This article was first written for NRL.com.
In line with a lot of recent developments in recent years, the women’s Dally M has only been around for a few years but is quickly building a tradition of its own.
The date has been marked in my calendar for several weeks now – next Wednesday is the Dally M Awards.
Apart from the glitz, glamour and admiring all the fabulous frocks and suits it’s one of my favourite nights of the year because for most teams their season is over and it gives the players the opportunity not just to celebrate the season that was, but also to celebrate each other.
One of the most prestigious awards a player can receive, the men’s award was named after Henry Herbert “Dally” Messenger – a man who was a key part of establishing rugby league in Australia.
It was first awarded to Robert Laurie from the South Sydney Rabbitohs 28 years ago but in 2015 a new tradition kicked off when Jennie-Sue Hoepper was named female player of the year at the Dally M awards ceremony.
At that point, it was very significant because women’s footy was still a seedling, waiting to be nurtured.
Since then, another two talented women have received this award – Kezie Apps in 2016 and Simaima Taufa in 2017 – and women’s rugby league has continued to grow, manifesting itself in the inaugural Holden Women’s Premiership.
Given the growth and focus on the women’s game this year, the process for voting has changed.
Previously, the games that were taken into consideration were international games and the annual Interstate Challenge (now rebranded to State of Origin).
This year, votes will only be given for the first three matches of the NRLW. Similar to the process for the men’s Dally M Medal, a 3-2-1 voting system is being used at each game.
Despite it being a short season, this will mean the best NRLW player will be presented with the award, irrespective who plays in the grand final next Sunday.
The three selectors on the panel are the NRL’s elite female pathways manager, Jamie Feeney, integrity operations manager Karyn Murphy – a former Jillaroos skipper- and Australian coach Brad Donald.
After the footy we’ve seen in the first two rounds, they have a tough choice.
So who are the contenders? I’ve picked one player from each of the four NRLW teams.
Isabelle Kelly – Sydney Roosters
She was the standout player for NSW at the State of Origin and she has continued that stellar form into the NRLW. We are now at a point where fans and commentators are surprised if Kelly does not score at least one try per game.
In the first game, she looked dangerous every time she touched the ball, scoring the Roosters’ first try, but I wonder how many more she would have scored if the team had been better at getting her good early ball. Kelly was instrumental in round two, making two line breaks, six tackle busts and scoring another four-pointer.
The Roosters are struggling, but Kelly certainly isn’t.
Honey Hireme – St George Illawarra Dragons
One of my favourite players to watch in the NRLW, Hireme showed she is one of the Kiwi Ferns’ most talented player even though the Dragons were on the wrong end of a 30-4 result in round one. She was the only member of her team to run more than 100 metres and she also made 11 tackle breaks.
In the round-two win over the Warriors, she ran 170 metres from 10 carries, made four tackle breaks and scored an 80-metre try. There were concerns for Dragons fans when Sammy Bremner was ruled out through injury just before the game, but Hireme proved to be a fitting replacement.
Ali Brigginshaw – Brisbane Broncos
There are many contenders in the Broncos team including Chelsea Baker, Ngatokotoru Arakua and Brittany Breayley but it’s very hard to go past their captain. Brigginshaw has been dominant in both opening games – in the first game, she scored a try, set up two more and ran for 105 metres and last weekend she scored Brisbane’s first try and ensured the Roosters spent plenty of time in their own half, kicking for 188 metres.
The Broncos have been the dominant team in the NRLW due in no small part to Brigginshaw’s leadership. She has dreamt of being a Brisbane Bronco her entire life and she’s certainly demonstrating how much the opportunity means to her every single week.
Laura and Hilda Mariu – New Zealand Warriors
I know I said I’d only pick one player per team, but it’s very hard to choose between the NRLWs power couple in Laura and Hilda Mariu. Both players dominated in round one – Hilda made history when she scored the first try in the NRLW and managed to contain the explosive Roosters’ right-edge pairing of Isabelle Kelly and Taleena Simon. Not to be outdone by her partner, Laura was also impressive. She controlled the game from start to finish, set up a try in the first half and also put a hit on Kelly late in the second half to ensure victory.
The pair were generally contained in round two by the Dragons, but with a win needed on Friday night to be a chance in the grand final, I’m confident both will be ready for a big performance against the Broncos.
As for who will be crowned Dally M Female Player of the Year next Wednesday night … may the best woman win.