THE race to the 2018 Dally M looms as the closest in recent memory as four players enter the latter stages of the season right in the medal frame.
When voting went behind closed doors Penrith Panther James Maloney topped the leaderboard, but after an poor month and a half for his side the captain currently sits as a $31 outsider.
It has been a changing of the guard since voting went blind.
New Zealand Warrior Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ($6) and Knights speedster Kalyn Ponga ($3) look to be setting the Dally M pace after a sensational six weeks.
The two teams clashed on the weekend with Tuivasa-Sheck’s team taking the spoils.
The Warrior captain was dominant from the outset, delivering 338 metres from 24 runs, including 11 tackle breaks en route to a 16 point victory against Ponga’s Knights.
Newcastle Knights’ coach Nathan Brown said his side were unable to curtail the influence of RTS.
“Oh look, we would have liked to have got him the ball in some little worse situations than we did,” Brown said in the aftermath of the match.
“We got balls down the short side once or twice with shorter kicks which was a bit successful for us but when they’re winning that momentum, it’s hard to kick well when you’re on the back foot. It makes kicking very, very hard.”
Wests Tigers star Luke Brooks was a one-time leader of the count, but the $9 quote suggests he will something special as the season draws to a close.
The 23-year-old halfback is among the league leaders in linebreak assists and has been one of the driving forces behind his side’s resurgence this season.
If the market is to be trusted however, South Sydney Rabbitoh Damien Cook ($2.25) is the man to rundown.
Prior to last Friday night’s 2-point defeat against the Sydney Roosters, Cook had been producing historic numbers.
The man who Andrew Johns claimed to be “close to the best player in the (State of Origin) series” has been the best number 9s across 2018, putting up some of the best running numbers in the last 20 years.
While a Dally M Medal beckons for the Bunnies’ star this season, former Shark Michael Ennis believes 2018 is just the beginning.
“The best thing about it is that he is kept accountable by his teammates and that they are challenging him to be better,” Ennis said.
“I’ve trained with Damien and been involved with him and I know he works tirelessly on his game and he’s a great trainer so he’ll want to find those areas and really improve them.
“You also need the environment and from what we’ve seen of Seibold’s coaching this year individually he puts a lot of time into blokes and the senior players they have there are as good as any in the game.
“So he’s hit the ground more than running in 2018 but there are those areas that Smith does and has done for so long that no doubt Damien would be aware of and want to improve on.”
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