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The Dally Ms - a proud history of excellence with a dash of controversy

He was one of the best halfbacks of his generation, excelling in an era when play-making luminaries such as Andrew Johns, Allan Langer and Ricky Stuart grabbed most of the headlines.

But just when he was set to be recognised as the game's best player, Craig Gower had the rug pulled out from under him by a pay dispute between the NRL and the Rugby League Players' Association.

It was 2003 and Gower was said to be leading Dally M voting by a point heading into the final round.

He played a blinder in the season-ending game but rugby league's annual awards night was cancelled due to industrial action and Gower had to make do with leading the Panthers to grand final glory over the Roosters.

The only other year the Dally Ms didn't go ahead was 1997 due to the ARL-Super League split.

Held for the first time in 1980 and named after Henry Herbert 'Dally' Messenger, the prestigious event has become one of the most anticipated nights on the rugby league calendar, with players and their partners receiving the full red carpet treatment at Sydney's Circular Quay.

Panthers star James Maloney and wife Jessica Anderson at the 2016 Dally Ms.
Panthers star James Maloney and wife Jessica Anderson at the 2016 Dally Ms. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Messenger was born in Sydney in 1883 and was one of the game's first professional players. Standing just 1.72m, the goal-kicking centre represented NSW and Australia in rugby union before signing with Eastern Suburbs in 1908 for the inaugural season of the newly-formed NSW Rugby Football League, which evolved through time to today's NRL.

Former Wauchope boy Robert "Rocky" Laurie was the inaugural Dally M Medal winner after a standout 1980 campaign with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Johnathan Thurston is the most prolific Dally M winner, capturing the coveted medal in 2005, '07, '14 and '15, while Andrew Johns is a three-time recipient (1998, 99, '02).

Michael Potter held the record for the longest break between wins, claiming the award in 1984 while playing with the Bulldogs and again in 1991 after starring with the Dragons.

But Potter's mark was eclipsed by the mercurial Cameron Smith, who won his first Dally M Medal in 2006 before adding what many rugby league followers believed was a long overdue second Dally M in 2017.

Potter and Smith are among a group of two-time recipients alongside Peter Sterling (1986, '87), Cliff Lyons ('90, '94), Gavin Miller ('88, '89), Jarryd Hayne ('09, '14) and Cooper Cronk ('13, '16).

There have been two occasions when the award was shared by two players – Hayne and Thurston in 2014 and Cronk and Jason Taumalolo in 2016.

Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Newcastle young gun Kalyn Ponga are the favourites to take out the 2018 Dally M Medal, although there are several worthy contenders like Damien Cook, Luke Brooks, Valentine Holmes, Andrew Fifita, Issac Luke and James Maloney.

Former Panthers, NSW and Australia halfback Craig Gower.
Former Panthers, NSW and Australia halfback Craig Gower. ©NRL Photos

Dally M judges award 3-2-1 points to the top three players from every game of the 25-round regular season. Any player suspended during the season loses three points for every game missed through suspension.

Voting goes behind closed doors after round 12 and is kept secret until the Dally M awards night, adding to the intrigue and suspense as scores are gradually revealed.

All the Dally M winners

1980 Robert 'Rocky' Laurie (Rabbitohs)
1981 Steve Rogers (Sharks)
1982 Ray Price (Eels)
1983 Terry Lamb (Magpies)
1984 Michael Potter (Bulldogs)
1985 Greg Alexander (Panthers)
1986 Peter Sterling (Eels)
1987 Peter Sterling (Eels)
1988 Gavin Miller (Sharks)
1989 Gavin Miller (Sharks)
1990 Cliff Lyons (Sea Eagles)
1991 Michael Potter (Dragons)
1992 Gary Freeman (Roosters)
1993 Ricky Stuart (Raiders)
1994 Cliff Lyons (Sea Eagles)
1995 Laurie Daley (Raiders)
1996 Allan Langer (Broncos)
1997 not awarded
1998 Andrew Johns (Knights)
1999 Andrew Johns (Knights)
2000 Trent Barrett (Dragons)
2001 Preston Campbell (Sharks)
2002 Andrew Johns (Knights)
2003 not awarded
2004 Danny Buderus (Knights)
2005 Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys)
2006 Cameron Smith (Storm)
2007 Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys)
2008 Matt Orford (Sea Eagles)
2009 Jarryd Hayne (Eels)
2010 Todd Carney (Roosters)
2011 Billy Slater (Storm)
2012 Ben Barba (Bulldogs)
2013 Cooper Cronk (Storm)
2014 Jarryd Hayne (Eels)/Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys)
2015 Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys)
2016 Cooper Cronk (Storm)/Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)
2017 Cameron Smith (Storm)