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2021 Fans' Poll: Turbo, Bellamy win; Speed of the game gets thumbs-up

In the eyes of the fans, there is no debate: Sea Eagles superstar Tom Trbojevic has been far and away this season's most valuable player despite featuring in only 13 NRL games.

More than 28,000 fans have voted in NRL.com's 2021 Fans' Poll, held in conjunction with The Daily Telegraph/The Courier-Mail.

In a landslide, Trbojevic received 51% of the vote for the Telstra Premiership's best performer with last year's winner, Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary, the only other player in double figures (17%).

The gap between Trbojevic and the rest further widened when it came to the Dally M Medal race with a whopping 66% of voters backing the 24-year-old fullback to claim the individual honour.

And the result for coach of the year was just as emphatic with Storm mentor Craig Bellamy (57%) the obvious choice having guided his champion team to 19 straight wins and counting.

That win streak has supporters convinced Melbourne will claim back-to-back titles, with 57% of respondents tipping them to do so.

Fans were quizzed on a range of other topics like the performance of referees and the NRL administration and who they'd sign if they were starting a franchise.

They have given a thumbs-up to the increased speed of the game, the six-again rule and the introduction of the two-point field goal while also backing the referees and NRL administration despite the perennial debate about these two topics.

The results

Which premiership team do you support?

It seems a fair few people have jumped on the Storm bandwagon (12%) after their premiership success in 2020.

Last year Craig Bellamy's team only attracted 7% of the vote with the Roosters and Eels leading the way on 9%.

Who has been the best player in 2021?

Just like on the field this season, Tom Trbojevic is in a league of his own after snaring more than half of the vote. Having only played seven matches last year, he wasn't even included in the poll.

Penrith's Nathan Cleary, who topped the 2020 poll with 47 percent of the vote, has confirmed himself to fans as an elite performer.

Best coach

Roosters boss Trent Robinson lost no admirers after masterfully managing his troops through an injury pile-up, but Craig Bellamy's ability to take the Storm to a new level - without Immortal-in-waiting Cameron Smith  - was simply impossible to ignore.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary took the honours last year with 30% of the vote and again has his team on track for a premiership assault.

Best fullback

Tom Trbojevic has gone from polling at 1% in an injury-ruined 2020 to blowing all of his No.1 competitors out of the water.

Roosters maestro James Tedesco has to settle for second place after coming out on top last year with 49% of the support.

Best winger

No one is underestimating Brian To'o anymore. The Panthers star polled at 2% last year but is now at the top of a hot field.

Wests Tigers stalwart David Nofoaluma has gone the other way having taken out the title in 2020 with 35% of fans behind him.

Best centre

The continued rise of Justin Olam has resulted in the Storm powerhouse beating out Roosters gun Joey Manu for the top spot.

Penrith's Stephen Crichton and Brisbane's Kotoni Staggs were tied for first last year as they both received 20% of the vote.

Best five-eighth

In a three-way race, Rabbitohs magician Cody Walker finished ahead of Penrith's Jarome Luai and Melbourne's Cameron Munster.

An ACL injury to Luke Keary meant the Roosters playmaker couldn't defend his title after earning 40% of the vote last year.

Best halfback

It wasn't quite as big a margin as last year (78%), but Nathan Cleary again was the clear standout for best halfback honours.

Storm general Jahrome Hughes is gaining on him, however, jumping from 4% of the vote last year to 18% this season.

Best lock

Rabbitohs pin-up Cameron Murray has just pipped NSW Blues teammate Isaah Yeo as the game's supreme No.13.

Jason Taumalolo was the top pick last season, but we haven't seen the best of the Cowboys wrecking-ball of late due to injuries.

Best second-rower

One of the surprise packets of the season, Isaiah Papali'i has made such an impression upon moving to Parramatta that punters believe he's led the way for second-rowers this year.

Papali'i didn't feature in last season's poll, which was taken out by Panthers powerhouse Viliame Kikau with 36% of the vote.

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Best prop

Despite the Broncos struggling, workhorse Payne Haas's talents were recognised by fans who deemed him to have outperformed ever-consistent Panthers bookend James Fisher-Harris.

Haas finished second last year with 13% of the vote as Raiders prop Josh Papalii was chosen as the runaway winner (43%).

Best hooker

Last year, Brandon Smith wasn't a starting dummy-half but in 2021, more than half of voters believe he is the best in the business.

Penrith's Api Koroisau won the vote in 2020 with 34% ahead of Smith's predecessor and namesake Cameron Smith (29%).

Best rookie

Fans saw this as a race in two with Roosters halfback Sam Walker edging out Warriors fullback Reece Walsh for first place.

Storm hooker Harry Grant, who was loaned to Wests Tigers, won the vote last season with an overwhelming 52%.

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Best recruit

Having already chosen Isaiah Papali'i as the second-rower of the year, it was no surprise that he is also considered the best signing.

Api Koroisau (38%) was the most popular choice last season.

Best captain

Given the unprecedented injury toll that Roosters have battled, James Tedesco's leadership has earned him plenty of plaudits.

Most improved player

Melbourne fullback Nicho Hynes's rise from a very handy utility to a bona fide star hasn't gone unnoticed by punters.

It's two years running that a Storm player has claimed this title with halfback Jahrome Hughes voted most improved in 2020.

2021 premiers

The Storm have tallied 19 consecutive wins and fans are backing them to keep rolling on to lift the trophy on grand final day.

However, they got it wrong in last season's poll with 33% of voters selecting the Panthers to go all the way.

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Which team do you most like to see your team beat?

When you're at the top, you wear a target on your back - and that's the case for Melbourne with fans from rival clubs desperately hoping to get one over the reigning champions.

That follows the theme from last year with then-defending premiers the Roosters taking out the vote with 25%.

If you were starting a club, who's the first player you'd sign?

As you'd expect after such a dominant season, many fans would whip out the chequebook to make Tom Trbojevic their marquee signing for a new franchise with Nathan Cleary a close second pick.

Roosters gun James Tedesco pipped Cleary with 21% of the vote last year but only 7% of respondents chose him this time.

What makes Turbo so special

Which player will win the Dally M Medal?

He may have only played 13 NRL games this season, but voters are convinced Tom Trbojevic has still done enough to collect the game's most prestigious individual prize.

Nathan Cleary is seen as his main competitor with Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker a little further back in third place.

On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate the performance of the referees in 2021?

It appears most spectators are at least satisfied with the refereeing this season but believe there is room for improvement.

The results almost mirror last year's feedback in which 42% of voters rated the referees' performance a 3.

How often should the Bunker be used?

Despite a few tweaks being made to the Bunker's protocols this year, more than half of fans still want the technology used less.

It's a similar result to last year when 53% of people voted for less Bunker use while 33% wanted the same level of involvement.

Should the Bunker be used to rule on forward passes?

There remains an appetite for the Bunker to judge forward passes, but 34% of fans believe that should only occur on try-scoring plays.

Last year 42% said they only wanted the Bunker to rule on forward passes in a try-scoring situation while 35% said yes in general.

Do you believe the NRL's new six-again rule is a positive addition to the sport?

It's been the subject of much debate, but according to the poll, more than half of fans are still in favour of the six-again rule.

However, the honeymoon phase appears to have worn off given a whopping 82% of voters deemed it a positive addition last season.

How many captain's challenges should each team get?

Just under half of the voters are happy for teams to still only receive one (unsuccessful) captain's challenge per match.

The results were much the same last year with 49% of fans agreeing that one captain's challenge was the optimum number.

Would you like to see a transfer window introduced?

The NRL has dipped its toe in the water with unofficial loan arrangements in recent times and the majority of respondents are keen for a proper transfer window to be introduced.

The same percentage of fans (63%) voted in favour of it last year.

How many teams should contest the NRL finals series?

While a few pundits have suggested a six-team finals series would make for a better product, the majority of fans are happy with the current system of eight sides progressing to the playoffs.

However, there's been a slight decrease in that way of thinking with 84% of respondents voting in favour of the eight-team system last year. In both cases, only 4% said more teams should make the finals.

Should the number of teams change in the NRL?

There's still an appetite for expansion with exactly half of the voters saying more teams should be added in new locations.

That's slightly down on 53% last year while fewer fans (10%) are in favour of relocating existing teams, down on 14%.

On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate the performance of the NRL administration in 2021?

ARLC chairman Peter V'landys, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo and the powers that be have retained strong support with the majority of voters again rating the performance of the administration 4 out of 5.

However, more supporters have expressed dissatisfaction with 19% giving a rating of 1 or 2 compared to 7% in 2020.

Do you support the increased use of the sin bin for foul play?

The crackdown on high contact and the subsequent increase in the use of the sin bin drew some outcry, but the vast majority of voters are happy for foul play to be punished with a 10-minute sit-down.

Who is your favourite TV play-by-play caller?

For the third year running, quick-witted Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss has edged out Channel Nine doyen Ray Warren as the fans' favourite TV play-by-play caller.

Who is your favourite TV analyst?

When it comes to analysis, fans most enjoy listening to Channel Nine's Peter Sterling break down the game with Fox Sports duo Matt Johns and Cooper Cronk's input also highly respected.

The top three was the same in 2020.

What do you think of the speed of the game?

It's been a high-octane, attack-orientated season - and the majority of fans are enjoying the increased speed of the game.

Do you like the introduction of the two-point field goal?

The two-point field goal from beyond 40 metres has added another layer of intrigue to games, according to the emphatic fan response.