The race for the 2021 Dally M medal is officially down to five players, with four True Blues in line for the game’s top gong.
Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary led the count by one vote after the votes were tabulated up until Round 19, but missed game time after that with a shoulder injury.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles fullback Tom Trbojevic had closed the gap and is expected to dominate the vote count in the games he featured in; Sydney Roosters fullback and Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues captain James Tedesco kept his team in the finals race; while South Sydney Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker has also had a season to remember.
Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans rounds out the five players in contention for the award with the winner to be announced on Monday September 27 at Howard Smith Wharves in Brisbane.
Nathan Cleary (24 votes)
Panthers star Nathan Cleary has had a stellar 2021 to date after leading his side into another Preliminary Final with their hard-fought 8-6 victory over rivals the Parramatta Eels on Saturday night.
One of the firm favourites to take out the award before a ball was kicked this year, Cleary picked up where he left off, leading the Panthers to an NRL-best 12-0 record to start the season. Their unbeaten start to the year included two wins over the Sea Eagles as well as wins over the Knights, Roosters and Rabbitohs.
Despite the mid-season setback, Cleary’s game has gone to another level this year and his stats back it up. In just 20 games, Cleary has a 94% win record, 223 points, 10 tries, 536 average kick metres, 20 try assists as well as a career best 113 average running metres.
Throw in steering the NSW Blues to their most dominant series victory in Origin history as well as the opportunity to win his first NRL premiership and it’s been a season to remember for the Panthers playmaker.
Tom Trbojevic (23 votes)
Turbo’s 2021 season will no doubt go down as one of, if not the best, individual season in NRL history.
Rugby League fans have marvelled at the Sea Eagles custodian ever since his scintillating return to the NRL after missing the opening five rounds through a hamstring injury. In his first game back, Trbojevic led his side to a 36-0 victory over the Titans with one try, two try assists, two linebreaks and two linebreak assists.
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Since then, Trbojevic has put together a record-breaking season and guided Manly to their first Top 4 finish since 2014.
To date, he has scored 27 tries, had 28 try assists, 33 linebreaks, 117 tackle busts and an average of 216 running metres. Turbo also brought his unstoppable club form to the state area, where he was awarded the Wally Lewis Medal for his part in the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues 2-1 series victory over Queensland.
Cody Walker (17 votes)
True Blue Cody Walker has been in career-best form so far in 2021 and South Sydney’s left edge has certainly reaped the rewards. Walker’s ability to come up with a huge play right when his side needs it has helped Souths to another Top 4 finish as they play in their fourth preliminary final in a row.
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Walker currently leads the NRL in try and linebreak assists with 33 and 44 respectively, as well as having 13 tries and 33 forced drop outs to his name.
James Tedesco (15 votes)
It’s been an unfortunate year for Tedesco and the Roosters after their squad has been decimated with retirements and injuries to key players.
Despite the fact the Roosters were without the experience of Boyd Cordner, Luke Keary and Brett Morris, they still managed to finish in fifth place and Tedesco didn’t miss a beat.
The 2019 Dally M Medallist carried the team on his back in several games in 2021 and finished the season with nine tries, 22 try assists, 145 tackle breaks, 17 linebreaks and 182 average running metres.