North Otago claimed one more honour ahead of their long-time Heartland Championship rivals Steelform Wanganui when their big forward Josh Clark was named Heartland Player of the Year at the 2019 ASB Rugby Awards on Thursday night.
Clark had been nominated alongside both his North Otago provincial team mate Robbie Smith and the Wanganui captain Campbell Hart, with Hart and Clark having also been fixtures in the NZ Heartland XV in all four of their matches this year.
All Black Beauden Barrett announced Clark as the winner.
"As we all know, Heartland rugby is the beating heart of rugby in New Zealand, and coming from a proud rural and provincial background, I can certainly endorse that sentiment."
Hart's credentials when the nominees were announced on the night in Auckland certainly suggested he had received close consideration.
"New Zealand Heartland XV vice captain and Wanganui skipper Campbell Hart can tick off another great year of Heartland rugby," it read.
"Instrumental in the first match of the Fijian series against the Vanua XV, Hart is a natural leader, and his impressive fitness and high workrate make him an asset to any team."
However, as Clark had been a driving force in North Otago's 33-19 win over a tiring Wanganui in Oamaru in the championship final, which gave him the edge.
"Utility forward Josh Clark was selected for the NZ Heartland XV after consistent performances for the Meads Cup-winning North Otago side," the citation read.
"A dynamic ball carrier, Clark is an established member of the Heartland XV and brought strength and impact to the Pacifica Challenge match against Samoa."
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In his television interview, it was put to Clark that his North Otago CEO Colin Jackson had said his star No 8/lock always seemed to be injured, but showed guts to hang in there, in a case of "what you see is what you get".
"I don't really know what he's on about, to be honest, it is what it is," Clark sheepishly replied.
"It's awesome, I started playing for North Otago about 2013, it's a province I love playing for and any time they knock on the door I'm keen to go there.
"It's a good bunch of lads, just keep chipping away, you know?"
North Otago joined rare air in the history of Heartland rugby by winning their third Meads Cup in the 14 seasons of the Heartland Championship, now standing alone in second spot behind only Wanganui (six).
"It was awesome for our side, we had new coaches on board, whole lot of new players," Clark said.
"We had a good [Ranfurly] Shield challenge at the start of the season, that probably got us in good stead for the rest of the season, we got the goods at the end."
Wanganui's previous winners for Heartland Player of the Year were 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), Bryn Hudson (2017), Craig Clare (2018) and now Hart.
2019 New Zealand Rugby award winners
Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year: Ardie Savea
Richard Crawshaw Memorial All Blacks Sevens Player of the Year: Tone Ng Shiu (Tasman)
Black Ferns Player of the Year: Charmaine McMenamin (Auckland)
All Blacks Player of the Year: Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
New Zealand Coach of the Year: Cory Sweeney and Allan Bunting (Black Ferns Sevens)
New Zealand Team of the Year: Black Ferns Sevens
National Coach of the Year: Scott Robertson (Crusaders)
Super Rugby Player of the Year: Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
Tom French Memorial Māori Player of the Year: Sarah Hirini (Ngāti Kahungunu)
New Zealand Rugby Referee of the Year: Paul Williams
Charles Monro Rugby Volunteer of the Year: Ian Spraggon (Bay of Plenty
New Zealand Rugby Age Grade Player of the Year: Fletcher Newell (Canterbury)
Heartland Championship Player of the Year: Josh Clark (North Otago)
Duane Monkley Medal: Chase Tiatia (Bay of Plenty)
Fiao'o Faamausili Medal: Chelsea Bremner (Canterbury Women)
Sevens Player of the Year: Tyla Nathan-Wong (Auckland)
National Team of the Year: Crusaders
NZRPA Kirk Award: Josh Blackie, Seilala Mapusua and Hale T-Pole
Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand Rugby: Steve Tew
Fan's Try of the Year: TJ Perenara