Dyldam Parramatta Eels legend and one-club man Ben Smith says he has ended his final season at the Blue and Gold with an an award that is close to his heart and a group of mates he expects to keep for life.

An ambassador for the Black Dog Institute and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Smith was recognised at the annual Eels Ken Thornett Medal night with the NRL Community Award, a fitting end to a season that saw him launch a new initiative, the For the Farmers appeal.

And the second-rower says with age comes an understanding of just how much influence an athlete can have on the community, from Parramatta to regional New South Wales. 

I think with the position we have within the community and our status as athletes, we need give back to the game,” Smith said.

“The Farmers appeal meant so much to me as someone who grew up on a farm and lived in the country. Being able to see that first hand and know what happens, for example, in a drought.”

“Just being able to have a voice and try and speak about what is happening in the current situation, I feel very privileged to be able to do that. A lot of people in the city don’t realise the impact that it has on the country people and farmers.”

“Just being able to have a voice and try and speak about what is happening in the current situation, I feel very privileged to be able to do that.”

And at the end of his eleventh NRL season at the Blue and Gold, Smith says the decision to leave a club that feels like family was never one he took lightly.

To be a part of Parramatta for so long, it’s a hard decision to make,” Smith said.

“I’ve been here for 12 years and outside of my family, this is all I know, I came straight down here from school.”

“It’s not just a football team or a club, it’s a family. I’m very grateful and thankful for so many people over the years who have helped me from when was a young kid; the coaches, staff, administration, the medical side of things. For anyone out their who has helped, I’m so thankful for them to get me to the position I’m in.”

“People outside of the football team don’t actually see what goes on behind the scenes, all you see if the performance and the efforts that we put on the football field. No one sees the camaraderie and the relationships you build as mates.”

“That’s going to be one of the biggest things that I’ll miss, sitting in the sheds and just watching everyone have a go at each other and having a laugh, they will be mates that I’ll have forever.”

Click through to see all the award winners from Tuesday's Ken Thornett Medal!