Ponga breaks Hayne Plane’s long-standing record at awards
NEWCASTLE whiz kid Kalyn Ponga has capped off a stunning breakout NRL season by becoming the youngest winner of The Players' Champion award.
Ponga on Tuesday edged out an impressive five-man field that included Damien Cook, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Valentine Holmes and Cameron Munster.
Parramatta star Jarryd Hayne was just 21 - and 85 games into his career - when he claimed the honour following his memorable 2009 season.
However, with just 29 games under his name, Ponga has already garnered the respect of his peers despite being one year out of his teens.
The Rugby League Players Association opted to revamp its voting system after copping flak for James Tedesco taking out the prize over hot favourite Cameron Smith last year.
Having previously used a 3-2-1 system for each game, all players were this year given a two-week window to cast their votes from a four-man field out of each NRL club.
The players' union declined to divulge how many players took part in the vote.
Sydney Roosters tyro Victor Radley took out the rookie of the year, while Tonga star Jason Taumalolo won the representative player of the year.
"To be voted by your peers as the players they liked during the season is a very high honour," Ponga said.
"I just wanted to get through my first year of NRL. I don't usually get nervous but (Johnathan Thurston) touched on it - this award is pretty huge.
"I'm glad that I went to the club at this time. This year's been good for us. We've got some players coming to the club next year that I can't wait to work with."
Jillaroos forward Simaima Taufa claimed women's player of the year.
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).