In looking back on 2006 in rugby league what stands out is how many of the usual high achievers excelled once again. In assessing my “awards” for the season, the task was not really a hard one because the game’s best (and sadly, the worst) stood out.
Player of the Year: Darren Lockyer, the player of the year by the proverbial country mile. Captained Queensland to win the Origin series, the Broncos to win the NRL premiership, and Australia to regain Tri-Nations supremacy. At the start of the season none was guaranteed, or even likely. Lockyer was the stand-out performer at all levels of the game.
Coach of the Year: There can be debate about this one, but I unhesitatingly select the stand in captain of the Parramatta Eels, Jason Taylor. He took over after the unlamented early season departure of Brian Smith, coached the team to the finals (winning nine games in a row), and turned what looked like another disappointing season into a credible one. He is now coaching the South Sydney Rabbitohs where he will give his very best.
Team of the Year: I overlook the Broncos for this one. For my money the team of the year was the Melbourne Storm. Notwithstanding some hard luck with injuries, and a couple of key suspensions, the Storm won the minor premiership, played outstanding football and finally lifted the game’s profile in Melbourne. The club’s coach, Craig Bellamy, will in time be regarded as one of the game’s best ever coaches.
Game of the Year: Unhesitatingly the Tri-Nations final between Australia and New Zealand just a month ago. A draw at full-time, and an Australian victory in the eighth minute of extra time, this match helped ensure international league is back in its rightful place in the game – at the very top.
Disappointing Player of the Year: Many contenders, unfortunately. But I narrowly favour the St George Illawarra Dragons Trent Barrett. Chosen in the “team of the year” by most writers in 2005, his 2006 season was dogged with controversy and disappointment. He will finish his career in UK Super League, where he will probably excel, at Wigan.
Disappointing Team of the Year: A toss up between the 2005 premiers, the Wests Tigers, and the 2002 Premiers, the Sydney Roosters. The Tigers finished the 2006 season in 11th place while the Roosters ended the season ingloriously in second last place. Given the quality of their player list, the Roosters have to be the season’s great disappointment.
“Must Do Better” Award: Unquestionably Channel Nine’s Friday night premiership match coverage. Being on delay, the telecast invariably started after the advertised time, and finished around 11pm. How can the game’s future – its junior players – be expected to stay up that late? It will do better, because in 2007, the main Friday night match will be live! The Channel Nine Footy Show was not considered for the award because it is simply beyond redemption.