(Main photo: photosport.nz).
When the 2016 Dally M Medal winner is announced on Wednesday night in Sydney, a 23-year-old Aucklander’s name will be among the favourites to be called out.
Cowboys and Kiwis forward Jason Taumalolo is expected to fight it out against Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson and Storm playmaker Cooper Cronk, for the right to be called the best NRL player of 2016.
If the former Otahuhu Leopard is to win, he will become just the second Kiwi ever to do so, following Gary Freeman’s triumph in 1992.
He would also become the first forward in 10 years, and just the fifth ever, to win the Dally M.
The big man is certainly deserving of being in this conversation, and of having his name mentioned alongside an elite player like Cronk.
The New Zealand ’JT’ didn’t miss a single game this year as the Cowboys stormed to within a game of back-to-back grand final appearances.
Taumalolo – Best forward in the game by a country mile 😳
— Jason Payne (@JasonPayne8) September 16, 2016
In those 24 outings he averaged 15.7 runs per match, and 167 metres.
The latter stat was bettered only by Bulldogs prop James Graham.
Taumalolo had only three games all year where he failed to reach 100 metres with ball in hand, while he eclipsed the 200-metre mark seven times.
“I can’t remember another display from a forward like that, full stop – I just can’t think of one,” Hannay told AAP.
“There were a number of Origin and international forwards on that field and he made everyone else look second rate.”
Already this year Taumalolo has been voted the best player in the game by his peers at the RLPA Awards.
Since Freeman’s 1992 effort a couple of Kiwis have come close to winning the Dally M – Sonny Bill Williams and Stacey Jones spring to mind immediately – but Taumalolo looks set to be in the race right up until the final votes.
Below are the top 10 players in Dally M Medal voting after round 16, at which point voting went behind closed doors:
Cooper Cronk (Storm) 16 points
Ryan James (Titans) 16
Cameron Smith (Storm) 16
Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys) 16
Josh Hodgson (Raiders) 14
Corey Norman (Eels) 14
Andrew Fifita (Sharks) 14
Michael Ennis (Sharks) 13
Darius Boyd (Broncos) 13
Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys) 12