Cameron Smith... proud winner. Photo: Getty Images
MELBOURNE Storm captain Cameron Smith was last night crowned the club's player of the year for a fifth time.
Smith, who led his team to the NRL premiership with a 14-4 win over Canterbury in last Sunday's grand final, finished with 28 points, just ahead of Ryan Hoffman and Cooper Cronk.
Smith accumulated many of his points during the Storm's mid-season slump where it fell to six losses from seven games, including five in a row.
The players are judged through the season, including the finals, with a 3-2-1 system from coach Craig Bellamy and his assistants Kevin Walters and David Kidwell. One point is also awarded to the players' player after each game.
Storm football operations manager Frank Ponissi said Smith showed consistency even when the team was struggling.
"Cameron Smith dominated the votes. It's quite extraordinary how many points Smithy gained during that period," he said.
Smith, who is the Queensland state of origin and the Australian Test captain, and Hoffman, who returned to Melbourne after playing at English Super League club Wigan in 2011, were tied on 18 votes by round 18, but Smith edged ahead during the finals.
Billy Slater, who started the season with a remarkable run of tries, had been the early leader but his chances were ended by a knee injury that kept him sidelined for six weeks.
In other awards, the Storm's first Victorian player, Mahe Fonua, who played four games during the latter part of the season, won rookie of the year.
Fijian winger Sisa Waqa, who was dropped from the team in 2011 but impressed this year, was named most improved.
Hoffman, whose form this season earned him a recall to the Kangaroos for next Saturday's Test against New Zealand, was named best forward, while Cronk was voted best back.
Another member of the up-and-coming Victorians, Young Tonumaipea, was named under-20s player of the year.
Cronk and strength and conditioning coach Alex Corvo were also inducted as life members of Melbourne Storm.
Meanwhile, former Canterbury premiership winner Luke Patten has urged Bulldogs players to be proud of their achievements this season and focus on going one better next season.
The Bulldogs are dealing with the fallout from their grand final loss to Melbourne, along with James Graham's 12-game ban for biting Slater and an ongoing investigation into the club's Mad Monday exploits.
Patten is retired but enjoyed title success with the Bulldogs in 2004.
"James Graham had a great year, but I suppose everyone is going to remember that suspension now, which is a shame," he said yesterday.
"All of the players can be very proud of what they've done this year. A lot of people weren't expecting them to get to the grand final this season."