Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco has emerged as the surprise winner of the Players' Champion award after pipping Storm star Cameron Smith for the honour.
Tedesco accepted the trophy, determined by his NRL peers throughout the season, at a star-studded ceremony at The Star on Tuesday night. Most pundits expected Smith, the short-priced favourite for the Dally M award, to pick up the prestigious gong. However, Tedesco emerged as the players' player of the year, underscoring his value ahead of his switch to the Roosters during the off season.
"I didn't think I was any chance," Tedesco told AAP.
"I though Cameron Smith has had a great year and he's been the best in the game for a while.
"I thought he was No.1 for it. When I heard my name I was pretty shocked but very honoured.
"It's a great compliment for me, the year for the Tigers wasn't so good. This puts a good slant on it."
During the regular season Tedesco topped the league for tackle busts (153) and was seventh for run metres (163m per game).
Asked how he rated his 2017 season the NSW No.1 said: "It probably wasn't my greatest to be honest.
"It was hard in a struggling side at the Tigers but the last two months, for myself and as a team, we were better.
"I think there's a lot of improvement for myself, I'll be looking to do that at the Roosters next year. Hopefully I take my game to the next level."
Rugby League Players' Association CEO Ian Prendergast praised Tedesco for his stellar season, with the unique award that is peer-voted by opposition players each week.
"I would like to congratulate James on being awarded the Players' Champion and all the players honoured for their performances throughout the 2017 season," Prendergast said. "James has been recognised by his fellow players as the best performer this year, which is an enormous accolade.
"The voting system consists of players each week submitting who they think were the best three players from the opposition team - which makes this award unique as it is truly voted on by NRL players.
"Despite the Wests Tigers not making the NRL finals this year, James was consistently voted as one of their best all year by opposition players.
"James is one of those dynamic players who creates excitement every time he gets the ball and drives huge interest in the game. Clearly his performances have also impressed his peers throughout the season.
"This is something that James should be extremely proud of as he joins an elite group of previous winners that include Jason Taumalolo, Johnathan Thurston, Darius Boyd and Jarryd Hayne."
The night also paid tribute to RLPA general president Cameron Smith through a special presentation from Australian and Queensland teammate Johnathan Thurston. Smith was recognised for his significant contribution to rugby league, including surpassing Darren Lockyer for the most games played in his 356th NRL appearance last weekend.
Based on player voting throughout the season, the inaugural Players' 13 Dream Team was also named. Canberra Raiders winger Nick Cotric was named rookie of the year, playing all 24 matches and scoring 16 tries.
The Dennis Tutty Award, which recognises an individual who has made a significant contribution as an advocate for advancing the interests of players throughout the year, was awarded to Cronulla Sharks star and RLPA director James Maloney.
Smith (Australia), Taumalolo (New Zealand) and Josh Hodgson (Rest of the World) were recognised for their efforts in the representative arena this season through their respective awards.
Women's representative player of the year honours went to Simaima Taufa (Australian Jillaroos) and Sarina Fiso (New Zealand Kiwi Ferns), while Melbourne Storm hooker Harry Grant won the NYC player of the year award.
The night also recognised the off-field contributions of players through the RLPA-NRL wellbeing and education awards, with Tim Mannah (NRL academic player of the year) and Billy Magoulias (NYC academic player of the year) headlining teams named in this category.
Adam Blair (Pasifika leadership and excellence) and Ryan James (Indigenous leadership and excellence) were honoured for their contribution in their respective fields.
THE PLAYERS' CHAMPION 2017 AWARD WINNERS:
The Players' Champion - James Tedesco (Wests Tigers)
The Players' 13 Dream Team: James Tedesco (Wests Tigers), Jordan Rapana (Canberra Raiders), Konrad Hurrell (Gold Coast Titans), Dane Gagai (Newcastle Knights), David Nofoaluma (Wests Tigers), Gareth Widdop (St. George Illawarra), Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers), Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers), Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm), David Klemmer (Canterbury-Bankstown), Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland), Wade Graham (Cronulla-Sutherland), Sam Burgess (South Sydney)
Harvey Norman Rookie of the Year - Nick Cotric (Canberra Raiders)
Harvey Norman Dennis Tutty Award - James Maloney (Cronulla Sharks)
One Solutions Australian Representative Player - Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm/Australia/Queensland)
Phone A Flight New Zealand Representative Player - Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland)
One Solutions Rest of the World Representative Player - Josh Hodgson (England)
Harvey Norman Australian Representative Women's Player of the Year - Simaima Taufa (Australian Jillaroos)
Phone A Flight New Zealand Representative Women's Player of the Year - Sarina Fiso (New Zealand Kiwi Ferns)
Harvey Norman NYC Player of the Year - Harry Grant (Melbourne Storm)
Origin Greats Inductee - Brett Morris
The "300 Club" - Cooper Cronk, Chris Heighington, Luke Lewis, Paul Gallen, Ryan Hoffman
Shadforth Financial Group RLPA /NRL Wellbeing and Education Awards:
Indigenous Leadership & Excellence - Ryan James (Gold Coast Titans)
Pasifika Leadership & Excellence - Adam Blair (Brisbane Broncos)
NRL Academic Player of the Year - Tim Mannah (Parramatta Eels)
NYC Academic Player of the Year - Billy Magoulias (Cronulla Sharks)
NRL Academic Team of the Year: Tom Opacic (Brisbane), Chad Townsend (Sharks), Damien Cook (Rabbitohs), Jacob Host (Dragons), John Asiata (Cowboys), Christian Welch (Storm), Anthony Don (Titans), Tim Mannah (Eels), Jamie Buhrer (Knights), Ava Seumanufagai (Wests Tigers), Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles), Luke Keary (Roosters), Michael Lichaa (Bulldogs)
NYC Academic Team of the Year: Billy Magoulias (Sharks), Blake Manowski (Rabbitohs), Dane Aukafolau (Eels), Eiden Ackland (Warriors), Harry Grant (Storm), Joseph Ratuvakacereivalu (Roosters), Joseph Tramontana (Bulldogs), Liam Martin (Panthers), Mitchell Dunn (Cowboys), Patrick Carringan (Broncos), Royce Tout (Wests Tigers), Stuart Mason (Dragons), Tyrone Roberts-Davis (Titans)
The story Shock winner as Cameron Smith pipped for players' player award first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.