ONE OF the problems with the Man of Steel award is nobody knows exactly what it is supposed to be honouring.
The name – which originates from when the award was sponsored by a steel manufacturing company – suggests it should go to the toughest competitor, but it tends to be regarded as for Super League’s best player.
The two aren’t necessarily the same thing and – as this column has pointed out in the past – it would simplify matters if the award was split into player of the year and a separate Man of Steel, for the toughest and fairest.
Jamie Peacock should have been Man of Steel in each of the past two seasons, though Danny Brough and Daryl Clark were worthy players of the year.
Another issue is who decides the winner. At the moment all Super League players have a vote, for their top-three from rival clubs. A shortlist is then drawn up and a panel choose the winner.
Player’s player of the year would be a prestigious honour, but Man of Steel should be decided by the coaches. They are the ones who watch the most rugby and, in matters like this, can usually be relied upon for a fair opinion.
It is ridiculous that at least one of the two most influential players over the past decade – Peacock and Kevin Sinfield – will finish his rugby league playing career without a Man of Steel trophy to show for his efforts at Leeds Rhinos.
Peacock, winner in 2005 with Bradford Bulls, is a phenomenon and probably the best signing from another club Leeds have ever made. Bradford’s decline and Rhinos’ dominance began when he moved clubs and that is no coincidence. Leeds would not have won five Grand Final titles and two Challenge Cups without him and the same applies to Sinfield, who has set a host of records which will take years to match.
Both should be serious contenders for Man of Steel this season and not just for sentimental reasons. At 37, Peacock’s performances are as dominant as ever, while Sinfield’s game-management and goal kicking are still the best in the business. Sinfield is the ultimate professional and he has had to cope with extra pressure this year, following the announcement of his move to Yorkshire Carnegie Rugby Union Club at the end of the season.
He was dropped to the bench or from the side altogether for a spell in mid-season, until an injury to Liam Sutcliffe forced coach Brian McDermott’s hand and since then he has had a huge influence on the team who are Challenge Cup champions and top of the Super-8s table.
Sinfield won’t win the award this year and it’s unlikely he will even be shortlisted, though Peacock has a chance. There are good candidates at other clubs, for example St Helens’ Alex Walmsley or his fellow prop Chris Hill, who has been a shining light during Warrington Wolves’ poor season. But Leeds have been the best and most consistent team, despite their post-Wembley slump and a blip in April and May and should have their first winner since Iestyn Harris way back in 1998.
Zak Hardaker has developed into Super League and England’s best full-back. He is an outstanding defender and one of the competition’s best attacking players from broken play.
He has had problems off the field, which may count against him, but deserves credit for the way he has put those behind him. Kallum Watkins is one of the best centres in the world and has had a magnificent season. He may well make the shortlist.
But this year’s Man of Steel should be Rhinos prop Adam Cuthbertson. He ticks all the boxes, as Super League’s best player in 2015 and the one who has had the biggest impact on the competition.
A half-back in a front-rower’s body, Cuthbertson has made a record number of offloads and his teammates’ ability to play off his has been a major factor in their success this year.
Finally, on a related subject, congratulations to West Leeds under-13s manager Laura Dimberline who was named community champion in the Kingstone Press Championship awards. The game wouldn’t exist without people like her.