While Steelform Wanganui may have made unfortunate history in losing their first Meads Cup semifinal from 11 appearances in the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship, they have continued their remarkable consistency for NZ Rugby Awards nominations.

Wanganui fullback turned first-five Craig Clare becomes the 11th member of his union to be a finalist for the Heartland Player of the Year category at the 2018 ASB Rugby Awards, being held at Auckland's Sky City Convention Centre next Thursday, December 13.

Nominated alongside him are Thames Valley No8 Brett Ranga and South Canterbury's goal-kicking halfback Willie Wright.

In addition to Clare, former Whanganui High and Feilding Ag prospect Vilimoni Koroi has again been nominated for the Richard Crawshaw Memorial All Blacks Sevens Player of the Year.

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Now with Otago, Koroi was nominated for the award last year, but missed out to sevens legend DJ Forbes, who was retiring from the game after a stellar career.

This year, Koroi is up against Scott Curry (Bay of Plenty) and Regan Ware (Bay of Plenty).

Expat Whanganui player Vilimoni Koroi is nominated for NZ Sevens Player of the Year, while his Commonwealth Games gold medal winning side is nominated for NZ Team of the Year.
Expat Whanganui player Vilimoni Koroi is nominated for NZ Sevens Player of the Year, while his Commonwealth Games gold medal winning side is nominated for NZ Team of the Year.

It will pain Wanganui that they are not up for a further award, as this season NZ Rugby has decided to modify their categories to introduce awards that recognise success at provincial level, to differentiate from the continued success of the All Blacks, Black Ferns and All Black Sevens on the world scene.

Accordingly, first time Meads Cup winners Thames Valley, who upset both Wanganui and South Canterbury at home in the 2018 Meads Cup playoffs, have been nominated for the new Adidas National Team of the Year prize.

Thames Valley emulated Wanganui's 2017 history-making effort in that they won the Meads Cup from fourth place, and had Wanganui continued the form which got them eight straight round robin wins and not been upset 17-7 at Cooks Gardens on October 20, it is likely they would have been up for this category.

The other nominees are the Crusaders, who won their ninth Super Rugby title on August 4, and the Auckland rugby team, who signalled a return to respectability by claiming their first NPC title since 2007 with victory in the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership final in October.

Wanganui again will ponder what might have been as Meads Cup winners Thames Valley have been nominated for National Team of the Year.
Wanganui again will ponder what might have been as Meads Cup winners Thames Valley have been nominated for National Team of the Year.

Heartland Rugby is also recognised in the Charles Monro Rugby Volunteer of the Year category, with Irene Eruera-Taiapa (Horowhenua Kapiti) and Kim Wheeler (King Country) nominated alongside Steve Webling (Taranaki).

Wairarapa Bush's Rebecca Mahoney, the former Black Fern who was one of the first two women named in the NZRFU's High Performance referee squad, is nominated for Rugby Referee of the Year, alongside Glen Jackson (Bay of Plenty) and Richard Kelly (Taranaki).

While missing out on making the televised Meads Cup final often denies good players the chance to be considered for Heartland Player of the Year, Clare's nomination was well justified after an auspicious campaign in helping Wanganui make the playoffs unbeaten.

He was the team's joint top tryscorer with five tries, which included scoring in three games in a row against West Coast, Poverty Bay and Mid Canterbury.

Adding in his goal kicking responsibilities, Clare was the leading Heartland points scorer with 117 for the season, before Horowhenua Kapiti's radar-accurate kicker James So'oialo got a 16 point haul in the Lochore Cup final to surpass him with 120.

Clare covered fullback for the opening five games of the campaign, showing excellent tactical kicking touches, before moving into first-five for the Buller match on September 29 and staying there for the remaining four games.

Against East Coast on October 6, Clare played his 100th first-class game in what has been an excellent career across several provinces since 2003.

He has played 26 matches for Wanganui, following games for the Highlanders, Otago, Bay of Plenty, Manawatu, as well as New Zealand Under 21, Universities and the Heartland XV.

Clare, along with Ranga and Wright, were then selected in the New Zealand Heartland XV for the end of the season games in Taupo.

Heartland defeated the Vanua XV 60-0 and NZ Marist 46-19, with Clare scoring tries in both games.

Craig Clare in action for the Heartland XV against the Vanua XV on November 1 in Taupo. Photo by Getty Images.
Craig Clare in action for the Heartland XV against the Vanua XV on November 1 in Taupo. Photo by Getty Images.

Previous Heartland Players of the Year from Wanganui have been Cameron Crowley (2008), Asaeli Tikoirotuma (2009), Peter Rowe (2010 and 2012), Jon Smyth (2011), Lindsay Horrocks (2015), and Te Rangatira Waitokia (2016).

Others to be nominated were Denning Tyrell (2006), Mike Thompson (2007), Steelie Koro (2011), Stephen Perofeta (2015) and Bryn Hudson (2017).

Judging these awards for 2018 is the panel of Graham Mourie, Matt Sexton, Mike Eagle, Dr Farah Palmer and Tony Johnson.

The Rugby Awards will be screened live on Sky Sport.