Players’ Champion an awards night with a difference

This story was first written and published by NRL.com

As a woman, there is no part of my body that I apologise to more than my feet. This apology happens more frequently than I would like to admit.

I apologise to my feet for cramming my toes into very pointy shoes. I apologise to my feet for wearing uncomfortable shoes because they looked pretty in the store. I apologise to my feet for wearing shoes a size too small because the shoes were on sale but only available in a size smaller than I actually am.

But there is no time I am more apologetic to my feet than the night after a function where I have made a decision to wear impossibly high heels. I say all sorts of ridiculous things to my feet the next morning like “I promise I will never wear high heels again” and “I’m going to throw out all my high heels right now”, all the while wondering whether my feet will ever not be in pain again.

After reading that you’ll understand why my feet especially look forward to one night of the year – with a dress theme of black tie and sneakers, the Rugby League Players’ Association’s Players’ Champion is the glam event that my feet await each year.

But in all seriousness, the Players’ Champion is a night like no other because the celebration is hosted by a body in our game quite like no other.

While there is a focus on formality, there is also a real emphasis on making the evening fun and entertaining so that our players are given the opportunity to celebrate the season that was, together.

It’s also an evening that has become increasingly relevant in recent years – last year the awards were even televised on 9Gem.

Three years ago I had no idea the RLPA existed – which is quite troubling, particularly when you consider the importance of the association’s role in advocating for the interests and welfare of one of our game’s most important assets – our players.

A couple of years ago I hazard a guess the RLPA was not taken particularly seriously and was not properly backed or trusted by the players. But thanks to the leadership of Ian Prendergast and involvement from others like Michael Crocker and Clint Newton, it has truly become an entity which represents and unites our players.

This was on show last year during the challenging negotiations for the new CBA, where the players truly showed a collective front for the first time.

Our players’ respect each other both on and off the field. So because  the Players’ Champion is voted on by the players, it is an award that has special significance among the NRL players. To be recognised by your peers is one of the greatest honours of all.

Previously the voting for the award was done by the relevant RLPA representatives for each club on a 3-2-1 basis following each of their games. This year the voting system has changed.

There are 64 outstanding nominees – four from each club. I know plenty of people will be talking about the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Cameron Smith, Latrell Mitchell and Damien Cook, but there’s one player’s effort that I wanted to highlight this year as my Players’ Champion.

It’s not been an easy year for Canterbury and their captain Josh Jackson. There has been drama at the Bulldogs since before the season started, with a new board, a new CEO, salary cap mismanagement by the previous regime and a new coach – all compounded by poor results to start the season.

But somehow the Bulldogs have persevered under the watch of their quiet and measured captain.

Even after losing players like Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods, the Dogs have ended the season positively with wins against St George Illawarra, the Warriors and Brisbane and players like Reimis Smith, Lachlan Lewis and Adam Elliott have continued to shine and give their fans hope for a more positive year next year.

Jackson’s leadership has been exemplary and while he may not receive the award on the night, I think he would be an exceptionally deserving recipient and a player that his club should be remarkably proud of.

I may have been very focused on the men’s game so far, but don’t be mistaken – the RLPA represents all our players. This will become more relevant as we get closer to launch of the inaugural women’s competition which begins next week and is only in its infancy. For the last couple of years the RLPA has made a genuine and sincere effort to ensure that the Australian Jillaroos and Kiwi Ferns have also been afforded representation, guidance and assistance. This support is essential if the competition is going to thrive.

At the Players’ Champion, there is also an award presented to the Female Representative Player of the year. With our female players being given the opportunity to play more rugby league this year than any other, there is some fierce competition on the night – will it be Sammy Bremner or Isabelle Kelly or perhaps even Kezie Apps?

Only one question really remains now – Converse or Adidas?