SUCCESS FOR BRUMBIES AT RUPA AWARDS
Four Plus500 Brumbies players have come away with awards at the annual Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch at The Ivy in Sydney.
Backrow Isi Naisarani, who signed for the Brumbies in September, has claimed the RUPA Media for Excellence after a wonderful campaign with the Western Force whilst Tom Cusack scooped the National Rugby Championship (NRC) Players’ Player of the Year for a series of outstanding lead-from-the-front displays for the Canberra Vikings.Elsewhere, Robbie Abel claimed a share of the Community Service Award and James Dargaville was honoured with the Academic Achievement Award.
RUPA Medal For Excellence
Isi Naisarani is the first ever player to win the RUPA Medal for Excellence in his first season of professional Rugby, and is the third backrower to ever win the award as he follows in the footsteps of David Pocock (2010 & 2015) and George Smith (2007 & 2008).
The Fijian-born backrower is also the fourth player born outside of Australia to win the Award, after George Gregan (Zambia), Christian Leali’ifano (New Zealand) and Pocock (Zimbabwe).
Naisarani finished with 87 votes, ahead of Melbourne Rebels’ Japanese international Amanaki Mafi (78), Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa (69) and his teammate Henry Speight (64).
It represents an extraordinary maiden Super Rugby campaign for Naisarani, who only 18 months ago earned his first National Rugby Championship (NRC) opportunity with Brisbane City after starring for Souths in Queensland Premier Rugby.
The 22-year-old was in hot demand and moved to Perth to link up with the Force, playing all 15 matches this season, scoring 2 tries to win the Western Force Players’ Player Award (Nathan Sharpe Medal).
Community Service Award
Robbie Abel and Waratahs’ Matt Sandell were adjudged the joint winners of the Community Service Award, while Dargaville won the Academic Achievement Award.
28-year-old Brumbies hooker Robbie Abel consistently displayed his selflessness and desire to be a positive influence on his team, his Club and his community in 2017. During the Super Rugby pre-season and competition proper, he contributes at least ten hours per week to voluntary work, and this increases dramatically during the National Rugby Championship (NRC) season with its schedule allowing for greater flexibility.
In addition to his Brumbies appearances, every week Robbie contributed a large amount of his time away from Rugby to a wide range of voluntary work with disadvantaged young people and their families.
With his Indigenous and Pasifika heritage, a significant amount of his work is with people from these backgrounds although people from a range of cultures have been assisted by Robbie.
With the time he donates, Robbie conducts coaching clinics, fitness and health programs, one-on-one and group mentoring, family support, school visits and camps, and counselling.
Robbie has also been nominated for NAIDOC Person of the Year and Sportsperson of the Year in the 2017 Canberra and District NAIDOC Awards.
The award’s previous winners are Eddie Aholelei (2012), Matt Hodgson (2016), Pat Leafa (2013), Patrick McCutcheon & Henry Speight (2014), David Pocock (2011) and Paddy Ryan (2015).
Academic Achievement Award
In 2017, James Dargaville completed his Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree at Sydney University, a particularly huge achievement given it was a face-to-face degree and James has been based in Canberra since signing for the Brumbies in 2015.
James consistently obtained excellent results in a degree which is accepted as one of the more challenging, whilst maintaining a regular place in the Brumbies’ team as they won the Australian conference.
James is to be congratulated for his determination, perseverance and ability to negotiate a way around his study difficulties with his university.
The award’s previous winners are Ben Daley (2015), Matt Hodgson (2011), Tom Kingston (2013), Pat McCabe (2012), Alicia Quirk (2016) and Jeremy Tilse (2014).
National Rugby Championship (NRC) Players’ Player of the Year
Tom Cusack impressed for NSW Country in the 2016 NRC, earning his first ever Super Rugby contract with the Brumbies where he broke through for two Super Rugby appearances this year and subsequently penned a two-year contract extension.
Cusack’s high standing within the Brumbies’ environment saw the homegrown product named as the Vikings’ Captain in 2017, and he rose to the challenge by starting nine of his team’s NRC matches and scoring five tries as they finished the campaign as runners-up.
It’s just rewards for 24-year-old openside flanker Cusack, who only fifteen months ago was representing Australia in Rugby Sevens at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro before returning to the fifteen-a-side game following three seasons starring in the abbreviated format.
Ten finalists were selected, with all players who competed in the 2017 NRC invited to vote in the NRC Players’ Player award on a 3-2-1 basis.
Cusack finished ahead of Vikings’ backrow teammate Rob Valetini in second, with Duncan Paia’aua (Queensland Country) and Tayler Adams (NSW Country Eagles) rounding out the top four.
Cusack is the fourth winner of the NRC Players’ Player award, with Samu Kerevi (Brisbane City, 2014), Ita Vaea (Canberra Vikings, 2015) and Jake Gordon (NSW Country Eagles, 2016) others to have been voted the competition’s best by their peers