Man of Steel winner Ben Barba has thanked St Helens for making him enjoy the game again as he prepares to return to the National Rugby League.
Barba is heading back to his native Australia with North Queensland Cowboys after helping Saints to the League Leaders’ Shield and two semi-finals.
The ex-Cronulla full-back scored 31 tries and made the 2018 Dream Team.
“I always knew when I was coming here that it wasn’t going to be easy,” Barba, 29, told BBC Sport.
“I knew what this competition is capable of. I think me going back to the NRL is a lot about Super League and St Helens.
“Saints got me enjoying my football again and allowed me to play that expansive football.”
Barba, who was banned by the NRL in 2016 following a positive test for cocaine, joined Saints in 2017 after a spell in rugby union at French Top 14 side Toulon.
Once back in his more familiar code, the Darwin-born back showed his match-winning qualities to add the Man of Steel to his 2012 Dally M medal for “best and fairest” in the elite NRL.
“It’s unbelievable,” Barba added. “It’s an award that I could have only hoped for at the start of the year.
“What makes it more special is that it’s voted for by the other players, my peers, and to win it against guys like James Roby and John Bateman, I’m so honoured to be the one holding it.”
Teenage kicks for Roche
Monday’s ceremony also saw the inaugural Woman of a Steel award, which ran alongside the men’s for the first time.
Leeds captain Lois Forsell and Castleford’s Tara-Jane Stanley were pipped to the accolade by Tigers teenager Georgia Roche, who has been selected for the England squad to face France later this month.
Roche, 17, is among the youngest players in the professional game but has been a key player as Castleford reached the Challenge Cup final before losing to Leeds and also the play-off semi-final where they suffered the same fate.
“Some of the women in our game are such units and sometimes they run at me and I think – oh dear,” Roche said.
“I’ve stood my ground well, but the Castleford girls are the main reason I’m here, I can’t thank them enough. They’re the best people to have around me.
“Being presented the award in my first full season in Super League is immense.”
Although Castleford were dumped out of the play-offs by double-chasing Leeds, Roche’s season is not quite over yet, with her international bow on the horizon.
England face France on 27 October in Carcassonne, and Roche is in line to make her senior debut.
“I can’t wait, my first cap for England is my dream, I didn’t think it would come so early,” she continued.
“The England development has been training for a while, they’re all top class and that’s why I didn’t expect to be here because there are so many talented girls within that group.”