Ahead of the annual Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch, to be held next month at The Ivy, five finalists have been announced for the 2016 Buildcorp NRC Players' Player of the Year award.
All 2016 Buildcorp NRC players, both contracted and uncontracted, were asked to vote on the award, after thirteen nominees were selected based on their on-field performances in this year's competition. A 3-2-1 vote process created a five-man shortlist, with the winner to be announced at the Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch.
The award is one of eight major awards presented at the lunch, included the RUPA Medal for Excellence, Newcomer of the Year, Academic Achievement Award and Community Service Award. Previous winners of the award are Samu Kerevi (Brisbane City, 2014) and Ita Vaea (UC Vikings, 2015).
This year's finalists, in alphabetical order, are:
Jake Gordon, NSW Country Eagles
NSW Country Eagles scrumhalf Jake Gordon scored 9 tries in his side's run to the 2016 Buildcorp NRC Grand Final, also made seven line breaks and had two try assists in the regular season.
23-year-old Gordon, who will be hoping to make his Waratahs debut in 2017 after excelling with Sydney Uni before his standout Eagles campaign, had previously played all 17 matches in the Sydney Stars’ NRC existence, scoring 6 tries for the now-defunct side.
Jono Lance, Perth Spirit
Two-time Super Rugby winner Lance moved to Western Australia in 2016 to join the Western Force, where injuries restricted him to six appearances, however he was able to again stand out in the NRC with the Perth Spirit as they won their first ever Buildcorp NRC.
Lance directed his young side around the field from flyhalf with aplomb, and he continued his great form from the sidelines to nail 15 conversions and pass a century of career NRC points in 2016.
Izaia Perese, Queensland Country
While injury restricted Izaia Perese to just 5 appearances for Queensland Country in the 2016 NRC, on the back of nearly a year out of the game due to serious injury, those games were more than enough for 19-year-old Perese to show off his capabilities.
Izaia scored 4 tries for Country, swapping between outside centre and the wing as he played a pivotal role in his side gaining the reputation as one of the youngest and most exciting backlines in the competition in 2016, and was rewarded with selection as a development player on the Wallabies' Spring Tour.
Irae Simone, Sydney Rays
Hot on the heels of winning the Ken Catchpole Medal as the Shute Shield’s player of the year, and being signed by the Waratahs for 2017, 21-year-old centre Simone has lit up the competition after switching codes from the Rabbitohs at the end of the 2015 season.
Simone made the competition equal-most line breaks (11) in the regular season, as well providing 9 linebreak assists, 4 try assists and scoring 4 tries of his own as he built a dynamic centre pairing with Australian Rugby Sevens Olympian Con Foley at the Rays.
Tyrone Viiga, Western Sydney Rams
25-year-old backrower Tyrone Viiga was a member of the NSW Country Eagles squad in 2015 but didn’t play a game, however he has been an absolute standout for John Muggleton’s Rams this year as he scored 7 tries despite missing a game through injury.
Sydney-born Viiga, who plays for Parramatta in the Shute Shield, represented the Cook Islands at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and played for the Cronulla Sharks U20s before swapping codes.
The other eight finalists originally nominated were Tom English (Melbourne Rising), Damian Fitzpatrick (Sydney Rays), Ned Hanigan (NSW Country Eagles), Jordan Jackson-Hope (UC Vikings), David Lolohea (Western Sydney Rams), Matt Lucas (Sydney Rays), Isi Naisarani (Brisbane City) and Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Western Sydney Rams).
The voting process was undertaken by players as part of the annual Buildcorp NRC Player Survey, with over 120 unique responses allowing RUPA to gather some crucial information as the competition continues to evolve after just three iterations.
Some of the most interesting data rating the 2016 Buildcorp NRC included:
- 82% of players said it improved their overall Rugby development
- 90% of players said the standard of play increased in comparison to Club Rugby
- 80% said the standard of coaching increased in comparison to Club Rugby
- 96% of players said their overall 2016 Buildcorp NRC experience was positive, and based on their experience in they would. if selected, play again in 2017
- 79% of players said the amount of preparation time before the commencement of the 2016 Buildcorp NRC was better than in 2015, primarily due to the three-week break between NSW & QLD Club competitions and Round One of the 2016 Buildcorp NRC
- 88% of players saying the distribution of talent across teams was improved due to the reduction to eight teams
- 44% of players said we should revert back to same laws as Super Rugby
RUPA will continue to work closely with the Australian Rugby Union in order to help the Buildcorp NRC go from strength to strength in 2017.