NZ Warriors star Shaun Johnson has won arguably a more prestigious honour than the Dally M Medal he missed out on this season, voted Player's Champion by his NRL peers.
Last week, Johnson was pipped by a single point for the competition's Player of the Year honour, won by Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga, despite missing a large chunk of the season through injury.
After considering retirement, the veteran half produced the best campaign of his 13-year career, scoring eight tries and leading the competition in try assists (29) and linebreak involvements (20), prompting claims he had been cheated of the award.
Any disappointment has been eased by news of the Rugby League Players Association prize, based on weekly votes throughout the season.
"I really appreciate the recognition to be among your peers and be acknowledged like this," said Johnson. "It's pretty special.
"It means a lot coming from the playing group, in particular, and something I don't take for granted."
Johnson, 33, emerged ahead of Warriors teammate Addin Fonua-Blake, and Brisbane Broncos stars Adam Reynolds, Payne Haas and Reece Walsh.
RLPA chief executive Clint Newton says the award is recognition of his contribution to the game across his career.
"Shaun has been an elite player in the NRL competition ever since he burst onto the scene in 2011," he said. "Over that time, he has been able to continually evolve and adapt each season, despite the ever-increasing demands and intensity.
"He has been an inspiration to so many junior and current players, who grew up watching him play. To have Shaun play and represent our game is certainly a blessing, and this honour as Players’ Champion 2023 is an acknowledgment of not just a great season, but a superb career so far."
Johnson becomes the first Warriors player to receive the award and the second Kiwi, after Jason Taumalolo in 2016.
"As a previous winner of The Players' Champion honour, I know how much of an honour it is to be named the best by all the players," said three-time winner James Tedesco. "It's a great feeling and I hope, for Shaun, it can give him great satisfaction for an amazing personal season."
Johnson has signed on with the Warriors for the 2024 season.
After taking the Auckland-based club to the brink of its third NRL Grand Final, he was named Dally M Halfback of the Year, while Fonua-Blake (prop) and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (winger) also made Team of the Year, and Andrew Webster won Coach of the Year.
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