The current Dally M system has a few flaws, but the absence of one of the game’s all-time greats in the top ten is arguably the biggest.
One thing is clear – Dally M voting will never be perfect, and discussion about how to fix it isn’t going away any time soon. But what are the biggest problems? And can they be solved?
The voting system is back in the headlines this week after it emerged that despite having six try assists across the Sydney Roosters’ opening two wins, Luke Keary is yet to earn a single vote. It prompted Phil Gould to say he hasn’t liked the system for 30 years.
But one of the game’s greats has defended the current model, adding that no change would be without flaws of its own.
“There’s never going to be a perfect system that everybody thinks is right – but I think the one we have now is pretty good,” Gallen told Wide World of Sports.
“I’m all for things evolving, and there’s plenty of things in the game that have needed that, I think progression is good. But I’ve just got to be honest, there’s no perfect system and I think the one we have now is the best at this point in time.”
Gallen said he would opt against adopting several other ideas that have been floated, including giving each player a rating out of 10 after each game.
“I don’t think that’s a better system. Again, that comes down to opinion so why not just give the 3, 2, 1 on the day? I don’t see any other benefit in that system,” he said.
He also rejected the idea of having referees vote, saying “they have enough on their plate.”
Another suggestion has been to adopt the MVP system which American sports use, where a panel of ex-players, media, and officials each pick their top player (or list of several players) once at the end of the season. The person who accrues the most points overall, wins.
“It sounds easy enough, but I guarantee you if you have a group of however many people, there’s no way they’ll have watched every game throughout the year,” Gallen said.
“I like the fact that the Dally M judge has to sit there, watch the game, and at the end they have their opinion on who the best players were.”
As Gallen said, no solution will ever be perfect. But here’s five big problems with the current system:
It’s biased towards regional teams
If you want to poll well in the Dally M, you’re much better off not playing for a Sydney club.
In the past decade, 45 of the 80 (56 per cent) top eight teams have been from Sydney – but only 39 of the 104 (there was a three-way tie for tenth in 2019 and a five-way tie for eighth in 2015) players on these leaderboards have been from those clubs.
That mark is a measly 36 per cent of all top ten vote-getters.
Of course, several of the game’s recent superstars spent the bulk of their careers at the Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys – but that still doesn’t account for such a massive disparity.
It’s not hard to speculate on why this is the case. Regional teams have their own media outlets, which are geared specifically towards those teams, and great players at those clubs stand out more as a result.
It treats every game equally
One of the biggest problems with the current system is that every game during the regular season is given equal weighting.
For example, in the final round of this season, the Raiders and Roosters could be playing for a top four berth or even the minor premiership. In that same round, there will be combinations of two teams playing for absolutely no prizes, and with zero consequences. These games will all award the same number of Dally M points.
Even for individual players, this is where the per-game system lets them down. Is it as impressive that Luke Keary put four tries on in a 40-6 win over the Tigers in Round Two as it would be if he set up two and scored the match-winner in a nail-biter against the Rabbitohs or Storm? Probably not.
It’s biased towards playmakers
Nobody argues that Jason Taumalolo is the best forward in the game, or at least among the best players. But aside from his win in 2016 and what would have been a runner-up spot in 2017 if not for a point deduction, he has never otherwise polled in the top five.
In fact, in the past decade, excluding hookers, this is how many forwards made the top five each year: zero, one, zero, one, two (when Taumalolo won), one, one, zero, zero, one. Are we seriously saying that in the past decade, only seven of the best 50 seasons have come from forwards?
Gallen himself is the only forward to finish in the top five more than once – but he said those in the engine room aren’t getting into the sport to win individual awards.
“I totally understood my role in the game and I knew the person that I was. I never got to the end of the year and went to a Dally M night and thought ‘I should have won that,'” he said.
“I had no issue. To win the positional award three times was a great honour, but I was never concerned with winning player of the year.”
Since the award’s inception, Ray Price, Gavin Miller and Taumalolo are the only forwards to take home the gold.
Greg Inglis never finished in the top ten
This fact was triple-checked for certainty, but it’s true. Greg Inglis, inarguably one of the best handful of players to pick up a Steeden in the 21st century, was never deemed worthy of a spot in the top ten players in a single season.
Even in 2008 when he won best five-eighth and in 2013 when he won best fullback, he struggled to poll points overall.
If you were to ask any rugby league fan to rank the best ten players of the past 15 years, Inglis would be on every list somewhere. Just not in the official history books.
Did Inglis suffer by virtue of the fact Cam Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk all took points from him at the Storm and Sam Burgess, Issac Luke and Adam Reynolds did the same at the Rabbitohs? Possibly. This brings us to the most-glaring issue of the Dally M awards…
It rewards standout players in mediocre teams
Gallen conceded that this was the one problem he had with the current system – for example in 2018, two players from the eighth-placed Warriors, two from the 11th-placed Newcastle Knights, Luke Brooks of the ninth-placed Wests Tigers and Ash Taylor from the 14th-placed Gold Coast Titans all finished in the top ten.
Roughly 20 per cent of top ten finishers in the past decade came from teams that didn’t make the finals.
“Whenever some of the lower-ranked teams have wins, or even tight games, generally the good players in their team will poll because they haven’t got a lot of other competition,” Gallen said.
“If you do have a weaker side with an outstanding player, they’ll obviously poll points.
“That’s why it was such a phenomenal feat that Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk all won it, because they’re all taking points off each other.”
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