(Main photo: Bodene Thompson. Credit: photosport.nz).
Award season is here! Well, for rugby league anyway. In the spirit of being part of that trend, here’s our 2016 NZ Awards.
Biggest surprise of 2016 – Jordan Rapana
It truly seemed Rapana’s rugby league ship had sailed. A promising debut season in 2008, followed by a two-year Mormon mission, a stint in union and then a period where it looked as if he might never get past the lower grades at the Raiders.
Yet almost out of nowhere Rapana has emerged as the best winger in the NRL. By the end of the regular season he topped the competition in line breaks at an average of one per game, and was second for tackle breaks (127) and tries scored (20).
Honourable mention – Brad Takairangi
Jordan Rapana scores his 21st try of the season!
Via – NRL pic.twitter.com/OoMc3RavDR
— EatSleepRugby (@eatsleeprugby) September 13, 2016
Rookie of the Year – James Fisher-Harris
Few had heard of ‘JFH’ before this year, but the rugged Northland back-rower was a revelation for Penrith in 2016, keeping more experienced players out of the starting squad at times. In 21 games he scored five tries, barged through for 1,418 metres and made 499 tackles. He is a good chance of booking a seat on the plane for the end-of-year Four Nations too.
Honourable mention – Josh Aloiai
Super consistent for the Warriors out on the right edge, forming a strong combo with Shaun Johnson. In 18 games he averaged 38.1 tackles per game, made eight line breaks and scored six tries.
In the space of a few seasons he has gone from a utility ‘role player’, to a class second-rower.
Super League Player of the Year – Denny Solomona
Solomona started scoring crazy-athletic-elusive-make-defenders-look-stupid-tries at the start of the year and then just couldn’t stop. His 37 Super League four-pointers (so far) across the season broke a 12-year record, held by guess who? Another Kiwi blockbuster in Lesley Vainikolo.
As we write this Solomona is up to his eyes in a battle to win the Super League’s Man of Steel Award, given to the competition’s best player. The former Melbourne Storm lower-grade player has been huge in the Old Dart.
— Super League (@SuperLeague) September 18, 2016
Female Player of the Year – Teuila Fotu-Moala
It was a chilly Friday night at Bert Henham Park when a Te Atatu Roosters’ player about to try and tackle Fotu-Moala delivered the best possible endorsement of her ball-carrying talent: “What the f***!”
A missed tackle followed.
Fotu-Moala – who we profiled earlier this year here – continued to find new levels to her game this season, and was a standout for the Kiwi Ferns when they beat the Jillaroos in May. Loves the impact and is fast developing into a leader for the national side.
Honourable mention – Georgia Hale
Men’s Player of the Year – Jason Taumalolo
Now the undisputed king of ball-carrying forwards in the NRL. Finished second for most metres run, averaging 167 per game, and managed bigger minutes than in previous years.
Being voted the best by your peers is as good as it gets, and Taumalolo ticked that off a couple of weeks ago at the RLPA Awards.
Retiring players Jeremy Smith, Dene Halatau, Ben Henry, Ali Lauitiiti and Sam Perrett. They all lined up for the Kiwis and represented the New Zealand game with distinction on and off the field over the years. Class acts who will be missed.
New Zealand Team of the Year
1: Jason Nightingale, 2: Antonio Winterstein, 3: Brad Takairangi, 4: Solomone Kata, 5: Jordan Rapana, 6: Thomas Leuluai, 7: Shaun Johnson, 8: Jesse Bromwich, 9: Elijah Taylor, 10: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 11: Tohu Harris, 12 Simon Mannering, 13: Jason Taumalolo. BENCH: 14: Sam Kasiano, 15: Zeb Taia, 16: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 17: Bodene Thompson.