Goldthorpe v Man of Steel: Which rewards Rugby League ability?

Martyn Sadler, the editor of Rugby League Express, celebrates another Albert Goldthorpe Medal for Danny Brough, and compares the criteria for the award to the Steve Prescoss Man of Steel award…

This is a modified version of an article that first appeared in this week’s Rugby League Express.

A lot of people ask me about the differences between the Albert Goldthorpe Medal and the Man of Steel award, which is now officially titled the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award.

It’s an interesting question, especially as in three of the last four seasons the winner of the Albert Goldthorpe Medal has gone on to win the Man of Steel award.

In 2010 it was Pat Richards, the following year it was Rangi Chase, and in 2013 it was Danny Brough.

The only exception was in 2012, when Scott Dureau of the Catalan Dragons won the Albert Goldthorpe Medal, while Sam Tomkins was the Man of Steel. Interestingly, Sam had already won the Albert Goldthorpe Medal jointly with Pat Richards in 2010.

As you will see if you read League Express regularly, the Albert Goldthorpe Medal is transparent, being updated every week. It reflects performances throughout the regular season, from round 1 to round 27.

So it reflects performances throughout the season, not just in the latter part of it, which is always a danger if a panel is asked to cast a subjective vote for a winner. By September, player performances from last February may have been largely forgotten.

If you look at the Medal table you’ll find that halfbacks tend to get a lot of votes. And the reason for that is fairly simple – they tend to be the best players, and they tend to get the ball more than the other players on the field.

Danny Brough, as you will see if you look at this season’s table, has now won the Albert Goldthorpe Medal for the second year in a row, and for the third time in total, having won the inaugural medal in 2008.

The Man of Steel award is not so transparent. It is decided by a panel of the great and the good whose identity is not revealed.

The players have a vote, but the panel only has to take the players’ vote into account. It doesn’t have to accept it fully.
All I know about the voting panel for the Man of Steel award is that I’m not a member of it, despite my longevity as the editor of Rugby League Express.
The RFL doesn’t publicise the players’ vote, so we don’t know how much the panel takes the players’ views into account.
The Man of Steel award, however, does have the advantage of being the official award, as opposed to an award promoted and administered by Rugby League Express.
Some people criticise the Goldthorpe Medal because each game is ranked equally in terms of points awarded, with six points being awarded in every game, whether that is between the top two teams or the bottom two teams.
And some people say that a good player in a weak team will tend to rack up points.
I don’t take too much notice of that criticism, however. You can see from the Albert Goldthorpe Club Table that the stronger clubs get far more Goldthorpe points than the weaker ones, as you would expect.

In the top ten of individual players in 2013, five players in the list came from Wigan, Warrington and St Helens, negating the point that the voting system doesn’t recognise players from big clubs.

Having said that, there are some valid criticisms of the Albert Goldthorpe Medal as a means of identifying the best player in the Super League competition.
To start with, it only measures performance in the regular season (as does the Man of Steel), so it doesn’t recognise the achievements of players who can raise their game in the play-offs.

Secondly, players who are injured for any length of time are unlikely to win it, because the voting system rewards players who are there for the maximum number of rounds. Luke Walsh of St Helens shot into an early lead this season, for example, but naturally fell out of the running because of his injury.

Thirdly, the voting depends of the judgement of our reporters, and of course they are fallible. I often disagree with them myself. But at least they tend to watch the players every week and the voting system does have that integrity.

Fourthly, the award tends to reward creative players rather than hard-working ones, but then again the best players do tend to be the most creative ones.
The real question, when we compare the Albert Goldthorpe Medal and Man of Steel is whether we are searching for the same thing with both awards.

I’m not sure that we are.
If I were a member of the Man of Steel voting panel I would vote for Jamie Peacock, and it’s worth considering why even though Jamie isn’t in the top ten for the Goldthorpe Medal.


If we compare Jamie’s stats (from Opta) with Danny Brough’s we get the table shown on this page.
Danny’s stats tend to emphasise his creativity, whereas Jamie’s tend to reflect his hard work.
Both qualities are essential as part of a team. But Danny undeniably has a wider range of specific skills as opposed to the sterling qualities that Jamie displays every week.

And therein lies the difference.
I tend to think that the Goldthorpe Medal rewards players’ skills, while the Man of Steel rewards players’ qualities.
Jamie Peacock has tremendous qualities that mark him out as a fearsome player. But his skill set doesn’t compare with Danny Brough’s.

But we all admire those qualities, and to give the Man of Steel award to a player with courage, toughness, self-discipline and an unflagging devotion to his team is what the Man of Steel award is all about.

Frankly, in a team game it’s almost impossible to identify who happens to be the best player, and for that it isn’t worth debating which is the best award.

I prefer to celebrate both awards, and I would like to congratulate Danny Brough on winning the Albert Goldthorpe Medal once again, while wishing Jamie the best of luck with the voting for this season’s Steve Prescott Man of Steel award.