direct his forwards to run at smaller, tired or injured defenders. He’ll put the ball through the hands of the backline instead of attempting ‘hero’ cut-out balls. And he’s not shy of the odd verbal assault, attempting to gain a psychological advantage over opponents.
It’s oversimplifying to say he’s playing more like a Cooper Cronk, but that comparison does provide an indication of the way he now plays football: intelligently.
As a youngster, his success was built primarily on natural talent. Great hands, good speed, a fantastic boot, and a little bit of unpredictability – Carney had all the physical tools. It was a lethal package, and it ensured he earned a reputation as a dangerous player with lots of potential.
However, if he wanted to make the leap from ‘promising youngster’ to ‘superstar’, more maturity was required of him on and off the field. As has been well documented, it hasn’t been the smoothest of journeys, but Carney has certainly evolved in this department.
The lack of negative publicity in recent years suggests he has matured off the field, while the amount of positive publicity about his play on the park suggests he has matured on the field as well.
Demonstrating the high regard with which Carney is held within the club, along with highlighting his leadership abilities, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has named Carney as skipper when regular captain Paul Gallen is sidelined with injuries or away on representative duties.
It gives further credence to the notion that Carney has matured, for such roles are not handed out lightly, and are rarely bestowed upon those of the ‘irresponsible’ or ‘not respected’ ilk.
Considering the season – if not career – that Carney is having, one can’t help but feel that the New South Wales Blues selectors should be embarrassed for overlooking him during this year’s Origin series.
As a New South Welshmen, I’m only too happy to put State of Origin in the rearview mirror, rather than focusing on the pain of another series defeat.
However, when a superstar – who may be on the verge of being named the best player in the competition for the second time in four years – isn’t deemed good enough to make the team, I think the NSW selectors and coach should be asked some tough questions.
It would be fascinating to hear their answers, principally because one presumes they would struggle, in much the same way defenses have struggled to answer the questions Carney poses of them each week.