It’s time for my annual awards, and I thank
Crikey readers for their ideas. It has been one of rugby league’s best seasons,
which has made picking the very best all the more difficult. And the award goes
to:

Player of the Year: I believe that the Dally M Player of the
Year, Johnathan Thurston, (Cowboys), was the stand-out player of 2005 – on and
off the field. After failing to secure a regular first grade spot with the
Bulldogs he tried his luck with the Cowboys and never looked back. He played in
every game he could for the Cowboys, and was pivotal in the Club making its first
ever grand final. He was the outstanding Maroons player in State of Origin, and stood
out even when the team lost the second and third Origin games. A credit to
rugby league in every way.

Runner up Player of the Year: From a new boy on the block to a real
veteran – the Sea Eagles’ blockbusting forward, Ben Kennedy. Nine years older
than Thurston, Kennedy was an exceptional player for his club, the Blues, and
the Kangaroos. When he moved from the Knights to the Sea Eagles for the 2005
season the doubters thought he was a bad buy. He proved them wrong, and like
Thurston, is an ornament to the game off the field.

Coach of the Year: A more difficult choice. Graham Murray
(Cowboys) and Craig Bellamy (Storm) have sound claims, but the stand-out coach
has to be the premiership winning coach, Tim Sheens. When he took over the
Wests Tigers in 2003, the “joint venture” club was really on the rack. In 2003
the Tigers finished 13th, improving to 9th in 2004. And
to win a premiership in just his third season with a Club many believed would
not survive is a remarkable achievement. He joined Jack Gibson and Wayne
Bennett as the only coach to win four premierships. And he is “media friendly.”

Club of the Year: A toss up between the Tigers and the
Parramatta Eels. The latter deserves full credit for being minor premiers after
a very disappointing 12th in 2004. And the Eels won the Premier
League grand final and were runners up in Jersey Flegg. Such a record pips the
Tigers at the post for club of the year – and, for his troubles, the coach who
took the Club to that record, Brian Smith, has been told he won’t be there in
2007. It’s a tough game.

Referee of the Year: Tim Mander first, many panels of fencing
second. Controlled the grand final, and was the leading whistleblower but again
overlooked for State of Origin duties. Has now retired to become the full-time head of the body
funding school chaplaincies in Queensland. In a 13-year career controlled around 290 first grade matches, and
more than ten tests. The best since Bill Harrigan.

Official of the Year: This will surprise some, but the NRL CEO,
David Gallop, is the clear winner. When I look at what the ARL has to offer, and the
AFL, ARU and Racing Clubs, then the NRL boss is worth every dollar he
is paid. Don’t always agree with him, but the sooner he assumes responsibility
for the ARL, and the game overall, the better.