Just-retired Vodafone Warriors great Simon Mannering received two acknowledgements at the Rugby League Players’ Association’s annual awards in Sydney last night.
He was recognised as one of new additions to the NRL’s 300 club alongside Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater, John Sutton and Sam Thaiday.
Mannering was also named in the NRL Academic Team of the Year. Outside his football career, he has been pursuing a diploma in building and construction majoring in quantity surveying. In addition, he has completed an Auckland Rugby League coaching certificate and is currently sitting the New Zealand Rugby League’s level three coaching qualification.
In the night’s major award, Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga created history by becoming the youngest recipient of The Players’ Champion.
The 20-year-old edged out the other four finalists Vodafone Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, South Sydney hooker Damien Cook, Cronulla fullback Valentine Holmes and Melbourne standoff Cameron Munster.
Ponga was anointed 2018’s best performer based on a revamped voting system that canvassed the views of more RLPA members than ever before.
Previous winners of The Players’ Champion include James Tedesco (2017), Jason Taumalolo (2016), Danny Buderus (2004) and Johnathan Thurston (2005, 2013, 2014, 2015); Thurston considered the award as “the highest individual accolade a player can receive.”
St George Illawarra and Kiwi winger Jason Nightingale, who has also retired, received the Dennis Tutty Award for 2018, recognising his enormous contribution in the wellbeing and education space, his efforts as founder of the Elite Athlete Business School and engagement as an RLPA delegate.
Tutty, a former Balmain, Penrith and Australian player, was on hand to present Nightingale with the honour that each year recognises an individual who has acted in a selfless way in advancing the interests of their fellow players.
Warriors captain Laura Mariu was among the finalists for the Elite Women’s Player of the Year accolade which went to Australian Jillaroos star and Sydney Roosters captain Simaima Taufa.
North Queensland and Mate Ma’a Tonga back rower Jason Taumalolo edged out finalists from Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea to be named Representative Player of the Year.
Perhaps one of the hottest contested awards of the night was Rookie of the Year, with NRL players voting in favour of Victor Radley (Sydney Roosters) ahead of Jamayne Isaako (Brisbane), Alex Brimson (Gold Coast), Rhyse Martin (Canterbury-Bankstown) and Jesse Ramien (Cronulla-Sutherland).
The Players’ 13 Dream Team, a concept introduced last year, produced a completely different side compared to how votes stacked up last year. Among those included were 2018 Kiwi rookies Esan Marsters and Isaako plus another New Zealand international .
The NRL-RLPA Wellbeing and Education Awards once again featured prominently with several players headlined by Dale Copley (NRL Academic Player) and Kody House (Women’s Academic Player) receiving recognition for their excellence off-field.
THE PLAYERS’ CHAMPION 2018 AWARD WINNERS
The Players’ Champion: Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights)
The Players’ 13 Dream Team: Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights); Valentine Holmes (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters), Esan Marsters (Wests Tigers), Jamayne Isaako (Brisbane Broncos); Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm), Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland Cowboys); Andrew Fifita (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Melbourne Storm); Viliame Kikau (Penrith Panthers), Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons); Jake Trbojevic (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles)
Rookie of the Year: Victor Radley (Sydney Roosters)
Dennis Tutty Award: Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Representative Player of the Year: Jason Taumalolo (Mate Ma’a Tonga)
Elite Women’s Player of the Year: Simaima Taufa (Australian Jillaroos)
The ‘300 Club’: Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland Cowboys), Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors), Sam Thaiday (Brisbane Broncos), John Sutton (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Billy Slater (Melbourne Storm)
Indigenous Leadership & Excellence: Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland Cowboys)
Pasifika Leadership & Excellence: Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra Dragons)
NRL Academic Player of the Year: Dale Copley (Gold Coast Titans)
Women’s Academic Player of the Year: Kody House (Brisbane Broncos)
NRL Academic Team of the Year: Aiden Tolman (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Isaac Liu (Sydney Roosters), Jason Bukuya (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Dunamis Lui (Canberra Raiders), Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors), Michael Morgan (North Queensland Cowboys), David Gower (Parramatta Eels), Korbin Sims (Brisbane Broncos), Ryley Jacks (Melbourne Storm), Cameron Murray (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Euan Aitken (St George Illawarra Dragons), Dale Copley (Gold Coast Titans), Kody House (Brisbane Broncos)