Ponga crowned The Players’ Champion
Kalyn Ponga has created history by becoming the youngest ever recipient of The Players' Champion.
The 20-year-old nib Newcastle Knights fullback received the ultimate recognition from his peers at the Rugby League Players' Association's annual awards night, held at the picturesque Doltone House at Darling Island on Tuesday.
Ponga edged out a star-studded group of finalists that included South Sydney rake Damien Cook, Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Cronulla flyer Valentine Holmes and Melbourne playmaker Cameron Munster.
The Queensland Maroons representative was anointed the best performer of 2018 based on a revamped voting system that canvassed the views of more RLPA members than ever before.
RLPA CEO Ian Prendergast congratulated Ponga on a stellar 2018 season, which included 20 appearances for the Newcastle Knights and a State of Origin debut.
"It's incredible that at such a young age, Kalyn has already gained the recognition from his fellow players as the best performer in 2018," Mr Prendergast said.
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"Despite the Knights not making it through to the finals this season, Kalyn continued to put in dominant performances throughout in his first-year at the club.
"The RLPA membership have had their say and for a 20-year-old to be voted the best by his peers, it just shows what a prestigious talent the Newcastle custodian is.
"We have witnessed somewhat of a changing of the guard in 2018, with the emergence of young stars with plenty of character and a number of the game's longest servants retiring.
"On behalf of the RLPA, I want to congratulate Kalyn and all other award recipients at tonight's event."
Previous winners of The Players' Champion include James Tedesco (2017), Jason Taumalolo (2016), Danny Buderus (2004) and Johnathan Thurston (2005,2013-15) – with the latter considering the award as "the highest individual accolade a player can receive."
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 (Tonga)
Elite Women's Player of the Year: Simaima Taufa (Australian Jillaroos)
The '300 Club': Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland Cowboys), Simon Mannering (New Zealand 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 (New Zealand 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)