OPINION

Laurie Daley's best performers of the 2021 NRL season

CUT ABOVE: Laurie Daley says that Manly's Tom Trbojevic is the most influential and best player in the game. Photo: Jono Searle/Getty Images
CUT ABOVE: Laurie Daley says that Manly's Tom Trbojevic is the most influential and best player in the game. Photo: Jono Searle/Getty Images

We are closing in on the finals with just two rounds remaining and the top eight is not yet set in stone after a wonderful season, despite the COVID restrictions, highlighted by some outstanding performances and performers.

It's as good a time as any to present my 2021 NRL award winners or the Daley M's.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tom Trbojevic

What can you say about Tommy T's season. After missing the first month, he returned to almost singlehandedly turn Manly from wooden spoon contender to title contender overnight. He is now the most influential and best player in the game.

An inspiring figure in the Manly team, the side's winning percentage goes through the roof when he plays and plummets when he doesn't. He's big, he's strong, a dynamic runner of the footy, a fantastic ball player and just a major threat anywhere he bobs up on the field.

Even more significant is his influence on his teammates when he is on the field. He just plays at a different level to just about everybody else in the game.

COACH OF THE YEAR:Craig Bellamy

When his career is over, he will go down as one of the greatest coaches, if not the greatest, of all time after what he has done with this Melbourne Storm side.

How he has managed to reinvigorate his side after the loss of so many champion players to the point where they have won a record 19 straight games this season is the most remarkable coaching feat I have ever witnessed.

The seamless way he has changed the way his side is playing to suit the new rules and compensate for the loss of arguably the game's greatest ever player in Cameron Smith at the end of last season says it all about this wonderful coach.

CAPTAIN OF THE YEAR: James Tedesco

Against all the odds given the club's horrendous injury toll, the Sydney Roosters currently sit in the top four and no one has had a bigger influence on that than Teddy.

His form has been sublime for most of the season and he leads his team exactly the way you want your captain to lead - from the front. He's tenacious, relentless with his involvement and the quality of his touches is second to none. We talk about Tommy T and his remarkable form, but the truth is, Teddy is only a struck match behind him the way he has performed and lifted his patched-up Roosters outfit.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Sam Walker

Young Walker has come into this injury-ravaged Roosters side out of necessity this season in one of the most demanding and unforgiving positions in the game at halfback and just thrived.

To be able to carry the burden of steering the side around the way he has, come up with the attacking plays he has and at the same time, handle the physical demands has been remarkable for a kid so young and slight of stature. He's got a good kicking game, he's a great passer, has great vision, but the thing I love most about him is he is not afraid to try the unconventional and doesn't fear making a mistake when he does.

Positional awards

FULLBACK: Tom Trbojevic

WING: Brian To'o

A pocket rocket who has had an outstanding 18 months. His yardage numbers are phenomenal and the way he brings the ball back from the back-field is second to none and a big reason why the Panthers seem to be forever on the front foot.

CENTRE: Joey Manu

I'm a huge fan of the way Manu plays and particularly the way he roams around looking to get involved. Invariably, he is a threat almost every time he touches the footy with not only his footwork but also his great off-loading ability. Has a great ability to find space and make something out of nothing.

FIVE-EIGHTH: Cody Walker

Cody has just taken his game and the Rabbitohs to another level this season and he's now one of the most threatening attacking players in the NRL. He has this ability to mesmerise defenders with his passing and vision and if Souths win the comp, Walker will have had his hands all over it.

HALFBACK: Nathan Cleary

The Penrith halfback has just continued on from where he left off last season. He's now the best playmaker in the game whose game management is first class. Always plays with a cool head, and while there is structure there, he has also added some off-the-cuff stuff into his game as well.

LOCK: Cam Murray

I love this bloke because he has it all and I doubt Souths can win the comp without him the way he's played this season.

His greatest attribute is his competitiveness. I don't think I've ever seen him take a shortcut. His work rate is second to none. He can ball-play if needed but is also a great line runner for Walker and Adam Reynolds.

SECOND ROW: Angus Crichton

He has been outstanding for the Roosters this season and I love the fact that every time he takes a carry or makes a tackle, it looks like it means something to him. He's tough and has good speed for a backrower.

PROP: Payne Haas

He has been a rock for the Broncos with the quality of his work in attack and defence on top of the big minutes he plays. He's the best prop in the game right now.

HOOKER: Brandon Smith

This bloke has become one of the most valuable players in the game this season. He's had a great year with his willingness to compete hard on every play, his greatest attribute.

Tips for remaining games 

Raiders, Rabbitohs, Dragons, Sharks, Storm, Eagles, Panthers.