I want to be an NRL great: Taumalolo

The last time two players shared the Dally M stage in 2014, one left to pursue an American dream.

But just days after reports of a similar interest in gridiron, as Jarryd Hayne did two years ago, newly-crowned Dally M medallist Jason Taumalolo has declared a desire to stay in the NRL and become one of the greats.

Taumalolo and Melbourne star Cooper Cronk finished as joint winners of the most prestigious award in the game after a thrilling countdown at The Star on Wednesday night.

Cronk became just the eighth player in the history of the medal to win the gong on multiple occasions, adding to his individual honour in 2013.

Taumalolo became the first forward to claim the honour since Cameron Smith in 2006, and the first true forward since Cronulla’s Gavin Miller took out back-to-back honours in 1989.

He is also the second Kiwi to win the prize after Gary Freeman in 1992 and comes just two weeks after winning the Players Champion award voted by opposition players.

But it was the words he said after being bestowed the medal that would most send shivers down the spines of his rivals for the rest of the long summer.

“My plan is to retire playing rugby league and that hasn’t changed over the last little while,” he said.

“I want to be playing in the NRL for as long as I can and hopefully be recognised alongside (Cronk), (Johnathan Thurston) and (Cameron Smith) as one of the greats.”

Cronk, who will lead the Storm in Sunday’s NRL decider against Cronulla, praised Taumalolo’s efforts in becoming the first true forward to win the award in almost 30 years.

“To play the power game and the physicality that requires to do it for 26 weeks of the year is pretty impressive,” he said.

“One, to be mentally strong. Two, physically. But you also need to be durable. He wouldn’t have missed too many games this year. The way that he plays, that’s pretty impressive.

“Johnathan Thurston gets a lot of raps at the cowboys, and rightly so for what he does. But most of it is on the back of what Jason, (Matt) Scott and James Tamou do.

“Jason’s been a wrecking ball all year and there’s a reason why he’s standing here as the best player in the game and that’s because he deserves it.”

Cronk said the 2016 season had been the most enjoyable of his career.

“2013 was a good year in terms of my performance, but 2016 has been the most enjoyable year of my football career. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.

“There’s a few contributing factors to that, but I’ve just really enjoyed both on and off the field and looking forward to what Sunday brings as well.”

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