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The Rugby League Players' Association Awards have gone from strength to strength over the past 13 years, and are widely considered by the players as one of the most important events on the rugby league calendar.

I know this first hand. I was incredibly lucky enough to take out the inaugural Players' Champion Award in 2004.

To win any award in rugby league is an honour, but as a player this one was extra special, as it came from my fellow competitors.

Players spend most weeks of the year battling each other - some of the biggest and most talented names in rugby league. Winning these battles is how respect is built in the game among comrades.

Victory is all about the team, but the team sometimes wins on the back of some individual brilliance and that's what the players pick up on, understand and respect.

Personally, when I won the RLPA's Players' Champion award, my club, the Newcastle Knights, had a few injuries and it was at that time I felt I needed to grow as a leader.

It was my first year captaining New South Wales, and I went through a fair bit of personal development; through belief in becoming a leader and all those things that come with having the captaincy next to your name.

Former Newcastle, NSW and Australian captain Danny Buderus.
Former Newcastle, NSW and Australian captain Danny Buderus. ©NRL Photos

I had to overcome a few battles – I did not believe I was that sort of player. But my confidence grew and I got some understanding of what it meant to lead the team, and off the back of that I was lucky enough to win a Dally M and Players' Champion award.

I have been involved in the RLPA since day one and have seen it grow. Everyone knew we had to have a voice – but more importantly the right voices at the top. Once everyone saw that it was getting things done and benefitting the game, everyone believed in it.

But they are more than just players – they are stakeholders in the game and have a responsibility to grow the game, individually and as a collective.

Every game it seems like the players are taking the game to the next level on the field, but they have a much more important role in shaping the game, and its culture, off the field in the community. They often don't get the credit they deserve.

One of the most respected players in the game Johnathan Thurston was lucky enough to win the Players' Champion Award four times, which is truly an amazing accolade.

If you look at anyone who has won that award, they understand the moments of a game, they compete right until the last second. That's JT to a tee. He keeps coming at you, keeps asking questions, keeps fighting. It's a big part of his DNA.

My former teammate Ben Kennedy, also a Players' Champion winner, never took a backward step and was one of the best players I've played with. He would beat you with how tenacious he is, but also with his ability with ball in hand, his footwork, and his ability to live on the edge.

Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker.
Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

I firmly believe all those traits do not go unnoticed among the playing fraternity, who ultimately decide the Players' Champion award winner.

This year there are many candidates who have put their hand up, and I believe it will be nearly impossible to predict. It could be Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Valentine Holmes, Kalyn Ponga, Damien Cook, Cody Walker, and even David Klemmer has come home strong. Then again there are dozens who are worthy candidates.

But with so many great people, not just players building this sense of community - the game itself, along with tireless effort from the RLPA which goes into making the awards night a successful event - it's here to stay.

Best of luck to everyone who has been nominated across the evening and cherish the highest accolades achievable from your fellow peers.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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