Why major NRL award changes could be a bad idea

The Dally M Awards are going ahead, but the ceremony will face several major changes – including an award category that will see more players honoured for their season. But these changes may not be in the best interest of the game, writes Paul Kent.

In a season stacked with ideas, many of them winners, it’s important to not get carried away with every idea being a good idea.

The NRL is extending the Dally M Awards so when the Team of the Year is announced on stage, it will show the full complement of a 13-man team, with two wingers, two centres, two second-rowers and two props.

It all sounds neat and responsible, and certainly presents better, but for mine such thinking has it backwards.

Awards are to name the best player in each position. That is their purpose. The intent was not to present a team of any sort.

The Team of the Year was coined later essentially to present the best positional players in a photo together and the individual awards should remain a priority.

While on the soapbox, any serious talk about the State of Origin series occupying permanent residency at the end of the season has to be suspended given the carnage of this season.

Countless players have limped through to the end of the season, even more are considering when to have surgery, and with each elimination more players are being left without week to week football.

To then try and fast-track those players into an Origin campaign, with no warm-up games, is too big an ask no matter how impressive the sports science.

It also puts an unfair cost on clubs who get their players back into next season.

NRL’s big call on the Dally M team of the year

For the first time in the game’s history a full 13-man team of the year will be announced at the Dally M’s later this month.

The NRL has announced the game’s awards night will still go ahead but will be a television only event on October 19. Fox League will showcase the awards night with the award winners to attend the broadcast at Fox Sports six nights before the grand final.

The game’s COVID-19 biosecurity protocols will apply to the broadcast to ensure the health and safety of players and officials. Clubs impacted by border restrictions will have a live cross facilitated during the broadcast.

James Tedesco 2019 Dally M Award winner during the 2019 Dally M Awards at the Hordern Pavillion, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello
James Tedesco 2019 Dally M Award winner during the 2019 Dally M Awards at the Hordern Pavillion, Sydney. Picture: Brett Costello

Aside from missing the glitz and glamour of the red carpet, the other major change will be a team full of positional winners. In the past only one player from each position has been acknowledged. But this year there will be two wingers, centres, props and second-rowers named in the team of the year.

NRL boss Andrew Abdo said it was important the awards went ahead.

“This year’s Dally Ms will be unique and a special celebration for players who have had exceptional seasons in an exceptionally challenging season,” Abdo said.

“The innovative plans Fox Sports have developed to present this year’s awards will add another dimension for fans. The awards show will be a fitting tribute to the individuals that made the 2020 season compelling entertainment for all of us.”

Penrith’s Nathan Cleary is the favourite ahead of the likes of fellow semi-finalists including Cameron Smith, Clint Gutherson and Jack Wighton. Wests Tigers rookie Harry Grant (13 points) had a one-point lead ahead of Smith and Gutherson when counting went behind closed doors. Cleary was two behind.

“COVID and biosecurity protocol restrictions have meant the evening cannot proceed as a traditional gala dinner, but we have worked together to create a unique way to celebrate the awards with fans and ensure our players are honoured in a way they deserve,” Abdo said.

NRL 360 will host a special Dally M edition prior to the broadcast, which will also include the announcement of some categories before the awards start at 730pm.

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