LOCK Geoff Cridge was quick to praise the support he received from teammates during tough times after dominating the Hawke's Bay Magpies' awards function in Napier last night.
The two-time New Zealand Under-20 rep and one-time world champion won the MVP, best forward and players' player awards.
"While I'm a bit overwhelmed and still taking it all in I've got to thank my teammates like Ricky Riccitelli, Mark Abbott and Chris Eaton who encouraged me to do all the training I could during lengthy injury spells," Cridge said.
He was referring to the fact this season was the first time he had played for the Magpies at first-class level since September 2014 because of knee and shoulder injuries. Cridge pointed out he may have to have surgery on his other knee before assembling with the Canes for pre-season training.
"I've got to thank our experienced newcomers Ben May and Ross Filipo too. I lived with them while playing for the Magpies this season and they kept telling me where I should be. I've got to thank mum and dad [Vicky and Dudley] for their support and Joe Payton from the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union for getting me up here in the first place."
Cridge agreed the players' player award upstaged the MVP award to a certain extent "because it showed I had the backing of my teammates".
"While it's a bit gutting we're not pushing for the semifinals and final, these awards are a pretty good form of consolation.
"I have tried pretty hard this year. It is good to be back. Playing decent minutes is the main thing which I think has helped me achieve what I have," Cridge added.
He is contracted to play for the Magpies again next year.
With Chiefs lock Michael Allardice unavailable for the Magpies campaign because of knee injury, Cridge made the most of his opportunity to partner fellow Hurricane Abbott on a regular basis. Cridge said at the start of the season he wanted to use the Mitre 10 Cup to push for a starting spot in the Canes squad next year.
He has certainly done that. Before this season his sole first-class outing for the Magpies was a short stint off the bench against Northland in Whangarei on September 5, 2014. Knee and shoulder injuries have restricted his appearances since then.
The players' player was voted for by the players after each game and points accumulated each week.
While Magpies manager Terry Gittings wouldn't release the figures he said Cridge was a comfortable winner of this award.
"It was well deserved. Geoff made an outstanding comeback from injury, ground out a lot of minutes during the season and ended up with 75 per cent of the awards."
It's the first time during the five seasons Craig Philpott has been head coach and Danny Lee assistant coach that one player has won three of the five major awards.
Second-year Magpie and hot favourite, 20-year-old Jonah Lowe, captured the best back award. It must have been close between Lowe and his long-time Hawke's Bay age group teammate Mason Emerson but Lowe was more consistent and leaped ahead in the tussle with his two tries during the final five minutes of the Magpies' loss to Bay of Plenty last weekend.
It will be an injustice if Lowe, who is equally as comfortable in the wing and centre positions, doesn't score a Super Rugby contract during the coming weeks.
Former Samoa Sevens captain Fa'alemiga Selesele won the rookie award. Considering he didn't arrive in the Bay until the end of July he did a top job as injury cover for Highlanders loosie Gareth Evans who missed the entire season with a knee injury similar to Allardice's.
A product of the famous Moata'a club in Savai'i, Selesele, 27, got the nod ahead of promising utility backs Tiaan Falcon and Matt Garland.
Cridge pipped Abbott and Lowe for the MVP award.
■Rookie: Winner, Fa'alemiga Selesele. Other finalists: Tiaan Falcon, Matt Garland.
■Best forward: Winner, Geoff Cridge. Other finalists: Mark Abbott, Ben May.
■Best back: Winner, Jonah Lowe. Other finalists: Mason Emerson, Ihaia West.
■Most valuable player: Winner, Geoff Cridge. Other finalists: Mark Abbott, Jonah Lowe.
■Players' player: Winner, Geoff Cridge.