The NRL world has been left swooning over a lovely moment between Kalyn Ponga and Shaun Johnson only seconds after winning his first Dally M award. Ponga and Johnson were standing next to each other as the round 26 and 27 votes were announced with the two neck-and-neck on the Dally M leaderboard.
Johnson was leading on 55 points heading into round 27, but the Warriors halfback missed the final round of the season due to injury ahead of the NRL finals. This left Ponga needing maximum points in the final round to win the Dally M.
The pair were seen sharing a word and a laugh a few seconds before the votes were announced. And Ponga was granted six points in a suspenseful finish to take him one ahead of Johnson to win his first ever Dally M award.
Both players seemed relieved the voting was over and Ponga put his head on Johnson's shoulder in a sign he felt for the Warriors halfback. Johnson had led the tally most of the night and went into the ceremony as strong favourite to win the award. One fan noticed the moment and praised the camaraderie between the two players.
That little moment between Johnson and Ponga was precious. You can’t help but feel they both a little bit wanted the other to win too.
— V (@TicsVitsJacThic) September 27, 2023
I think Ponga probably knows he just didn't deserve it.
— Richard Edlin (@redlin000) September 27, 2023
Kalyn Ponga all class after Dally M win
Ponga clearly felt for Johnson having won the Dally M by one point over the favourite leading into the night. Ponga was sheepish on stage as he faced his peers after a sensational season, but admitted his motivation to turn his form around this year stemmed from a rather sad time.
"It's a crazy feeling, I feel humbled and very lucky," Ponga said. "I have a lot of people to thank - my family, the staff and my teammates. The way I played this year is impossible without your support and love and belief in me. I had an early-season holiday and when I was over there I decided I wanted to stop letting people down, and yeah, what a year."
Incredibly, on Thursday morning, Ponga admitted he nearly didn't show up to the awards believing he wasn't in contention. "I wasn't going to go. I actually sent the NRL an email that morning saying I didn't want to go," Ponga said on Hughesy, Ed and Erin's 2DayFM radio show.
"I just wanted to sit back and watch it at home. They then said I had to go." Thankfully for Ponga he attended having produced one of the all-time great individual performances in a season to win the Dally M award.
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.