Taumalolo named Players' Champion
Powerhouse lock forward Jason Taumalolo has been named Rugby League Players Association's Players' Champion for the first time in his career, ending teammate Johnathan Thurston's three-year grip on the trophy.
The 23-year-old finished the 2016 regular season with 4,002 running metres, 553 tackles, 71 tackle breaks and six tries in his best year of NRL since making his first-grade debut in 2010.
The Cowboys star was unable to attend the gala event at Sydney's Star Casino on Tuesday night, instead accepting the award via video link in Townsville.
Rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns fooled everyone in attendance when he announced that 'JT' had won, before explaining that it was in fact Taumalolo and not Thurston who had received the top gong.
"First of all I'd like to thank my peers for voting," Taumalolo said.
"Like 'Johnno' (Thurston) said before, this is right up there as the best or one of the biggest awards that you can win. To be voted amongst peers is obviously very special so a big thanks to my peers.
"To the RLPA, [thanks] for everything they've done throughout the whole year and for supporting the players, what they've done behind doors is so big for us players. It makes us worry more about footy instead of off-field dramas.
"To those who have won other awards earlier today, congratulations."
Those winners included James Graham for Rest of the World Representative Player of the Year, Jesse Bromwich for the best Kiwi Representative Player of the Year, and Greg Inglis and Sam Bremner as the best Australian male and female rep stars.
Rabbitohs playmaker Cody Walker was named Rookie of the Year while Roosters youngster Nat Butcher claimed Holden Cup Player of the Year honours.
Thurston – who was aiming for a record fifth RLPA Player of the Year award – paid credit to his ever-improving teammate via video link.
"It's the biggest award you can win in rugby league to be voted by your peers as the best in the game," Thurston said.
"He's had an outstanding year and I'm very proud of him for what he's achieved this year."