Monday Buzz: My Dally M team of the year
PREDICTING the winner of rugby league's most prestigious award, the Dally M Medal, is usually as obvious as Winx winning at Royal Randwick.
In past seasons with two rounds remaining we normally know it's a Johnathan Thurston, a Jason Taumalolo, a Cameron Smith or a Cooper Cronk.
When bookmakers opened betting on the Dally M Awards this year, Damien Cook was paying $81, Kalyn Ponga $51 and Roger Tuivasa Sheck $26.
Now the South Sydney hooker, Knights fullback and Warriors skipper are joint $3.50 favourites for the game's most prestigious honour.
This year's Dally M award is closest on record, almost impossible to pick.
Try picking the 2018 winner.
The toughest positional award of them all. When was the last time we had five great fullbacks of the calibre of Ponga, James Tedesco, Billy Slater, Val Holmes and Tuivasa-Sheck.
I've gone for Ponga because he was so high in the count (one point off the lead) when voting went behind closed doors.
But the others have been outstanding and could knock him off.
Josh Addo-Carr has been in sensational form for Melbourne and NSW.
The fastest man in the game and a freakishly talented finisher.
Again though it is a hot field. Blake Ferguson, David Fusitu'a, Jamayne Isaako and Rob Jennings have been the other standouts.
One of the easier awards. No-one has dominated like Sydney Roosters star Latrell Mitchell.
We knew he was a wonderful talent but he has added consistency to his game this year.
Brisbane flyer James Roberts and the Wests Tigers' Esan Marsters have been outstanding. Euan Aitken was the form centre in the competition for the first 10 weeks but has been disappointing over the last six weeks.
James Maloney led the award on 17 points when voting went secret after round 12. The fact he will miss the last three club rounds has thrown it wide open.
Cameron Munster at the Storm and Blake Green at the Warriors should also be in contention for the five-eighth of the year.
Maybe it will be decided in the final two rounds.
Don't rule out South Sydney's Cody Walker.
This will be as close as the five-eighth of the year. Luke Brooks at the Tigers is arguably the most improved player in the competition. He was just one point behind Maloney in equal second position when the voting closed.
My choice would be Cooper Cronk. After a slow settling in period he has been outstanding for the Roosters.
Nathan Cleary and Ben Hunt were the favourites at the halfway mark but have both struggled over the last month.
What a great field. Sam Burgess, Jack De Belin, Jai Arrow, Jake Trbojevic and Jason Taumalolo.
I've got a slight leaning towards Burgess because he dominates every week.
De Belin would have led the field early but like a lot of St George Illawarra players, his form has been off over the last month.
Probably comes down to a two-man race between Penrith star Billy Kikau and Roosters skipper Boyd Cordner, although Tariq Sims, Tyson Frizell and John Sutton have had great seasons.
I lean towards Kikau, who has emerged this season as the most explosive edge forward in the competition and has been more responsible than anyone else for two of Penrith's miraculous comeback victories.
The easiest award. Damien Cook has been the competition's best No. 9 by the length of a football field. The rest are just making up the numbers.
Very hard to split Dave Klemmer from the Bulldogs and Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita.
Klemmer has averaged 177 metres a game in a struggling team.
Fifita led Cronulla magnificently early in the season and was running equal second when voting closed.
Most tipsters had the New Zealand Warriors finishing in the bottom four. The fact Stephen Kearney has lifted them into the finals has been a wonderful achievement. I have him slightly ahead of South Sydney's Anthony Seibold.
A number of boom youngsters have emerged and established themselves as regular first graders. Rhyse Martin at the Bulldogs, Jamayne Isaako at the Broncos, Alexander Brimson at the Titans and Jesse Ramien have been the pick. I'd go for Isaako.