Nathan Cleary went close last year and Isaah Yeo was running second when voting went behind closed doors after round 12, but another Panther has emerged as a genuine bolter to take out the Dally M Medal.
Only diehard Penrith fans would have picked Dylan Edwards at the start of the year to be in the running for the game’s most prestigious award.
Because for all his hard work and effort plays, he’s one of the few fullbacks that rarely comes up with the flashy tries that make the highlights reels.
But 2022 could be the year Penrith’s most underrated player finally gets the plaudits he deserves, with plenty of experts and many of his teammates tipping the fitness freak to go close when the award is handed out next month.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone be so consistent, so I think it’s fair to say he could win it,” hooker Api Koroisau said.
“His work ethic takes him to the next level. He understands his role in the team and he does that to the best of his ability every single week. It makes such a huge difference when he’s on the field.
“His body is battered and bruised every week but he keeps on turning up. You can always count on him.”
Edwards was on 13 points when voting went behind closed doors, six behind Dragons halfback Ben Hunt.
While Hunt will always poll when the Dragons win, there haven’t been many of those lately. It’s why Edwards and Cronulla’s Nicho Hynes are in the mix because their teams have been winning nearly every week.
Edwards has a few other things on his side. He didn’t play State of Origin, he’s only missed one game this season and he won’t have to contend with Cleary because he’s out suspended for a dangerous spear tackle.
“Dyl is on another level,” returning front-rower James Fisher-Harris said.
“What he does for our team is unreal.
“He organises everything from the back and it makes everything so much easier. He saves tries, puts his body on the line and takes balls on the full every time so us big boys don’t have to run back so far.”
Edwards is the only player to have broken through the 4000m barrier this season, while James Tedesco is the only first-choice fullback to have broken more tackles than him in 2022.
His ability and willingness to bring the ball back with as much vigour as possible is what separates him from other fullbacks as he looks to become the fourth custodian in five years to claim the Dally M.
“I honestly don’t see it. I’ve got a social media account but I don’t really use it so I don’t see what people are saying,” Edwards said of the Dally M chatter.
“It’s nice to hear people throwing my name out there, but that’s an individual accolade. I play a team sport and that’s all I care about. Stuff like that would be great, but I’m here to win a team prize.”
For someone who touches the ball as often as Edwards does, it’s worth noting that he’s only made 16 errors from 21 games this season. Compare that to Tedesco (20) and Gutherson (27) and it’s clear he’s one of the safest players in the league.
“I’m a bit more confident this year, and I guess that comes with playing more footy,” he said following a disrupted pre-season.
“I’ve been lucky to play this year without any major injuries, touch wood, and that just helps me to build combinations on the paddock.”
The 26-year-old is also one of the toughest guys in the league and played last season’s grand final with a broken bone in his foot.
He’s been bashed all year but finds a way to soldier on, and a lot of that comes down to his freakish fitness levels.
“There are usually a few younger guys who train with us, so there’s often one young guy who’s in and around him during the fitness drills,” Koroisau said.
“But that’s only for the first rep. If we do a second lap or rep of something, that’s when Dyl pulls away from everyone. I don’t know where he gets it from.
“He’s a greyhound. He takes off and he never comes back.”
The respect Edwards has around the club is evident and it was little surprise to see him named as a co-captain earlier in the year.
That was when the Panthers were missing a stack of players to Origin, something Edwards is unlikely to ever experience given the likes of Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic and Ryan Papenhuyzen are ahead of him.
The game’s most humble player isn’t jealous and he won’t have any problems later in the year when he sees plenty of teammates in the UK at the World Cup.
“I’ll be watching it from home,” the 2016 Junior Kangaroos fullback said.
“It’s exciting because it provides a better prospect for fans. Tedesco has been the best fullback for a number of years. I’ve really enjoyed watching him go around and I think it’s good for the game to see so many players in good form.”