Te Maire Martin has had a remarkable rise to league prominence, and could end a 43-year New Zealand jinx in tonight's grand final.

There have been more than 130 appearances by Kiwis on the NRL's biggest day, since Bill Noonan ran out for the Bulldogs in 1974.

Since then, there have been many dazzling displays, and match-turning performances by men from this country, but no New Zealander has won the Clive Churchill medal, awarded to the player judged the grand final's best.

That could change this year.


Martin surely has a good chance - many of the previous winners have been halves - while Jason Taumalolo has carried the Cowboys on their unlikely run into tonight's showdown. Jesse Bromwich is also likely to be prominent; he was one of the best in last year's grand final, though counterpart Andrew Fifita took the top award.

The presence tonight of seven Kiwis - Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Tohu Harris, Kenny Bromwich (Storm) and Antonio Winterstein (Cowboys) are the others - continues a pattern over the past two decades.

In the 1980s, there were only five appearances by Kiwis in the grand final, and 24 across the 1990s, but there have already been almost 60 so far this decade.

Martin's ascension is one of the most surprising in that time. He made his NRL debut (for Penrith) in round three last year, but his promising start was curtailed by a shoulder injury a few weeks later. Martin recovered to make the Four Nations tour, although had no particular aspirations.

"I'm just happy to be on tour," Martin told the Herald on Sunday during that trip.

"I'm enjoying the ride, being around the big boys and learning as much as I can. It has been surreal to be in the team and train alongside people I look up to."

Martin is no longer that awestruck kid. After a mid-season switch to the Cowboys, the 21-year-old has proved himself on the biggest stage over the past month, helping the North Queensland club prevail in three desperately tight finals matches, including a slashing individual try against the Roosters last weekend.

Tonight could be another chance to shine and end a long-running New Zealand drought for the Clive Churchill medal.

Matthew Ridge (1996), Tawera Nikau (1999), Benji Marshall (2005) and Sonny Bill Williams (2013) were strong contenders for best on field in the past, and expect Martin, Taumalolo and Jesse Bromwich to be in the mix this time.