It was a strong night for the Taihape club at the 2019 Wanganui Rugby Awards at the Barracks Bar on Saturday evening – picking up four major individual awards along with the official presentation of their two season championship prizes.
Taihape had lifted the Rosebowl Trophy for winning Premier-Division 1 for the first time in the amalgamated club's history after defeating Border following extra time in the grand final on July 27.
However, Border players were still well represented among the award winners, especially for the various WRFU representative team prizes announced at the start of the evening.
After a disjointed start to the Heartland Championship saw Wanganui consigned to 11th place following three straight defeats, there were a number of players who put their hand up in the six-game winning streak to get the side back into the Meads Cup final with eventual winners North Otago.
Coach Jason Caskey and his staff named prop Kamipeli Latu as the Player of the Year.
Having been one of the better players in the defeats of the opening rounds, Latu's form only got better as the season progressed, especially when playing sides who relied on their strength in their forward packs.
His Border clubmate Lindsay Horrocks was also recognised for the Team Member of the Year award, having guided the side out of a crisis and settling players down to start delivering their regular level of performance.
There were a couple of back-to-back winners in the club awards, none more deserving than Ruapehu's nuggety flanker Jamie Hughes, who for the second straight season and the third time overall in four ceremonies, was named Premier Club Player of the Year.
Hughes took on the captaincy of the two-time defending champions from Ohakune coming into the season, despite having new business commitments in Whanganui which meant he had to commute.
For a side rebuilding their backline around young players, Hughes and his fellow veteran forwards led from the front, as Ruapehu had an 11-1 regular season and seemed destined for a title three-peat, until being derailed by Taihape in the semifinal.
Unlike the previous year, Hughes winning the player award lined up with him having already received the MVP Points Winner prize, which is determined by the highest tally under a 3-2-1 points allocation from every match.
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Heading back to Fiji in a couple of weeks, no doubt with some stories to tell, will be Border's lightning winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone, who was named Premier Club Back of the Year after showing the try-scoring form that would also net him 13 five-pointers in the Heartland Championship.
Capping a great year was Kaierau's loose forward-hooker Joe Edwards, who went up to accept the Premier Forward of the Year award, after having previously accepting the Whanganui Maori team player of the year prize during the representative section of the ceremony.
But having the strongest club at both Premier and Senior level this season saw plenty of Taihape men getting their due.
First year coach Tom Wells picked up the Coach of the Year prize.
Having made the decision in October 2018 to take on the role and surrounding himself with strong assistants in Gareth Hagen and Glen Horton, Wells built the self belief which each player that saw them perform so well in both playoffs games to win the Rosebowl.
The Taihape club received the Weekes Cup for the first time in their history, claiming the prize that recognises the strongest club from the results of both grades.
Taihape's Senior team were unbeaten in the opening round and semifinalists after being promoted into the new Division 2 grade for the second half of the season.
One of the catalysts for that was the form of front rower Richie Iorns, who had been the Premier grand final hero with two tries, but also showed the form and leadership for the second XV to be judged the Senior Club Player of the Year.
His team mate Tiari Mumby was named the Senior Club Back of the Year, having shown great skill in the midfield to eventually make his way right up to the Heartland Hurricanes Under 20 squad.
Having been a key man in his Hunterville club winning the Division 3 title, George Gardner was a back-to-back winner of the Senior Club Forward of the Year prize.
Also from the Senior ranks, the Utiku's season of returning to respectability – making the Division 2 semifinals – was capped off by picking up the Gordon Thompson Memorial trophy for Best & Fairest Team, which is judged on points allocated by the referees.
The prizes for club men the Northern subunion just kept coming, as Taihape's Edward Lawton, known as Hau, was given the Volunteer of the Year award – the 30 year servant of the game being the man to see for a good feed and clean player kits, as well as a fine host for visiting sides.
Have expanded from a one-team club to having two squads in the latter half of what was their 50th anniversary season, Counties received the Club Incentive Award – which is judged on many factors like meeting attendances, fee payments, presentation of facilities, registrations and on-field conduct.
There was only one possible choice for the Allan E. Jennings Achievement Award for being the outstanding school leaver, and it was Whanganui Collegiate's excellent hooker Ben Strang.
Having had a banner year in helping Collegiate reach the Central North Island final, Strang was selected for the Hurricanes Under 18's to play the Blues, and then became the only player from a Heartland union in the New Zealand Schools team to take on Fiji Schools and Australia Under 18's in October.
The Awards Recipients were:
Allan E Jennings Achievement Award (Outstanding School Leaver): Ben Strang.
Wanganui Under 16 - Player of Year: Hunter Morrison; Team Member of Year: AJ Malo Malili Lauano.
Wanganui Under 18 - Player of Year: Semi Vodosese; Team Member of Year: Stan Puapi.
Wanganui Under 18 Women Player of Year: Maze Koro.
Wanganui Under 20 - Player of Year: Jason Myers; Team Member of Year: Josefa Rokotakala.
Whanganui Maori Player of Year: Joe Edwards.
Wanganui Samoa Player of Year: Fa'amanu Pulemagafa.
Wanganui Sevens Player of Year: Matt Ashworth.
Wanganui Development XV – Player of Year: Brad Graham; Team Member of Year: Ezekiel Anderson.
Wanganui Heartland – Player of Year: Kamipeli Latu; Team Member of Year: Lindsay Horrocks.
Senior Club Forward: George Gardner (Hunterville).
Senior Club Back: Tiari Mumby (Taihape).
Senior Club Player of the Year: Richie Iorns (Taihape).
Premier Club Forward: Joe Edwards (Kaierau).
Premier Club Back: Vereniki Tikoisolomone (Border).
Premier Club Player of the Year: Jamie Hughes (Ruapehu).
Coach of the Year: Tom Wells (Taihape Premiers).
Club Incentive Award: Counties.
Gordon Thompson Memorial Best & Fairest: Utiku.
Presidents Rosebowl (Premier Championship): Taihape.
Weekes Cup (Overall Champion Club): Taihape.
Volunteer of the Year: Edward Lawton (Taihape).
Emerging Referee: Sean Ferguson.
Referee of the Year: Ben Lourie.