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NRL Tips & Preview – Clive Churchill Medal

The Clive Churchill Medal – awarded to the best player in each year’s NRL grand final – is one of the game’s most coveted individual honours. WILL EVANS breaks down the gong’s historical trends and runs the rule over the contenders ahead of Sunday’s decider between Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels. 

A South Sydney icon and one of the four original Immortals, ‘The Little Master’ Clive Churchill passed away in 1985. An award for the best player in the Grand Final for struck in his honour the following season.

Many of the game’s greats have had their names engraved on the Clive Churchill Medal. Canberra lock Bradley Clyde (1989 and ’91) and Melbourne fullback Billy Slater (2009 and ’17) are the only two-time winners.

Clyde (1991), St George’s Brad Mackay (1993), Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans (2013) and last year’s recipient, Canberra’s Jack Wighton, are the only Clive Churchill Medallists to play on a losing team.

This year, rival halfbacks Nathan Cleary and Mitchell Moses, Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards and lock Isaah Yeo are the best-supported options, but there’s no shortage of top-value smokies in the mix.

Better by half

Unsurprisingly, it’s halfbacks that have dominated the Clive Churchill Medal with 11 of the 36 winners since the gong was first handed out in 1986 wearing the No.7 on their backs. Four of the past 10 Churchill Medallists were halfbacks, though Nathan Cleary broke a six-year drought for the position in 2021.

One of the shortest favourites for the award ever at just $3.00, Cleary was man-of-the-match in both the Panthers’ 2022 finals matches to date. He’s looking to become just the third player to win the Churchill Medal twice and the first to achieve the honour in back-to-back years.

Mitchell Moses ($7.00) is on the second line of betting and the comfortable favourite among Parramatta players. A flightier proposition, no doubt, but a tremendous individualist who is having a fine finals series and will be at the forefront if the Eels spring a boilover.

Just four five-eighths have earned the Clive Churchill Medal – with Greg Inglis’ performance for the Storm in 2007 the only success for pivots in a 30-year block – but the Roosters’ Luke Keary (2018) and the Raiders’ Jack Wighton (2019) boosted the tally in consecutive years recently.

Rival No.6s Jarome Luai and Dylan Brown (both $18) represent some of the best value in the 2022 market.

Spine stars

Given their importance to the modern game and the megastars than feature in the positions, fullbacks (six) and hookers (two) are underrepresented in the annals of Churchill Medal history.

Penrith’s Luke Priddis (2003) and Shaun Berrigan (2006) are the only rakes to have their names inscribed on the Churchill, though Cameron Smith was criminally overlooked in 2017. The Panthers’ Api Koroisau ($14) is conservatively priced in this year’s market, while opposite Reed Mahoney is very tempting a $34 if you’re tipping an Eels victory.

Slater was a contentious winner ahead of Cooper Cronk in 2009 and Smith in ’17. St George Illawarra’s Darius Boyd (2010) and Melbourne’s Ryan Papenhuyzen (2020) are the only other fullback recipients in the past 21 seasons.

But inspirational Panthers No.1 Dylan Edwards is equal-second favourite at $7.00, while Eels skipper Clint Gutherson is the second Eel in the market at $12. Both have massive work-rates and (especially Gutherson) feature heavily in their respective teams’ attack. The pair are highly likely to be among the top handful of players on the field, whichever way the result goes.

Leading from the front

Middle forwards have a reasonable Churchill Medal strike-rate, with Canterbury’s Paul Dunn (1988), the Bulldogs’ Willie Mason (2004) and Manly’s Brent Kite (2008) flying the flag for props.

Six locks have picked up the prize – though that figure was inflated by a run of four No.13 victors in seven years from 1989-95. Sea Eagles ball-player Glenn Stewart (2011) and the Rabbitohs’ broken-face hero Sam Burgess (2014) the most recent lock winners.

Cronulla’s Luke Lewis was the last forward to win the Churchill in 2016 (though it should have gone to controversial front-row match-winner Andrew Fifita) – the fourth second-rower to collect the honour.

The top forwards in the Churchill Medal market are Penrith lock Isaah Yeo ($9.00) and Parramatta second-rower Shaun Lane ($21, undoubtedly affected by his match-turning display in the prelim). Panthers prop James Fisher-Harris ($23), game-breaking second-row teammate Viliame Kikau ($26) and dynamic Eels back-rower Isaiah Papali’i ($34) have to be considered great chances on Sunday night, too.

Fisher-Harris and Papali’i – as well as Dylan Brown – would break new ground as the first New Zealander to ascend the dais and collect the Churchill Medal.

Meanwhile, no centres or wingers have ever won the Clive Churchill Medal. The Panthers’ powerhouse flankman Brian To’o ($51) is the shortest-priced to create history for the three-quarters – solid value but the only player numbered 2-5 worth considering.

*Odds correct at 9am Friday October 23

BET ON THE 2022 CLIVE CHURCHILL MEDAL HERE:

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