If Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team captain and hooker Ash Dixon has played his final season for the side he has been farewelled in an appropriate manner.
The 31-year-old Maori All Blacks captain won three awards at the Magpies end-of-season awards function hosted by Napier's East Pier Beach Bar & Brasserie last night. In addition to the Player of the Year award Dixon took home the Players Player and Forward of the Year awards.
Dixon said he wasn't sure whether he would be back next year.
"I'm back with the Highlanders for another year and we will see how the body is after that before making a decision on more Magpies play."
Dixon pointed out that while he was stoked with the awards he would have preferred to have finished the season with the Magpies back in the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership.
They missed out on promotion when beaten 12-7 by Bay of Plenty in last week's Championship final in Rotorua.
"I was disappointed when we didn't quite get the job done. At the same time I got these awards on the back of a good team effort," Dixon, who has played 96 first class games for the Magpies, said.
"There has been plenty of growth within the squad which has put us back in good stead. We're good for the next five years and hopefully we will be back up in the Premiership soon."
"Hopefully we've inspired a lot more kids to want to play for the Magpies. A lot of our young talent have grown their games. They have played in positions where you have to lead the team and they have done a stellar job."
"I know the boys really wanted to win that final. While it was disappointing we achieved some good things. We had a couple of good wins against Premiership sides and it was only that first game against Bay of Plenty when the guys were still on the bus at the start that we didn't perform," Dixon said referring to the 51-24 loss on September 28 to the Steamers in Tauranga.
He missed that match with a vomiting bug. Dixon was particularly impressed with the progress made by Maori All Blacks prop Pouri Rakete-Stones, New Zealand under-20s loosie Devan Flanders and halfback Folau Fakatava, who like Flanders, was in his second season out of the Hastings Boys' High School first XV.
Dixon agreed this season was one of his best of 10 with the Magpies. One of the main contributing factors was that he was relatively injury free.
"I put a lot of work into my strength and fitness. All of my joints were good and that was a massive plus."
A former Blues and Hurricanes Super Rugby player, Dixon first played for the Magpies in 2008. Apart from the 2010 and '11 seasons, when he played for Auckland, all his NPC rugby has been played for Hawke's Bay.
Fakatava won the Back of the Year award. He had a superb season as the starting halfback in the absence of All Black Brad Weber who only had one outing, the 29-21 win against Otago in Napier on August 22.
Outside back Caleb Makene captured the rookie award after a strong first season back in his home province after previously representing Tasman and Canterbury.
Loosie Devan Flanders was the inaugural winner of the People's Choice award which was voted for by fans online.
Flanders shone in both starting and impact roles this season and while his best game as a starter was in the loss to eventual Premiership winners Tasman he was outstanding off the bench in the semifinal win against Otago.
■ Hawke's Bay's two Black Ferns representatives Forne Burkin and Krysten Cottrell have been selected in the Black Ferns Development XV's 28-strong squad for next month's Oceania Women's Championship in Fiji.
Hooker Burkin and first five-eighth Cottrell are among 12 capped Black Ferns in the squad. This will be the first time a Black Ferns Development side has played in the Championship which will also involve Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Australia A.
The tournament begins in Lautoka on November 18.