Voting revamp enhances RLPA Players' Champion award
The biggest cross-section of players in the history of the RLPA's Players' Champion award will decide this year's winner after an overhaul of the peer-voted honour that Johnathan Thurston describes as "the highest individual accolade you can receive".
The union's awards night will once again recognise the game's best and brightest in a lavish event during the second week of the finals, with more athletes than ever before determining the best-performed player of the year under a new voting structure.
Working in conjunction with club delegates, the RLPA has provided more than 500 contracted NRL players with a list of 64 players (four from each club) in contention for the prestigious Players' Champion award and the recently introduced Players' 13 Dream Team.
The players will be revealed later this week with players then able to vote for their champion picks on a 3-2-1 system based on their performance across the entire 2018 season.
Players are unable to vote for their teammates, while no points are deducted for serving suspensions, a scenario which has ruled Victor Radley ineligible for this year's Dally M Rookie of the Year gong.
The likes of Kalyn Ponga, Damien Cook, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Cameron Smith are expected to lead contention for the Players Champion award.
Previous winners were decided by a 3-2-1 game-by-game points system, which was judged by the four RLPA player delegates at each club.
The new voting structure is designed to better reflect a player's performance across the entire season and avoid a scenario where players in strong teams share votes, and conversely a star individual in a struggling side can dominate through lack of other options.
"From the association's perspective we've looked to elevate the award and the event in recent years, which we've done, and also evolve that voting process so it's fully owned by the players," RLPA boss Ian Prendergast told NRL.com.
"Every player gets an opportunity to vote on who they think the best player is across a season. It just elevates it further, we've got the top 30 at each club and up to six development players too, every contracted player get the chance to vote.
"It looks like the vast majority of players will take up that option, so the sample size will be really significant, and that says plenty about how this award is viewed by the players. They respect it and really get behind it and that's great to see them invested in the award and the night."
As a four-time winner in 2005 and 2013-15, Thurston said: "I've been lucky to have achieved a lot throughout my career, which I'm really grateful for.
"But I still consider winning The Players' Champion as the highest individual accolade you can receive because it's voted on by your peers."
The RLPA's night of nights will again be a "black tie and sneakers" affair, with the September 11 event shifting to Darling Harbour's Doltone House and expecting to attract around 400 guests.
The RLPA will also announce its rookie of the year, women's and representative player of the year awards.
The game's stunning retiring class of 2018 – which features luminaries Thurston, Billy Slater, Sam Thaiday, Luke Lewis and Simon Mannering among almost 5000 games of NRL experience – will also receive a special tribute.
Wellbeing and education awards will also acknowledge important off-field achievements from across the NRL, while the Dennis Tutty Award – named after the Balmain Tigers lock whose court case win in the 1970s paved the way for greater player movement – will mark a player's contribution to the game.