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Nathan Cleary after Penrith No.7's missing medal

Nathan Cleary of the Panthers and Isaah Yeo of the Panthers celebrates the try scored by Dylan Edwards during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Penrith Panthers and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Seventeen years after Craig Gower missed out on the Dally M medal in a premiership season, it's another Penrith halfback who can lay claim to the double honour.

Just days before he lines up in Sunday's NRL grand final against Melbourne, Panthers star Nathan Cleary will on Monday attend the annual gala awards night as the favourite to take out the game's highest individual prize.

Storm captain Cameron Smith, Sydney Roosters star James Tedesco and Canberra five-eighth Jack Wighton are tipped to be the other main contenders.

Cleary was two points behind Wests Tigers rising talent Harry Grant when voting went behind closed doors at the conclusion of round 12 of the shortened 20-game regular season.

But Cleary is widely expected to land the award after leading the Panthers to the minor premiership by an impressive five points, while they have reeled off an astonishing 17 victories in a row.

"You watch the Dally Ms growing up and you see so many great players win them," Cleary said, with one eye on Sunday's grand final.

"I probably haven't thought about it too much. "It's just been knuckling down into this Penrith team and it'll be no different this week.

"In saying that, if I was to win it, it'd be pretty crazy and pretty special. "But I've got bigger things on my mind."

It could be a historic night for the Cleary clan, with dad Ivan at short odds to edge out Melbourne counterpart Craig Bellamy as coach of the year.

It would be the first time a father and son have won the respective prizes in the same year.

Nathan would also be just the second Penrith player to be crowned the league's best and fairest, with former skipper and halfback Greg Alexander taking out the honour in 1985.

Another ex-captain and No.7 in Gower, whose lifted the trophy in 2003, is widely regarded as the player who should've worn the medal in the same season.

But the ceremony was cancelled after a pay dispute with the players' union.

There was a push this year to have Gower given the medal in retrospect, however, league central has since confirmed this would not occur.

Cleary admitted Alexander and Gower - who led Penrith to their two respective premierships in 1991 and 2002 in the No.7 jumper - have been influential in his relatively quick ascension in the game.

Gower has kept a low-profile since his retirement but was brought in by the club to address the players prior to the coronavirus restrictions.

"Everyone you talk to, they say he was the toughest bloke they've ever played against," Cleary said.

To be able to talk to him, not just about footy, but in general, it's cool.

"You look back at the 2003 grand final and he was probably the best player that whole year."

COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in the NRL abandoning their traditional ceremony, with the awards only attended by a select group of players and officials, and others joining virtually.

The league has also opted to name 13 players for its team of the year, instead of one player per position.