Beauden Barrett is bidding to become the first player to be named World Rugby Player of the Year three times in a row.
The New Zealand fly-half – a 9/1 shot with Paddy Power – is among five contenders shortlisted to land the prestigious accolade, which will be handed out at the World Rugby Awards in Monte Carlo on November 25.
It has been yet another stellar year for Barrett in the number 10 jersey for the All Blacks, scoring seven tries, one of which has been nominated for the 2018 International Rugby Players Try of the Year award.
Barrett’s compatriots Richie McCaw (2006, 2009, 2010) and Dan Carter (2005, 2012, 2015) have both been named the best player in the world on three occasions each, but neither earned it three times on the spin.
The Kiwi opened as the initial 5/4 favourite in the betting odds, but has since been pushed out to a distant second favourite following New Zealand's loss to Ireland on November 17.
Since 2012, only players from New Zealand have won the award, but who do the betting odds suggest will push Barrett for this year’s gong – which is voted for by a panel of judges plus professional players and coaches – and what is the best price available?
At 33, Irishman Sexton is the oldest of the five nominees, but age has been just a number to him this year as he bids to become the first man from the Emerald Isle to win the accolade since the legendary Keith Wood in 2001.
After kicking a last-minute drop-goal to beat France in Paris in the Six Nations – which Ireland went on to win – to inspiring his club Leinster to a Champions Cup and Pro 14 double, if anyone is going to beat Barrett, it’s Sexton.
After initially opening at a very inviting price of 7/4, his early backers must now be feeling pretty smug as the fly-half - who has nine wins in nine test starts and 99 points to his name this year - moved into odds-on favourite after helping Ireland to only their second ever victory over the All Blacks.
With two of the five nominees being from South Africa, the Springboks’ return to the summit of international rugby has not gone unrecognised, and that climb has been spearheaded by golden boy Faf de Klerk.
Energetic, tenacious and innovative, the Sale Sharks scrum-half has excelled since returning to the number 9 jersey for the Springboks, while in his club career he was voted Sale’s player of the year for 2017/18 and nominated for the English Premiership player of the season award.
Although a 9/1 shot to be named World Rugby Player of the Year, there’s still the autumn internationals to be completed, and de Klerk returned to the South Africa squad following the Springboks’ 12-11 defeat to England.
Aged just 21, All Black Rieko Ioane is the youngest nominee on the list. Unless he does something truly remarkable in New Zealand's final autumn international against Italy, this year will again come too soon for the man who made his test debut at just 19.
Indeed, the speedy Ioane – who was named Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2017 – seems destined to win this award sooner or later, having been nominated last year too, but with such stiff competition from more experienced pros, he may just have to bide his time.
Although widely considered to be the best hooker in world rugby, South African Marx did his admittedly already slim chances of landing the World Player of the Year award no good with his error-strewn performance against England at Twickenham on November 3.
Despite that, his inclusion on the shortlist is a measure of his standing in the game – few hookers make as many turnovers as Marx, whose capability around the ruck is arguably second to none.
Should either he or de Klerk win the award, it will be the first time a Springbok has been named the best player in world rugby since Bryan Habana in 2007.
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