"The closest tally count the award has had for some years".
That's how Central West Rugby Union Referees Association president Richard Madden described this year's race for the Blowes Clothing Cup player-of-the-year gong, after releasing the progressive tallies late on Tuesday afternoon.
The running count now goes behind closed doors before being announced on grand final day on August 24, and through 12 rounds there are three players tied in the lead with a plethora of others breathing down their necks.
After noting 58 players have polled votes - handed out by the referees following each game - this season, Madden released the names of the top tier's six front-runners, doing so in no particular order and not divulging which trio are in a share for the lead.
The form of Will Archer in his first season with the Dubbo Kangaroos hasn't gone unnoticed as he is the running, along with Forbes' Charlie French, Bulldogs' Peter Fitzsimmons and Justin Mobbs, Cowra's Tim Berry, and evergreen Emus skipper Nigel Staniforth.
"That reflects a change in the style of rugby being played, with tight five positioned players attracting more votes than in previous seasons," Madden said, with Staniforth the only back among that group.
"(Emus') Andrew Selwood and (Bulldogs') Brad Glasson were runaway winners the last two years but this year's award will go down to the wire.
"The close race highlights the need for consistency in performance... in line with the principle of the award, players are not necessarily awarded points because they scored the most points in the match, or the most tries."
The New Holland Agriculture Cup best and fairest race is equally as tight, with three players tied for the lead and three more deadlocked not far behind them.
Blayney's Baz Hobby and Rick Scott, CSU Bathurst's Jack Keppell and Regan Hughes, Mudgee's Tom Dunstan and Narromine's Craig Campbell and Jono Sharkey are all still in contention.
There's a real chance the final-round Oilsplus Cup Northern Division clash between Geurie and Molong will decide that competition's MVP, with Goats star Filisione Pauta among the front-runners along with Molong duo Zac White and Josh Peffer. Coolah veteran Ed Martin is also still in contention, having polled consistently.
Peffer is the competition's reigning best and fairest too, having won the award in 2018.
Meanwhile almost 70 players have polled votes in the South-West Division and there remains six players capable of taking home the crown, in no particular order the front-runners are Harden's Tom Lenehan, Temora's Jake Cartwright, West Wyalong's Nigel Duncan, Boorowra's Brendan McGrath, Condobolin's Josh Hudson and Cootamundra's Daryl Hemopo.
Madden also made a point of highlighting the Westfund Ferguson Cup's award, which has been established this year.
"We recognised the growth and strength of women's rugby in the Central West and believe the best players should be given equal recognition," he said.
Emus, Central West, NSW Country and ACT Brumbies halfback Em McDonald has pushed her way into contention for that award, along with CSU's Rachel Brown, Temora's Nikki Jordan and West Wyalong duo Krystal Fyfe and Kenesha Stevens.