One of the highlights of NRL Grand Final week is the Dally M Awards, which honours the best players of the 2016 season. The race for the coveted Dally M medal is tightly contested this year and anyone can take it out – from rampaging forwards Jason Taumalolo and Ryan James to playmakers Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston to hookers Cameron Smith and Josh Hodgson, who is looking to become the first Englishman to win the award. There are also awards given out for the best player in each position, as well as rookie of the year, coach of the year and Holden Cup player of the year to name a few. Here’s our predictions for who will take out the major awards tonight:
Rookie of the Year: Nathan Cleary
To be fair, the Rookie of the Year award could go to anyone this year, which just shows how good this rookie class has been in 2016. Other people I considered for this award was Suliasi Vunivalu, who was the NRL’s leading try-scorer this year, and Ash Taylor, who’s been a consistent figure for the Titans since Round 1, helping lead them into the top 8. But I’ve gone with Nathan Cleary, who came into the side and helped turn the Panther’s season around, finishing 7th on the ladder. The Panthers had 5 wins and 6 losses before Cleary made his debut against the Melbourne Storm. Since then, the Panthers went 9-4, heading into the finals as one of the hottest attacking outfits in the league. A main reason for this is the play of Cleary, who has shown such maturity for an 18-year old.
Coach of the Year: Ricky Stuart
I’ve gone with the Canberra Raiders coach here over Neil Henry from the Titans, who I also considered for this award. Sure, Henry turned a team who finished 14th last season and led them to the Top 8, but Stuart went one better by leading the team who also missed out on the Top 8 last year (10th in 2015) and took them to 2nd place on the ladder on the back of a 10 game winning streak. He helped players like Josh Hodgson and Joey Leilua break out this year as well. Although they went on to lose in the preliminary final to Melbourne, Stuart has given Canberra’s fans hope for the future.
Dally M Medal Winner: Josh Hodgson
Yes, tonight we will crown the first Englishman to ever win the Dally M Medal. Hodgson has been a standout this year and one of the main reasons the Canberra Raiders finished 2nd on the ladder. Hodgson tackles hard and often like every hooker should, but what has set him apart is his short kicking game and ability to create opportunities for his teammates. Hodgson had 16 try assists this year, the same amount as Cameron Smith, Anthony Milford and Daly Cherry-Evans.
While he’s been on par with the play of Smith, arguably the best in the game, Hodgson’s rise has seemingly come out of nowhere, along with the Raider’s rise, which will make his win even more special. His suspension from a grapple tackle in Round 23 could be an obstacle for Hodgson to win. Ultimately though, it should come down to Hodgson and Storm playmaker and former Dally M winner Cooper Cronk. However, I think Hodgson’s play, especially during the Raiders’ 10 game win streak will propel him to the award.
Dally M Team of the Year:
Fullback: James Tedesco
Winger: Jordan Rapana
Centre: Joey Leilua
5/8th: James Maloney
Halfback: Cooper Cronk
Lock: Jason Taumalolo
Second Row: Josh Papalii
Prop: Ryan James
Hooker: Josh Hodgson