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With rugby league’s night of nights, the 2014 Dally M Medal, to be held on Monday, September 29, there remains plenty of speculation as to who will win the NRL’s regular season player of the year award.
Following Round 16, when voting went behind closed doors, there were five players well in the running to claim the prestigious title, and at the end of the regular season the field has not narrowed.
Surprisingly, Ben Hunt – who played 100 games before becoming the Broncos incumbent playmaker – was sitting atop the leader board at the conclusion of Round 16 with 19 points.
Hunt was equal top spot with Cowboys captain and fellow playmaker, Johnathan Thurston. While Thurston may have shared the limelight with Hunt, his form following disclosed voting has been mercurial – so much so that Thurston has forced the Cowboys into the NRL finals.
The 2014 Dally M Medal however, is not a two-horse race.
Below Hunt and Thurston on 19 points were Jarryd Hayne and Sam Burgess, both on 18 points, Daly Cherry-Evans on 16, and Josh Reynolds on 15. Further down the list saw Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Greg Bird share 9 points.
While it is extremely unlikely that Slater, Inglis or Bird will be able to make an assault on the top given the 10-point buffer between themselves and Hunt and Thurston, both Hayne and Burgess present significant challenges.
Hayne, in particular, has been unstoppable in the latter half of the season following NSW’s breathtaking Origin win. He was commended for his effort for the Blues, sharing the 2014 Brad Fittler Medal with Ryan Hoffman.
Controversially, NSW and Cronulla Sharks captain Paul Gallen has been removed from contention following the Cronulla Sharks doping scandal. While this is a blow to Gallen and Sharks supporters, it was unlikely that the forward was ever in the running for the award.
According to an NRL.com analysis, Thurston has all but sewn up the prestigious award, despite strong finishes to the season by both Sam Burgess and Jarryd Hayne.
Having already secured the Brad Fittler Medal, if Hayne were to bag the elusive double he would undoubtedly take Billy Slater’s title as the world’s best fullback and the world’s best player.
Hayne has exploded in the second half of the season and almost dragged Parramatta into the top eight. His two tries in Round 26 – the first following a freakish toe-to-the-ball play as the ball popped loose – will make Hayne highlight reels and are firmly in the ‘Hayne only’ category.
Sam Burgess has been equally impressive for the Rabbitohs this year, and unlike Hayne, has stood out in a team full of stars – this criteria alone is almost enough to present the Englishman with the award.
NRL.com is speculating that the Dally M Medal results will be as follows: Johnathan Thurston (34), Jarryd Hayne (33), Sam Burgess (31), Ben Hunt (28).
We will, however, have to wait until the last Monday in September to finally lay speculation to rest.