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Opinion

The five most controversial Clive Churchill Medal winners

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Roar Guru
13th November, 2020
16

The prestigious Clive Churchill Medal is awarded to the best on the field in the biggest day in the NRL: grand final day.

It is one of those awards you will be lucky to have on your resume, and one of those awards you may long for in order to put you in the discussion of rugby league greats.

I am going to look at the most controversial Clive Churchill medalists in the last 20 years and dissect why they did not deserve it.

Twenty players have received this award in that time frame and here are the final five I have chosen. They may have won it in controversial fashion.

5. 2013 – Daly Cherry-Evans
One of two players in this time frame to win the award in a losing side, Cherry-Evans was undoubtedly brilliant on this night. However, due to the result and how he played, James Maloney definitely should have won that award on that night. He started off rough with a kick out of on the full, but he composed himself and had his hand in three tries, and kicked four goals from four attempts. Redeeming himself from his 2011 loss with the Warriors, Maloney was brilliant in controlling a star-studded Roosters side, only to be outdone by Clive Churchill medalist Cherry-Evans. If there were an award for second best on the field, Cherry-Evans was a sure thing. He was easily Manly’s best.

Daly Cherry-Evans

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

4. 2016 – Luke Lewis
Cronulla broke the drought in one of the most intense finishes in grand final history. Once the Storm took the lead with a Will Chambers try, they were comfortably in charge. A lot of Sharks fans will tell you the same thing as well. The thing that changed the game was a vicious and strong-willed run by Andrew Fifita, who scored one of the most unexpected tries, forcing his way to the line with three or four strong defenders on him. It looked as if it were a simple sitter of a run, which then turned into the game-changing try. Not only was that try vital, Fifita was large the entire game. The eventual winner, Luke Lewis, provided good pressure on Blake Green for the majority of the game, and was strong as he always is, however Fifita was due not only for the try but because of his overall game. Fifita ran for a massive 210 metres and never showed up to a very strong Storm pack.

3. 2017 – Billy Slater
The story had it all. Missing the back end of 2015 and then playing only one game in the 2016 season, Slater was coming off severe shoulder injuries. Missing out on the prelim loss in 2015 and a shock grand final loss in 2016, Slater was aiming to make it back, and then come back with a vengeance. On the night of the grand final win for the Storm in 2017, Slater scored a try and had a hand in another.

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Undoubtedly, he was great. But Cameron Smith deserved the medal. He controlled the game and came out as a runner, with nine runs early in the game. He ended up with a season-high 133 metres, which is very rare for him. He had 41 tackles, a handful of conversions, and provided a great pass for a Dale Finucane try. Smith definitely deserved a Clive Churchill Medal if anyone did in this game. Again, if there was a second best on field award, Slater was a sure thing. Smith should have won it on this particular night.

2. 2019 – Jack Wighton
This wasn’t as controversial as it needed to be. Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was told he was due the Clive Churchill Medal, only to be blind-sided for eventual winner Jack Wighton. Wighton was undoubtedly the best player on the field. Someone else did not deserve it, as he had a blinder of a game. If the Roosters were to produce a Clive Churchill Medal winner from that particular night, Waerea-Hargreaves was indeed an option. So too was Luke Keary, who seems to love the big lights. I agree with this decision, but it was so controversial. It was almost as controversial as the six-again call…

Jack Wighton

Jack Wighton of the Raiders scores a try during the 2019 NRL grand final. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

1. 2015 – Johnathan Thurston
Thurston did not deserve the Clive Churchill Medal in 2015. I can think of two, three or even four players who deserved it over the chosen one on this night. Thurston was quiet the entire night, and attempted to make the big play, in which his half partner Michae Morgan ended up coming up with the big play. For some reason, it just all fell his way that night. After the Kyle Feldt try, the opportunity to win it was taken away, but then he was given another chance with the Ben Hunt drop, and then Lachlan Coote possibly gave up a chance he could have slotted himself.

It just seemed to all fall his way that night. The greats don’t need an invitation, they will take it, as Thurston did. He did slot the game-winning field goal, and did provide Townsville with their sole championship, but he did have a lot of help. Jake Granville absolutely terrorised the Broncos when he was on and they could not keep up with his speed. Michael Morgan came up with the big play. He was brilliant. Boom forward Jason Taumalolo was absolutely immense, showcasing what we are now accustomed too.

The best player on the field was on the losing side: Anthony Milford. He had the game of his life, and was involved in everything, with his partner Hunt being very quiet. Milford was a deserved winner of the Clive Churchill Medal in 2015, and I would put Thurston as probably third or fourth in line for the award that night.

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Controversy comes hand in hand with the game of rugby league, and the awarding of such a prestigious award will always be controversial. But sometimes the people in charge of voting for the award get it so wrong.