A week after being embroiled in the Townsville egging controversy Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo has been crowned The Players Champion.
The North Queensland premiership winner was presented with the prestigious Rugby League Players Association award at a gala event in Sydney on Tuesday night.
The prize is based on player votes and one Cowboys teammate and four-time champion Jonathan Thurston described as the best in the business.
“In my eyes, the Players’ Champion is the highest accolade a player can get,” Thurston said.
“It’s such an honour to be voted by your peers as the best in the game.”
Taumalolo is set to face court with charges of wilful damage on October 11 along with four other North Queensland lower grade players over an alleged incident last Wednesday night.
In the meantime the 23-year-old and Thurston will combine forces to help keep the Cowboys’ title defence alive.
North Queensland host Brisbane in a grand final replay with both club’s seasons on the line.
The Cowboys went down 16-10 to minor premiers the Storm in Melbourne on Saturday night while 24 hours earlier the Broncos beat the Gold Coast Titans 44-28.
Taumalolo will now go into the sudden-death clash bouyed with confidence after picking up the Champions Player award.
The Kiwi and Tongan representative pipped the likes of Thurston, Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith, in-form Raiders centre Joey Leilua, Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson and Parramatta excitement machine Semi Radradra.
Also in the top 20 nominees were West Maitland junior Greg Bird, NSW bolter Tyson Frizell, Bulldogs hardman James Graham, Sharks playmaker James Maloney, Knights shining light Dane Gagai, Panthers pair Josh Mansour Matt Moylan, Tigers duo Mitchell Moses and James Tedesco as well as Clive Churchill Medal winners Greg Inglis (2007) and Sam Burgess (2014).
It comes on the back of a barnstorming 2016 season where Taumalolo was third overall in the NRL for both all-run metres (4088) and hit ups (367).
The Auckland-born forward moved to Townsville when he was 13 and made his NRL debut in round 24 of 2010.
Last year he was Dally M lock of the year and went on to make 178 metres and 30 tackles in a successful grand final outing.
Elsewhere, rookie of the year was taken out by versatile South Sydney Rabbitohs back Cody Walker. He edged out Penrith playmaker Nathan Cleary, Parramatta speedster Bevan French, Roosters utility back Latrell Mitchell and Gold Coast rising star Ash Taylor.
Representative accolades went to Inglis (Australia), Jesse Bromwich (New Zealand) and James Graham (rest of the world) while in women’s competition Samantha Bremner (Australia) and Georgie Hale (New Zealand) were recognised.
Retiring Wests Tigers veteran Dene Halatau received the Dennis Tutty award for clubman of the year.
Under 20s player of the year was presented to Nat Butcher of the Sydney Roosters.
Check out all the action from the Rugby League Players’ Champion Awards in Sydney this evening.
Tell us who your pick was in the poll at the bottom of this page.
Josh Callinan is calling the action live below, check out the Black Carpet arrivals and nominees in the gallery above or cast your vote in the poll below.
Who’s your Players’ Champion pick?