The Steve Prescott Man of Steel Awards take place at Headingley Stadium tonight to crown the standout performers from the 2022 season.
But what makes a Man Of Steel? And who was Steve Prescott?
Prescott was a former St Helens and Hull FC full-back who defied odds and earned universal respect on and off the pitch before his death in 2013.
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The Man of Steel award was renamed in his honour the following year and remains the most prized individual accolade in the game. In simple terms it is the Player of the Year award, but in real terms it is so much more than that.
Originally voted for by the media, it became a players’ vote in 2008, and since 2019 has been decided by a panel of former players who award points after each game throughout the season. The change was designed to reward consistency of performance, rather than a simple one-off opinion vote for the best player in the Betfred Super League.
Only four players have won it more than once, with the great Ellery Hanley recognised three times, and Andy Farrell, Paul Sculthorpe and Sam Tomkins twice.
England captain Tomkins is the reigning Man of Steel. The Sportsman asked both Tomkins, and Sculthorpe - the only man to win it back-to-back in 2001 and 2002, what makes a Man of Steel?
“Consistency” says Tomkins, whose Catalans’ side lost out to Grand Finalists Leeds in this year’s playoffs.
“It’s no good being the best player once or twice a year or once or twice a month.
“You have got to consistently be in the top few performers and that is what Man of Steel is. It is the most consistent player in the league, who can perform at the highest level all the time.”
Tomkins was sensational in that regard, picking the Catalans up by the scruff of the neck and leading the French side all the way to the Grand Final 12 months ago. He played with pain-killing injections that day and drove the Dragons to within minutes of an historic first title before champions St Helens held sway.
He was similarly instrumental when he won the award in Wigan’s 2012 season, which yielded a League Leaders’ Shield for the Warriors.
Sculthorpe was a warrior, who epitomised every Man of Steel credential during his St Helens heyday. He won the award playing stand-off in 2001 and again from loose forward 12 months later. He was also one of Steve Prescott’s closest friends.
“Consistency, as Sam says, is the biggest thing,” Sculthorpe told The Sportsman.
“But almost the impact you have on the team and how it’s performed, your influence on that group of players all year.
“It is about setting the standard, leading by example in your performance and off the field.
“Being a captain is the same, it’s not just what you say, it’s about how you perform and how you set standards both in games and in training.”
For Sculthorpe, it is that influence on team-mates, the drawing strength out of your closest allies, the bringing the very best out of those around you, that is fundamental to Man of Steel recognition.
Full-back Jai Field is the favourite to take this year’s award, such has been his impact on transforming Wigan’s attack and bringing the best out of wingers Bevan French and Liam Marshall.
Ask any Salford player, and their nomination Brodie Croft has transformed and revitalised the Red Devils. Who knows what could have been had the stand-off not missed Salford’s semi-final at St Helens. Salford full-back Ryan Brierley told The Sportsman only last week how Croft has made him a better player than even he thought was possible.
And the same can be said for the third nominee, Jack Welsby of Saints, who is also up for the Young Player award.
Still only 21, Welsby was destined for big things from the moment he left his amateur side because he was too competitive for the level they were playing at. The hero of the 2020 Grand Final is now raising the bar for his more experienced Saints team-mates.
Interestingly, since James Graham won the award in 2008 when the vote became a players’ vote, it has been the backs who have dominated. Three hookers have won it since then, Daryl Clark for Warrington in 2014, Hull FC’s Danny Houghton in 2016 and Paul McShane in 2020, but no conventional big men have done so.
It is the halfbacks and full-backs that now grab the eye, with this year’s final three all in that category. And in truth the game has evolved to protect the playmakers and allow them to thrive, at times making the impact of the big men less noticeable.
Man of Steel is about more than just level of performance.
It is about leading by example, consistently excelling, being both the stardust and the glue that binds your team tightly.
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Pictures courtesy of swpix.com