2023 promises to be the most dramatic Dally M count in history, courtesy of a revamped voting system. Only seven genuine Dally M contenders remain after 22 rounds, all vying for the NRL’s top individual gong.
The NRL landscape is a different beast in 2023, with the (Redcliffe) Dolphins revitalising the competition and ensuring an unprecedented season structure.
The Dally M voting system was also given a shake-up, due to lingering questions regarding a perceived lack of consistency, confidentiality, and overall legitimacy.
Let’s run through the format that has set up an all star list of Dally M contenders and then go through exactly who they are.
Dally M contenders and voting system explained
First, let’s just explain how the voting system now works.
How does Dally M voting work?
–Two judges hand out 3-2-1, rather than one
Instead of one judge casting 3-2-1 votes per match, there will now be two; meaning a pool of 12 points per game is on offer and a maximum of six per player, instead of the historical three. This change is expected to provide huge fluctuations throughout and a more exciting final count. Find the NRL’s full breakdown here.
Judges are now also confidential, in a bid to avoid any potential media leaks. And with more votes on offer; the cream should rise to the top.
When the votes went behind closed doors after Round 12, the leaderboard was a who’s who of NRL royalty. After running the magnifying glass over the form, injuries, suspensions, and run-home of those featured; seven Dally M contenders emerged.
So who’s set to take home the 2023 Dally M Medal?
The top 7 Dally M contenders
Payne Haas – 30 points after Round 12
It has been a rocky 12 months in the personal life of Payne, but the hulking Bronco hasn’t let the drama distract him from business. Clearly the most dominant forward in the competition when votes went private, Haas is striving to become the first prop to claim the Dally M Medal.
He likely polled steadily in his five games since; notably against the Dolphins in Round 18 where his damaging middle work laid the platform for a historic victory at the GABBA.
An ankle injury stemming from this contest fortunately only resulted in one missed NRL game, but a tough run home will require peak form if he is to create history.
Nathan Cleary – 27 points after Round 12
After placing himself in a healthy position after Round 12, 2023 was shaping as the season Cleary would finally crown his domestic dominance with a Dally M Medal. But a hamstring injury after the Origin opener and subsequent five-game layoff has placed this dream in jeopardy.
An influential return versus the Bulldogs in Round 21 has provided new hope, though.
Hungry to make up for lost ground, a dominant final six rounds under the new scoring system could catapult Cleary to a famous comeback victory.
Harry Grant – 25 points after Round 12
Following a maiden Dally M top 10 result in 2022, Grant rocketed to the top of the leaderboard to begin this season — polling 20 of his 25 points after six rounds. And while inconsistent form throughout the Origin period then placed him on the back foot, starring performances against the Sharks and Roosters in Rounds 15 and 20 may keep him in the hunt.
The Storm need Grant to reach optimum form if they’re to go deep into September.
If successful and he secures a Dally M Medal in the process, the Storm will equal Cronulla’s record of four individual winners.
Nicho Hynes – 25 points after Round 12
The reigning Dally M Medalist missed the opening three games of 2023 due to injury, but quickly worked his way into contention with 25 points over the next eight rounds.
Just as things seemed to be continuing on their merry way, his unfortunate Origin debut and ensuing omission placed his season in peril. Cronulla’s form then dipped dramatically.
And despite the club’s well-publicised struggles against top opposition, a semi-recent soft three-week stretch against teams 15 to 17 has arguably kept him in contention; two tries and eight try-assists registered in that period.
The Sharks desperately need to arrest their downward spiral if they’re to make the top 8. If they do, Hynes will be instrumental and could become the first player to win back-to-back Dally M’s since Johnathan Thurston in 2014-15.
Shaun Johnson – 22 points after Round 12
If Johnson’s return to form doesn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, you’re not human.
The prodigy, who dazzled the NRL with electric feats of skill and athleticism during his first stint at the Warriors, suffered a career-threatening loss of form and influence at Cronulla from 2019-2021. While many questioned whether retirement was his best course of action after an underwhelming return to the Warriors last year, ‘SJ’ has completely turned the screws.
Still exhibiting much of the flair displayed during his early years, he is now the complete package. His game control and kick-chase are second-to-none. Plus, a newfound defensive resolve, that is registering a career-high 92.7% tackle efficiency, makes Johnson one of the best defensive halves in the NRL.
He is likely leading the count after Round 21 and will be extremely difficult to rundown in his current vein of form — especially given the Warriors’ run home, which has the side poised to snag an unlikley top four spot and guaranteed home final.
Cody Walker – 22 points after Round 12
There is no more dangerous half in the competition than Cody Walker. His 8 tries and 21 try assists thus far in 2023, coupled with his three-year average of 13 tries and 25 assists across 2020-2022, paints the potent picture of a player involved in more game-breaking plays than any other. Albeit overdue, his Origin selection and Man of the Match performance in Game 3 for New South Wales were just reward for his NRL influence.
Despite the Bunnies losing more than they won since Round 12, Walker will poll favourably in their two wins and Round 13 defeat to the Raiders.
With a generous run home and the return of Latrell Mitchell at his disposal, a dominant finish to the regular season and first Rabbitohs’ Dally M Medal since the late Robert Laurie in 1980 is not out of the question.
Adam Reynolds – 19 points after Round 12
The man who shoulders the burden of delivering Brisbane their first Premiership in 17 years also has a golden opportunity to become just the second Bronco to win the Dally M since fellow diminutive halfback Allan Langer in 1996.
Significant contributions in their six wins since voting went silent have Reynolds in a powerful position. But he will be forced to undoubtedly earn the accolades, with tough opponents awaiting.
As one of the most influential NRL halves over the past decade, he would be a worthy and popular winner.