While the top of the VB Hard Earned Leaderboard remains impenetrable, two players are making a huge charge up the table in the post-representative period.
One player each from Souths and Wests Tigers has achieved their highest ranking of the year as they shoulder a massive workload at their respective clubs.
With no star playmaker or highly-paid outside back in sight, the VB Hard Earned award recognises the true performers of our game.
Based off an index point-scoring system, the players' efforts are calculated with a focus on runs, tackles, offloads, tackle busts, support and decoy plays plus charge downs.
Players will lose points for negative plays including one point for every missed tackle, four points per error or penalty conceded, while a sin-binning will cost them eight points.
Stay tuned to NRL.com for updates on the Hard Earned Award each month to see who will challenge for award.
The VB Hard Earned Leaderboard
8. Paul Vaughan
Dragons prop Paul Vaughan rejoins the top eight for the first time since his lofty third-place billing back in April. The Blues big man doesn't get bonus points for effecting one-handed tackles while nursing a dislocated finger on the other hand but that memorable effort against the Eels in round 20 highlights what has been a big month for Vaughan since the Origin series ended. He cracked a half-century of tackles against Souths in round 19 and ran a whopping 237 metres – with a try – last start against the Titans.
Match Highlights Round 18 to 21 - Hard Earned Competition
7. Aiden Tolman
The Canterbury workhorse's stocks took a dip at the start of the month when he was forced off early with a rib injury against the Knights back in round 17, which sees him drop to seventh on the index – his lowest ranking of the season. That's despite averaging 44 tackles and 143 metres in the three matches since, including a huge 73-minute stint against the Roosters in round 19.
6. Cameron Murray
Souths lock Cam Murray reaches his highest ranking of the year and his first appearance in the top eight since May. The 21-year-old's minutes were managed through the rep season by coach Wayne Bennett but since his Blues commitments ended his minutes have ramped up from 49 in the previous month to 63, with two tries in his past four games, with 46 tackles and 100 metres per match.
5. James Tamou
The Panthers skipper is steady at fifth for a third straight month and has grown into the leadership role at the foot of the mountains beautifully. Tamou is putting together an incredibly consistent season in a young team that has largely struggled for consistency otherwise. Tamou's past month has netted around 47 minutes per week with 30 tackles, 110 metres and two busts per game, plus a try in round 19 – all directly in line with his impressive season to date.
4. Ryan Matterson
Wests Tigers lock Ryan Matterson was already putting in plenty of work while playing out on an edge (and even in his one game at five-eighth earlier in the season) but has surged up the leaderboard since moving to the middle of the park in a reshuffled pack three weeks ago. Matterson has not featured in the top eight at all this year but has charged straight to fourth on the back of a mammoth round 21 effort that included 41 tackles, a couple of busts and offloads and an incredible 272 metres. He had already made 72 tackles and 270 metres over the prior fortnight.
3. Alex Twal
Unlike his teammate Matterson, Tigers prop Twal has been a fixture in the VB Hard Earned stakes all season, climbing from fifth to fourth to third last month, a position he still holds. Despite being moved to the bench recently resulting in a drop in minutes, Twal continues to produce what we've come to expect of him when he takes the field – plenty of tackles and over 100 running metres per game. Incredibly Twal has missed just two tackles (while completing 403) since round nine.
2. Jake Trbojevic
A third straight month in the number two slot for rugged Manly lock Jake Trbojevic, for whom the representative period was not even a speed hump in his unbelievably consistent club form. He has been rewarded for his hard work with a couple of early marks over the past month, hitting the showers by the 70-minute mark in big wins over the Knights and Eels. He still got through plenty of work in those games but the early marks were totally countered by his monster 90-minute effort in a golden point thriller against the Storm in which the Blues lock racked up an incredible 69 tackles.
1. James Fisher-Harris
Another month, another top billing for Panthers ironman James Fisher-Harris. Playing 80 minutes at prop in the modern NRL just is not the done thing. In fact it's basically not even possible. Unless your name is James Fisher-Harris. The Kiwi tackle machine was moved from lock to prop in round 13 and hasn't played below 74 minutes in any game since round 14 – including 80 in his past two outings. His lowest tackle count in that period is 38 (average 43, best of 58) and in the past month he averages 177 run metres to further stretch his lead at the top of the index.