Craig Clarke in mix for Super Rugby award

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 14/11/2012
Craig Clarke
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC: Chiefs captain Craig Clarke.

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Chiefs and Taranaki skipper Craig Clarke has been nominated as one of three finalists for the Super Rugby player of the year at the 2012 New Zealand Rugby Awards.

Clarke led the Chiefs to their first title in August, demolishing the travel-weary Sharks 37-6 in the final.

The 29-year-old strained a medial ligament in the Chiefs' semifinal win over the Crusaders and was in serious doubt to play in the final.

"There were some doubts, especially early, that I would not play and on [the] Monday I only rated myself a 40 per cent chance," Clarke said in the lead-up.

Some intensive work, including regular icing sessions, often through the night, got him on to the field where he played a major hand in the Chiefs' victory.

Because of his form throughout the Super Rugby season, he was also called into the All Blacks training squad for a time.

Clarke's team-mate and All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden has also been named a finalist alongside inspirational Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith, who led a young squad to the cusp of a playoff spot after a disastrous 2011 season.The winner will be announced on December 14.

No Taranaki players made the cut for NPC player of the year.

While the New Zealand Rugby Union named five finalists last year, only three players - Canterbury's Robbie Fruean, Counties Manukau's Tim Nanai-Williams and Auckland's Charles Piutau - were named this year.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, Chiefs mentor Dave Rennie and veteran New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens will contest the coach-of-the-year award.

The unbeaten All Blacks, the Chiefs and the Canterbury NPC team will vie for team of the year.

Finalists for the Kel Tremain award and the New Zealand women's players of the year are yet to be finalised.

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- Taranaki

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