AFTER a near Cinderella season, Mackay's Ben Barba is now considered among the best players in the NRL.
He capped off a stellar year by running away with the prestigious Dally M Medal at a gala function at Sydney Town Hall last night.
He finished the home-and-always rounds with 32 votes, six ahead of Cowboys' Matt Bowen (26) and seven ahead of Storm halfback Cooper Cronk.
Barba finished the regular NRL season equal leading try scorer with 21, alongside Cowboys' Ashley Graham.
The dynamic Canterbury fullback also had more line-breaks than any other NRL player this season.
Barba earned favouritism for winning the Dally M Medal last night, the league's highest individual honour, after a season that yielded several length-of-the-field tries.
The fringe Queensland player has thrived under the coaching of Des Hasler and is now an NRL force.
Mackay rugby league fan and identity Alf Abdullah said Barba deserved the prestigious award, after a five-star performance over the past month.
Abdullah praised Barba's brilliance and noted his near man-of-the-match efforts over the past month were why many had claimed he had been the NRL's best player.
"His last four or five games have been outstanding," he said of the former Mackay player.
Abdullah said Hasler's work with Barba had made him a near complete player this season.
"Hasler has done a lot of work him, particularly in defence, and that has improved that part of his game immensely," he said.
Dad Ken Barba, speaking from Sydney yesterday, said his son had his eye firmly on winning the grand final.
"His form this season has been a credit to Canterbury for showing faith in him. Whatever happens we'll be proud of him."
Mackay rugby league patron Col Grosskreutz felt Barba would go close to a bench spot for the Maroons next season.
A humbled Barba was also crowned Fullback of the Year and claimed the Provan-Summons People's Choice Award and the Peter Frilingos Memorial Award for that magical length-of-the-field try he set up for Josh Morris against the Storm in round 16.
All that remains now is for Barba to cap a season to remember with a premiership, starting with Manly this Friday night at ANZ Stadium.
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