The Dally M Medal is awarded to the player voted as the NRL’s ‘Player of the Year’. While Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga might not be the best player running around at the moment, he’s a hot tip to win is after topping the leaderboard through eight rounds.
The general consensus was Kalyn Ponga would end up being a pretty good football player.
His skillset is the sort that, if managed correctly, is destined for greatness.
However, few saw the 20-year-old leading the Dally M votes eight rounds into his full first-grade season.
The Knights fullback has been incredible throughout the opening rounds. He may only have one try himself, but that’s because he tends to send a teammate over the line instead. Ponga leads all fullbacks in the NRL with eight try assists in as many matches.
We all know about his footwork. The videos of his high-school rugby career had done the rounds long before he even smelt first grade. What has made him so great so soon is his veteran-like vision and decision making.
A terror on the left
All eight of Ponga’s try assists have gone down the left channel and almost all of them have come the same way.
It’s the same every time, but different.
Ponga receives the ball out the back and flicks on his near-undefendable goose step. What Ponga does next depends on the defender in front of him.
If he turns his shoulder inside, Ponga shifts the ball for his backrower or centre to run through the gap.
Here, you can see that the second Dylan Walker even motions inside – BANG – Ponga is making the pass for Nathan Ross to jog through for the match-winner.
Another favourite option for Ponga is getting his backrower one-on-one with the opposing half.
If the half is defending between his backrower and centre, Ponga attempts to beat the backrower with his step and force him to take action. With him occupied, he can’t help is little half who is left to tackle the 192 cm and 107 kg Fitzgibbon.
Poor Kodi Nikorima coming in at 174 cm and 83 kg had no chance here.
And finally, Ponga can send it wide.
As if his step wasn’t enough to worry about, he’s more than capable of beating the defence with a long ball out wide for his winger to catch and fall over the line.
Can he be the NRL’s best in 2018?
In all honesty, Ponga won’t be the best player in the NRL this season. He’s good, but he might not crack the top 10 if you were putting together an independent ranking.
The Dally M awards are a different story, though.
Ponga leads the votes at the moment and is a great chance at still being at the top by the end of Round 25.
While he might not be the best player in the game, the Dally M voting system has enough flaws that he could be recognised as such.
When the Knights win, you can almost guarantee Ponga receives at least two points. Three on most occasions.
When the Knights lose, Ponga is still a chance at a charity point given he’s undoubtedly the best player on an overachieving team.
Without Mitchell Pearce there to take a few points off him along the way, Ponga’s $11 odds to win the Dally M are an absolute steal. He’s going to pile on the points win, lose, or draw, while his nearest rivals not only have to out-point Ponga himself, but also their Dally M point-worthy teammates.
Only two players are ahead or alongside Ponga in the Dally M odds.
Gareth Widdop leads the way at $8, but it’s worth remembering he’s got a squad full of Origin and International representatives that will no doubt pinch a few points off him.
With Ponga at $11, Cameron Smith is the next player most fancied to win the award. However, as is always the case, his Storm side is laden with players putting their hand up for Dally M points every week.
If Ponga leads the Knights to enough wins that they play finals football, he is going to be towards the top of the Dally M leaderboard. At $11, it’s worth getting onboard early.