Players' Champion race wide open: Civoniceva
NRL legend Petero Civoniceva believes the openness of the Telstra Premiership season will carry over into award season, as the competition heats up for the 2018 Players' Champion gong.
Civoniceva is one of only two people to share the prestigious award, having been tied for votes with Braith Anasta 10 years ago.
The shortlist of nominees for each team has been announced with the new voting system allowing every contracted player in the NRL to cast their vote ahead of the awards night on September 11.
As a result, Civoniceva believes the winner could come from left field as the next generation of stars such as Cameron Munster, Kalyn Ponga, Valentine Holmes and Damien Cook battle with the game's established veterans.
"I think we could be in for a surprise, you can look at the list of usual candidates who are consistently good," Civoniceva said.
"But then you look at somebody like a Kalyn Ponga who's really captured the attention of the rugby league world with some of his performances this year.
"That's the wonderful thing about the openness of the competition and the way the new voting structure is in place, so it'll be really exciting to see who gets the gong."
Amongst his glittering 309-game career, Civoniceva ranks his Players' Champions award as one of the greatest honours he received.
"I was just flattered and very humbled to be recognised in that way," he said.
"I'm sure Braith felt the same so to be able to share it him was a huge honour but again it was just one of those moments where you greatly value the recognition, knowing it's come from the blokes you go into battle against every week.
"To win that acknowlegment and recognition from your peers is something to be proud of."
As for who he would like to see in the Telstra Premiership Grand Final, Civoniceva said while he will always have a soft spot for the Panthers, he would like to see his other former team take on one of the game's foundation clubs.
"Again, the evenness of the competition this year has been amazing and on any given day regardless of where a team is coming on the ladder, they're a chance of winning," he said.
"You've got some sides that are coming into the finals with some confidence like the Broncos after their win (against Manly) and Souths are back to form.
"So, I'd love to see the Broncos and the Rabbitohs in the grand final."
Previous Players Champion winners
2017 James Tedesco
Was named the best player in the land by his peers last season, in what the man himself said was a shock decision.
Tedesco starred for the Wests Tigers, topping the league for tackle busts and finishing seventh in run metres, but was unable to help the joint venture reach the finals.
2016 Jason Taumalolo
North Queensland powerhouse Taumalolo capped off a sensational year on the field by winning the award two seasons ago.
Fresh off helping the Cowboys to the premiership in 2015, Taumalolo was instrumental in bringing home the World Club Challenge trophy, was named lock of the year for the second time and claimed a joint Dally M Medal alongside Cooper Cronk.
2015 Jonathan Thurston
Thurston capped his third win with a career-best haul of personal achievements. After helping Queensland to a State of Origin series win he won the Dally M Medal by a record 11 points along with the halfback of the year award.
He was also awarded the Clive Churchill Medal after North Queensland's grand final win before winning the Golden Boot Award for the third time.
2014 Jonathan Thurston
Thurston's year started with him collecting his second Golden Boot Award before going on to win the Dally M medal alongside Jarryd Hayne after the pair could not be split.
The North Queensland star also claimed the five-eighth of the year award along with the Provan-Summons Medal.
2013 Jonathan Thurston
Thurston helped steer Queensland to a State of Origin series win after scoring a crucial try and kicking two goals to make it eight consecutive series wins for the Maroons.
Thurston was named man of the match for the Kangaroos in the World Cup final against New Zealand, with Australian winning 34-2 at Old Trafford.
2012 Ben Barba
Ben Barba's sensational individual year earned him the Players' Champion gong, the Provan-Summons Medal for the fan's player of the year, and the Dally M Medal.
He was an integral part of the Canterbury Bulldogs' run to the grand final, where they lost 14-4 to the Melbourne Storm. Regardless Barba's outstanding season saw him score 22 tries in 27 games.
2011 Akuila Uate
Uate helped the Kangaroos to an eight-point win over New Zealand at Eden Park before playing two games for New South Wales. He was later named the Dally M winger of the year for the third straight season after scoring 18 tries in 22 games for the Newcastle Knights.
2010 Darius Boyd
Darius Boyd scored in all three games of the 2010 State of Origin series to help the Maroons keep the title. He finished third in the count for the Dally M Medal but won the Clive Churchill Medal as St George-Illawarra won the grand final.
He was also named fullback of the year by the Rugby League International Federation.
2009 Jarryd Hayne
A shift to fullback revolutionised Jarryd Hayne's game and with it came a host of individual awards.
Hayne won the Dally M Medal, was named as player of the series in State of Origin for the Blues, and was named the Rugby League International Federation player of the year.
2008 Braith Anasta and Petero Civoniceva
Braith Anasta and Petero Civoniceva hold the rare honour of being the only joint winners of this award.
Anasta helped the Sydney Roosters to a top-four spot before they were knocked out in the qualifying finals by the Brisbane Broncos, who were fittingly led by star forward Petero Civoniceva.
2007 Matt Bowen
With 22 tries for the season, the most in the NRL, North Queensland fullback Matt Bowen helped the Cowboys to third on the ladder.
He also collected the Rugby League Week Player of the Year, the Dally M Fullback of the year and the Cowboys player of the year awards.
2006 Ben Kennedy
Ben Kennedy's leadership for the Manly Sea Eagles in 2006 was a big reason why the rugged forward was given the award in its relative infancy.
Considered one of the game's most inspirational captains, Kennedy helped propel the Sea Eagles to fifth at the end of the season. He was also awarded the Dally M lock and captain of the year awards.
2005 Jonathan Thurston
Thurston's first year with North Queensland sparked the rest of his career.
Thurston earned Player's Player honours in his first game for Queensland before collecting the Dally M Medal along with the halfback of the year award.
2004 Danny Buderus
Considered one of one of the most important players in Newcastle Knights history, Danny Buderus became just the second hooker to win the Dally M Medal in 2004 along with being the inaugural winner of the Players' Champion award.
He was selected to play for the Kangaroos in their end of season Tri-Nations tournament where he starred for the Kangaroos, who beat Great Britain 44-4 in the final.