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State of Origin: Man of the match selection process is broken

The three-man tackle is a crucial aspect of modern rugby league. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Editor
21st June, 2017
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For just the fifth time ever, the man of the match in State of Origin was won by a player on the losing team. It was the wrong decision made without due process and left many baffled.

Josh Jackson, who was the Blues best player last night, took the honours. He’s only the second NSW player to have won on a losing side, joining Peter Sterling in 1987. Steve Walters was the last Queenslander to do it in 1991.

Jackson worked for 67 tough metres and made 26 tackles with two missed, offering the kind of performance that doesn’t feature in highlights.

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Let’s be real for a second – Jackson was not the best player on the park. He was only on the field for 49 minutes, per NRL.com stats. Only Andrew Fifita and Aaron Woods played fewer minutes of the starters.

Even if NSW had won the match, plenty would’ve been surprised at Jackson’s win.

It’s not like the Maroons managed to win in anonymity either. Queensland had names like Billy Slater, Dane Gagai, Josh McGuire, and Dylan Napa in contention. The Roar’s own player ratings gave Gagai a nine out of ten, with Jackson rated a seven.

So how did it happen? And how and why does the decision get made?

It’s rare to say you agree with Paul Vautin, but ‘Fatty’ spoke sense in questioning the man of the match decision, wondering if the call is made before full time so that arrangements can be made.

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Now, I have an open mind that the best player, no matter if the side won or not, can be named the best player.

I’ve written before that LeBron James has been disgracefully robbed of NBA Finals MVP with his side not winning. Imagine leading all players in every stats category and not winning. Ever heard of Andre Iguodala?

The best, no matter if the side won or not, must be named man of the match.

And regardless of tonight’s result, it’s time to get serious about one of the few individual awards that matter in a team sport.

As it is, the Australians selectors decide on man of the match with an opaque process.

The viewer at home doesn’t find out about voting results or a top three – just who won on the night.

If you’re a TV viewer outside of the main broadcast areas of NSW and Queensland, you don’t even find out and have to turn to social media or Google. Viewers were glad Channel Nine in Victoria didn’t cut to the AFL Footy Show before the final whistle.

There’s one more ugly point in all of this.

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The man of the match award is a big punting market, especially for casual punters who just want to have $5 on something at odds. All bookmakers offer the market, and they offer juicy odds because in theory, every player is in contention.

Maybe votes were split. Maybe it was a coin toss. Maybe the votes had to be made after 60 minutes. Maybe the Australian selectors could give us a really great explanation as to why Jackson couldn’t be beaten and we’d all learn something.

Hiding the process away allows for incredulous decisions and calls of rorts to be made, especially when a player who’s only been on the field for just over half the match on a losing side manages to win for the first time in 26 years.

The NRL has a long, long list of things to do better. This is yet another.