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North Queensland has clicked into gear in the National Rugby League and it is all down to the genius of one man – Cowboys playmaker Johnathan Thurston, who is worth backing to win the Dally M Medal awarded to the competition’s best player.
Identified as a National Rugby League premiership contender before the season kicked off, North Queensland did not play well in any of its first three matches, losing back-to-back home matches to Sydney and Newcastle before being smashed at Queensland rival Brisbane. North Queensland was heading for a 0-4 National Rugby League record before Thurston took its home game versus Melbourne by the scruff of its neck and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, kicking a sideline conversion from his non-preferred side of the field before slotting over the match-winning field goal in extra time.
The only way for North Queensland has been up since the last few minutes of its National Rugby League escape act against Melbourne. Thurston set up three tries and kicked five goals in North Queensland’s impressive National Rugby League win at Penrith and, most recently, the man known in rugby league circles as JT scored two tries, set up one try and kicked five goals as the Cowboys whipped the defending champion, South Sydney, in its ANZ Stadium backyard. South Sydney was down on a few troops but one got the impression that North Queensland would have beaten any National Rugby League side because Thurston was, at times, playing incredible football.
News Limited analysts award Dally M Medal votes on a 3-2-1 basis for every National Rugby League game. The Dally M Medal votes awards are published for the first two-thirds of the National Rugby League season before the count goes behind closed doors only for the tallies to be announced during a gala event broadcast live on television. After six National Rugby League rounds – each team plays 24 matches – Thurston is second on the Dally M Medal ladder with nine votes in spite of North Queensland’s abysmal first three games. Leading the way is Wests Tigers prop Aaron Woods (10), with four players tied for third on seven votes.
Woods is a fine young player who has been racking up big numbers for Wests Tigers but he does not fit the profile of a Dally M Medal winner. The first Dally M Medal was awarded in 1980 and never has it been given to a prop. Yes, there is a first time for everything but the history books show that the Dally M Medal is a playmaker’s award, with halfbacks, five-eighths, hookers and fullbacks dominating its honour roll. And Woods is likely to miss five National Rugby League matches if he represents New South Wales in State of Origin, whereas Thurston is likely to sit out just four competition games. That is because Wests Tigers is scheduled to play every National Rugby League round immediately prior to a State of Origin match, whereas North Queensland does not have a competition fixture programmed for Round 14.
There are some Dally M Medal contenders who are likely to miss out on State of Origin selection – Ben Hunt, Matt Moylan and James Segeyaro are three of the most obvious – but award winners who did not play for either New South Wales or Queensland in that season are relatively rare. Ben Barba (2012) was the last Dally M Medal winner not to get a crack at State of Origin in his stellar season and he has failed to recapture that level of performance ever since.
No-one involved in reporting National Rugby League action has a bad word to say about Thurston and that does not hurt in what is, on one level, a popularity contest. Thurston is the best rugby league player of the current era and that is saying something considering that his peers include Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith. Thurston won the 2005 Dally M Medal, he took out the 2007 prize and he shared the 2014 award with Jarryd Hayne, who has quit rugby league to try his luck at American football with San Francisco.
Bet365 is offering odds of 3/1 4.00 +300 3.00 3.00 -0.33 that Thurston becomes the first four-time Dally M Medal winner. Those odds are only heading in one direction given Thurston’s current form.
Johnathan Thurston to win Dally M Medal
Odds: 3/1 4.00 +300 3.00 3.00 -0.33
Where to Bet: Bet365