New Zealand Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is likely to be judged as the NRL’s best player at the 2018 Dally M Medal presentation on Wednesday evening.
The fleet-footed Kiwi led the way this year with his magic running game – and red-blooded contribution in defence – paving the way for Tuivasa-Sheck to win the competition’s highest individual honour for the first time.
Even though the Auckland-based club only finished eighth at the end of the regular season, the 25-year-old often spearheaded many of his side’s victories throughout 2018.
In 26 games, he totalled more than 200 metres on nine occasions and put in a dazzling 338-metre shift in Round 22 against Newcastle Knights.
The Kiwi Test representative also fought back from a knee reconstruction last year to take on the club captaincy, and, after a slow start, thrived in the role.
In the days leading up to the season’s opening game, Tuivasa-Sheck revealed he had seriously considered a switch to rugby union, before signing a four-year contract extension.
He hasn’t looked back since, though, with former Warriors coach Frank Endacott saying Tuivasa-Sheck has had a year to remember.
“He’s been consistently good all year and has been the standout player for the Warriors. He leads by example,” Endacott told The New Daily.
“When you listen to opposition teams, they always rate him.
“He’s the leading guy they talk about for the Warriors, which is a real mark of respect for how good a player he is, and how well he is playing.
“He stands out as one of the top echelon.”
Tuivasa-Sheck set the tone with a crunching one-on-one tackle during his side’s Round 1 upset of South Sydney.
Opponent Alex Johnston was set to score a try early in the game but didn’t count on the Warriors fullback, who threw himself into the Bunnies No.1 and bundled him into touch.
Tuivasa-Sheck’s teammates stepped up their performances in 2018, too, as they made their first finals appearance since 2011.
The other contenders
The Warriors skipper is most likely to be challenged by South Sydney rake Damien Cook, Cronulla fullback Valentine Holmes and Newcastle sensation Kalyn Ponga for the top gong.
Cook edged out veteran hooker Robbie Farah for a regular starting spot with the Bunnies and then put in a powerhouse performance to help New South Wales win the State of Origin series 2-1, the Blues’ first since 2014.
Holmes overcame a form slump early in the year to lead the NRL for line breaks (26) and kick-return metres (1366), while he also scored 22 tries for Cronulla.
Ponga, 20, surprised everyone in his first full season of first grade, chiming in as a valuable attacking player to go with his side-stepping heroics from fullback.
But no one stood out – particularly through the second half of the year – like Tuivasa-Sheck.
A panel of judges give three Dally M votes to the best player, two votes to second and one to third after each NRL game.
Unlike the AFL’s Brownlow Medal, voting in the Dally M is revealed up until Round 12, when the count moves behind closed doors.
Penrith’s James Maloney led the way with 17 votes after Round 12, with Ponga, Luke Brooks of Wests Tigers and Cronulla’s Andrew Fifita locked on 16.
St George-Illawarra’s Gareth Widdop was outright fifth with 14, with Tuivasa-Sheck, Cook and Gold Coast’s Jai Arrow two adrift in a three-way tie for sixth.
Past winners of the Dally M Medal include Cameron Smith (2017), Cooper Cronk and Jason Taumalolo (2016) and Johnathan Thurston (2015).