Dally M's Guide - Editorial

Dally Ms Guide By Warrick Nicolson, Nicolson Sports Consultancy

So the awards night that wasn't in 2003, has rolled around again but this time the NRL's official presentation ceremony will go ahead as planned. Ironically progress on the issues that forced last year's version to be scrapped, appears to have been minimal and apart from a slight increase in the Salary Cap by the NRL - neither side has really given in to the other. But power struggles aside, the 2004 Dally M Awards should be mandatory viewing tonight if you want to have something to argue about at work tomorrow. Although Warren Smith is no Graeme Hughes when it comes to connecting with the audience, he is clear, concise and gets the job done professionally. However, perhaps he needs to refrain from trying to be funny too often, his colleague Russell Fairfax will no doubt provide the laughs if involved in the telecast.

But I digress... onto the Awards, let the arguing begin.

Rookie of the Year Nominees: Karmichael Hunt, Broncos; Sonny Bill Williams, Bulldogs; Anthony Tupou, Roosters

And the winner is...

Hunt - Make no mistake, Hunt is the next Darren Lockyer. Wayne Bennett must be doing cartwheels up in Brisbane because not even the most optimistic scout would dream about finding another future champion while the current version is still in his prime. At 17 years old, Hunt not only proved he is capable of playing in the NRL, but he appeared in all 24 games showing remarkable durability and smarts to survive. Williams was a revelation when he played and probably had more big games than Hunt in his 11 appearances. And while Williams is the future of New Zealand Test teams, Anthony Tupou showed he is the future of the Roosters pack with a huge rookie season from the bench.

Captain of the Year Nominees: Steven Price, Bulldogs; Brad Fittler, Roosters; Danny Buderus, Knights

And the winner is...

Fittler - He doesn't win this for sentimental reasons, Freddie has been a constant presence for his talented teammates to feed off during a season where they capture the Minor Premiership. In his last season, Fittler has still shown his troops the way but he has shown that he can delegate responsibility to others, which is the sign of a great leader. Funnily enough he showed yesterday just how good at delegating he is by getting Luke Ricketson to attend the NRL Finals Captains Call on his behalf - now that's leadership! Price led from the front for his beloved Dogs and will leave a massive void next year, while Buderus matured greatly as a leader following Origin when he took the captaincy reigns at Newcastle and showed he was willing to carry his team and town on his back no matter the challenge.

Coach of the Year Nominees: Ricky Stuart, Roosters; Tim Sheens, Tigers; Graham Murray, Cowboys

And the winner is...

Stuart - This award can be viewed in one of two ways, either you give it to the most successful coach of the season or the coach who has helped his team reach the Finals with a less-heralded side. Stuart wins for the former because since taking over in 2002 he has kept a very good Roosters squad at the top of the pile while turning them into a dominant side. Quite often keeping a side at the top is harder than taking an underachieving side to the next level. Murray is a super coach who ironically was replaced by Stuart at the Roosters in controversial circumstances; he has delivered the long-suffering people of North Queensland a Finals birth for the first time and deserves the accolades. Sheens will be disappointed his side faltered at the end of the season but the Tigers have finally turned the corner into a genuinely competitive outfit under him, and with the talent that will mature in 2005, his work this year will reap major benefits in the future.

Representative Player of the Year Nominees: Craig Fitzgibbon, Aust-NSW; Nathan Hindmarsh, Aust-NSW; Darren Lockyer, Aust-Qld

And the winner is...

Fitzgibbon - It is ironic that Fitzgibbon won man of the match in Origin III when it was his least impressive performance of the series. Still he deserved the award for the first match when he was outstanding. Has a freakish work-rate drawing comparisons with the great Bradley Clyde, but Fitzgibbon is still not the attacking weapon he could be, that being said he wins this award comfortably, although Hindmarsh finally stepped up in Origin and Lockyer was incredible in the Anzac Test.

Fullback of the Year Nominees: Anthony Minichiello, Roosters; Brett Hodgson, Tigers; Matthew Bowen, Cowboys

And the winner is...

Minichiello - Had the off-field troubles of Origin I not surfaced, people would be talking about Minichiello's sophomore fullback season with a genuine appreciation. Minichiello was the most dynamic player of the first half of the season and although he suffered a case of the yips during the Origin series with his hands, he still finished the season strongly distancing himself from Hodgson who was consistently good without putting any major pressure on Minichiello for the award. Bowen was awesome at times but lacked the consistency that his peers often showed.

Winger of the Year Nominees: Amos Roberts, Panthers; Matt King, Storm; Luke Rooney, Panthers

And the winner is...

Roberts - Couldn't get out of reserve grade at the Dragons last year after returning from injury, but 2004 was the year 'Famous Amos' delivered on his potential in a big way. 23 tries in 21 games secured Roberts not only this award, but a new contract with the Roosters where he should stay at the top of the wing elite. King made the Melbourne faithful forget about Marcus Bai faster than they expected with some strong power running on the flank, while Rooney handled his Origin debut with aplomb and although he scored only 10 tries for Penrith was more dangerous than those stats indicate.

Centre of the Year Nominees: Willie Tonga, Bulldogs; Ryan Cross, Roosters; Shaun Berrigan, Broncos

And the winner is...

Tonga - It is hard to imagine seeing one off-season having more of an impact than the one Tonga had with the Bulldogs when he signed from Parramatta. Tonga went from unfulfilled and to be frank over-rated potential to the game's best centre, looked lost in 2003 and we found an international in 2004. Damaging runner with dazzling footwork that made fools out of the best centres in the business all season. Cross had his best season to date mixing consistency and his natural ability for top results, while Berrigan may well have challenged Tonga for the award had he played a full season - he was that good.

Five-Eighth of the Year Nominees: Darren Lockyer, Broncos; Scott Hill, Storm; Kurt Gidley, Knights

And the winner is...

Lockyer - Battled dodgy ribs all season but took the mantle as the world's best player from an injured Andrew Johns with another outstanding seasons at all levels. His move to the pivot position proved Wayne Bennett can indeed reinvent the wheel, and restored Brisbane to the elite level where this champion will keep them for the next 5 years. Hill had to play second fiddle to Matt Orford but proved his class at opportune times during the season, while Gidley stepped into the massive breach as Newcastle's main man with a great season learning on the run.

Halfback of the Year Nominees: Matt Orford, Storm; Brett Finch, Roosters; Scott Prince, Tigers

And the winner is...

Orford - Just edged Finch with a dominant back end of the season, showed after missing Origin selection he is not going to sook about it and continued tearing teams apart with brilliant playmaking and a strong kicking game. Finch blossomed into a dominant half after a few seasons of promise, while Prince proved to be one of the buys of the year almost lifting the Tigers to the Finals.

Lock of the Year Nominees: Shaun Timmins, Dragons; Ashley Harrison, Rabbitohs; Trent Waterhouse, Panthers

And the winner is...

Harrison - Although Timmins and Waterhouse will be playing in the Finals; Harrison deserved to be as well. A workhorse who is skillful enough to play in the halves when needed and one of Souths only true attacking weapons, will be a representative player on a stronger Souths team. Timmins had a great first half of the season but injury dented his chances, while Waterhouse rebounded from a horrible Origin series to be a genuine Kangaroo chance with a superb second half.

Second Rower of the Year Nominees: Nathan Hindmarsh, Eels; Willie Mason, Bulldogs; Andrew Ryan, Bulldogs

And the winner is...

Hindmarsh - No other player in the NRL carried his team's fortunes week in week out like Hindmarsh. Others may have been the key to winning games, but Hindmarsh kept the Eels in games when embarrassment was on the cards. Tackled his heart out and played the full 80 minutes most weeks, simply put the Eels would have won the wooden spoon without this guy. Mason and Ryan were a huge reason the Dogs dominated opponents for most of the season, but couldn't match Hindmarsh for value to their side this season.

Prop of the Year Nominees: Mark O'Meley, Bulldogs, Steven Price, Bulldogs; Paul Rauhihi, Cowboys

And the winner is...

Price - a genuine three-horse race decided by only one factor: game time. O'Meley and Rauhihi were powerhouses in every game but neither played the long minutes Price did on a weekly basis. A pillar of the Dogs game plan, Price gave his club a great last year with eerie consistency.

Hooker of the Year Nominees: Danny Buderus, Knights; Luke Priddis, Panthers; Cameron Smith, Storm

And the winner is...

Buderus - No matter the game or the score Buderus was always in a class above at dummy half, not a year the Knights want to remember but Buderus showed excellent service, smarts and skills throughout the season despite niggling injuries. Smith proved 2003 was no fluke despite his tender years and Priddis was the Panthers best player all season.

Dally M Player of the Year Nominees: Matt Orford, Storm; Nathan Hindmarsh, Eels; Brett Finch, Roosters

And the winner is...

Orford - had another brilliant year for the Storm, leading them back into the Finals after a somewhat surprising appearance last year. Consistency was the feature of his performances and he won a number of games single-handedly when the side looked beaten. Form never wavered during contract negotiations and just pips the excellence of Hindmarsh and Finch for the award.

Exclusive NSC Awards (Stats are unofficial and subject to change)

Michael Cronin Award (Most Points)

Hazem El Masri, Bulldogs: 288 (11t+122g)

Ken Irvine Award (Most Tries)

Amos Roberts, Panthers: 23

Daryl Halligan Award (Best Goal kicking Percentage)

Hazem El Masri, Bulldogs: 85.3% (122 from 143)

Richard Swain Award (Most Tackles)

Nathan Hindmarsh, Eels: 855

Bradley Clyde Award (Most Forward Hitups)

Martin Lang, Panthers: 436

Glenn Lazarus Award (Most Forward Metres Gained)

Steven Price, Bulldogs: 3594

Ian Roberts Award (Most Off-Loads)

Clinton Schifcofske, Raiders: 73

Steve Renouf Award (Most Line Breaks)

Willie Tonga, Bulldogs: 24

Ricky Stuart Award (Most Kicks in General Play)

Brett Finch, Roosters: 299

Cliff Lyons Award (Most Try Assists)

Brett Finch, Roosters: 31

Mal Meninga Award (Most Tackle Breaks)

Anthony Minichiello, Roosters: 112