OPINION

Laurie Daley names his top performers for NRL season 2020

Nathan Cleary and father Ivan have been top performers in season 2020. Photo: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
Nathan Cleary and father Ivan have been top performers in season 2020. Photo: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

We are a week out from the finals, the top eight is set in stone, albeit some positions could change, and for half the teams in the competition, their season will be over come the end of the weekend and they'll be out of the bubble.

So now is as good a time as any for me to present my 2020 NRL award winners.

For want of a better name, let's call them the Daley M's.

Player of the Year: Nathan Cleary

A clear standout for me. Cleary has taken his game to another level this season and is a big reason why the Penrith Panthers turned the minor premiership battle into a one-horse race several weeks ago.

Given full command of running the Panthers after James Maloney departed at the end of last season, Cleary has thrived on the extra responsibility and has been the dominant playmaker in the comp.

If an Australian side was picked right now, it would be hard to leave him out.

I remember a game against the Cowboys during the season that summed him up.

His side was struggling at halftime but Cleary came out in the second half and just took it upon himself to win it almost on his own.

Coach of the Year: Ivan Cleary

Impossible to go past the Panthers coach. His side, hardly one of the premiership fancies when the season kicked off, has lost just once all season. It's an amazing stat given the difficulties with COVID and the fact they didn't make the top eight last year.

Not even the most diehard Panthers fan would have predicted a minor premiership on the back of just one defeat.

With a great blend of experience and youth, Cleary has his side playing a great brand of footy with enormous confidence and don't worry, they will take a power of stopping in the finals.

Rookie of the Year: Harry Grant

Grant has been one of the few real shining lights in an otherwise dismal season for the Wests Tigers.

He was rated highly when loaned out for the season by Melbourne Storm but few expected him to have the sort of impact he's had.

A future Queensland Origin player, he's creative and whole-hearted and has made a huge impression.

Just edges out the Panthers' dynamic young centre Stephen Crighton.

Captain of the Year: Cameron Smith

How do you go past the Melbourne Storm marvel?

His longevity is one thing but to still be among the most influential players and leaders in the competition is something else altogether. The way he dictates the tempo of games like he does and marshals his troops is the reason why the Storm has been the most consistent team in the NRL for more than a decade.

Positional awards

FULLBACK: James Tedesco

For his lofty standards, the Sydney Roosters superstar has had a few flat spots this season but is a match-winner who has done just that on more than a few occasions for his side. Eels' Clint Gutherson has been a dominant figure for his side and finishes only marginally behind Tedesco.

WING: Brett Morris

What can you say about this bloke?

He's just an outstanding professional without a weakness who has never been in better form. Morris might be getting on a bit but he still has speed, anticipation, is a fine defender, is great in the air and is a terrific finisher. Reliability plus who can break open a game. Everything you want in a winger.

CENTRE: Stephen Crighton

Crighton's been a real find for the Panthers. A big, dynamic young ball runner who is an outstanding prospect and I can only see him getting better and better. He's got a cool head for a rookie and looks like he thrives on a challenge. Can see him having a real impact in the finals.

FIVE-EIGHTH: Jack Wighton

Just gets the nod in front of the Sydney Roosters' Luke Keary.

Wighton has stepped up big time for the Raiders into a leadership role this season and taken on far more responsibility with Josh Hodgson missing. He's a dynamic runner of the footy but his all-round game has gone to another level in 2020. If the Raiders go deep into the playoffs, he'll be a major factor.

HALFBACK: Nathan Cleary

LOCK: Nathan Brown

I love the way this bloke plays. He sails close to the wind at times but plays the game for the Eels at a million miles an hour, coming off the back fence like he does and is the type of player who can lift his teammates around him. His whole-hearted efforts are one of the chief reasons the Eels should finish in the top four.

SECOND ROW: Viliame Kikau

A big part of the Panthers' lethal left edge who runs over the top of defenders for fun.

He's big, he's fast, is skillful with the footy and every opposing edge forward's nightmare. Is a real go-to man for the Panthers and why wouldn't he be. He's been almost unstoppable close to the line and will be a major force in the big games.

PROP: Josh Papalii

He's been the mainstay of the Raiders' pack all season.

He's big, mobile and has a great motor. Always lays a foundation for his side and came up with the most inspirational play of the season when he chased Titans halfback Jamal Fogarty for 40 metres and ankle-tapped him from behind to prevent a certain try.

HOOKER: Cameron Smith

MY ROUND 20 TIPS

Broncos, Knights, Roosters, Panthers, Sharks, Eels, Sea Eagles, Dragons.

This story Laurie Daley names his top performers for NRL season 2020 first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.