Michael Hooper has been named as the NSW Waratahs Players’ Player of the Year, for the second year running.
Hooper’s season tally of 277 votes eclipsed second-placed Wycliff Palu, whose 257 nominations saw him receive the Forward of the Year award ahead of third-placed Tatafu Polota-Nau (219).
With 162 votes, two-try Super Rugby Final hero Adam Ashley-Cooper earned the award for Best Back of 2014.
Voting was conducted after every Super Rugby match, including finals, with each player in the matchday 23 submitting their votes on a 3-2-1 basis to determine the overall result. The winners were unveiled tonight at the team’s annual Matthew Burke Cup Gala Awards Dinner held at Sydney’s Dolton House in Pyrmont and attended by key sponsors, stakeholders, members and Waratahs Rugby players and staff.
The result means 22-year-old Hooper becomes just the second player to win the prestigious Matthew Burke Cup in consecutive seasons, after Wycliff Palu achieved back-to-back honours in 2008 and 2009.
Despite trailing Palu’s phenomenal early tally of 149 by 62 votes after Round 8, Hooper and third-placed Polota-Nau polled strongly in the mid-part of the season. By Round 15, Hooper’s dominance of the polling was such that he had built up a 56-point margin over second-placed Polota-Nau, with Palu just four votes behind.
By earning the most votes of any player in a single round in the team’s Round 17 victory over the Brumbies (49 of a possible 66), Palu staged a late comeback to close the gap on Hooper to 20 points, finishing with a combined Super Rugby semi and final total of 25, compared to Hooper’s 31 (bettered only by Adam Ashley-Cooper’s finals tally of 45 and Nick Phipps’ 44).
After an outstanding season that culminated in the last-gasp, trophy-winning kick, Bernard Foley was voted Members’ Choice Player of the Year. Despite coming fifth in the players’ voting, Foley proved to be the fan favourite, receiving 149 (25%) of the 606 votes cast in the members’ poll and eclipsing his captain Hooper by three votes, with Ashley-Cooper coming in third (98 votes), Jacques Potgieter (51) fourth and Beale (45) fifth.
Foley was presented with his award by Maddie Borys, one of the members who voted for him. As well as the honour of presenting the award, Maddie also received a handcrafted gold-plated sterling silver Waratah pendant, designed exclusively by Waratahs Rugby partner Pendants Australia. Pendants also provided hand-finished sterling silver, gold-plated Waratahs cufflinks for all 2014 Waratahs medal winners.
Completing the Matt Burke Cup top 10 were Kurtley Beale, who finished sixth with 133 votes just one place and one vote ahead of Jacques Potgieter, with Kane Douglas, Nick Phipps and Dave Dennis completing the leaderboard.
There was further recognition for Dennis, who collected the coveted Waratah Medal which recognises on and off field performance and is awarded by the Head Coach, CEO and Chairman to the player who best represents the values of the NSW Waratahs.
Completing the awards, newcomer Alofa Alofa was awarded the Chris Whitaker Aspiring Waratah Award, won last year by Will Skelton.
Seven of the nine 2014 debutants were presented with their NSW caps after making their first state appearances for the NSW Waratahs this season, while centurian Wycliff Palu was honoured after becoming the eighth player to earn 100 state caps for NSW and Brendan McKibbin was recognised for reaching his half-century of NSW appearances earlier in the season.
2014 NSW Waratahs Award Winners
Matthew Burke Cup for Players’ Player of the Year – Michael Hooper
Best Forward, presented by Magners – Wycliff Palu Best Back, presented by Magners – Adam Ashley-Cooper
Members’ Choice Player of the Year Award, presented by Ray White – Bernard Foley
Waratah Medal, presented by CMC Markets – Dave Dennis
Chris Whitaker Aspiring Waratah Medal – Alofa Alofa
2014 NSW debutants (round, venue and date, NSW player number)
Alofa Alofa (Round 2 Force, Allianz Stadium 23/02/2014, #1611)
Nick Phipps (Round 2 Force, Allianz Stadium 23/02/2014, #1612)
Jacques Potgieter (Round 2 Force, Allianz Stadium 23/02/2014, #1613)
Tolu Latu (Round 2 Force, Allianz Stadium 23/02/2014, #1614)
Jono Lance (Round 7 Sharks, Kings Park 29/03/2014, #1615)
Tala Gray (Round 9 Force, NIB Stadium 12/04/2014, #1616)
Hugh Roach (Round 14 v Lions, Allianz Stadium 18/05/2014, #1617)
Taqele Naiyaravoro (Round 14 v Lions, Allianz Stadium 18/05/2014, #1618)
Mike Ala’alatoa (Round 19 v Reds, Suncorp Stadium 12/07/2014, #1619