A few weeks ago Kalyn Ponga looked a certainty to snare the Dally M Medal, but Damien Cook’s late-season form has shaken up the market for the NRL’s most prestigious individual honour.
The 20-year-old Ponga, who opened the season as a $251 longshot for the Dally M Medal, was among the front-runners until voting went secret after Round 12.
But his form at fullback for Newcastle has rarely been anything less than electric and he firmed into favouritism in the post-Origin period.
Kalyn Ponga goes BANG off the right foot!
— League Live (@RLeagueLive) August 3, 2018
What a great kid Kalyn Ponga is 🙌🙌🙌 pic.twitter.com/GTwvi4A3sw
— Telegraph Sport (@telegraph_sport) August 7, 2018
He has been joined as $3.00 co-favourite by South Sydney hooker Damien Cook, however, after the NSW Origin No.9’s man-of-the-match display in the Rabbitohs’ win over Melbourne.
Cook’s dummy-half brilliance and industrious defensive displays have rendered him one of the individual stars of 2018 – a huge reason why Souths have been backed into second favourites to win the NRL premiership at $3.80.
His stunning solo try against the Storm last week was one of many unforgettable attacking moments Cook has produced this year. But no one has a more stacked 2018 highlights reel than Ponga.
— Woody & Slugs do League (@woodyandslugs) August 3, 2018
— Rabbitoh Warren (@Rabbitohs) August 4, 2018
A win for either would be huge: Cook only assumed the starting hooker role this year, while Ponga – who is in line to become the youngest-ever Dally M Medal recipient – is in his maiden full season of NRL football.
Of course, there’s still four games left to rustle up more votes, and that’s where Cook holds a major advantage over Ponga. The Rabbitohs are at the top of the NRL ladder, while the Knights are out of finals contention in 11th.
— Palmerbet (@PalmerbetAU) August 7, 2018
After this Friday’s blockbuster against the Roosters, Souths have a relatively soft remaining draw against the Broncos, Raiders and Tigers. Newcastle will head into each of their last four games against the Warriors, Panthers, Sharks and Dragons as underdogs.
Players from losing teams regular pick up votes, but it’s rare to grab the maximum three Dally M votes if your side gets beaten.
The dark horse remains Warriors captain and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, the outright third favourite at $9.00.
RTS was only a few votes off the pace at the end of Round 12 and almost certainly picked up three votes in another five-star showing against the Dragons last weekend. He was also among the best afield in wins over the Cowboys and Broncos and losses to the Sharks and Storm.
— NRL (@NRL) June 15, 2018
Big Ken, Blairy and Jazz were outstanding, but a captain's knock stole the show in the Vodafone Warriors' gutsy 18-12 triumph over St George-Illawarra Dragons.#NRLDragonsWarriors #ThisWarriorsLife #WarriorNation #letsgonewarriorshttps://t.co/uZKhw9nPsq
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) August 4, 2018
The unpredictable Warriors have a handy remaining draw, squaring off against Ponga’s Knights on Friday, then the Bulldogs, Panthers and Raiders. Tuivasa-Sheck’s peerless consistency could see him make a late charge for the medal.
Luke Brooks ($11.00) and 2017 winner Cameron Smith ($13.00) are still getting some support, but early favourites James Maloney ($17.00) and Gareth Widdop ($19.00) have blown out thanks to some dusty recent form.
But for now, punters are all about Cook and Ponga in one of the most fascinating Dally M Medal races in recent memory.