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Since 2004, the Wally Lewis Medal has been one of the most prestigious awards in rugby league, given to the best player at the end of the State of Origin series. Handing that accolade to a player who only played two of the three games has devalued it forever.
How a player who missed Game 1 – winning or losing side – can be handed the award is beyond me. That the player was on the losing side makes it a farce.
My gripe here isn’t with Billy Slater, who was, of course, the man given the medal last night. It’s with the selection panel and the process by which they have to pick the Wally Lewis Medal.
That panel consisted of Laurie Daley, Darren Lockyer and Mal Meninga.
Even though they’re among the best to ever lace up a boot, having such a subjective award decided by three men who still have close ties to the players running around for the Blues and Maroons is problematic.
I don’t want to come across as questioning their integrity to select an award like this, but you cannot deny it seems like they’ve just picked the feelgood person rather than the best candidate; this was Slater’s final Origin series, so why not give him the perfect send-off?
Now, while they’ve picked the wrong man, the decision wasn’t entirely their own fault. The process they have to pick by is flawed.
Each of the three pick on a 4-3-2-1 system after each game, meaning the maximum amount of points a player could get across the series is 36.
If Slater was to pick up 12 points last night and, say, eight in Game 2, he would all of a sudden have 20, which would be tough for another player to match.
It means a player taking part in only two-thirds of the series could still come away with the player of the series, which is just what we saw.
What the correct system actually looks like is up for debate. Perhaps the rules need to be tightened around eligibility for the award. The NRL themselves have said they’ll consider changing the process after what happened last night.
It’s hard to be objective in the judges’ positions. That’s not to say others would have come up with another option, but picking with no affiliation to players, officials or coaches would be a handy start.
The public should also be granted some transparency around the voting process. Footy fans should be able to see exactly how votes were awarded across the three games. I’d be very surprised if James Tedesco didn’t get 12 from Game 1 and plenty from Game 2 as well.
Other leagues around the world see different selection methods. The NBA MVP is picked by the media, players and officials. The AFL’s Brownlow Medal is picked by umpires after each game, and that’s a model the NRL should consider adopting to protect the integrity of the Wally Lewis Medal.
The problem with using those models is Origin’s need for immediacy, rather than having a delay like we see in the NBA or the AFL – or even in the NRL with the Dally M.
There is no reason Origin’s player of the series shouldn’t be picked by the referees on game day. Heck, we have a bunker sitting there watching the game, plus four in the middle of the field and a few on standby. If the eight of them can’t get together and work out collectively who gets the points, then there is something wrong.
It would take five minutes at most and you’d get the same level of immediacy as we currently have, allowing it to be part of the post-match presentation following Game 3.
The Wally Lewis Medal, at any rate, is supposed to reward the best player of the entire Origin series, not just one or two games. Under the current system, we didn’t get that this year.
This is a slap in the face for players on the winning side who had sensational series. James Tedesco, Damien Cook, Tom Trbojevic and Blues captain Boyd Cordner all put in three brilliant performances in what was one of the best Origin series in history. In fact, you’d almost go as far to call it the best.
Giving the Wally Lewis Medal to Slater isn’t right. That’s the hand we’ve been dealt in 2018, but it should be the catalyst for change to restore the award to its former glory.