JT's 'smoky' to claim 'unique' league honour

2 weeks ago 8
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League legend Johnathan Thurston has tipped an unlikely contender for this year's Rugby League Players' Association Players' Champion award, after the shortlist was revealed today.

Four players from each club were nominated as 'contenders' for the Players' Champion, with the winner set to be crowned during Nine's NRL grand final day broadcast.

In 2020 the award was won by Panthers star Nathan Cleary, who is again one of the favourites for this season's gong.

Thurston is a four-time winner of the Players' Champion award, and says it is one of the most significant achievements a rugby league player can earn.

"You want to test yourself against the best and other players are the real judges, so it means a lot to me to be voted by my fellow peers as the best in the game," Thurston told Wide World of Sports.

"I know the Dally M has more prestige but in my eyes to be voted by my fellow peers as the best is quite humbling and I hold it in very high regard."

Payne Haas (Getty)

What Thurston said makes the award even more special is that those players on teams not contending for the premiership have as much chance to win it as those from teams at the top of the ladder, and so it should be no surprise the former Maroons star has picked a Brisbane Broncos standout as an outside chance to win the gong this season.

"Payne Haas is a smoky," Thurston said.

"That's the beauty about the award. Your team can be at the lower end of the ladder but if you're a consistent, standout player in your team each and every week, that's what makes this award so unique.

"The front-rowers probably don't get the raps they deserve. Every time I watch the Broncos play in my eyes [Haas] has probably been their best player each game.

"You know what you're going to get from him and he plays a lot of minutes. As a halfback you notice the work the big men do and I wouldn't be surprised if Payne wins it."

James Tedesco of the Roosters runs the ball during the round 23 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Sydney Roosters at Clive Berghofer Stadium, on August 22, 2021, in Toowoomba, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images) (Getty)

The more obvious contenders would be Manly's Tom Trbojevic and Roosters fullback James Tedesco; two players Thurston said have the ability to not only deliver huge performances on the field themselves, but they also lift those around them.

"They're both different in the way they play but they both have that impact on the result and on the team, and that's what the best players in the game do," Thurston said.

"When they play they're going to play their best footy and there's no room for error. The margin between their best and worst game is so small.

"[Trbojevic] has been a freak, and we've all known this about Turbo, we're just starting to see him do it more lately because his career has been so interrupted by injuries. But he's on top of his body now and he's had a big influence."

Tom Trbojevic (Getty)

While unlikely to upset the applecart and win the award, Thurston was glad to see Titans star Tino Fa'asuamaleaui get a nomination.

"I got to work alongside him in the Origin arena and I was really impressed about the way he went about his business," Thurston said of Fa'asuamaleaui.

"He's still a kid still learning. He started as a lock and moved into the front row now and I think that's his position.

"He's settled in really well at the Titans and he's only going to get better. There's no doubt he's one of their best players."

Tino Fa'asuamaleaui of the Titans (Getty)

RLPA Player's Champion Award Contenders

Broncos: Payne Haas, Jake Turpin, Herbie Farnworth, Alex Glenn

Bulldogs: Jake Averillo, Luke Thompson, Nick Cotric, Nick Meaney

Cowboys: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Reece Robson, Jason Taumalolo, Scott Drinkwater

Dragons: Blake Lawrie, Ben Hunt, Jack Bird, Tariq Sims

Eels: Clint Gutherson, Isaiah Papali'i, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Reed Mahoney

Knights: Jacob Saifiti, Connor Watson, Jayden Brailey, Daniel Saifiti

Panthers: Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo, James Fisher-Harris, Jarome Luai

Rabbitohs: Adam Reynolds, Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Cameron Murray

Raiders: Josh Hodgson, Jordan Rapana, Ryan Sutton, Elliott Whitehead

Roosters: James Tedesco, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Joseph Manu, Angus Crichton

Sea Eagles: Tom Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, Reuben Garrick

Sharks: William Kennedy, Connor Tracey, Blake Brailey, Toby Rudolf

Storm: Christian Welch, Jarome Hughes, Brandon Smith, Nicho Hynes

Wests Tigers: Luke Brooks, Adam Doueihi, Daine Laurie,

Titans: David Fifita, AJ Brimson, Moeaki Fotuaika, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui

Warriors: Reece Walsh, Addin Fonua-Blake, Tohu Harris, Marcelo Montoya

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