The RLPA have come under fire following their announcement of the first round of candidates for the NRL Players’ Champion Award.

It’s not because the list is exhausting, with 64 names on it as four players from every club were selected – but because of who made the cut, including one player who was banned for using a homophobic slur on the field just this year.

Marcelo Montoya was handed a four-match suspension by the NRL after he directed a homophobic slur at North Queensland Cowboys player Kyle Feldt as he lay on the ground after a tackle. Despite the ban, Montoya returned to play almost every game of the season, finishing with six tries from 18 appearances.

Though Montoya showed remorse after the sentence was handed down, the decision to have him on the list is still perplexing – especially as the club’s 2022 Player of the Year, Euan Aitken, failed to earn a mention, with the three remaining Warriors nominations given to Tohu Harris, Wayde Egan and Addin Fonua-Blake.

The 2022 Simon Mannering Medal winner Euan Aitken was not nominated for the RLPA Award. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

“I’m not a homophobe and gays in the community are valued,” Montoya told the judiciary at the time.

“In the heat of the moment on the footy field, things are said. I accept that word is unacceptable and that’s definitely out of character. There was no intention to offend.”

Players are nominated for the shortlist by RLPA delegates at each club, who put forward three candidates. The fourth from each club is then selected by an RLPA Working Group, bringing the total to a convoluted 64 candidates.

Voting is then undertaken by every contracted NRL player, with the only condition being that participants are unable to vote for their own clubmates.