The Players' Champion: behind the trophy

The RLPA Players' Champion award carries plenty of prestige due to the method used to decide it, while the trophy itself has a story of its own.

While the Dally M award is based on a points system and a panel of judges and there are numerous fan-voted awards, the Player's Champion Award is voted on by the players alone.

The trophy itself channels iconic rugby league imagery - Johnathan Thurston's raised fist - but it also draws from wider sports history, according to RLPA CEO Ian Prendergast.

"The players and [fashion caster] Kannon Rajah were really the driving force behind designing the trophy and developing a new vision for The Players' Champion," Prendergast said.

"It's been modelled on the clenched fist of Johnathan Thurston and the iconic image of Peter Norman standing on the dais with US track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics."

"A lot of thought has gone into designing The Players' Champion Trophy, the players' awards were overhauled a couple of years back."

Given this season has seen the end of Thurston's glittering career, Prendergast said the concept behind the design could not be more fitting.

"JT is retiring after achieving pretty much everything a player could possibly dream of in rugby league, including winning The Players' Champion four times," he said.

"And secondly, Peter Norman has finally been acknowledged by the AOC [Australian Olympic Committee] for his role in supporting Smith and Carlos, albeit 50 years after the event."

James Tedesco won The Players' Champion award in 2017.
James Tedesco won The Players' Champion award in 2017.

Both the award and the imagery it adapts is a tribute to the bond between athletes and what sporting heroes, like Johnathan Thurston and Peter Norman, were able to achieve when they used sport as a platform for change.

"Peter Norman said 'I'll stand with you' minutes before the medal ceremony, later pinning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge to his green-and-gold Australian tracksuit in support."

"The Players' Champion Trophy celebrates the strength that both of these individuals epitomise and the power of athletes, particularly as a collective in standing together for what's right. It's something the RLPA is really proud of."