The Dally M system is well overdue for reform

This article was first written for and published by the Roar

Dally Messenger is remembered as one of the greatest rugby league players of all time, held in such high esteem that the Dally M Medal was named after him.

This medal is awarded annually to the best player in the NRL as judged by a panel of commentators and former players.

Unfortunately, despite the status of Messenger as a player, that hasn’t prevented a series of controversies and mishaps surrounding the voting and awarding of the medal.

This has included judges posting votes for games that they may not have watched live (or at all), and last year, the Daily Telegraph leaked that Jack Wighton was the winner prior to it being announced at the ceremony. Oops.

There have only been two rounds of footy in season 2021, yet questions about the Dally M voting process have arisen in both.

In Round 1, Darren Lockyer was a judge for the game between the Parramatta Eels and the Brisbane Broncos. Lockyer has been involved in judging for the Dally Ms for several years, but questions were raised because he was casting votes in a game involving a club that he is employed by.

I am not for a moment questioning Lockyer’s integrity, but given the number of games and the number of judges, wouldn’t it make sense for Lockyer not to cast votes on Broncos games?

Transparency is important in voting for an award and in the case of Brisbane and Lockyer, there is a conflict of interest. This conflict should be managed.

Darren Lockyer scores a try for the Maroons

Darren Lockyer in his playing days (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

This week, questions were asked about the votes put forward by Sam Thaiday for the game between the Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers, in which he awarded three points to Brett Morris, two to James Tedesco and one to Daine Laurie.

It has long been a habit of judges to award one point to the best player on the losing team. But why? Aren’t votes meant to go to the best players on the field, regardless of whether they are on the winning side or the losing side?

After Luke Keary’s performance in that game, including four try assists, it’s unusual he was awarded zero points.

Morris himself is questioning the system and has suggested it is “unfair” that he is leading the votes after two rounds.

“When Teddy and Keary do it consistently I don’t feel they’re being rewarded. They’re still playing at an extremely high level week in week out and they don’t get recognised, but they should,” he said.

Morris suggested a player like Tedesco is a victim of his own success, as fans and commentators expect excellence from him. The fullback regularly delivers but instead of being recognised as excellent each week, it’s simply recognised as what he does, week in, week out.

There are other flaws.

Because votes need to be awarded each game, the system works in favour of standout players in teams that do not have many of them.

Take the North Queensland Cowboys. I know Jason Taumalolo is injured right now, but given the lack of excellence in the Cowboys and the way Taumalolo plays, you wouldn’t be surprised if he received votes every week. There is certainly less competition in that squad for quality players to be awarded points.

Jason Taumalolo

Jason Taumalolo (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Compare that to a team like the Chooks, who have the likes of Boyd Cordner, James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Brett and Josh Morris (among others) all in contention each week.

Throughout the year, no doubt we will see points awarded to players based on their performances during the season rather than solely on their performance in a particular game.

If the Dally M Medal wants to be an accurate reflection of the best player in the NRL, then the voting system needs to be more intensive.

Could each player in a game be given a ranking out of ten and then those points be tallied up at the end of the season? Because it seems bleedingly obvious that the current system is not working.

Dally Messenger was one of the greatest players our game has ever seen. His award should reflect that excellence. To do this, the voting needs to change.