History has been created at the Dally M awards, with Johnathan Thurston and Jarryd Hayne crowned the first-ever dual winners of the NRL’s most-coveted individual honour.
For heavy favourite Thurston, it was his third Dally M triumph but his first since 2007.
The Cowboys co-captain joins Andrew Johns as the only players to earn a hat-trick of Dally M wins.
The recognition further cements his place as a rugby league great, despite the fact a premiership still eludes him since becoming the marquee star at the North Queensland Cowboys.
It’s the second time Hayne has won the major award after the Parramatta superstar was also crowned the game’s best in 2009 when he led the Eels on a hot streak right through to the grand final.
In a thrilling finish, Thurston and Hayne finished the 26 rounds on 32 points – three points ahead of third-placed Sam Burgess.
The pair were the overwhelming stars of a glittering night at Sydney’s The Star on Monday night, sweeping several awards each.
Thurston was also named five-eighth of the year and the Provan Summons People’s Choice medal winner, as the best player in the game as chosen by the fans.
He also finished top point-scorer for the season with 208 points.
Thurston said the thrilling countdown, read out by Hollywood actor and South Sydney owner Russell Crowe, was agonising.
He paid tribute to Hayne and said he was humbled to be named alongside Johns.
“Obviously Haynesy has had a great year, congratulations to the big fella. Hopefully I’ll play alongside him over next few weeks (for Australia).
“Joey, he’s an Immortal and just to have half the career he had I’d be ecstatic.
“To have my name mentioned alongside his with the highest honour the Dally M medal, it’s mind blowing and humbling. I’m shaking.”
Hayne, who had father Manoa Thompson in the crowd, said he was proud to be up there alongside Thurston.
“It’s a huge honour and I consider myself very lucky to even be next to Thursto,” he said.
“I thought he had it wrapped up and to be able to hang in there to the death makes it even more special.
“I’d like to thank my teammates, my coach Brad Arthur. He’s been a huge influence on the way I play.”
Hayne took out Best Representative Player for his influential role for NSW in their breakthrough State of Origin triumph.
The 26-year-old was also named fullback of the year and top try-scorer for 2014, with 20.
Thurston won a premiership with Canterbury as a bench player 10 years ago, but this year was the latest chapter in a sorry history of falling short for the Cowboys.
That said, Thurston’s form to finish the year was as dominant as any player in modern history.
Hayne is yet to taste premiership success, but winning an Origin as the longest-suffering Blues player took the enigmatic custodian to another level of class.
In other awards:
• Manly skipper Jamie Lyon was named captain of the year – for his role in keeping a bickering Sea Eagles side together enough to finish second in the minor premiership – and the game’s best centre.
• Daly Cherry-Evans claimed the best halfback crown, despite his form lapse late in the year amid rumours he was at the centre of Manly’s internal dramas.
• Ivan Cleary was named coach of the year for taking the Penrith Panthers to within one match of one of the biggest fairytales in rugby league grand final history.
• Wests Tigers teenager Luke Brooks was recognised as rookie of the year, and can now look forward to working with a former halfback as his coach – the newly appointed Jason Taylor.
• English stars James Graham and Sam Burgess were named best prop and lock respectively, ahead of their blockbuster clash in Sunday’s grand final between Canterbury and South Sydney.