Vodafone Warriors and Kiwi halfback Shaun Johnson is among six nominees for the prestigious 2014 Golden Boot.
Johnson is joined on the list by national teammate Jesse Bromwich, Australian duo Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston and England forwards James Graham and Sam Burgess.
Burgess and eventual winner Thurston were also among the six nominees last year.
The same 13-man panel that chose Thurston will again vote for the winner and the World XIII, which will both be revealed in next month’s Rugby League World, out on Friday, December 19.
The panel is assembled from both sides of the world, and includes representatives from Australia, England, France and New Zealand. Among them is former Golden Boot winner Garry Schofield, ex-Great Britain coach Brian Noble and past Kiwi internationals Robbie Hunter-Paul and Daryl Halligan.
They are joined by leading journalists Dave Hadfield, Martyn Sadler, Dave Woods, Brad Walter, Louis Bonnery, Malcolm Andrews, Mitch Dale, Andrew Voss and Steve Mascord.
The votes will be submitted during the first week in December.
“These are the six players who we feel have had the biggest impact on the sport during 2014,” Rugby League World editor Gareth Walker explained.
“Four of the contenders enjoyed outstanding Four Nations campaigns, including Shaun Johnson and Jesse Bromwich in the victorious New Zealand side. Johnson was the Kiwis’ go-to player throughout and produced a man of the match performance in the final, while Bromwich was statistically the leading forward by some distance both in the whole competition and in the Wellington decider against Australia.
“Greg Inglis had a superb domestic season and then stepped up to the plate with several of his most experienced teammates missing through injury for the Kangaroos, scoring in each group game. James Graham was England’s leading forward throughout the tournament, having played a major part in Canterbury Bulldogs reaching the NRL Grand Final.
“As always, we will ask our 13-man voting panel to consider performances at international level first and foremost, but such was the impact of both Sam Burgess and Johnathan Thurston in the NRL this season that we felt it was impossible to overlook either of them.
“Thurston did take part in an international game, earning the man of the match in the Anzac Test win over New Zealand in May, before jointly winning the prestigious Dally M award in Australia for his performances for North Queensland Cowboys.
“Sam Burgess, of course, was unavailable for the Four Nations due to his move to rugby union. But his contribution to South Sydney’s NRL title win was considerable, not least in the Grand Final, when his man of the match display with a fractured cheekbone and eye socket was one of the most iconic Rugby League performances of the modern era.”
There are precedents for players having won the Golden Boot without having played internationals during the season - 1999 winner Andrew Johns missed the Tri-Nations that year, while Brett Kenny didn’t feature for Australia in 1985.
Hookers Daryl Clark and Cameron Smith, New Zealanders Kieran Foran and Jason Taumalolo and joint Dally M winner Jarryd Hayne were among other players that were considered before the final shortlist of six was confirmed.
Statistically the prop was the best forward in the Four Nations, not least in the final where his 23 carries yielded an outstanding 150 metres. His form both for club Melbourne Storm and New Zealand recently led ex-Australian test front rower Robbie Kearns to publicly state Bromwich could become a better player than respected former Kangaroo Glenn Lazarus.
Unavailable for the Four Nations following his switch to rugby union, he is included because of his huge impact on the NRL season in 2014 as South Sydney ended their long title drought. His performance in the Grand Final, after fracturing his eye socket and cheekbone in the first tackle, will live long in the memory.
The workaholic, flamed-haired front rower led the Canterbury Bulldogs pack all the way to the 2014 NRL Grand Final. Then stepped up as England captain for the opening Four Nations game in the absence of Sean O’Loughlin, and was his side’s best forward for the whole tournament, getting through a mountain of work, most notably against Australia.
Another key figure in Souths’ NRL title win, providing a huge presence from fullback and scoring some of the most spectacular tries of recent years, most noticeably at Brisbane. With several other established players missing for Australia in the Four Nations he stepped up and scored in all three group games.
Was instrumental in the Vodafone Warriors’ midseason recovery in the NRL, but it was during the Four Nations that he really burst into life. Has matured into a halfback that can control a game as well as provide the spectacular plays, but showed his breathtaking pace in a man of the match performance in the final, including a brilliant try.
Missed the Four Nations through injury, but had already left his mark on the international scene by winning the man of the match in the ANZAC Test win over New Zealand. Domestically he was again outstanding, jointly winning the prestigious Dally M award with Jarryd Hayne after another terrific campaign with North Queensland Cowboys.
PAST GOLDEN BOOT WINNERS
1984: Wally Lewis
1985: Brett Kenny
1986: Garry Jack
1987: Hugh McGahan & Peter Sterling
1988: Ellery Hanley
1989: Mal Meninga
1990: Garry Schofield
1999: Andrew Johns
2000: Brad Fittler
2001: Andrew Johns
2002: Stacey Jones
2003: Darren Lockyer
2004: Andrew Farrell
2005: Anthony Minichiello
2006: Darren Lockyer
2007: Cameron Smith
2008: Billy Slater
2009: Greg Inglis
2010: Benji Marshall
2011: Johnathan Thurston
2012: Kevin Sinfield
2013: Johnathan Thurston