Former All Blacks lock Jason Eaton was last night named Taranaki rugby player of the year.
The 15-test veteran was a popular choice at the Amber and Black Awards in New Plymouth in a season when Taranaki finished third, their highest finish in the national provincial championships.
"It's a bit of a shock," he told the audience. "This award could have gone to anyone of us in the team and that's what made us so special."
Eaton said it was a pleasure to go into the Taranaki environment after a turbulent time at the Hurricanes.
"It's nice to come back to some coaches who actually like you. It makes it a lot easier to play and put something out on the track."
The 2.02m, 114kg lock featured in every one of Taranaki's 10 ITM Cup games in a year when he was also given the vice-captaincy.
Given the compacted nature of the competition, Eaton started the Tasman match as skipper, while he also took over the captaincy from Craig Clarke when his locking partner was subbed in several other matches.
There was no doubt the 29-year- old produced his best season for Taranaki since bursting on to the national scene and making the All Blacks in 2005.
Dogged by serious knee injuries over recent seasons, Eaton said specialists had told him it would take 18 months to recover fully from his last knee reconstruction and that was proved right through his form in the ITM Cup.
One of the best lineout forwards in the competition, Eaton was excellent when asked to cart the ball over the advantage line, while his defence and ability to disrupt opposition ball at the tackle were other highlights of his play.
Many at last night's awards remained puzzled as to why Eaton has yet to be offered a Super Rugby contract.
Close to 300 people crammed into the Devon Hotel for the awards, with most of the conversation relating to the Ranfurly Shield victory over Southland and the side's first defence against Hawke's Bay.
Outstanding openside flanker Scott Waldrom was named forward of the year in a rare season in which he was not troubled by injury. Waldrom, who also featured in all 10 of Taranaki's games, was undoubtedly the best openside flanker in the ITM Cup.
Young first five-eighth Beauden Barrett was named back of the year after taking over the No 10 jersey. While he initially struggled with his goal kicking, Barrett came back to land a record nine penalties against Bay of Plenty.
Barrett, who signed a contract with the Hurricanes midway through the season, also played a leading role in Taranaki lifting the Shield and defending it. The 20-year-old was also Taranaki's top points scorer with 90.
Another young player, No 8 Samuela Vunisa, was judged the most promising player, while centre Willie Rickards was given the Sportsman Trophy, an award voted on by the players.
Southern first five-eighth Daniel Brooks capped an excellent season when he was named club player of the year, while Francis Douglas Memorial College first XV coaches Tim Stuck and Steve Simpson were named club coaches of the year.
Promising New Plymouth Boys' High School loose forward Mitchell Brown was named the Roger Urbahn Memorial Trophy winner. Brown was recently selected in the New Zealand Schools side.
Two of Taranaki's brightest prospects - halfback Jamison Gibson-Park and loose forward Heiden Bedwell-Curtis - picked up the development side's most promising player and player of the year awards respectively.
AT A GLANCE
The 2011 Amber and Black award winners
Volunteer of the year: Brett Johnson (Southern) zClub player of the year: Daniel Brooks (Southern)
Club coach of the year: Tim Stuck and Steve Simpson (FDMC)
Roger Urbahn Memorial Trophy: Mitchell Brown (NPBHS)
Taranaki development most promising player: Jamison Gibson-Park
Taranaki development player of the year: Heiden Bedwell- Curtis
Peter Crawford Trophy: Wendy Sullivan Tenderlink Taranaki awards
Sportsman Trophy: Willie Rickards zPersonality of the year: Shane McDonald
Taranaki most promising player: Samuela Vunisa
Taranaki back of the year: Beauden Barrett
Taranaki forward of the year: Scott Waldrom
Taranaki top points scorer: Beauden Barrett
Taranaki try of the year: Andre Taylor
Taranaki player of the year: Jason Eaton
- Taranaki Daily News
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