Matt Orford Dally MEver improving Manly Sea Eagles skipper Matt Orford has held off strong challenges from Melbourne Storm duo Cameron Smith and Billy Slater to snare the NRL Dally M Medal for 2008, the most coveted and respected prize in League.

Orford had a long and nervous wait, as he was forced to endure a tight finish right until the final round – with both the Storm’s Slater and Smith narrowly missing out. “I’m shocked. Very surprised, very honoured. I’m lost for words. ” said Orford after accepting the Dally M medal from Wally Lewis.

In the end it was only 2 points separating Matt Orford from Billy Slater and Cameron Smith, Slater hurting from a 3 point deduction due to his suspension against the Dragons, the firey fullback handed a ban for punching Jason Nightingale.

It wasn’t only Orford surprised at his eventual victory, while a solid performer for the most part of Manly’s impressive season – the Ox didn’t make any representative teams in 2008 and was at times maligned for his poor kicking and final tackle plays.

Storm superstar Greg Inglis bagged a stack of awards, 3 in total for the ceremony – grabbing the coveted Five-eighth of the Year (an award many, including Inglis felt would be won by boom pivot for 2008 Terry Campese). Such was Campese’s form in the final weeks of the NRL he was a bolter for the Dally M prize after polling well in the last half of the year.

Other positions such as hooker of the year, were a dead rubber – with the brilliance of Cameron Smith, getting him yet another gong for rake of the year. Smith out pointing Danny Buderus, Robbie Farah and Michael Ennis for the trophy. Ennis the only slight challenger to Smith after running into some good form during 2008.
There was further celebration for Orford, the craft no.7 beating out a hot field including Cooper Cronk, Scotty Prince and Johnathan Thurston – for the halfback of the year award. Orford feeling his 2008 season could possibly have been the best of his career.

The Peter Frilingos Memorial Trophy for the Newspaper / Media Moment of the 2008 was nabbed by Greg Inglis for his ‘Air Jordan’ like jump and bat back, in laying on the touchdown for Mark Gasnier when Australia faced New Zealand in the Centenary Test at the SCG.

Amazingly boom custodian Billy Slater has never won the fullback of the year award before, however he broke his duck tonight and grabbed the gong in front of quality candidates such as Kurt Gidley, Karmichael Hunt and Brett Stewart.

In another award for the Storm’s Inglis, he took home the Representative Player of the Year after hot stints for the Maroons and the Australian team. Inglis was presented the gong by Team of the Century rake Noel Kelly. Inglis elated to get the award ahead of big guns Cameron Smith, Petero Civoniceva and Johnathan Thurston.

“I’m just happy to play footy anywhere,” Inglis confirmed when asked about his switch to pivot in 2008.

“To get this award is for all Queenslanders. I’m very glad to get this award.”

Adding to the swag of gongs for the Melbourne Storm – upcoming centre Israel Folau grabbed Centre of the Year and defeated Dragons guru Matt Cooper, former Bronco Brent Tate and returning Raider Joel Monaghan. Folau was an easy choice for this one, proving again his Rookie award in 2007 was no fluke as he continues to reach new heights.

Work-a-holic Raider Alan Tongue had a good night at the awards grabbing 2 trophies, for NRL team Captain of the Year. Tongue, who was presented the gong by Team of the Century player Johnny Raper, beat out heavy favourites Brisbane’s Darren Lockyer, Cameron Smith and the UK bound Danny Buderus. Alan Tongue also grabbing lock of the year where Craig Fitzgibbon was a big chance of knocking him off. Many surprised to see Greg Bird was still left in this award as a nomination after his recent alleged glassing antics.

“Hopefully we keep improving,” Tongue said, when talking about his sides NRL finals clash with the Sharks this weekend.

“I think we can (win). There’s a belief among the players and the coaching staff and that’s all that matters.”

It was a no-brainer choice for Winger of the Year with high flying Raider Colin Best a stand out winner, the likes of Anthony Quinn, Denan Kemp and Jason Nightingale all getting nominations in this category. Best adding to a handy tally of Raiders gongs throughout the night. Including Coach of the Year going to Neil Henry, the successful clipboard man virtually everyones choice to be named tactician of the year after not only his Canberra but State of Origin efforts.

“I’m enjoying my football at the moment, and that helps,” Best said of his season’s form.

Eel Nathan Hindmarsh managed to again win the Provan-Summons People’s Choice award making it 4 years in a row for the Parramatta veteran, his opponent nominations in 2008 were Greg Inglis, veteran Manly man Steve Menzies and Cameron Smith.

Second Rower of the Year went to Manly’s Glenn Stuart. Stewart has had an impressive year, but was a surprise winner where many felt that Anthony Laffranchi could have snared this one after consistent form for club and NSW during 2008. Other nominees included Sam Thaiday, and Chris Heighington. It was a happy night for not only Manly but the Stuart family as brother Brett managed to win the ‘top tryscorer’ for the 2008 season, gaining another gong for the family mantle piece.

Newly crowned Panther for 2008, Petero Civoniceva was an easy choice for Prop of the Year showing his consistent form and leadership all year in trying conditions at the warring Panthers club – beating the likes of Brent Kite, Josh Perry, Steve Price and Jason Ryles.

Cronulla kicking freak Luke Covell was the winner of the NRL’s leading pointscorer award. Covell accumulating 196 points during the 2008 NRL season.

Earlier in the night rookie Bunny no.7 Chris Sandow was an easy pick for most viewers – gaining the Rookie of the Year trophy. He scored the Peter Moore Award from Sika Manu, Lachlan Coote and David Williams.

By ricky

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