Capping off boomer year
The choice of Bundee Aki as Counties Manukau Steelers player of the year was unanimous.
The Chiefs-bound second five from the Patumahoe club scored six tries during the Steelers' march to the ITM Cup championship and was the pick of a panel set up to choose a winner.
His selection at the annual awards night in Pukekohe last Wednesday was given further validity when his team-mates named Aki as their player of the year too.
The honour caps a sensational season for the 22-year-old who was a stand-out in a talented Steelers backline which scored a stunning 41 tries this season.
His form promoted the Chiefs to name him in their Super 15 squad.
Aki was humbled by the honour.
"This award should really go to all the boys," he says.
The other significant winner on the night was Jimmy Tupou, the 20-year-old 1.96 metre flanker who in his debut season filled a huge hole when the Steelers' two most experienced loose forwards Fritz Lee and Adam Cathcart pulled up lame midway through the season.
Tupou was named rookie of the year, a considerable achievement for one who only started playing rugby as a 17-year-old at Pukekohe High School and became a New Zealand under-20 representative this year.
The Steelers weren't the only ones happy with his contributions. The Crusaders have offered him a Super15 contract and he is down in Christchurch now familiarising himself with the set-up and preparing for preseason training.
Tupou is still startled with his rapid elevation.
"It was a bit of a shock that there was some interest from any Super Rugby franchises, actually," he says.
"I was just trying to play well for my province - to get some interest from Toddy was really overwhelming. This is my first year. Everything is quite new to me."
Tupou flourished under the guidance of coach Tana Umaga and forwards coach Steve Jackson this year and he singled out former All Blacks skipper Umaga for his ability to empathise with his players.
"He just makes everyone feel comfortable, that they can play their game."
The team were relieved and excited when Umaga announced at the awards he had signed up for another two years.
Hazel Tubric was named Counties Manukau Rugby's women's player of the year.
The 21-year-old student who plays for Manurewa realised a lifelong ambition when she became a New Zealand Black Fern for the first time this year.
Her two Black Fern team-mates Aroha Savage and Renee Wickliffe were among other internationals recognised.
Steelers' player of the year: Bundee Aki. Nominees: Bundee Aki, Simon Lemalu, August Pulu, Baden Kerr.
Players' player of the year: Bundee Aki.
Rookie of the year: Jimmy Tupou. Nominees: Ma'ama Vaipulu, Jimmy Tupou, Tony Pulu.
Defence player of the year: Ronald Raaymakers. Nominees: DJ Forbes, August Pulu, Ronald Raaymakers, Mark Selwyn.
Most improved player of the year: Tony Pulu. Nominees: Tony Pulu, Ma'ama Vaipulu, Sikeli Nabou.
Club player of the year: Mark Selwyn (Onwhero).
Counties Manukau B player of the year: Sean Reidy.
Counties Manukau B most improved player of the year: George Crichton.
Sevens player of the year: Mark Selwyn.
Super 15 honours: Tim Nanai Williams, Fritz Lee, August Pulu (Chiefs) Sherwin Stowers (Blues).
New Zealand Honours: Aroha Savage, Renee Wickliffe, Hazel Tubic - Black Ferns.
New Zealand Women's Sevens: Hazel Tubic.
New Zealand under-20: Jimmy Tupou.
New Zealand Sevens: DJ Forbes (captain), Frank Halai.
Milestones: Baden Kerr, David Bason, Maka Tatafu, Sikeli Nabou, Bundee Aki, Matt Talaese, Adam Cathcart (15 games), Sherwin Stowers (50 games).
Referee of the year: Simon Brown.
Volunteer of the year: Lynn Berry.
George Bell Memorial Trophy (meritorious contribution to rugby): Matthew Newman.
Supporter of the year: Steve Johnson.
Supporters Club player of the year: Baden Kerr.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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